Parts of my Mother ~ by Tim Craig

1.

Once, in a department store, I pulled on my mother’s arm and it came off, like she was one of the mannequins. This was an early introduction to the idea that parts of my mother were destined to come off without warning.

2.

I was only a little older when both her legs came off at a summer garden party where she had been drinking wine for some hours. “Your mother has had a bit too much sun,” my father explained to us, as he carried her inside like a rag doll, with shiny buttons for eyes.

3,

The next thing to go was her heart. She lost it to Mike, the husband of her colleague at the school where she taught. There was a lot of shouting in our house that week and, soon after, she left for Canada with Mike.

4.

Over the years, postcards would arrive with pictures of grizzly bears and Mounties, telling us things we didn’t want to know, like Mike found a job, and Mike built a treehouse for their new kids and Mike saw a grizzly bear in the garden.

5.

One day a postcard arrived telling us the doctors had found something and they were going to remove some more parts from her, and then the postcards stopped.

6.

A couple of months back I googled her number and called it. It was her voice that answered, but it wasn’t her and she didn’t know who I was. An older male voice came on.

‘You’ll have to leave it there, Sport,’ it said. ‘Too much gone.’

7.

The next postcard was in unfamiliar writing and said she had died. It gave the date of the funeral, which had already passed. On the front was a picture of a grizzly bear rearing up on two legs, and for a moment I wondered if it was the one Mike saw.

***

Tim Craig lives in London. His short-short stories have appeared in many fine litmags and also the annual Best Microfiction Anthology. He is a previous winner of the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction and has been placed or commended four times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. @timkcraig

Two Questions for Lindy Biller

We recently published Lindy Biller’s beautiful “The Grandmothers.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) Barcode veins! Some of the grandmothers have barcode veins! What a great line that is, and what a wonderful image. What sparked that particular description for you?

Thank you so much, Cathy! That was one of my favorite images as well. The barcode veins were inspired by my Armenian great grandma, who was a genocide survivor. She had numbers tattooed on her wrist, blurry and faded by the time I knew her, and I remember having so many different feelings about this—sad, angry, a little bit awestruck. At first, I wrote that some of the grandmothers had serial numbers on their wrists, but that felt too overt for this piece, and I was glad when “barcode veins” jumped in during editing. I did write this piece thinking of the grandmothers as genocide survivors, but I think it also applies to other family histories and aging in general. I wanted the story to be surreal and metaphorical enough that readers could interpret the grandmothers through their own lens. 

2) This story was sparked by Meredith Alling’s “Other Babies,” a lovely piece published in Fanzine. What was it about this story that made you decide to write “grandmothers”?

I started writing “The Grandmothers” as part of a workshop with Tucker Leighty-Phillips at Longleaf Review. Tucker used “Other Babies” as a writing prompt, and I absolutely loved it–the beautiful strangeness, the amazing turn near the end, and how it was so relatable as a parent. I decided to write about grandmothers because I’d already been thinking about my great grandma and exploring the possibilities of writing about my family mythology. “Other Babies” is so exciting because at first it feels broad and strange and you’re not quite sure where it’s going, but it leads to a powerful, gut-wrenching conclusion. This broad, sweeping approach felt like an elegant way to write about the vulnerability of growing older, experiencing loss and trauma and the changes to your own body, and being so deeply aware of the fragility of those around you. 

