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Month: June 2022

The Rejected Jurors

by Molly Gaudry

 

After they were not selected from the venire panel, the rejected jurors went out for brunch in Oyster Bay. Ab accepted the invitation because she had nothing better to do and because one of her favorite pastimes lately was observing random people interacting. After a second round of mimosas for the entire party, she learned that the young father directly across from her had spent his summer learning to sweet pickle meats, that his Australian wife had been a leading aircraftwoman for the Royal Australian Air Force before she met him. But that was back in his grad school days (which he offered, Ab supposed, because she had mentioned that she was in grad school studying poetry). Ab learned that the young father and his wife were avid outdoorspeople and that their daughter excelled, of all things, at making a bird’s mouth—the inside angle of a chopped notch that received the edge of another piece of wood. Across from Ab and to the young father’s right sat a speech therapist who told them the useless fact (her words, not Ab’s) that Oyster Bay was the site of Teddy Roosevelt’s grave. The speech therapist specialized, Ab learned, in voicoids, which were vowel or vowel glides devoid of oral friction, like “bouy” not “beauty.” She and Ab got into a conversation about dipthongs, which Ab admitted she only knew about because she had long-ago decided that she liked the sound of the word dipthong and that the bisociation it occasioned for her—dipping thongs in wax, as if making candles out of underpants—was the kind of stimulus word that helped her best when working from word association prompts (another she liked—not a dipthong, simply bisociative—was beer and skittles). So she was getting her MFA in poetry, she said, but, as she often shared in mixed company, she also wrote YA novels under a pen name, which was not true but which was a lot more interesting to strangers than what she actually did, which was write experimental constraint-based poems. On the young father’s left was a marble worker who specialized in jalee work by day but spent her nights dancing the Jaleo. Her partner of fifty years, although they’d only been able to get married a decade ago (“Congratulations!” “Thank you!”), played the castanets while she danced. The dance itself, she explained, was a solo affair. Next to her and at the head of their table was the eldest member of their party, by appearances anyway. He was a cameist from a long line of cameists. Mostly, he did repairs. Unlike his grandfather and great-grandfather, he didn’t make cameos himself. But this was all right, he said. He enjoyed restorations and spending his time so intimately involved with the fine craftsmanship of past cameists. The final member of their dining party, the youngest of the group by far, was a rapper who had recently begun dabbling, she said, in crunk. No one asked what this was, and she did not offer an explanation unprompted as the others had. She had one earbud in anyway, and Ab assumed that although the girl had agreed to come with them for a bite that didn’t necessarily mean she wanted to learn everyone’s whole life story or share her own. All in all, the young father offered, they were a surprisingly artistic bunch, and suddenly Ab felt rejected anew. She wondered just then, Who knew how their own verdict might have turned out? Would it have been the same or different from the jury’s that had, in fact, been selected that morning?

 

Molly Gaudry is the author of the verse novels Desire: A Haunting and We Take Me Apart, which was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award and shortlisted for the PEN/Osterweil. She is an assistant professor at Stony Brook University and core faculty at the Yale Writers’ Workshop.

 

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

This piece was inspired by the basket ingredients from Chopped 45.1. While watching cooking shows like Chopped or Beat Bobby Flay, I’ve often wondered about how to turn the chefs’ prompts into writing prompts and I think I may have finally figured out how. While watching this Chopped episode online, I looked up the basket ingredients and chose alternative “ingredients” that fell within five dictionary entries above or below. So venison, lacy cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and bird’s nest from the appetizer basket became venire panel, leading aircraftswoman, sweet pickle, and bird’s mouth. Of all the surrounding dictionary entries, I chose those that I was unfamiliar with and thought I might learn more about simply by writing about them. From the entrée basket in this episode, oyster mushrooms, blueberry vodka, bison, and stinging nettles became Oyster Bay, voicoid, bisociation, and stimulus word. From the dessert basket, beer flour, jalapeno, camel milk, and crunchy fruit candy became beer and skittles, Jaleo, cameist, and crunk.

Spread the Sheets

by Lydia Gwyn

 

Let the hard prey of the land hang loose from your mouth. Let the water swell to fill the hole. My son, you dig and dig, past the leafy, loamy layer and into the clay. Red mud covers your hands and the shovel handle. It covers your tennis shoes, the legs of your jeans. Earthly palms release rocks. You know the ones, can tell the geodes, round and white as new potatoes. Let what you knew as a child swim back to you–the pleasure of finding. How your hands would shake there in the creek with the overturned rocks at the sight of a salamander waiting in a wet leaf. You might find frog eggs, like soft eyeballs, or you might find another kind of salamander with the red earth pressed into the pillow of its memory. Stonefly larva, a minnow’s pin-pricked gills. All the fallen things of the forest softening like bread in the water. Let the world tell you what you already know, that you can be lonely and enjoy being alone. That you can make your bed and be in it at the same time, blankets ballooning over you. That you can be almost fully-grown and spend a day digging a hole and when you’re done feel the need to return to it again and again, peering into the water that bubbles up. What will come, what will come? My beautiful boy in your father’s blue work shirt with the sun on your back, a curl of cold inside you.

