The Night Driver (after Calvino)

by Joe Kapitan

Every night driver burns, aflame with a need that sends them speeding down vectors of pavement split into two lanes, (more…)

Sunday Drive

by Joe Kapitan

Eastbound on Route 422, between SOM Center Road and 306, is where all the leavers go to do their leaving.

The grassy berm is uneven, swampy for stretches, overwhelmed in spots by stunted pines and scraggly oaks. In summer, cattails conceal things. In winter, the walls of plowed snow. It is April now, and windy, in between masks. Nothing hidden but the sun.

We roll to a stop on the gravel shoulder.

She takes my hand. She squeezes hard. We wade into the wash of things they’ve left.

Cardboard box of squirming kittens, threadbare couches, bloody weapons of choice, shredded bras, gigantic panties, plastic sacks of anonymous trash, personal belongings of exorcised exes, stained mattresses, ponds of reeking diesel, bald tires, broken mowers, aluminum deck chairs, an old cancerous dog.

Just past the Rest Stop Five Miles Ahead sign stands the white wooden cross. Stapled to it, a photo of a baby girl. Strung from it, garlands of plastic flowers. Wanted and not. Did but didn’t. Someone planted this small confession. This is why we come, to learn what they knew. Many leavers are young, most are hurried, few linger, a mere handful return.

She needs some time. I wander back to find the old dog.

The old dog licks my hand, rolls over with difficulty, lets me rub his neck. His stomach is swollen fat with tumor. When he quiets, I hit him at the base of the skull with a rusted pipe.

I go to find her. I watch her carry the box of kittens in her arms, set it next to the cross. She covers them with panties.

She likes to visit the cross on Sundays. The earth here is soft. The clinic on Fourth is surrounded by concrete. Nowhere to dig.

See, this is what we should have done, she always says.

We’re so much smarter than that now.

Joe Kapitan frequents northern Ohio disguised as an architect. His short fiction has been published online (PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, etc.) and in print at The Cincinnati Review, A cappella Zoo, Bluestem and others. His goal is to write a novel by 2018.

What’s fun about writing flash? What’s not fun about it?

To me, the things that are fun and not fun about writing flash fiction are the same—the difficulty in achieving interest and emotional substance within such a tight window. I can usually do interesting. Most people can. But what about diving deeper than interesting, down to emotional resonance and empathy? Creating emotional substance is especially hard to do in flash, but very rewarding when you pull it off. That’s the real work to be done. How can you accurately capture a character’s needs and desires in 400 words? How can you get a reader to care about that character in the span of 600 words, or say something meaningful about the human condition in 800 words? There’s nothing easy about that. But I’m a sucker for a good challenge.

Important Tips on Designing Your Dream House

by Joe Kapitan

A large house is defined as a dwelling of at least 3,500 square feet in area. Large houses allow members of a single family to find adequate solitary space while simultaneously occupying the house. In a large house, you can hear muffled voices, footfalls, generalized emotional sounds (i.e. laughing versus crying), enough to feel “together,” yet the spaces are far enough apart that individual family members can come and go with no further interaction or specifics. Fact: seventy-nine percent of the houses built in the United States since 1990 can be classified as large houses.

A large garage is a necessity. Garages are the chapels of transience. Life moves and people change and therefore the things that come along with those people must change. Boxes in, wedding-gift china sets; boxes out, same, but chipped. Hers vs. yours. Garages must be big and dry and well-lit, but nothing more. You’re not supposed to get comfortable there. Keep it clear for what’s coming.

Adjacent to the garage should be a Mud Room. It will have the usual shelves and cupboards, washer and dryer. It should also be large enough for a fold-out bed. You will say it is for the nights when you come home late from the office and you don’t want to disturb anyone, but it’s also a place where you might hope to slough off a few more dubious skin cells in your sleep, the ones the shower may have missed, the ones that hold scents that are only noticeable to the victims.

There should never be a door on the rear of a house. There should never be a back door on the rear wall of a house that is shielded by a row of dense arborvitae. That is where someone who parked down the street could enter your house unnoticed, while you are at work, and proceed to breathe your air and touch your things and leave hairs darker than yours on your sheets and in your shower drain—so phantomlike that your wife would swear to know nothing of it.

The kitchen must face east, so that the window above the sink will catch the pink of sunrise and paint her sleep-plump face with it, her rumpled hair, your old college sweatshirt. Pay attention—that lighting is most crucial to this memory. The moment only lasts as long as the pink does, and the coffee.

The room adjacent to the Master Bedroom will have no name. It can function as Guest Room, Sewing Room, Storage. It could also be a Nursery, unless there has been cramping and spotting of blood and a whole future escaped down the plumbing, whereupon it will remain cobwebbed and drop-clothed. Note: there must be one window in the room, one source of daylight—otherwise, you will not be able to stomach it. The door will remain locked. Ghosts will come.

Remember, before you begin this process, you must check and re-check the financials. Dream homes are expensive. Even if she marries her architect and you make it clear of the alimony, it will consume you. Maybe you’re meant to live in a house beneath your aspirations, meant to keep your dreams on a shelf where they will feel like a hunger, and the hunger can be the proof that you’re still alive.

Joe Kapitan works and writes and chops wood in northern Ohio. His work has appeared in elimae, PANK, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, and others, and is pending print publication in Fractured West and Bluestem.

A member of the editorial staff commented on this story, “It says a lot without feeling like it’s saying everything.” How, in writing compressed work, do you accomplish such a thing? Also, how did you come up with the design for this piece? What do you see as its “plot”?

In this piece, I wanted to use hints, symbols, and other “story shorthand” to say things without really saying them. To me, that results in a real sense of compression. Whether or not it truly is (i.e. did I end up using fewer words than I would have otherwise?) seems less important to me than the overall impression left with the reader. I think that prose which uses hints and signals can somehow seem smaller and lighter.

The design of this piece is a result of my wanting to experiment with a form of compression that I call a “story virus.” I wanted to deconstruct a story, then take a few key elements of that story and use them to infect another form (in this case, a nonfiction-type list). Question: Would there be enough structural fragments hidden for the reader to assemble a story from, or would the host dominate the parasite and cause the experiment to fail?

I think one surprising aspect of what resulted was plot in its loosest, most minimal form. The story elements end up being a do-it-yourself plot kit for the reader, and individual readers will probably assemble the pieces differently. For instance, a reader will (hopefully) picture a marriage troubled by emotional distance, both spouses cheating on each other, a miscarriage, all leading to divorce—but in what order? Which led to which? There are multiple answers, each viable. Compression without clear resolution.


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 OPEN. The submission period closes June 15, 2020; submit here.


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