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August 2023 Issue # 30 Flash
Mikki Aronoff * Brett Biebel * Melissa Llanes Brownlee * Tommy Dean * Craig Fishbane * Phebe Jewell * Koss * David Luntz * Frankie McMillan * Dawn Miller * Dave Nash * Pamela Painter * Mandira Pattnaik * Allison Renner * Kim Steutermann Rogers * Robert Scotellaro * Jenny Stalter * Jaimie Wilson
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We don’t talk about Aunt May’s hair, at least not to her face, but my kid brother, the only one willing to clip May’s toenails, scavenges her pillows for patches and clumps of hair. He crosses his fingers behind his back and tells her the birds need it for their nests. He cross-references the changing color of her sallow skin with paint swatches Dad left in the basement when he moved out. My brother tells May he’s writing her biography for all of posterity, but he’s really scribbling research notes. He’s wanted to be a dermatologist for two years, ever since he was eight, when he discovered the thrill of picking at peeling sunburned skin, not to mention how rich he heard he could be.
May scrutinizes each random pattern she makes with her pills, then scoops them all up and tosses them in the trash. She stares at me with eyes like clouds. “I’ll be dead in a week. You can have your room back.” Mom’s face reddens and droops, and she runs down the basement steps.
Three months later, I’m sitting on my brother’s bed as he shows me his latest research: a big rash the shape of Australia on his left knee. He’s holding a magnifying glass over it with one hand and scratching it with the other and grinning as it starts to ooze and bleed. I look away, notice a cigar box with a wisp of dry hair sticking out of it on his desk. I reach over, lift the lid. Inside are scraps of notched cardboard, each with hair wound around it and pencil-marked with a date. I tilt the box to get a better look, and toenail clippings fall out.
My brother looks up at me and nods. For a moment, his fingers seem to wander through the stick and slick of May’s bald head. “My first patient,” he says, scratching his knee harder and harder and harder.
Mikki Aronoff’s work appears in New World Writing, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Tiny Molecules, The Disappointed Housewife, Bending Genres, Milk Candy Review, Gone Lawn, Mslexia, The Dribble Drabble Review, Flash Boulevard, 100 word story, The Citron Review, Atlas and Alice, trampset, jmww, and elsewhere. She’s received Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best American Short Stories, and Best Microfiction nominations.
It was that service trip to Denver, and the minibus hit a deer. I-80, somewhere outside North Platte, and the windshield was real fucked up, and so we pulled over and sat in prairie sun while we waited for the cops. Reg looked at the deer and thought we should have a funeral. Bigby said we should eat it. I went and grabbed a bunch of wildflowers and put a few in my hair and played it off like I was joking, but I don’t know, man. I was in a weird fucking mood. Somebody grabbed a football, and we threw it around for a while, cars honking. The deer was a defender. The streaks of blood some sort of disturbing end zone, and I remember red footprints tracing down-and-outs and post patterns, and also Luke sitting there with his elbows on his knees. Luke was late-20s. Thinking about the monastic life. He’d been driving, and we asked him how fast he was going.
“Speed limit’s 75,” he said.
“Yeah, but how fast were you going?” and he scanned the sky for hawks. A few of them were circling. We talked about all kinds of shit that day. Played cards. Reg was dating Bigby’s ex, and they were okay with it. They laughed. We still send each other pictures of roadkill and sometimes food or maybe our kids, and we like to tell jokes about that tow truck guy who had the voice like a box of American bullfrogs, and he showed up with this big old bowie knife and a shit-eating grin. “Now or never, boys,” was what he said. “If you wanna grab a couple souvenirs.”
We didn’t, probably because he scared us. Maybe the whole thing scared us, or maybe we just figured we didn’t need help to remember the way the carcass kept staring. Its black eyes. Real glossy. Something in its face that looked like a hotel hallway, and we looked around and had one of them moments of collective consciousness. We said we’d keep it all close. We’d let some things lie and then bury a few photos we’d never disturb.
Brett Biebel is the author of 48 Blitz (Split/Lip Press, 2020), a collection of flash fiction set in Nebraska. He has two forthcoming collections in Winter Dance Party (Alternating Current, 2023) and Gridlock (Cornerstone, 2024). His reader's companion to Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon will be released by University of Georgia Press in 2024.
Melissa Llanes Brownlee
Tomorrow, we will sip pina coladas at the counter of our tiki bar, built in our backyard during the pandemic, our dreams of island getaways, dashed against jagged reefs. We will open a swirl of pink, purple, yellow paper umbrellas, pin maraschino cherries, canned pineapple chunks, plunge them in foamy crème de coconut. We will festoon ourselves in fabric leis, ordered from Amazon, as Star Trek tiki cups stare at us from shelves, Quarktiki judging our meager rum selection. We will smile and laugh, pretend we are having a good time, the sprinklers rainbowing our dying grass. We will joke about roasting a pig, an apple bright in its mouth, knowing full well we’d never eat anything with a head attached, including fish. We will float dark rum on our mai tais, purple orchids bought from the florist, for that extra bougie touch, and drunkenly clink our perspiring glasses. We will watch our orchids fall, ignoring the sunset, their alcohol and juice soaked petals, plopping and splashing at our sandaled feet. We will light the tiki torches with fumbling hands, the fourth cocktail, a salty margarita, warming our faces. We will burn our fingers and yell, our flailing arms hitting the lit torch, knocking it over, flaming lamp oil, pooling. We will watch it flow, a tiny stream of fire, finding its way. We will not stop it as it catches the edges of the grass we painstakingly stapled to the frame of our tiki bar. We will watch as our fantasies turn to ash.
Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, Indiana Review and Craft. She is in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf Top 50. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.
Look At Us
Once a year we practice breaking up at the fountain across from the library. After twenty-eight years of marriage, we know how to get under each other’s skin. I always start by taking off my ring. Giving it a spin like a quarter across the mica-flecked concrete table, the gush of water, and the trill of birdsong that makes me feel like we’re living in a simulation. The light catches on the tiny diamonds, one missing like a tooth that fell out of a kid’s mouth, never replaced. Our kids live across the states, Missouri, Nevada, heat keeping them from traveling north. Use snow and ice as an excuse even in the middle of August. Eric says we should move. It’s a big line of his in this game we’re playing.
“Do you always have to start this way?” He stops the ring in the middle, watches it wobble. “Just tell me why you’re unhappy.”
That’s just it. I’m not unhappy. Bored. Regretful. Restless. I’m a cloud stuck on the peak of a mountain. Filling, but never dropping.
“You want everything to stay the same. God forbid we try a new restaurant,” I say.
A young couple holding hands floats toward us across the red brick path, sees the angle of our necks, the flush of our faces, and walks away from the fountain.
I turn back to Eric checking his phone. If he brings up his fantasy football scores again, I’ll walk straight into the library, and hide amongst the stacks.
“So let’s move. Sell the house. Get closer to the kids. You’re so desperate for adventure, but you won’t…”
I put my hand up, that’s how I stop him because there’s want and there’s need and he gets them all twisted up, a kid who can’t tie his shoes without making a mess of the knots.
“We sacrificed in all the right ways, and they decided to move. And I won’t follow them.” I punctuate this by giving that ring another spin. I don’t know what I would do if he grabbed it and tried to put it back on my finger.
“I won’t play this game, Shannon. Not a minute more.” His voice is loud, a blow on a horn, and I look around. The greenery riffles in the slight breeze. And I want to be moved by his bluster. To find something forgotten in his voice. This passion, but it’s grown stale as if age is nothing more than the accumulation of sadness.
The ring, in his palm, weighing our worth, he puts it in the pocket across his chest. I wonder if he’d keep me there, too, if he could. Take me out when he needed advice, a quick look at something he finds beautiful, the longing for intimacy, the whiff of remembered youth; when he was strong, infinite in possibility and charm.
I hold out my hands, knowing that I have gone too far. He’d interpret my pauses for more signs of my unhappiness. Neither of us had said divorce before, but we were at the edge of some distant land, neither of us able to swim if the waters surged.
He doesn’t offer the ring. He squeezes my hands and lets go, getting up from the table, and shielding his eyes.
That rush of being left. The fountain resolute and brutish in its permanency. Wilted flowers, all of them as green as the trees and ferns surrounding us, glowing in the sky-cupped sunlight, waiting for rain.
Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). He lives in Indiana, where he currently is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, 2023, Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.
Until my aunt started taking pictures for her social media feed, I didn’t have a problem with her bringing Butch to the cemetery. No one denied that having a dog at a funeral was unorthodox, but Butch had been my mother’s one true consolation during the six months that my father unraveled at the nursing home. The fluffy white terrier had been her only escape from a life consumed with antibiotics and bedpans. My parent’s marriage had been a difficult one and Butch probably brought my mother more joy than my father ever did. So no one offered a word of protest when my aunt clicked snapshots of him prancing in front of the limo or pawing at the grave marker. My mother didn’t even think my aunt was taking it too far when she gestured at the coffin and asked the rabbi to pose. I expected a swift rebuke but all the rabbi did was sigh. He cradled Butch in his enormous hands and invited my mother, my cousin and two uncles to gather beside me next to the wooden casket and, before I could register an objection, my aunt yelled for everyone to freeze.
Craig Fishbane is the author of the short fiction collection On the Proper Role of Desire. His work has also appeared in the New York Quarterly, The Fabulist, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Lunch Ticket, New World Writing, Fiction Kitchen Berlin and The Nervous Breakdown.
Albina Starts With
A balloon. A red balloon floating above kids at a birthday party. If Albina can’t see the red balloon, the birthday party won’t happen. If the party doesn’t happen, she can’t remember it. If Albina can’t remember the party, she wasn’t there. If Albina wasn’t there, she didn’t run, didn’t hide. Didn’t see metal explode flesh.
