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Month: May 2022

The Psychic Watches Her House Burn

by Chelsea Stickle

 

The psychic shivers off the extra adrenaline ravaging her nervous system as the flames lick her home like it’s a jumbo marshmallow. Her tiny one-bedroom house shakes as if it’s being eaten alive. The fringey black shawl with red roses—the one that makes her look like what she is—rests on her shoulders. A placeholder for the flame retardant blanket she will be offered by the fire department. She coughs some of the smoke out of her lungs and collects her hair into a bun on top of her head. Her neighbors all watch from behind curtains and blinds ready to twitch closed if anyone noticed them. They say, this is a woman who has suffered a tragedy, a woman who has seen things, but do nothing to help. After all, she should’ve seen it coming. The psychic folds onto the driveway, the car keys in her pocket bouncing against her thigh in her billowy joggers, and watches the destruction like a kid up close to the television for Saturday morning cartoons. Because the person who did this is still watching and she has to seem as shattered as her windows when the heat hits 150 degrees.

Before that she dropped a bag full of clothes off at her sister’s.

Before that she opened and filled a safety deposit box at the bank.

Before that the boy began leaving dead squirrels and housecats on her front step.

Before that the psychic checked her insurance policy.

Before that she changed the batteries in her smoke detector.

Before that, the psychic told an unpleasant truth to a client for the first time in decades.

 

Chelsea Stickle is the author of the chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her fiction appears in CRAFT, Gone Lawn, Tiny Molecules, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Best Microfiction 2021 and others. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Psychic Watches Her House Burn”?

In the last year, I’ve become interested in questions of personal responsibility, in what we owe to each other. If you knew something bad was going to happen, but no one would listen to you, would you still make a fuss? What if that made people hate you? What is the right thing and what would you give up to do it? “The Psychic Watches Her House Burn” is part of my Screaming Meemies series and one of many stories featuring the psychic.

Micros from Martone’s Memoir

by Michael Martone
[Three pieces from Michael Martone’s new project—a memoir in prose poems.]

 

Cake
I-35, Iowa
1983

Iowa State University lent me a car (I didn’t have a car) to go to the Des Moines airport to pick up Czeslaw Milosz and drive him back to Ames for a lecture and a reading. A Polish math professor went with me. On the trip there, we talked about the work in the fields. Milosz had just won the Nobel Prize, and on the way back, I pointed out the harvested and turned fields on both sides of the highway. The dirt looks like chocolate cake, he said. The math professor in the back seat said then that they were going to speak in Polish now, and they did all the rest of the way back to Ames. I understood nothing.

Spade

Cambridge
1990

Everyone thinks Harvard University is rich, but it is cheap when it comes to phones. My office at 34 Kirkland Street was next to Seamus Heaney’s, and we shared a party line that rang all the time. The calls were almost always for him from all over the world. I took messages, and when he returned, we would have lunch in his office to review them. We would also talk about gardens, and how we missed having one in the city. When I left to take a new job in a city where I could have a garden, Seamus gave me a garden spade, a ribbon around its handle which is, after all these years and many gardens, still there, hanging by a few threads.

X-Acto
Syracuse
1993

During the small talk at dinner that night, I wanted to ask Louise Gluck about the X-Acto knife. Her father, I thought, had invented it for use as a scalpel, but it couldn’t be cleaned. We had been talking about the white space between the print in a collage. I mentioned Francis Ponge and how she was interested in every day objects like soap and knives. Louise cut in right there: “She, she said, “wasn’t a she but a he.” Right then dessert arrived.

 

Recently retired after 40 years of teaching, Michael Martone’s new book, PLAIN AIR: SKETCHES FROM WINESBURG, INDIANA, will be published by Baobab Books in 2022.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of these three micro-memoir pieces?

I now have nearly 100 of these micro memoirs. These three were written in August of 2021 for the August Poetry Postcard Fest. So they were written to specifically fit on a postcard and since they were about mundane meetings with famous writers, I composed them on a mechanical typewriter. I consider myself, of course, a “minor” writer and think of minor in musical terms. So I think of these pieces as duets with major and minor keys.

A Gathering of Debris

by Tommy Dean

 

Last night, The boyfriend put another hole in the wall above her head, the drywall dust coating her hair. A crown for a queen, her mother used to say, tucking her in her throat flushed, a shared romanticism the girl never felt. She saw the texts. His friend’s plans. She wishes all guns were replaced with a chime, violence metered out in blips and bleeps.

