by Stefanie Freele
On a dark afternoon of half-rain, Rampart planes old-growth redwood seeking the precise intersection between growth rings. This is how he holds the wood: he feeds it in flat and gets the hell out of the way. Can you see the rays? His finger, sawscarred, follows the reddish lines. Jelly leans over his arm, smelling forest and hydraulic oil. You smell like all the trees, she smiles, and trouble. She traces the wood also. Rampart allows an infrequent smile. Is that what you think then, trouble? In that smile, the look takes her beyond the driveway, bringing Jelly into the storm and across the hills to the red-orange paths of fall, toward the rain-slick madrones and the dry streams beginning to fill and spill. That’s occasionally how I see you. She’s listening to the crunch of a hesitating deer, to the dipdip of quickening rain, to the first mushrooms erupting through the soil like moles coming up for fresh air. Rampart says, I need to know more about this. This mischief you say. For a long time, Jelly sits in the chair just outside the garage – the same chair she did last night when the moon was full, secreted behind shadowclouds. Jelly, waiting next to Rampart’s empty chair. There was tea with the surprise of honeyswallow at the bottom. There was a dog at her feet, wet, dusty and the type to jingle a collar to go, but not chase a fawn. There were projects – always projects – this time the welding of a pick-up bumper going on in Rampart’s garage and a book being read with flashlight by Jelly. The moon finally said I’m here; Jelly said come on! And, he said just one more cut and grabbed the grinder, pulling the cord across the valve on the acetylene torch, causing the gas to rise up his pant leg, fill his leather jacket and hood. When he touched the grinder to the metal: an explosion caused the sky to break. Her ears snapped, the book dropped, his jacket flung over his head, the grinder rolled tinly across the cement. It was the largest noise, she tells him. If you lost your head, your face. She imagined in the middle of the night, instead of sleeping, his bodiless head, flung three properties away. Those are the kind of things I think of. In the morning she wove her hands in his waves, slid her long self near his burnt chest hair, a kind of searching that begged without admitting it. I was afraid. That is a start.
Stefanie Freele is the Fiction Editor of the Los Angeles Review and a previous editor with Smokelong Quarterly. Her short story collection Feeding Strays (Lost Horse Press) was recently a finalist for the Book of the Year Award and the John Gardner Fiction Award. Her recent work can be found in Glimmer Train, Word Riot, Corium, Night Train, and elimae. www.stefaniefreele.com
“Blown” is: A growth spurt? A growth explosion? Growth blown up, enlarged, made legible? The growth of two characters, growing together? The precise intersection between growth rings? Love your questions. Blown is perhaps the moment when she realizes how the thing that attracts her, is the thing that could kill him. His dangerous side, his mischievious side, his offbeat person – all that has a troublesome face. So, yes a growth spurt. Blown is how I’ve just blown it for someone who might try to figure out the story. Blown is a growth explosion between the two of them. They are cool, but yes there is heat.
Do you like your characters grown, and how? Fast, slow, by bits, all at once? I like my characters to grow slightly. Actually, now I like my characters to grow slightly, but maybe earlier in my writing, they had more epiphany-like moments. I would like an epiphany. My last epiphany was at a workshop with Darlin’ Neal when it came to me via Darlin’ that my characters could tell me what I should write about them, rather than me telling them what to do. For goodness sakes alive, I don’t need to be so bossy.
One of the reasons I love very short fiction is the compression and the expectation that the reader is bright enough, and not too needy, to allow an inner decompression within their own read of the story.
By needy I mean in need of explanation. But, I feel the need to defend longer fiction as it is a lovely place to get swept away.
By inner decompression I mean an opportunity for the reader to let the story bloom in their own noggin.
By noggin, I mean that heavy thing on the shoulders. Most of us still got one.