*Flash Fiction* Self-Help

The early morning sun bounces off the ripples in my coffee. She dips a finger to retrieve the gnat, its wings like oars on the inky black.

"Look - I rescued him." She presents her finger, gnat-wings plastered to her skin, for my inspection.

"How can you tell it's a him? Tiny balls?" I snigger. I feel her eyes roll as she focuses on peeling the wings loose.

"You're such a pig. Shit. I think I broke one. Shit."

I know better than to laugh. She believes - we both do - that every life is precious and deserves an equal chance to be happy.  Happiness does not seem to be the fate for this gnat. But I put my mug on the wooden spool table, and slide across the seat of the porch swing until our legs are touching.

"I'm sorry, baby. Is he still alive?"

"Yeah." She uses a fingernail from the opposite hand to slide the soggy insect onto the arm of the swing.  "He's walking, or trying to. Damn." She leans against me and heaves a sigh. I do not put my arm around her; it's an unspoken rule for us. No hugs.  We've set boundaries to allow both of us to heal.

Everyone has scars, open wounds, even.  Everyone deals differently with their respective pain, but there is always pain.  It's part of being human. We tend to eye with suspicion those who seem superhuman, those who seem to have no pain. It's a pretty ruse. If there is no pain, we are dead, walking or not.

She and I met on the periphery of our circles - I hesitate to call mine a social circle - each on a personal path to self-improvement.  Careful, always careful, we eventually recognised something of ourselves in each other, and slowly the layers began to drop. It's a process.

We found this ranch house in the high desert and decided to try being in the same place away from everyone else. It was perfect - two bedrooms, two bathrooms, even a dog. As a joke we hung a rope swing in a Tamarisk tree.

"It's like me," she said, approving. "I can't support anyone, either." This is the nature of our relationship. Nobody carries anybody else. There's a famous picture of Jean Paul Sartre and his lifelong partner, Simone de Beauvoir, leaning on each other as they walk. Each is carrying a cane, in case they decide they no longer want to lean on somebody else.

The dog tears through the yard and disappears around the back of the house, leaving only a dustry trail as his wake.  I look over her head to the arm of the swing and see the gnat hobbling toward the edge.

"You did good. He was gonna be bird food, anyway. Eventually." She looks up sharply, and I flinch. She laughs.

"This is true. Now a blessing for birds. Easy catch." She leans into my shoulder again. I hate to break this moment.


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