In bed, she waits for the commotion from tonight’s anxiety—to cease, wishing she was in the pool, the water enveloping her, warm and brackish, the sting of chlorine, dissolving anything other than muscle memory. She’d tunnel ahead, puncturing pockets of air that would rise to the surface sloshed by her waves.

She dreamt of making a home at the bottom of an air-tight igloo. A room of her own. An unmarked destination.

At school, each bell the electronic starting pistol, urging her to dive, teenagers swirling around her like schools of fish, their musty and sweet scents pungent and unforgiving. Warnings never bubble out of her mouth.

Sometime after lunch, the hallways of her school are filled with rage, the rat-tat-tat of gunfire, and the creeping tendrils of smoke. The fire alarm blaze, as she races toward the gym; each corner a last breath before another plunge through the strobing lights, bodies shadowed across the pictures of celebrated athletes, smile eternal, safely captured in their youth.

She opens the gym door slowly. Sweating hands on the metal bar. A reminder of the feeling of being locked into a carnival ride when she was younger. The way her stomach would clench in anticipation. The Boyfriend stands, lone, on the edge of the swaying diving board with a pistol in his hand.

His voice echoes across the silent space. “You fucking promised.”

There’s too much gravity between them. Too many ways they can fall. She didn’t remember. All the ways she agreed. The nodding of her head to shake away the dust coming back to him in images of complicity.

“I can leave. I can walk away.” But she’s moving closer, her feet feeling foreign in her shoes, the tile dry, the pastel pinks and teals ghostly with brine from evaporated pool water.

He’s stepping down the ladder, gun clenched in his hand. She could run. Could dart. But turning her back on him feels like a different kind of death.

“If they find you,” the gun in his hand again, pointing here and there. An image of her father talking with a cigarette in his mouth. Swallowing her voice with the baritone of his importance.

The door cracks open, a rushing of boys, whooping, hopped up. The boyfriend is swinging. She’s ducking, falling, splashing into the pool, the swell of water beating at her ears, the percussion of a shot, the opaque look of his face as she cradles her legs, calcifying into rock, rolling, bumping, a stone tumulted by wave and pitch, holding this last note.

 

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). Hollows, A collection of flash fiction is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press. He lives in Indiana where he currently is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, Best Small Fiction 2019, Monkeybicycle, and the Atticus Review. He taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, and The Writers Workshop. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.

 

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

This piece, like most of my stories, spun out of the first line. As I ended the first paragraph, I knew that with this amount of potential violence that I’d need to make this piece as short as possible to contain the intimacy of building empathy for this main character as the violence happened in the white space of the story. I’m intrigued by the moments in life just before violence erupts and seeing how characters would act or react in these situations.

Pets

by Abby Frucht

 

When I was eight I made another of my imaginary friends. She showed up one morning on a scaffold in a tree in a field behind the house I lived in with my mom, my dad, and my older sister, Sid. I was cutting through the field and caught sight of her up there with her schoolbooks, a flashlight, and some leftover pancakes on a thin paper plate, all of which she commanded me to admire.

“They’re blueberry,” she said, and raised the paper plate “to prove it,” causing the pancakes to nearly flop out sideways.

“Also cats,” she said.

She ran an emergency clinic for pets. People brought her their dead pets and she made them live again, she said, and she held out a cat that was stiff as a board, “to prove it,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the sawdusty platform to show off her palsied feet, more twisted then my sister’s. I said I’d bring her a pair of Sid’s braces, to help. “You’ll need to throw them,” she said, since there was no way up. The tree only had branches way on top, and there wasn’t a ladder, and the platform was far too rickety looking to make shimmying toward it a useful enterprise. I was jealous about the pancakes, of which she tilted the whole stack to take a bite then wiped the blue off her mouth with a red bandanna. The problem with her feet was she had no mother or father, she said, but I didn’t believe her. I felt glad and psychedelic, disbelieving something told me by a person I’d invented. Only then I understood that I wasn’t inventing her. She was real. She seemed to like the idea of me needing to crane my neck to scorn her. It made her think herself important. Which she was. To me. But then she scolded, “Stop looking. You’re looking too hard. Turn around when we’re talking and face the opposite way.”

I did as she said. I saw a man in the distance walking away from the field on a road. Dust rose from his shoes in a zig-zag pattern. He held a ladder on his shoulder. He slid the ladder in the bed of a pickup truck, knotted a red bandanna around the outermost rung, and drove it toward town.

I turned back to my friend. “So how do you get up there?” I wanted to know.

