Flash Fiction: Toti O’Brien’s “In Tongues”

////Flash Fiction: Toti O’Brien’s “In Tongues”

In Tongues
Toti O’Brien

“Iceberg” by Liz Taylor.


When they asked me which one of the Norse brothers…

I can’t be specific, especially because they switched places. Otherwise they were uncannily kind—because I could not understand their cursing. They were swearing, I’m sure, as packs of brothers necessarily do while driving a rented vehicle in traffic across cities unknown.

But I didn’t pay heed to their interactions, busy enough with the one who in turns was closest to me. Beltless, I lost my balance at each funambulic turn the van managed. My cheek ended against the large palm of the nearest brother, always ready—and courteous at that—to secure my uprightness. What a strange sort of thrill, my face in his hand. No hand of mine was involved, as I deem it a body part to be sparely used. Only one at a time, please, no matter whose—or else all becomes granted, all gets spoiled in a blink.

It was dusk. Hard to say. Light is gloomy in the back of a crowded van. I was holding the cards, vainly trying to decipher them. They kept crumbling in a frustrating fashion. For how long had Mom stored them away? Why was everything we owned obsolete? Worse… why did things fall apart on their own, without any mistreatment—no one’s fault, just ineluctability? That I couldn’t bear.

Those cards vanished through my fingers like flowers out of ancient books—violets, to be exact—before I could read the addresses of the Museums we looked for. After all, this was a cultural journey. The Norse brothers weren’t here for vacations—they needed, urged to know. But I couldn’t get a single street name and felt terrible. They kept laughing, unscathed.

A flash lit my brain then. The Museum of Justice. I thought I could get us there. Would it… would they be interested? Such a modern concept. Although I realized it mostly contained proofs of injustice. Human meanness. Cruelty. Testimonials of manmade suffering. Public horrors. Anyway, how could we reach it on time if it was dusk already? Evening, when it starts falling, tends to precipitate.

And I wondered, while the dark gulped us down, if what I couldn’t forgive Mother was that—to be a Viking, to be fair and blond—while I (the poor bastard) belonged to the other side of the family she affirmed. But you can’t belong to one side, Mom dear. Look at your hand. You can’t split the palm from the back without making a bloody mess, still ending with another sort-of-palm, sort-of-back—you can’t divide sides, only multiply them, and that doesn’t help.

So which one of the Norse brothers, that night, was called Thor, or Thorwald, or Thorwaldson? I’d say none of them because I didn’t ask. Why should I care? No one in my family was ever called Thor except for a distant cousin. That’s why I kept my hands to myself in the van, no matter how dizzy I got.


When they asked me which one of the Dane’s movies I preferred, of course I preferred them all. But then, Melancholia.

That one I found so uplifting I kept playing it back in my brain for several centuries. It figured out the death-issue, which I had thought unsolvable. Because what makes death scary if not lack of simultaneousness? Two things only are unpleasant about it. One is loss—on account of the bereaved—fundamentally selfish, but quite scorching indeed. Loss is a bunch of neurons, alas, previously attached to the passed one, now hanging loose like electrical wires uncovered, uncapped—and each time we brush them we get a hell of a shock. The other pain is less intimate, more mature yet still raw. It’s the sadness of what the deceased has missed and we enjoy—call it possibilities, life in general—the great movie that keeps unblinkingly scrolling while someone has been unjustly kicked out. What if the whole film expires, credits and all? Then nobody gets fired. No room for regrets. What is death without survivors? Nothing at all.

Then I think of those extinct societies whose last members starved to death or indulged in cannibalism—that instead of a ferocious deal might have been a merciful one, between euthanasia and communion. Because what is best? To die a bit later, a bit earlier? Does it count when there is no future? Does it matter when aching so bad?

When they starved or they froze or succumbed to plague—frankly, who wanted to be last? Had I come by and asked who among them was called Thor, or Thorwald, as I looked for a cousin of mine, no one would have lifted their head. No one wanted to be named after a god, having briskly understood no such thing exists. Had I come by, what kind of emotion would I have seen in their eyes? None. Doesn’t hunger make people blind? None, not even fear. Did they hold hands? Anybody? Not sure. Did anyone sing?



About the writer:
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish last name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in DIN Magazine, Panoplyzine, Courtship of Wind, and Colorado Boulevard.

Image: “Iceberg” by Liz Taylor. @iamliztaylor













By | 2018-02-23T19:56:35+00:00 February 23rd, 2018|Fiction, Flash Fiction, LITERARY ARTS|