Our contributors give notes on their work. Updated regularly.
Lauren Becker | C.L. Bledsoe | Andrew Borgstrom | Katarina Boudreaux Jessie Carty | Jimmy Chen | Molly Gaudry | Roxane Gay | Marcelle Heath | B. J. Hollars | Dave Housley | Tara Laskowski | Valerie O’Riordan | Kenneth Pobo | Peter Rawlings | Tom Sheehan | Jeanne Sirotkin | Robert Swartwood | J.A. Tyler | Phoebe Wilcox | Christopher Woods
Lauren Becker,, “Girls.”
High school girls come in pairs. One is dominant. Always. I was painfully shy. I couldn’t talk to boys. I reviewed every stupid thing I ever said or did on an eternal loop in my head. (I’m the one who said n’est ce pas the way it looks when I tried out for a school play. I speak French fairly well now). The narrator is not shy; she’s selectively passive. No hidden meaning here: She is the one I would have liked to have been.
“Dating for Dinner.”
I had been out of work for awhile when I wrote this. A friend suggested the tactic for supplementing my food budget. She went so far as to make me a list of restaurants with the biggest portions, including Olive Garden. Blind dating for food sounds pretty creepy to me: The Tour of Italy sounds downright revolting. I’ll stick with Top Ramen.
C.L. Bledsoe, “The Garden.”
I resisted the footnote format for this story for a long time. Too David Foster Wallace-esque. Which isn’t to say I’m not a fan, but it’s kind of his defining thing. Also, he went and died on us, so it seems weirdly homage-like.
I love the idea of a garden, and have begun a couple, but I usually lose interest at a certain point. I consider this a real failing of character. I grew up on a farm, mind you, and can’t even seem to grow tomatoes. My wife, on the other hand, has a real aptitude for it. So it works out.
This story contains one of the truest lines I’ve ever written: He went back inside, poured himself a glass of wine, and returned (with the bottle) to the patio and drank the lion’s share of it, which, after forty years of teaching, was the closest Thurgood could come to crying. I like it because it displays the kind of faux-world-weary attitude I’ve so often encountered in teachers. It’s melodramatic while, at the same time, not taking itself at all seriously, just like many teachers I’ve known.
A couple years ago, I cranked out several stories in this vein–funny (I hope) sort of surreal pieces that I spent the next 2 or 3 years failing to find publishers for
Andrew Borgstrom, “Rotations.”
I have a shoulder fetish. My father is very good at math. Maybe he could teach math if he loses his job testing space shuttle engines. I once went to Fuddruckers, ordered a hamburger, and told them my name was Andrew. When my order was ready, they said, “Julius, your hamburger is cooked.” People called me Julius for awhile.
Katarina Boudreaux, “Covering Rest.”
I wrote this piece after deciding to recover my sofa. Now — you may wonder — why not purchase a new one? The simple truth is I’m ridiculously sentimental. I’ve had it forever, and it was passed down through the family, and well…it’s MY sofa. So after pricing the cost of recovering and deciding that even though it is MY sofa, it’s not $1500 dollars worth of MY sofa, I decided that I would just do it myself since, after all, I am capable with a glue gun and scissors.
I’ll not comment on the capabilty part, but I will comment on the process of recovering. When my hands were bloodied up by removing fifty year old staples with a scredriver and hammer, I started thinking about people from ten years ago that left me feeling pretty much the same way. And that led to me thinking about how much time I napped on the sofa with the green and gold stripes, laughed with friends long lost on it…hauled it from state to state, place to place. And though I didn’t actually tear up, I could have. It’s MY sofa, and it carries the people and experiences that are part and parcel to being someone’s sofa.
Some of those people are still around; some aren’t. The whole process was painful and cathartic and well…why did I recover the sofa? After 12 years of serious abuse from one cat, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. And obviously, I couldn’t ignore some of the issues living in the stripes, some of the memories that needed to be put to rest had been hanging out in there for too long.
Jimmy Chen, “Send, Sent.”
