FLASH FICTION CONTEST WINNERS!
Ann Stewart McBee
Cover Photo: James “DrZ” Zdaniewski is a multimedia artist based in NYC that has shown work around the country.
FLASH FICTION CONTEST WINNERS!
Ann Stewart McBee
Cover Photo: James “DrZ” Zdaniewski is a multimedia artist based in NYC that has shown work around the country.
(from THE NARROW DOOR)
A man opens his kitchen door. He watches his dog, a white dog with enormous feet, walk down the steps of the porch onto the backyard. The dog trots the border of the property three times. He sniffs some grass, rubs his coat against the hedge, looks for a spot where the man can keep an eye on him, then settles into the wet ground with a grunt, satisfied. The dog has done it a million times like that. He’s a little funny about the three trots–he seems to think they’re a riot. The ritual could be clocked. The man stays with the dog for some minutes–maybe the man will have a smoke, check the messages on his phone–before they head back together into the house, the dog smelling of dew. But this time there is a crash in the house: has something fallen? The man goes in to see what the crash might have been–he checks the bookshelf, the anchor hanging on the library wall–nothing. He walks back out the to the yard where there’s no sign of the dog. He steps out onto the grass, which soaks into his shoes. The night is cold. For a moment, he feels himself shrinking down to a single intention: a hard seed with a shiny surface. It’s a stunning, terrible feeling. He’s alive in it. Every feeling he’s ever denied himself is contained by it. Then the hard shell breaks open and the black powder inside flies out, in a silent roar. He calls the dog’s name. He runs past the property line, trips over the raised roots of the oak. He is stunned by the volume of his cry. Already he has split himself apart from himself, as if in preparation for what he’ll see when he gets back home: the full bag of dog food in the pantry, the dirty, cream-colored bed with a shape still impressed in it.
It’s always startling how quickly the ones we love are ready to be lost. They could be standing right in front of us and be lost to us. They don’t always have to run away. They could look at us, smile at us, kiss, hold us, say good things to us, good night to us, and still be lost. He’d never thought about that.
Two months later, after searching every animal shelter in the region for the lost dog, the man is driving home. The new dog sits upright in the passenger seat. He smells fresh, it’s the smell of the sea. He does not bark. His teeth are so white. Already a gentleman, he scans the houses and driveways with a scholar’s curiosity. In the weeks to come, the man will see that the new dog is preferable to the lost dog, who slept too much, was a little smelly, prone to melancholy, and leapt up on just those people who didn’t want the threads in their sweaters pulled. The new dog is a very good dog indeed, and the man cannot believe his good luck after so much sorrow. He thought he’d be alone for the rest of his days.
Still, the man can’t stop looking for the lost dog. The need in the looking is a little like a drug–it must be hidden, forbidden. He imagines the lost dog racing the banks of the interstate, against the traffic, wildness in his face. He imagines him sniffling around dumpsters of the strip malls, chewing rags, chicken bones, flowers, cigarette butts. Once he even thought he saw him hovering in the sky, flying with paws extended, looking down at him with disappointment in his eyes, but that was a kite. In truth, the man doesn’t quite know what this feeling is. It’s both ruining him and keeping him strong. If he could give that feeling a name, he’d call it wanting. But wanting sounds too dark and defeated. He describes it to himself as love. It always feels better to call any strong feeling love.
Does the new dog sense the love is not all for him? Well of course the new dog knows; he’s no dummy. But that doesn’t stop the new dog from trying in vain to win over the man, from succeeding at tricks to being overly good–he will not leap into that wool sweater–whenever a stranger comes to the door. The dog looks up for the approval in the man’s face. He wants it so much from the man that the man won’t give it to him. Possibly the man sees a little of himself in the dog: it is unnerving to have a mirror. So little by little the dog gives up. He puts on some weight, gets a little sluggish, his breath goes bad. Tricks? He forgets how to do them. The dog spends each day listening for the man’s truck to crunch the stones in the driveway, not even knowing he’s relinquished what he was.