If Albina wasn’t there, she can’t tell the woman in the uniform about the gun, the flash, the screams. If Albina can’t speak, the woman can’t ask any more questions. If the woman doesn’t ask any more questions, Albina can go home and everything will be like it was before the party.
If Albina can go home, the morning will start over. Albina will hold the balloon, filling it with air from her lungs. The balloon will grow big, so tight it might pop, but Albina will know when to stop in time.
Phebe Jewell's flash appears in numerous journals, most recently Milk Candy Review, Pithead Chapel, Flash Boulevard, Drunk Monkeys, Your Impossible Voice, and The Wild Word. A teacher at Seattle Central College, when she's not writing she can be found laughing with her wife, or hitting a heavy bag at her boxing gym. Read her at https://phebejewellwrites.com.
I have outgrown things as one does, and Barry, my younger cousin, is the lucky recipient of the Hot Wheels, action figures, and all the released things in my collections. Today it’s the Daisy, pristine and bronze-cold, exhumed from my closet. I’ve spent endless hours shooting out back, always cans because I can’t afford one of those fancy paper targets. And I try to collect the BBs to reuse, but it’s pretty hopeless. I’m not a bad shot when I remember to site with my good eye, not the near-sighted one. Once it kicked back and smacked my chin. No serious harm done. I am happy to gift him. Like us, he has so little. I hand him the gun after showing him how to use it along with the dirty yellow cardboard tube of BBs. I leave him outside and go indoors to read when I hear them whooping. Through the dusty screen I see Jerry, Mike, and my grandfather slapping Barry on the back.
orange and black slash
the pale air as a flutter
arrests the still green
A short toke after finishing off a Mickeys and the joke about quick draw in our yard becomes too irresistible. With only one gun, it can’t be too dangerous, right? Grams isn’t home to protest. This is the country and we do what we please on our property—or, in Mike and Jerry’s case, someone else’s. ‘Nother example—they like to grow weed here and at the neighbors’. Why take big risks on your own land, right? They think it’s so funny. Nobody knows, ‘Cept they told me. I should tell, but they’d prolly kill me. Today, I’ll let them have their fun. I’m 12. What the hell can I do anyway? The gun, a Colt .45, acquired through a chainsaw trade. After accidentally cutting himself out of his mother’s tree, Jerry decided tree trimming might not be for him. But guns are useful regardless of your trade, so out to the back acre they go, both of them laughing, with another Mickeys in tow, and the grungy embossed holster swung low on Mike’s hip, and Jerry toting cans in a grocery sack. Shooting cans is harmless, right? The sounds clap through the gamboge August sky again and again with a tinny, staccato after-pop and a sound ghost-that hangs in the air each shot until suddenly the air is swallowed by stillness.
two farmers’ strong backs
loan my allowance for gas
a clean entry wound
Koss is a Midwestern experimental poet and artist with publications in Chiron Review, Michigan Quarterly, Cincinnati Review, Spillway, diode poetry, Harpy Hybrid, Five Points, Spoon River, Flash Boulevard, SoFloPoJo, Gone Lawn, Bending Genres, Best Small Fictions ’21, Get Bent, and many others. They have work forthcoming in MoonPark Review, Sage Cigarettes Magazine, and Permafrost Magazine. Find links to their work and lots of visuals at https://www. koss-works.com.
a letter to my first lover
who dumped me twenty years ago
that I am thinking of sending but probably
Hey there – yeah, it’s me, massively awkward after all this time, I know, but I was thinking about when we got caught in that storm coming down the mountain pass, our teeth chattering so hard it was impossible they didn’t crack, and something passed between us, some sinew binding us that could never be cut, even after you said it had been a mistake and you’d gotten rid of it, and anyway, I’ve wanted to tell you something for a while now, but now that I finally got the words, I don’t have the feelings, well, that’s not exactly right, I have the hole of those feelings, the space of their absence, and maybe it’s that hole I’m trying to fill or maybe it’s those feelings I want back, because that’s when I felt most alive, not just when we were together, but afterwards, too, when I was lying fetal in the corner and then belly crawling to the toilet to throw up because I missed you so bad, but, look, I’m not writing to tell you everything sucks because it doesn’t, in fact things are fine, I got a nice house, two kids going off to college, but why should you care, I mean I don’t know shit about your life and, honestly, I’m not interested in getting coffee, catching up, and seeing if you’ve let yourself go, it’s just that, after you left, I kept having these dreams about you whose remains were everywhere, spotting the floors, hanging on the clothes line smelling like lilac, whispering up and down the walls, and I would sit on the bench by the fountain kneading shafts of sunlight between my fingers, siphoning those dreams, distilling their ichor, drinking them down, because you stood on the other side of them by the edge of the lake we spent the weekends at, the mist curling off the water like a swan’s neck, but back then I didn’t tell you how my insides were a beehive or about the rock on our patio whose crack I filled the day after you left, so, I just wanted you to know I took that rock with me to my new home and planted lilacs around it, and right about now I figure the rain that had got inside it, the rain that heard our chattering teeth, has leached down into a single drop, hanging above a crevice, quiet and still, like a tiny heart about to start beating.