As the opening refrain might suggest, “Send, Sent” was written for Northville Review, a tactic which may be seen as an attempt to ingratiate oneself with the journal’s geographic coordinates, though I was sincerely inspired by this small town—at least my highly mediated interface with it via Google maps, which I perused for material. I have a habit of randomly launching Google street view’s tiny orange man in the middle of nowhere. I’m obsessed with the lives, however fictional, of other people. The Universal Condition is a cheesy subject, but I got a lot of pasta for that cheese. Describe any quotidian scene, and it’s probably happening. This idea of fiction being statistically, invariably “real” drives my writing. Northville Connecticut has eluded even Google street view, and I was left with only the grainy satellite view. God, so many trees (at least the broccoli tops of them). I zoomed in and in until I couldn’t anymore. Then, to get closer still, I began writing.
Tommy Ellis, “Blowing for Dough.”
My first time playing this year, I started about 10 minutes before 7pm, and played on and off for about a half hour. Then I noticed a “suit” coming towards me from the restaurant. He came up next to me, so I stopped, anticipating what was coming next. He said I was creating a low frequency vibration in the seminar room right next to where I was playing. He said they couldn’t even hear the “quality of my playing — just this vibration, which was very distracting”. He stuffed some bills in the kettle and asked if I could wait about 15 minutes for them to conclude. I said sure. He was very polite — he even took the trouble to signal me from the window when I could start playing again.
About 5 minutes later a guy in shirt sleeves came out, and asked me if I wanted a coffee, soft drink, hot tea, etc. He apologized for the “suit,” saying he was a real “dork”. I took him to be the manager of the restaurant. He said to come inside anytime I wanted to get something warm. He said “here you are outside trying to raise money for a good cause, and those guys are just inside trying to make money”. It was an investment seminar put on by Morgan Stanley.
Molly Gaudry, “Paisley.”
“Paisley” is the first short-short fiction I ever wrote, and it is the oldest surviving Word document in my files. It is so old–dates back at least to my undergrad years, certainly–and it seems rather simple to me now. I should clarify: by “simple,” I mean clean and innocent and sort of freshly scrubbed, like a twelve-year-old girl. I don’t write like this anymore. My writing, I think, has become more stylized; it is hardly innocent; if anything, it is pimply, pock-mark scarred, and grimed. Still, emotion is a constant–both then and now–but before it was often sentimental and these days I hack all sentiment to bits. My sentences, once straightforward and direct, seem anymore to be all angles and sharp, jabbing elbows. What am I talking about. No question mark, there; it isn’t a question, I think. What I’m trying to say is this: I remember why I submitted “Paisley” to TNR. I’ve always loved George’s story about the blind woman, the baby leopards, the red eyebrows and the butcher. I’ve a soft spot for old George. We all need to tell ourselves stories sometimes to get through the day, to survive our insistent, insecure wives who childishly name their cats and goldfish Bootsie, Bert, and Ernie. George’s story is a simple story, but who wouldn’t fall in love with him (all over again) for sharing it? I know I do, every time I reread this piece; and I know Meryl will, too, which is my inside joke, explained. And what this means, to me, is maybe I can learn something from the young writer I once was. Yes, maybe I will, just yet.
Roxane Gay, “Queries Involving Tyler Perry, Difficult Decisions and Two Skanks.”
I have a serious, irrational preoccupation with Tyler Perry. I do not care for the man or his work. Everything about him is deliberately crafted. He is a facade. He is an abomination. In some ways, I admire Perry. He has built an empire and he has real business acumen. He owns the only (I believe) black-owned movie studio in the country and I think that’s an important accomplishment for which he deserves recognition. For most people Perry’s accomplishments and his contrived, pandering, self-indulgent movies are enough to merit their uninterrogated, unabashed adoration.
I am not most people.
The lack of representation of black people in television and film is a real problem. What irks me about Perry is how he exploits the problem. Worse yet, he essentializes the black experience and throws it on the screen and calls it authentic. A great deal of his work implies there are right and wrong ways to be black. Perry is very much invested in the trope of the working class hero and when he portrays upper class black people they are always conniving or lost souls who have “forgotten where they come from.” In a Tyler Perry movie hard, honest work and getting good with God are the proper paths to righteousness. On one level, there’s nothing wrong with that message. However, I resent that in Perry’s world, anyone who doesn’t follow those paths is a sinner or a loose woman or a drug addict or a corrupt, wealthy individual. The message: to stray from the righteous path is unacceptable. We should succeed but we shouldn’t become too successful because when we’re too successful, we compromise our blackness. Given Perry’s meteoric success, that message is somewhat ironic.
