Two questions for Jules Archer

We recently published Jules Archer’s eerie “Contents of a Letter Found on a Stained Bar Napkin.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The attempted murderer in this piece has an M.O. similar to the BTK killer. Did you have a specific murderer in mind when you wrote this piece?

Ooo, yeah, I could see it being similar to BTK. Actually, the serial killer I had in mind when I wrote this was the Golden State Killer (Also the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker). At the time, I was reading the book by Michelle McNamara, then watching the news coverage when they captured him, and it was just something he did — lurking in the room — that chilled me to my core. I mean, I could probably take a knife. I couldn’t take someone staring at me in a pitch black room.

2) I love the last line and that image “as close as a ghost,” which for me, almost transports this story into a dreamworld, where the napkin writer imagines they survived, but maybe didn’t. Do you think this story is true? Do you think they really came so close to being killed?

Thanks! I worked long and hard for that last line. I definitely think there’s an airy, dissociative part to this piece that makes it feel almost not-quite true, but it’s true. The girl got away. And hey, isn’t that so beautiful to say these days?

Advertisements

Contents of a Letter Found On a Stained Bar Napkin ~ by Jules Archer

Dear whoever you are—

 

You know I think about you often. The way the edge of your coat was caked with mud. Mud that reminded me of chocolate icing and then I instantly felt stupid for the thought. Because what was going to happen next would be a lot more serious than chocolate cake. You left soggy footprints on the wool rug and I winced. I winced, and then I ran. At least I tried to. But you already know all this. I don’t know why I’m explaining it to you. You know. I should tell you what you don’t know.

Like, when you told me you only wanted money, you promised you wouldn’t hurt me, your throat closed up and your voice cracked. Not the most flattering tell, but that’s when I knew you were a liar. I heard you rummaging through my kitchen drawers looking for a knife.

I knew that when I sat mute and motionless on my couch for two hours you were still in the room with me even though you wanted me to believe you were gone. When I whimpered, you exhaled. I felt your hot breath brush across the back of my neck.

I knew when you closed the bedroom window you had opened to get in that you planned to kill me. You were afraid the neighbors would hear my scream. And it was a signal for me to move.

I knew I’d get out of the handcuffs because I have double-jointed thumbs. Lucky me, right? I waited until you left the room—for a glass of water you said—and fear and adrenaline, like an animal thrashing inside me, took over. You did not see me, even as I passed you in the hall as close as a ghost, and walked right out the front door.

***

Jules lives in Arizona. She likes to smell old books and drink red wine. Her chapbook ALL THE GHOSTS WE’VE ALWAYS HAD is out from Thirty West Publishing.

Two Questions for Liz Matthews

We recently published Liz Matthews’ brilliant Time Machine.

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such a familiar scene for so many parents: the adjusting of the braces. But you do something so special and unique here, I love it. How do you take a familiar moment like this and make it into something so different and new?
Whenever I’m doing something as strange as turning a metal device in the back of my child’s throat, my imagination soars. I think I often disconnect from my body in those moments and my mind wanders. What if I were making my child bigger or smaller when I turned this device? I began with this idea and the rest followed – backwards and forwards in time. Being a parent often feels like living in three different time periods at once – experiencing your child as a baby, the present, and looking forward to what’s to come.
2) There’s some darkness in this piece that, I think, also speaks to a lot of parents. That moment where the daughter is nearly hit by the car, when the parent admits to having these disruptive thoughts of injuring the child. Without these moments, the piece wouldn’t be quite as powerful as it is. Did you ever have any hesitation over including them?

To be honest, I’ve finally become comfortable writing about the darker side of parenting. I don’t think enough people are honest about this part. Of course we don’t want our children to get hurt, but when it’s really hard — emotionally and mentally — your mind wanders to imaginary places. But they’re just that: fantasies that you don’t want to really see fulfilled. I’m not proud of it, but didn’t Amy Hempel say that we should write about what makes us feel most ashamed?

Time Machine ~ by Liz Matthews

I’m sorry I can’t find the tiny hole in the metal contraption in the back of your mouth. Even with a flashlight and your head tilted back, I still can’t make contact. The opening disappears. I’m sorry I keep stabbing your gums with the key that is meant to turn the device, to expand your palate.

Ow, you say each time I miss. Other parents don’t hurt their kids, you say.

 

I won’t tell you what my friend shared the night before at dinner. A carving knife laid beside an uneaten red velvet cake.

Each time I see a knife, my friend said, I imagine picking it up and slicing my tongue. I can’t stop having this vision.

