Tag Archives: flash fiction

Elaine Chiew

Insurance

 

You go diving with him in the Bahamas as a leap of faith, even though you’re not sure whether it’s a leap of faith in yourself or in him or in your togetherness. It’s new still in your relationship; you’d met him at a medical conference, out lounging on a cabana. He had drawn up close, in his tan linen jacket and sharply-creased blue trousers, and asked if he could buy you a drink. Not that you are looking for a relationship, or even a carefree fuck, because your mother is in her last stages of Alzheimers’ and it’s just you and her but between shuttling on the commuters’ train from her home of assisted living and your job in insurance sales, you’d begun to find chit-chat with strangers nauseating. But there was something about his blue eyes and shaggy hair that spelled an aura of wanting to please and you thought to yourself, oh why the hell not? Your mother would disapprove of his slight put-on dishevelment and crude jokes. When it’s just the two of you, he is altogether more serious, more real, more himself, but he truly comes alive when the audience is ten or more. Then he would sing Nessun Dorma in a faux baritone (which your mother would find kitschy or attempt a ballerina stunt and split his pants). But your mother will never meet him, or if she does, she will never remember.

So you think of him as insurance. A kind of biological safety net, safe enough to risk an underwater world where you go diving with him. You are such a terrible swimmer that once you’d sunk to the bottom of a kid’s pool at the swimming club and thought you were drowning and surfaced and screamed for help and when people rushed over and someone finally pulled you out, you claimed a leg cramp because you were so embarrassed.

Down now in these murky watery depths, you panic and start hyperventilating. Water rushes into your mask. Your heart drops to a new plumbing depth. Someone grabs your shoulder and then holds your hand and guides you with finger gestures on how to empty your mask of water. You suck in lungful after lungful of oxygen and begin to feel giddy. All you can see behind his mask are his eyes, but not the expression in them because there is a film of moisture over everything. A school of fish swims past and you think you’ve never seen anything more beautiful in your life. You think the man holding your hand is a godsend, and you wonder if he isn’t the diving instructor, with his rapid gesturing and purposeful movements. There, before you, are schools of marine bioluminescence. Florets of musky coral. Plumes of purple anemones. Membraned jellyfish, lit from within, rising as clouded fumes. Seawhip. Polyps like thousands of eyes. They sense your dark presence. An entire school of fish changes direction. Your lungs swell, you feel the massive ache in your jaw even before you hear the snap upon bone. What is blue becomes red, then black. You are neither fish nor human now. There is no name, no memory, for the undersea monster you’ve become. You power through subterranean coves, your body sleek, aerodynamic. Swimming. Finning. The water closing over you is icy, instantly numbing. Your sleek tail torque, you rappel down to seabed level.

When you finally surface, you are delirious.

You tell this man it’s the most amazing trip of your life. The two of you are sitting eating lunch at a seafood place with all the other divers, and that’s when you learn two things: the school of fish is barracuda, and the man who had held your hand is no instructor but the man you are dating for insurance. You burst out laughing and you simply can’t stop. Everyone around you first smiles indulgently, including the man you are dating, and then their smiles become more hesitant, and the way their smiles start to fade made your epiglottis seize up and you almost choke on your mouthful of tilapia.

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Elaine Chiew is the editor/compiler of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015). She has won prizes for her short fiction and also been shortlisted in numerous other U.S. and U.K. competitions. She is currently based in Singapore and has just completed an M.A. in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Justin Herrmann

Beakless

It’s my week with Madison. My first week, in fact, since things have been settled. She’s been gaining weight at her mother’s, and, I believe, has stopped speaking proper sentences.

“McDonald’s, Dada?”  She’s all smiles and singsong in the rearview.

We’ve had a late cold snap, which has kept tourists off the water, so I keep Madison home from daycare. When I don’t work, I’m a couple drinks in by this hour. This week, I need to be better. “No,” I say. “I know a place with burgers worth eating.”

“McDonald’s,” Madison whines, which settles it for me: no McDonald’s.