 

Lydia Gwyn’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review, F(r)iction, Kaleidocoped, JMWW, Elm Leaves Journal, The Florida Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of two flash fiction collections: You’ll Never Find Another (Matter Press, 2021) and Tiny Doors (Another New Calligraphy, 2018). She lives in East Tennessee with her family. Find her online at lydiagwyn.wordpress.com.

 

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

This piece was inspired by my 14-year-old son and the day he was tasked with digging a hole on our property for a pond.

When my husband and I bought our first home, it ticked nearly all the boxes of everything we needed and wanted. It had hardwood floors, it had enough acreage that we could have a decent summer garden, it had enough bedrooms that we could spare one for a sculpting studio for my husband, and it was in the woods. However, it didn’t have the one thing my son really wanted–a creek or a pond.

Not too many years before we purchased the house, we rented a cabin on 20-forested acres in New Jersey. The property had a creek and a small waterfall, as well as a large pond that was full of bullfrogs, green frogs, and eastern spotted newts. My son spent every chance he could, wading in the water looking for frogs and salamanders.

We decided soon after buying our home, we’d put in a pond. We located a couple of good spots for this in the woods, and my son broke ground on the future pond one summer afternoon. Digging a hole that large is hard, backbreaking labor, so my husband and son took turns working on it. About an hour into the first day of digging, my son noticed water from underground pooling up to fill in the hole. He worked on the hole for hours that day, returning to it after dinner and then again the next day. He thought for certain he’d found some sort of aquifer or spring.

We’re still working on the pond. The hole is much bigger now and underground water continues to fill it. I wrote this piece not too many weeks after my son started digging the pond. There was some about that day and my son’s excitement over finding water underground that I wanted to capture in a poem or a flash piece.

Don’t Kill Another Elephant. Don’t!

by Paul Beckman

 

We owned nothing of value. If a thief broke into our project apartment he would look around and leave.

I had a Brownie Hawkeye camera with a shutter button on the right and another button on the left to lift and get time exposures, I kept it hidden because it was my most prized possession.

My older brother had a slide rule that he kept in his shirt pocket and whipped out to figure costs or percentages, and how much longer I’d have to live. He used it daily and slept with it hidden away in his pillowcase.

Our kid sister had a collection of different color hair bows and alternated with her Betsy Wetsy doll. She didn’t hide any of her treasures but kept them displayed on her three-legged dresser propped up by two books from a twenty-year-old set from the encyclopedia.

Our mother had two things she valued over us kids. The first was a Ouija Board that she used nightly with some of the letters rubbed off and the other was a gray ceramic elephant she kept on the bookcase. It was three inches high, and she had won it at a carnival when she was in high school. We would watch her dust it daily and set it on the kitchen table with her smokes and Ouija Board or solitaire cards, Then her sister Lizzy went on a cruise and brought my mother back another elephant. Soon she had a collection from the vacations her sister took. There was something about elephants that fascinated my mother.

My older brother and I fought constantly, mostly verbal, but occasionally shoving and hitting. I pushed him because he had bad breath and was standing in front of me only inches away. Mom’s elephants tumbled over and one landed and cracked a leg off, we were both scared of the beating we were expecting and worked together with Elmer’s Glue and a band-aid to put it back together. We put them back on the bookshelf and each grabbed an issue of the encyclopedia and sat reading waiting for mom to come home from a job interview.

She had one foot in the living room when she saw the elephants out of order, and she spotted the band-aid and walked over and picked it up and cradled it against her chest and we could see the tears forming. She didn’t speak to us kids but went to her bedroom and changed into a housedress and when she came back, all red-eyed, she took out our dishes and told our sister to set the table while she opened the can of ravioli and ripped up lettuce and sliced a cuke and a radish. She then mixed the salad with mayonnaise and Oysterettes.

The next morning mom still was not speaking to me or my brother but had our lunch bags ready for school with a pb&j sandwich cut on a diagonal and one cookie each from her Friday baking.

My brother told her that he was innocent, and it was all my fault. I was listening in from the hallway and heard her say she suspected as much. “That’s why we can’t have nice things around the house.”

The following week we picked up our sister from kindergarten and walked her home jabbering nastily at each other all the way, There was a note on the door telling us to get the housekey from the lady next door and in large all capital printing. DON’T KILL ANOTHER ELEPHANT. DON’T!

 

Paul Beckman’s latest flash collection, Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press) was a finalist for the 2019Indie Book Awards. Some of his stories appeared in Spelk, Connotation Press, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, WINK, Jellyfish Review, The Wax Paper, Monkey, and The Lost Balloon. He had a story selected for the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology Lineup and was shortlisted in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. He was nominated for 2021 Best of the Web. Paul earned his MFA from Bennington College and is a retired air traffic controller.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Don’t Kill Another Elephant. Don’t!”?

