Hey guys! It’s Annie again. It’s Tuesday, so I don’t need to tell you twice that it’s time for a Book Journey. This week, I wanted to talk about micro-fiction, this funny little genre of short fiction ranging up to about 500 words maximum. These are super cool stories since they demand authors to really play with the space they have, maximizing word count by creating tumultuous plot lines and burying character histories in single words. It’s a mesmerizing genre and so fun to try your hand at writing. But for now, read through this little library of five highlights from the book New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and an addition from one of our authors, Navidad Thelamour!
1. Slow by Joyce Carol Oates
The wrong time for him to be returning home so she stands at an upstairs window watching as he drives up the driveway but continues a little beyond the area where they usually park in front of the garage and stops the car back by the scrubby evergreen hedge and then there’s another wrong thing, it’s that she doesn’t hear the car door slam, she listens but she doesn’t hear, so she turns slow and wondering from the window goes downstairs and at the door where there’s still time for her to be hearing his footsteps she doesn’t hear them so like a sleepwalker she continues outside moving slowly as if pushing through an element dense and resistant but transparent like water and at the end of the walk she sees that he is still in the car still behind the wheel though the motor has been turned off and the next wrong thing of course is that he’s leaning forward with his arms around the wheel and his head on his arms, his shoulders are shaking and she sees that he is crying… he is in fact sobbing… and in that instant she knows that their life will be split in two though she doesn’t as she makes her slow way to him, know how, or why.
2. At Horseneck Beach by Peter Orner
She’s wearing a daisy-patterned yellow one-piece and an enormous blue hat and she’s rubbing sunscreen on her husband’s flubby back. He’s got a cigarette drooping out of the side of his mouth, and he’s so pale he looks like he spent the last thirty years in a basement. She slides her fingers under his waistband. He leaps and yelps, For crying out loud, woman, on the beach in front of all these people? She hands him the bottle. Now do me. He takes the bottle and squeezes a burble of lotion into his palm. Then he breaks an egg on her head, one hand cracks his lotioned fist, and he slithers both hands past her ears. She does not scream, just says quietly, I’ll kill you you fat bastard. He shakes the remaining contents of the bottle on his own head ad musses his hair. Now both have shampoo-lather heads. She takes his hand and says, I should have married Bea Halprin’s brother, Aubrey, the dead one. Let’s swim, he says. He’d have croaked by now and I’d be living on State Farm. I said let’s swim, he says. They walk to the edge of the water and linger there. That wasn’t funny about poor Aubrey, he murmurs, as his wife, who is Sarah, dives and shrieks into the cold June Atlantic blue.
3. Spent by Navidad Thelamour
She’d had four of them.
Four children Francesca had lost, all at various stages in gestational aging, one of them as far as thirty weeks. Four losses, four casualties, four periods of grieving that felt like death itself. Knives to her throat, ripping at her hair, her heart rung dry. That’s what it felt like, but then she’d snap out of it and realize that she was just sitting in a room, alone, no knife in hand, no hair in hand, just sitting, spent. Four before she stopped, before she let the idea fall away, before she tucked it away like an old, beloved sweater that no longer fit her but she couldn’t bear to toss out.
4. Clean by Joy Williams
A child in the south side of town was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was not the intended victim, he was only seven. There really was no intended victim. The gunman just wanted to spook some folks, the folks in this specific house. It wasn’t even little Luis’s house. But he was there, visiting a friend who had a pet iguana, and the iguana was sort of sickly, no one knew why, more yellow than green, maybe someone had fed it spinach by mistake. Hearing a ruckus, the boys ran outside and Luis was shot in the chest and died.
The family held a car wash to pay for the funeral expenses. This is not uncommon. It was announced in the newspaper and lots of people came, most of whom had nice waxed cars that didn’t need washing, and the family appreciated this.
5. Letting Go by Pamela Painter
I’m standing at the south rim of the Grand Canyon photographing florid undulating rock walls that drop to alarming depths. But it is almost checkout time at my hotel, and I want to take a tub and use all their emollients, a habit my ex deplored. When a young couple approaches to ask if I would please take their photograph, I want to say, I’m not the Park photographer. This happens to me everywhere in the Boston Gardens, along the banks of the Charles. Always a couple in love – like this couple in their multi-pocket hiking shorts and sturdy Clarks. I let my Nikon dangle from the beaded lanyard round my neck, and take their fancy smart phone, heeding their instructions. “You were always a good listener,” my ex once said, “but sometimes you have to let things go.” I line the couple up in front of the Canyon’s distant north rim, bronze wall aglow. I wave them to the right a bit. Joined at the hip, they happily sidle right, probably thinking I am a good photographer. Then I motion for them to step toward me for another photo. Unaccountably, they shuffle three steps back – and disappear with scrabbling sounds and tiny shrieks. Then no sound at all. I whirl around for help but there is no one in sight. On hands and knees, I peer over the cliff’s edge, but it hides the floor far below. As if to assure myself that they were once here, I look at their photographs. Against two backdrops, they are young, expectant, squinty smiles in the morning sun. And then a blur. Breathe, I tell myself. I set the phone on a wooden bench for someone to find. It is the only evidence the three of us were here.
6. The Night Aliens in a White Van Kidnapped My Teenage Son Near the Baptist Church Parking Lot by Lorraine López
He admits being peeved, my boy does. Not allowed to sleep over with a shady friend with no phone, only a beeper, my son settles, enough to go to bed, earlier than usual even. But he tosses, twists – then pops the screen and leaps out, scrambling for the damp lap of grass near the Baptist church parking lot across the street. IN the muzzy mosquito haze funneling from the street light, he considers in- words, like “injustice” and “inalienable rights,” when extraterrestrials – two or twenty, he can’t be sure – careen in a white Dodge van – brakes shrieking, tires thumping speed bumps – onto the church lot.
Laughing and scratching like their skins don’t fit, they ask for directions to Peanut’s Red Neck Bar-be-que, and my boy, ever helpful, points and starts to explain as they hurtle from the van, rushing him. They snatch him with long, spongy arms and slam him in the back. Then, tires wailing, they haul out to the street. Cramped between crates, he’s still keen to an idea. When the aliens brake for a red light, he yanks the latch, spills out the rear door, runs like fire for the back streets. In an alley, he pulls a mangled girl’s bike from a trash heap and wobbles home.
Because I’d locked his window after finding his bed empty, the buzzing doorbell jolts me alert. Shaken, he can barely speak. Says if I call the police, they’ll never believe it. Shush, I say, hush. I run him a bubbling tub, press two baby aspirin into his palm, and finally tuck him to sleep. Now I twist and toss, pull the curtains apart to check for white vans, listen for the squeal of brakes, the awful laughter, something alien out there, ready to wrench my boy from me.
I’m Annie, a recent UC Berkeley grad and publicity intern here at Art + Deco Agency. I’ll be your resident blogger, chatting with and about emerging voices in the literary industry and getting you started on your summer reading list. Catch me here every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday!