Dad ~ by Zach VandeZande

 

The father sits down on the floor near the bed and says Now I am going to tell you a story. But then: he doesn’t tell a story. He sits there in the near dark looking lost and breathing with his ragged half-drunk filling up the room. The daughter waits, staring up at him, her father who does not tell stories. Who is not telling a story now.

The room is lit by the slant of light from the closet door. The father entered the room with some ill-formed goodnight notion. Perhaps he thought inertia would carry him through. Now he is here on the floor with his little girl turned toward him and she is the most gorgeous thing he can imagine. The brightest star, and no words for it. No way to push this feeling out of himself and into the world. His daughter looks at him, tentative and waiting, and nothing comes. The father wonders if a bird could grow so fat with seed that it could no longer fly. And what would happen to that bird? Something terrible, probably. Gutted by some cat. Washed down a storm drain and starved by its gluttony. Connected forever to some patch of earth. Something fathers can’t bear. Something to be avoided.

Finally, the daughter speaks up, saying Once upon a time. But she doesn’t know what comes next either, being small, having never felt the burden of planning out logical sequence and consequence. Embarrassment settles in the room and weighs on both of them. The father rattles ice in his glass, the daughter flicks the corner of the blanket that’s she’s wrapped into her little clenching fist. And maybe this is now the story: that for fathers and daughters it isn’t often easy. That to say we never really see each other is untrue, only that when we do, something makes us look away. A good story is one that sometimes has a lesson in it. The two of them sit there and wait for this thing they’ve made to pass them by.

The father knows he should be better at father. The daughter will know this too, but later. Later, when she is grown, later when her own child sleeps in this bed, and it is summer vacation, later after much strain and silence that has happened between this first moment and the new one and the father comes in again—perhaps fatted on seed—glass held offhand and that same sour breath whiskey clinking man still, rounder now, yes, and frailer now, and all those old man things that happen very slowly and then all at once. And there, beyond the conception of a little girl sitting up in bed in the slantlight from the closet, way out past what that light can reach, is a man named Gary who wonders where his brightest star went and who these people are in her place. And is that the story.

***

Zach VandeZande is an author and professor. He lives in Ellensburg, Washington (sometimes) and Washington, DC (sometimes). He is the author of a novel, Apathy and Paying Rent (Loose Teeth Press, 2008), and a forthcoming short story collection, Liminal Domestic: Stories (Gold Wake Press, 2019). He knows all the dogs in his neighborhood. Find him at zachvz.com.

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Two Questions for Marissa Hoffmann

We recently published Marissa Hoffmann’s thoughtful “Bodily Fluids.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I think a lot of us have regrets (all right, I think everyone has regrets), and I love how the narrator in this piece expresses theirs, especially that line at the end! Do you think, if they hadn’t killed the ladybird, they would be happier?
I think the death of the ladybird is the catalyst for the character’s reflection and an opportunity for her to face how she feels about the waste of life, the possibility that a life can be easily forgotten by, in this case, just flushing its body away. I want to question whether we are guilty of forgetting, or being made to feel we should forget? Should we, in society, commemorate the dead more openly, more regularly, share our grief? Some cultures and religions do this so well, others less so. Would she have been happier had she not killed the ladybird? No, I think she’s haunted by the possibility that she might have had a child. The possibility of a life and its value is everywhere for her and she can’t forget and doesn’t want to.
2) The narrator tells us that ladybirds don’t have a heart as we know it. What do they have?
In the story we learn that the ladybird has an open circulatory system and I want to suggest that it might be possible to believe therefore it can’t feel pain, the kind of pain one feels in the heart. As the ‘intelligent’ species, perhaps we are nevertheless guilty of not considering enough that everybody and every living thing hurts. Perhaps we allow ourselves excuses, consciously or otherwise e.g. the ladybird has an open circulatory system therefore it’s not like us, it doesn’t have a heart, it can’t feel pain. That kind of monologue, I want to suggest, may be something that appears more widely; it was ‘just’ an insect, ‘just’ a foetus, ‘just’ a (fill in the blank). I wonder whether, if that is the case, it stems from the notion that for some, sharing pain is shameful, the sound of it in the form of crying, the memory of it, perhaps in the form of a trauma or grief. I have a sense that for some, pain is more social acceptable if it is flushed away, hidden, and from the outside perhaps it could or should look forgotten.

Bodily Fluids ~ by Marissa Hoffmann

Maybe I could have done things differently. The ladybird on the bathroom wall was probably escaping the first snow fall, looking to hibernate but I crushed it inside toilet paper. I wiped away its orange guts with the ball of tissue that contained its wings, legs and tiny heart. I threw it all into the toilet where it’s normal for bodily fluids to get forgotten. Normal.

Nicole Kidman says she doesn’t kill spiders or even ants. I wonder if that’s because she has people to do that for her? There comes a time when we all question our humanity doesn’t there. I once had a roommate who said she had a woman who had her periods for her. Once a month her mother sent her chocolate cake in a tin and she’d eat it (while on the phone to her mother) directly from the tin, using her forefinger and thumb, careful not to allow cake to collect under her manicured nails. I almost believed her because her hair was so silky and she wore matching underwear sets that she hand washed in the basin in the bathroom. I saw her at a reunion last year, she carried her baby son on her hip.

