by Al Kratz
If you look, inspiration is everywhere.
The archive is brilliant.
Look at the birth of a magazine.
Look at the words growing up.
Look at the flash.
Look at Christopher Locke’s story in the Winter 2014 issue. Brighten is a 300-word micro written in second person that asks you to look. Right from the start, it’s about vision and focus. It shows how brilliance can be a measure of strength and not necessarily a measure of the positive. Its flash is the loss of innocence:
“It’s nearly morning. The sun climbs its invisible chord and slats the walls between the blinds. You too rise softly, so as not to wake your son sleeping beside you, and creep into the bathroom, unfolding the white piece of paper you keep in the medicine cabinet— beautiful brown powder more expansive and warm than a woman’s tropical embrace.”
You’re invited to look at the sun, at the peace of a sunrise, at the careful moves of a parent not wanting to disturb a son. The word creep is the first clue of the turn it’s about to take. It’s still a verb of silence, and with peaceful intent, but it also delivers the menace. When the seal of drugs is opened you know you’re in a different world with a precarious balance of guilt and innocence, chaos and order. Every part of the scene is a conspirator. The windows surround you in accusation. As your eyes are directed around things become clearer while also becoming more obscure. The book still by the couch was read by the wife who left last week but you aren’t allowed to spend time processing this or feeling too sympathetic to his situation because the door opens and your senses are drawn to the small feet drumming the floor. To the truly innocent voice asking for breakfast. You’re allowed here to close your eyes, but you aren’t allowed safety. Inside there is the memory of a father and a reminder of complication. Look:
“And as the sunlight fully undresses across your face, your eyelids grow warm, then brighten, and you can finally see all the colors of your dreams.”
Look at D.R. Wagner’s story in the Spring 2015 issue. Penultimate is another flash that plays with what you can or can’t see. It also works in second person. This time not obscuring the reader from themselves but from a lover.
“I’ve got this house in the desert. They won’t find us there. You can wear a rose in your hair. Tomorrow is close, still small, still inert.”
We start right away with distance. The deserted. The desire not to be found. Why would she wear a rose in her hair? We get the sense of a narrator trying to sell. Trying to convince the you and the me. Tomorrow is close, still small. These are also things that seem far away. They also seem large.
Look at the knife. Look at the glow. Almost. Look at the darkness come. Look at the clothes shedding:
“You showed me the knife blade. It almost glowed when I touched it. Who was going to believe we were here? We shredded our clothing as it got darker.”
Look at the streets. Look at the way the soldiers carry their weapons:
“We stood on either side of the window so we could see the streets. A patrol was walking slowly up the avenue with their dogs and their rifles cradled in their arms like something dead.”
Look at how the loss of a sight is a thing to see:
“The streetlight across the way would flicker then go out for a few minutes. That was our signal to leave. I grabbed your forearm and pulled you near to me. ‘Listen, this all we have left. We will meet on the other side of the river. Stay close to the buildings.’”
Step back even further. See the secondhand vision. Listen to the diluted message, loud and clear as love can be:
“When I saw the video later, I couldn’t help but notice that you
were biting your lips hard. I put my hands on the screens. I could feel you in
the flickering light. Things would be okay. The children told me you would be
here in morning.
I kissed the back of my hands. They were trembling so.”
Look at Sarah Ann Winn’s Nocturne, also in the Spring 2015 issue. As you follow the little girl around, their bright girl, you also are invited to follow around the parents and where love takes us. You are invited to appreciate the combination of a small and large world. The little one who runs around the sky. The one with all the walls she can cover. Just when you have the smallness and the largeness all fit within your vision, you’re asked to imagine it all disappearing. How big is that? How brilliant.
Christopher, D.R., and Sarah Ann: thank you for looking.
Thank you all for looking.
Al Kratz is a fiction editor at New Flash Fiction Review, and writes reviews for Alternating Current. His flash fiction was awarded at the Bath Flash Fiction Award in the spring of 2016 and fall of 2017. His novella-in-flash was shortlisted at Bath in 2018. Recent work of his has been published by Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, Bending Genres, Reflex, and Bull.