Jenny takes our order. I get Madison milk, burgers for us, coffee for me, watch Jenny pull tap handles, fill glasses heavy with amber. The lighthouse across the bay remains as dark in bad weather as it does in good, but it’s the most photographed thing here by my estimation, except fish, living and dead.

Madison eats her entire burger. Even the tomatoes, onions.

“Thank you for that yummy burger, Dada” she says. She chews the last of my pickle, loud like her mother.

“Let’s have dessert, Sugar,” I say. I don’t normally let her have sweet things.

When Jenny comes, I order Madison soda water and cocktail cherries. For myself, something that looks similar.

Outside, an eagle lands on the dumpster. Then another. The first eagle is aggressive, tries to force the other away. Unusual behavior, until I realize the top half of its beak is broken clean off.

Jenny returns, drinks full, cherries shining, Madison’s face glowing.

Madison notices me watching the birds. She says “Mean birdie, dada.” She watches my face for reinforcement.

My hands, steady, the glass slick with condensation. “A slow, undignified death for that creature,” I say, and immediately regret it.

I tear the paper wrapping from a straw, hand the straw to Madison.  She’s not used to the bubbles in her drink. She makes pained faces, sips cautiously, savors the cherries.

My house is her house now, but it doesn’t feel like it.

“Let’s have one more,” I say, “then let’s go pick out new bedding for you,” I say.

“Can I have more cherries?” she says.

“Cheers,” I say, raising my glass, the beakless bird frantically tearing trash bags, pecking rotting carcasses, unable to grasp.

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Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared in journals including River Styx, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Bull: Men’s Fiction. He lives with his family in Alaska.

Nancy Tingley

Fire Wall 1

Choking smoke, gagging fear. The fire wall sailed down the hill as the kids, wedges among hurried belongings, cried, Arthur, Arthur. And the dog, crazy with ears skull-pressed plummeted away. Get him. But, I turned the key. No, they wailed and I took in the house in the rearview, pressed my toe, then opened the door for the dog.

Fire Wall 2

That house burned and this didn’t and only because fireman Joe liked this paint job, but didn’t like that rusted swing set, that yard of rocks. Over there flames like high jumpers and here smoke like hair. He dug the shovel, felt the heat, smelled his fear, watched the swing set buckle and bend.

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Nancy Tingley is a specialist in Southeast Asian art, who has written fiction in the closet for years. She’s recently come out -The Jenna Murphy Mystery series (Swallow Press) and flash fiction forthcoming in various literary magazines. Her mornings are dedicated to writing, her afternoons to the pleasure of the potter’s wheel. She lives in northern California on a hill.

Hardy Griffin

Dadjinsky

 

I awoke in écarté. My left arm curved around the pillow and up to the headboard and my right foot arched toward tightly pointed toes. I looked longingly askance at the wall. Yes, I lay horizontal on the bed, but otherwise it was perfect. I held in position until I drifted back asleep.

My daughter came bounding in at seven and poked me.

“Dad, you awake?” Allie asked, running her nine-year-old fingers up and down my side. I clenched so fast it took the breath out of me.

She kissed my cheek and said she wanted pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice. ‘Ballet fuel,’ she called it.

 

From the folding chairs for parents, I watched the advanced group striking the poses that Elena, the instructor, called out. Allie looked so serious it almost hurt. My muscles twitched with each pose.

 

In the car on the way home, Allie asked me, “Dad, am I body shaming you when I call you my fat dad?”

“Where did you hear that phrase, love?”

“There’s a poster about it in the changing room.”

In the rear-view mirror, I saw her tiny brow as furrowed as it could be.

“No, that’s different. I know it’s a term of affection when you say it.”

“What if I call you my stout dad? Isn’t that better?”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

“You’re my stout dad because ‘stout’ means brave and fat.”

 

That night, I kept waking up in new positions. Croisé devant, croisé derrière, épaulé. I awoke surprised at finding my body in each attitude, and the fact that I knew what they were called. Poised but relaxed, I would breathe into the position until the curtain of sleep closed. Then it opened again some hours later on yet another pose.