Perry’s characters are always caricatures, lacking depth. They can often be described with a simple word or phrase. More often than not, he finds the lowest common denominator and caters to it. He loves the strong black woman who doesn’t realize that all she needs a good man. He loves the god-fearing mechanic who is a “good man.” He has a near obsession with black single fathers as if he is trying to reverse societal wrongs through filmic fairy tales. More than anything, Tyler Perry loves the vulgar but wise, gun-wielding fat black matriarch in the character Madea, which Perry himself plays in drag as if there are no talented black actresses ready, willing and able to play such a role.
Perry has also ventured into television but I cannot discuss the shuck and jive minstrel shows that are Perry’s television ventures without losing it completely.
The most interesting thing about Perry, perhaps, is that he is really circumspect about his personal life unless he’s discussing his difficult childhood. He’s never romantically linked with anyone and the rumors he is gay are persistent. I don’t care who or what he does in his personal life but the intense secrecy fascinates me. As I wrote Queries Involving Tyler Perry, Difficult Decisions and Two Skanks, I was thinking about how I am pretty certain Perry is a real freak because he has such a carefully constructed persona.
My friends try not to bring up Tyler Perry around me.
Marcelle Heath, “Get Some Strange.”
When my partner and I lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, we bought a ranch house with electric-blue trim and a garage that was expanded for an RV. Everyone on the block knew our house and had a story about it. One of our neighbors rented the house, only to discover that the owners, perfectly nice people, had taken up residence in their parked RV and never left the garage. But, the story came out of other stories about the neighborhood and an epidemic of crazy that broke out among the populace. Some time later, the phrase “get some strange” popped up on and caught on. We couldn’t stop saying it. The phrase itself dates back to the fifties, but the word “strange” has long been associated with genitalia and sexuality, particularly female. The heart of this piece, for me, is the boys’ unwitting initiation into a world where heterosexuality is compulsory and female sexuality is demonized. That Calvin and Iris co-opt this moment is meant to be as grotesque as the phrase itself. The joke, then, is on them.
B. J. Hollars, “Grandpa Dick.”
“Grandpa Dick” was the result of watching “Frost/Nixon,” a 2008 movie in which interviewer David Frost essentially brings President Nixon to his knees while discussing the Watergate Scandal. What struck me most about the film was the peculiar facial expressions on the part of the actor playing Nixon. Nixon’s character was simultaneously despicable and pitiful. I didn’t know if I was supposed to hate him or feel sorry for him. And as I continued thinking about Nixon, and more broadly, all those in the spotlight who have lived the tropes of the tragic hero, I began thinking about the collateral damage as well, the difficulties their families endure. Nixon’s imaginary grandson seemed like a good starting point, so I tried to navigate a tale in which a fallen Nixon attempts to salvage his personal relationship with his grandson by resorting to the same tricks he’d used in the past. I don’t know if it was entirely successful, but that was the intent.
Dave Housley, “BFFs.”
This was part of a longer thing that I started writing a year ago. Everybody tells me I should write a novel (instead of weird short stories). They’re probably right. So I tried to get down with the NaNoWriMo thing last year, but in the end it didn’t take. What I tried to do was take two longer stories that I was kind of stalled on – one had this young male protagonist who was on the road in search of his wife (this is the guy from BFFs, obviously), and the other had a young female protagonist who had run away with a hippie and was kind of getting sick of it. They actually worked pretty well together, and I felt for awhile like I was working on a novel. And then I got distracted again, as usual, by the handful of half-finished stories that were kicking around my hard drive, and I kind of turned my back on the whole writing a novel in a month idea, and especially on the novel I was trying to write.
BFFs is a small piece of that aborted novel/longer story, and I think it’s the strongest piece, and I also think it says most of what I was going to try to say throughout the course of that half of the novel, so probably best off for everybody, but mostly me, that I bailed out and took the piece I liked the most, and polished it up to the extent possible.