Three brothers, ages 4, 9, and 10 had moved from their apartment to the projects after the father abandoned their mother and them and they were only a couple of weeks away from having their furniture, as it was, put out on the curb when the mother got a letter saying there was an opening for their family in the Projects.

They moved in with the help of family and the mother spent her next few weeks crying, smoking, and disciplining her sons; especially the middle one who looked, sounded and acted like her ex-husband. The oldest was her first and only wanted to please. The youngest was cute and wanted to make people laugh. The middle child was a poster boy for middle children everywhere.

The 9 and 10-year-old fought every day and the 4-year-old looked at picture books.

The mother’s sister and best friend went on vacation and brought her sister back a ceramic elephant and a view master for the boys. The 9 and ten-year-olds fought over the view master, and how they looked at each other or stood too close or too far away and on their mother’s birthday her seven sisters threw her a party, and each one bought something elephant. This was the mother’s surprise party. The elephants were lined, tail to trunk, atop a rickety homemade bookshelf, and the mother dusted them weekly and was pleased to have her first collection.

This is the story of what ensued when the mother got home from her factory job in time to make dinner but immediately sensed a problem.

Down at the Cross Where my Savior Died

by John Dufresne

 

When my uncle Walter Ryan gave up drink—this was after the school department fired him for stealing linoleum tiles on top of everything else, and after his wife, Aunt Reba, ran off with my other uncle, Raymond Paradise–he planted all his whiskey bottles, Uncle Walter did, in the backyard, necks up, and pressed rubber dolls’ heads over their mouths, brown- and blue-eyed ones and an eerie eyeless few. The lesson of the doll-and-bottle garden, he told me, was this: Our Lord was buried for three days, and all that are in the grave shall hear His voice, and we, too, shall rise from the dead. And he asked me was I ready for the new morning. I told him I was ready to drive him to the V. A. hospital. It’s the second Tuesday, remember. Get your test results today. Uncle Walter put on his pork pie hat, his good T-shirt, the one that said, Repent Now! And in smaller letters: Say, Jesus, I’m a sinner. Please come upon my body and into my heart, soul, spirit, and mind! That afternoon we learned Uncle Walter had pancreatic cancer and had it bad. Well, that explains a couple of things, he told me, without elaborating. We drove to Sister Livinia Smith’s home on the Southside. In the truck, Uncle Walter told me how you can’t even be a decent derelict if you’re not drinking. The sign on Sister’s door said, PALMRED, CARDRED, TEALIEF, MINDRED. When he came on back out the house, Uncle Walter said we got one more stop. I told him how doctors are performing miracles these days. He told me not to blaspheme. At the Crosstown Lounge we ordered bourbon and Cokes. Uncle Walter took out his wallet and emptied it on the bar. Not much, a 1997 card calendar from Rudy’s Barber Shop; a photo of himself as a boy, holding up a thirty-pound channel cat; an old lotto ticket; seventeen dollars; a mildewed newspaper clipping which he unfolded. Was his mother’s obituary notice from the Clarion-Ledger. And a phone number on a Post-it note. He handed me the number. He said, You’ll call Reba when it’s time. I ordered two more. He said, Johnny, I thought as a sober man I’d have all this time on my hands.

 

 

John Dufresne is the author of two short story collections, The Way That Water Enters Stone and Johnny Too Bad, the novels Louisiana Power & Light, Love Warps the Mind a Little, both New York Times Notable Books of the Year, Deep in the Shade of Paradise, Requiem, Mass., No Regrets, Coyote, and I Don’t Like Where This Is Going and four books on writing. His stories have twice been named Best American Mystery Stories. He’s written the screenplays for The Freezer Jesus, To Live and Die in Dixie, Driftless, And for the web series Lucky Jay and two stage plays, Trailerville and Liv and Di.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Down at the Cross Where my Savior Died”?

I usually have a visual image in mind when I begin to write a story. In this case it was the sign hand painted on the door of Sister’s yellow shotgun shack in Monroe, Louisiana, where I had lived for a time. Nothing holds its secrets like the future, and the future is where we all go to die. So it’s a bit scary, and we’d like to know more about it. I needed a person other than Sister, and I found Walter, a man whose full-time job had been drinking. And now he’s out of work and needs to fill the time, and he has all those old whiskey bottles around. And then he gets the terrible news, and his new life is over before it has begun. And everything important is in that wallet.

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 September 15, 2022. Submit here.

Upcoming

08/01 • Christina Cook
08/08 • Kim Chinquee
08/15 • Michael Czyzniejewski
08/22 • Len Kuntz
08/29 • Thaddeus Rutkowski
09/05 • Candice May
09/12 • Bonnie Jo Campbell
09/19 • TBD