Sometime in the Middle of a Long Summer ~ by Madeline Hanley

It is the kind of morning where I pour the day’s coffee into the remainder of yesterday’s coffee and then hold the cup for a long time before I begin to drink.

 

The youngest boy asks, “When’s swim team practice?” Nobody told him the group disbanded because only one kid at a time could fit in the pool. “Don’t worry,” I say, “It’s more of a solo sport anyway.”

 

The cat has been sunbathing in the flowerbed, getting yellow pollen stuck on the end of his whiskers. He’s got yellow around his mouth, as if he were a cartoon cat that just ate a yellow bird. The youngest boy has been eating flowers too. He says it’s not because he wants to be like the cat, but because he likes the taste.

 

The cat smells like litter and sweaty paws and dirt from the tomato garden that didn’t produce any tomatoes this year. The youngest boy still has that sweet little kid smell. I sometimes wonder if the flowers make him smell sweeter.

 

Last night, the youngest boy grabbed a slingshot and told me he was heading to the park to take down some baddies. I suspected there were no baddies, only a field of dandelions with heads to pop off with rocks. When he got back he was covered in pollen so we threw him in the kiddie pool. We threw the cat in too. We scrubbed both their pollen mouths until all our limbs were covered in criss-crossed red lines.

 

My coffee is cold. The youngest boy must be cold too. He’s been sitting in the pool all night, picking at the scratches that have not yet formed into scabs, the lower lip of his clean mouth sticking out. He tells me he doesn’t care what I say. He’s going to wait for the rest of the team to show up.

***

Madeline Hanley lives and writes in Raleigh North Carolina. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel and Cease, Cows.

Two Questions for Rick White

We recently published Rick White’s elegant “Eric the Astronomer.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) This piece was inspired by a photo, and the thing I especially love about that is … there doesn’t seem to be a tower in the photo. What made you create a tower from this inspiration?

The inspiration for “Eric the Astronomer”

Recently I’ve been going through my photos a lot, just remembering all of the good times back when we could go out and be with other people. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with time and the idea of ageing, not in terms of vanity but rather, it just freaks me out how quickly time goes by. I often think of myself, maybe thirty years from now looking back on my photos and wonder where I’ll be and if I’ll even recognise myself. That particular photo really struck me for that reason. It’s got a certain ‘old-timey’ feel to it anyway with the jetty and the wooden boats but what I really like about it is that although the weather is miserable, my wife Sarah and I are clearly very happy and enjoying ourselves. So I wanted to write about it in the context of a character looking back at one very specific, very happy memory (I’m getting to the tower…). We decided to decorate our bedroom, so we moved everything out of it and put it all in to the spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much you accumulate without even realising it and so while we were painting our bedroom, the spare room was absolutely full of stuff. Loads of books all piled up on the floor, a couple of guitars and amps, lots of picture frames, ornaments, candles, even an old typewriter. And I loved the room like that! That’s how the idea of the Tower came to mind. Just an old guy, sitting amongst a pile of things that other people might call ‘crap’ that makes him really happy. That became Eric and his tower of memories.

 

2) This story is so heavy with loss, but also with love and hope. Do you think Eric will ever reach the heaven he is nearing, or is it enough that he sees it from where he is?

This is such a great question, and so difficult to answer! Even though the story has to do with loss and isolation, I didn’t want it to be sad. I don’t think Eric is sad and I don’t think he would want us to feel sorry for him. I think that Eric is happy and proud of the life that he has lived. He’s spent his life accumulating all these wonderful memories which he rightly cherishes and enjoys. I think in this story ‘Heaven’ is simply the end of Eric’s journey, I don’t think he’s expecting anything else. But before the curtain comes down he’s just having a little fun taking inventory of the life that he has lived. All of us will experience loss in our lives and if you live long enough then you will reach a point where you’ve got more good days behind you than in front, which is quite a heavy thing to think about. I’m not religious at all but I do believe that the people we love are never really gone because they leave a mark on us and on our lives. We are more than just a physical presence, we’re something more ethereal and so in that sense, Eric is not alone.

Eric the Astronomer ~ by Rick White

Eric the Astronomer lives alone, in a tower made of memories. Old notebooks, scribbled front and back. The musings of a day, rendered indecipherable by time. Yellowing sheet music of songs reticently tinkled for loved ones who appreciated the effort. Copper-bottomed frying pans which made French toast on Sunday mornings.

The things that are left behind after a life has happened.