I should probably explain the Gilmore Girls thing, while I’m talking about this story. I really like that show, actually – it’s soothing in the same way that Road House or Point Break are soothing. It’s nice to wade into this alternate universe for 45 minutes or so. I’m pretty sure, though, that that’s not how it works out for most 18 year old single moms. I live in central Pennsylvania, and I’ve been to Wal-Mart, and I’m pretty positive that, as the story says, “witty banter and the new clothes and going to fucking Yale, everybody good looking and clean and best friends forever” is not generally how that story ends.
Thanks again for publishing the story, and for the chance to jibber jabber about it. If you’re interested, below are a few more sections of that original story/novel, with this same character, as he works his way south.
BFFS: THE HIDDEN/DISCARDED TRACKS
Pennsylvania is a big goddam state and it took me like a whole day to get the hell out of there. By the time I was crossing the Mason-Dixon I figured the cops might be looking for me and the truck because of the diner money. Or, I figured, maybe they wouldn’t. Not like there was some kind of surveillance camera in there, like at that Quick Stop in Buffalo that one time when you had to get improvisational with the shaving cream.
You always were better at all this than me.
Anyway, I drove and drove and the whole time I’m kind of wishing we did do it, me and the waitress, right there on the counter instead of me kind of flying off the handle there and yelling about the Gilmore Girls when I wasn’t really talking about the Gilmore Girls or even talking to the waitress so much as talking to you.
I do that a lot now. I know one of the reasons you took off with that hippie was he was all sensitive and whatever, like, really listened and all that bullshit. But now that you’re gone, now that it’s been like a month and I finally decided to leave Rory with my mom and come and bring you on home, I talk to you all the time. Like these letters. Like yelling at the waitress. Even with Zechman at Ada’s after we’ve had six or seven, I’m talking to him, telling about my stupid day and all the shit that pisses me off, but I’m really talking to you. I really was all along. I wish you were here now so I could tell you this in person.
I made it into Maryland today. Same as Pennsylvania. I don’t know what this thing about South is with you. It’s all the same — mountains and McDonalds, Burger Kings and little towns and big roads and potholes, people who don’t know who I am and don’t care, waitresses and truckers and clerks who are all too quick to put their hands up, not get hurt, hand over whatever they got in the register. In Thurmont I stole a thing of huggies, too, thinking about Rory, and how you liked that Raising Arizona movie so much.
* * *
Camped out in Williamsburg, Virginia. Do you know what the hell its like in this place? Do you have any idea? People walking around dressed like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson. Seriously. They talk all like, Good day, my good fellow, would you like some meade or some mutton or some such shit. Jesus, you would have loved it.
I pretended I was deaf to see if there was a way to do sign language in that colonial speaking thing they’re doing. There wasn’t, far as I could tell. Then when Thomas Jefferson came up I pretended I thought he was George Jefferson. “Good day my good fellow!” he said. “Governor Jefferson, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Where’s Weezy?” I said.
“I beg thou’s pardon?”
“And aren’t you supposed to be black?”
Now, this must be kind of a sensitive area or something, because Jefferson pulled something out of his pocket and started reading real fast, something about colonial times and history giving us the chances to see our mistakes and how Williamsburg celebrates the beginnings of the systems that freed the slaves and made every man equal and all that bullshit. Jefferson stuffed that thing back in his pocket and kept moving.
I sat down and finished my big gulp while I watched the families walk by, college kids, more poor sonsofbitches dressed up like old time. I thought about history, about some of the stuff Jefferson was saying. Not like, Colonial Williamsburg bullshit history. But our history. You and me. And how maybe Jefferson was right when you really got down to it. Maybe the point of our history, of all the shit we been through, is that it’ll let us see how to do it right in the future.
Anyway, then I stole some old lady’s purse and there was like five hudnred bucks in there, so I’m pretty flush right now. Not that that makes any difference with you and your hippie dude. Just saying.
Tara Laskowski, “Dendrochronology.”
