Two Questions for Nick Perilli

We recently published Nick Perilli’s surreal “An Ending.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) I love the implied weight of this story, this movie-scene ending, after ” the loss, the danger, the revenge and the lesson,” that makes it seem so much larger than it is. Do you think this couple went through the stereotypical movie chain of events before this unusual kiss, or was their story a stranger one all along?

My original intention was to make the ‘ending’ I allude to feel like a bit of a fairy tale ending, but I see a lot of movies so I’m not surprised that I unconsciously skewed it towards the bombast of film. Regardless, I do think this kiss is the very beginning of anything outside the norm in this couple’s story so far. We’re meeting them after the fade to black and after they’ve gone through all the story and character beats of your typical romantic drama movie or, yeah, maybe a light fairy tale. I think the weight of whatever they experienced is powerful for them, certainly, but probably not something that many of us looking in would find particularly interesting or original. So we enter their story just as things get truly interesting and strange for them — when their connection is tested by the very power of that connection. That’s just my take on it, though.

 

2) Speaking of their unusual kiss, really, where did you get this unusual idea? It’s so strange and creepy, and you tell it in such a beautiful way, I’m really curious where this came from!

Not to get too personal or anything, but my wife Britny and I sometimes just press noses together to show affection and one time we pretended we couldn’t pull them apart. We then had a pretty involved discussion about how we would manage to live our lives with the front our faces connected like that. This is a pretty typical conversation for us. Of course, I had to add some melancholy by bringing up the fact that our brain just ignores our noses so it might do the same to a person after a while. Scientifically, I don’t think that quite tracks. It makes for an interesting image, though, and I feel like most of my best work starts with an image I can twist that’s born from a personal connection like a conversation with my partner or something I see out of the corner of my eye while daydreaming at work.

An Ending ~ by Nick Perilli

The two kissed at the end. So enamored and in radiant love, they held on to that swell of contact until the skin on their lips and tips of their noses fused together.

They didn’t mind. After everything they’d been through to get to this moment—the loss, the danger, the revenge and the lesson—they both felt they could stand to spend the rest of their lives moving as one through the world. Arms on each other’s hips, legs shuffling between the other’s. They learned. The hardest thing to do was eat, but they figured it out.

In time, their brains sliced the other one out of their vision as irrelevant information. Like a nose, ever necessary but in the way. One could see the world beyond the other, but as much as they tried, one could no longer see the other.

Still, they know their other is there. By scent and sound and memory, yes, but more so by the stray weight at the end of their noses and the slight taste of the annual winter blood from the other’s chapped lips.

***

Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia, PA with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. Work of his has appeared in Pidgeonholes, XRAY, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his very cheap website nickperilli.com.

Two Questions for Shawn McClure

We recently published Shawn McClure’s heart-breaking “To My Sister, Who Threatened to Haunt Me.

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) There’s a moment in this piece where the narrator says of her sister’s death, ” We both knew how it happened; you had been trying to tell us for years,” and there is a heaviness of guilt that permeates the story. Do you think the narrator can forgive herself? Can forgive her sister?

There is plenty of guilt threaded through this story, as well as a dose of denial. I think my narrator forgives her sister for her hostility because she understands that she is difficult, mentally ill, and perhaps estranged from the family. The narrator addresses her sister posthumously, trying to work through her own guilt. She misread all of the clues her sister left about how she felt. She had things to tell her and failed to say them. The narrator and her mother mourn the late sister together, trying to arrive in a place of love and absolution.

 

2) The imagery in this story is so powerful! I love how you connect that ephemeral, strange dream from the beginning with the ending piece, describing the late sister as a flock of birds. What does this imagery symbolize for you in this story? Does it mean the same thing for the narrator?

Aside from the fact that I adore birds scientifically, I also enjoy myths and legends involving birds. Birds appear frequently in my stories, and play an important role in my creative life.

This story came from an actual dream I had. It felt so real and foreboding, and right away I started working it into a story. I once read that starlings were conduits from the spirit world, or harbingers of death. In this case, I used the flock of birds to symbolize the soul of the narrator’s late sister.

The narrator acknowledges a certain amount of supernatural events happening around her. Yet, she remains oblivious. She never quite gets around to analyzing the dream of the birds, but I like to imagine that deep inside, she knows it was her sister saying farewell from beyond.

To My Sister, Who Threatened to Haunt Me ~ By Shawn McClure

Photograph by Shawn McClure

I had every intention of answering your angry email, the one in all caps where you called me names and promised to haunt the crap out of me. I kept trying to think of a response, but I ended up with a whole book of things I was eventually going to say, but never did.

On the day of your escape, a gentle, mad dream lingered: a flock of birds moving as one body; a cloud dispersing an undiscovered kind of rain. I couldn’t ponder the meaning of the dream for long, because the pipes burst and we had to call a plumber.

