“Before She Was a Memory”

I didn’t recognize her without her head. The policeman took me to the morgue. He told me to look. I looked. There was an expanse of steel, smooth and inscrutable as any lake, her body arcing towards her neck. Then the savage intrusion of empty space. It was June. I didn’t have a cardigan. And for more than a moment she could’ve been anyone’s daughter. It could’ve been anyone’s yellow tennis skirt, anyone’s muddied Keds, anyone’s shoulder studded with anyone’s moles. They had given me a pill. On her right hand, I saw a circle of silver studded with diamonds. When asked, I said, Yes of course, a day at the park. The boy who drove seemed scrubbed to the ears. I was impressed with the precision of his haircut. As an infant, she preferred screams to sleep and I told her that she would regret it. I told her that when she was a teen, I’d keep a list of all the songs that she hated and play them, one by one, to keep her awake. I told her I’d turn up the volume as soon as I didn’t see her eyes. They had given me a pill. Were her eyes still in the head they searched the forest for, and if they were open, what would they see? One star had gone missing from the constellation of her ring. I imagine: the clean boy sped with his windows down, letting out all the Aerosmith and air-conditioning. I imagine: she said, How lovely warm, the sun. When asked, I said, The ring was hers. I said, I know for sure because it was mine. I imagine: she was singing and the boy was singing and in the backseat, the air was singing. Each leaf pointed at them and their song. When asked, I said, Let her keep it. I said, I gave it to her so it’s hers. And the afternoon had been so heavy with gold. It occurred to me that I couldn’t be sure. It occurred to me that perhaps I’d recognized her not by how she looked but how she looked at me, that perhaps that’s how anyone knows anything, not by the looking but by the looking back. It had become very late. If I hoped anything it was that she kept singing. It was that the tree came too fast for her to understand good-bye. I was standing in cold air, which was empty space. When asked, I said, Yes, I am ready to leave. I said, Just like that, and the policeman said, Yes. Just like that. And then we were just standing there. And the silence was blue as a sky.

–from Best Small Fictions 2015

BSF-Final-Front

Emma Bolden

About Emma Bolden

Emma Bolden is the author of Maleficae (GenPop Books, 2013), a book-length series of poems about the witch trials in early modern Europe, and medi(t)ations, a book-length poem forthcoming from Noctuary Press in the fall of 2015. She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry: How to Recognize a Lady (Toadlily Press), The Mariner’s Wife (Finishing Line Press), The Sad Epistles (Dancing Girl Press) and This Is Our Hollywood (The Chapbook), as well as a nonfiction chapbook, Geography V (Winged City Press). Her poetry and prose has appeared in such journals as The Rumpus, The Toast, Prairie Schooner, Conduit, the Indiana Review, the Greensboro Review, Redivider, Verse, Feminist Studies, The Journal, Guernica, and Copper Nickel. Bolden has been featured on Poetry Daily and in Verse Daily’s Web Weekly series. She was named a finalist for a Ruth Lily Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation/Poetry magazine and the winner of the 2014 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose from Gulf Coast Magazine, the Spoon River Poetry Review’s 2014 Editor’s Prize Contest, and the Press 53/Prime Number Magazine 2014 Award for Flash Nonfiction. Her work was chosen for inclusion in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best American Poetry 2015. An Alabama native, Bolden received a BLA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.



  • This was one of favorite stories from this anthology. Wow! So powerful. I was rereading it and ran across this posting. Incredible!
    I did a full review of this book at Amazon, Goodreads and a few other places.