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Month: July 2022

Three Micros

by Kirsten Kaschock

 

Dry Crackers

He asked me, and I did it. There is the seduction of someone needing, you supplying. In this way, I am a reluctant pusher. Think about the babbling, the ma ma ma ma: this is what distress sounds like. The response alleviates—a breast, a hug, a needed change. If only we could get clean again. Once I drove 1000 miles to be rid of an old life that followed me, arriving some months later like a dog lost in a cross-country move. Those dogs are always retrievers, often golden, but what is the shine? Do they truly secure the family? A front door without dog is possibly fraught with all that’s outside. I should mention, at this point, the agony of the pre-pubescent boy who has no idea the animal was left behind by design. And this, because the parents could not leave the child or, more to the point, each other. In more terrible universes than this one, mothers abandon their families to start new lives in strange parts. Daughters of these women sometimes grow into novelists. And the leavers? I’ve heard stories. Bands of waitresses, living in dilapidated Victorians in Buffalo, in New Orleans, sharing tips like hits of acid. Happy hinge-less spinsters careening off ropeswings hung from the Appalachian canopy into rivers like starlight. When my son begged me for a sixth lullaby, I crumbled dry crackers—the kind served with Chesapeake chowder—into his mouth, intensely open as a bird’s. I said, “That’s enough now. You’ve had enough.”
 

Danger, Will

He wasn’t thinking. He left the robot in the yard because the robot was his friend, the robot was a constant, because robots cannot die. All should have been well, the tent zipped. Apparently, this was unexpected weather for September, usually drier. A swamp formed in the low sparse grass beneath the mulberry where he’d pitched camp and slept the whole weekend. Robot too. Robot was comforting, not soft like Jigs the elephant but a welcome companion, what with his pulsing abdominal light and clock to tell when they’d reached midnight as a crew, always a tent goal. Monday was the first day of school and there’d been a fuss on Sunday afternoon—he’d been rushed from the yard for shopping and Robot was forgot. That night a monsoon moved through, but he was not awake for it though thunder tended to wake him, the lightning a strobe he would watch and time. He had four separate notebooks where his charts lived. His bedroom was way up on the third floor, and Sunday night he’d huddled in a dormer beneath brand new Star Wars sheets, dreaming of weapons of light, of mind-made motion. He woke up, got dressed, ate right triangles of French toast, drank pulpless juice, and walked to school on his own. There’d been an extensive negotiation. Mom knew that he knew not to stop, not to dawdle to pick up artifacts from the gutter along the curb, and not to talk to anyone but the two crossing guards, Miss Cheryl Foultz and Mr. Dave Trombley, a tall man other kids called Trombone or even Bone but he did not because that was not the man’s name. The worst part of the whole ordeal was the mud. When he got home needing to impart to Robot the awful day that had followed the triumphant walk—the teacher’s screech and lunchtime pandemonium, his stammer, the snickers he’d hoped would remain in last year’s grade—his act of neglect announced itself loudly through static like an intercom in the brain. He ran out back and unzipped the tent only to find Robot dark and frozen, shorted with sludge. Jigs was there too, his faded grayness soiled with seepage from a poorly-seamed nylon corner, as if there’d been, or he’d had, an accident. The stuffed elephant would be just fine if a little lumpier, tomorrow wafting the chemical smell of mountain breeze. Robot, however, was gone. He knew immediately that this belonged in the category of mistake he could neither undo nor repair. Some friends can survive the machine, while some friends are themselves machines, and thus cannot submit.
 

Game Boys

Boy boy boy, goose. We played that game with those words although boys, if you look deeply, are, in fact, geese. They arrow away from cold. They are loud in groups. They have strong necks. I would tap the three on their heads as I passed them—crossed-legged and nervous—then squeal as the chosen chased me. I could’ve easily made it once around, I’d longer legs at the time. The oldest was such a good sport, not spoiling the thing, all the while knowing I was under-running, that the pleasure was mostly his brothers’ plus a bit of his own pleasure in theirs—and then mine, folded in but always temporary. He would play over and over, as much as they asked, and when I had to go annotate or write or rewrite or revise, he played some more. So warm was our nest. Between toddler and child, neck and shoulder, son and mother, boy and goose, there should be more in-between spaces, and more seasons. On the other side of the room, I worked on my dissertation. Near the end of those years, I came upon an undertheorized definition of melancholia: a state where wise and startled limbs unfold to propel a boy from floor into pursuit across the surface of a crick mottled with leaves bright as buttercup, his webbed toes drawing furrows in the clear brown ale before he lifts up above the trees, to be lost to distance or the mist. And then another, and then another.

