By Jen Knox

The animal that lives in her lower ribcage chitters, trying to get her to play. It loves nothing more than to distract from rational thought. She chuckled the first time she heard the phrase “monkey mind” because squirrels are worse. They’re tricksters.

She feeds and cares for her squirrel. Bob Ross would be proud. She feeds it neurosis and sugar, lots of sugar, until the day she thinks something needs to change. When she delivers its eviction notice, the squirrel laughs before burrowing in her ribcage and curling up into a tight little ball. She stretches and shoves it down with diaphragmatic breath. Eventually, it climbs again, hungry for attention, telling her that tricksters are closest to God.

When one is liberated, what else is there to do but play?

Seeking support, she travels, but her spirit guides and gurus become restless because she never fully listens, everything becomes boring and hollow after a while. The medicines they offer are always clear and delivered with precise instructions, step-by-step guides. But medicine piles up in her cupboards, not her body. In the body, it might take over.

In a decade or two, she believes people will have the information we need to control our own thoughts without relying on discipline. We can almost do it now, but not quite. Not without side effects. She tells the squirrel this, tells it that she can see a future in which she will control everything, and it will fade from existence with a single intentional breath. It chitters, reminding her that it is the archetype closest to enlightenment.

If I disappear, what will be left?

She imagines staring out the window, watching the willow oaks sway and mourning doves bounding gently in her yard as a sunrise fills the world with the perfect balance of light and color. She imagines being immersed in this perfection and seeing nothing ahead of or behind her. In this image, she feels nothing.

So, she continues to feed her squirrel. She can easily feed it for the rest of her life. She has a backpack full of dramas from the past in case she runs out of stories for the future. The squirrel likes this. It likes the churn. Its mad frenetic energy lives near enough her heart to keep her dangerous. Just dangerous enough to do things in the world.

Jen Knox’s short stories can be found in The Best Small Fictions Anthology and The Saturday Evening Post. Her story collections include Resolutions, After the Gazebo (a Pen/Faulkner nominee), and The Glass City, which won first place in the Prize Americana for Prose. Jen lectures about personal leadership at The Ohio State University and is the owner of Unleash Creatives, a holistic creativity coaching service based in the Midwest. She recently completed her first novel, and she’s celebrating by writing flash fiction.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Mixed Media with Silverpoint)

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