Work by David Luntz is forthcoming or has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Reflex Press, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions (2021), trampset, X-R-A-Y Lit, Fiction International, Janus Literary, Orca Lit, Rejection Letters, Atticus Review, Heavy Feather Review and other print and online journals. https://twitter.com/luntz_david
Some laundry rules I broke
The woman who approached us, she was too wild about her husband running off with another woman to worry about rules, she waved a wad of money in the air, told us to bring down the other woman’s washing, bring it all down off the line, girls and we peered through the fence and saw the line of washing flapping behind the trampoline and we said, give us the money first, and the woman unrolled the notes from the rubber band and my friend and me climbed up and over that wooden fence into the rival’s yard and we were grabbing the washing, the pegs pinging off in all directions, stumbling forward our faces full of nappies and towels and bras and panties and we threw the lot over the fence just as a dog started barking and the woman laughed as she hauled it all away into a waiting car, serves the bitch right, she said and that got us laughing as we cleared the street and later, in our caravan, eating a feast of fried pork chops and noodles, juice dripping off our chins, we mimicked the woman, serves the bitch right’ and later again we said the woman was in the right and we kept on saying that and I kept on believing it until I remembered my nanny and there I was, a kid again standing in her backyard by her washing line the hills shining with tussock and her handing me a peg and telling me the right way to peg a shirt, just under the arms where the pucker won’t show, and then handing me a pair of socks, always by the toe so the ankle doesn’t stretch, and, always the panties in the middle of the line so the man next door doesn’t see them and always, she said, ruffling my hair, always bring the pegs inside, don’t ever let them stay outside to go bad in the rain.
Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her latest book, 'The wandering nature of us girls' ( Canterbury University Press) was published in 2022. Her flash fiction has appeared in The Best Small Fictions and Best Microfictions anthologies.
She waits for God and remembers the moment long ago that snapped her in two. Her bones still ache in that spot below her shoulder blades at midnight and on snowy days when the world washes white, but she only sees white knuckles,
a white flag,
She remembers the sharp slap of red and blue lights, the thick icicles that edged rooftops like teeth. She tries to forget, but can’t, how wrong pink gloss looks on her firstborn’s tender lips and the enormity of a pearl-colored casket, extra small.
Sometimes, if she doesn’t forget, she is a tree,
a cavernous black sky pinpricked by stars, some bright, some faded like freckles dusted with powder.
All her life, they clucked at her strength; others with less faith would’ve crumpled, they said. They don’t understand. She would’ve given in to dark thoughts and sleepless nights, but there was another mouth of need. It’s astonishing what a woman can accomplished when cleaved in two. A miracle what weight can be lifted with marrowless bones.
she got over the loss, tucked it away like a pressed pink dress lipped into a drawer. They never saw her at three am, felt the unquenchable thirst that seized her, or heard the rattle of bottles in the trunk of her car. They never knew the counting of those precious days with her firstborn: 1,554 mornings, 1,553 nights, and how she can only recall a handful of the very best with her dearest freckle-face, her messy girl.
They say she’s lived a good, long life; she thinks the years too many. She waits for God to make good on dusty promises. She remembers those most of all.
Through the window edged in fern frost, she waits for God’s hand to stretch through broken clouds and scoop her up. She waits for her youngest, her next best girl, to say it’s okay to leave.
Dawn Miller’s writing appears or is forthcoming in The Forge, The Cincinnati Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Room, Stanchion, Fictive Dream, Brink, Cleaver Magazine, and Fractured Lit, among many others. She lives and writes in Picton, Ontario, Canada.
The Sound of Music
Dew drops shimmered to the sound of Sunday morning coming down to the town of Hamelin. The sing song of the dawn registered for the sober who beheld the bold Piper back just like he swore. But what was he here for?
The itinerant minstrel wore a blue and gray checkered shirt under a flowing cloak, red and orange. No doubt he had a youth that was foreign. But imagine a child who never saw death, never saw lies unravel, never saw rage in a father’s face, now suppose how would that child speak, high in pitch, rapid in rhythm, excited in movement, joyous in theme, bird-like. So naive, so the mayor supposed.
The melody moved Hannah and Juliet who followed freed of the weight of unsupported expectations. The cockcrow chorus picked up a procession with sisters holding hands. They were waltzing in the forms they’d been taught, then they shed those structures to match the tune’s movement and the theme’s progression.
The Pied Piper inspired them to dismantle their memories of the mothers and brothers they’d lost to the Plague, freeing their empathies like beating swords into plowshares, leaving yesterday’s despondencies for tomorrow’s expectancies. His new notes plucked all the youth, all who had not imbibed from the adults, despite the latter’s claims, who if believed were in church during this parade of sorts down the Osterstraße, but we know how the wicked clothe their faults with the threads of righteousness.
