Category Archives: Issue #13

Rae Kim

Scenes of the Sixth Grade

 

Try to remember that you’re happy. Running track brings a mental hum, in which you can talk to yourself. And you’re making good grades, a fact that is a flowing spring of confidence. Closed in with yourself, you are your only concern. In high school, clogged with belated, syrupy guilt, you will float, detached from the present.

One day, staying home from school, watch a sci-fi television show, and it will freak you out. Nothing will mean anything besides the fear. Darkness, your parents, a fitful haze. Unable to sleep you move like a fog. At a sleepover, the night-light sends wild smears across the ceiling, and you weep at the sound of the garbage truck, because all the world’s asleep except you and the garbage man. You are completely alone—more shame. Watch something else and shiver violently through the night, leek soup and toast untouched. You know this is something your friends hold above you. It is something they loathe. You are weak, a zebra with a broken hind leg, unfit for the herd. But in some unwritten code of law, you’re tolerated with a simmering smugness.

In the bathroom mirror, study your feet. Press your toes together so they look like that of an amphibian creature who leaves webbed footprints on the beach of a summer camp lake. Wrinkle your nose at your paleness, the greenish tinge of decay, especially in this light. Your hair, a thin and matted mass, is your pride and joy, obstructing your eyes and giving you, you think, something of a glamorous mystique. Leer into your father’s camera lens with huge, crooked teeth: the pictures from this period will stand as a testament to your girlish loveliness. But nothing worries you on a cleared path into which no other runners veer.

Go on a road trip, up the long leg of the California coast and into Oregon, alone with your parents. Humboldt State Park will be the epicenter of your dreams for years. As the perfect memory becomes less and less intact, the trees become more tangled in fog, the horizon melts more gently into the gray sky, the path to the river can be seen end to end, the path guiding you to it. Watch waves crashing into a cave, the promised sea lions hidden by a consuming mist—but smell their fermented smell, of things growing in salted soil. And ah, drink in the rivers and the craning trees, the clean and pressed air, that beauty you cannot bring back into the city.

At the end of a tunnel of bending, flowering boughs, yesterday’s tide culls a little sharp ledge out of the sand. Holding your shoes, step into the sand, which erodes under your feet. The mosquitoes, charged by summer, are swollen and ruthless. And you don’t know what it all means, only that after that trip you feel happier and sadder, as though the great gravity of the forest and sea has instilled its rhythm in you.

In the school spelling bee, lose to Soo Jung and then Alex, misspelling the word “mellifluous.” For God’s sake, forget this. “Mellifluous” will never be relevant to you again except in dark doorways of shameful remembering where you’ll often loiter, especially at the piano, while wrestling Johann Ludwig Krebs latest and greatest from the Baroque period.

Keep playing your piano. You will never make yourself believe it is more than a yoke, but it makes your grandparents happy and generous.

At track, the coach will give a demonstration on how one is to slow dance at a middle school dance. The runners titter like a tree full of sad and lonely birds. Watch closely—this will eventually be important to you. Purchase a black skirt like Emma’s, months late of the fad, the thin and cat-hairy cotton exciting between your fingers. Wear your striped shirt and some mascara. Try on some shorts—decide you like them better. Change in and out of them in the girl’s bathroom. Roam the halls, pretending you have somewhere to be and that someone needs you, your white legs spiking the dim auditorium.

At the dance, sell baked goods and wildly mop up spilled Kool-Aid made from garden hose water with wads of paper towels. Smile helplessly at your friends. Tell them,“It’s insane over here!”

When the slow songs arrive with jangly, acoustic guitar, lean nonchalantly against a “No Nuts Table” poster until someone, hands in pockets, asks you to dance in the middle of the song. It will be someone you find sallow and juvenile, someone you’ve only spoken with to apologize for being a poor tennis partner. His hands will be sweaty and stiff, and the song you usually hear cut off by the car radio will stretch into eternity.

At the end of the dance, sweep up ripped streamers and brownie crumbs with a long-handled broom. Exchange mutual gladness that track practice was cancelled, and all kinds of unimportant talk. Between stripes of dusty sunlight leaking in around the black paper taped over the windows, waltz over the floor with your broom. The fluorescent lights buzz to life overhead, and you appear, blinking, as if the long boughs of a forest canopy have folded back into the sky.