The looking goes on. The looking doesn’t proceed in straight ahead fashion–how could it with so many options, questions, possibilities for digression? This street, that cul-de-sac, right, left, then back on the main road for a while, until he feel like dispensing with the main road altogether. The story of love is the story of looking. It is every twist and turn. It is all the empty roadsides that might turn up the body of the beloved.
Paul Lisicky is the author of LAWNBOY, FAMOUS BUILDER, THE BURNING HOUSE, and UNBUILT PROJECTS. His work has appeared in THE AWL, FENCE, THE IOWA REVIEW, PLOUGHSHARES, TIN HOUSE, UNSTUCK, and other publications. He teaches in the MFA Program at Rutgers-Camden and in the low residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College. A new nonfiction book, THE NARROW DOOR, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2014.
A STUPID HORSE
They stepped into the elevator. He slid closed the outer door, which was made of metal slats, like an accordion, then the inner door slid closed on its own. The red plastic card he held said 1216. He pressed the button for the 12th floor.
In my country, he said, in her language, There’s no such thing as floor zero.
No? she asked. How could that be?
Over there floor zero is called the first floor, so the first floor here, for us, is the second floor for you guys.
He looked at the card in his hand, and he realized they were headed for the thirteenth floor, but he decided he wouldn’t mention that to her.
That’s very interesting, she said.
But it makes sense, if you think about it, he said. I mean, how could there be a zero floor? What is a floor but that which we walk on? That which contains our feet, our bodies, our domestic animals, our sofas and loveseats? If there were no floor, if it were really zero, there’d be nothing to hold us up. Can you imagine that? We’d walk into any building onto floor zero and suddenly we’d all fall into a vast pit, an endless abyss. Or we’d walk into empty space, a no-place, and we’d be suspended there forever.
He wondered if he sounded like a stupid man, or worse yet, some pseudointellectual.
When the elevator reached the 12th floor, the inner door slowly slid open, like it didn’t want to open but had no choice, then he slid the outer door open, and gestured for her to step out, and she did. The hallway was dimly lit by blue lights. On both sides of the elevator an endless number of numbered doors descended into a black hole.
She walked down the hallway, looking up at the numbers on the doors, her brain at work on a simple problem. She had red hair, but it was dyed, a false red, almost the color of shiny rust or like on a 1980s punk rocker girl. She wore a short dress and high heels. He caught up to her and then took a left at an intersection, but she didn’t follow him.
Don’t go that way, she said. It’s 1216, isn’t it? It would be this way.
He looked at the numbers and saw that 1214-1222 went that way into the darkness.
Oh you’re right, he said, and he turned around and followed her.
The door was unlocked. He opened it and let her enter, and he followed behind her. The room was big and clean and well-lit, and a flat-screen TV hung on the wall like a painting. There was a Jacuzzi behind glass, large enough for a party.
Nice, he said. She sat on the bed and looked around, her purse on her lap. She looked like she had something she wanted to say.
He stood before her. He looked at her two hands splayed on her purse, as if it were a crystal ball. She had red nail polish.
Something’s on your mind. Just say it.
Okay, I will. She cleared her throat.
When I was a girl, she said, we lived on the fifteenth floor of a building. It wasn’t a great place.
She looked up at the black screen of the TV, reflecting an image of her sitting on the bed and his shadowy figure standing behind her.
It only had one bedroom, she said, so us kids slept in the living room, and all the windows looked out onto the side of other buildings.
She paused, opened her purse to look for something, but then she closed it again.
Just say it.
On the bottom floor, floor zero, she said, there was a man who lived alone. We would never learn his name. He lived there for as long as we did, and probably a long time before us, and probably a long time after us. The window to his dining room faced the sidewalk on a busy street, and at night when he ate, he had his window wide open, not just the shutters, but the curtains. The light hanging over the table was bright yellow. Anyone walking by on the sidewalk could just look in, and there he was sitting at the table eating dinner, usually a bowl of spaghetti with red sauce and a piece of bread and a glass of purple wine. He always seemed to eat the same thing every night. But who knows, maybe I just remember that one meal of his, for some reason. But it was funny to see him every night, because it was like he didn’t care that people could see him. And there was a bus stop right there, not two meters away from his window, and all the people lining up for the next bus to arrive could see him right there, close enough to whisper to him. He ate his dinner, as if he were completely alone.