Motley youths marched towards possibility in fine order, but they had to stop when their path met the wide water. Hannah inferred they could not return, nor could they cross for its currents coursed virulent. That’s what stalled their exodus. Downstream led to cities that prevented the pestilence and would not welcome them with pleasantness. Upstream the forest hills brooded malevolence and they were townsfolk, weaponless.
The shimmer spoke to Hannah as she placed her hand on Piper’s back. His soul soothed the waters, he danced on its surface, a divine show, beguiling its currents, guiding the tempo, dividing the river’s flow. The troupe tramped across the parted bed as she spun Piper about on the west bank. She could not leave even a few - for it was written: Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none is lost but one. That’s when she saw Juliet halting halfway and Hannah searched in her sister’s eyes and knew.
Piper played at Hannah’s direction, turning west and, like the river, resumed the quest. There came a day when Piper could not play, so Hannah waved the wand and the sing song marched on.
Dave Nash listens to jazz sampled by hip-hop hits while he types. Dave is the Non-Fiction Editor at Five South Magazine and he typed words that can be found in places like Jake, Atlantic Northeast, Midwestern Heat, Roi Faineant Press, and Boats Against the Current. You can follow him @davenashlit1.
SUNRISES AND SUNSETS
You’d be surprised how many folks here at Sunset Palms Assisted Living don’t like their kids. Mine railroaded me into selling the farm, saying “But Mom it’s too much to take care of since Dad died.” They hustled the pigs and cows to market, cleaned out the chicken coop, and treated the old tractor rusting in the back paddock as a ticking clock. Then they divided the leftover money, gave my share to Sunset Palms and shoveled me here like a pile of fresh manure.
My fun started at the end of summer when I told my son, Scott, “Next time bring me two dozen eggs from our coops and we’ll dye some for Christmas.” When he supplied “Easter,” I winked at his wife but as usual her nose was in her cell. Maybe them thinking I’m losing my marbles is not so bad. Now week after week my kids sit in my assisted living room, or pace unassisted from couch to the French window overlooking the puny patio, probably thinking they should have looked for a cheaper place without sunsets. I think I stopped liking all three kids somewhere around the age of 12 or 13, and nothing’s changed.
Last week when Scott appeared I called him Brine, my late husband’s stupid name. Scott rolled his eyes when I asked what was taking him so long to move into Sunset Palms. I said I’d saved half the closet for his beer can collection. I recycled the names of two barn cats and his twin sisters became Twiddledee and Tweedledum. Wish I’d thought of that sooner when they ruined my weekends, leaving me to ride herd on their kids riling up the chickens, jumping from the barn’s lofts, throwing cow patties around like Frisbees.
Before their visits, I hide the gin and olives, and boil up Earl Gray. I remarry them to exes long shucked off, “Tweedledee,” I say, “When are you going to bring Alfie round. Heard he’s been off booze for a month.” “Scott, is Shirley still doing Weight Watchers since your ultimatum?” I pooh pooh the grand kids’ accomplishments and act like they are only good for playing Go Fish or War. Finally their parents stop dragging them along.
My kids think I don’t know they each lamented to Management that there’s no use visiting me when I don’t recognize them and accuse them of telling my spider plants lies about my life. What Sheriff? Whose barn? What accident? But Management is on to me and sometimes they even come by to hear what I conjure up next, happy with reduced visitor traffic. My Sunset Palms pals are taking lessons. It is getting competitive. Mona told her daughter to go back to the sit-com she came from― “Friendlies? Sylvie sings. We hear the opening notes of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and know her daughter-in-law showed up. Gracie peed in her wheel chair—twice—complaining that the pool was too warm, and now her sister is history.
Visiting hours over, we get on with our lives. Duplicate bridge or the latest crime series from the BBC. I shake up ice-cold martinis, call up Shastokovich or Aretha on Pandora. Oh sure, some day it might really happen. I’ll confuse the clubs and spades. I’ll wander down the hall to feed the pigs. Getting weepy, I’ll ask the Sheriff why we broke up. I might even come to miss my disappearing kids. But it hasn’t happened yet.
PAMELA PAINTER is the award-winning author of five story collections. Her stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Flash Boulevard, Harper’s, JMWW, Pangyrus, Smokelong Quarterly, and Vestal Review, among others, and in numerous anthologies such as Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction, and recently in Flash Fiction America and BestMicrofiction of 2023. Painter’s stories have received three Pushcart Prizes and have been presented on stage by Word Theatre in LA, London and NYC.
1. Distance from the building is 90 feet from its base. The angle of elevation is 35°
When Hunter’s mum dies three years from now, Hunter and her husband Bob will wait at the base of the building, pondering. They’ll stare at the flight of stairs they must take to reach where she lay. It will matter that the height of the building is 63.018 ft calculated properly. It won’t be Hunter’s fault: the ongoing power cut and no backup — but the elevator will be closed. Hunter will fume knowing her husband’s presence is not out of grief or genuine respect, but only because he has some work in town. It will remind her of Ashis. Again.
