Two Questions for Eric Scot Tryon

We recently published Eric Scot Tryon’s delightful “We Worry for Cats.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) The title really drew me into this piece — with so much else that’s going on, I think that “cats” is such a fun, specific concern. How did you decide on this delightful title?

For me, titles either come instantly and I don’t second guess them, or I belabor them for all eternity and never land on one I like. Luckily here, it was the former. I was instantly drawn to the sound of the phrase as a title. In the context of the story I think its odd phrasing works but sitting alone as a title without having yet entered the story, the structure and tense of the phrase feels familiar yet off. And maybe that’s a good thing. I also like that the title doesn’t directly reference what the story is “about”, at least on the surface. I mean, you don’t read this and think it’s a story about cats. Yet at the same time, these endless lists of things—cats, phone chargers, mismatched socks, Zoom meetings, etc. and the way they are all placed on equal ground and feel completely interchangeable, might be exactly what the story is about.  

2) I love the reaction at the end especially, to be witnesses, to share what they are seeing, even though their phones have gone dead from wasting all that time on them. And I love that, of course! — everyone has grabbed their phones (even if they left their cats behind). What do you think drives this instinct to witness?

I think the most basic of all human needs is our need to connect with other humans. But of course, this flood of technology, the internet, phones, etc. over the past few decades has done everything it is power to disconnect us from one another, to isolate us. But that basic human need is still there more than ever, except now the way we satiate it has morphed into likes, comments, clicks, views, followers. So this need, this instinct to witness and to document is really just the evolution of our need to connect with others. At least that’s my armchair-philosopher answer. The more basic answer would be that we are now all robots, and our muscle memory has been trained to click and post, click and post. Even when we know the phone is dead, we don’t know how to not grab for it first.  

We Worry For Cats ~ by Eric Scot Tryon

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. So we flee our apartments, those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We flee our apartments grumbling about testing the system on a Monday morning, a heads up would have been nice, an email, a note on the doors. Some of us still in pajamas, a rogue Cheerio stuck to our chin, others with wet hair and mis-matched socks, no shoes, all flooded out like roaches from behind toasters, microwaves and forgotten loaves of bread. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Keeping our distance from neighbor-strangers, the men we smile at in elevators, the women we nod to in the mail room.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. They don’t stop after a minute like we expect. Or five or ten. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Noses buried in cell phones. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs, picturing chargers on nightstands, kitchen counters, plugged into laptops. Oh how we long for them. Noses buried deep in cell phones. We play Candy Crush, we text our mothers, we punch emails to bosses with trained thumbs.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. Some of us try to call management. This is unacceptable. We have Zoom meetings to attend, we have scared cats under beds, we have lives to live in those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs. The numbers dropping fast, counting down like it’s goddamn Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. What do we do with that last percentage? Who do we text? Which feed do we scroll? Which photo do we like? When the screens go black we look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one we hear fighting on the other side of the kitchen, saying things to his wife we have only heard in movies. We look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one crying at night above our bed. As we lay, scrolling ourselves to sleep, the sound of their sobs becomes the white noise that finally puts us under. We look around and try to match unknown faces to the lives we hear on the other sides of walls.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. We long for chargers, we worry for cats, we wonder for neighbor-strangers. And then we see it. Smoke twirling its way up from the rooftop like an angry ghost. This is not a test. We grab madly for our dead phones to snap photos, to Tweet in all caps, to text our friend in Boston.

***

Eric Scot Tryon is a writer from San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Pithead Chapel, Los Angeles Review, Pidgeonholes, Monkeybicycle, Cease, Cows, Longleaf Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and elsewhere. Eric is also the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. Find more information at www.ericscottryon.com or on Twitter @EricScotTryon. 

Two Questions for Kik Lodge

We recently published Kik Lodge’s searing “Rock.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the voice in this story — it makes me feel like I am hearing a confession or perhaps a plea. Do you think anyone else, outside of the reader and Annie and the stars, is listening?

Oh, I hope! The story came from a bleak set of statistics regarding the number of feminicides in France – on the rise since lockdown. We’re in 2022 and women are still punching bags, certain men’s possessions. So yes, I’d like to think the trapped women are listening too.

2) The detail of this night with her sister being “five boyfriends ago” is so brilliant. It tells us so much about the character and what she has done since this first declaration. Do you think, shouting it out now, that she really believes that she will never again be “anyone’s woman”?

