Flash Special – Five Editors (June 2014 / 14.12)
A native Michigander, Jessica Bell lives, works, and takes photos in Marquette, Michigan.
Tara L. Masih
Her plan was to slip through Utah. She told me this, before leaving our small town in the Rockies. That she was on her way to meet up with an old boyfriend in Lake Tahoe. So she rented a car that would be as indistinguishable as possible, saying, I won’t take one of those white SUVs they are always giving me, which scream rental. She insisted on a gray sedan. Gray, the color of dusk, not a color to catch your eye, because the ex told her Utah was dicey in places, so she should be careful. She tried to stay on I-80, avoiding truck and rest stops and any bars with less than a parking lot full of drinkers. She almost made it to the Nevada border unnoticed.
She did stop to take in the Salt Flats. Miles of chalky white, she scrawled on a postcard, the residue of a long-dead body of lake water. Proof that anything can, with a small adjustment of fate and circumstance, become something entirely different from itself, yet still retain its most basic elements. She’d underlined the last three words three times.
This landscape must have been imprinted on her mind when she did finally pull up to a roadside saloon, into a parking lot jammed with dusty Ford flatbeds and rust-specked Chevys all catercornered to each other. He was examining his beer in the bar light, she said, about the man who made her change course. He took her back to his farm, her rental following behind on flat valley dirt roads, his rear lights two beacons that beckoned.
You see, she told me, this man farms the fantastical. He breeds magic and the impossible. His cows produce milk that when spun turns to miles of clear silk. His chickens lay eggs that, when broken open, reveal pearls. Picture this, her voice quickens and is breathy on the phone, us on his front porch, in the evenings, cracking open green shells to remove small luminescent orbs that glow like dozens of tiny moons in his orange Pyrex bowl. Like we used to shell peas, remember?
There is more—horses whose hooves turn to copper as they age, snakes whose venom cures cancer. All this amongst weather-beaten barn boards, tumbleweed, abandoned metal equipment, Queen Anne’s lace, whistles and warbles and yellow flashes of pasture meadowlarks.
How could I not stop for this? she asks me. She doesn’t even remember where she was going, or why, and I don’t remind her. Like those salt flats, her old life just evaporated. She lives with mystery and change every day, sleeps with a man who performs daily miracles. Strands of DNA weave through their conversations like multicolored necklaces. Lab smells mix with sex smells. When he enters her, she feels anything is possible, and nothing should be passed by, ever again.
Tara L. Masih is editor of two ForeWord Books of the Year, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays, and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows:Stories. Her flash has been anthologized in Word of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, BITE, and Flash Fiction Funny, was featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month 2011, and was a finalist for the Reynolds Price Prize in Fiction. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. www.taramasih.com.
If I die, don’t make a hashtag for me,
that my mother will adjective at first on every Thursday, and then on birthdays and then on mother’s day and then on any day, any day at all when the babybook and Jameson isn’t enough. Or when Melanie posts.
Melanie will sit in 24-7 black-hair, black-light, black-smeared eyeliner valediction on other guys’ dicks and I’ll sit in two-hundred board feet of Walnut with cast-iron trim. The picture of us by the Lake Superior cold, my leather jacket hanging on her like a cape, cigarette between painted lips — it’s the only picture she’ll keep. She’ll blame me for that Thursday night I got high-on-life off of Summer Shandy without her, got hit by someone higher-on-life without her. Forty years from now, she’ll break down in tears when her grandson gets his driver’s permit. But she will stop crying on Thursdays.
I’m not fucking sorry, but that asshole with the pickup truck is. For seven months or zero months with good behavior. All it took for him to stop crying on Thursdays was a new hashpipe and a surprise party. He’ll laugh on the redbrick roof, covered in childhood graffiti so high above pretty Duluth. Even five stories up, the architecture is never free of the winter salt, whipping fine particles caught between parapets. He will recount the story: the only thing he remembers is the flash of purple. He’ll suddenly get so, like, really serious man. He tells them about the Duluth Dukes, the logo with the top hat and monocle. They laugh but he won’t. He’ll take another hit.