2. An aeroplane is travelling at 250 miles per hour, 55° to the north of east and the wind blowing due to south at 19 miles per hour.
When it’s time for departure, eighteen months from now, if they want, they can calculate the third angle and find the right direction which the aeroplane should take. But Hunter and Bob will be busy putting their seat-belts on. Hunter will make sure Bob’s fractured leg is comfortable, though it has since healed but remains a bit stiff. They’ll both remember the car collision five months before. There will be a complimentary announcement on the flight for the newly-weds, and strangers will clap. Bob and Hunter will kiss and acknowledge the cheer.
Ashis will be at Hunter’s home helping her mother pack her belongings to get them shipped to her home in Sydney.
3. The functions of trigonometry are helpful to calculate a trajectory of a projectile and estimate the causes of a collision in a car accident. Further, it is used to identify how an object falls or at what angle the gun is shot.
Ashis will get the news of the car-jack, and the shooting near Hunter’s Uni before her mother would. He’ll call Auntie to check. Hunter wouldn’t be at home. He’ll drop in at her home, keep calling her number, but she’d have left it on mute so as not to get disturbed because she’ll be with Bob at a motel. The car-jack and shooting will turn out to be false news, but thirteen months from now, they’d still have a car collision reported in the Mumbai Mirror.
4. One of the uses is to calculate the heights of waves and tides in oceans, and for the creation of maps.
Seven months into the future, Hunter and Ashis — friends going to the same tutorial classes — will be strolling at the beach one evening. Bob, casually by-standing, will stop smoking and pass a lewd remark on Hunter and Ashis. Ashis will punch Bob’s face, and it’ll start bleeding from a cut lip. They’ll get nervous and take Bob to a dispensary.
Later, Ashis will hope Hunter should now know how much he loves her. But in the brief time while they’d be at the dispensary, Bob will already have won Hunter’s heart by pretending to be this bad guy, who smokes weeds, and leads a fast life.
5. With the help of a compass and trigonometric functions in navigation, one can pinpoint a location, and estimate in what direction to place the compass to get a straight direction.
Because today is her birthday, Hunter decides she is tired of being Miss Little-Goody-two-shoes. She decides she’ll make boyfriends, and she’ll drink and party, and she’ll do all the things that she was told good girls don’t.
She’s late for her Uni classes and must hurry. She takes the stairs because there’s a power cut and the elevator isn’t working, Ashis, who has just shifted in the apartment two floors below, opens his door when he hears someone has slipped and fallen. He rushes in and gets her a band-aid from his always-handy first-aid box. They become friends.
Mandira Pattnaik is the author of collections Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople (2022), Girls Who Don't Cry (2023) and Where We Set Our Easel (May, 2023). Mandira's work has appeared in SoFloPoJo, EllipsisZine, The McNeese Review, Penn Review, Quarterly West, Passages North, DASH, Miracle Monocle, Timber, Contrary, Watershed Review and QAE, among others. Visit her at mandirapattnaik.com
She perches on a barstool in a diner housed in a silver trailer that looks like a bullet. I sit beside her even though no one else is around.
“If we put honeysuckle on biscuits,” she says so softly I think she’s talking to herself, “we’ll turn into butterflies and flutter away.”
Before I know it we are flying through the forest, gliding when our wings tire of flapping, then landing on a bare branch.
“If we make it to that waterfall,” she tips her antennae to the distance, “we’ll make it back home.”
We fly until we sense droplets in the air. Before I know it we are plummeting down the waterfall in barrels, floating down the lazy river below, then washing up on my doorstep. She follows me inside.
“If we go on a road trip,” she says, “we won’t lose any momentum.”
“Where do you want to go?” I spread a map on the floor.
She stands in a corner of the ocean, shaking her head. “If we plan it in advance, we’ll lose our sense of adventure.”
There are places I want to see but I fold the map and leave it behind.
I steer where she points because if I say no, I won’t know what I’m missing. If I say yes, I open myself to her world.
“If we drive up this hill,” she points, “we’ll reach the moon.”
I press the gas and the engine strains as we drive up, up, up through the sky.
Allison Renner’s fiction has appeared in Spartan, Six Sentences, Rejection Letters, Atlas and Alice, and Misery Tourism. Her chapbook Won’t Be By Your Side is out from Alien Buddha Press. She lives in Memphis and can be found online at allisonrennerwrites.com and on Twitter @AllisonRWrites.
Kim Steutermann Rogers
My mother’s latest boyfriend lives on a boat made of wax in a hollowed out harbor, its substrate cracked with mudpack. I know this boyfriend won’t last a minute, because his breath smells of the celery he juices every morning. My mother is sampling a hipster this time, after the Catholic, after the biker, after the pilates instructor, after the widower, after the banker she fucked to give her a loan. He didn’t.