Thanks for this question, Cathy! I think the simple act of saying something out loud is bold. It unlocks thoughts, stirs us from our zombie state. Despite the succession of boyfriends you speak about, and the hint we have of history repeating, I think she just might act this time. She’s aware of the broken promise, the gulf between her younger and current selves, and she’s calling on the stars to hold her accountable. But that’s buoyant-me speaking – I know how hard it is to be on the cusp of leaving, how immobility hounds us; we can live our whole lives on the cusp, can’t we?  

Rock ~ by Kik Lodge

Five boyfriends ago and I’m out in the backyard with my big sister, my beautiful big sister, Annie, and we’re shouting far into the night in our nighties, to hell with home, to hell with Dad, and we say hey you, clumps of blazing rock, bear witness to our words, never will we be anyone’s woman, we’ll be the dancing dead before we’re anyone’s woman, got it? and Annie whenever you are, I’m whispering this now, Doug’s upstairs, his fist in bentonite clay, he has a hole where his soul should be, I swear, and I’m out here, torn like Mama, and get this stars, I am enough on my own, I’m yelling that now, Annie, even if life’s a haze and the night is biting into me, I’m yelling that now in my nightgown.

***

Kik Lodge writes short fiction in France. Her work has featured in The Moth, Tiny Molecules, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction Ellipsis Zine, Splonk, Bending Genres, Janus Literary and Litro. She likes cats and trumpets.

Two Questions for Lori Sambol Brody

We recently published Lori Sambol Brody’s powerful “Made In Her Image.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) To start with: Dammit, Lori. Why did you have to make me cry? But seriously, I love the heart and emotion in this story, the way the mother finds power in both the creation of her golem daughter and the potential for uncreation. She is tempted sometimes, sure, but do you think she will ever undo this daughter she has made?

What are the obligations to something or someone that we have given life to? In the golem folktales, the golem is destroyed (or rather, uncreated back into dirt) because it grew too powerful and could not be controlled. But isn’t that what happens when a child grows up? The entirety of childhood is the gradual solidification of a child’s identity as apart from the parents, and becoming someone who cannot be controlled, cannot stay. As to the mother in the story, I think that if she’s resilient enough to let this second daughter go, she will not undo her golem daughter. But is she resilient enough to overcome her trauma? Even if her golem daughter becomes too powerful or dangerous?

2) The subtlety in storytelling is so lovely here — we know what has happened without being told. Were you ever tempted to give more detail about what became of the first daughter?

In this story, I wanted to concentrate on what it means to have a child that you created to stay with you forever (who knew a golem could go to college?) leave for college. As you know, my two girls are almost ready to leave, and I have such mixed emotions – I want them to stay for selfish reasons, but I also know that kids grow up and need to leave home – and want to leave home. So I didn’t want to give too many details about what happened to the first daughter. There is a hint of violence, but the focus here is on the golem daughter’s leaving the mother. This is also part of a series, so other stories have some more details. 

Editor’s note: Check out this story from the series in Cotton Xenomorph: How to Create a Golem

Made in Her Image ~ by Lori Sambol Brody

My Golem daughter packs for college. She packs her sweater sets, her sensible black boots, her button-down shirts. She never wears crop-tops or low necklines. She packs her jeans. She does not write on her jeans with a ballpoint pen, drawing hearts and lines from her favorite songs, the lyrics she knows make me blush. She does not worry holes in the fabric with her fingers. Her bed is always made military-tight, fairy lights strung over it in a bell curve, photos clipped on the wires spaced exactly three inches apart. My Golem daughter never sits in boys’ cars in front of our house, windows dripping with tears.

She folds her clothes in her suitcases as if she were the one who worked at Brandy Melville. She packs her two sets of extra-long sheets. She packs the new shower caddy she’ll bring to the dorm showers to haul her Pantene conditioner for dry hair, her Jergens Extra-Dry Healing lotion, the hair gel she uses so her bangs will lie just so. She packs she packs she packs.

My Golem daughter is always focused.

Her eyes are now on her suitcase, her bangs covering the word I wrote on her forehead, אמת, truth. The truth is: I can destroy her, erase the letter aleph, א, to change the word truth to death, מת. The truth is: for my Golem daughter, I hold her life in my hands. How easy it would be. I watch from the doorway to her room, examine the soft pad of my thumb: I can rub aleph off with a light touch and she will turn back to what she’s made of. I thrill at that power, I wonder if. I’ve had only two years with her.