Down the road, down the hills, miles away in the reedy broken grass, beneath the high-tension wire desert one thing still moves. Not ants, not birds–just my father’s first baseball hat. Given by his father, christening him on a stadium morning with the smell of fresh grass and boiled meat, shaping him like his new last name, freshly minted to sound more American. Its top hat and monocle patch reverberating like the beating heart of my own childhood, pumping in cadence to the constant humming of 120 kilovolts that spoils the air toxic.
It’s the only obituary I need.
Mike Joyce spends his time bumming around Chicago and discreetly staring at people. Last Tuesday, someone stared back — and asked him to fill out a simple survey regarding his opinion of the perforations in paper towel rolls. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in numerous publications, such as jmww,Connotation Press, and DOGZPLOT. When not writing or awkwardly filling out surveys, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Literary Orphans.
The Reflecting Room
Why did they even get me to come? The house was clean as a pin. Tidy too, now she’d moved in. The latest. The newspaper wasn’t bunched up on the couch and the kitchen bench was polished with something lemony. She’d even hand-washed the expensive pottery and left it for me to dry. And he ate breakfast at home now by the looks of it. Scrambled egg with chopped green stuff. Her herb pots were out there on the deck. Not looking too happy either. It’d be the salt.
This here was an eyrie. He’d built it way above every other house in the bay: long and narrow – only one room wide – and just enough space for one. The women didn’t fit, was the truth. And it wasn’t just the size of the place. The straight lines, the strange little kitchen, the lack of stuff: it was a man’s house – you’d be a fool to think otherwise. It wouldn’t be long before someone’d trip over those herbs of hers.
Eyrie wasn’t the word I was after. He wasn’t a seabird or an eagle or anything like that. He was one of those silent sorts that watched from the tops of trees. Ate berries.
I always started in the lounge, or ‘the reflecting room’, as he called it – and today was no different. The name was a hangover from the one two years back who did yoga and burnt incense to cover up her dope habit. He’d thrown out the Buddhas she’d left, crammed them into the kitchen rubbish, but had kept the name for the room, said it felt right with all the water outside. If I’d had to choose one room to be standing in at the end of the world, it would be this one, for its acres of polished concrete and green rug in the shape of a kina. For its white couch and acres of windows that let you into the best view ever.
Nothing marked them, nothing smudged that view. They had an inbuilt cleaning mechanism like car windows. He’d shown me once when he was home after he’d broken up with Miss Buddha Sticks. He cleaned the windows a lot that day, pressing the button over and over pretending it wasn’t going too well. Made me a coffee too – the first and last. Asked after the children. Said I could bring Janey there if she was off school for a long time again – she could lie on the couch and read, or something. He was a bit vague about that and I tried not to smile. Jane on white leather was more of a disaster waiting to happen than those herbs.
After that chat he’d kind of bowed and then backed out the door and tiptoed down to the gym. I’d heard him working out until I left. I don’t know what muscles he was working on; he was all bones, and moved so lightly. Tentative was the word, I guess. I’d have thought he was gay if I hadn’t seen the women. I wanted to take him home that day when we talked, sit him down with Angus in front of the match, feed him sausages and oven chips. Angus could have shown him a thing or two about how to handle stuff. Maybe they’d have gone fishing. It didn’t happen, of course. I’d have had to clean our windows for a start.
The best thing about the reflecting room was the view. He’d said the exact same thing that day when he was washing the windows over and over. Today, the island looked like a boat anchored in the harbour. It was so still out there, but with a faint ruffle in the water as if someone had pulled a paint brush through it. There was a real boat, too, like Angus’s, fishing off the island. I’d told Angus about the reflecting room, but he thought it was a huge wank. Every lounge needed a TV, he said, or what was the point? End of a long day, what a man needed was to collapse on the couch and be entertained. But the view, I said, it’s never the same and yet it kind of is, and you can’t stop watching it. You feel, I told him, like … God up there. I said “God” carefully because Angus was an atheist.