I like the hints of spruce and accents of blackcurrant and smoky old leather the hipster uses to scent the boat’s wax. These parts of the Pacific Northwest have shriveled like dog turds in the sun since the world flamed past the point of no return, and the light and warmth, once cheered for its arrival, jeers its reminder of our meltdown. Mom pretends we are still a family of four, that boats still float. I practice target shooting with a bow and arrow in a cemetery, neighbor to the harbor, that once promoted a lakeside view for the dead, its grass now shriveled to toothpicks.
That spring, the rains finally return, a five-hundred-year flood filling water tanks and rain barrels and aquifers and racing down forgotten stream beds and rivers, and righting my mother’s boyfriend’s boat. I wait until Sunday morning and watch mom row her skiff ashore, walk through the cemetery, slowing to run her finger across a pair of headstones side by side, her boots sucking mud the whole way to the church’s arched open doors—she may not have liked the Catholic, but she likes Holy Cross Sacred Heart Mission—and I follow, swiping the matches she uses to light a votive candle. I aim dried twigs and leaves and dead flowers from my father’s grave into the hull of the hippie’s boat. At mass, like always, I know Mom’s praying to turn back time, for the day she married my father, for the epoch of seasons, for the time before things went horribly bad, grounding us in this inhospitable place, making her a widow and me an only child.
At night, I sleep in the cemetery. In my dream, or maybe not, at seventy miles per hour, drizzle settling on the road the way it used to, and when we all hopped in cars for weekend roadtrips, my father is laughing, looking at my mother who wears wispy flowers in her hair and a slim dress the color of morning dew and my father is glancing in the rear-view mirror at my little brother Sam, his first tooth coming in and drooling in his car seat next to me, and, then, Dad’s shifting his eyes to wink at me. And I pull out my bow, light the tips of my arrows and send my warnings arcing over the lake. Then, in my dream, or maybe not, I’m yelling, “Look….” But no words come out.
Kim Steutermann Rogers lives with her husband and 16-year-old dog Lulu in Hawaii. Her essay “Following the Albatross Home” was recognized as notable in Best American Travel Writing. Her journalism has been published in National Geographic, Audubon, and Smithsonian; and her prose in Gone Lawn, The Citron Review, Bending Genres, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She was awarded residencies at Storyknife Writers Retreat in Homer, Alaska, in 2016 and 2021, and Dorland Mountain Arts in Temecula, California, in 2022. Find her @kimsrogers.
My life was finally coming together, and Cassandra was down there waiting for me beside that candy apple red convertible of hers at the landing site. My face was rubberizing in freefall and then the chute blossomed open, and that’s when it happened. When the sky said: Fuck you! and that bird, a big one, flew in and rose up against the canopy flapping frantically and I could hear its heartbeat against the fabric. No, wait, it was my own, perhaps both. I wanted to prove something to Cassandra/myself by doing this daring stunt and now if that crazy-wild beak kept looking for an exit and tore a hole in my chute the wind pressure would take care of the rest. The creature lowered a bit and I could feel it battering my face, all the hellion things I’d done/what I’d made of my life beating against me. And then, as I cursed it with one last futile scream, it flew out and I could see that hard earth widen, but kept screaming anyway, only now it was different. When I stopped and collected myself, I began directing my chute to the landing zone where that red Caddy, that approving red-lipped smile would be waiting. I decided not to mention anything about the bird.
Diversity Takes, What We Can Only Hope, is a Vacation
As far as anyone can tell, it starts with each snowflake exactly alike and then people’s noses become the same size and shape. Next: every facial feature/body type/color is identical. The same mole on every left shoulder and everyone speaks the same language down to the pitch and cadence so we look to the sky for answers, wonder if this is some perverse form of entertainment for the gods and if revelations will follow; silence is a hammer swinging down. People no longer have affairs—what for? Folks try to speak in made-up tongues, but can’t. Poets write all the same poems and memorize, recite them ad nauseam. Every house and apartment is equal in every detail and there is no jealousy, there is no particular pride. Ambition flatlines. Costume shops are flooded. People enter them with reverence as though entering a cathedral: masks are sold by the pound and we all have the same names: “Dick” and “Jane.” Dick jokes go quickly out of fashion and there is only one season: Spring, one species of bird: red-breasted meadowlarks. Its song is a record skipping. Jane and I make love, while I wear a red clown nose, she a purple; all the more elaborate stuff is sold out. We have pages from the Kamasutra taped to the walls. Every conceivable sexual position; they are miracles of bodily mechanics we attempt, but it makes no difference. It is always “missionary style.”
Metaphors feel ill-attended, disabused, go into hiding. Or wear strange disguises: bushy opera beards and clumpy steel-toe boots, even the most ethereal of them. They stand by vacant storefronts in killer bee costumes, pretend not to be what they are and discuss the world with esoteric banter. Some poets go mad, their minds spinning like dust devils in the vacuum and count the crumbs at the bottom of their toasters with stale words on their tongues. Other poets sit in diners and mistake the tines of forks for musical instruments they cannot play. A particularly stunning metaphor drives a convertible along the coast, the wind making a horizontal freedom flag of its long wig, and will not be had at any price. At night one metaphor says to another: “Longing is a beggar that bites,” and the other replies: “And fire is fond of sharing its rubies.” They titter for a moment, then slink unceremoniously into the dark maw of the woods.