That’s strange, he said.
He was always without a shirt, too, and he wasn’t fat, but he had a big belly. He was real skinny, his arms all old man-like with rubbery skin quivering off the bones, but what a big belly! All our childhood he was there, living on floor zero, but the only time we ever saw him was when he ate. We never saw him in the lobby. Never saw him in the elevator.
She was silent, as if she could see it all so clearly in her head, then she said, But of course, living on floor zero, what use would he have for the elevator?
Maybe he hated eating alone, the man said.
I don’t think he had air-conditioning, or maybe he didn’t like to run it, because in summer he would slide open the glass all the way, and you could reach your arm inside and touch him, if you wanted to.
Did you ever say anything to him?
Oh, my God! she said. She put her hand over her mouth.
What is it? he asked.
Now that I think about it, every year, when he would start opening his window in the evening, it was a sign to us kids that summer was coming! It was something we looked forward to.
He sat on the bed next to her. He touched her face. She looked at him, shy and coy at the same time, and then she looked away. She had green eyes.
What ever happened to him? he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders.
My family moved to the provinces, she said. We still live there. To get to work I take a train to the city. Takes two hours. It’s funny, but I never thought of him until now, until today. I wonder if he’s still there. He could be dead for all I know. That was like ten years ago. He seemed like an old man, but I was just a kid. Now I know that kids see adults as real old. You don’t even have to be that old, but if you’re a kid and you see an adult, they just seem old. There’s not much difference between 30 years old and 40 years old when you’re a kid. He could have been your age. How old are you?
Forty-five, he said.
Yeah, he could have been your age. Even younger.
When they left the room, she seemed a bit sad, as if she were thinking of something grave, and her face looked sincere, like she was alone in her room and had no reason to fake the way she felt. He saw that in private she was beautiful, so beautiful it made him sad. He knew now he was looking for something. He pressed the button for the elevator.
When it arrived, the outer door slid open, and he waited for her to get in, but she didn’t get in. She stood there. Her eyes were glassy.
What is it? he asked.
I just remembered, she said, just now, something I had forgotten. He had a picture on his wall, a painting, nothing fancy or artsy, just a silly painting, and it was framed in this fake gilded gold, like it was a great work of art that should be hanging in a museum.
The elevator started to beep, a warning to get in, to shut the door and get on with it, but she just raised her voice and talked faster.
It was such a stupid painting. But I looked at it all the time. I looked out for it, like I had to hold my breath until I saw it and then I could breath again. You could tell that it was something cheap. How could I forget that picture? she asked herself, as if she were asking only herself.
What was it a picture of? he asked.
A horse. Just a stupid horse eating grass in a big green field. Nothing around, just the horse eating grass.
The beep seemed to get louder, more urgent. A red light in the elevator was blinking, warning them to get in.
She snapped out of her dream, as if it were time to get back to work. She stepped into the box, and her face took on a false expression, like a kid trying to look like an adult, all serious and mature and too tough to ever be hurt by anyone. He stepped in behind her, and he slid closed the outer door, and the inner door slid closed on its own. He pressed “0”.
Daniel Chacón is author of Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms, and Loops (2013). His collection of short stories, Unending Rooms, won the 2008 Hudson Prize. He also has a novel, and the shadows took him, and another collection of stories called Chicano Chicanery. His fiction has appeared in the anthologies Latino Boom; Latino Sudden Fiction; Lengua Fresca: Latinos Writing on the Edge; Caliente: The Best Erotic Writing in Latin American Fiction; and Best of the West 2009: New Stories from the West Side of the Missouri. He co-edited The Last Supper of Chicano Heroes: The Selected Work of José Anontio Burciaga. He is also editor of Colón-ization: The Posthmous Poems of Andrés Montoya, forthcoming in 2014 from Bilingual Press and The Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame. He is also a photographer/blogger, and his work can be seen at www.soychaconblogspot.com.
