Thresholds: “The Clearing” by Kori Frazier Morgan

When I chose “thresholds” for this project’s theme, I liked how the physical meaning of the word, “the floor of a door or entranceway,” corresponded with a figurative meaning, “the level at which something starts to happen.” After a couple of months in Scotland, I feel myself crossing the threshold of familiarity: golding trees and sea gulls’ cries shift from magical to ordinary, and poor water pressure and COVID restrictions become everyday. I hope I can hold onto my sense of wonder while settling into the rhythms of this place.

Kori Frazier Morgan‘s delightful contribution to the Thresholds project, a flash fiction story, explores thresholds of familiarity and boredom, safety and adventure, physical and metaphorical. I identified with the main character so closely, it startled me.

Kori’s partner for this project was Aaron Stephens, who gave her the following “artifacts” or creative stimuli:

  • Cat whiskers
  • Clouds moving quickly across the sky
  • A small patch of earth in an otherwise grassy place

The Clearing

by Kori Frazier Morgan

Charlotte awoke to her cat’s whiskers needling her cheeks, his head gently butting against her forehead, as if saying, “Wake up, I’m bored.” Bergamot was the neediest cat she’d ever had, a plain yellow housecat she’d rescued from a shelter. Charlotte blinked several times, meeting his aggressively green gaze, then groaned like a sick dog as she forced herself to get up.

She grabbed a pair of sweatpants out of her dresser and the Ohio State sweatshirt she’d worn for the last three days. “You should dress like you’re still going to work,” her mother had said the last time they talked. “This won’t last forever. Do you want to lose your routine?” Charlotte snapped back that she’d already lost it.

Downstairs in the kitchen, she poured a cup of coffee and scrolled through Facebook. This had been her routine since the beauty salon where she worked shut down last month—mindlessly scrolling through the latest bad news, charming photos of her friends’ kids learning on Zoom, Instagram-worthy loaves of homemade bread and DIY crafts.

A text from her mom popped up. U okay? Charlotte rolled her eyes. Bergamot jumped on the table, sidling up to her shoulder. “Please leave me alone,” she said, unsure whether she was talking to him or her mom. The cat just stood there looking confused, then leapt onto the floor.

The phone dinged with another message. I can see u reading my txts. Please go outside or something?? 

Charlotte glanced at her watch. It was 10:30. She’d only been up for an hour, but it felt like five. She thought of the groceries outside that had been delivered two days ago, and remembered that she’d ordered chocolate chip cookie dough. Cookie dough for breakfast might switch things up.

She opened the front door and tried to gather as many bags as she could. Struggling to balance it all, she dropped a bottle of wine and it shattered, broken glass and black-red liquid sinking into the pavement. Charlotte swore loudly. She tried to manipulate the screen door so she could get everything else inside, and it was then that Bergamot darted out of the house.

Charlotte yelled the cat’s name, dropped the rest of the groceries, and flew after him. He ran like crazy, the allure of the fresh air seeming to intoxicate him, and she chased him down the sidewalk, across the street, down another block, until she reached the end of the road, where Bergamot darted up a maple tree. 

Charlotte looked around and found herself in a clearing. There used to be a house here, all swaybacked and crumbling from years of neglect, until the city finally tore the eyesore down. Now, the grass was lush and green, except for one wide, circular patch beneath the tree where nothing grew.

Bergamot scaled the higher branches of the tree. Charlotte grabbed the lowest branch and tried to walk her legs up the trunk, but the bark scraped her hands and she let go and fell on her back into the dirt. The heaviness inside her was unbearable, but she was too tired to cry. Bergamot was now a tiny yellow dot bouncing from branch to branch high above.

“Please come back,” she said, her voice cracking. “Please.” Her legs shook—she hadn’t run like that in years—and she let herself sink onto the patch of earth, curling into it. She wanted to stay here forever in the barren patch of earth, letting the grass grow over her, until there was only a slight rise in the grass, blending into the roots.

She was half asleep when she felt something wiry poke her cheeks. When she opened her eyes, she saw Bergamot, curled up on her chest, his long yellow tail curled around his body. He stared down at her, opened his mouth, and yowled, almost snarkily, as if to say, I finally got you to go out.

Kori Frazier Morgan

Kori Frazier Morgan received her MFA in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Forge, Switchback, Blanket Sea, Prick of the Spindle, Scarlet Leaf Review, & other publications. She is the author of two books, Bone China Girls: A Poetic Account of a Female Crime & The Goodbye Love Generation: A Novel In Stories

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