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“A Standing Ovation for the Scorpion in the Toilet Bowl” by Catherine O’Brien



These days she would accept all or any correspondence. His utterances are a dying dialect.

The last thing he had told her was ‘I do not belong here’ and she did not know if he meant with her in their house or in this ordinary sleepover town or both and her heart had hurt.

His music gnaws at her defences, catapulting its explicit lyrics through his keyhole to worry her as she tidies adjacent rooms. She occupies herself to feign control, a steadying of a quaking edifice. She knows he has been kissed by darkness; she has stepped inside his soul. She has leaned into the most expensive gradients of his moods, the ones which cost them everything.

She blames herself. If only she had not been so scattered in her twenties, if only she had married a shy guy and not a bully with a wolfish stare. He has his father’s eyes. Polished sapphires of aquamarine she once believed she could see her reflection in.

‘How bizarre and beautiful,’ she had said when they had visited The Great Wall of China. He had informed her at 10 years old that it had been subject to man-made hurt for years, bricks stolen and portions vandalised and destroyed. She had felt that pillage too, the ramparts reduced. She had seen her future.

On his 15th birthday, he had called her ‘Mom’ for the last time. It had been a comment about her road rage that had lifted his snarl into a smirk.

At 16, she had found garments she did not recognise under his bed. Dialogue had failed, an impasse in situ.

Four months later he received his first ride in a police car. She had fished fistfuls of cash she had given him from his pocket before washing his jeans. She knew he did not need to steal the sportswear but he did. Two months afterwards she made some calls and tried sending him off grid. She never read remorse in his expression, just awareness of her ill-fitting deceit. She had struggled to breathe. He had viewed her gasps from a distant shore before drowning his hands in his pockets and slamming the door. The ambulance operator had to trace the call, she was found in the hallway. The same hallway she had stood in when she practised for the conversation roulette. The calendar was affixed to the mirror waiting for the days to rearrange themselves until he would return.

At 17 years and 264 days there was a girl. Her boots left blood lust streaks of mud on the floors. There was no interaction. It did not last.

At 18 she tries to re-establish some semblance of normality but it soon becomes clear that she is a banana grove and he is a tamarin ravenous for a plate full of oranges.

And then it is there like a floodlight shining on the cemetery of their years of dark nights. Its pincers are magnificent, so honest and committed. Its body is a mass of bronzed ripples and she is afraid the warmth of her gaze will startle it. He tells her that they use them to restrain and kill their prey. She does not care. Today does not need to bow to tomorrow’s tomorrowness. When he called her, he had held her arm and pulled her close as they had ascended the stairs together to where they are now, peering together into a toilet bowl.

‘Mom, can you help me save it?’, his words are blanched of any molten fragments, their edges softened.

She wonders if it is a venomous scorpion. The thought is a struck match in the centre of her mind. She cannot lose him again. She knows its stinger is also known as a telson; she briefly marvels how circumstance has transformed its fiery dagger into their armament to repossess the greatest thing man has ever known. She feels dispossessed of further choices and with that comes the enclosure of relief. Her love for him feels newly secured in the moment and like a flag unfurls itself to iron out its creases in this strident breeze.

‘Of course, I will help you. I have always wanted to.’

Her hope is prone to being caducous, having been schooled by disappointment but his smile has knocked through those walls. Later, she will learn that her receptiveness, her thinly-veiled eagerness had handed him the mallet.

‘I am sorry, Mom. I am sorry you’ve waited so long.’

Together their laughter is a collage; it develops into the afternoon like a photograph alters in purest darkness from shiny and soulless to a crisp rectangle of light.



Catherine O’Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. She writes bi-lingually in English and Irish. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal, Reflex Press, Ink Sweat &Tears, Ellipsis Zine, Tiny Molecules, Gone Lawn, Bending Genres, Books Ireland, Splonk, Flash Boulevard, Janus Literary & more. Her poem ‘Embezzled Emotion’ published in Janus Literary received a Best of the Net nomination 2023. You can find her on Twitter @abairrud2021.

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