I bring her a set of towels, because she will need those too. Thanks Mom, she says, and her voice sounds like running water, like dirt and magic and crawling things. I shiver; I love the way she calls me Mom. Are you sure you want to go away? I ask. She knows that she’s the first Golem to go to college. An Ivy League, no less. It will not be easy: will my daughter’s roommate notice the truth inscribed on her forehead, will she seek to brush the letters away, will there be an aura of uncanniness that repels her? Or will they stay up all night whispering in the dark under her Ikea duvet, talking of classes and dreams and boys? Oh, Mom, she says, and she shakes her head, high ponytail swinging.

That night they found her, I knelt on the banks of the creek. The water ran winter-fast and the wet earth smelled of decay. I howled and even the coyotes were afraid. I formed my Golem daughter with tears. I formed her with clay and algae and foam. Mud crusted under my nails. The police found no DNA under hers. I lumbered from the creek bed and my Golem daughter followed me, naked and solid. Her flesh like my flesh, transformed from mud. In the bedroom, I pointed to her canopied bed, to her desk. This is your room. I slipped a dress over her head, zipped the back, tied the belt. Her hands up as if she were still a toddler. You are my daughter.

My Golem daughter does not bleed and she cannot break. She tells me, I will always love you. I grip her tight with hands that formed her from fistfuls of mud and magic. Hands that made her stay.

***

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Craft, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her stories have been chosen for the Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction anthologies, Wigleaf Top 50, and the Longform fiction pick of the week. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

Two Questions for Todd Clay Stuart

We recently published Todd Clay Stuart’s stunning “Pre-Ghosting.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) There is so much powerful imagery here — I especially love how the wife’s “pre-ghosting” echos the dying ash in the backyard. Is there a connection, do you think, between the wife and the tree?

You always ask such stimulating questions! I see a connection between the wife and the tree in the sense that they both lived out their lives in each other’s shadows for years and years. The fate of the wife is left to the reader’s imagination, but the implication is that both the tree and the wife are succumbing or perhaps have already succumbed to some form of disease or illness, which further strengthens their connection. By extension, the narrator sees the tree as a monument to both itself and to his wife, and knows the tree will have to be taken down sooner or later, but the wife will live on in his mind through memories or in ghost form, imaginary or real.

2) I keep coming back to the line about the stars being forgotten during the day, our attention demanded by the “arrogant sun.” It made me think — what else are we not seeing when there is something else drawing our attention? 

Well, those are the things that keep us up at night, right? The countless atrocities in the world. Our eventual demise and such. Our deepest fears and all. The thoughts we block from our minds or else we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed each day. But on the other side of this are the acts of kindness, generosity, and grace that go on everywhere. Those help bring balance and beauty to the world, help us cope and find our center, something akin to our own personal form of gravity, our own private laws of physics.

Pre-Ghosting ~ by Todd Clay Stuart

The ash in the backyard is dying. My wife and I could see it from our second-floor window, could hear the groan of its hollow limbs as they cracked and swayed in the cold March winds. Widow makers, the limbs are called. The branches of the tree once held waxy, green parades of leaves, but are now weighed down full of silent space left in the wake of the slow march of death. It could be said the tree is more of a wooden sculpture of a tree than anything else. Yet, still it stands, as a monument to things I won’t let go. Water, air, fire, they take on the form of our bodies, like shadows, like mirrors, anything made of light, your hands, your face, translucent in repose, the light moving through you like the opposite of a storm, the reverse of a hurricane, everything made of light, the accoutrements of the illusionists. The bedroom window is new and arched to better frame the night stars since we discovered our favorite constellations were out of view just above the top of our old window. About the stars: we forget they are still there during the day. We just can’t see them because the arrogant sun demands our full attention. My wife’s hair went gray, then white in a matter of seconds. I want to believe she prematurely made herself look like her future ghost, so I would more easily recognize her spirit after she died, so I would be less startled if one day her ghost appeared beside me and hooked her arm through mine during a funeral or a parade or the opening of the first tender buds of spring.

***

Todd Clay Stuart is an emerging Midwestern writer and poet. He studied creative writing at the University of Iowa. His work  appears or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, FRiGG, Milk Candy Review, New World Writing, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife, daughter, and two loyal but increasingly untrustworthy pets. Find him on Twitter @toddclaystuart and at http://toddclaystuart.com.

Two Questions for Eileen Frankel Tomarchio

We recently published Eileen Tomarchio’s lovely “Origin of a Face.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I have read that it is a very human trait to give faces to things that are technically faceless — but of course they don’t seem faceless to me! The daughter seems to find comfort in the faces of things that aren’t human. Do you think her mother ever imagined she would reconnect with her daughter in this way?