The rest of the day dragged as if through flood waters. Pinpricks of your darkness decorated the sky like black stars. I guess I knew there was something wrong.

Still, I didn’t know for sure until three days later when Mom called at an unusual hour. Small hairs stood up all over my skin when her number lit the screen. She spoke with soft bravery about the policeman who found you and how kindly he broke the news. We both knew how it happened; you had been trying to tell us for years. When I finally hung up the phone, I ran outside, through the cold, toward the mailbox to see if you had reached out one last time. The box was empty. I felt the blade of my guilt and measured its sharpness against your death.

So, I can’t tell you I wasn’t mad or that we loved the nice version of you. I call Mom every day now. She has a new habit of saying “I love you” at the end of our conversations. I know she speaks to both of us.

Together we took out the quilt you made for her so many years ago. We admired your stitches. We love the vintage fabric. We ran our fingers over the satin trim, touched the bumpy, white knots of flowers. We agreed that you were the most talented of all of us.

But I am the one who always notices signs, symbols and omens. There are tiny flowers stitched into the pocket of the quilt, along with the words ‘pride and joy’. I am the one who noticed that there is one for each sister except you. You stitched yourself out, like you never existed at all. I folded up the quilt that had the wrong number of sisters, and bit my tongue to keep my observation from Mom.

I haven’t shed tears. I am outside myself. I like to hear the things Mom remembers. We keep turning you over in our palms. We turn you this way and that, so we can watch your facets flash and dim. We look at your manic joy. We remember the little depressions. I wanted to tell you I remember that time when I was ten when you tried describe your sadness, and the time you tipped a pine log toward the light to show me the tiny green world that grew there. We look at your miracles and the flaws all at once. Sometimes I can tell that Mom is crying in the phone.

We see your pain now, we see what you were trying to say. We saw both the beauty you brought, and the damage you caused, and we tried to separate them. We saw the quiet. We felt the wind stir and pick up force. We saw the sky darken and get ready to open. We witnessed the pipes burst. We saw your last emails blinking, threatening us from our inboxes. We heard you scream into the phone and instead of slamming it down, we hung up quietly, because we were not angry.

We saw you gather yourself and disperse like a flock of birds, all noise and motion, here for a moment, and every moment after, and never truly gone.

***

Shawn McClure writes short fiction from her kitchen table in a house in NJ and sometimes publishes it on the web.

Two Questions for Kathryn Milam

We recently published Kathryn Milam’s gorgeous “Change Is Coming.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) There are only three lines of dialogue in this story: two places and “soon.” I love how much is implied in these tiny phrases! The narrator replies wordlessly — were you ever tempted to let them speak?

This story started with my musings about passion and how it can consume one’s life. Artists, writers, musicians, athletes even, all become absorbed in their work and often neglect the rest of their lives in the process. Relationships can suffer particularly. I do a lot of intricate crochet, and sometimes I look up while working on an especially lovely project, and it’s been hours since I interacted with anyone.

The subject was way too big for a story, so I turned to passion between people. I wanted to depict how the sensuous aspects of our obsessions can lure us away from the reality of the daily. The dreamy quality of the dialogue coupled with the physical details of the dinner tempts the narrator to abandon her family and her responsibilities. She follows that temptation without a word, mesmerized by it all, much as the beauty of language draws me to the page and makes me forget I’m supposed to make dinner and or have a conversation with my husband.

So, no. She couldn’t speak. The narrator is the silent partner in this scenario, weighing her options as she imagines what her world might be.

 

2) There is so much rich detail in the scene between the painter and the narrator: the description of her art, the music, the food … and then we end with this quiet image of the husband waiting at home, listening for the children. The contrast here really speaks to the narrator’s mindset! What do you think is waiting for them at home?

The real world waits for them. We can immerse ourselves in voluptuous beauty, indulge our fantasies, but in the end, the life we’ve chosen won’t go away. Will the narrator explode her family to follow this dream? Is the family, and all that entails, an anchor that prevents her from living a fully creative life as obviously she is tempted to believe? Or are her husband and children a mainstay that allows her to explore without drifting away into a seductive netherworld with its own messiness and madness? Even the artist’s life is untidy, with her hands all smudged with paint, as she freely admits. Change is coming, for sure, but what will that change mean? I’m still thinking on that.

Change is Coming ~ by Kathryn Milam

She touches your fingers across the table. Talks about her art, the way the brush veils the canvas, how paint clings to the heels of her hands, the chiaroscuro figures of women at work, children at the border. The waiter brings oysters on the half-shell, plates of veal glazed with butter and mustard, a raspberry torte to share. A young man plays contrapuntal notes on a cello, Bach’s Suite in D Minor. She says, the sea. She says, the Palamora Motor Court. She says, soon.