Ladybirds actually have an open circulatory system, they don’t have a heart as we know it. I don’t know whether they have tears.

It was wrong of me to take a life.

I could have made a warm matchbox bed for it. I could have checked on my ladybird from time to time when I couldn’t sleep.

It isn’t normal to forget.

I should have held it close, listened to it breathing, lay beside it in case it woke up, carried it on my hip, even sent it a chocolate cake in a tin when it grew up, done anything to protect it.

***

Marissa Hoffmann is recently published in Bending Genres, and is variously long and short listed in competitions. www.marissahoffmann.com She occasionally tweets @Hoffmannwriter and welcomes an annual loveliness of ladybirds on the south facing wall of her home.

Two questions for Michelle Ross

We recently published Michelle Ross’s glorious “Deposition.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the use of ritual in this piece, the nightly burying of the spoons. Was this image what kickstarted this piece? Or was there ever a different ritual that Sam performed?

This is precisely the image that kickstarted the piece, and I can’t take credit for it. Vanessa Gebbie supplied the image as a prompt in a flashathon Meg Pokrass organized. I usually resist such specific prompts, in part I guess because it bugs me somehow to begin with someone else’s words or image, but these flashathons have dulled my resistance. Drafting a new micro or flash every hour for fifteen hours straight, I take inspiration wherever I find it. Of course, as writers we are often responding to others’ words in one fashion or another, even if typically less directly. In this case, I was immediately taken with the image and couldn’t help but follow it.

 

2) The sensuality of spoons is something I’ve never thought of before — we see how the characters think they are. For you, what makes a spoon sensual?

All cutlery is sensual, I think, both because of the function spoons, knives, and forks serve, but also because of their forms—the way these pieces are shaped to fit the hand, the mouth. Spoons most especially, though. They’re more inviting than other cutlery. I love soups, but I think that beyond the soup itself, one of the pleasures of eating soup is that it’s eaten with a spoon. Ice cream, if it’s solid enough, could be eaten from a bowl just fine with a fork, but some measure of the pleasure of the experience would be taken away with the spoon. Imagine sucking the last bit of ice cream off a fork. Not the same by a long shot.

Deposition ~ by Michelle Ross

Midnight, and Sam is burying the spoons again. Because he thinks burying the spoons is the trick to getting me pregnant.

“Why spoons?” I asked the first time he did it. It’s not just the delicate silver teaspoons that he buries, the spoons we inherited from his mother and that look like they might actually hold some magic. He buries every spoon in our kitchen. The plump soup spoons that are too wide for a small child’s mouth. The sweet little clay spoons I made in pottery classes back when I still took pottery classes. The soft wooden cooking spoons, too.

“Spoons are sensual,” Sam said.

“I guess,” I said, but I knew what he meant. I used to think when I was shaping them out of clay about how the curved scoop of the spoons felt like breasts, the handles like weirdly slender penises. Like a cat penis maybe, only longer.

They’re a fertility symbol if there ever was one.

After Sam buries the spoons, we have sex. Is the sex good? Sometimes it is. Sometimes I’m so tired I practically sleep right through it. Other times I can’t relax. Can’t stop picturing him burying those spoons. His fingers digging in the dirt. The way sweat beads on his forehead.

Sometimes he sounds like a raccoon scurrying around in the moonlight. That past February raccoons plucked the fruit I’d left on our orange tree. They peeled those oranges as neatly as any human. The rinds scattered beneath the tree made me think of shed exoskeletons.

Every morning just before sunrise Sam digs those spoons up again. Because that’s part of the ritual. The spoons must be unearthed before light touches the soil, or the trick won’t work.

How long as has he been doing this? Eleven weeks now? Seventeen? I don’t know anymore.

I know this: the only thing that’s changed shape around here is the spoons. Every day they look a little more worn, a little more bent. And every day they make the food in our mouths taste a little bit more like dirt.

***

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Epiphany, Fanzine, The Pinch, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. www.michellenross.com.

Two Questions for J. Bradley

We recently published J. Bradley’s nostalgic “I-65.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) This is part of a series of stories about the gas cloud mother — is it difficult to make each story its own separate thing knowing the history that has come with it? 
It’s not. I think the history binds all of the stories together. Life is a series of interconnected moments. What we have done informs what we will do and I do enjoy playing with that narratively.
2) Do you think they will manage to go on a road trip? Or are they stuck where they are?
I think they might once they figure out the logistics but then, there’s the complications to deal with when they do figure it out.

I-65 ~ by J. Bradley

Mom wants to take a road trip, like we used to when Mitch and me were younger and dad was still alive. I miss the sense of adventure, she says. Mom manages to hold her form to the point where you could see the crow’s feet around her eyes; she’s getting better at remembering her body every day.

I remember being more bored than thrilled on long car rides. Dad was cheap with the air conditioning, even when we crossed through states where it felt like we were swimming more than driving. I won’t wear shorts anymore when I’m driving because of how the backs of my legs stuck to the upholstery. I hate when Mitch drives. He’s like our dad, taking his time to get to wherever it is that we need to go. Mitch deliberately slows us down when he can tell I’m getting pissed.

