Unattached Metaphors

by Romie Stott

Death in a green bottle.

For speed, electricity. For precision, chemicals. Complex patterns from simple switches. Electrical reflex kicks in before chemical emotion — the do before the thought. Actions a second in advance of their motive.

Each idea would conflagrate the next. Left too long, too hot, his brain could run out of paper. But to exterminate the flame entirely would end thought. He often ran fevers. At other times, his head ached from the heaviness of ash.

The cat was perhaps a training program.

The teenage dream of flicking a cigarette at someone’s chest so hard they fall over from the force of it.

In this way, “know you from Adam” became “atom” – down to the molecule. “Come down off your pedestal” becomes “peddle stool,” a platform for selling. “Take it for granted” was granite, firm and unmovable.

His name is Michael Barrister, but his friends call him Mike, except for El, who calls him Shelby. Michael Barrister -> Michel B. -> Shelby, a pun more elaborate than it is interesting. El is extremely amused by this kind of wordplay, and will happily spend hours free associating. Whenever possible, she uses homophones in her speech so that when the context would suggest she means “sore,” she knows she is secretly saying “soar.” This should make no material difference, but irritates all of us.

The foot is swathed in a stocking, but toenails are visible through the hosiery. Although the overlay necessarily changes the color which reaches the eye, the brain subtracts the interference to give an unfiltered impression of the nail polish.

There is such a thing as a guilty bystander.

Not a downward spiral, but a series of loops. More like hanging than drowning.

She is naked from the waist down, but she wears a soft white sweater.

I could make a noise gun – a piccolo, as they call them.

It reminds me of play-doh, how in the ads they always combined colors because of course! Of course! That’s the first thing you want to do, is to put the colors next to each other – to blend them, or to layer them in a way that will emphasize key points in the structure. But this you must not do, despite the commercials, despite your natural urges.

We’ve known so many people whose ideas were crazy but which worked. We’ve studied how weird the world is. We’ve taken leaps of faith. We’ve trusted specialists. Yet ice is ice.

He mistook the sound of typing for shuffling tarot cards.

The small wrinkles in the wallpaper which we allow ourselves not to see – bumpy seams, pattern mismatches, tiny bubbles where the wall is imperfect. Water spots where the paper has stretched and puckered – reminders that this surface is paper, that this surface has been papered over.

Romie Stott‘s genre-bending short fiction and poetry have appeared in magazines including Farrago’s Wainscot, Arc, Strange Horizons, LIT, and inkscrawl. A narrative filmmaker, she has been a guest artist at the ICA Boston, London’s National Gallery, and the Dallas Museum of Art. For the last year, she has released daily copyright-free SF nanofiction at postorbital.tumblr.com.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Unattached Metaphors”?

I was in line at a drugstore, a line which snaked down the aisle for kids’ toys and left me standing next to some unopened Play-Doh. I used the opportunity to reflect bitterly on the fatal error of trying to play with two colors at a time, and the way the advertising wants you to make this fatal error and thus have to replace your Play-Doh. I thought, “that has to be a metaphor for something,” but realized immediately it could instead be a metaphoric free agent. I thought it would be a funny idea to sell a book of unattached metaphors which could be dropped decoratively into anyone’s writing, like clip art.

I spent the next month jotting more down when they occurred to me, which could be challenging because the first thing you do (or the first thing I do) when you try to invent a no-context metaphor is come up with a simile instead. When it seemed I might be starting to repeat myself, I entered what I had into a Word doc, sorted alphabetically by topic, as one does with a helpful encyclopedic reference. Then I put the whole thing aside so I could shoot a short film that required a lot of 12 and 14 hour days of not inventing verbal metaphors. I didn’t look at it again for about 6 years.

When I did reopen the file to see whether the project was worth continuing, I was as surprised as anyone to realize it was already finished and had a narrative thrust. It’s possible that 6 years ago, I tricked myself into playing a solitaire version of Exquisite Corpse.


Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now CLOSED. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period next opens March 15, 2020; submit here.


02/17 • Madison Frazier
02/19 • Gail Geopfert
02/20 • Maureen Alsop (8 of 12)
02/24 • Kenneth Pobo
02/26 • Miranda Campbell
02/27 • Maureen Alsop (9 of 12)
03/04 • John Meyers
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (10 of 12)
03/09 • Grant Faulkner
03/11 • Maureen Alsop
03/12 • Maureen Alsop (11 of 12)
03/16 • Tara Laskowski
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (12 of 12)
03/23 • Kim Chinquee
03/25 • Lucinda Kempe