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Month: March 2022

The Schoolmaster

by Curtis Smith

 

The girl and her brother paused before the hanged man. The rope slung in the courtyard’s tree, and just above their heads, the schoolmaster’s blue feet. The tree’s leaves gone, and the children’s breath climbed the naked branches. Above, the constellations the schoolmaster had taught them. Gemini. Canis Major. Orion. A gunshot in the distance, a pause, then two more. The breeze picked up, and on it, smoke. The girl tugged her brother’s arm. “Come on.”

They stepped over a smashed birdfeeder, the spill of seeds. The schoolmaster’s door hung from its hinges, and the girl, being older, was the first to cross the threshold. The shadows deeper, and the curtains snared on the windows’ broken glass. The mob gone, still the girl felt them near. She turned on her flashlight, and its beam rippled over broken chairs and smashed dishes. They paused before the toppled bookcases. The girl knelt, the flashlight held to spines and covers. She placed the books she wanted in her brother’s hands. She thought of the times she’d seen the schoolmaster in the library. His corner table. The afternoon sun upon him as he turned another page.

\When her brother could carry no more, she made her own pile. Myths. Philosophy. Poetry. The world. She lifted the pile. The stack’s weight shifted, and she secured the top book with her chin. A helicopter passed, and the room, with its smashed door and hollowed innards, trembled.

Outside, a book slipped from her brother’s pile. “Leave it,” she said. High above, the helicopter, its body lost to the dark, its searchlight sweeping over the rooftops. The breeze stiffened, and the schoolmaster’s body twisted. The boy looked up. “Leave that, too,” she whispered.

Yet at the gate, she was the one who looked back. The rope lost amid the branches, an illusion that made it appear as if the schoolmaster belonged to neither the earth nor the sky. A gust, and the tree’s branches creaked. Around the girl’s feet, the wind-blown papers that had escaped the house. She stepped on one as it tumbled past. A child’s writing. The schoolmaster’s notes in the margin. She lifted her foot and hurried after her brother. The helicopter closer, its echo racing up the narrow street. Its light brighter than any star.

 

Curtis Smith’s most recent book, The Magpie’s Return, was named a Kirkus 2020 Indie Pick of the year. His next novel, The Lost and the Blind, will be released in early 2023.

 

Grace

by Avital Gad-Cykman

 

We buzz in the room like dragonflies, cell phone flashlights shining, much as our parents held aloft lit candles when Leonard Cohen sang their favorite songs.

A different poet sings to us, but even while we applaud, his name loses letters like a broken neon sign.

The next singer-poet already rises to fame.

Time lasted longer in the 20th Century. These days, our present kicks the future’s ankles. The 21st Century leaps forward like a frog, the desperate and given to wrongs Frog in Hot Water.

A child, our child, plays the God of small animals with frogs. He speaks softly while placing one carefully somewhere far from the pond, and then pays no attention to its despair. He may go to politics as a grownup.

Our last attempt to show our son that such supremacy is transient consists of words and music. A triplet of singing poets (because a holder of a world, a poet like Leonard, is rare) may still turn his attention to whales longing for each other, crying dolphins or burned out land.

Lenny was ready to die, so he wrote and sang. We aren’t. We don’t live in grace while falling away from the planet. But our son on his flight from fire might avoid the undercurrents and conquer oceans with a kayak.

 

Avital Gad-Cykman, the author of Life In, Life Out (Matter Press), and the upcoming Light Reflection Over Blues (Ravenna Press) has published stories in Iron Horse, Prairie Schooner, Ambit, Calyx Journal and McSweeney’s Quarterly among others. Her work has been anthologized in W.W. Norton’s International Flash Fiction, Best Small Fictions 2020 and elsewhere. She grew up in Israel and lives in Brazil.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

Leonard Cohen has been a lot on my mind, since I followed his steps in the pre-covid Montreal, and watched (right there) the documentary about him and Maryanne. When I felt suffocated by the pandemic and worried about current politics, I imagined candles, lights, dragonflies and Cohen’s words. I started typing, and felt how the idea of his spirit helped the flow of words of worry and hope from beginning to end.