I nodded because I understood. I’ve had such visions with other objects, or with you, when you were a baby. I imagined how easy it would be to snap your tiny arm in half. Another friend back then confided she fantasized about throwing her screaming baby out of the window. Not that we’d ever do any of those things, but those of us who were honest shared our darkest thoughts.

 

When I finally get the key to stay in place, I take a deep breath and push it up. They say turn the key as if you’re unlocking a vault, but really it’s more like opening a garage door. As I push it back, I imagine you getting smaller, younger, shrinking back to that helpless baby who couldn’t talk back.

Ow, you say again, your voice deeper — closer to my tone than a baby’s squeal.

I’m almost finished, I say.

Your eyes look in mine, as if searching for a different key. Maybe you wish I would turn it the opposite direction. To speed things up, to give you a growth spurt.

But that’s what I’m doing. I’m widening your jaw. I am making you bigger.

 

There was another time I remember sitting in a window seat in my bedroom nursing your baby brother. You were playing with a ball outside, and I heard the squeal of rubber trying to stop on pavement. I ran outside and saw that your ball had rolled down our steep driveway and into the center of the road. You’d run after it. A man driving a pick-up truck had pounded on his brakes hard enough so that he’d just missed hitting you.

I could have killed her, he yelled.

I know, I yelled back.

You held tightly on to your ball and we both stared at the thick black skid marks that the tires had made on the road. Your baby brother cried by himself inside, and I couldn’t wait for you both to grow up.

 

Have you ever looked at a person’s face, you ask with your hand covering your sore mouth, and seen exactly what they’ll look like when they grow up?

I nod. I have.

That happened to me yesterday, you say, with a boy at school while we were doing math.

I wonder what that means.

It doesn’t mean anything. It was just weird.

Then why did you bring it up, I want to ask as you turn away, as if you’ve turned a key in my mouth that caused me to regress to your age.

Instead, I shrug and tuck the thought away. I stare at your face and try to imagine you as an adult turning a key inside the mouth of your child.

What are you looking at, you ask.

Nothing, I answer, and pull you towards me so I can kiss the top of your head.

Though you squirm, you lean in to me and say: Don’t lose the key again.

***

Liz Matthews received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Brain Child, Quality Women’s Fiction, Brevity, and is upcoming in Spelk and The Tishman Review. She teaches writing at Westport Writers’ Workshop in Connecticut. 

Two Questions for Shome Dasgupta

We recently published Shome Dasgupta’s brilliant micro, “Upon a Sunny Day at Noon.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) I love the imagery in this tiny piece, how much impact it gives us in such a small space, but I have to ask: why an avocado?

Thank you, Cathy! And right, I went through so many different fruits and vegetables, playing around with color, and texture, and how the product itself would give some kind of vague or specific insight into the character. I don’t know–I might have spend too much time on it, looking back at it–but it came down to the avocado because it didn’t see too obscure, while at the same time, not too generic (?). And when I think of avocados, for some reason I think of confidence, independence, individualism. I honestly don’t know why but somewhere along my experiences with avocados, perhaps subconsciously, it became those symbols for me. I also love the color green.

 

2) Who is it that is observing her? Who is the “they”? Or does it matter?

I’m not quite sure if it matters or not, but right, it is certainly a generic “they,” in hopes of creating some kind of surrealism with the vagueness of who’s looking at her. Ideally, I was using “they” to contribute to the experience of some kind confusion or subtle chaos or spectacle–a group of onlookers, however massive or small.

Pancakes And Light ~ by Shome Dasgupta

It’s 2011 and I’m in Brooklyn, staring at the mirror. Or through the mirror. Or into the mirror. I don’t know but all I can see is myself nodding my head and shrugging my shoulders as I roll my eyes out of my head and onto the floor that’s in the mirror of myself or yourself.

 

There are so many dreams found in this mirror–one includes a payphone while it’s raining outside. I’m calling my dead mother…mother…mother…mother…dead.

 

“Hi Mom!” I shout, excitedly, jumping up and down. And there is nothing but death and I think to myself while living inside this mirror that is a dream and I thought to myself how the air is so so thick that I can use the knives I once used to try to kill myself to cut the air…or myself…or myself.

 

And when I hang up, the coin return slot clanks and there’s my quarter, as if it had never been used before.

 

I’m dreaming that I’m wondering about imagining what I had thought about years ago, when I was just a child sitting at the kitchen table, with my dead mother–so much to walk through when entering a mirror with your eyes or body or mind. She’s sighing as a distant alarm clock goes off, making a shrilling noise to remind us all that this was all just a dream in a mirror full of nothing.

