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Month: April 2022

Home Front

by Charles Holdefer

 

Dan opened the front door with his elbow, balancing a beverage tray and easing into the living room where he avoided a tusk. “I’m back!”

In the kitchen, Paula finished her drink and threw the ice in the sink. She picked her way toward the living room and met him with a smile, lowering herself onto the couch. “What took you so long?”

“Traffic was nuts.”

“It’s only four blocks.”

“A supra double-skinny for you.” He tightened the lid and held out her cup. “And a mega mocha for me. Where’s Serena?”

“In her room. Watching TV I think.”

“Sweeties!” he called.

A five-year old girl with a page-boy haircut trotted in. Dan held out a juice box. “Here you go. Mango-boysenberry-grape.”

“I asked for a cupcake. I don’t want juice.”

“Listen, we already discussed that. You can’t just lick the frosting off the top. You have to eat entire cupcakes. That’s life.”

He ripped the wrapper from a straw and impaled the juice box for her. He offered it again. Serena crossed her arms and refused to take it.

“Can you handle this?” he asked Paula. “I’m gonna get a shower,”

“But you had a shower before you went out. Drink your coffee. Sit down.”

Dan looked at them and wished he was somewhere else.

Paula looked at him and wished he was someone else.

On the other side of town, C.C. swished mouthwash in the back of a van and spat it out on the parking lot, squinting into the sun.

There was a trumpeting, and suddenly Serena seized the juice box and started sucking, sucking, sucking. Her cheeks contracted, her eyes widened.

“Honey, take time to breathe!”

The juice box gurgled, then Serena let go, gasping. She dropped the juice box on the rug and clutched at her round belly.

Dan shook his head. “That’s one way.”

Paula bent to pick up the juice box but she missed it and fell off the couch and rolled on the floor. “Ow!”

“You all right?”

She held the box up to him and then climbed back onto the cushions. “Yeah. Just a little accident.” She rubbed her elbow.

Serena flittered her fingers and hopped toward Dan on one foot. “Let’s see you hop on one foot, Daddy.” She turned and hopped to her mother, sticking out her purple tongue. “Mommy couldn’t do it no way.” She pivoted and hopped back to her father.

“Listen Sweeties,” Dan reproved. “We have to speak nicely to each other.”

On the other side of town, C.C. told a man who approached the van: “Fifty bucks.”

“Dan,” Paula said. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

“Can’t it wait?” he asked. “I’m gonna get that shower.”

Serena began to chant: “Daddy’s dirty! Daddy’s dirty!” She hesitated before an enormous turd on the floor. “Watch me fly!” She planted both feet, crouched, then launched herself into the air.

 

Charles Holdefer is an American writer based in Brussels. His collection Agitprop for Bedtime (2020) includes work that first appeared in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and his next book, Don’t Look at Me, will be published in 2022. Visit Charles at www.charlesholdefer.com.

 

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

The early drafting of “Home Front” started as an experiment in taking a figurative expression literally. Here: “the elephant in the room.” What if, in a situation rife with the unspoken, there actually was an elephant in the room? And, more than a distraction or a source of carpet stains, could its presence also contribute to the story’s tension?

The unexpectedly literal has intrigued me since I was a kid, finding it in Beatles’ songs like “Come Together” with phrases like “Got to be good looking ’cause he’s so hard to see.” Or in the mock-interview in A Hard Day’s Night, where a reporter asks, “How did you find America?” and Lennon replies, “Turn left at Greenland.”

Comedians have been using this literalist stratagem since, well, forever. Henny Youngman: “Take my wife, please.” Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” The list is long…

Fiction isn’t stand-up, of course. It can include jokes (I like it when it does) but it respects a different linguistic economy. It has a different pace. Jokes aside, a literalist usage can provide a situation. And this is interesting for a fiction writer, because once you have a situation, possibilities emerge for plot.

The first time I attempted this was accidental, with a story I wrote in Dick Cheney in Shorts. A sentence popped into my head, out of nowhere: “Like many people, Herb had his demons, but what set him apart was that he kept them in a pen in his back yard.” If the sentence had stopped with “demons” I would’ve crossed it out as a cliché. But the subsequent words, which literalized it, took me into new territory. How could I depict that? How would such a situation affect his family and neighbors? It required multiple drafts, but that one sentence eventually generated everything that followed.

And that’s what I tried to do with “Home Front.” The final draft eliminates some elephant references, only a few remain, but even the bits that got cut were necessary for me in the process of finding the beats for the story. It’s counter-intuitive, moving from the figurative to the literal, but it’s a way to jolt my noggin in the hope of reverse-engineering something potentially interesting, about a family dealing with a lot of unsaid trouble.

Hourglass

by Tyler Barton

 

To see if I was gifted, I was given a test. A test that would teach me only that the hardest tests are ones in which you don’t know whether you’re nailing it or failing. This test had nothing to grade. Nothing to score. What do you see here? Arrange these. Arrange them more. You have ten seconds. I test okay, but I sweat. I swallow dry spit. Next question. There were no windows, no soda, no refreshments offered. Read this aloud. Read this to yourself. Read that backward. Then came the only question that I know for sure I failed.

“What is glass made of?”

I cried in the van when my mother told me it was sand. From then on I’d search every window pane for grains. All I’ve ever found is my simple, sweaty face. How does the presence or absence of any single fact signal gifts? I’d grow to learn that facts were nothing but little presents—like the lottery tickets my family traded at Christmas—that no one needed. You are to smile anyhow, say thanks. You are to scratch. I wasn’t yet ten, yet there I sat before a man in a blue suit in a room behind the principal’s office. In every institution, I wondered into truth, is there a room behind that building’s most terrifying room? I smiled, knowing nothing except never to leave a man waiting for an answer.

What I said of course was, “Water.”

 

Tyler Barton is the author of the story collection Eternal Night at the Nature Museum (Sarabande, 2021) and the flash chapbook The Quiet Part Loud (Split/Lip, 2019). His fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Find him @goftyler, at tsbarton.com, or in Saranac Lake, NY where he serves as the communication manager for the Adirondack Center for Writing.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

In high school I learned to hate rhyme because the poems we read that rhymed were bad. Then in my twenties I found myself landing on rhymes and playing with assonance from time to time, and these moments wound up sounding odd because they stuck out. In the last year, I’ve decided to lean completely into rhyme in my prose. It’s probably all the hip-hop I listen to. At this point, if there aren’t any noticeably similar sounds across a group of three sentences in my work, I almost have to go back and weave in some music. I’m not sure it’s the best habit. It’s making my process more arduous, harder to finish. Then again, maybe writing should be slower, and largely unfinished. But I’m glad this one isn’t.

2nd Rate Wasp

by Robert Shapard

 

It was a 2nd rate wasp, one of those buzzing around the wild fig tree, weaving along the porch rail, giddy it seemed with autumn. It had a few weeks to live at most, until the temperature dipped below freezing. One had gotten into a closed travel bag in the house—how did it manage that? I zipped it back up and shooed it outside. That was a 1st rate wasp, one with a travel plan. But he wouldn’t make it to winter, not unless he was a female, thus could live for several seasons. My father was inside fixing a drink. He was a chronic alcoholic, more like a 2nd rate wasp. Lately he’d seemed feverish, trying to get from one drink to another. He’d abandoned dignity. I’d say Dad you can get a drink when we get home, or, We’ll stop at the liquor store on the way back, okay? I was the one who could still talk to him. I knew he suffered. I just wanted him to make my brother’s wedding. I just wanted him to make the divorce consultation. I bribed with promises, though I could tell he didn’t trust them, nor anyone’s. Instead he’d lash out. A counselor told me it wasn’t personal, it was physiological. The trust had been leached out of him. At least he was still eating. Dad, we’ve already got plenty of peanuts, I’d say at the grocery store, or Dad, those are peperoncini, you said you didn’t like them, they’re too acidic. Now he wanted them anyway. And figs, we stopped in the produce section and he said I always loved these. I knew he wouldn’t be with us long, but I wanted his last days to be like autumn, like a wasp weaving in a beautiful autumn.