 

Kirsten Kaschock, a 2019 Pew Fellow in the Arts and Summer Literary Seminars grand prize winner, is the author of five poetry books: Unfathoms (Slope Editions), A Beautiful Name for a Girl (Ahsahta Press), The Dottery (University of Pittsburgh Press), Confessional Science-fiction: A Primer (Subito Press), and Explain This Corpse (winner of Blue Lynx Prize from Lynx House Press). Coffee House Press published her debut speculative novel—Sleight. Recent work can be read at Crazyhorse, Thrush, and Conduit.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

I rarely tell lies in this deeply autobiographical way on the page. My fictions usually stray further afield, but as I get ready for my last child to leave the house… I’ve been thinking about the complex array of feelings being the mother of boys has thrust upon me and about the wild negotiations of personhood that being my child must entail for them. These three pieces are the result of those musings.

The Butterfly Children

by Nancy Stohlman

 

I’d never heard of the butterfly children before I had one. Sometimes the angels descend with trumpets and announce the fruit of your womb and such. Sometimes it’s far more subtle.

The baby arrived too early, a tiny larva so delicate you could hold her in your hand, skin like a September peach inside a glass chrysalis, half in the dream world, always. Thank you for saving me she said when she was old enough to speak. But she must have known what was coming: a pupa with so many legs eating to satiate a pain that would never subside. At the time I called it moody. At the time I called it a phase.

People think of a cocoon as something peaceful, a sweet little bag of silk, a quiet transformation behind closed doors. Maybe that’s how it is for some, but the winds whipped to hurricane level, garbage cans flying around like cannons, and all I could do was take cover, grab my non-butterfly children and hide them behind a parked car to shield them. I tried to watch your transformation, I wanted to bear witness so you wouldn’t have to be alone again, but I had to look away—your face ransacked, wings ripping through that delicate peach skin. If I told you spears of light stabbed the sky would you believe me? Don’t look I yelled! For fuck’s sake don’t look!

Once when my child was little we traveled high into the mountains of Mexico to see the seventh generation of monarch butterflies complete their migration. Inside the forest temple, millions of wings fluttered open and closed in strange rhythm. Open. Close. Open. Close. Every trunk coated with a living, velvet bark, the forest floor thick with soft, dead bodies and tissue paper wings. In the silence, as the butterflies alighted on my child’s nose and ears with their strange legs and eyelash kisses—I should have known then, shouldn’t I?

And after the hurricane winds died down I found her wet, tired. Crying. Her delicate skin had become diaphanous wings like the most intricate stained glass, her eyes were spun sugar. I thought I would be beautiful, she said. Who will love me like this?

The butterfly children are born twice. Once to you, and once away from you. The butterfly children come to break our hearts, break them open. You cannot stop metamorphosis. You can only get out of the way.

The butterfly becomes a butterfly only after crisis, after a transformation both violent and profound. You are forced to watch your baby, dragged away. You do not get to say goodbye. What remains is beautiful and strange. The butterfly child finds its way into glorious adulthood, lands like good luck on the noses of babies and puppies. It never speaks of what happened before. But you know. You stop yourself from saying: you stole my baby! to this glorious creature. Because sometimes you can still see the larva’s face in there, smiling, now always smiling.

 

Nancy Stohlman is an award-winning author, performer, and all-around rabble-rouser. Her book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (2020), won a 2021 Reader Views Gold Award and is releasing as an audiobook 2022. Her other books include After the Rapture (March 2023), Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, and The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, among others. Her work has been anthologized widely, appearing in the Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019, as well as adapted for both the stage and screen. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and around the world. www.nancystohlman.com

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

This story came to me while on a solo road trip from Arizona to Colorado. Muse visitations are not always convenient! I was forced to keep repeating the story out loud over and over for nearly an hour until I finally pulled over at a rest stop and wrote it all down.

Reading by Ghost Light

by Robert Scotellaro

 

It’s astonishing how luminous, how sinewy, in recollection, their light can be. An ex looms up through the floorboards, brings a horror movie script for me to reread. She scrapes two butter knives together by my ear: an eerie sound effect perhaps. The words blur.

