I mentioned earlier this week that I wrote a second piece of flash fiction concurrent with “Zadie,” and that I would put it up here since it hasn’t gathered any publication interest.
Whereas I purposefully worked toward a compelling visual image that would act metaphorically to end “Zadie,” I did the opposite with this one. I wanted to start with something that would hook the reader and become more significant as the story unfolded, and that the reader would look back at and see as working both literally and metaphorically from the start of the story. Somehow, the idea of a key broken off in a lock came to me as the opening image. I got to thinking about under what circumstances that would happen to a person, and this story dropped into my lap. I worked hard to hone the voice of the narrator here; I’m not sure how well I did.
Shortly after finishing this one, I came across a “100-word story” contest. This one was already pretty close the a mere 100 words, so I pared it down one day in between classes and on my prep period. It was worth the effort, despite it not winning or even being published.
The jagged stump of key sticking out of the lock looks like a finger. The floodlight overhead
buzzes and blinks, flashing snapshots of the finger pointing at you. Accusing you. Clumsy
The night is growing darker. Colder.
You raise your leg and piston your foot against the lock. A second time. The sound of
splintering wood crackles in the air. Another kick, and the door bursts open. Now who’s
Honey, I’m home. It’s clumsy me.
She’s standing on the far side of the kitchen table with a steak knife in one hand and the
phone to her ear.
A piece of mail I’ve been waiting for all summer finally arrived two weeks ago. It was the April, 2015 issue of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. I was contacted last May by the nice folks who edit and publish Flash at the University of Chester in Chester, UK; they wanted to put up my flash fiction piece “Zadie.” I wasn’t going to argue with them, of course, though we did debate a little about line and content edits. And I had to get my head around why I was contacted in May about inclusion in an issue that was intended for April, but they said it was all a matter of busy-ness and marking piles of undergraduate papers at the end of the term. I know that racket all too well.
I’m happy. Flash is a reputable international publication that in the very least has included a writer for whom I hold a great deal of respect because of her stories in The New Yorker. I’m honored to be joining their ranks, even if it is to the tune of a mere 314 words. That’s not a typo—my story is 314 words, and it’s not even close to being the shortest one in the issue.
How does one write such a short, short piece of fiction? Kinda like one writes poetry, I guess. Seems logical, too, that since I’ve been studying and practicing poetry and fiction for the last five years that I’d “discover” a way to merge them. What happened was that I arrived early at a local school board meeting last January and happened to have my journal with me. I challenged myself to write something that I could complete in the 30 minutes before the meeting started; plus, I wanted it to end with a compelling visual image that would act metaphorically. I wasn’t quite sure what that image would be, but I had an opening line that I deliberately crafted to be rude, profane, and shocking if only to get the reader’s attention right away:
“Suzi was the type of girl who would fuck on a pile of coats on a bed in a spare bedroom at a party.”
I wrote fast and hard, and then let it go by the time the meeting started. I didn’t visit it again until I typed it two weeks later, and then I pottered around with it here and there over the next few weeks. I wrote another story along with it, but I really only viewed the pieces as practice. I showed them to a writer friend who really liked them, which was enough to encourage me to submit them to Flash when I found a listing for the publication while scrolling through a database of publications that were accepting stories. I was surprised to hear back from them because I hadn’t really thought much of the piece.
So now I’ve got an international publication to my credit. I’m pretty happy about that. A copy of Flash will cost you about $14, but I can save you the money. If you text “pure genius” to 847-528-2873, I’ll text you a PDF of “Zadie.” And hey—it’s only half as long as this blog post!
P.S. Lest you think I got away with a potboiler writing stunt, the opening line mentioned above is not what was published. Instead, it was this:
“I practically heard the synapses firing in Zadie’s brain the moment she started scheming.”
P.P.S. That second piece of flash fiction I wrote along with “Zadie”? Nobody seems to want it. I’ll put it up later this week and you can decide the quality of it yourself.
Baseball didn’t do much for me this summer. That’ll happen when the Brewers start 3-18 and the coach is gone before the middle of May. The Tigers tripped over their own tails, never quite fulfilling the promise of a team built and rearmed year to year over the last ten years to win a World Series. The Orioles have been up and down, and were in the wild card spot as little as a month ago. That’s when they put the “coast” in roller coaster and promptly lost a slew of games and dropped below .500. It’s not over for them yet, but I don’t see them recovering and making it into October. So that leaves me with the Cubs.
They just now took three of four from Pittsburgh, and looked good doing it. If the situation with the playoffs remains static, and it likely will, the Cubs will play Pittsburgh for the wildcard spot in Pittsburgh in early October. If things go well and they win (which is not guaranteed), they’ll face off with St. Louis in the division series. No doubt every Cubs fan is slavering over the chance to slay the much- and long-hated Cardinals in 5-game series, but the only way the Cubs can really do that is if the fury of the rivalry sparks something god-like in them and they can play David to the Goliath down I-55.