He sleeps most of the day in his bric-a-brac minaret, until night falls and the stars and the planets come out, answering his call to prayer.

With mighty Jupiter he shares a glass of Scotch, and talks of his father – of whom he remembers very little – apart from the way he used to wink with just the corner of an eye. How that one tiny gesture would make him feel bigger than himself.

He dances with gentle Venus and tells her his favourite memories of Juliet and the life they shared together. Tonight it’s the time it was too rainy to take a boat out on Rydal Water, and a goose chased them along the lakefront. Neptune laughs.

Venus twirls across the firmament, and as she spins, she unravels spacetime like a spool of silk. The fabric of the universe detaches itself, rending apart the threads of this great celestial tapestry, and it’s as if Eric could reach out in to the nothingness and touch Juliet’s fingers one last time.

The solar system rearranges itself around him, and a single object falls slowly from the sky, dragging a comet’s tail in its wake. It’s an umbrella, and it lands softly at the top of the tower.

And so it goes on for Eric, night after night – this dance, this worship. And every night, Eric’s tower grows a little taller, heaven gets a little nearer.

Two Questions for M.J. Iuppa

We recently published M.J. Iuppa’s haunting “Nearly, Magnolia.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) What drew me to this piece was the personal nature of it, how this situation affects the narrator right here, right now. Did you ever consider writing this piece with a broader scope, or was it always meant to be this small moment?

Yes, “Nearly, Magnolia” is extremely personal in its nature. I wrote this in mid- March, at the start of “Shelter in Place.” I am from western NY, but two of my adult children are living in Brooklyn, NY, and were facing the rigors of staying safe while living in small city apartments. Unfortunately, isolation became part of the pandemic, making it difficult for people to find relief from the over-whelming hours of waiting for something to happen. Springtime in NYC happens overnight, and the flowering trees, especially the Magnolias, make me heady. To see these blossoms candled by sunlight is breath-taking, but this year, people went to parks to walk, or stroll, or run from their loneliness, from their uncertainty— they were worried inside and outside about what they could and couldn’t see. I think it would be interesting to write this as a longer story. As it is now, it feels like a “knot-hole” view of having no safe place.

 

2) I love that line, “Where is home?” It really speaks to this sense of loss and disconnection that people have been feeling. So. This is a tough one! Where is home?

Yes, Where is home? Is that internal thought that keeps the narrator engaged in memory her desire to be out of harm’s way. When she takes the photograph of the Magnolia tree in Prospect Park, she’s making the “invisible” visible. She is documenting the sudden rash of beauty, which is ephemeral in nature, like any place that makes you long for home.

Nearly, Magnolia ~ by MJ Iuppa

Photo by Meghan Rose Tonery

Walking in Prospect Park, in the sun’s first warmth, magnolia trees seem to be involved in their own contagion, ignoring the rash of people, who hurry to get out of their heads full of worry. No one notices that the trees are congested with heavy pink buds, ready to unfurl.  The people rush past, with caps pulled down, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone who might tell them to go home. Where is home? The magnolia branches point in all directions. She stops and takes a picture of this profusion, in

spite of feeling nervous about being seen outside.

***

M.J. Iuppa  is the Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College; and since 2000 to present, is a part time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport. Since 1986, she has been a teaching artist, working with students, K-12, in Rochester, NY, and surrounding area. Most recently, she was awarded the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching, 2017. She has four full length poetry collections, This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017), Small Worlds Floating (2016) as well as Within Reach (2010) both from Cherry Grove Collections; Night Traveler (Foothills Publishing, 2003); and 5 chapbooks. She lives on a small farm in Hamlin, NY.

Two Questions for Carolyn Oliver

We recently published Carolyn Oliver’s stunning “The Patron Saint of Fury.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her micro:

 

1) I love that this story opens with miracles, with healing and hope. And yet we are being introduced to the patron saint of fury. Do you see fury and hope as being connected, or is there a dichotomy that this story is wanting us to examine?

I do see a connection between fury and hope! Without hope — in a state of despair — there’s no reason to be angry. To be furious is to know that a better world is possible, to long for that better world, to need it. Fury is a force that can propel that better world into being.

2) This phrase near the end of this tiny piece, “bones of our untroubled dead” is so powerful. What makes these dead untroubled?

I tend to think of death as a long, long rest—a dreamless sleep. Only the living bear the world’s troubles and share its sweetness.

