Fiction from Michelle Ross
She was driving home, the mountains starting to purple like turnip tops, when she saw a man with his head in his hands. He was in his car, which was parked off the road in the field of dirt in front of that new church, the one with the sign that read, “Too Cold to Change Sign. Sin Bad. Jesus Good. Details Inside.” She glimpsed the man briefly, for she was driving, and there was no red light, no red sign telling her it was okay to stop. She glimpsed him briefly, yet she saw so much, too much. She tried to explain to her husband later how that man’s anguish had affected her. She told him how she’d pictured herself pulling over, knocking on the man’s window, saying something to comfort him, something like “I see you,” but how then she thought, but what if he’s a misogynist? What if he’s violent? She said, “That’s what it is to be a woman in this world. You can’t even empathize with a stranger without thinking about your own safety.” Her husband just said, “Probably he’s not a misogynist.” She didn’t bother then to tell him the other thing she saw on her drive—that someone had wrapped that metal horse sculpture in a blanket. Some feelings were difficult to explain, like last week when her son peeked underneath the unsealed flaps of the brown cardboard box sitting next to her desk as she paid the overdue water bill. He’d barely said, “What’s in here?” She snapped her head. “Don’t look in there!” But it was too late. In those milliseconds, he’d seen the birthday gift she’d planned to wrap after she paid the water company. She told her son he shouldn’t assume that’s what he’d get. She might decide to exchange the gift now that he’d seen it. His birthday was a week away, after all. But all week she sensed that he knew she wouldn’t exchange the gift—it was what he’d asked for, after all—and that he was burdened by this knowledge. The morning of his birthday, when he tore open the big blue package, far larger than the gift warranted, he smiled wistfully. “It’s just what I wanted,” he said, but they both knew that was only partly true. Her husband snapped their photo, beamed as though everything were perfect.
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Pinch, Wigleaf, and other venues. Her work has been selected for Best Microfictions 2020 and the Wigleaf Top 50 2019, as well as been a finalist for Best of the Net 2019 and the Lascaux Prize in short fiction and flash fiction, among other awards. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. www.michellenross.com