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Rae Kim, New Flash Fiction Review’s youngest contributor to date, is a sophomore at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. She has been published in Umlaüt as well as several small online literary journals. Rae Kim is sixteen years old.

Anne Summerfield

The Sting and the Tale 

 

That holiday I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and escaped to a place of stoops and eaves where a tiny stump of tree was the only touch of green. The book was an ancient Penguin copy, all striped orange and black, with a rich scent of tanned paper.

Where we were staying – a caravan in a cattle field – was worth escaping from. After the day at the beach when I found seashells of extraordinary delicacy – whorls like homes for the tiniest of snails, pairs of pale pink ovals like baby fingernails – the week turned liquid. The inside of the van sweated as the rain pounded the metal roof. We played endless hands of rummy and whist while Mum attempted to brew tea without creating steam.  I tried to eke out the pages of my book, scared I’d run out of words before we reached the end of days.

All this time, the wasps had been taking shelter beneath the caravan’s metal chassis. There must have been fruit cast down there or something else rotten that they craved. Over the sound of the rain and our own boredom we could not hear the whispered buzz of their gathering. But they must have been there.

On the final day, the downpour eased and we opened the narrow fold-back windows. I closed my book and put on sandals, struggling with their stiff straps. When we flung the door wide, wasps rushed in like heat, swirling past the kitchenette to cluster onto the buff-coloured Formica of the table. I picked up my book to protect it, then felt a tight pinch in my palm. The wasp was still hanging there as I turned my hand over, attached to me by its sting and fury.

That evening, squished in the bench seat bed, I read the last pages of my book struggling to hold it to the light with my aching hand.  Goodbye Francie, I thought, as I closed the wasp striped cover. My tears tasted nothing like rain.

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Anne Summerfield’s recent publications include stories in Sleep is a Beautiful Colour (NFFD Anthology 2017) and Flash Fiction Festival One. She has work online and forthcoming in various places including The Cabinet of Heed and Jellyfish Review. Her story ‘Lamb’ was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2018. She is based in Hampshire, England and tweets infrequently as @summerwriter.

Carolyn Oliver

The Hive Vandal

 

They executed the hive vandal at noon, just as the crickets had warmed enough to make the long grass sing. In the orchard the apples hidden in shadow still sparkled with dew when the breeze nudged the leaves aside. The last of the blackberries melted into the loam, a confusion of syrup and rot.

The thief had smashed two skeps before learning the trick of it and getting what she wanted from the third. But it too was destroyed. Come winter, some would pass shivering hours in darkness for want of wax.

They brought her to a plane tree, the bark peeling back like a brindled pelt. Later those near the front of the solemn crowd swore they could still smell the smoke caught in her hair. It whispered her guilt, the smoke she’d used to subdue the bees. The questions came, but she wouldn’t say why she’d done it, not even when they offered her something swifter, not even when her mother pleaded and her sisters wept.

Missing from the crowd, unnoticed until nightfall, was one young woman, dark-eyed and quick to laugh. Just as she had trusted her friend with the first press of her parted lips, so she trusted her with her secret, with her untimely desire for sweetness. Here, where the bees tended apple blossoms and lavender, sage and linden, their prized honey was delicate and sharp as a sting. The taste wrapped around the tongue, filigreed the back of the throat, lingered love-like.

The young woman was long on the road, the first soft flutterings in her belly urging her on, when the soft rope—a last kindness—snared the honey thief. All afternoon the light slid down the plane tree, golden and thick, coating the vandal’s body as it swayed above the singing grass.

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Carolyn Oliver’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, The South Carolina Review, Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Gulf Stream, Frontier Poetry, matchbook, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.

Clio Velentza

Afterglow

 

Early in the morning, Sis took me to watch the volcano. I slept on her lap in the bus. We got to the heath just as the sun was rising, just as the pillar of smoke began to thin and gleam. We threw our blanket down and ripped open the biscuits and chocolate milk.

“It’s pretty,” said Sis, “as long as you don’t have to think about it.”