Not careful enough. He’d snapped back: “A bird or God, what is it?” Then he said something about women and $1.2 million-dollar tree houses. Said I was getting wispy again and he might have to come up and meet Bird Man for himself one day. Wispy was what Angus called me when we first met, said he was worried that if he didn’t keep hold of me I’d disappear. At the wedding he’d produced a pair of fur handcuffs and told the assembled that he’d understood his job as husband was to keep me tethered so I didn’t float away, and it would be his pleasure to do just that. He really did – say it, do it. In a good way. How could I have got on without him? I had no plans, no idea how the world worked. All I knew back then was how to clean: floors, walls, cupboards, corners.
In the reflecting room there were no walls. No cupboards. Beneath the floorboards, there was nothing. It felt like floating. No, flying. And Wispy’d creep out of the place she’d been hiding inside the stays of my lungs, find her way up through my throat, and out of my mouth. And she’d sing and sing, the dear thing, just like a bird.
Mary McCallum is a Wellington poet and fiction writer with a newly published children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (which will hit the US market in the fall), an award-winning novel, The Blue, published in 2007. One of two judges in New Zealand’s 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition (and placing third in the 2013 comp), she sees flash as a terrific hybrid of poetry and fiction. She earns her living as a freelance writer and tutor, is the co-curator of online Tuesday Poem and has recently started up a niche publisher, Mākaro Press.
Love Is What You Can’t See
Edward Thomas III dragged his fiancée down the sidewalk. They were on their way to apply for a marriage license. The wedding was only three days away, and this was the final piece of preparation before the big day.
Edward weaved in and out of the rush hour pedestrian traffic with his bride-to-be in tow. Along the way, no fewer than three people bumped into her.
“Hey, watch it buddy,” Edward said to one.
The man kept walking, not even offering a “Sorry m’am” or a tip of his hat.
“It’s okay, Shawna.” Edward stroked her hand and vowed to pulverize the next rude passerby.
Fortunately for everyone, Edward and Shawna managed to make it to the massive building that housed the county clerk office without another incident.
“Such a large building for something so simple,” Edward commented while pulling Shawna up the stairs to the third floor.
“Would you like a drink?” Edward asked before ushering Shawna into the office. She gave no indication of thirst, so Edward led her inside to the receptionist’s desk.
“How may I help you?”
“We’re applying for our marriage license.” Edward flashed a proud smile.
“Great. Congratulations. Rita will help you.” The receptionist pointed a non-congratulatory finger at Rita’s desk.
“Thank you, m’am,” Edward said. He tipped an imaginary hat and headed over to Rita.
Edward pulled out both chairs and waited until his fiancée sat before he did. He expected Rita to burst with excitement at the news, but she didn’t say a word or offer even the slightest smile.
“My fiancée and I would like to get our marriage license,” Edward finally said when he was certain Rita wouldn’t ask how she could be of service.
“Okay. Will your fiancée be joining us?”
Edward shot her a queer glance. “She’s right here.” He gestured to the seat.
Rita shook her head. “Are you putting me on?”
“No. My fiancée is right here.”
“That chair’s empty.”
Edward laughed and grasped Shawna’s hand. “Is it okay if I kiss her in here?”
“Sure.” Rita rolled her eyes. “This is a place for people in love to get a piece of paper, after all.”
Edward leaned over and kissed her. It was a hard and passionate kiss, with a little tongue, followed by a gentle nosey.
“Okay, that’s enough.” Rita handed him a form. “Take this to your fiancée and have her sign it. You can pay the $50 fee right now.”
Edward glared at her. “Lady, don’t be disrespectful. My fiancée isn’t deaf.”
The employee snatched the paperwork out of his hand. “I’m sorry, sir, but you need to leave.”
“Are you telling me I can’t marry this woman?” He stood up and pointed at the chair.
“Yes, I am. A marriage is between two people. Two real people.” She stood and crumpled the form even though it would have been perfectly good for someone else.
“So you’re saying I can’t marry a woman just because you can’t see her. You let a God you can’t see reside over marriages, but I can’t marry this woman of my dreams?”