Robert Scotellaro is the author of seven flash fiction collections and five collections of poetry. He has, with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton. His work has appeared widely and included in Norton’s Flash Fiction International and Flash Fiction America, as well as five Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction award anthologies. Robert lives in San Francisco. Visit him at: www.robertscotellaro.com
At Your Funeral, I Pretend I’m Like Jesus
You’re lying there dead. Sunbeams crisscross, landing smooth like paint on wooden casket. Mourners whispering. I cut your hand, my hand, hold them together like blood brothers. You wake up, everyone drinks wine and dances how living things dance. You dance hardest. Your heart a drum. You dry my cheeks.
Jenny Stalter is a writer and former private chef. Her fiction can be found online, in print, or forthcoming in Longleaf Review, Moon City Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and other wonderful publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Best American Short Stories.
Gus had spent all night in his little boat hooking flounder.
He was exhausted but enjoying the sun snaking above the horizon. The Intracoastal flounder lay iced and twitching in assorted coolers as Gus nursed a small fire into existence. The tiny Weber grill was rusted out and tipping to one side, but it would still cook a flounder, which would make for a nice breakfast before he had to take the other fish to the market.
When the coals were blazing, Gus extracted himself from his lawn chair and stepped inside his trailer. As he opened the screen door, he saw Fish Cat slide into his yard.
“Don't even think about it, Fish Cat,” he yelled. “I'm coming right back.”
After putting on some water to boil, Gus crept back down the steps, eyeballing the coals and then the cat. He thought about how good a cold beer would taste right now, but pushed the thought away and opened the stained Igloo cooler instead.
Fish Cat watched from seven feet away. “Let me guess.” murmured Gus. “You'd like one of these, wouldn't you?” And with that, he pulled out a large flounder, brown and shiny, and wiggled it in the air.
Fish Cat got up, turned in a circle, and sat back down again. He watched Gus dangle the flounder by his head. “You wish, cat,” Gus snorted. “My fish.”
He walked over to his gutting station and cleaned the flounder without thinking about it. His mind was on the sunrise, the storks and the screeching gulls, a kingfisher stalking the currents twenty feet out from the shore.
Gus was imagining kissing his wife's neck. He thought of the way the hairs had stood up like glorious peach fuzz as he touched his lips to her skin. She was gone now, but he’d never forget that. He turned that one memory over and over in his mind, the way you would cup a newborn kitten or chick in your hands, tenderly, with reverence.
That one sunrise half in and half out of the tent, moisture beading on its walls, when the stars and red sun shared the sky for a brief time, and they were sore from the lovemaking. Beneath the tent, back when she was clean, and he had work, and the dawn had looked just like this. It had been enough. More than enough.
Gus rinsed his fillets in the bucket and then carried them inside the trailer. A few moments later he brought them back out, greased and salted, and threw them on the grill. Fish Cat gave Gus a look. “Not on your life,” Gus said and went back inside to make sure his grits didn't burn. Fish Cat moved a bit closer to the lawn chair.
By the time Gus had brought a plate and bowl of grits out from the kitchen, Fish Cat was just three feet from the chair and grill. “I really don't know what you're thinking,” Gus said, sliding his spatula under the fillets and putting them on his plate. He sat down in the lawn chair with a creak and turned to face the cat.
“What is it I owe you?” Gus asked. Fish Cat yawned. Gus sighed and then slid a large piece of flounder off his plate and onto the grass. Fish Cat trotted over, gobbled the fish – though it was still steaming – and sat beside Gus, cleaning its paws meticulously. They watched the sunrise as the coals cooled, and the bits of flounder still stuck to the grill charred and blackened.
Finally, Fish Cat turned to Gus and said, “Much thanks. I was very hungry, and you catch and cook an excellent fish.”
Gus's eyes got very wide. He dropped his plate into his lap and got grits on his shorts. “Left you a little something,” Fish Cat said, and then he walked away until his rear end disappeared into the weeds.
Gus turned around and stared at the sagging blue pup tent that now existed in his front yard. He stared at the legs poking out of the front, at her pink flip flops, at the way one foot wagged back and forth. She never could hold still.
“Babe?” she called. “You coming?” Her voice was a bird in the dawn sky.
“I'm here,” he said, walking to the tent and bending down. “I'm still here.”
Jaimie Wilson is a poet and fiction writer based in Atlantic Beach, Florida, where she lives with her children Ichiro and Mary-Alice. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College where she studied poetry with Thomas Lux. Honors include the Lipkin Poetry Prize, a fellowship at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and a 2022-23 grant from The Community Foundation's Black Artists Endowment.