Master Plotto Week Five Winner: Randall Brown

Masie Cochran

Congratulations go out to Randall Brown, this week’s contest winner, whose story reminded us of Pablo Picasso and the thin line between paranoia and possibility.

Be sure to stay tuned while weekly winners: Laura Horely, Richard Osgood, Yasuko Thanh, Henry Leung, and Randall Brown face off in the Final Master Plot Challenge. And, Plottoists, keep honing your skills–Plotto: The Master Contest of All Plots returns to The Open Bar in April.

Last week’s prompt: {B} receives, in a mysterious manner, a photograph, not of herself but of someone greatly resembling her.

At First, I Find It Hard To Believe

It’s happening again, my mother’s hallucinations from the Parkinson’s medicine, men lounging on her bed, in her wheelchair, even on the shower chair, watching whatever she does. She points them out, one by one. Sometimes their faces are the wrong color—red or violet. I ask if she recognizes them, and she says no, of course not, what a silly question. They’re often overly tall—eight, nine feet long—and sometimes missing essential characteristics, such as ears or chins.

Out of the bathroom, she holds a photograph, yellow and crinkled. She uses her feet to maneuver the wheelchair around the desk, the bed, into the TV room. She keeps the news on all day and night. The president isn’t who he says he is.

She hands me the photograph. It’s almost her, maybe fifty years ago, in front of a white convertible with fins. When I ask her where she got it, she says they gave it to her.  She’s never mentioned before a twin, and I wonder if it’s her mother, but she insists it’s her, though it isn’t. For one, there’s a red birthmark on the neck; blue eyes; a slightly taller, straighter figure.

There’s a story, she tells me on the way to the hospital, where she’ll stay until they find the right mix of medicine to stop her hallucinations. It’s a story about this girl whose boyfriend asked her to marry him—he had a big job with the state and he promised her a life one could count upon. Instead of yes, she drove her father’s car until it ran out of gas, a policeman snapped this photo, on the edge of here and there, then called her father, who took some other girl home. But this girl, the one in the picture, she stayed.

And didn’t have me.

She rolls down the window, says something into the wind I can’t quite make out. She holds the picture as far as she can stretch until it blurs like trees and guardrails and roadside attractions. See, she says, it is me, then lets it go. I say now we’ll never know. She takes my hand, the one not on the wheel. She wants to know where we’re going.

I ask her what happens in her apartment while we’re gone. I’m okay with their returning to give her this photograph, of her not having me and my being born elsewhere or not at all. I think the wrong girl came back, maybe, and the other one, my mother, is still out there, in the desert or hills, wondering about me. She says she wants to go back, that they’re all there, waiting, with things to say and questions to ask, so full of interest.

Somewhere there’s that photograph fluttering behind us like butterflies, my almost mom pressed against that finned topless car, and so yes, of course we turn around, to return her to that imagined life.

Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (now available as a reprinted deluxe edition from PS Books), his essay appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He has been published widely, both online and in print, and blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.