First place: The De Facto Mother by Yasmina Din Madden

Kiki learns that male alligators have permanent erections while she watches the Discovery Channel instead of grading five paragraph essays from her eighth graders who, among the boys, she also suspects have permanent erections. Over the many years she’s taught, she’s seen hundreds of boys adjust themselves, eyes darting around the room, checking to see if anyone noticed, or openly, without a hint of embarrassment. She has also on occasion watched a boy walk out of her classroom with a full-on tent and the mother in her has wanted to rush over and hand him a folder or a book to cover himself. Which, of course, she resists. Kiki should turn off the television and grade, but she just can’t bring herself to read another essay about The Hate You Give, a book she and her students love. Reading and discussing books with her students brings Kiki actual joy. Reading their writing is another beast altogether.  

During mating, two flatworms, which Kiki has never heard of, engage in “penis fencing” in which they each try to stab each other with their two-headed penises. Yes, this is alarming and surprising to Kiki, but what really gets her, is the way the Discovery Channel describes what comes next, which is that whoever manages to penetrate first and inseminate the other wins. And the loser, their words, not hers, becomes the de facto mother. Kiki considers the flatworm’s hermaphroditic nature, what it might be like to have a penis alongside her vagina. Not interested. While she’s had her share of penises inside of her, sleeps beside a human with a penis, and has a child with a penis, she will always find them strange, and somewhat ugly. She realizes that if a man described a vagina this way, it would be viewed as misogynistic. Maybe she’s biased, but vaginas just seem more organic to the human body. 

Kiki glances at the stack of essays beside her on the couch and feels slightly nauseated. She tells herself that it’s because there’s eighty of them, but also, her period is a couple of weeks late and she’s been putting off buying a pregnancy test. Kiki loves her son, but she is not interested in having another baby—she hated being pregnant, and she’s only ever wanted a single child. Lucas, her husband, is another story. “Two is perfect,” he keeps telling her. “Then they have each other.” Kiki won’t budge—even when they were dating, she made it clear that if she had children, it would only be one. Anders is four, a sweet, gentle little boy who loves animals and has the palate of an adult. She loves him more than anything in the world, which is why she only ever wanted one child. How could she possibly love another child as much as she loves Anders? 

On television, a hen squawks and does its strange head-bobbing run across a farmyard, a fat rooster in hot pursuit. Kiki watches as the rooster, who, just for the record, seems both predatory and peremptory, mounts the hen. She knows she’s anthropomorphizing, and the rooster is just following his biological urges, but watching him mount that hen makes her mad. Some of that anger dissipates when the Aussie host of the show shares that a hen can eject up to eighty percent of an offending (again, their words, not hers) male’s sperm. She silently cheers on the hen, eject, eject, eject! Once again, the Discovery Channel disappoints when it underscores that this ejection of sperm allows for the possibility that the hen might be impregnated by a rooster at the top of the pecking order. Is it so impossible that a hen just doesn’t want to get impregnated yet again? The TV host did, after all, describe hens who eject sperm as enraged or possibly disappointed. Why assume she’s disappointed the rooster isn’t distinguished enough—too low in the pecking order? Why not focus on the possibility that the hen is enraged at the rooster’s audacity, at the prospect of laying another bunch of eggs, with the idea of being, yet again, an incubator? 

Kiki clicks off the television and puts aside her stack of essays. She slings her purse over her shoulder and grabs her keys. At the pharmacy down the street, she selects two pregnancy tests. Sitting awkwardly on the toilet, trying to pee on the stick but not her hand—harder than it might sound—Kiki thinks about the flatworms, wonders if her husband would be so gung-ho about two kids if he lost their battle and became the de-facto mother. 

The best flash rage on the page, and that’s what’s happening here. A rage against silence and men. Done so with wit, grace, and searing language. What’s so stunning about this piece is how the contempt is palatable on the page, which, just like a flatworm, digs more and more into you as you read. Nothing short of a delight.

jj Peña

The story was very cleverly structured. There were so many layers to it, and so many underlying emotions to what seemed like a very simple observation of a particular situation. I loved the voice, the structure and how it evoked all kinds of emotions in me while I was reading it.

Susmita Bhattacharya

Yasmina Din Madden is a Vietnamese American writer who lives in Iowa. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Idaho Review, PANK, Carve, The Masters Review: New Voices, The Fairy Tale Review, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Word Riot and other journals. Her short fiction has been a finalist for The Iowa Review Award in Fiction, The Masters Review Anthology, the Wigleaf Top 50, Fractured Journal’s micro-fiction contest, and nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She is completing a collection of short fiction.


Published by FJ Morris

Author & Director of Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. West Country bumpkin who can't kill anything but characters. Loves to grow big stories and big plants. Always looking for omens and four leaf clovers.

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