The rains had come and gone. The desolation was green again. I complained that the mouth of the bottle was too small to dunk biscuits in.

“At least our volcano is a mild one,” she said.

I got up and walked circles around her. I’m bored, I said.

“Yes,” she said.

I hate this stupid volcano, I said, I wish we could go away.

“There’s nowhere to go,” she said.

There’s home, I said.

She drew a high arc in the air, from the volcano to the town.

Woosh,” she said. “Crash. Nowhere to go.”

I lay down. She made me sit up so I’d keep it in sight, and I pinched her.

I don’t care, I yelled, why should I care?

She pinched me back. “If it’s there, you have to look at it.”

I cried and said that nobody has to look at it, you can barely smell it from the town. I wanted more biscuits.

“That’s not the point,” she said.

I kicked at the thorns, threw stones about. The volcano hiccupped, soaking us in light.

Then what is the point? Woosh. Crash. You always want a point, I said.

“Yes,” she said.

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Clio Velentza is a writer from Athens, Greece. She is a winner of ‘Best Small Fictions 2016’ and a Pushcart nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in several literary journals, such as ‘Wigleaf’, ‘Paper Darts’, ‘Lost Balloon’, ‘Jellyfish Review’, and ‘Hypertrophic Literary’. She is currently working on a novel.

Epiphany Ferrell

Homebody

 

He loved the house. Its idiosyncrasies. The things that made it difficult. The way he had to coax warmth into its cold bones if he came home late and well after dark on a cold winter’s night. The way the low spot next to the driveway filled with water after a hard rain so that, to get to the driveway from the house without wet feet, he had to jump from tree root to stone to garden ledge to driveway. It was like playing lava in the living room the way he’d done as a boy. He liked the subtle sounds as the house gracefully settled itself for the night, the crispy rattle of the red bud tree against the window. He liked the role he played with the house, its guardian, its caretaker, its lover.

His bride moved into the house. Two years later, she moved out. She’d wanted to change things. Wanted to put a rail around the porch, like a jail. To replace the heart of the house with propane. Suggested adding a thoroughly unnecessary guest room.

On the way out, her last day, her things already gone, she struck a fist against the wall next to the door. “I’ve lived inside your mistress for two years,” she said. “Now you can be alone together.”

He looked past her to her truck, running, the driver’s side door open. His chow-mix dog was inside, sitting expectantly in the passenger seat.

He felt her blow to the house in his shoulder. He had a bruise on his bicep the next day.

He swept the floor, throwing the last bits of dog fluff out the back door, watching them float away. He’d rescued that dog. Picker, the pick of the pound. “Picker picked her,” he told the house. The house stretched in the sun like a cat.

He rehung the black velvet painting of the white buffalo she’d taken down and replaced with their wedding picture. She’d left the picture. He put it in the freezer next to the ham she’d selected for Easter dinner.

The house welcomed him each night when he came home from work. They greeted each other, he by turning on lights or opening windows, the house by sighing deeply and settling around him.

He saw his former bride a year later. In the paint store. Her paint can read “Indigo Batik,” a splash of deep blue on the lid. He shuddered. Such an overpowering color. “Historic Ivory,” said his paint can. The house liked classic colors.

He went home and caressed the walls with his paint roller. The walls drank in the color, breathing back quiet warmth. In the stillness, he could hear the breathing. He took off the paint roller extension, making the handle short. He turned it around, ran the paint down his body, over his shirt, his jeans. No good, not right. He took off his clothes. He pressed himself against the breathing wall. He ran the paint roller up his body and down, across his face, down to his feet. He melted into the house’s embrace. “Home,” he said.

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Epiphany Ferrell writes most of her fiction in Southern Illinois at Resurrection Mule Farm, named for a mule that survived a lightning strike. This story came from Meg Pokrass word prompts. Word prompt stories always bring surprise endings – and middles, and beginnings. Epiphany’s flash stories also appear in The Potomac; Cease, Cows; Ghost Parachute; Cooper Street; Prairie Wolf Press Review; A Quiet Courage; Unnerving Magazine and other places. She is an editor at Flash Fiction Magazine.