Drought and isolation—talk about themes with resonance this summer! Of course, when the fiction writers from SFCC’s intermediate fiction class embarked on this summer’s flash project last spring, we had no idea the summer would include massive forest fires and days on end spent inside with the windows shut and the fans blowing! (I can’t help but wish we’d chosen “fire” as a theme).
The second round of this season’s Summer of Flash is now up on campus, and features work by Ree Mobley, Ken McPherson, Pat Barnes, William White and Meg Tuite.
Writers from the class, in groups, chose themes for this summer’s work (drought and “the outsider,” were two prominent themes for this round of flash), although these themes, ultimately, served mostly as prompts, rather than strict frameworks for the pieces. Still, Pat Barnes‘ piece hits home!
By Pat Barnes
The windows on the west looked out on the parched high desert plateau as strong stubborn winds blew dust that clouded the sky from limb to limb.
The plants had withered in meek submission and all sense of green had died a gruesome death.
Tumbleweeds rolled across the flat spaces like hellish heathens hurling their disgust into fences, agoras and whatever stopped their path.
A pair of birds forgot to chirp during the morning moments.
Swirling mirages loomed far into the distance suggesting some movement remained.
Dry tongues panting could not be heard.
The fury of the sun spread across the land with demonic dances of delight.
This was the punishment for the misdeeds of mankind.
Drought, deadly drought, will this be the end?
In addition to the pieces by Barnes, McPherson, Mobley and White, the second round of flash includes several pieces by Meg Tuite, who also published, this summer, the very fine collection, Domestic Apparition.
The pieces will be on display through the summer on the campus of SFCC (click here to view the map). Hey, you’ve been shut inside most of the summer—time to get out and about!
Apparently, while drought and alienation are not necessarily stellar goals for mankind, they do apparently make for decent writing conditions. After watching my students turn out numerous pieces of inspiring flash fiction, I also played around with the form while shut in my house with the windows closed. I find it very challenging to tell a story so briefly, but here’s my flash fiction for the summer of 2011 (it’s not very cheerful!)
By Julia Goldberg
Her bruises look like flowers, symmetrical strangled purpled fingerprints, like a choking necklace of faded rubies strung on the princess’ neck before she’s lain in the ground and covered by dirt, ash, blown leaves and rising grass.
For 20 years they were Marlee and Lauren, one cell divided: physically inseparable and identical; acerbic and docile; obsessive and laconic; suspicious and trusting. Lank light brown hair, hazel eyes, 5’5,” swimmers’ shoulders from a childhood of man-made lakes; strong legs from early morning and twilight bike rides and sprints in the woods by their home.
At 25, though, He showed up.
One bridesmaid, one bride. Two hundred guests on the lawn of their parents’ home. A waning moon, a lilac cake with frosting that tasted like lollipops.
“No,” Marlee screamed in her head. “No. No. No.” She stayed silent, drank champagne, watched the late summer cirrus clouds cross the flattened, celadon sky and her parents’ anxious eyes.
Five years of whispered phone calls and broken dates. Their face separates like an egg yolk. Eyes shadowed and distant, cheeks gaunt and gray. Her muscles lose their strength and memories. Her arms are thin and bruised.
The door is unlocked. The phone beeps, never replaced from the last phone call she placed. The hour-long drive at 85 miles an hour was too long. It was forever. Marlee pants as if she ran it. Her heart beats painfully against her ribs, the way it used to when they swam too far across the lake. Then, they would pull themselves out of the warm summer water onto the bank, haul themselves onto the scraggly grass and laugh into each other’s arms: entangled, together, the same.
Outside: March, drizzle, a sky bleached by storm. Inside: A dirty yellow linoleum floor. Lauren’s eyes stare and do not see. Spider webs of blood vessels mar her gaze. Marlee closes them with her shaking hand, covers her own bile-dry mouth, holds Lauren’s fish-cold hand and pulls the diamond ring from her sister’s finger.