The idea for this story first came to me when I was visiting my parents at home in Pennsylvania. I always get nostalgic when I go home, and I was thinking about high school and how time in high school (and college) is so distinctly divided into academic years. Every September was like a whole new year, a time to completely reinvent yourself, get a new crush, wear new clothes, etc. Even now, I can remember what year a particular song or movie came out during that time because I can remember what year of school I was in when I first heard/saw it. So I imagined those year distinctions like tree ring distinctions, and that’s where the story started to take shape. Once I looked it up and figured out there was actually a word that defined the study of tree rings, I was really excited. “Dendrochronology” is such a cool word.
Valerie O’Riordan, “Ready, Set.”
My online writing group, The Fiction Forge, does a weekly exercise in which we all write a flash to a set of twenty prompts in a designated order, and post the resulting piece within an hour of the prompts going live. It’s intense and scary and rather hysterical, but after you’ve finished beating your head against the laptop screen, it does take you in all sorts of directions. This piece grew out of one of those sessions, early in May 2009, and it coincided with the impending birth of my first nephew. My brother-in-law’s sister was also giving birth, and her three-year old daughter was in my mind at the time, as she waited for her sister and her little cousin (my nephew) to be born. Families are an endless source of interest to me in my own fiction and that of others – how people negotiate with those around them, and the complicated and messy relationships that ensue. Kids do often get the worst of it, but I think Michael, in this story, will do okay, and the little girl in real life seems to be coping admirably. The first of the list of prompts for this story was ‘a question of balance’, and I think that’s a particularly apt phrase for how families manage to work themselves out, and, reading the story back, though I find it hard to read my own work without thinking of unmade edits, I still like the image of the swing that threads through the first half – that notion of the earth pulling away from you, and knowing when to jump.
Kenneth Pobo, “Grand Opening.”
While a mall in general may not inspire much, we live 4/10ths of a mile from a big one. I hardly ever go there, not because it’s a bad mall, but I don’t like being in malls, a big consumerist shoebox. I am interested in creation myths. Why would people create a mall? Convenience, I suppose, another god of our time. Mostly they look alike, smell alike, and forget your birthday. So, the poem tries to give malls a more cosmic spin. The last 3 “open” words contrast, in my mind, with beautiful things that open like buds. The mall opens but only for cash and uniformity.
Peter Rawlings, “Letters from Camp.”
A friend once told me a story about something she saw in the grocery store. She was walking down the aisle behind a mother and her young son. The son noticed something in one of the displays and stopped and began to ask his mother some interesting questions. “Mom, does donuts have eyes?” “Does ants have eyes?” “Does bees have eyes?” Then he put his arm over his head and asked “Can I have an egg?” I don’t know if he got that egg or not.
Tom Sheehan, “The Ice of Old Lily Pond.”
With me as it may be with many writers, one idea often carries the element of another idea, one that is immediate, or flows later on from that first inclination. My piece, “The Ice of Old Lily Pond,” leaped sideways from another experience that travels with me everywhere, a mind-setting event of one’s youth that never lets go, and which I called “The Day Titanic Drowned,” as remembered here:
We were sitting on empty nail kegs next to his icehouse on the edge of Lily Pond in Saugus, Doc Sawyer and me, talking about everything and nothing in particular. It was his way of communicating. In his gray felt hat, shirt collar buttoned but with no tie, Mackinaw open so I could see red suspenders clasped at his paunch, Doc always had time to talk to kids, dropping lore and legend in his wake. “Where you’re sitting right now, son, is the geographical middle of our town. It’s right under your feet, or,” and he chuckled, “under your butt.” I felt special, being ten years old, on the inside where real data was concerned.
He was full of tidbits like that. “Bazooka Bobby Burns scored the first touchdown on that field when it was dedicated this past fall,” he said, pointing across Appleton Street to Stackpole Field, re-dedicated in 1938, “and young Mike Harrington scored the second one. You watch that young one now.” He could make declarations, too. (Mike Harrington, in explanation, later became the first athlete nominated for our Saugus Hall of Fame, into which I was later selected in the fourth year of its existence, having Mike Harrington and Eddie Shipulski as my heroes for years on end … Iron Mike and Shipwreck Ed.)