WHAT ANNA’S BEEN UP TO
Anna’s been telling lies. Been gagging on air, puking up someone else’s medication. Anna’s been rain on the mountains lately, plotless and wrong. Should maybe not wear a dress if she’s gonna sit like that, pulling legs off of Daddy Longlegs. Anna’s eaten several small meals throughout the day instead of three big ones like she read she should. She’s been rating her recent transaction on Amazon. Four stars. Five stars. One. Anna’s been in your bed, using your Netflix account. She’s been searching for herself on Google, searching aliens and angels and if it’s possible she is one But wouldn’t I know if I was?
Anna lets the rats bite her cheekbones and nose. Patina burnt into her thighs with hot iron. She digs needle under her skin, pulls the thread. Anna recreates herself. A whole new Anna. A horror movie Anna, back from the grave. Got blood in the bathtub, she’s sorry. Cotton balls soak in alcohol and Anna draws the bed sheets up to her chin. Water snakes, scales cherry blossom and paisley. Every night a new kind of nightmare. The worst when she dreams Sylys, dreams her mouth sewn to his skin. Worst when she wakes and finds herself still herself, not at all bound to him.
Kim Stoll was born and raised along the muddy banks of the Perkiomen Creek in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Arizona where is she trying to stay hydrated. Every month, in the light of the full moon she wanders out into the desert wilderness in search of, she’s not sure what. She cannot help her animal self. Her work has recently appeared in Alice Blue Review, Permafrost, plain china, and Stone Highway.
FIRST CONJECTURE OF THE SELF WITH FIGURINE
Tonight you are no one’s treasure. There is a love
you’ve never craved carved into your limbs that I
want you to bury but don’t. I swore I heard you out
in a clearing, the clearing I was made to feel
small and lost in, where I imagined you a cat coated
to a tree. There is no discovery when an opening
is so vast no trees can grow: the people call this faith.
No discovery but for the cicadas that know to chirp
and collapse for the birds when the sky rolls back. When I eat
a meal I feel fat and marvelous as I did when the boys
kissed my neck against the house, too early in the night
to be known. I didn’t shake out of fear. Sorry. They came
to my house crowded with sticks and I lost you out there. I believed
once that I drew my brother’s ghost an impeccable likeness—
Like you, to tap one spot forever meant a piece of me stayed whole.
When I find home in my city, I will push your image back like a spleen.
CONVERSATION WITH THE STONE WIFE
You don’t get to tell me my arms are useless. The kith
of scales should move you, the dedication
to impoverished architecture. What you don’t know is
I started gathering cotton grass in mock worship
of your romance with blackbirds. I started before you were born.
Dressed them in kohl, breathed my weathers into them.
You don’t get to tell me the priority of wings. I know.
The cattails whip the marshlands with the discipline
of a schoolmarm. I can tell you in the rain my labor is sexy.
My fat tits darken. I would lay down with anyone
who doesn’t laud the cloacas, the irascible beaks.
That’s ridiculous. All afternoon I grieved the great morning sky
you rode in on, prayed for its nothing change. See
how my English has improved. See how hot I look
descending the stairs, a necklace of claws around my neck,
the talons dug into with arsenic. My old life bloats
like a collection of dictionaries abandoned beneath
the bed of some walkup apartment. Hallelujah,
you’ve yet to get my magic. Already my veil appears silken,
my spiderleg lashes. Leave me my materials, my histrionics.
WE WATCH AS IF WAITING FOR THE ARTIFACT TO OPEN HER EYES.
Since when have I ever told you what to do. Because
I am flummoxed, my imagination a luthier, my hands
a terrible suicide in which I break each beveled organ.
Understand I am useless. Understand the dead concrete
uprooted in a clearing is artless stone. I am pregnant
with another myth’s god, you know. Your life will end
with the relief of dismounting a gaunt horse. Speak
of dignity, its sorry betrayal like strung goats.
