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Burnout - Hannah Fowler

Melody sat under the single lightbulb in her garage, edged between the space heater and the last pumpkin left in the bin at Trader Joes. She rotated the pumpkin, determining which side had the fewest blemishes. She made a mark with her pencil, erased it, made another mark three inches to the right, erased that, and made another mark seven inches to the left. The pumpkin became dark and blurry until it gradually disappeared. Melody jolted awake, pressed her hands against the cool concrete floor and checked her phone. It was 2:27A.M. If she changed her morning workout to an after-work workout, asked Greg to make the kids’ breakfast, and told Isaac to take the puppy out, she could still get about four hours of sleep. That is, if she was able to carve this thing in thirty minutes, which seemed like a reasonable amount of time.

Now that Isaac was in middle school, he was able to go to the Halloween dance, which he was excited about, mostly because he and his friends had agreed to dress up as their teachers, but he neglected to tell Melody that each parent of a sixth grader was required to contribute a pumpkin as a decoration for the dance. Melody recalled Joan Grissom’s judgmental look of assumed parental negligence when Melody arrived seven minutes late to tonight’s PTA meeting pumpkin-less. It would have been fine had she had more time, but the dance was tomorrow. After the meeting, she picked up the pimply pumpkin, made dinner, fed the baby, helped Isaac with math, helped Isaac with earth sciences, put the baby to sleep, took out the puppy, caught up on work, had sex with her husband, washed the dishes, rocked the baby to sleep, and found herself sitting in the garage with a coffee Greg brought out to her. Thanks, she managed to say instead of why me and not you?

Melody stabbed her knife into the pumpkin, a motion more challenging than she had anticipated. Feeling embarrassed, even in her solitude, she realized she had forgotten to empty out the insides. She wondered if the other mothers in the PTA made the same dumb mistake, or if they were pumpkin carving experts; if they were up until the early hours of the night, tired, alone, feeling whatever the opposite of holiday spirit was, or if they carved their pumpkins on quilted blankets in the living room with their kids close by sipping cocoa and exchanging ghost stories. During the PTA meeting that night, Melody had glanced around at the other pumpkins sitting on laps and under chairs. Most were quite good, artsy even, carved by the hands of doting mothers – or maybe even a few fathers, but Melody couldn’t picture the latter.

As Melody scraped the slimy innards from the pumpkin, she recalled a time when she and her mother carved a pumpkin one day when Melody got home from school. Her mom had been a stay-at-home mother. When Melody got home every weekday, she would spend hours with her mother, cleaning, grocery shopping, or making dinner. When Melody’s father got home, he would peek his head into the kitchen, say goodnight, and head to the study. Melody grew up with the assumption that men didn’t eat dinner.

With the pumpkin gutted, Melody was able to turn her attention to the design. Her knife made a much easier entry through the skin. She hollowed out the eyes, carved a triangle for the nose, and, sensing the difficulty of a toothy grin, opted for luscious lips. This will be Ms. Pumpkin, she decided. She examined the façade. Realizing the eyes were small, she added eyelashes, which was no easy feat, but they gave the pumpkin a mischievous stare. She felt around her own face, and touched her earrings, prompting her to carve the top outline of two ears with a small piercing at the lobe, into which she placed two feathers she found in the garage, remembering the feather earrings she used to own as a teenager. With her own hair tie and some leaves she pulled from the leaf blower, she assembled a crown around the stem.

Melody stood up with tired knees and admired her work. She was proud of her project― feeling the freest she had in a long time. She picked up her cellphone. It was 5:21A.M.


Hannah Fowler is from Chicago, Illinois working as a senior analyst for a beauty retailer. Her passion for writing is derived from her training at Second City and from her collegiate years competing on the University of Alabama speech team. See more of Hannah's flash fiction on her website


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