 

Robbie’s very short stories have appeared in Juked, 100-Word Story, Flaunt, New Flash Fiction Review, and Necessary Fiction.

In 2020, he helped establish the first curated collection of flash fiction in the U.S., with Tom Hazuka, Tara Lynn Masih, Pamela Painter, and Robert Scotellaro.
To see more go to Smokelong Quarterly for a note by Christopher Allen. Go to Ransom Center Magazine at UTexas for a note by Megan Bernard.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “2nd Rate Wasp”?

This is personal experience, fictionalized, paired with an unrelated observation, nonfictional. We see those nonfictional wasps all the time out on the deck at the back of the house. (They’re harmless.) I liked these things together somehow, memory and wasps, and the piece had meaning for me, yet it didn’t quite click. So I kept editing it down—that’s how good writing works, right?—until I had squashed the life out of it. Years later, trying to bring a collection together, I found this little piece again. In spite of its being dead, it still spoke to me. So I tried editing things in, not out. Personal things, all slight, like “a counselor told me,” or “he said I always loved those,” or “I knew he wouldn’t be with us long.” But slight things get magnified, in a story so small. Even the phrase “how did it manage that?” seemed to me not just an aside but someone questioning a memory, and I suppose that applies to the whole piece. Anyway, life seemed to be breathed back in.

Mistakes I Made

by Pamela Painter

 

My new shrink wants me to talk about mistakes I made. He doesn’t use the word “mistake” but I know that’s what he wants to hear when he asks me to think about the past. I’m flat on my back in water-boarding position on a most uncomfortable chaise. It is our first appointment. I close my eyes, communing with my mistakes. Mistakes that bring me to tears. Not men, pets.

I tell my new shrink that as a child I was forbidden to have pets. All my friends had pets. My cousins had pets. I used to visit their pets. Then after college, I had pets. The three kittens were my first obvious mistake that morphed into two litters I didn’t have the heart to give away or drown. I moved out and didn’t leave a forwarding address. I think about those tiny cats. I tell him the fish were boring, but easy. I took them into the office. But the snake. Whatever was I thinking when I walked out of the pet store with a Ball Python the size of John Wayne’s belt. I knew immediately that it was a mistake. I refused to name it, unwilling to allow even simple syllables to give it definition, before I returned it to the Pet Store and its dinner supply of mice. I hear the tears in my voice as I remember the parrot whose lush voice was that of Maria Callas, except for all her toxic swear words. Here, tears spring to my eyes.

I sit up abruptly, swing my feet to the floor. I say, “The tiny miniature horse was…” My new shrink holds up his hand. He tells me there will be no charge for this exploratory session, but the session is over and alas he is booked solid for the next year. I leave. You are waiting for me. It might be a mistake to tell you about my pets.

 

PAMELA PAINTER is the award-winning author of five story collections, and co-author, with Anne Bernays, of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Five Points, FlashBoulevard, Harper’s, Ploughshares, SmokeLong Quarterly, New Flash Fiction Review, among others, and in numerous anthologies, such as New Micro. Painter’s stories have been presented on National Public Radio, and on the YouTube channel, CRONOGEO, and her work has been staged by WordTheatre in Los Angeles, London and New York. Painter’s newest collection of stories is Fabrications: New and Selected Stories from Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

I’ve never been to a shrink, though I’ve known several, and I like the possibility of confounding them. I do not know why. I imagined the shrink in this tiny story hearing too much already and not wanting to get to “the miniature horse.” And I don’t know why I continued the story past the narrator’s exit from the shrink’s office. Perhaps she has learned something from this session–that some things are better kept to oneself. Perhaps.

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

02/26 • D Angelo
03/04 • Steve Cushman
03/11 • Rita Taryan
03/18 • Jessica Purdy
03/25 • TBD