You smooth a curl from her brow. Outside, the harvest moon sags over tree tops. Her face gleams amber. Across town, your husband dozes in your bed, one ear cocked for the children.

***

Kathryn Milam lives in North Carolina. Her most recent stories have appeared in Appalachian Heritage Magazine, Lunate Fiction, and Flash Fiction Magazine. She’s the founder of Readings on Roslyn, a literary salon that has hosted forty writers and more than 3000 readers in her home. Her MFA is from Bennington College. Follow her on Twitter @MilamKathryn.

Two Questions for Sarah Freligh

We recently published Sarah Freligh’s gorgeous “What We Remember.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the details you use to paint the girl in this story — she is so real and so vivid here. Are there longer versions of this story with even more detail, or has it always settled in nicely at micro-length?

This one has settled into micro-length, but it’s yet another iteration of a girl who was a minor character in my poem “Yearbook” Class of ’69” from my book Sad Math. I’m fascinated by the girls who sat in the back row of high school classes, who spoke only when called on and who disappeared into another life at the end of each school day. I’ve resurrected her here and will probably do so again in a series of yet-to-be-written micros as a way of making amends for all the people my younger self looked past.

2) Music plays a really important role in this piece. The transistor radio, Diana Ross, those hard, high notes at the end. Do you think the girl found her salvation in music? Was she safer there?

These days we have all kinds of devices — high tech headphones and earbuds — that wall us off from the world even as we’re knee deep in its grime and glory, but first there was the transistor radio. I want to think she plugged into that radio and fell into a safe place — her salvation and her heaven.

What We Remember ~ by Sarah Freligh

The holy roller girl who writhed with the fever of Jesus on Sunday while her pastor daddy twirled snakes like lariats over the heads of sinners crying to be cleansed. Who bused in from out-county on Monday, undressed for gym in a mop closet. Who stuffed a transistor radio down her pants while her pastor daddy handed out salvation in front of Sears. Who believed she’d ascended to heaven whenever Diana Ross sang in her ears, all gauze and sequins, whenever Smoky baby baby-ed her down rows of corn where she danced with her tall green partners. The nights her father came to sanctify her. The day she collapsed in gym class and sang to Jesus in her gospel tongue, an arpeggio of gibberish, all amen and hell yes. How she came back to us a ghost girl, rinsed of all but the hard, high notes.

***

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis; A Brief Natural History of an American Girl (Accents Publishing, 2012), and Sort of Gone (Turning Point Books, 2008). Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, diode, and in the anthologies New Microfiction and Best Microfiction 2019. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

“an essay about ghosts” ~ by Lee Patterson

 

in this essay you are a ghost & I am in the kitchen, boiling a pot of water. I look out my kitchen window & watch a ladder fall from the sky. it lands directly into the middle of my backyard. your ghost doesn’t climb down the ladder. instead, your ghost parachutes out of a cloud in the shape of a cloud. these days I am finding it difficult to not find things difficult. I fear the mundane like you used to fear spiders, snakes, dark alleys, losing your car keys, & affording your insurance deductible. do ghosts need health insurance? I ask your ghost. your ghost shakes her head as steam rises from the kettle on the stove. I pour a cup of chamomile tea & think about looking out the kitchen window. instead, I pour the tea down the sink & go back to bed.

***

Lee Patterson’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Gone Lawn, Unbroken, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and Entropy, among others. His chapbook, I get sad, was published by Ethel Zine in late 2019.

Two Questions for Jo Withers

We recently published Jo Withers’ stunning “Yesterday’s Tide.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such a quiet, understated time travel story — the parent going back and back and back to this one moment to try again. Why this particular moment, do you think? What is the significance for the child and the parent?

This was one of my first questions, once the time machine was finished, where would the parent begin? I think that my most vivid childhood memories were formed around this age. We lived quite a distance from the coast and beach days were rare and magical. I believe the parent would start here as it’s a time of deep mutual love. They mean everything to one another at this moment and are entirely absorbed by their own world. Their biggest problem at this point is finding the best sand for their castle.

 

2) Despite going back in time to change things, the ending remains the same. Do you think this is an inevitable end for these characters’ story? Or do you think there is the chance — the hope — that one more time, one more time, and things will turn out differently?

This piece left a hole in my heart as it was written when a close friend was really struggling. It was born out of my almost obsessional need to try to help, to tweak even the slightest thing which would change her life for the better. It’s very difficult when we have no control over situations, part of me was trying to accept that there was only so much I could do (I couldn’t remove every sharp pebble) whilst the other part was constantly reflecting and plotting ways I could do more. For those we love, we will always try. I don’t know if there’s a way to make the story end differently but I do know that the parent will never give up.