That last kicked hoof is music, understand. The mission
is always to unbed these sordid mysteries, the black museums
through which cornhusks privately exhume, mutant fur
I’ll call my linsey-woolsey protects my soulless bilateria.
My strength disturbs your hearts. It must. From now on
you are only to speak to me bourbon-lipped. I will award you
an amulet: My body on a silver string, against your chest
heavy, unable to snap. It’s simple to imagine me
there. Think of your cousin’s body from its noose.
My burdens are entirely my own. How light they make us.
Natalie Eilbert’s poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Tin House, Guernica, Spinning Jenny, West Branch, Bat City Review, Sixth Finch, The Paris-American, DIAGRAM, LineBreak, and many others. Her chapbook, “Swan Feast,” was selected as the finalist in YesYes Book’s Inaugural Chapbook Competition. She is the founding editor of The Atlas Review, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
–with from a line from Warsan Shire
I grow up smelling of papaya & coconut oil, my shoulders thin & darkening out—
from bronze to henna on splintered docks, beach towel like a doily
under the caramel-sweet of me. I learn from girls with strawberry gloss. They say
fucking is as simple as lemon juice in their hair: that lightening, that lower back lift
& sailing mind. I’m not sad, but the boys who are looking for sad girls always find me.
I don’t taste like honey, but the boys want me to melt for them, want milk
for my skin. They holler from rusted johnboats, hirsute chests smeared with oil.
Look how they writhe when I flash a dark nipple. I’m Durga, I’m Kali,
I’m the strange ochre notch on their bedposts. I’m the spice they didn’t expect—
cinnamon powdered over their lips.
we row out together. you with a splintered oar, me with my thumbs
between my thighs, pushing on two bruises among many. buzzards perch in packs
above us, thick black bodies in the branches. they rustle & shift,
& i am uneasy. these trees, like me, can tolerate a flood. i want to say
it’s uncanny how they root underwater, how they live in murk like that.
you row with ferocity & the sun makes right angles of the bald cypress. the water
is black & the bruises on my legs & arms are yellow-tinged. on the shore,
plants with pitfall traps lure insects in, their phytotelmata calm with waiting. a fly lands
on a honey gland, slips, disappears. you pull my hot pink flask out from your work boot
& swig. i think every branch in the water is an alligator
& you’re not amused by this. a sparrow flits from root to partly-submerged root, ends up
on the bank. you slap the flat of the oar on the water to make waves. you’re trying to prove
we won’t sink, that the rowboat’s chipping teal paint
& perforated hull are nothing to fret over,
but i know in this swamp the plants’ cells are lunate, meaning what is caught
cannot escape, meaning the pitchers will drown the smallest bird
& let its flailing body dissolve
Raena Shirali lives in Columbus, OH, and is earning her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Fogged Clarity, Four Way Review, and Pleiades. She recently won the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Contest.
THE RIVER BESIDE US
The rain has ceased. Across the city dark
umbrellas furl and spit the wet remains.
Behind the clouds light falls,
as dust on the streets carves their natures.
I remember the river widens near our house.
You walked down to the bank and leapt in,
cast your lot among smooth stones.
Now the river’s hushed throat calls in the dark.
I used to hold you like a ticket to the subway, anxious,
as if you might disappear, the streets forget their names.
As if I could lose; cast a wide net across
the river and find nothing,
as if I would seek the river out.
THE BLACK BIRDS
Midnight swallows the city. Everything is dark
as the pupil of an eye that sees nothing.
Last night I was startled awake by small, black birds screeching
in the eaves. Tonight they nest on another limb.
Everything is flux: theme and variation. Snow pummels
the rooftops. Somewhere you drive through a white desert.
I have seen the same mountain,
from almost every angle.
Once I saw a heart beating in its chasm
in a clean, white room. Come home.
The world doesn’t need you and there is light
enough in these yellow rooms.
Here you can cast the longest shadows.
