PASSION by Melissa Ostrom

PASSION by Melissa Ostrom

Passion turned thirteen in the middle of July, and when the first light of this day, this special day, woke her and sweetened the darkness like milk stirred into coffee, Passion divided like a cell, turned into two Passions, a watching Passion, a watched Passion. Passion sensed Passion, keenly and with great interest. Herself. Her self. 

Passion thought, Here curls Passion on her side, under a worn sheet, her gaze turned to the paling window. The curve of her hip is slight. The arm hugging the pillow is slim. And there rises the sun. Pay attention, Passion, Passion ordered. Smell the world through the screen, the sour of the mowed grass, the wild candy of Mom’s lilies. This is your day. 

Passion, so seeable. Passion, worth seeing. Thirteen, thirteen, Passion rejoiced, and threw off the sheet and raced downstairs. 

All day, she enjoyed this significant otherness, this double-selfness. She sat at the kitchen table and ate the strawberries, everbearing berries her mother had gathered from the garden for her, just for her, and Passion thought, this is how Passion appears relishing small berries, this is how Passion looks with fingers reddened with juice. 

When she burst outside, the wind caught her nightgown and whipped it around her. She ran under the clothesline, let a billowing skirt sweep her face, fragrantly, coolly, and marveled, Passion is thirteen. Does she look it, do I look it?

When she swam in the pond with her brother and sister, she decided, Passion swims with fierce strokes. Tadpoles, dragonflies, watch out, beware. When she heard the report of a rifle, the boom, boom from the woods, she treaded the murky water and saw herself as the sad star in a movie about a hunter who shoots too close to a clearing, the bullet that reaches a swimmer, the Passion who dies at thirteen. She made herself cry a little, moved by this movie. Then she pictured herself crying and wished she had a mirror, so she could study how she looked. 

Later, she sat at the picnic table in her damp suit, her white towel wrapped around her like a wet dress, while her family sang the birthday song. Happy birthday, dear Passion, happy birthday to me! She ate her marble cake with chocolate frosting and acknowledged, Passion loves chocolate. She glanced over her shoulder toward the woods. She wondered if the hunter was still in there, hidden by the trees. Was he watching? 

Not once did she relate to the hunter. Not once did she think, perhaps, Passion is a hunter, hunting herself. Not once did she suspect Passion could betray Passion and become the enemy under her skin, biding her time, armed with self-loathing, accompanied by the miserable dogs of uncertainty and shame.  

Not until she was much older would she remember the time before this time, the freedom before the snare of self, the cruel captivity of consciousness. Oh, that easy before, when she didn’t think of herself as somebody out there but simply was a self, a self who simply was. When Passion didn’t care who cared, when Passion didn’t see who saw. When Passion was a cool flame in the world.

Melissa Ostrom is the author of The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, 2018), a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, 2019). Her short stories have appeared in many journals and been selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, Best Microfiction 2020, Best Small Fictions 2021, and Best Microfiction 2021. She teaches English at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband, two kids, and spaniel Mocha in Holley, New York. Learn more at or find her on Twitter @melostrom.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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