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by Karen Schauber

Frannie is lollygagging about in the blueberry patch — her pint-size arm threaded through the handle of the scrub bucket — as she milks the plump berries into it with her tiny purple-splotched fingers. Her mother sits a few meters away on the checkered picnic blanket, complaining to the neighbor, Delores, about her dad, “the Rat.” Frannie’s skin crawls each time her Mom calls her dad “the Rat.” She imagines his twisty whiskers tickling her every time he scoops her up and squeezes her to plant a kiss. His pointed head, large eyes, and prominent, thinly furred ears loom large as she wonders how pointed, how large, and how furry they have become since she saw him last. Because now he is “a big Rat,” says Mom.

Daddy hasn’t come out from the city on the weekends like he ought, and Mommy is not at all happy. Summers at the cottage by the lake are supposed to be fun, but not this year. Frannie toddles over to the edge of the blanket swinging her half-emptied pail, and plunks herself down beside the Grey Poupon, tea sandwiches, English cucumbers, Oka cheese, and blue grapes. She reaches for the fizzy pink bottle before her Mom shoots out a hand to stop her. It appears faster than a lizard’s tongue. Frannie purses her lips to speak but thinks better of it.

“The Rat” has sent a message with Delores’s husband, who arrives at the cottage in the evening with paper cut-out dolls for Frannie. He plucks a blueberry off the top of the newly baked pie and tousles her hair, asking in a really loud voice if she picked the juicy ones all by herself. His chisel-like upper and lower incisors glisten as he bends over and plants a sweaty kiss on Mommy’s lips, before they scurry upstairs. Frannie catches a whiff of something foul and wonders just what kind of “Rat” he is.

Karen Schauber is a flash fiction writer obsessed with the form. Her work appears in 45 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, and New Flash Fiction Review. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019), celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters, is her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology. Schauber runs Vancouver Flash Fiction, a flash fiction resource hub and critique circle, and in her spare time is a seasoned family therapist. A native of Montreal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades.