Even with glue ~ by Eilise Norris

You can brush my hair

I wanted to be friends with Rachel so much that I let her brush my hair until it tugged out. Yellow hair, soft and elastic like if butter had a rind or rays of sunshine were woven. On the floor. In Rachel’s hairbrush. Never mind, she said a lot, feeling the fresh holes in my scalp. It probably tickled which I think is something between laughing and crying. We match, I tried to say, I just need a dress like yours. Do they make them in my size? But it only came out as a smile. My smile is one of my best features. A smile works in every language!

 

Sindy’s smile is upside-down

I couldn’t fully wave at all of the charity shop’s visitors, but I had my left arm raised for a long time. Sindy suggested that I try to climb out of the bucket. She is so much more adventurous than she looks! Someone drew her an upside-down smile in permanent pen. I told her, that’s the right way up for rainbows.

When the artist picked us both, I was glad because the bucket had a floor made of marbles and Sindy lay next to me in his cloth bag. While the artist walked home, it was like a hammock in the wind. We sloshed and knocked shoulders. I wondered if it was warm enough outside to enjoy the breeze.

In the artist’s room, he put on loud tantrum music and rolled us over in his hands, and I was a marble, marble, marble. Then he laid us flat on a table and squeezed clear glue onto Sindy’s left palm. He placed my hand on top of hers and pressed, gentle as a forehead kiss. We’re going to be muses, Sindy said. I know! I told her. I couldn’t wait to hear what muse meant.

 

Even with glue

Before Sindy, I had never really held a hand. Now our arms grow out of each other. It’s nice to not let go. Even with glue. I have told Sindy this many times. And I giggled when I once said, I take you, Sindy, to have and to hold, from this day forward.

She pulls a little on my arm when she wants me to stop. Sometimes she needs me to talk, and she just listens like I am running water.

The window we are inside winks with light. People pause in front of us, staring to the right of us, then at our held hands. What’s it meant to be? They ask. Or, wow, what happened to Barbie? Though I can’t see her, I always know Sindy’s there, frowning right at them.

***

Eilise Norris writes flash fiction, poetry and short stories from above a pub in Oxfordshire, UK. She saw a lot of extreme makeover Barbies when she was younger. Her most recent work is in Ellipsis Zine. She tweets from @eilisecnorris.

Advertisements

Two questions for Meg Pokrass

We recently published Meg Pokrass’s heartbreaking “The Rescue.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) You manage to encapsulate this relationship in so few words. For you, what makes this particular relationship come alive in this story?
I have to admit that this one is entirely CNF. About five years ago, I started seeing a much older man, a poet, and he told me this story about the 100 or so parakeets he used to own. How they died in a matter of minutes, all of them. The story affected me deeply. We were sharing our hardest moments in life. I was in the middle of a divorce and he was in the middle of something similar. There was a penetrating feeling of loss in my world, and this sweet man loved to make me laugh. When he wasn’t sharing stories about sad times, he was cracking me up.
2) So, you probably can’t tell us — but how did the parakeets die?
Avian flu. I can still see it in my mind.

The Rescue ~ by Meg Pokrass

He told her how his parakeets died, all at once, in the middle of a regular day. A bird holocaust. She could see, behind his words, such gorgeous, frantic colour that she held his hand. There were so many stories he’d never tell her about other departures. He was busy trying to make her laugh, reaching for a joke, and it would work! She’d laugh her fluttery heart out, hand it to him from the tip of her tree.

***

Meg Pokrass’ fifth collection, ‘Alligators At Night’, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction (2018). Her work has been anthologized in Best Small Fictions, 2018 (edited by Aimee Bender) and two Norton Anthologies; New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018) and Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015). Meg is the Founding Co-Editor of Best Microfiction, Editor-in-Chief of New Flash Fiction Review, and Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, UK and recently became the Flash Fiction Focus Editor for Mslexia Magazine.

Two Questions for Chloe N. Clark

We recently published Chloe N. Clark’s gorgeous “Other Skins.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story.

 

1) That dismissive moment with the doctor is so small and so accurate — is that an experience you’ve had yourself, that moment where the doctor thinks they know more about your body than you do?

I’ve spent a lot of times in hospitals and at doctor’s offices, throughout my life, and I can say that those kind of moments are far too often. I actually have a lot of ideas about how doctors should need to take specialized communication courses and what those would look like (because as a teacher, my teaching mind never sleeps). For people who question whether doctor’s dismissive attitudes, especially towards women-identifying and nonbinary people, are that prevalent — they should check out Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery.

2) Your voice as a poet always seeps into your fiction, creating these lovely melodic lines and imagery. How does your fiction writing inform your poetry?

First thank you for that compliment 🙂 Second, I often get called a prose-y poet–so I think it seeps in there a lot. I like simple language in poetry and a clear sense of plot–abstraction has never worked for my brain. So I think poetry and fiction for me are often just different spectrums on the same wavelength.

Other Skins ~ by Chloe N. Clark

She believes her body is not her own anymore. She woke up and her skin felt softer than she remembered it being the night before. She shook away the feeling, showered, didn’t think about if for the rest of the day. But, the next day, she could feel her heart beat in her chest and each beat was just a micro-second longer than they used to be: a pa-pumm instead of pa-pum.

Her doctor said: have you been feeling stressed lately? Her doctor said: this sounds like anxiety. Her doctor prescribed her pills the color of cotton candy: soft and pink and she wondered if they’d taste sweet but she didn’t try them. She told her doctor: no, something is really wrong here. And her doctor said: that’s what everyone thinks.

Her lover used to run fingers across her skin, taste her with his tongue. He once said, ‘you look the prettiest when you seem far away,” and she hadn’t known exactly what he meant but she liked the sound of it. She’d try to escape from her skin when she was out in public, let her body go on its own without her, see if people would look her way when she did it. But she never quite got it right, people still glanced through her.

She visits her mother, takes the long drive to the home and walks past the nurses with their voices filled with sympathy that dulls their voices like a too large wad of gum. She enters the room and her mother looks confused. I don’t know you.

At home, she takes a bath. She watches the water turn her skin soft pink with the heat. Skin next to godliness. It doesn’t feel like hers anymore.

***

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Booth, Glass, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. Her chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is out from Finishing Line Press and her debut full length collection, Your Strange Fortune, will be out Summer 2019. Find her on Twitter: @PintsNCupcakes.

Two Questions for Mike Chin

We recently published Mike Chin’s awesome “When She Was Bad.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) I love the character you’ve created here. It seems like you’d need a lot of knowledge about wrestling to create this world. Is this something you’re interested in or did you have to do research to create this character?

If I had to identify as something other than a writer, my next pick would be ‘great big wrestling nerd.’ I’ve loved professional wrestling for as long as I can remember, though that interest has evolved over time from enjoying what I saw on my TV screen as a kid to now having equal or greater interest in how it works behind the scenes, and the complex social/psychological dynamics that go into people filling an arena to actively cheer and boo a form of entertainment that most of them realize is more storytelling than athletic competition. I’m interested, too, in the complex lives of wrestlers who are largely playing characters and play-fighting, sure, but also walk fine lines in terms of keeping up their personas in public settings and legitimately taking physical punishment in the name of their craft. In any event, the character in this story is the central subject of a bundle of linked flash fiction that I drafted a while back and have been revising and slowly sending out into the world.

 

2) A lot of your writing focuses on carnival folk and other unusual people. What draws you to these kinds of characters?

I’m a big believer in character-driven literature, and inventing ones who live by unusual codes or under unusual circumstances invites all the more original, unexpected choices characters will have to make in their stories. Most of my work around wrestlers and circus performers happen in (separate collections of) linked short fiction, so there’s the added benefit, too, of letting one story enrich another as I figure out more about characters who may figure more prominently in one story, and can work backward to see how they might impact another. The circus performers have the added benefit–in my work–of walking a line between showmanship and actual magic, which is one of my favorite lines to play with in my writing.

When She Was Bad ~ by Michael Chin

A few years into her wrestling career, when she was bad, Erica recognized that great unspoken truth about the way men see women. If they don’t get to love them—by which she meant, fuck them—they hated them. And if they loved them, it was only for as long as they wanted. Then they’d hate them anyway.

When she was bad, she stopped swimming upstream.

