Flash Fiction Round 3 Finalist: “When the Bough Breaks” by Jayne Martin

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Series
During the summer of 2015, we’re launching a flash fiction series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 3 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.


Round 3 finalist: “When the Bough Breaks” by Jayne Martin

If they don’t get here soon, he is sure he will bust wide open.  The bright yellow lily he’d picked for her this morning was already starting to wilt in the muggy heat of the Iowa noon.

Seems like it was just spring when his father had carried him up the ladder to a thicket of Juniper branches where four tiny spotted eggs rested among the carefully-arranged twigs of a sparrow’s nest.

“It’s no bigger than that right now,” his father explained.

He’d seen babies before, watched as his Aunt Ellen grew large and round as a pumpkin with his cousin Ray.  He knew they took a lot longer to hatch than sparrows.   His mother, too, had grown large and round as a pumpkin.  Some days she could barely get off the sofa.  Her ankles had become thick purple rivers emptying into swollen ponds of flesh that he would rub as she stroked his head and called him her good boy.

“She’s going to depend on you to protect her, you know,” his mother had said.

He could do that.  He was good at protecting things.  When their barn cat tried to climb up to the sparrow nest, he’d chased it away with the hose and it never tried that again.  He would hold her hand when they walked to school bus, and teach her how to tell the good snakes from the bad ones, and when it thundered so loudly that their whole cabin shook and lightning lit up the sky for miles around, he would hide his own fear so that she would feel safe.

By then the baby sparrows had flown off, all but one that he had found lying stiff and cold at the base of the tree.  When he had cried, his father said that was just nature’s way sometimes, and together they had buried it and said a prayer.

He had clung to his mother’s skirt while his father half-walked, half-carried her to their car.  They told him not to worry about the blood that trailed from their doorway.

Soon dusk would begin to cast shadows like ghosts across their land.  Still, he waited.

Nature was especially unforgiving that year.


Jayne Martin’s work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, and Hippocampus Magazine, and most recently on the #cnftweet page of Creative NonFiction Magazine.  Her book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Find her at injaynesworld.blogspot.com or on the back of a horse with a glass of fine wine.

8 Responses to “Flash Fiction Round 3 Finalist: “When the Bough Breaks” by Jayne Martin”

  1. Paul Beckman Says:

    Well written, intense and heartbreaking. This young boy will remember this year.

  2. Paula Wooters Says:

    Damn, you’re a powerful writer, Jayne.

  3. Jayne Martin Says:

    I’m honor to have “When the Bough Breaks” chosen by your for publication. Thank you.

  4. Jayne Martin Says:

    That should have been chosen by “you.”

  5. Annie Says:

    Beautiful story. So well written and engaging.

  6. Midwestern Gothic – A Literary Journal » Blog Archive » Flash Fiction Series – Summer 2015 Says:

    […] “Purpose of Plunder” by Jennifer Sears “That Picture of You” by Kelli Christiansen “When the Bough Breaks” by Jayne Martin […]

  7. Interview With Jayne Martin for Women Who Flash Their Lit - Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog Says:

    […] fiction work tends toward micro expression. Your stories “When the Bough Breaks” that placed in Midwestern Gothic‘s Flash Fiction Summer Series 2015 is 366 words and […]

  8. Jayne Martin: On Hummingbirds and Trusting Our Wings – Flash Fiction Retreats Says:

    […] Jayne: That would be “When the Bough Breaks.” It was originally written for Midwestern Gothic’s first summer flash, photo-prompt contest in the summer of 2015 where it placed in the top three published stories. The prompt was a photo of a little boy in a darkly-shadowed room, looking out a window and holding a flower. The piece went on to win Vestal Review’s VERA award in 2016. You can read it here.  […]

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