I showed Allie when she came in the next morning, even finishing with á la quatrième devant, right foot arched magnificently into pointed toes.

“Dayaad!” She was in a phase where she threw in ‘y’s for emphasis. “You can’t do ballet! You’re my stout dad, and stout dads don’t do ballet.” She patted my belly.

 

But after her class, as she was changing out of her leotard, I approached the instructor, Elena, to ask if they had classes for adults. Her eyes widened and she coughed.

“For you?”

“Yes.”

“I…” Again the cough. “Why?”

I leaned down to put the jackets in an empty seat, and, as I stood back up, I moved into effacé devant. The awkward point of my tennis shoe was offset by the perfect curve of my left arm, the diagonal line down to my right finger tips, and my wistful contemplation of my bent left hand.

I saw Elena’s mouth open. Someone said “Wow” behind me.

“You…” Elena whispered. “You could rent the studio,” she managed to get out.

“Yes,” I said. “Perfect.”

 

That night, I came halfway awake as my body moved from the crossed legs and curved arm of croisé to a flat-on-my-back á la seconde, the right toes pointed, arms spread. And just as I was on the verge of slipping once more into sleep, my body twisted right into épaulé, as, of course, it should.

 

Ten to eleven p.m. on Thursdays. I got a neighbor to stay at our place in case Allie woke up. Elena gave me the keys. “Drop them through the mail slot when you’re finished,” she said.

The wood boards flexed under my feet, my stout body reflected in the mirror. I warmed up the way I’d seen the girls do it.

Then they came flooding to me, the positions, and it was all I could do to keep up as they propelled me through the space. I had worried I wouldn’t be able to do them, standing up, but it was the bed that had impeded me all along. I popped into the air with pointed toes, arms straight out, and as I came down from chassé broke into en couru flying across the floor, only to stop short in arabesque, one leg straight back, torso and arms extended in the opposite direction. Even when I was out of breath and had to pause, the positions continued in my mind – back straight, knees bent exactly over feet, muscles ready, then up, tendu with both legs, tight, extended, and down for a soft landing, toes, heels, knees bending into demi plié once more.

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Hardy Griffin has published in Alimentum, Assisi, The Washington Post, American Letters & Commentary, and contributed the chapter “Voice: The Sound of a Story” for Writing Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2003). He is the co-editor of The Wall, an online journal of international writing at wittypartition.org.

Joy Kennedy-O’Neill

Animals at the Ball

 

A sequined ball gown glides past me. Eyes in an ostrich mask narrow. “Are you a donkey?”

I waggle my mask’s brown ears. “Aardvark. They eat–”

She’s spun away by a guy in a lion costume, his wire tail bouncing and flirting along dancers’ legs.

Fine. I don’t know what an aardvark eats anyway. Ants? The only reason I picked this is because I heard the new hire will be a zebra. I’ve been practicing my pick-up line for her. “Hey we’re A to Z. Get it?”

Shit, do I really look like a donkey? When security helped ease me through the protestors and picket lines outside, no one said anything.

I adjust my tux. The company ball is in full swing and people take its theme “Go Wild” to heart. They’re screaming laughter. Shouting songs. Tufts of artificial grass wave on the dance floor, and recordings of exotic birds shriek over music. Of course, the company’s made so much this year, hell, there might be real birds in here. With the roll-backs on environmental protections, we’re fracking and drilling like it’s a party. It is a party.

I look for zebra-girl.

The buffet has fancy faux cheese and chefs searing real lab-grown steak. A jokey sign says, “Do not feed the animals.”

“Really,” a flock of women in flamingo masks mutter. They pull down plastic stripes that look like iron bars and shove them in a corner. “Zoo decor? So inappropriate.”

“Unethical. At least the caterer is woke.”

I grab a drink and hors d’oeuvres wrapped in fakin’ bacon. Then I see her. God almighty. She’s wearing a black leotard and striped stockings that come up to her thighs. I can’t see her face; it’s under a zebra head. But she’s a knock-out. A is for aardvark. Z is for zowie!

