Mold Culture by Gabrielle Griffis

Ariel submerged a white dress in a bowl of vinegar and water. Black mold speckled the fabric. The sour acerbic smell emanated from the bowl as she dropped tea tree oil into her reflection, her face respirator mixing with the warped floral print.

She packed her father’s clothes and religious icons into boxes, including a picture of their first father-daughter dance. She threw sermon tapes labeled: Lot’s Wife, Eve Bit the Apple, and Jezebel in the trash.

The house was surrounded by pine trees at the bottom of a floodplain. Downstairs, drywall had been cut to keep the mold from climbing. Pink insulation turned black, like burnt cotton candy. Watermarks of past floods stained what remained. Mold crept up the foundation into the walls, into the wood. The musty odor absorbed into clothing. Her mother never replaced the yellow wallpaper she tore down. Cracks spidered vinyl tiles.

Ariel took a prayer card from her father’s funeral off the fridge.

Tuesday was circled on a calendar with the word demolition written in red. She decided to culture the house and preserve the mold that grew in her petri dishes, anticipating blooms of fuzzy pink and blue colonies. She wanted to see the microorganisms that were digesting her childhood.

Ariel walked through the house swabbing surfaces to culture substrates. She labeled the petri dishes: crucifix, recliner, light switch, piano, window. The house made her itchy, a combination of spores, aging chemicals, dust, and cat dander. At the end of his life, her father wandered room to room reciting scriptures about stones and adulterers. The autopsy showed histoplasmosis, the fungus that devoured his brain.

“Can you believe it?” Ariel’s mother said, standing in the doorway. She had dirt on her pants from digging up heirloom lilacs next to the septic tank.

“Not really,” Ariel replied.

“I don’t know why we could never keep up with the place,” her mother observed, taking off her gardening gloves.

They talked about priorities and time myopia, the home repair money that went into the donation basket.

“I don’t know why I never had a dream,” her mother said.

Ariel swabbed the plastic green box her mother used to store coupons. As a child, Ariel would help cut and alphabetize them. Cheers from a purity ball drifted through an open window from down the road, over the chirps of chickadees and peepers. Floral cavalcades paraded girls in white dresses past the picture window. All day, men read scriptures about virgins. Fathers and daughters danced under strings of incandescent bulbs. Ariel closed the window. The house sagged. Ariel finished collecting cultures and returned to the dress. The mold was dead, but the stains would not come out.

GABRIELLE GRIFFIS — Gabrielle is a musician, writer and multimedia artist. She works as a librarian. Her fiction has been published in WigleafSplit LipMatchbookMonkeybicycleCHEAP POPXRAYOkay Donkey and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Microfiction 2022 and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. Read more at or follow at @ggriffiss.

Art by OCH GONZALEZ — Och’s work has appeared in Brevity Journal, Panorama Journal of Travel, Place, and Nature, Lunch Ticket, Complete Sentence Lit, and Santelmo Journal, among others. Her essays have also been included in the literary anthologies in The Practice of Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology. You can find her art at och_gonzalez.