A woman sweeping the floor is gathering up the crumbs of her life in a jumble of years. Look closely as the woman goes on sweeping, swish, swish, probing into corners, collecting old crumbs that fell from the table of a husband often fed elsewhere. Hard and stale these are, and any nourishment they might have contained walked out the door with his mustache, umbrella and briefcase. Swish, swish she sweeps his footsteps off the porch and down the sidewalk.
Children have such a short shelf-life. Soon they sit one Sunday afternoon with their own wide-eyed children whose heads turn in unison, like spectators at a tennis match. Love, love a judge calls with a derisive sneer. The children too drop meager crumbs. Their memories are not their mother’s memories. They brush flakes of anger off a white tablecloth spotted with gravy stains and gripes. They ooze anger like saturated sponges, resentment seeps out of every pore. They brush each other’s words off the tablecloth angrily, remorselessly, bickering about who was the favorite and who was never treated fairly, who broke whose toy, who always grabbed the biggest slice of pie.
The heads of the children’s children turn left, right, left, right. The daughters-in-law sit with tightly pursed lips, having been told to stay out of it. The sons-in-law gave up their peacemaking attempts long ago. The woman stops sweeping and looks down into her plate of cold mashed potatoes and understands nothing. If only she had a better broom and a dustpan to gather it all up in, if only she could kiss their hurt and make it well. Swish swish goes the little broom gathering crumbs of regret and retrospection and a broken butterfly, dead as a doornail, dead as the former husband. She sometimes wishes she was dead too, as she swish, swishes her little broom through the rooms of her life.
Janice D. Soderling, who lives in Sweden, has fiction, poetry and translations at over one hundred print and online journals. Her fiction and flash fiction are published or forthcoming at Mason’s Road, Ear Hustler, Turtle Quarterly, Twelve Stories, Willows Wept, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Shakespeare’s Monkey Review, 42Opus, Word Riot, Our Stories, and Short, JMWW, Fast and Deadly (USA), New Walk, Horizon Review, MsLexia (UK); The Chimaera (Australia), Montreal Review, The Fiddlehead (Canada) and other venues. Glimmer Train Stories has awarded her work one first prize and two honorable mentions. Her fiction is anthologized in Sweden and the United States; a collection of short fiction was a semifinalist in the 2011 Leapfrog Press competition. She is assistant fiction editor at Able Muse.