Birds of the Americas: Heermann’s Gull (Larus beermannii)

by Sean Lovelace

 

Call: Vocal when squabbling for food in groups; voice maintains a nasal/barking/mewing quality.

“They wake me up at dawn. They sound like hoozies being tortured through a microphone, a very large microphone. And that is probably the start of my complaints,” says Karen Tuttle, 68, a retired hair stylist who lives in East Los Angeles, right before rubbing her eyes from lack of sleep.

“Used to be when I did hair,” Karen continues, lighting a Newport Pleasure, then waving it, little wistful octopi of smoke, “only a few blondes looked like hoozies. Well now all the girls look like hoozies. Short, long, flat, frizzy, shaved, spiked, rainbow sherbet on a swizzle stick, I don’t know. Like nightclub dancers. Like prostitutes. Strippers or society girls. All look like harlots to me.”

Legs and Bill of Female: Bill is thin as a credit card, yield-sign yellow, with a tangerine spot near the tip. Legs are pinkish.

Legs and Bill of Male: Same as female.

Food: An opportunistic feeder, feasting on most anything floating on the ocean or just below its pearly surface or on the beach or around the block, over by the sewage pond or the tourist harbor or the surf shop or the estuary, weathered single-wide trailer slanting on a dune of wiry sea oats, once owned by Karen’s old flame, a man who mixed Pepto Bismol with vodka and told Karen he was a painter (watercolors) and would stay with her until death’s very door, when really he was a painter (houses) and left after four months, eight days with Karen’s antique jewelry box of clip-on earrings, her Costco economy box of Fritos, her coworker from the salon (an all-time hoozie named Debra), and her used beige Camry. Examples include fish, squid, shrimp, insects, clams (dropped from great heights), rodents, amphibians, baby birds (ripped from their nests), carrion, seeds, fruit, Doritos, Brown Pelican vomit or fish spilled from pouch, terrestrial arthropods, toothbrushes, condoms, food wrappers, cigarette butts, nurdles (a type of plastic granule used to make everything from grocery bags to prosthetic arms), drinking straws, water bottles, fishing net floats, sporks, roulette chips, birth control pill cases, mascara, souvenir golf balls, surgical masks, a baby rattle, and (fill in your own plastic item) _____________.

Migration: Complete, from California to Mexico. Often rests along the way in parking lots or roofs of gas stations.

Name: The simple fact is many birds are named after humans. Mostly white male humans. (Although there is a current movement among more progressive ornithologists to change all bird names to a more descriptive or behavioral foundation—the Red-winged Blackbird or Barn Owl, for example.) Heermann’s Gull is attributed to Adolphus Lewis Heermann, a 19th century naturalist who wore a fake beard, identified bird species in the same manner as John James Audubon (shooting as many as possible), and listed his occupation on shipping manifests as “gentleman.”

Factoid: The day the painter left, Karen (fill in your own verb) _____________ for a full hour in the dark shower. Then took up playing Ms. Pac-Man habitually, and then bingo at the local bowling alley.

Factoid: In our lifetimes, the oceans will be equal parts plastic and fish. We can expect three-quarters of ocean and marine-area species to disappear over the next century. We are the last who will see what we have seen.

 

Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana, where he chairs the English Department at Ball State University. He’s won awards and published in top literary magazines and wrote Fog Gorgeous Stag (Publishing Genius) and How Some People Like Their Eggs (Rose Metal) and other flash fiction collections. He blogs about nachos. He likes to run far.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Birds of the Americas: Heermann’s Gull (Larus beermannii)”?

I generally admire birds. They may be actual containers of souls. I have seen everything from Eastern Bluebirds to Green Herons to Bald Eagles in my rural Indiana back lot. Last week I watched a Blue Heron hunt and snatch and shake and swallow a large unknown rodent (looked like a nutria but that’s unlikely). Hmm. Birds fascinate me, and generally seem too elegant and good and of themselves (though they do occasionally get lost) for this wretched and alienated planet. Anyway, this specific project came out of a noir novel (failed/in a drawer moldering…) I was writing set in L.A. I wanted to know what birds of L.A. to populate the novel so bought Birds of the Los Angeles Region.