An old army buddy glows his way out of a heating duct, a scroll in hand. It’s disconcerting because of his low candlepower and the way the scroll keeps curling back into itself, its muscle memory beyond my capacity to tame it.

My mother’s ghost memory slips out from behind the drapes shimmering with a menu in hand. There is the scent of cigarettes and oven grease. The text is in hieroglyphic profusion. I recognize a few of the animals. The blue plate special looks a little sketchy.

My father, incandescent in a wrinkled blue suit, brings a Book of Facts that aren’t. Held out in the leather vise of a baseball glove from my youth. The book tells something about the social habits of fast flying insects he’s highlighted, or the primary punctuation marks of some arcane dead language of affection. It’s hard to tell them apart. I turn the page. The small wind it creates, blows out all the lightbulbs.

 

Robert Scotellaro’s work has been included in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Maryland Literary Review, Gargoyle, Matter Press, New World Writing, Best Small Fictions 2016, 2017, and 2021, Best Microfiction 2020, and elsewhere. He is the author of seven chapbooks, several books for children, and five flash fiction collections. He was the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry and the Blue Light Book Award for his fiction. His flash collection, What Are the Chances? (Press 53) was a finalist for the 2020 Big Other Book Award for fiction. A new book of flash triptychs, Ways to Read the World (Scantic Press) and a chapbook of flash and micro stories, God in a Can (Bamboo Dart Press) are scheduled for release in 2022. He has, along with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Robert is one of the founding donors to The Ransom Flash Fiction Collection at the University of Texas, Austin. He lives in San Francisco. Visit him at www.robertscotellaro.com.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

This story started as a title. I was thinking how significant “recollections,” often filtered and reframed, come to us unexpectedly in a certain light. I wrote down: Reading by Ghost Light in a notebook. Many months later I used that title as a launching point for this piece, thinking how these memories, in a way, are ghost-like visitations.

Submarine Duty

by Robert McBrearty

 

He read the notice informing him of his assignment. No, not submarine duty! He would fight on land and on the sea if needed, but not below the sea. No one came back. He would die a horrible death trapped and running out of breath or the pressure would explode his organs from inside. He ran into the tiny kitchen of the apartment. Mother, Mother! They’ve given me submarine duty! She raised a dish towel to her face. No one comes back, she said. Her knees gave out and she crumpled to the floor. He ran into the living room where his father sat on a large brown armchair. He was a gaunt man with thinning hair. Before the war, he had written poetry. They had not wanted him in the war. Now he mostly just sat and stared. Father, they’ve given me submarine duty and Mother has fallen to the floor in the kitchen. Get me a beer, his father said.

Before he was to report in for duty, the war ended. He ran into the living room. Father, the war is over and there will be no submarine duty! Get me a beer, his father said. He ran into his mother’s bedroom. She had taken to the bed after she had learned of his submarine duty. Mother, the war is over, he said. She did not stir. Her face was a terrible whitish blue color. He felt her carotid artery. Nothing.

He ran back into the living room. Father, Mother is dead! Get me a beer, his father said. Don’t you care, don’t you care that Mother is dead? His father’s lips trembled faintly. To care about one thing is to care about everything, he said.

You care about your beer! he shouted. What if I told you there was no beer? His father’s eyes grew wide and panicky. With unsteady frail arms he raised himself halfway out of his chair. He whispered hoarsely, Please not that. Please don’t tell me there is no beer.

 

Robert Garner McBrearty is the author of five books of fiction, mostly recently When I Can’t Sleep, published by Matter Press. His stories have appeared in many places, including in the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, StoryQuarterly, Fiction, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, and previously in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

The story began as a visualization, as if the characters were on stage. I saw a gaunt older man sitting in an armchair staring vacantly, utterly detached, while a son and a wife move around him in a small, cramped apartment. That visualization stayed with me, haunted me, until other elements of the story fell into place, the war, the call to submarine duty. I often like to use a repeated line in a story and when he says, “Bring me a beer” I knew that that line would run through the story like a refrain, comical on one hand but sad, too. The compressed form seemed just right for the piece, with the compressed, shut-in setting, the references to submarines with their compressed space, the man’s compressed spirit. I wanted the son to provide a contrast in his will to live, in his urgency to reawaken his father.

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