winner of valentine's day flash fiction 2021

Hanahaki

by josephine moore

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Content warning: Fantastical body horror

 

            I woke up in the middle of the night, coughing so harshly I couldn’t breath. Minutes passed, my face red with the heat of suffocation. I felt the thin, silky texture of the petals in my mouth long before I could see them, but in the half-light of midnight, I could dispose of the evidence so I didn't have to see it for myself. So, I shoved it all into a crumpled up grocery bag with clumsy hands, then threw it out into the trash can.

            “It’s a disease of perception,” a doctor said to the newscaster, “which is what makes it so hard to diagnose and treat. What we do know is that it’s born from rejection, or to be more specific, the sense of unrequited love. Everyone gets small cases: something as simple as a pet rejecting cuddles can lead to a minor cough. But those who don’t have love in their life, or aren’t able to accept it, are the ones experiencing life threatening cases.”

            There are many people in my life I love: family and friends. And, on a logical level, I think they love me too. That’s what makes this disease so sinister. Am I really unloved, or am I just being paranoid? If I convince myself others do love me, am I talking myself out of anxiety, or am I talking myself into a fantasy and annoying the people I care about most?

            I suppose it doesn’t matter. My alveoli bloom into cherry blossoms all the same, my bronchi turning into soft-wooded branches.

            The corpses of the unloved are almost beautiful, their flesh destroyed to make way for daffodils and orchids, a veritable bouquet resting in their ribcage. A rose in one eye, lavender embedded in the spine, baby’s breath peeking out of gaps in the skull’s teeth. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad way to die, were it not so lonely.