When she was bad, she teased men. Got up close to man in the John Deere hat in the front row, close enough that she might kiss, then whispered hot in his ear, In your dreams.

And that’s all it took. A little individual attention to a few key marks at ringside to get them hot. Then the constant cheating in the ring, pulling a girl’s hair on every lockup, and pulling on her tights for leverage with every pin. Cower away from the offense, then jam a thumb in her opponent’s eye as soon as this good girl gave her some mercy.

The booker put her under the tutelage of Molly Magdalene, the oldest heel in the territory, and Molly took her to finishing school. Taught her what was, in retrospect, the most important lesson of all about how to be bad. You’ve got to live your gimmick.

            The scene: a gas station outside Waco after midnight. They were just trying to make it to the next town, and Erica got the responsibility of buying coffees to keep the car—most importantly the driver—awake. They’d sing along to the radio, and they’d play twenty questions where the answer was always an old-time wrestler—one of the ways they’d been taught to preserve the tradition of the business. The penalty for falling asleep on an overnight drive was to lose bed privileges in the hotel rooms they’d share.

So Erica filled Styrofoam cups with the strong stuff. Thick enough to chew. Stuffed creamers and sugar packets in another cup and loaded them all in a carrier.

That’s when the little boy came up to her.

He had a Radical Robbie Jackson t-shirt, and green and black armbands, and it was clear enough he and his mother had come from the matches. Mom didn’t look like the wrestling fan type. Bushy hair, coke bottle glasses, a modest blouse over Blue Light Special dungarees. She must have gone to the show to make her kid happy. Maybe Dad was out of the picture and this was the best she knew how to do. And what luck, because here they’d stopped for gas and a snack, and there was real life wrestler—no mistaking her, six feet tall, tell-tale tattoo peaking from beneath her black t-shirt. That, and when he said her name, she’d looked.

He held out a crumpled receipt Erica could only assume had come from the pump outside, a ballpoint pen she could only assume his mother carried in an endless supply of practical items in her purse.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to sign and leave that boy with the story to tell at school about seeing the wrestler out in the wild and having the signature to prove it.

But that wasn’t her gimmick.

She bent to him. Like she might give him a hug, maybe a kiss on the cheek, and she cocked her face up to look at mom when she whispered, In your dreams, loser.

            The boy cried. Loud, soul cries, and his mother was tougher than Erica would have guessed kneeling down and hugging the boy, but calling after Erica, too, that she was a no good bitch.

            Erica paid for the coffees and flashed Mom a smile on her way outside, knowing this was what mattered. This was the story that boy would tell for years to come—these moments when Erica wasn’t just bad, but the dirt worst.

***

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. He has published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with Burrow press, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press, and he has previously published short work with journals including The Normal School and Passages North. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

Two Questions for Amy Slack

We recently published Amy Slack’s nostalgic “Ways of Making History.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love this moment you’ve created, this beautiful moment between these two, waiting for something that’s not going to happen. Or is it? Do you think that plane is going to crash?

I think we’ve all experienced that moment as a child when you are absolutely certain something is going to happen simply because you really, really want it to. I don’t think the plane is actually going to crash, nor do I think my characters want it to crash. They aren’t cruel, just bored and frustrated. They want to feel part of something bigger for a moment: to escape their boring present and imagine a future that excites them. Of course, for the speaker, that future doesn’t really have anything to do with the plane, but with the person sat beside them.

 

2) When I was a child, I loved to watch planes fly overhead — there was something so magical about them that you really capture here. Did you ever have something else in mind to create this moment, or was it always that plane flying low?

The first image that came to me wasn’t the plane, but a memory of one of those do-nothing summer holidays I experienced as a child, stuck in a place where nothing interesting ever seemed to happen and time felt like it stood still. At times like that, it can feel like your only escape is to let your imagination wander off and have adventures while you’re left with nothing to do but pluck at blades of grass.

Once I had that setting, the plane came into view. I grew up miles away from an airport, so planes were always tiny dots in the sky when they flew over our village. So, when I moved to university, I was surprised to see how low planes flew over the city as they prepared to land at the nearby airport. It just didn’t seem right. Those two memories – the boredom and the surprise – gelled together, and the piece came together from there.

