A Remarkable Ability

by Jennifer Pieroni

To her, the interior of a person’s car was a reflection; it helped her imagine the home, the peculiar history, if it was ordered. She knew all of this was true and yet her own car was littered with family mittens, squeezed tissues, sand and flattened leaves beneath her feet.

Her husband hurried across the parking lot to the pharmacy, leaving the car running. Sitting in the rear, she lifted the crying baby out of its car seat and propped it in her lap, even though it continued to pitch in every direction. She could hear the crying even alone, even when the baby was still. She now understood the mother’s mind, and it no longer seemed a remarkable ability.

She cradled the baby against her and lifted her shirt. She knew he’d forgotten to lock the doors, another habit she could not break him of, and would not try to because there seemed to be more important things to say. She rubbed the baby’s forehead, watching its pulse in the soft spot, a focus she could not avoid now that she had noticed it.

The parking lot was mostly empty, with the exception of a few cars. But still, she did not feel safe. In the dark, everything seemed black and white, the contrasts in every day life evident even in the lines that delineated the slots for parking.

A figure shifted in a sedan on the other side of the median. A cigarette in the figure’s hand glowed intermittently. She wished she still smoked. She knew the figure might be watching. The figure might see the white flash of her breast. The figure might approach her car, and enter on the driver’s side, and notice their personal effects. The figure, already knowing everything about her, might.

Jennifer Pieroni studied writing at Emerson College and her writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Another Chicago Magazine, Hobart, Guernica, Mississippi Review and others. It has also been anthologized in Best of the Web 2010, Brevity and Echo and Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Stories. She served as founding editor of the print journal Quick Fiction for nearly a decade and contributed to the Rose Metal Press Flash Fiction Field Guide.

What “remarkable ability” do you think writers of compressed fiction possess? Maybe not what they all possess, but what they should all possess is a mastery of language. Not just a strong vocabulary, but also the instincts necessary to discern which words are right and in what combinations. That’s mastery, to me. And without it, I don’t see how a writer can ever deliver truly remarkable compressed fiction.

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