It was Saturday. It was cold again, as it had been for a good spell, and the ice cutting would begin today, the temperature below freezing for more than a week. On the pond the ice was over fourteen inches thick, thick enough to hold the small army of men soon to be on it. Morning light fell gray yet vivid across the face of the pond, and it raced off toward the island in the middle and the Turnpike beyond. It was a long skate from one end of the pond to the other. Some skating days it paid to bring lunch.
Crows were sending brittle messages to each other out across the frozen surface, over the cliff on Cliff Road, into the woods. Now and then I could hear the tires on a truck as it ran north to Maine or Canada on the Turnpike. Sounds ran over the pond as though they came through a funnel. Old Doc turned as he heard hoof beats on the pavement of Summer Street running alongside Stackpole Field. Like a drummer playing games, I thought.
The biggest horse I had ever seen in my ten years came down the street, and Mitch Crocker was guiding him with a set of long reins, not snapping them but laying them easy on that great back. That horse was so big it even made Doc stand up and take off his hat. He shook his head, light bouncing off his glasses, and said, “Where’d you come on him, Mitch? Win him in a game?”
Horses in those days always awed me, fearsome things, huge as boulders, with great teeth and hooves like catcher’s mitts. Horses hauled milk wagons, and honey wagons, and now in winter the clumsy snow plows behind them, dragging on their muscles, calling on their hearts. This one with Mitch Crocker was a tower of an animal, dark chestnut in color. His teeth were yellow and enormous and now and then he’d pull his lips back to show them to you. Steam pulsed from his mouth like any other great engine of a thing.
“What’s his name?” Doc said, laying a hand on the rippled neck, rubbing that fur coat smoothly, easily, talking another way, something closeted in his voice.
“I call him Titanic,” Mitch said, “though I don’t expect him to answer none. “He don’t happen to answer to any name unless he downright feels like it. So names don’t make any difference and one’s as good’s another.”
“For the ship?” Doc said. The horse’s eyes were a mix of lime green and yellow, and deep, as if he were reading my mind. I figured he had already read Mitch’s mind. I looked away from those eyes.
“As well as any I could pick on, specially for size,” Mitch said. “It’ll do until another comes along. This boy can take care of all your hauling today, Doc.” He patted Titanic on his broad chest. “Drag all the floes into place, get them up on to the ramp so’s they can be cranked up and stored. Yes, sir, do it all.”
For a few hours that Saturday I watched the strange army of itinerant ice cutters saw and chink up the ice of Lily Pond, saw Titanic with long chains hitched to his leather gear easily haul the huge cakes of ice to the slabbing point and transport up the chain-driven ramp to where they’d get buried under shavings and saw-dust. Easily and steadily he worked, the steam puffing in great clouds from his mouth and circling around his head like halos. Now and then, as if to reaffirm who was really in charge, he’d throw off a head-shaking command and bring attention to himself.
Never a sound came from his throat.
Throughout the morning old Doc Sawyer kept nodding his head, admiring that animal as if he’d never seen his like before.
Noon crawled toward us, still cold, still steamy about that great beast. Then the heart leap came and a fearful noise, a renting, a crashing. It was just before lunch when Titanic went down. I heard a yell, a scream, the unforgettable thundering noise as though a crack was going to sprint the length of the pond, and Titanic was in the water. In the deepest part of the pond. His legs thrashed at the ice, breaking off huge chunks, the noise like an enormous ice machine at work, like an icebreaker in frozen Boston Harbor I’d seen before. The ice under my feet shook.
The day stood still for me.
I’d never before seen a huge creature like him frightened, and his eyes said just that. They were like baseballs. Yellow-green baseballs, all wet and frosty, with tunnels behind them and all kinds of talk in them. He made sounds, too, desperate sounds down in his lungs, deeply bellowed sounds inside that huge canister of a chest and they came blurting out of his mouth along with the torrent of steam. Could have been grenades going off beneath the water.
Everybody leaped to grab chains and ropes, to pull that thrashing and ponderous beast out onto the surface of the pond. But the ice kept breaking under his hooves. And he tired and sank two or three times and came back up thrashing and kicking more, and the steam rising off his great back. The chains snarled and came caught up in ropes, and in his legs I suppose. You could see the lines of them somehow get shorter and shorter. There was no slack in them at all. None of the men could steer or drag that ship of a horse onto the top of the ice.
Mitch Crocker, just before Titanic went down for the last time, dropped a length of chain from his bare hands. He blew into his cupped hands and tried to rub them. He was wet all over, dark stains growing across his clothes. His thick fur hat bobbed in the water. Then a last bubble came circling around it where Titanic’s lungs had let go for the final time.
Doc Sawyer put his arm around Mitch’s shoulders. “That was some animal, Mitch. I’m really sorry for your loss.” I remember thinking it was like standing in line at the funeral parlor. Everybody sad, their heads down, striking for one correct word, a passable word. Cold and quiet were twin elements around us.
In the water all the bubbles had gone.
Then, about five minutes later, itinerant ice cutters in odd clothes and knee-high leather boots and kids and on-lookers still standing quietly on the ice, about ten or twelve feet of chain, yet laying out on top of the ice as though remnants of a disaster, just slipped off the edge link by link and went down out of sight. Perhaps one last lunge by that great horse.
When all the noise was made about the movie of the same name in these recent years, I thought about the other Titanic going down. I remembered how quiet it was after, how cold, the last hunk of chain, getting dragged off the ice, still making a connection.
And the pond carries all the images to this day, of Titanic on his last day, of the girl we pulled from sure drowning one cold day a year later, of the great skater with the shiny new gloves and the old-warrior skates, proving they’ll not let go, not even 70 years later.
Jeanne Sirotkin, “KILL! SUDOKU!!”
I wrote this during a time when my husband was obsessively doing Sudoku. Before dinner, after dinner, on the toilet. I decided it was better than killing him (the alternative). I climbed into his skin and this absurd piece burst out. Also, I intentionally wanted to use up my allocation, and then some, of exclamation points, which I understand is rationed by the literary police!!
P.S. He has moved on to other challenges. We are Sudoku-free, most of the time.
Robert Swartwood, “Peep.”
Like all of my “hint fiction,” it’s very important that the title and the story play off one another. Because with a story so short, so much more is left to the reader’s imagination that certain readers sometimes see things others don’t. That’s the beauty of the form. The title “Peep” (as was my original intention) refers to those marshmallow treats that invade stores every major holiday. It made me think about how we as a society are too trusting. We go to the grocery store and buy food that we really don’t know where it’s come from or what it even is. But since the story’s publication I have heard from a few readers that they have interpreted the title differently. There are actually many definitions of peep, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. One is “a feeble shrill sound.” Another is “to look slyly especially through an aperture.” Even another is “a first faint appearance” or a “brief or furtive look.” Each definition puts a uniquely different spin on the story. I wish I could say I had intended that all along, the many interpretations of the title, but then I would be just as bad a liar as the guy in the story.
J.A. Tyler, “& (Sixty-One).”
‘& (Sixty-One)’ was inspired by clouds. It started on a flight from one city to another, the veil of white somehow putting in my head the image of a girl rowing wooden oars from an invisible boat, the sky spooling around her. And then her father came and there was death. And her brother came and there was violence. And the girl who started as clouds took us to the man dying, to the crows outside his window, to her grown figure watching a room, the bed, where clouds no longer existed.
Phoebe Wilcox, “The Persimmon Tree.”
“The Persimmon Tree” was written in an attempt at cognitive self-therapy. I was mired in a difficult emotional situation and felt the need to write something with strong elements of clarity and light. There is a somewhat Buddhist feel to it, probably gleaned from my familiarity with the children’s book, Zen Shorts.
Christopher Woods, “Billy, Elvis and Jesus.”
“Billy, Elvis and Jesus” is a short story, but it is probably better suited for stage as a monologue for an actress. Told in First Person, it describes a lonely woman’s hopes, and stark realities. She has been abandoned by a lover, but she believes he might return. Just in case he does not, there’s always the comforting figure of Jesus. This is by no means a religious story. Rather, it is about longing. We all long for one thing or another, I suppose. Remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, that most people live lives “of quiet desperation.” It’s true. Even as I write this, I already know I am not reaching deep enough into the the mind of the character in my story. I’m no therapist. Instead, as a writer, I try to let the characters speak, and the truth is that I trust them more with the truth than I trust myself to speak for them.”