The Grandmothers ~ by Lindy Biller

After “Other Babies” by Meredith Alling 

Some of the grandmothers swim laps in bathrobes and flower petal swim caps. Their lungs are full of fish. They point at each goldfish in its plastic bag pond and name it, Linda, Anoush, Isabel, one for each grandchild. Other grandmothers never learned how to swim. They lay on the bank like moss-covered stones until their legs fuse back into tails. Some grandmothers unfold their bodies like tents in the shade of an apricot tree. They have trained their whole lives for this. Other grandmothers are the tree, and mostly this feels good to them—the leaves always whispering, so that they’re never lonely, the smooth turquoise eggs tucked in carefully-arranged nests. Sometimes the nests fall and the eggs crack like crème brulee and then the grandmothers would rather not be trees, would rather have limbs that move, fingers, soft hands, like the other grandmothers, but it’s not up to them. Some grandmothers are full of magma. The magma boils and bubbles in the mantle of their stomachs until their insides are nothing, only fire. When these grandmothers erupt, entire villages die. Some grandmothers have never felt heat. They are always cold, cold, cold, fingers blue, joints scraping like crochet needles. Some grandmothers are in the kitchen, slicing the heads off figs, pinching dough lifeboats around orphaned lambs, praying that blood is thicker, after all. Other grandmothers are the kitchen and all their cupboard doors have been left open and fruit is rotting on the counters. Some of the grandmothers are too scared to move. Their ears twitch like rabbit ears. They know the shadow of the hawk when it moves over them. Other grandmothers are the hawk. They gulp down rabbits like butter mints. They have barcode veins, so they can be returned to the store if damaged or broken. They count babies like old pennies, tilting them out of a milk bottle and dropping them back in one at a time, each one a wish, knowing how easy it is to lose things. How hard it is to keep them. 

***

Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her fiction has recently appeared at Reservoir Road, Cheap Pop, Flyover Country, and Nurture Literary. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @lindymbiller. 

Two Questions for Maria Ioannou

We recently published Maria Ioannou’s stunning “This could be a story about people.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the idea of a story that’s not about what it’s about. (Or that is about what it isn’t about?) What made you decide to write a story about leaves (and not, say, people)?

Something lifeless can say so much about the living. Raymond Carver was so good at this, by describing an ashtray you could sense the rollercoaster of a whole relationship. Italo Calvino describes a wave in so much detail in Mr Palomar, you start to feel you are that wave. I often animate objects in my short fictions, in one way or another, so leaves, these in-between existences constantly poised between life and death, became part of this creative quest. At the end of the day, I do write about people, about people through things, leaves in this case. And it’s kind of comforting to think that leaves are always around, even when we’re gone, mirroring the circle of life. I really hope leaves never leave us.


2) And as long as we’re talking about leaves! When was the last time you jumped into a pile of them?

I was in a park in Copenhagen, next to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen. It was early morning, I could hear some people walking in the distance but I couldn’t see them. It was my last day in Denmark, a bit windy and the park was full of leaves. Their movement on the ground, in the air, on the statue, was so rhythmical, so vivid. I felt as if I was watching a performance based on improvisation and contradiction. This ten-minute audio-visual experience, this cosmic sensation, inspired me to write this piece. And Philip Glass joined me on the way (the piece was actually written and edited while listening to “Metamorphosis” on repeat).

This could be a story about people ~ by Maria A. Ioannou

But it’s a story about leaves. How they chase one another with noise, discreet noise, or no noise, a delirious crunchiness, twisty, hard, soft, wrinkled, leaves like dysmorphic kids in a minefield, with squashed greenish veins, how leaves fall, how leaves fall all the time, it’s ok to fall, leaves do that every day and nothing terrible happens, nothing monstrous. This is a story about leaves that are still leaves, no matter what, flying, shaking, lingering, whipping window glass, committing suicide while chasing rainbows, hurricanes, the burning sun, reaching out, touching other leaves, sliding on frowned, happy or in-between faces, escaping from roofs or mother trees, snatched on roofs or mother trees, benches, garbage bins, piling up on moth-covered graves, mourning like leaves mourn, by changing colour, by flapping on cold marble, leeched on broken flower pots, not letting go, squeezed in the corners of yards, transported in large groups, naked bodies in containers, mask-wearing sardines in the subway, pushed and pushed by rusty shovels and brooms, suffocating, screaming “Why are you doing this? I’m just a leaf, I’m supposed to fall, I’m supposed to stain your yard, this is what I do for a living.” This is a story about leaves aching, aching by the power of metal and sole and rain and wind and wheels and foot and boot and tank and rank, leaves, big, small, green, orange, yellow-white, broken, stepped on, migrating leaves, baby leaves, floating, falling like tired snowflakes, tangled in thin air, in thin dehydrated hair, sucked in high-tech vacuums and laughing mouths, leaves standing still for a moment, pulsating on the wet ground, dying, like leaves die, leaving tiny traces on a perfectly mowed grass, sinking in perfectly heated pools, leaves, leaves, slowly deteriorating, waiting for spring.

