(originally posted 3/2/2015)
The problem with writing flash fiction is that people who read one story base their entire opinion about your writing on that one small sample. If they like it, you want them to remember your name but never read another word you’ve written because eventually they’ll stumble upon something they hate and if they hate it, you’re desperate for them to try another one in the hopes that they’ll hate it slightly less.
First impressions and such.
The only way around a problem like this is to write a story that completely captures what you’re all about, which of course is completely impossible given people change almost on the hour, so here goes.
I was attached to this girl once, attached being an intentionally vague word, and she owned two chinchillas. She named them Baby Doll and Sweet Pea after characters in her favorite movie. The truth was that she only purchased them because she was unable to buy any pets originating from Australia. For some reason, she felt a connection with Australia and I only discovered this after stopping her from hurling Baby Doll off of a second floor staircase wearing a crude set of wings she’d constructed for her pet in the hopes of having her mimic one of the more endearing features of the sugar glider.
Sometimes on really long drives, you suddenly arrive at home with no memory of the miles you’ve traveled. I had a lot of days like that with her. Emotionally speaking.
Baby Doll and Sweet Pea did not get along. I don’t know enough about chinchillas to say if this was unique or typical behavior, but they would try to bite each other right through the cages they lived in. She had hoped they would play together so she didn’t feel she had to amuse them all the time, but from the start it was clear they were solitary creatures who resented the presence of another chinchilla in their territory.
One time, she withheld their daily treat of a raisin for a week because they refused to keep wearing the duck bills she’d made for them to wear in order to look more like platypuses. Raisins were apparently ok for them to eat but the list of non-approved fruits and grains was pretty hefty, all of them a risk to cause the chinchilla diarrhea. It was explained to me that a chinchilla with diarrhea was something to avoid at all costs for reasons that were never explained to me.
One day, after pleading with Rapunzel to finally let down her hair, I climbed the tower to find a note explaining why she had to fly to Australia for awhile and asking if I would take care of her chinchillas.
I was grieved to find out that chinchillas live for a very long time. Any hopes of walking in after a week or two to find them dead was quickly extinguished after a quick visit to a pet store for advice and supplies.
They are not affectionate creatures. They will hop around when you let them out of the cages and poop little pellets every few seconds but they won’t tolerate being petted or stroked. They live life completely on their own terms.
I finally decided to put their two cages right next to each other thinking that it would force them to get along. The next day I heard a shriek and found Sweet Pea had one of her little fingers bitten off. Undeterred, I separated the cages an inch and left them to sort things out. Maybe all they needed was time.
Then they peed on each other. Endlessly. They would sit back on their hind legs and let fly. Face to face they would screech and pee and chew their cages until I wanted to make them into a pair of slippers.
I would sit there and let them run around the room pooping their little pellets and jumping up on top of me and I would wonder where she was and what she was doing and if she was ever coming back.
I was out of town for a week and when I came back I was alarmed to see that Sweet Pea’s water bottle had fallen off the cage and I was convinced I’d find a shriveled up chinchilla waiting for me but instead I got a very strange surprise. Baby Doll’s water bottle had been pushed in such a way that both chinchillas could access it. It was the single most uplifting gesture I could have imagined.
The next day, she called to say she wouldn’t be coming home.
Needing a lift, I went upstairs and asked Baby Doll why, if she hated Sweet Pea so much, she would share her water and allow her to live.
She explained that she still hated Sweet Pea but that she enjoyed getting peed on.