Can we get a gas tanker truck or something to hold her, Mitch asks.

Mom might eat through the metal, I say.

We could use the body we built for her.

I look at the glass house we have mom living in, her form spread throughout, her color a deep forest green. I wonder if she’s dreaming about rest stops and stale sandwiches and fireflies and sore biceps from all the punches we gave them when we caught a VW bug before she could.

***

J. Bradley is the author of Greetings from America: Letters from the Trade War (Whiskey Tit Books, 2019). His flash fiction piece, “How to Burn a Bridge Job Aid” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019. He lives at jbradleywrites.com.

Two Questions for Kristin Tenor

We recently published Kristin Tenor’s aching “I Am the Chrysalis Waiting for You to Break Free.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the use of allusion in this piece, how it evokes The Scarlet Letter and various fairy tales all at once. Was this something you had to work to convey, or did the allusions just flow with the story?
     This past winter I had the privilege to participate in one of Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash workshops, which, by the way, I highly recommend to anyone searching for a generous and supportive workshop environment. As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the best. Anyhow, during the workshop we were prompted to write a mosaic where the fragments were built from images cultivated both from dream memory and moments of reality. I’m not sure why, but the first image to come to mind was that of myself sitting on the couch in the therapist’s office. (Yes, a version of that encounter really did happen in my life.) Then, came the girl with the scarlet letter sewn upon her chest, finally the blackbird. I wish I could say that by some genius I had planned the placement of those allusive moments, however, they flowed into the piece rather organically. The story really told me how it wanted to be written.
2) The scene with the therapist is so poignant, “call me Mary,” I can just imagine a therapist saying that. You say so much in such a tiny scene here — did you ever consider making this portion longer?
Thank you for your kind words, Cathy. As I mentioned earlier, the incident in the therapist’s office is rooted from personal experience, a quite painful and confusing experience for an eighteen-year-old mother-to-be. No matter how hard I tried to convince the therapist, who was seven months pregnant herself, that the baby’s father and I were prepared to parent our child, she threw statistic after statistic in my face, assuring me we were doomed to fail. Our daughter is now married and has two beautiful children of her own, and my husband and I are still very much in love. Could I have woven more of this backstory into the scene? Perhaps. However, I sense everything I needed to say is already there.

I Am the Chrysalis Waiting for You to Break Free ~ by Kristin Tenor

Children in the schoolyard throw rocks at the scarlet letter sewn upon my chest. Brick by brick a thousand sins build a wall. Blackbirds swoop and dive, pulling ribbons and strands of golden hair to line their nests. There is no escape.

*

The therapist tells me to call her Mary as though it somehow makes us friends, comrades, partners-in-crime. She places a protective hand over the growing mound that is her child, while she tries to convince me to give up my own. Snowflakes fall like molting feathers.

*

From the belly of the old cypress, a blackbird calls out to his flock, warning them about the dangers that lie ahead. He mimics the cat’s meow, the scrape of bone against bone, the cries that can’t be soothed.

*

Lying in bed I watch your knees knead my womb like soft dough. The vibrato of your tiny heart beats in tandem with mine. You are the pupa and I, the chrysalis waiting for you to break free.

*

The moonlight shines upon the blackbird perched on the concrete sill. I reach out to touch a glossy wing, but the rapier pecks and tears deep into my skin, ripping layer after layer until I am transformed into a Madonna dressed in a flowing blue gown, my head crowned with stars and daisies.

*

Squeals erupt from this little girl in pigtails who is flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. I press my hand into the warm hollow nestled between her shoulder blades. Her legs pump hard against gravity as I launch her into the stratosphere. She smiles down at me standing amongst the thinning mulch where feet have dragged their path. Look Mama, I can fly! I can fly!

***

Kristin Tenor enjoys writing short fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in The Midwest Review, Spry Literary Journal, and The Peninsula Pulse. She lives in Northeastern Wisconsin with her husband. Learn more @ www.kristintenor.com or find her on Twitter @KristinTenor.

Two Questions for Becky Robison

We recently published Becky Robison’s deliciously sad “Apple Crisp as Symptom.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the voice in this piece, how it simultaneously clings to what’s real and at the same time veers away from it. Was it difficult to create this voice, this character in such a small space?

It was difficult to create the voice for this story because I wanted to make it clear that dementia was involved without making it too obvious. And I often receive feedback that I’m too subtle, that I leave too much off the page, so I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, either. That’s where the title came in: Apple Crisp as Symptom. I figured that the word “symptom” might help suggest a medical condition to readers, that the leaps in logic and physics weren’t just careless writing on my part.

 

2) I have an awesome apple crisp recipe that I might make a bit too often. What’s your favorite apple crisp recipe?

I’m not known for my skills in the kitchen, so I don’t personally have a good apple crisp recipe. However, I’ve had an excellent one for brunch at Same Day Cafe in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. I’m also obsessed with their avocado toast. I swear it’s not just the millennial in me—they top it with jicama slaw!