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 3 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.
Round 3 Finalist: “High Water” by Lyndsie Manusos
Papa takes me out on the paddleboat to find the lotus flowers. Nelumbo lutea. He says there are few places in the world that have such lotus beds. Grass Lake used to be littered with them, a floating carpet of flowers. He shows me a picture of when he was my age, his pants rolled up to his ankles as he stands on the shore with his arms outstretched. Thousands of lotus flower bloom behind him.
We paddle along the shore. Instead of lotus flowers, I see only speedboats and jet skis and inner tubes. At the other end of Grass Lake, a bed of tall grass and reeds sways in the breeze. I ask Papa where the lotus flowers are. In a moment, he says. My knees burn from endless paddling.
Pap says years ago a traveling salesman came to town to bottle the lotus flowers into perfume. All the ladies smelled the same then, Papa says. Tourists snatched up the bottle at the marinas and boutiques along the Fox River and other lakes. The salesman called the perfume the Lily of the Nile. Papa says he was a damned fool.
The salesman nearly ripped up all of the lotus flowers on Grass Lake. The Lily of the Nile became scarce, the perfume costly to make and even more costly to buy. Don’t tell anyone, Papa says, but your grandmother owned a bottle. It’s somewhere safe, he whispers, and then a blankness washes over his face. He looks lost, and for a moment I fear he’ll ask: Where is she? Where is Edith?
I don’t want to be the one to tell him. Usually Mom does that, easing him to the sofa to pat his hand and reiterate his loneliness, his loss.
We reach the edge of Grass Lake, and Papa steers the paddleboat toward the shore and points over the side. A single lotus flower floats just under the surface, its white petals dancing in the waves, slightly yellow from tea-colored water. Now and then you can still find a few, Papa says, dipping his finger in to stroke it. I lean over, arching my arm down to do the same, but the flower seems to shy away, out of reach. It already looks more yellow, sicklier, drowning itself because the root is too short. Building the dam did that, Papa says. Some lotus flowers drown. It’s the way it is.
I ask him what the salesman’s name was, the one who stole all the lotus flowers.
Who, Papa asks, then shakes his head. Oh, I don’t–I don’t remember. The lotus petals stop waving and it implodes, shriveling into a ball.
I want to go home, I say.
Papa nods and whispers: Me, too.
Lyndsie Manusos is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA in Writing program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Magazine, A cappella Zoo, Apex Magazine, The Cortland Review, among others. She lives and works in Chicago with her Fiancé and their tiny dog named Eleanor. Follow Lyndsie on Twitter @lmanusos.