Brushing her teeth in the mirror, what was that coming out of the pores on her nose? Some kind of orange powder. But it was winter, the flowers were all dead. No, not pollen, she hadn’t leaned over that close to smell anything. Yes she had. The mac-and-cheese for her son, the pouch of dried cheddar mix inside the box — why was it always so difficult to open, and when she had, the foil lining at last broken, a small cloud emerged. As if it were a bottle of perfume — and because no one would ever possibly see her do it, and because in the milliseconds assigned to such flash thoughts as what kind of elaborate machine had manipulated this substance into the pouch and were there workers who monitored such a machine, did they wear white lab coats and goggles, did they dislike their job or was it tolerable and did they avoid the product that they packaged — she lowered her face to the lip of the torn parcel. This is what had done it. Nothing was coming out of her pores, she had dusted them herself. But that was hours — which in parenting time translated to distinct slices in the day’s pie chart — ago. She had been orange-nosed for at least half the waking day. And her son, always tactlessly quick to point out any aberration from the norm, hadn’t told her. This meant, Jesus, not the coffee drive-through, but the post office, the pet-mart, the library book return, and the grocery store — all with a saffron amoeboid shape decorating the tip end of her nose. She needed to spit. Instead she leaned closer into the mirror — who was this woman, the fine lines and age spots, the jawline threatening collapse, green eyes searching her brow, her lips, an unplucked hair, and was the young girl behind the eyes still there — and was it, yes, it was okay, it would feel good to laugh, maybe cry, it would feel good to let it out.


Laton Carter’s Leaving received the Oregon Book Award. Recent work appears in Entropy and Necessary Fiction. Carter’s flash fiction was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018.