David Shattuck is a professor of poetry and composition at University of North Texas. He received his MFA from Eastern Washington University. His poems have been published in Clackamas Literary Review, Bellingham Review, and The Florida Review.
All I believe is beauty,
Your name rips the sky from my life.
I feed you
my hot marrow, slanted.
I arch for you
when you ask. Shrunken, my breasts
like a surface of tar. I always knew
Your grip carves the arctic
of my hand. I’ve weather
water’s edge for you.
I will dance with no pulse.
you are the one
for my slow motion panic. You—
the one who scars
my throat. You—
the slow sliver of snow
across my burnt lip.
A thousand birds’
wings tremble. I am splintered like a child
only capable of need. You are like a bad mother:
Throw up…Throw up
Your small black pistol,
callous and cold. The fry
in too hot oil, what could have fed me—?
In this beam of light,
Discover myself swept and begging
You are the untold version of me,
a hole with no rim.
Who I am
with you is more than I have been
You hug me, long—
smell of metal, wipe the bile from my lips.
I crawl into your chest, so small, sweaty
and wretched. I know what is coming…I know what is coming—
The slow ease of tide rises
around me like a dream. You tell me, You are safe with me.
I am safe with you.
I am safe with you
as the drift of icebergs, not really white but blue
frozen and solid so.
Lani Scozzari is a graduate of Emerson College and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. There she served as Senior Editor of Lumina. She is a recipient of a Key West Literary Seminar Scholarship as well as a finalist award from The Massachusetts Cultural Council. Recent publications include Comstock Review, Midway Journal, DeComp Magazine, Whistling Fire, Mom Egg and Saw Palm.
ANALECT OF THE FLY
Gin blossoms twisting on the tip.
Something like a nose for it. A bar room. Yes,
he could teach you—
How to hear with feet.
How to live without a head.
In the compound eye’s mosaic,
like coltsfoot over-wintered. Like fruit.
She’s bait gel in the clover. Jail bait
for the feral,
if ever he were caught,
if ever there were eater-birds,
spiders, crabs that specialized in
something’s buzzing. He strokes the neck.
A Bud, a draft. He licks the foam
like nectar from his lips.
bark, a siren in her wailing. Snow
through the kindle of trees, falling fast on her shoulders,
in clumps on her sleeves.
She steps into the moons of light that drench the gravel,
steps out from her rabbit hole of habit,
her rabbit coat extracted
from the fact of his indifference.
With fists balled up,
with snow to hurt the windows,
she hurls like ice and hard— his blinded room.
Kathleen Hellen is a poet and the author of Umberto’s Night (Washington Writers
Publishing House, 2012) and The Girl Who Loved Mothra (Finishing Line Press, 2010).
Her poems are widely published and have appeared in American Letters & Commentary;
Barrow Street; Cimarron Review; Nimrod; Poetry Northwest; Prairie Schooner; Stand;
Sycamore Review; Witness; among others; and were featured on WYPR’s The Signal.
Little sparrows burn their bushy
homes when the snow starts.
Like cut tar and burnt
gears . I want to fuck a poet
who never wrote before.
The bareness lets you see their
wings, standing quiet enough
to see your steam leave
and hesitation comes like releasing
brake knowing you’re still gonna
move. Why do you like the brooding
rain? Doesn’t it only
Disasters grow in the garden.
Canary eyes were
first seen when my dad
and mother made me from the
soft spot between their ribs.
of what was a poem
sat in their bed,
sheets pouring out like a flushed
cheek until disruption
was just a mobile
at play unwinding.
Abuse is an exception to
All the rules
Entangling love. As if the
Turnstiles in a station
Airy guilt waft up from the
Broken grass, dolmans
Are dull to the living man.
Zero-in to the fly
Paper. Elegies are wasted
For the kids
Stuck on rooftops
Taking shots from a solo red
Cupping water in the morning
To wash over the face
Zach Fishel is the owner of Horehound Press. His work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart and his first chapbook appears courtesy of NightBallet Press.