Flash Fiction Friday 045: Modestina by Marlene Caroselli

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the forty-fifth piece of flash fiction in this series. This week’s is a 825-worder by non-fiction author Marlene Caroselli.


In that room of shadows and half-lights, the crucifix on the wall stood silhouetted by the sun. I remember that–the memory is carved, a wooden memory. I moved to give that infant a regular if abrupt passage from his world in the womb to the light outside his mother’s stomach. I saw her weep then and I wondered: Were her tears for the belly that would soon be emptied? Were they for the pain that left her quivering still? Was she looking ahead to the other savage lacerations that inevitably were to come? She was still a young woman; more pregnancies were in store.

But I did not have much time to think about this. The child had come. There was no wail, though, and I soon saw he had somehow tied a knot in the thread that bound him to his mother’s inner life. I had to work quickly then. I had to untie that knot before it strangled this tiny creature, had to try instead to weave that thread into the fabric that makes up a life. I sliced the cord but already, I could tell it was too late. The baby was nothing more than a limp, gray lump. One look at his charcoal skin and I knew: the cord that lay tangled around his neck had strangled him after all.

Erminia became my only concern then. I plucked that shriveled lump away–laying him aside, on the floor, to be disposed of later. I went to her. This was her first child and she had been laboring for many hours now. With my hand, I wiped from her forehead the glistening sweat that smelled of acid. Gently, I placed my other hand upon her stomach and rubbed. I, too, have known the pain of birthing.

Hoping the tone of my voice would be like sawdust on the fire of her unspoken question, I told her she would be fine. But Erminia would not be fooled. “My baby, my baby,” she cried. “What have you done with my baby?”

“Stop!” I scolded. “He came out dead. Forget him!” I hurled the words at her, hoping to startle her into concern for herself. But grief clambered from her heart, too awkward, too grotesque to be stopped with mere syllables. She raised her white arms in that room of terra cotta shadows. “Give him to me,” she demanded, her voice rasping against the soft stillness of the afternoon.

I refused. I am not proud of the thoughts that came to me next but they came, unbidden. I thought that her husband Pasquale would be very disappointed. Probably, he would not reward me as he would have if the baby boy had lived. Would I receive one chicken when I had been expecting two? The thoughts evaporated almost at the same moment they slithered into my head.

Again, I told her the child was dead and she wrapped her arms around herself as if she were sheltering a ghost. She pulled that sadness into her being and sank back upon the pillow, her mourning already begun. She was not speaking words, only sounds that came from deep within her. I stood there helpless. Finally, I began to clean up the room, my thoughts punctuated by her half-sighs and stifled moans.

And then we heard a mewling. I looked at her and found the same perplexing question in her reddened eyes that I had bouncing in my head. From that placenta-shrouded bundle we heard it again. It was fainter this time, almost like the whispered good-bye of a lover reluctant to leave, an utterance more felt than heard.

“Lui e renato,” she shouted, raising herself on her elbows, her eyes straining to see movement in that heap on the floor. “Renato! Renato,” she cried, her words curving around the inert form, as if willing his rebirth.

Could it be? Was God so good that he would restore life to this bundle of flesh and provide another chicken or two for me? I ran to him and saw his tiny fists raised in triumph. I turned him over and slapped his back to clear whatever residue of his previous life lay in his throat. And then I took water from my birthing pail. It was still warm, still good for making little blood-flecked rivers run across his puny chest. My hands had done this hundreds of times; they moved with little direction from me. Even as I cleansed him, I was reaching for the blanket that would offer an early protection from life’s sorrows.

She held out her arms, beseeching me to give her what she had carried inside for nine long months. The baby’s color was restored by now. The danger had passed. I helped her cradle the tiny form in her arms.

She cooed the whole time, “Renato. Renato.”

This is how he came by his name. He came to life a second time.


Wow, thank you, Marlene.

Dr. Marlene Caroselli (www.saatchionline.com/LainaCelano), is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer.

She has published over 60 books, including Jesus, Jonas, and Janus: The Leadership Triumvirate, and Principled Persuasion, named a Director’s Choice by Doubleday Book Club.


If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with octogenarian memoirist, non-fiction and fiction author Johnnie Johnson – the four hundred and forty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

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