Dinner || Frances Koziar

“Did you find my keys?”

It was the first thing Kalisha’s father said when she came in for dinner. She let the dog off the leash, and it hid, but she couldn’t.

She braced herself, reminded herself, changed herself.

She wore chainmail and a sturdy shield.

“No.”

“Did you even look?”

“No.” Explaining that she had been busy, or that he had only mentioned losing them and not that he had wanted her to find them, would only make him angrier. Telling him to find them himself would incite violence.

Exposed in the meadow of her father’s gaze, in the glaring lights of the kitchen, Kalisha said nothing. But half of her—split by the whisper-sharp blade of danger—curled away and stretched out, like a new tendril of a plant, to touch another world.

A key to her shackles, delivered by the forest folk. The dark safety of trees in the distance.

I’ll have to go look then,” her father said, rolling his eyes angrily, and in the middle of setting the table, he left the kitchen. Kalisha flickered like a firefly, slipped away from her life, her body, her stomach knotting with dread. 

Flickers of light through the canopy as she reached the trees. Tendrils of dust and shadow, and hope.

 “Can’t you do that after dinner, honey?” her mother called. She was just turning off the stove, two dishes steaming and ready.

One image overlaid on another; a dream over a nightmare.

Steam billowed up from a cauldron, changing the light, filtering it through the prism of a kaleidoscope. The blinding mist of a spell being cast. Embracing her. Protecting her.

“Do you want to pay for them?” her dad asked from the next room. It sounded like he was throwing things around. Kalisha would have to clean up after him later. 

The mist parted. There—a trail leading out of the forest and to the sea. Away.

Kalisha had yelled and cried and ignored before, and her father had laughed and shoved and insulted before. Now she dissociated, and chose a better realm.

Others joined her. Humans, nymphs, fairies. Others who fled the meadow at the heart of the forest. Others who joined hands with her as they reached the rocky shore.

She and her mom were silent, but the silence roared in her ears. Hidden in it, somewhere, had to be a path that was worth following, a life that was worth living.

The sea, roaring as it crashed against the rocks, ready to defend them. A tall ship, sails unfurling as they boarded. Planks rocking gently beneath her feet.

 “Did you find them?” her mother asked, hopeful and broken, as her dad came closer. But there was no reply, just louder rummaging. He was a master of silence.

But Kalisha could use it too, needed to use it if she wanted to survive, to not drown in her father’s power, to hold on to hope.

A song, calling her. It flowed between the spaces in the wind, between the ruptures in the world. It came from the horizon, open and welcoming as the ship set sail. Whispers of beauty and love and freedom. A home.

Her dad sat with a thump on his chair, his lip curling with cruelty. Her mother rushed to cheer him with a beer in her hand.

And Kalisha—she was wrenched from her magic, pulled from the safety of oblivion into the glaring lights of a kitchen and a table set for dinner.

Frances Koziar has published work in over 60 different literary magazines, and she is seeking an agent for NA fantasy novels and diverse children’s fairy tales (PBs). Her prose is upcoming in “Best Canadian Essays 2021” and “Daily Science Fiction”.  She is a young (disabled) retiree and a social justice advocate, and she lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. https://franceskoziar.wixsite.com/author

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