***

Maria A. Ioannou is a writer based in Cyprus. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing (University of Winchester, UK) and in 2019, she received the Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence in Research Award. She has published two short fiction collections and a fairytale in Greece (Emerging Writer State Award 2012 / shortlisted for the 2016 Young Writer Award by the Greek magazine Klepsydra. Her short fiction “Pillars” was nominated to be included in the anthology Best Small Fictions. Her work was longlisted in the Smokelong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest 2021 and the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2021 and has been published in SAND, The Hong Kong Review, Tiny Molecules, The Cabinet of Heed, Asymptote, Litro, The Daily Drunk, FlashFlood 2021, and elsewhere. More info: www.maria-alpha-ioannou.com.

Two Questions for Gary Fincke

We recently published Gary Fincke’s powerful “Sleep Diet: A Fable.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love the echoes of Sleeping Beauty (and the hint of Snow White as well!) in this story — how the prince falls in “love” with a woman he can imprint any personality, any life upon. Here the man takes a waking woman and remakes her in the image he wants/remembers, Or tries to, anyway! Do you think he is only trying to create her here? Or do you think this is an attempt to also recreate himself the way he used to be when he first met her? 

First, there really is a thing called “the sleeping beauty diet,” the core of it women being encouraged to take sedatives before sleep to extend the hours you are not awake in order to avoid eating. Second, I’ve always been fascinated by Sleeping Beauty—In the original story “La Belle au bois dormant” the Prince rapes the sleeping woman (and there is far worse ugliness and horror to come later). Once you know this about the story, it’s way more likely to think he is only trying to create her.  For me, Sleep Diet is a story about the worst sort of selfishness—imposing an image upon another without regard for who they are.

2) The descriptions of food (and the lack thereof) in this story are so vivid and aromatic — I especially love the moment where she is inhaling the scented candles and “swallowing the idea of pies.” The sensory details do such an amazing job of pulling the reader into this world, this hunger. Did you always imagine this woman with a sweet tooth, or does a version of her exist that longs for more savory fare? 

Decades ago, I read a fascinating short story by Andres Dubus called “The Fat Girl” in which a young woman diets down to an appearance that attracts men to her. After she marries one of them, she eventually succumbs to her “sweet tooth,” regaining pounds while the husband berates her for abandoning the image that attracted him. The “sleep diet” goes another step–it creates a craving for nearly any food, whether literal or figurative.

Sleep Diet: A Fable ~ by Gary Fincke

“You used to be so thin,” he said. “Like a ballet dancer.”

“Or a girl who’s sick?” she answered.

“Not fat,” he said. “Not exactly, but definitely different than you were.”

Her next meal was salad and the memory of bread. She held her sugar-loving tongue. By the third day, when she finished her meals, she moved through the smorgasbord of her house, inhaled each candle-scented room, swallowing the idea of pies made from their apple, cherry, and peach.

He told her how eating late-afternoon dinner helps the body cool earlier in the evening, preparing for deep sleep sooner. How extending that kind of sleep lessens the opportunity for calories. How the absence of light is an asset. How a warm shower tricks the body’s thermometer.

Like Beauty, she pricked herself with darkness. She rose to the mirror to ask the questions about waist and thighs. When it answered, mouthing the drab adjectives for size, she understood the anger of queens.

Once, after midnight, she woke and saw him sitting up and gazing at her in the night light’s glow. His watching brought a rush of desire. The sheet he’d drawn up to her throat for warmth was bunched by her side. She lay in a negligee so sheer the near darkness felt like a tongue upon her skin. It tasted the spaces between her ribs and the stubborn mound of her stomach before settling on her rising and falling breasts. He said, “Go back to sleep.” 

He warned that she shouldn’t wake so easily. The sounder, the better, he said, and gave her pajamas to wear to keep her warmer. When, days later, she woke to him standing and staring, the sheet to the side again, she caught her breath and stiffened. “You scared me,” she said.

“Why?” he answered, smiling, she thought, in a way designed to make her doubt herself. He said he was in love with her sleep, the way it lessened her. Her closed eyes and steady breathing were time travel. When he watched, he imagined her retreating until she retrieved her childish shape, her princess body. “Give it time,” he said, and more weeks went by, so long that she believed he desired a stranger. So long that she imagined herself gone.

