M

Month: December 2023

Two Micro Fictions

by Trish Hopkinson

 

Expectancy

 

It’s a bluebird day—finally, after weeks of heavy sky, smoke from the fires on the coast, then welcome early fall rain. I watch as you fuss with the sprinklers, using a compressor to clear the lines, just in time for the first freeze. I tell you, there’s no way I could take care of the house if you were gone. I tell you, but then again, you don’t know how to access our bank account. We laugh a little, but there’s dread there too. It’s likely one of us will go first—I’m four years older, but the average life expectancy of a man is 76, a woman 81. The math is not in my favor, or is it? Leaving you to mourn or mourning you, both options leave a sour taste in my mouth—like expired milk before its poured into the drain. Neither of us believe in heaven—mythical pearled gates guarded by winged things. We cling to the earth as if this life is our last, dig our heels into black vineyard mud, revel in the fresh decay of gold and crimson leaves before they turn to rot.

 

I Am Meg White

 

I am Meg White’s pinky finger. I am her black dip drumsticks leaning in the corner, kit sitting quiet. Her red-and-white hangs wrinkled in my prefrontal cortex. The stage where she last stood is my hippocampus, empty but for Jack’s shadow. I am Meg’s silhouette. I am the ghostly thump of her bass, the silent chime of her ride cymbal. Her drum key hangs ’round my neck like an ex-lover’s engagement ring. Her last name hovers in a speech bubble over Jack’s head. Her first name hovers in a speech bubble over my head. Meg, I say. Meg. Her voice makes no sound. She is missing from the comic strip. Stripped from the stage, from the pages like a hero foiled. Meg’s last appearance was just not appearing. She sat quiet while Jack called it off.

 

Trish Hopkinson is a poet and advocate for the literary arts. You can find her online at SelfishPoet.com and in western Colorado where she runs the regional poetry group Rock Canyon Poets and is a board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild. Her poetry has been published in Sugar House Review, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, and The Penn Review; and her most recent book A Godless Ascends is forthcoming from Lithic Press in March 2024. Hopkinson happily answers to labels such as atheist, feminist, and empty nester; and enjoys traveling, live music, and craft beer.

 

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 two pieces?

“Expectancy” is a true story. My husband and I have been happily married for 26 years and I attribute our success to how we divide responsibilities. This also means we are pretty dependent on the talents of each other! “I Am Meg White” is inspired by the band The White Stripes. I’ve always been a huge fan of their music, but never was able to see them perform live. I had tickets once, but they canceled the show due to Meg suffering from acute anxiety. I have always admired her and just sort of felt like she deserved more of the lime light. I’m still a Jack White fan, but I’m a feminist first. I wish Meg the best for whatever she is up to now.

CNF: To the Hero on the J Train that Crashed on the Williamsburg Bridge 28 Years Ago

by Betsy Robinson

 

Although I’ve never seen you, I’ve admired you for 28 years. I wrote a play about what you did. It was never produced but it was published in 2005 and I thought that was the end of it.

But you haunt me.

Until this year, I’d never told anyone about you, and when I did, it came out in a flood, and the person I told said that she ran a theater workshop and they could do a reading so I could finally hear the play; it’s called The Hearing; perhaps that would make you smile. Last month actors did a sit-down presentation without rehearsal, and afterwards I told your story that inspired the play, and the few listeners were so quiet, it was church, and, again, I thought I was done.

But I am not.

You don’t know me—nobody who was involved does—but I transcribed your deposition hearing about the Williamsburg Bridge subway crash that left you maimed in ways I can only imagine from the way the voices of the other people in the room changed when you came in and they helped situate you—I assumed in a wheelchair—and you started telling your story:

You were a messenger working for what you called “the Methodist clinic” and you were in the front car of the train that crashed into another one early that morning so long ago. I don’t know what your injuries were, but I know your story by heart. The simple way you told it broke my heart and then made me want to bow to you.