Pareidolia is such a fascinating quirk, reading humanness in random objects. I wanted to convey that there’d been an emotional disconnect between the little girl and her mother, so the mother coming back as a button—an object the little girl can read as “human”—is perhaps a compensation for what was lacking. 

I think the mother regards her reincarnation at first as an absurdity, then something apt and maybe redemptive. A button’s flat expression can be read by the little girl in a world of ways. And maybe that means there’s room, from here on, for her relationship with her mother to still grow. 

2) I love that powerful moment when the daughter is playing in the bathtub and it is the mother who panics for fear of the screaming buttons going down the drain. There’s something so tender about the two of them toweling the little buttons dry before bed. I guess this is less of a question than a compliment, but could you tell me what this scene means to you?

There’s something both safe and intense in that mother-daughter pretend-play. The daughter gets to act out being the protective, rescuing, emotional mother—a wish fulfillment. The mother responds by entering her daughter’s world-building, I think as a way to connect in a way she can’t directly, and maybe find the mother in herself she wishes she could be.

Motherhood can be so thorny. The pitfalls of self-recrimination, misinterpretation, distractibility, detachment, exhaustion, guilt. Thank goodness for tubby time, for the chance to cleanse and refresh. 

Origin of a Face ~ by Eileen Frankel Tomarchio

Sometime after I died, I came back as a button. An ordinary, four-holed flat from one of my well-worn sweaters, buried inside the pickle jar of buttons my daughter kept on her bedside table. Co-mingled with so many elbowy fluteds, fleshy cloths, cold-skinned celluloids. My new purpose unknown to me except to wait. Sometimes my daughter dug a finger deep and grazed me. Sometimes she turned the jar in such a way we all tumbled like the innards of a kaleidoscope. Many times, she let the jar drop in anger and land with a thud on the carpet. Why did none of my fellow castoffs squirm or shift at the sound of her crying? Were there no souls in here but mine? Today, she shook the pickle jar like a can of whipped cream before plonking it down on the nightstand, leaving me splayed against the glass, my eyes and lips in damsel Os. I could see her, finally, in full. 

And she could see me back. 

My daughter had always made the world into faces. Appliance knobs, wall sockets, river rocks, sewer grates, water-stained plaster, rust marks on a bicycle, urine bubbles in a toilet bowl. The thread-hole buttons she snipped and horded were the most expressive of all things. They returned an infinitude of gazes. More than I could ever match or mimic, for all my trying. I’d catch her in animated conversation with her specimens arranged in small families on the ledge of the bathtub. And when I’d enter the bathroom, she’d look up at me and go silent. Still smiling, but distantly, as if she were mirroring what I couldn’t express. As if I were faceless.

One snowy night, I stayed with her anyway, filling the tub with warm water as it cooled, as she shivered from waiting for her father who wouldn’t be home for hours. Or days. I don’t remember. She let me watch her kissing games with buttons stuck to puckered fingers and thumbs. Her pretend car wrecks and ambulance runs on slick ceramic roads. Her tsunami waves pinwheeling the buttons to the depths. But at my time for bed, she pounded the water with her fists, dashing the mothers, daughters, fathers. She fought me as I raised the drain stopper, screamed as the tiniest collar buttons were drawn down and left juddering at the trap by the suction, dozens of tiny cries for help bubbling up into her ears and mine. She saw that I could hear them. She saw my terror. I lowered the stopper and together we scooped up the babes, toweled them dry—their eyelashes beaded, cheeks flushed—whispering there, there.   

On Kleenex beds beside her own, the buttons slept and slept. My daughter shushed my goodnight with a finger to my lips. They had earaches from all the water, she whispered. They needed quiet. Her finger stayed, tracing my features. The face that was there, a little less faceless. I watch her now through the thick glass. Her lids damp with sleep. Does she recognize her mother? I think tomorrow will be my rescue. She’ll reach in and scoop me out, or dump the jar and pick through the ocean of scowls till she finds my smile. She’ll feel a hint of warm blood, a human heartbeat. She’ll pull away the faint ghost threads still looped tight through my holes, like scales falling from my eyes. She’ll bring me to her ear so she can hear me whisper there, there.

***

Eileen Frankel Tomarchio works as a librarian in a small New Jersey town. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Forge, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Maudlin House, trampset, and elsewhere.