At last, when she opened her eyes, the sheet at her feet, he was standing on her side of the bed, his body so close that she couldn’t see his face until she rolled onto her back and looked straight up. “Oh yes,” he said. “Perfect.” But when he reached for her, she curled and faded like a long- forgotten photograph.

***

Gary Fincke’s flash stories have appeared recently in WigLeaf, Craft, Vestal Review, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, and Best Small Fictions 2020.

Two Questions for Melissa Saggerer

We recently published Melissa Saggerer’s delightful “Gulls fly fastest when they’re diving.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) A seagull named Wallace — that’s not the first name I would choose for a seagull! Do you think Kira would ever consider other names or is Wallace, for her, the best seagull name?

Oh that’s so funny! This piece started in a Tommy Dean workshop as a micro, but it grew and shrank a number of times since then. In some versions there was a mention of Darwin, and naming the seagull Wallace was in my mind a reference to Darwin’s contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace. I think Kira would name lots of seagulls (Large Marge, Swoopy, Scout, Sophia, Captain Featherpants, Fred). The ones she didn’t name she would try to mind-meld with, try to see through their eyes and become one.

2) I really like the hidden story here, the longing Kira has to be as free as a seagull. Will she ever be free like that?


I don’t know. I hope? I think she feels a bit trapped in her current life situation, but watching the gulls helps her capture that soaring feeling of being free. At one point I titled it The Most Glorious Birds— I was thinking of the movie Harold and Maude when Maude says “Dreyfus once wrote from Devil’s Island that he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany he realized they had only been seagulls… For me they will always be – *glorious* birds.”

Gulls fly fastest when they’re diving ~ by Melissa Saggerer

Kira heard seagull eyes have an extra cone, they can see UV light, they see under the banana boat slather– see bruises, sun spots, your skin– peeling like a mask. She wanted to hug a seagull. She wanted the seagull to spread its wings wide, hug her back. She wanted to feel its grey-tipped feathers touch her scapulas. She wanted her own wings to sprout, growing quickly. She wanted to fly away with the seagull. She would name him Wallace. Wallace would give her a seagull name. She would learn seagull language. Kira heard the red spot on their beaks is a target; for their chicks to tap and make them spit up their food– remember to feed them. She wanted to eat dropped sandwiches, raw eggs, fish. The Kira-gull would dive through the sky, dropping towards the earth, plummeting till inches from a mass of water, knowing she could glide along at any moment, free. 

***

Melissa Saggerer puts strawberries on pizza. She has flash in Coffin Bell, Barren, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere. Follow her on twitter @MelissaSaggerer.

Two Questions for Katie DePasquale

We recently published Katie DePasquale’s wonderful “Scheherazade Tells the Tale of the Northern Shrike.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This is a story unlike any other that Scheherazade has told King Shahryar, and there seems to be a bit of a parallel between her story and theirs: “It can wait for as long as it takes.” When in their marriage do you imagine she is sharing this tale with him?

I picture her sharing this story shortly after their marriage. When I wrote this, I’d randomly read an article about the Northern Shrike, and I’d been thinking of writing something inspired by the 1,001 Nights and was in the middle of rereading them. And I found that I’d forgotten that the reason the king spares Scheherazade’s life is that he fell in love with her, but there was no mention of how Scheherazade felt. Of course in the larger context of that story, it didn’t matter; she had to marry him, just like she had to entertain him, to escape being put to death. But that didn’t mean she loved him. I thought, what if she just married him to bide her time until she could make a more final escape? The tale spun out from there.


2) Northern Shrike are sometimes called “butcher birds” (I love that!) for their habit of killing more prey than they need at once and storing it for later. After sharing this detail, Scheherazade warns Shahryar not to confuse power and beauty. What do you think makes the Northern Shrike a beautiful bird (or, perhaps, a powerful one)?

I think the Northern Shrike is more ordinary-looking than beautiful, but that doesn’t affect its power, which is obvious since it’s such a fearful predator. And there’s not necessarily any connection between looks and capability, but people love to say that beauty is power, which really isn’t often true for women. Beautiful women are frequently in vulnerable positions where the powerful take advantage of them: their beauty doesn’t equate to much in those situations, right? That’s why the shrike and Scheherazade felt like a natural fit for each other. The shrike is more powerful than beautiful, and in this piece, in the end Scheherazade is, too.