 

I am rich. I am straight. I am white. But no matter, because the illness doesn’t care about those things, it only cares about taking over at the slightest sense of vulnerability. And it knows that I am that vulnerability, that I want to latch on to that which wants to take over me or the mirror or the dream.

 

“Be happy with yourself,” mother says, as I look into the mirror, wishing for larger breasts, a prettier face, and slenderer elbows, and the mirrors sighs and the dream yawns.

 

Sometimes I just wish I could put my head in a rucksack, sometimes I wish the mirror isn’t a dream and that the dream is real, and someone would pick up the rucksack and throw my head in a ditch full of moths and butterflies fluttering around a tin can thinking that it’s the flame of the sun.

 

“You have pretty green eyes and seashell ears,” my mother says, “like the ocean but they look so sad, like the ocean under a grey day.”

 

Sacre vérité.

 

Thinking about then now or now then, my mother is depressed, sad, like the only reason she would leave her room was because of me. I am my mother’s daughter.

 

Once, a long time ago, inside this mirror, I’m in love with someone who wears flannel and thick sideburns, but he breaks up with me because of my breasts. So the mirror tells me. So it goes in the dream of glasses and windows.

 

Very little did I know. Very little did I know.

 

“You have movie star good looks,” my mother says, as she sets down a plate of pancakes in front of me. “…You’re curvy in all the right places….”

 

She says this so I wake up from my dream. She says this so I stop looking into the mirror. She’s dead though.

 

Lipstick, blush, mascara, eyeliner, shiny hair, hips, thighs, ankles, bracelets, necklaces, and all the other ways to cover my scars and memories that only mirrors and dreams are made of.

 

I am singing and the walls are chuckling back at me. I am singing and there’s no one listening to me. I’m so special. I’m so special. I’m so pretty.

 

One day I’ll be a writer and the mirror will dissolve into words that will become a dream full of nightmares for everyone to laugh at. Laugh at.

 

When me and my mother are talking, we don’t speak to each other for long periods of time during our conversations.

 

“How are you doing today?” she asks.

 

And there’s nothing until the sound of nothing is too overwhelming.

 

And then, “I…I…I….”

 

And there’s nothing again. Just a pause. A long pause full of eternity and crystal blue eyes.

 

I won’t make it, I think to myself, but my mother says, “You’re so beautiful but you don’t know it.”

 

And that’s how it ends. Just me, and the mirror, and a dream from which I wake up when I close my eyes.

 

We are all such beautiful ghosts.

***

Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013) which has been republished in the UK by Accent Press as The Sea Singer (2016), Anklet And Other Stories (Golden Antelope Press, 2017), Pretend I Am Someone You Like (University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press, 2018), and Mute (Tolsun Books, 2018). He currently serves as the Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA, and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.

Upon A Sunny Day At Noon ~ by Shome Dasgupta

She (they thought that she was floating — a universe in herself, encompassing the magic of the unknown and no one dared to ask her, talk to her, look at her as she emitted an aura of such wonderful power, there was nothing but silence, and in that silence, the world was rotating in such a magnitude, that the earth shook a bit, causing the seismologists, who were just getting ready to eat lunch, to glance at their machines) watched the storm approach while holding an avocado in her left hand.

***

Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013) which has been republished in the UK by Accent Press as The Sea Singer (2016), Anklet And Other Stories (Golden Antelope Press, 2017), Pretend I Am Someone You Like (University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press, 2018), and Mute (Tolsun Books, 2018). He currently serves as the Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA, and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.

Two Questions for Camille Clarke

We recently published Camille Clarke’s dreamy “Apple and Sunny.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This story — I feel so sorry for Honey, wishing so hard! Do you think she will ever find her way, like Apple and Sunny have done, and go somewhere girls are meant to be proud? Or do you think she will stay where she is?

I (sometimes) like to be optimistic about my characters, so I think she’ll eventually move forward. Honey is a lot bolder than she thinks. A part of her may not have even realized going away is something she can do, and now seeing the girls doing what they choose, she can believe it. I think things can seem more tangible when the people you admire achieve them, and I’m hoping that’s the case for Honey!

 

2) On a related note, what do you think that place would be like, where girls like Apple and Sunny (and even Honey) are free to just be themselves?

I’m kind of in love with the idea of a bunch of women living on a big estate in the French countryside with a lake nearby for swimming and trees around for hidden kissing, and when they bike into town in their pajamas and with their hair wild, the townspeople will be like, “Oh yes, the girls from the House. They know what living is.” Though I’m not sure if that’s what really works with the story, or if I’m just projecting my daydreams of unbothered lesbian country life onto them. Perhaps a bit of both.

