During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 2 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.
Round 2 Finalist: “Our Ruins” by Christine M. Lasek
Rare sour milk glass. Cataracted remains of windows, etched by weather, by dirt, their jagged edges smoothed by time. Not much more is left of the oil refinery’s transfer station on Fordson Island, a chipped tooth of land formed when federal engineers decided they could build a better Rouge River than God.
The island had been abandoned since the early 70s, right before we were born. We grew up with the Fordson Island Bridge at one end of our neighborhood, where Downriver and the island almost kiss.
Crossing the bridge to the forbidden island was every kid’s rite of passage. Our growth happened in a rush—one minute, we were the same thirteen, or fourteen, or twelve year old we had started the summer as, the next, we were different. Questing. Unsatisfied, suddenly, with the weed-grown baseball diamond, the hot black rubber and metal swings, the wavery asphalt of our neighborhood summer.
We gathered at dusk, at the corner of Heidt Street and Powell: best friends, students at Holy Redeemer, one girl’s older brother. With fireflies already winking green and ghostly up out of the grass, we knew we had to hurry, before our mothers turned on back porch lights, summoning us home to baths, to bed.
Single file, through the bent metal guardrail with its yellow Dead End sign. Jean shorts, dirty Chuck Taylors, tanned arms reeking of Skin-So-Soft bath oil. The Fordson Island Bridge was little more than a train track, wood and rusting nails squeaking under our weight. We held our breath as we crossed the inlet, the water smelling of sulfur, of street runoff. Mosquitos rose in clouds.
We ignored the wooded bank, the grass field on the north side of the island. We explored, instead, the industrial detritus—huge concrete tubes, pitted and graffitied; rusted rebar mesh; scaffolding turned on its side, flecks of yellow paint still clinging to the metal. The brick transfer station building had a dented aluminum door someone had jimmied open years ago.
In the gloam, the building’s air felt thick with dust. We skirted curtains of cobwebs, trash piled in deliberate ways—a crusty bottle of Southern Comfort, an empty pack of Kool’s crumpled in its cellophane wrapper.
We climbed the metal stairs to the second floor and looked out of the broken windows, triumphant over our night kingdom. Our houses with concrete porches and shingle siding, our one-way streets, our world, cowering in the shadow of the Detroit Engine Works Building, where our fathers would work until the early 90s, when the plant closed and everyone, including us, abandoned this place.
This is what is meant: that you can never go back. The skeletal transfer station is still here, shaded by the overgrowth along the inlet bank. But the orange monolith of the Detroit Engine Works, converted now into gentrified lofts, shades only broken-up concrete, empty lots, scrubby grass and sapling trees. The transfer station’s rusted windows frame the view of a neighborhood that never was.
Christine M. Lasek spent the first 30 years of her life living in southeast Michigan. She holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Fiction from the University of South Florida. Christine currently lives in Athens, Georgia, where she teaches creative writing and serves as the Academic Professional for the Creative Writing Program at the University of Georgia. Her work has appeared in print and online literary magazines and her first collection of short stories, Love Letters to Michigan, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. Find her online at www.christinemlasek.com