“I jump,” she answered. The cat gave a fine meow, like it was just then waking from a long dream.

“Prove it,” I said.

 

Abby Frucht is the author of Maids and eight books of fiction including Licorice, Are You Mine?, and Fruit of the Month, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize.

 

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

A funny thing is that although I know the name of the girl in the treehouse, she never tells it, and the narrator never asks. It’s a great name. When I made it up, typed it up, and filed it away in my works-in-progress file, I believed I would come back to it and bid it lead me into a longer story, maybe even a book. But that was forever ago already and I find I sort of like the way the name sits off on its high up shelf, like the girl herself, not calling to me. And I do believe she’s actual. I only hope she’s not lonesome. If I ever do get back to her name and to her story, that will be why.

Six Fictions

by Scott Garson

 

ZOMBIE

Starts in a way she couldn’t have guessed, not even if she had been guessing. Starts with a mood. Blue mood. Weak and forlorn. Failure of something inside. She hides in her office. The words on her monitor won’t hold still. They slip, and resume their place, and slip, like the beat of a heart. Nothing holds still in her vision, in fact. What she sees: it is somehow approximate. What she hears. The voices of colleagues, whorled and garish. Perhaps she needs sleep. This is what she is telling herself at this point. That she has a choice in the matter. A power. To blink, to gather herself. Shake herself, wake herself up.

~

NIGHTFALL

Early reports of the sickness varied. People were cautious and stayed inside. Morgan and Keely, who didn’t have phones, kept to their room and took turns peeking out of the dormer. Nothing to see. They read books. They made ramen, with peas, with hard-boiled egg. Their mom could forget about food. Their mom, who battled anxiety, stayed quiet until the sun went down; then she would drift upstairs and make smooth gestures with her cigarette hand as she tried to describe her youth, before she was their mom, when nothing was settled for her, when things could still go either way.

~

LISTEN

I don’t know why The Death should not be played at the neighborhood supermarket. People seem to like The Death at low volume, without thinking “I like The Death,” without doing more than following a tune they’ve followed before, while gauging red steaks lain out in double rows in ambient LED lighting, or knocking on ponderous cantaloupes, to feel what has happened inside.

~

SPACE STATION

We want to imagine an alterlife where we are as free as our thoughts. But it’s hard. I mean, like whole aeonic seas have been elided. We’ve got to sit down. We need, like coffee. See us trudging corridors toward less defective light? It is a comfort, our being this empty, this tired. As if there is only one mind in this place and nobody cares whose it is.

~

MISSIVE

If the dish could run away with the spoon, then what are the rules? What’s out of bounds? Could daffodils not stand straight and get dressed and take to smoking a pipe? Could people not go through the dishwasher and live a different life? How about you? If you picked up a stone in a field. And it was some interesting color, like pale blue. And once it got warm in your hand you forgot why you left Hope, Arkansas, and saw that you had to come back.

~

APOCALYPSE O’CLOCK

If I wake in the night, I shake thought from my head, just like salt from the oven-top shaker. Actually no. But how awesome that power would be, shake-a-shake, with maracas, with bongos and bells, and I two-step into my fruit-colored dreams, where little white crystals parachute into my hair like the gentlest of rains.

 

Scott Garson is the author of IS THAT YOU, JOHN WAYNE?—a collection of stories. He lives in central Missouri.

 

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

One of my current projects is a manuscript of very short stories, and these are part of it. The stories have to work within the frame of a single paragraph, and so far I’ve been fussy about keeping them each under 200 words (I edit them down if they’re over). The goal is a book where readers can go from one to the next happily, page by page, a book that establishes a kind of rhythm, in other words, even though no two shorts intersect (an example might be one of my favorite books of all time, Charles Simic’s THE WORLD DOESN’T END). At first, when I started sending these out to journals, I fixed upon sets of nine and numbered each story within the set, in order to suggest that book-reading-type experience I was hoping for (one story to the next to the next). Three sets of this type came out, I think—in Electric Literature, Okay Donkey, and Bluestem. More recently, I’ve been putting together different-sized sets, without numbers, and even publishing some solo (I think the stories should have to be good enough to stand alone). In putting together sets like this one, the question is one of feel. Do they feel right together? Do they seem to work as a whole in some way? Of course, I’ll have to answer that same question for the larger manuscript, when it gets finalized at some point or other.

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

07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • Eric Steineger
08/05 • Baylee Less-Eiseman
08/12 • Rae Gourmand
08/19 • Chiwenite Onyekwelu
08/26 • John Arthur
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD