“Where a Dark Heart Burns” by Barbara Black

I move forward facing backward. Water drips from the oar tip. There are those of us for whom islands are exile. For others, they’re an oasis from humanity, where one can occupy one’s self in seclusion. “Sometimes you have to go dead to be alive again.” As she put it, sequestering on this little island in an old shack built by an artist.

In the distance, a woodpecker rams a tree with its beak. Fish ribbon past under the lake’s surface. They have names like walleye and smallmouth, which seem to imply something about why she wants to be here. To look slant, to speak little.

She’s dressed in white sack cloth. Shapeless. We step around the poison oak. An outdoor table is set for three.

“Company coming, love?”

She slits her eyes at me. “This is Effy.”

A sedge-woven thing. Sitting there on a cedar stump chair. Moss hair, its eyes ghostly snowberries. Twig hands splayed as if stuck in supplication. Straw child. Our lost one. Not the first. “Our daughter,” she says, crazy hair exploding from her head. I never knew my wife could carve. Or weave. No words form in my mouth. Teacups filled, we eat white cake in silence.

“Are you coming home at some point?”
“You mean going home?”
“Well, either.”
“We’re burning Effy first.”

Her soul seems to catch fire, too. Like old man’s beard near a lit match. And when at the ashes stage, she cries, I cry, too. From the northern reaches of the lake a loon pulls down the moon with its three-pitch lament.

I can no longer look to her to see myself. And yet I love her more now than before.


‘Where A Dark Heart Burns’ was originally published at Vancouver Flash Fiction, November, 2020, as the First Place Winner of the Ekphrastic #FlashPrompt Challenge — “Little Island” by A.J. Casson

FEATURED IMAGE: Northern Patio by Greg Hargarten. 36 x 36″ acrylic on canvas – 2018. http:///greghargarten.com

Barbara Black

Barbara Black’s fiction, flash fiction, and poetry has appeared in Canadian and international magazines including The Cincinnati Review, The New Quarterly, CV2 and Prairie Fire. She was a finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards and nominated for the 2019 Journey Prize. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.


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Allan Hudson

Love it.

Barbara Black

Hello Allan. Thanks for your comment. I am glad it resonated with you!

Gina Roitman

Haunting. It leaves a hunger that cannot be sated. The call of the loon echoing in my ear.

Barbara Black

Thanks, Gina, for your beautifully expressed words.

Arlene Marks

This story slides right into the soul of the reader and takes up residence there.

Barbara Black

Arlene, many thanks for this lovely comment. It’s great to hear from readers how the story affects them. Thanks for reading.

Rosanna Battigelli

Haunting and luminous prose. Striking imagery and lovely turns of phrase.

Barbara Black

Thanks for taking the time to read and write a comment on the story, Rosanna. Your words are greatly appreciated.

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