“Ooh, are you an elephant?” Someone looks at my long nose.

I angle my way over to zebra-girl. She’s sitting beside a masked pregnant woman who’s a kangaroo, with a little sign over her pouch: “Coming soon!”

“Do you want to dance?” I ask zebra-girl.

She nods and paws her slender foot on the floor. My heart soars.

We do a little shuffle. Her waist is warm in my hands.

“Want a drink?”

She nods and stamps the floor again.

I’m well on my way to getting shit-faced. The zebra head is getting unnerving though. What if I wake up next to it, like a scene from The Godfather? But she finally takes it off.

It’s Susan. My ex-wife.

“What tha–”

“Hiya.” She smirks, tweaking my aardvark nose.

“I’m not a donkey.”

“You’re still an ass.”

Okay, I had a wandering eye when we were married. I admit it.

“Why would you keep dancing with me like that, and not say anything?” I ask her. “I thought you were–”

“It was fun! Call it payback.”

I take another drink and frown. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“I came with Kali.” She points to the pregnant kangaroo. “Bob left her,” she whispers.

“Kali’s pregnant?”

“Jesus, you work with her every day.”

“I–”

Two guys inside a camel costume trot past. “Hump daaay!” The IT guys are hyenas and they cackle. I know they’ve jammed everyone’s cell signals tonight, at HR’s request, so no one can live-stream any party antics.

In a corner, I see the new hire in a zebra-striped dress. Ah! Z is for zipper down the back!

The drinks are hitting me hard, and I try to make my way over to her.

But drums pound and our CEO waltzes in as a big game hunter. Pith helmet, boots, the works. He pulls back a curtain to reveal a backdrop for pictures. We can pose triumphant with hologrammed dead lions, giraffes, elephants . . . big as boulders.

3D lamps project our profit margins. Stock going straight up the walls, straight for the moon! And the room is glittery and champagne-heady. The IT hyenas laugh. Hump-day the camel is literally trying to hump everyone.

I’m drunk and it’s a party.

I lurch around to the real zebra-girl and grab her shoulder.

“Congratulations to us!” I point to the holo-charts.

“Let me go!” She jerks away.

I stumble, falling into the plastic zoo bars in the corner. Conversations spin around me.

“Big game hunting? It’s not ethical.”

“But I hear the money saves the animals.”

I laugh. “Kill ‘em to save ‘em!”

I watch Susan dance and she’s beautiful.

A is for aardvark. B is for bitter

Someone whispers, “Our profits are unsustainable. And the environment . . . “

C is for complicit.

D is for drill.

Picking myself up, I lurch around the room, tripping over the fake savanna grass. The dancers spin faster. Pregnant kangaroo girl sits in the corner, chewing on her lip. The CEO takes center stage and whoops, throwing his pith helmet. It skitters across the dance floor like a khaki beetle.

The flamingo ladies nibble the cultured filet mignon. “Clean meat makes me feel slimmer.”

One watches a couple necking. “Some things never change at these things.”

Another says “And really, the zoo thing is just not ethical . . .”

The holo-flow charts swoop and color everyone in disco-ball yearly profit bling-bling, and I laugh and laugh again, but also feel a little sick.

When the lights flit to a golden yellow, it’s as if we’re all caught in amber.

I fall toward the exit. But I miss the door and hit the glass hard. A smear of blood. Protesters outside watch me, surprised.

My tie’s askew. I’ve lost my mask. I don’t know what I am anymore. I didn’t even know the A to Z’s in my own marriage.

E is for end.

I wipe my nose and wave to the “no Arctic drilling” signs. Behind me, birds shriek and insects hum and music throbs.

A protestor feels sorry for me, the bloody-nosed drunk inside. He lifts his hand.

Waving at all the beautiful animals.

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Joy Kennedy-O’Neill teaches English at a small college on the Texas Gulf Coast. Her works have appeared in Nature, Strange Horizons, Flash Fiction Online, New Orleans Review, among other places. More of her work can be found at JoyKennedyOneill.com.