I am a huge fan of “appropriated form,” using forms in the metaverse for structural interests in literature. So I enjoyed the form of the book guide and saw its potential. I would like to write an entire guide, we shall see.

Winning

by Sherrie Flick

 

Stuart preferred fedoras. The kind with a tiny feather, flared like a charm into the band, a hint of red. He favored three-piece suits and dress shoes, although he once wore Bermuda shorts and a white, men’s undershirt to a pool party.

That day he felt naked, his pale legs running out of the shorts into clean, white canvas sneakers, laced up like corsets for his feet. He clutched a glass of iced tea, stood at the far reaches of the fenced-in yard. Stuart declined the passed food, but did sneak a piece of cold ham. He ate with his hand shielding his mouth like a little umbrella.

Stuart liked to walk to the grocery store. Two blocks down the street from his home, turn left. It was a small family-run place that favored Italian selections: sauce, olives, pasta. Little tins of anchovies stacked into a tower. He walked to the store twice a week to shop for dinner provisions, which he cooked for himself and his wife Suzy and sometimes their dachshund Pepe.

Stuart let his face release an air of amusement as he walked. He was amused that he lived in this lesser midwestern city instead of New York or L.A. Amused that he’d settled here, bought a house, married, and purchased a dog with a pedigree. Somewhere along the way he realized he’d fallen and made it, simultaneously.

Stuart was thrilled he had a small store to walk to from his semi-suburban home with hedges lining the side of the property, which he tried to manage and then hired someone to trim. The store had a stack of baskets inside a front door that swished open as his dress shoes swished in. The store carried a fine assortment of vegetables and Stuart often wondered who, besides himself, bought radicchio or broccoli rabe. He sort of wanted to meet these people, but was above asking.

Stuart’s personal claim to fame came (with a quick burst of joy) when he misnamed a vegetable the naïve checkout clerk asked him to identify, thus getting the pricey item—artichokes—for the cost of a cucumber. The puzzled, kind, but slightly agitated young person, intimidated by Stuart’s permanent smirk and also his weirdly timeless outfit, what with the hat and sometimes a long umbrella on days it wasn’t raining, just wanted the interaction over with.

Stuart lied and lied and lied. Radicchio became iceberg lettuce, a pomegranate an apple. Sometimes he made up names like cutiebangbang for a kiwi, and the clerk put in a new code just for him, for it, the kiwi. Stuart saved his receipts, counted up his profits.

Stuart knew deep down inside of himself there was a hurt thing, a damaged part that made him do these things. All of them. It often felt like a rainstorm, rumbling, inside of him. He’d been hurt by others. Wronged. He kept this distant pain in a distant cloud inside himself and just let it rain. Out in the day-to-day world he subtlely hurt people or showed them to be stupid in his own eyes, and this made him feel better.

The clerk rang Stuart up, thanked him for his help. Stuart grabbed his paper sack and crinkled it into the nook of his right arm. The doors of the store parted like the Red Sea. Stuart walked the crooked sidewalk to his home.

 

Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness (University of Nebraska Press) and two short story collections: Whiskey, Etc. and Thank Your Lucky Stars, both published with Autumn House. Work is forthcoming in Ploughshares, New England Review, and Belt. She is a senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018, and co-editor of Flash Fiction America, W.W. Norton, 2023.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

The character Stuart walked onto the page fully formed after a friend told me about another friend scamming cashiers at his local grocery store. Characters don’t always pop into existence so easily for me, so I was pretty thrilled with that and with this weird little suburban world that formed around him. I wrote the first draft in one sitting and then let the story itself sit for a little while. I tinkered here and there on a sentence level, as I tend to do, and then it popped into place.

News

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.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.

Upcoming

05/27 • Claudio Perinot
06/03 • Amanda Chiado
06/10 • John Davies
06/17 • Lynne Jensen Lampe
06/24 • Valerie Valdez
07/01 • Carlin Katz
07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • TBD
08/05 • TBD
08/12 • TBD
08/19 • TBD
08/26 • TBD
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD