Let’s try this flash fiction thing
Author’s note: Long form fiction is more my speed, but the output required since starting the creative writing program at the University of Edinburgh has put me on to writing more short stories. And, I have to say, I kind of like it. Now, imagine my surprise when I discover there is such a thing as “flash fiction.” It’s like the shitty fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants personal blogging of the short fiction world. I’ll be a natural! Kidding, of course. Perfectly respectable authors — very poor, perfectly respectable authors — write flash fiction. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I tried my hand and came out the other side with the two pieces below. One overly sappy and nostalgic, the other openly mocking myself, my classmates and the profession I’m attempting to pursue. So, yeah, it can be tough to find balance in 1,000 words or less.
The Things that Make Me
Look at that snow come down. I’ve always said as long as I can sled in the snow, I’m living life the way I want to live it. With gusto. Wide-eyed, childlike enthusiasm.
My damn hip dysplasia doesn’t much agree with gusto and childlike enthusiasm, unfortunately. I had to give up sledding ‘round about nine years ago. Dancing, too. Roberta and I loved to dance. There are other things I can get along doing that let me keep the spirit of ‘em, though.
I reckon I gave up tennis about the same time the hair started growing out my ears. Unrelated, I believe. Chronic shin splints kept me off the court. Surfing, that kept me young at heart for years. I was part of the original Surfin’ USA generation all the way back in the ‘60s. Had a nasty spill back in 1997, I believe it was. Doctor said I broke two vertebras. Said I was lucky to walk out of the ocean. Luck’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. Doesn’t feel lucky I can’t even body surf any more. Neck’s too weak, doctor says. Too big a risk a wave could roll me on my head. Poof. Out go the lights.
Never really loved golf, but loved emptying a cooler of beer with mi amigos and bumper carts down the 18th fairway. Rheumatoid arthritis in my fingers took that one away. Arthritis nabbed a few trademarks of my joie de vivre, come think of it. Can’t walk outside if it’s too cold. Can’t toss the grandkids around the way they like. Well, don’t tell the doctor, I still toss the littlest one around a bit, but I pay for it in spades.
Been years since I played volleyball. Collapsed arch took away that one back in the ‘80s. You should have seen me jump. I bet Foggy Andrews once that if we put a mattress down on the far side, I could jump clean over the net. I’ll tell you this, I never had to pay Foggy a dime.
It’s been here in just the last few years that I lost my strong constitution. I miss Madame Zhang’s Szechuan House so much some nights I swear I will sneak into Roberta’s drawer, snatch the car keys and drive out for some spicy fried duck. Driver’s license be damned. I can see just fine. But the gig would be right up once Roberta caught me camped out on the pot for 48 hours. Mexican, Cajun, good Italian. Hell, I can’t eat a bit of it. Not even the fake Chinese with no bite. Everything Roberta lets me eat tastes like Saltine crackers. Can’t drink either. I said goodbye to red wine and whiskey a while back. They give me the farts. The bad kind.
That business, I don’t let it get me down. I told you I’ve still got some tricks up my sleeve. The spirit of the thing hasn’t gotten away from me yet. It’ll take more than a little hip dysplasia to knock me down.
Take fishing. No, I can’t handle the rod anymore on accounts of my arthritis. But I can teach it. Show my grandkids how to tie a fly on right, fish the best spots, down to what side of every fallen tree to cast to. The big ones are getting right good. The little ones, they don’t have the patience yet, but I showed ‘em my old tricks for catching frogs by the pond. How to corner skinks and lizards and grab hold of ‘em so they don’t get squished.
Now there’s a good cover of snow, I’m about to unveil my new plan to hold on to the spirit of it. I’m going to tell ‘em they don’t know how to sled the way Grampa and his amigos used to do it. Get ‘em all riled up. They’ll climb all over me. Tell us, Grampa. Tell us. Tell us. Then I’ll take ‘em out to the hill and tell ‘em how to make a ramp, a nice big ramp. A proper ramp. And I’ll tell ‘em, you’ve got to sled down this hill and hit that ramp hard if you want to sled the way Grampa and his amigos used to do it. I’ll be, it’s going to be a hoot watching those little buggers pop off their sleds like popcorn. Pop! There they go!
It took longer to figure all this out than it did for the hair to fill in my ears. But I come to realize hip dysplasia and shin splints and arthritis and all that mess can keep me from doing what I like, but no ailment can keep me from loving what I like. What I’m saying is just because I can’t show off much gusto don’t mean I’m not full of gusto. I can’t do the hokey pokey, but I can still act like a kid.
An old feller who still loves remembering his days on a sled got the spirit of it just as much as any man still riding his.
Creative Writing Student Uses the Toilet
I step into a dim and steamy windowless cuboid where the two Cs – cleanliness and contemplation – co-exist in a harmonious parallelogram with the three Ss most known to be the domain of this sanctum of human privacy.
Damp and humid, the warm air clings to the topography of my body as I shed the layers obfuscating my unexplored southern hemisphere. How I long for intrepid Polo or Magellan, de Gama or Drake to discover the beauty, relieve the angst, absolve the shame buried within these hidden treasures and my tissued heart. Crystalline droplets form on my crooked nose and furrowed brow, lingering vapors condensing to deposit the serenity of my roommate’s ritual shower onto flesh where it soaks me with the infinite echoes of his singsong voice.
I twirl as an ungainly toddler does imitating a waltz, gracelessly depositing my downy posterior on a humble throne of porcelain with a dull thud reminiscent of the falling dreams of trying times gone by. Its faux mahogany cover a clever ruse disguising the intent of its service, unmasked as it embraces my girth. The dark synthetic grains whisper of African mysteries and hypnotize my consciousness, steering my sanguine eyes along swirling sands, round and round, as the tribal drum beats deep down in the chasm of my soul, pulsating the elastic of my rectum like two hairless palms drumming the taut hide atop a mighty djembe. Round and round, my bedazzled gaze follows over the precipice into the shimmering lake below, its surface a mirror reflecting age-old insecurities from which I cannot look away and so I shatter it with heavy missiles forged not only by the indiscretions of my past, but by the blood, sweat and tears of the noble Nebraska corn farmer, the lonely mustachioed Guatemalan toiling over orchards for the future of his children, the weary union man in the factory, the aspiring adolescent full of dreams that one day her spatula will be replaced by judge’s gavel or author’s pen.
The cesspool betwixt my loins is assaulted with the gross domestic product of our nation’s history – one thousand technological innovations, one million engineers’ dreams, one-hundred million men and women fighting for minimum wage and better working conditions – condensed into a single package. I reject history with such sudden aggression that my body shudders, ejecting without ceremony a sullied past into the unconsecrated burial ground of its watery grave so that I may cleanse my corporeal existence of old sins and rise anew, fresh and untainted by the failings of our unscrupulous world.
My vision grows dim as the cuboid incubates me like a womb does an unborn child. The commercial detritus of sanitation, hygiene and beauty disappears from before me as my sight withdraws from the world, like the universe contracting within the enormity of a black hole at the end of time. And then my vision and mass explode forth once again with the force of the origin of all things, before Jonah or Noah, Sodom or Gomorrah, Adam or Eve. By my eyes alone, the Big Bang is witnessed and all is light. All is white, blinding, radiant light riding swooping electromagnetic waves so bright it must be seen by taste and smell.
But oh, sweet lament. Oh, terror of nights. The light, it is a Siren, heralding brave fools to tragic misfortune. A blinding trick that opens my senses to peril, a creeping chimera escaped from Dante’s Inferno. It is goblins I smell and ghouls I taste and their foul deeds wrinkle my nose and dizzy my mind as tears pour forth from the corners of my eyes along the channel of my nose like water rolling down the great aqueducts through Rome.
I extend my arm and take hold of the brass dagger that will vanquish this malodorous creature back into the depths of its realm with a single earnest thrust. Down, down I thrust, and the belching, gurgling screams of the underworld are transmitted through the liquid medium of space before reversing in the eddying chaos of the churning vacuum. Melancholy aqueous cries for mercy go unheeded as I light a candle to the fickle, feckless gods who rule such grim chambers as these. I pray for answers, for understanding, for explanations of why this world is filled with injustices horrific as Caledonian battlefields, but do not expect answers from impotent deities in the lofty molecular density of this syrupy durian atmosphere.
Their reply is rich with fetid cruelty, and my eyes open once again to sip the solemn truth from my tropical chamber of agony and torment. “It was still too steamy,” they cry. “Why is there no window to open,” they lament. “You should have waited,” they chant.
I should have waited. But it was not my fate. I should have waited. But I could not.