Likewise the MTA examiner and the attorney representing you got even softer when they heard your soft voice. The events took a long time to come out and sometimes it felt like it hurt to tell them, as if you were embarrassed to be there suing the MTA, as if you were completely unaware of your own story. You told where you were sitting. You told how some people were sleeping but you were awake and saw the other train hurtling towards yours. You told how you woke people up and made them get out of the car. And by the end, without ever claiming to be anything other than a simple messenger who was worried about losing his job at what I finally deduced must have been a methadone clinic, we all—your audience, in the room with you and invisible me listening to you on headphones and typing your story in my Upper West Side apartment—we all realized what we were hearing. You saved everybody. All alone, you saved them with no thought to your own safety.

You “drug” them out of that car and led them to safety.

I don’t know what your injuries were but they must have been bad, from the sound of the examiner and attorney’s voices; I did hundreds of those deposition transcripts and I never heard anybody sound like they did as they responded to your story. I don’t know what your name is or if you’re still alive. But last month I finally got to tell a bunch of people at a writers’ workshop that you are a real person, a true hero. You will never know how you affected me, who wasn’t there, and subsequently anybody who learns your story through me. It’s not a lot of people. I’m as simple a messenger as you were.

But perhaps some more people I will never see will read my letter to you. And then your message will continue: to take care of each other.

 

Betsy Robinson writes funny fiction about flawed people. Her novel The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg is winner of Black Lawrence Press’s 2013 Big Moose Prize and was published in September 2014. This was followed by the February 2015 publication of her edit of The Trouble with the Truth by Edna Robinson, Betsy’s late mother, by Simon & Schuster/Infinite Words. She published revised ebook and paperback editions of her Mid-List Press award-winning first novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove, a tragicomedy about falling down the rabbit hole of the U.S. of A. in the 1970s. Her articles have been published all over the place and she has two new novels that will soon launch. Betsy is an editor, fiction writer, journalist, and playwright. www.BetsyRobinson-writer.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 “To the Hero on the J Train that Crashed on the Williamsburg Bridge 28 Years Ago”?

I tend to be both fast and slow: I write fast when inspired—then revise for years. I wrote a 9-page play called The Hearing pretty soon after transcribing the seminal deposition mentioned in this essay (I even lifted some of the deposition questions right out of the real hearing). I sent the play around and nobody accepted it for production, but a few years after the rejections, it was published by Epiphany magazine. Then it was 28 years until the next step in a project I didn’t know had a next step. As I say in the essay, this year, 2023, the play finally had a reading. Finis! Right? Nope. In the course of my daily quest for article publishers, I ran into the “Letter to a Stranger” department of Off Assignment, and, completely out of character—I’m imminently practical with a full computer of work that’s already written and looking for publication—I wrote this essay in one sitting . . . and Off Assignment rejected it. So I added it to the vast roster of “work in search of a publisher.” When I read the specs for Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, I thought, gee, compressing the life of an event that took place 28 years ago qualifies. So I cut the letter to the specified word count and changed the title. I’m so thrilled to put this hero’s story into our world which so badly needs it right now.

Still Life

by Rachel Rodman

 

Ever since its domestication, and perhaps before, humanity has admired the horse.

For nearly as long, we have wondered: How does it move?

It is a famously difficult problem.

Beneath, as they race, all is a blur.

Some say they advance as jellyfish do in water. Tentacles assist their forward motion, even as the rest of the body contracts.

Others have hypothesized that they are like kangaroos. Up they leap, two-footed, before returning to earth.

On the cave walls of our ancestors, they are pictured with wings.

Still others have maintained that their appendages are unlike anything we have characterized before: infinitely branching and therefore uncountable.

How else might the animal locomote so beautifully?

It is the 1870s now, however. With motion photography comes the opportunity to settle the question.

It is a delicate and time-consuming science; one cannot be impatient.

I am impatient, all the same.

Current theories favor legs rather than tentacles.

(It is possible to measure the sounds that a horse makes, passing by. Based on these echoes–clop, clop–modern investigators have made certain inferences.)

Legs.

But how many?

I have capture—yes!—the horse in profile.

Now, with my zoopraxiscope, I control the rate at which the pictures appear.

And beneath…?

“Four,” I whisper.

 

Rachel Rodman is the author of two collections: Art is Fleeting and Exotic Meats + Inedible Objects. More at www.rachelrodman.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 “Still Life”?

For a very long time, we didn’t understand how horses run. According to one view, horses went at a “flying gallop,” all four legs extended, all four in the air at once. (See, for illustration, a painting from 1821 and another from 1794.)