Ways of Making History ~ by Amy Slack

 There’s a weight to this afternoon. It sags, the heavy mid-point of the summer holidays. Beneath us are the bones of dinosaurs; above us, the groaning bulk of a jumbo jet. We sit with grass-damp jeans in your back yard and watch it sink slow over the estate, thumbnails green from plucking blades free from the earth. Planes rarely fly over our town. This one hangs so low we can see it clearly, with its blue-striped tail and poppyseed windows.

“It’s going to crash,” you tell me. “Definitely. It’ll be on the news and everything.”

We wait. You’re listening for the impact of ground meeting metal, eyes closed in anticipation. I tell myself to do the same. Any moment now, the future will press itself into our present and we’ll want to remember where we were and what we saw The Day The Plane Went Down. I rehearse my answers. I was beside you, our knees only a blade of grass apart. I saw how pale your eyelashes were and how, as you closed your eyes, they laced themselves together like interlocking fingers. Here is the church and here is the steeple. I saw your fingers, stained with the permanent marker you used yesterday to give me tattoos: a shooting star on my back, your name like hieroglyphs down my leg. They linger on my skin, barely smeared from last night’s bathwater. I savour the thought of them lasting until we go back to school.

It occurs to me that I’ve never seen you so still. Those fingers of yours, always moving, plucking, drawing, always full of the next game you want us to play to pass the time. I’ve never seen them pause like this. I wonder if I’ll ever witness such a rare phenomenon again.

The impact should have happened by now, but you haven’t given up waiting so I won’t either. I want you to have your moment for as long as it will hold, until one of us moves and the anticipation snaps into disappointment and this summer’s day sinks away like every other. If the future you’re waiting for isn’t coming, I want this present to last for as long as possible before it folds into the past. And so I stay still, barely breathing, even though all I want to do is to thread your grassy, ink-stained fingers through mine and find out what happens next.

***

Amy Slack is a cookbook editor from the North-East of England, currently based in London. Her work has been published by Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Idle Ink, Spelk, and The Cabinet of Heed. You can find her on Twitter @amyizzylou, or on her blog, amyizzylou.wordpress.com.

Two Questions for Sutton Strother

We recently published Sutton Strother’s gorgeous “Palimpsest.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The story opens with the narrator having built a time machine. Have you ever tried to build one of your own?

I’m perpetually building or maintaining all kinds of time machines. The act of writing is one of those. With most pieces, I’m mentally revisiting people and places and events from the past so that I can reexamine them and their meaning, or imagine them differently, or extract or splice bits together, spinning them into something more fictionalized but still true. Also, I’m a 90’s kid and a sucker for nostalgia, the more specific the better. I’m forever trying to turn the internet (and especially YouTube) into my own personal time machine. If you checked my YouTube history right now, you’d see a bunch of old commercial compilations from Nickelodeon as well as some 90’s camcorder footage of my local amusement park, shopping mall, and Christmas parade. I grew up in a small Appalachian town that I don’t get the chance to visit very often as an adult, so revisiting those childhood memories is a way of going home again. Coping with anxiety is a bit like being a time traveler, too. A piece of your mind exists in this kind of permanent “darkest timeline” alternate future, where whatever you can imagine going wrong has gone wrong. Meanwhile you’re maybe going to therapy and traveling back in time there, unearthing root causes and patterns of behavior, and somehow attempting to also live mindfully in the present moment. By necessity, your brain becomes an intricate time machine that you must learn to carefully calibrate. It can be exhausting, but eventually you get closer and closer to mastering time travel, and that’s pretty cool.

 

2) Do you think the children who were sent into the future have gone into a bright world, thanks to their siblings?

I hope so, or at least a brighter one. Even with time travel and the best intentions, it would be impossible to undo every historic evil, and science fiction has taught us that things can easily go sideways when you mess with time. It would stand to reason, too, that if some of the parents were unmade by the children who reshaped history, then some of the children might have been unmade as well. But for those who did go forward, I’d like to think that the good intentions and successful actions of their siblings counted for something. Maybe they didn’t fix everything, or even come close, but given the enormity of the messes we’ve made, if those children did enough to ensure that there’s any kind of habitable future, maybe that’s good enough.