A girl came up to me at a party. Earlier the same day Hank helped me change the fan belt in my Malibu. It was below zero, sunny in the way winter sun is painful to the eyes, and I wasn’t wearing gloves. I knew the girl from the community college where I was taking some classes. There was an easy inelegance, a loose-jointedness about her that crushed me whenever I was in proximity. I wasn’t wearing gloves, and I kept switching hands to shield my eyes from the sun and sticking the other hand inside my coat. The girl had a friend with her, another girl. I should say woman. They were both women, young women. I shouldn’t say girl. After awhile, Hank asked me to give him a tool, a wrench I think. I took my warm hand out of my coat and grabbed the wrench, placed it in his palm. I felt proud of myself, like helping Hank made it so I could say I changed the belt, when I really wasn’t much more than a bystander. The young woman and her friend both had red plastic cups of beer in their hands. “Do you know my name?” the young woman asked. I was sure I did, because we had talked a few times in an awkward group of not quite friends in the hall at school, and I had asked about her even though I was living with my girlfriend and we were talking about marriage. And she had these delicate, purple-seeming veins on her temples that made me think of the Tigris-Euphrates. I felt proud and reached my hand toward the engine to point at the belt that Hank had put on the pulley when I realized he was sitting in the car and had started the engine, just as my hand hit the fan. There was a thunk and then pain and then numbness all at the same time. I was afraid to look. I acted like nothing had happened. “Sandy,” I said. The young woman looked at her friend and then looked back at me. “No,” she said. “No?” I said. “But Hank told me….” Her face staunched. Her lips curled a bit as if they were deciding between a snarl and a spit. She and her friend turned and walked off. I finally looked at my hand. It was red except the two fingertips that had touched the fan were white and then blue then purple. I tried to think of something to say to the young woman. I liked her and thought I might leave my girlfriend for her if things had gone differently. Hank said, “She’s good as new,” and dropped the hood. I thanked him and got in the car where it was warm. I didn’t tell him about the hand. It was bad enough I’d done such a stupid thing without everyone knowing about it. Except I wanted to show the young woman my fingertips, greenish-black now like two small toads. I wanted to call out to her, but the only name I had for her was wrong.
Christopher Kennedy is the author of four books: Ennui Prophet (BOA Editions, Ltd.), Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (BOA Editions, Ltd.), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award in 2007, Trouble with the Machine (Low Fidelity Press), and Nietzsche’s Horse (Mitki/Mitki Press). His work has appeared in many print and on-line journals and magazines, including New York Tyrant, Ninth Letter, 5-Trope, The Threepenny Review, Slope, Mississippi Review, Ploughshares, and McSweeney’s. In 2011, he was awarded an NEA Fellowship for Poetry. He is an associate professor of English at Syracuse University where he directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing
In some of our correspondence, you wrote, “I’m trying to avoid elaborating in the story.” Can you elaborate on this idea of elaboration in compressed fiction? Because I come to fiction through poetry, I think about such things as beats and syllables and pacing most likely more than I should. But I believe in providing only the most essential details to establish a scene, and I like the logic of a piece to be as dreamlike as possible. Events are often conflated in dreams, a condition that lends itself to the type of compression short fiction demands.
In some of our correspondence, you wrote, “I’m trying to avoid elaborating in the story.” Can you elaborate on this idea of elaboration in compressed fiction?
Because I come to fiction through poetry, I think about such things as beats and syllables and pacing most likely more than I should. But I believe in providing only the most essential details to establish a scene, and I like the logic of a piece to be as dreamlike as possible. Events are often conflated in dreams, a condition that lends itself to the type of compression short fiction demands.
Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.
Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.
Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The submission period closes June 15, 2020; submit here.
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