“Sir, I’m a city official. This has nothing to do with any god. This has to do with the fact that you need two physical beings to constitute a marriage.”
“Let’s go honey,” Edward said to Shawna. “We’ll move to a state that isn’t full of close-minded bigots.”
“Security!” Rita screamed.
Edward picked up Shawna and ran from the office before security could arrive.
When Edward and his fiancée returned to their apartment, he immediately called his sister.
“Those bastards wouldn’t give us our marriage license.”
“I’m sorry Edward. Some people can just be so insensitive. How did Shawna react?” She spoke slowly, as if trying hard not to upset anyone.
“Well, she didn’t say anything the whole way home. Now she’s just lying in bed crying.” He walked over to the closed bedroom door and listened for sobs.
“It’s terrible the way some people treat others,” his sister said.
“Well, this is the last straw. Shawna and I need to move.”
“But the wedding is in three days,” his sister pleaded. “You’ve done so much preparation. Everyone will be there to support you. Don’t give all that up at this point. Besides, think of all the money you’ll be throwing away.”
Edward’s sister was right. He wasn’t going to throw all this way because some high-and-mighty city official wouldn’t give him an application. He and Shawna would have a beautiful wedding, and then they would head off to Maui for a wonderful honeymoon filled with porn-like sex. They could worry about the technicalities later.
When the day of the wedding arrived, Edward had side-splitting cramps that just wouldn’t go away.
“Just relax. You’re nervous,” his brother said. “Go take a shit.”
“It’s not nerves,” Edward replied. “I don’t think I can go through with this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I caught a glimpse of Shawna in the hallway. I feel like it was the first time I ever really saw her.”
“So what’s the problem?” His brother reached up to straighten Edward’s bowtie. “People get married without ever seeing each other all the time.”
“She’s just not that attractive.”
“Edward, snap out of it. She’s as attractive as you want her to be. You’re just scared.”
“Maybe so, but I can’t go through with this.”
The crowd gasped when Edward came out and personally delivered the news right as Shawna’s entrance music began.
The doors at the back of the room opened and Edward studied Shawna in her beautiful gown. Even from a distance, he knew he’d made the right choice.
“You stupid son-of-a-bitch!” Shawna’s father roared from her side. Edward’s brother rushed to restrain him while Edward made his escape.
The next day he planned to go to the county office and thank Rita. For the time being, he had to figure out where he was going to live.
Nathaniel Tower lives in the Twin Cities area with his wife and daughter. After teaching high school English in Missouri for nine years, he decided to pursue writing and marketing. His fiction has appeared in over two hundred online and print journals. In 2014, Martian Lit released his first short story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. Nathaniel is the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. When he’s not doing writerly things, he likes to joggle (juggle and run simultaneously). He is the former world record holder for running a mile backwards while juggling. More at nathanieltower.wordpress.com.
I write this softly. I write this soberly. I write this. I write this after a week of missing. I write this thinking of Molly Keane’s fox-hunting scenes. I write this after spending a week trying to eat clams. There’s a tightness to them; an almost imperceptible not-giving.
It’s easy, he said. We exchanged a brief, furtive glance. He was standing by the cocktail cabinet, swaying ever so imperceptibly. I began rocking on the ball of my heels to follow his lead. I’ll leave the key couched in the third loose brick to the left of the door.
I balked a little. It’s easy, he said.
A fortnight in total — fourteen days.
Waking on the third night, there was an outline crouched by the dresser. I had been drinking. We both started. We both started again.
On the fourth, fifth and sixth nights, I sat and paced its movement in the sheer grey light.
It circled. It circled. It circled.
By the seventh night, it flexed its jaws. A yawning.
It must have been the ninth or tenth night that I woke up to a limbed outline staring at me from the height of the bed. I circled, flexed. I decided my nails were too buffed. Once, I turned on a lamp, ate a bowl full of shucked clams the size of hickory nuts.
He saw me again three weeks later. I hadn’t spoken in days. There was that oscillation again and a stalking of sounds. It’s likely I wasn’t sober. Best to leave, yes? To leave.