Advances in photography in the 1870s made it clear that horses do not move this way. When all four legs are off the ground, they are bunched beneath the horse’s body, not extended.

In this story, I exaggerate the degree to which horses were once misunderstood.

Uselessness

by Helen Beer

 

Sylvia found herself of late searching for words, names, objects, meaning; it all felt so futile. She’d thrown herself into decluttering and cleaning at first, to burn excess energy. It had only driven her to frustration, as the tasks provided little challenge. And while she managed to adhere to a steady schedule—wake, eat, dress, exercise, eat again, walk, read, eat again, disrobe, shower, sleep—nothing felt obligatory or necessary, even simple sustenance. Her calendar was empty, save for the dental appointment six months off, and the hair cut six weeks out.

The colleagues she’d met with virtually, daily for the last few years, were in her rearview mirror now. She hadn’t yet decided whether she missed them or felt relieved they were no longer staring at her through a screen—and her, them. She knew there was no longer a reason to look presentable from the waist up, though, and this simple detail also left her ambivalent; she found she missed the planning of it, if not the execution. Her desk was far less cluttered, which left her feeling lost. Gone were the multiple monitors, open to Excel, Teams, Outlook, Salesforce, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and multiple search engines. Gone also were expectations, goals, commitments, basic interactions.

Was it enough to simply wave at neighbors while out on one of her daily walks? Was this enough socialization to forestall the inevitable impacts of aging—memory loss and depression among them? She knew marriage was an advantage, if the studies were to be believed; in her case, she wondered if it really was.

She couldn’t forget the pleading demands for “anniversary sex,” and the reminder of how many months had passed since they’d last engaged in anything remotely intimate. He’d been very accurate in his recordkeeping, which both saddened and angered her. She was left feeling coerced into something for which she had absolutely no desire. She gave into the guilt, faked the orgasm, and paid for the dry humping with days of stinging pain every time she peed. The consolation prize was less sullenness and muttered commentary from him, though that proved temporary. His birthday was coming up.

She arrived at the notion that longevity itself would be a curse—unless she made significant changes to her life. What was missing in her long-awaited retirement, in her stale marriage, was desire, and a sense of belonging to anyone or anything. Her own retirement income was anemic, owing to part-time wages during childrearing years. Her worth, her pragmatic usefulness, was greater if she died—a fact he’d stated to her more than once.

The one thing she’d counted on to retain some semblance of control in her life was her right to vote; fascist gerrymandering state legislators robbed her of that.

She felt hidden away in a box—a very small, dark box—though she knew she could escape at any time, in theory. It was finding a reason to do so that eluded her. Her thoughts played out like a bad movie with even worse subtitles, with horrific scenarios driving the plot. Walking down the stairs, she imagined a fall, with a compound fracture of her leg or a broken neck. Driving to the store, she imagined a head-on collision, decapitation, crowds of gawking onlookers. Climbing out of the tub, she imagined a slip, a cracked skull, copious amounts of blood. She found herself, as the gory scenes unfolded in her head, wondering if he’d take care of her or, if she were gone, if he’d miss her—or if anyone would.

The box, she concluded, was at least familiar territory.

 

Helen Beer is the author of numerous short stories, poems, essays, and feature screenplays, some of which have actually seen the light of day—through print and online publication, as well as contest honors—while some remain hidden under a rock somewhere. She shares her life with a husband, three cats, a horse, and an adventurous human son. She admits to deriving an inordinate amount of therapeutic benefit from mucking horse poop.

 

See what happens when you click below.

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

This short, intense piece was a long time coming. How long? It’s been two years since the spirit moved me, as I was so thoroughly stuck in working-as-distraction mode throughout the pandemic, and beyond, in a remote position. I thought retirement would magically flip a switch and release me from literary constipation. Alas, it took a break from social media, giving up ice cream, a daily ritual of mucking horse poop and sweeping the barn aisles and, lastly, a bit of [possibly unhealthy] obsessing over catastrophizing as a concept, amidst a backdrop of a world swirling out of control. One day I sat down, opened Word, and it flowed. I set it aside for a week, made a few minor edits, and thought, “Huh. That wasn’t as painful as passing a kidney stone.”

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