Xanadu: a triptych

by Nancy Stohlman


Once all hope had truly been lost—after the planets lined up and nothing happened, after churches were roped off with police tape, historical landmarks proven fraudulent, and even sex became irrelevant, the few people still able to feel pain took what was left and traveled to the edge. And once there, they sacrificed the rest of their ruby slipper childhoods and abandoned imaginations and some people even ripped off their own tattoos and threw the inked bologna skins over the edge and together we watched our dreams quietly float away, like deflated balloons and sad water bugs.

And then, just when we thought it was too late, someone jumped in and started swimming after the dreams. They swam out to the big one bobbing, almost lost, and dragged it back. We stood, stunned, at the edge. And then we all started rescuing dreams. They were water logged and distorted; they were bloated and torn and trampled. But they were alive. Even the children were scooping up a floating dream, a dream trapped under a rock. So many dreams! We pulled them out, wet but alive, and piled them on the beach.

And then someone decided we should give the dreams back. So every night as the people were sleeping we tiptoed to their houses and returned their dreams in little golden envelopes, and when the sun rose, ripping pink stretchmarks into the morning sky, ripping like it never wanted anything more, the people woke to find their dreams returned, in the door jams or in the mailboxes or under rocks, returned like love notes, like a lost pet found, and they wondered how they could have ever let them go so easily.


Nancy Stohlman is the author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (a finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi (2009), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010). She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and her fiction has been chosen for the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and the Best Small Fictions 2019. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder. She dreams of one day becoming a pirate.


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

This piece emerged when I was on a 3-week writing sabbatical on a super remote island in the Adriatic Sea.

It’s a magical story: I was on the beach. And there was more trash than usual and then way out there I saw something bobbing and floating and it did not look liked it belonged (keep in mind this is like a cove beach so no big waves). So I say ok, I’m a good swimmer, so I decide to swim out there and get it. It’s a styrofoam tray thingy, a big one like maybe the bottom of a cooler or something. I swim it back to the shore with one arm. As I get to the shore people are watching and smiling and by the time I drag this thing out other people are standing up and starting to pick up trash. Pretty soon every single person on the beach is picking up trash, wading in and grabbing floating trash, young and old, and no one is even saying a word (we probably speak 10 different languages anyway) then someone goes and gets a big trash barrel, and everyone is focused, on a mission. Together we cleaned that whole beach up in 20 minutes without a word but lots of smiles.


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

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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 closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


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09/02 • TBD
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