Apple and Sunny ~ by Camille Clarke

Apple and Sunny always emerge when the weather becomes warm. Half the town is convinced neither of them exist in the fall and winter, simply materialize at the first flower’s bloom, slim feet in roller blades, skin glowing, shirts just short enough to make the boys stare.

They are always on the move, Apple and Sunny. Rushing past the beauty salon, the overpriced boutique, the post office, the bookstore. They stop in front of the church on Main Street to look up at the scaffolding. Their arms wrap around each other’s waists, and sometimes they do this, they entwine their limbs so tightly together they are like one writhing animal, pink and brown skin melded into one. And then they are off again, laughing at the cars that honk at them.

Honey wishes she could be a part of them, could have once been a part of them. A three-headed beast to take on the world, but Honey does not exist in the summer. Apple and Sunny lie on the grass in the park, flat stomachs facing the sun, soaking up Vitamin D, their fingers twisted together, and Honey watches them from the library window. She could have been that once, proudly girlish and open to the world. But doubt unfurls in the pit of her stomach, whispers the things she knows to be true, and Honey buries her face in a book again.

Most parents think Apple and Sunny are too everything. Too loud, too happy, too shameless, too—

Sometimes Honey follows them to the top of the hill at the edge of town where she realizes why she so wants to be Apple-and-Sunny. Their pink mouths press against each other, soft and open. Hands in hair, thighs interlocking, their short shirts pulling up higher, higher, and Honey has never felt another girl’s breasts before, but Apple and Sunny make them look soft, welcoming. Honey sometimes touches her own in response, imagining the weight of somebody else’s in her palm. She touches her knees, wondering if Apple and Sunny’s are smooth like hers or scraped and calloused, relics from years of rollerblading. They are wild and they are alive, and Honey thinks if she could just taste it, she could be, too.

After Apple and Sunny are finished, they race down the hill. Faster, faster! they urge each other. Honey’s heart leaps into her throat, threatening to land on the asphalt in front of her. The hill is not steep, but it is high, and her nightmares are filled with visions of long limbs and pretty hair tangled up and speckled with blood, there at the bottom of the hill.

But Apple and Sunny make it, turning off into the grass where they fall over each other laughing. Big laughter. Solid laughter. Honey imagines she could join them, cackling up to the sky as if daring it to tell her she cannot.

One summer, the girls disappear just as the humidity becomes oppressive. There are whispers about it among the town. Where have they gone? Good riddance, some people say when they think nobody else can hear. And then after a few weeks, they say it louder. In the beauty salon, the overpriced boutique, the post office, the bookstore. Girls are not meant to be so proud, they say.

Honey alone is devastated, though she dare not say this in front of her parents. Instead, she goes to the top of the hill at the edge of town, stands on the spot where Apple and Sunny would be. She touches her lips. Perhaps Apple and Sunny needed more space and more air, somewhere their open laughs to the sky would be greeted with joy, where girls are meant to be proud.

Honey has never seen where the road goes at the bottom of the hill. She imagines she could toss something down and it would keep rolling and rolling and rolling, on forever.

***

Camille Clarke is a Midwestern writer currently living in the South. She is working on a novel in between cups of tea. Find her on Twitter where she mostly tweets about how adorable her nephew is: @_camillessi.

Two Questions for Zach VandeZande

We recently published Zach VandeZande’s melancholy “Dad.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) Some of my favorite pieces by you focus on the relationship between fathers and their children — is this an intentional choice of subject?

It’s an intentional choice in that I realized my brain kept going to that space during writing time and I let myself lean into it. I sort of have two modes that I’m working through when I write: the first is that I write my way into what I want the world to look like, like, I try and find that bit of grace that exists in most moments and make them into something bigger and more matterful than they are (I think this works really well in flash fiction). And then the second mode is that I write from a place of anxiety. I think where I am in relation to the idea of fatherhood sort of lets both of those modes work at once. Or maybe it’s this: one of the grand, silly pronouncements I’m always making to my students is that fiction writing is a mode of knowledge production, and something (my own relationship with my father, the fact that I will probably never be a father, ???) keeps bringing me back to wanting to know more about fathers.

2) If the father could have managed to tell a story, what story do you think he would have told?

I really wish I knew! I think it would’ve made for a better piece, maybe. I think he would have tried to tell a story that does too much at once–too much meaning-making, too much lesson, too much, general. I think he probably wouldn’t realize that fathers don’t have to try to be important, that being important is part of the problem.