The Patron Saint of Fury ~ by Carolyn Oliver

First came the miracles: all the guns melted, the forest fires quenched, one child unwrecked, then three, four, thousands. When she appeared, her halo so deeply rainbowed it gleamed luscious black, the oceans shivered. Riot and strike, emblems of her right hand; text and rough song, emblems of her left. Tenderly, so tenderly, her holy gaze gathered beheaded mountains, plains soaked deep with oil, water-poisoned cities. She stung our lips with the nettles of her mercy until we whispered her newborn name over the bones of our untroubled dead, and rose to save our lives.

***

Carolyn Oliver’s very short prose and prose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, jmww, Unbroken, Tin House Online, Copper Nickel, Midway Journal, and New Flash Fiction Review, among other journals. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.

Two Questions for Francine Witte

We recently published Francine Witte’s thoughtful “Cab Ride.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) That opening sentence is such a great way to introduce us to this narrator, that they think of both numbers and love as made-up things. What do they believe in, do you suppose?

This narrator is cynical of most things when the story begins. Having been disappointed in love, they believe that love is not a real thing, but a made-up thing in the same way that humans developed numbers as a way to count things. To narrator, there is probably nothing that truly exists except that we decided it exists.

 

2) I like, too, that we’re never really told what the situation is, but we are given hints: “My mother, of course, is dying,” the cab driver’s 5-year-old daughter. This is such a subtle style of storytelling! Were you ever tempted to out-and-out tell the reader exactly what is going on?

No, I am never tempted to explain more. I like saying as little as possible. You can say very little and the reader will get it. I like reading stories that work that way. When I read a story like that, I feel like I’m part of the construction of the story. The trick is to find the right thing to say. But that’s what makes the writing fun.

Cab Ride ~ by Francine Witte

The meter starts, numbers twisting and ticking away, and it doesn’t matter because numbers are a made-up thing like love.

The city outside whirs by, men hammering buildings together, baby carriages, and store signs, all of it blurry and Monet. I’ll put this painting in my head with the others.

The cab driver is 55 or 80, a hug of gray hair around his head. I don’t think much about cab drivers. I figure they like it that way.

My mother, of course, is dying.

The cab driver drives past the hospital. “Wait,” I tell him, “I said St. Elizabeth’s.”

“I know, he says, switching off the meter. “Let’s go look at the river instead.” I’ve heard of things like this. Kidnappings, hijackings.

One minute, my mother was asking if I wanted my eggs scrambled or fried.

The cab driver’s eyes in the rearview. “Hospitals can wait a few minutes,” he says. “My daughter,” he continues, “she was only five.”

When we get to the river, the slap of an autumn morning as we step out of the cab. All around us, the usual joggers, the seagulls climbing the sky.

“Those birds,” he says, “they have this sense of direction. It’s built into their wings.”

We get back into the cab. We head to the hospital. I open the window and let in a whoosh of air, a sudden swoop underneath my arms.

***

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two full-length collections, Café Crazy and The Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) Her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, and her full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This was recently published by Blue Light Press. She lives in New York City.

Two Questions for Melissa Saggerer

We recently published Melissa Saggerer’s lovely “Begin with an Ice Cream Cone.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love how this story opens with such a specific moment and then goes broader, drawing us into the narrator’s life, and then circles back to the beginning. What made you choose to “begin with an ice cream cone”?

A: Thank you! I wanted to start with a small loss, something that was easy to recover from, something from childhood that could feel universal. I thought of King Kone, the soft serve place where I grew up. Although I don’t remember ever dropping my cone, I could picture it as if I had. This little piece was born in a Kathy Fish Fast Flash workshop, and it was originally titled “How To Cope With Loss,” but Myna Chang suggested I title it “Begin With An Ice Cream Cone.” I liked how that reflected the circular nature of the story, and was a little less on-the-nose for pointing out the driving meaning of the piece.

 

2) Though there is a lot of heartbreak in this story, there is also a lot of hope, of going back, of finding your way. Do you consider this to be a hopeful story?

A: Yes, I do. It’s impossible to avoid sadness and heartache, but they aren’t always isolated. I used to be better at shifting my focus to the positive. I remember taking a very sad friend to my favorite abandoned barn and walking through the dangerously undulating second story, trying to share every strange happiness, trying to fill him up with enough joy to crowd out the pain. It didn’t work, I used to be overly (annoyingly?) optimistic. I think some things get easier, but not everything. Now feels like a strange dark time, so I inspect shards of memories looking for small ways back to feeling good.