There’s too many “if”s in that last paragraph for me to start believing in the Cubs. See, here’s the thing: The Cubs are your friend with a substance abuse problem. You can’t rely on him—in fact, there is nothing in their last 100 years that rings even remotely with a tone of reliability. Like your friend with a substance abuse problem, there is constant talk about getting better. Things are going to be different next year. Sure enough, he might get something together and look good, but he falls off the wagon and spend years regaining his sobriety. It doesn’t help that the Cubs fan base doesn’t care about the sobriety issue (in fact, Wrigleyville discourages the use of the the word “sober”), that they don’t care how miserable the situation is—they love the Cubs all the same and still drop their money at the ticket booth. So, much like a person who is having trouble staying sober, the Cubs need a new peer group. I’ve mentioned that before in posts about the death of nostalgia at Wrigley Field and attempts to make the stadium more fan-friendly. I’m glad to see the Cubs making the right steps and understanding what it takes to be sober and functional, but I’m not there yet. By all measures they are ahead of projections for where the team should be, but until “wait until next year” can be said with a measure of confidence and not irony, I’m not going to be very interested in them. Maybe next year is the year by which to measure them. We’ll have to see. Until then, you’ll pardon me if I take the Cubs at my leisure and don’t take them too seriously.
Summer is over. Indeed, all 79 of your consecutive days off are gone, and you’re going to meet all your students tomorrow morning. You know it’s hard for most who are reading this to sympathize. You’ve grown used to the protestations after twenty years, to the point where you don’t really even hear them anymore. It is an ungodly amount of time to be free from the strictures of work, and even more unbelievable when you don’t have a wife or kids to consider when it comes to considering what you’re going to do with your time.
So what did you do with your time this summer? Nothing, really. You didn’t take a class or anything. No need to. Your license isn’t up for renewal; nor do you need the graduate hours. You may have mentioned in a previous post that you’re now at the top of the salary scale and don’t need to take summer classes anymore. That didn’t stop you from taking a pretty significant workshop last summer, but that’s not something you’re planning on doing every summer. But not taking any classes? Unheard of. So much so that you have to stop and think for a long time about the last time you didn’t take a summer course. You think it was 2005, though you’re not entirely sure.
But there were trips, right? Like the time you went on the cruise. Or when you went to China. Maybe you took a few weeks here or there, or a long weekend? Nope. Nothing more than a pair of single-day trips out of state, and a few day straggling back from a family event the very first weekend of summer. Aside from those, you never even left the Chicagoland area, except for a trip to Milwaukee for a soccer match. That, too, is unheard of in your life.
Didn’t it get boring, hanging out at home all day every day? No. Had you actually done that, you imagine it would have been pretty damn boring. But you were so completely active that staying at home got to be a sought-after pleasure.
So, what exactly did you do? For starters, you exercised to a degree you’ve never exercised in your life. You had set a goal to get your weight under 200 lbs. and to maintain that. That resulted in exercising 64 times since June 2. You again ran a bunch of 5Ks. Those will keep you structured and organized near week ends so you can do your best.
You had a handful of home projects to complete, such as cleaning out a file cabinet that had documents in it dating back to at least 1990; most of which you hadn’t looked at in years. You shredded enough paper to fill three kitchen garbage bags. There were two closets to clean out, too. You still don’t know how one person can collect so much clutter. And the damn closets only reinforce the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy that you’re sure you’re not the first person to complain about. And just now you’re in the middle of a huge kitchen makeover. Why not save the biggest one for last?
You spent a helluva lot of time sitting on the balcony reading. That’s a frequent lament in the cold months, that you can’t sit on the balcony and read. So you did a lot of that. And writing, of course! You got in the habit of making yourself work on writing on Wednesday afternoons at a nearby restaurant that has a nice outdoor patio. And the beauty of Wednesday afternoons in the summer? Ain’t nobody else there!
So what else? You have a regular summer tutoring gig that helps keep your teaching mind straight and provided you with a quantum of adult structure. But then there was Netflix… MLBTV… and so much USMNT and USWNT soccer that you couldn’t quite believe it.
To most people, this all adds up to “nothing.” You can’t argue that. But it also all added up to one helluva lot of exercise and rest. So much rest, in fact, that by mid August you were over-rested. It can happen. It happens every year when the calendar turns to August. All of a sudden there is some kind of panic that you didn’t cram in enough fun and slacking off, so you stay up until 2AM, sleep until 10AM, and take a two-hour nap in the afternoon.
Who wouldn’t love to have your problems? Anybody who wants them can check back with you in four months and tell you if they feel the same way. If so, you’ll talk.
continued from yesterday…
We retrieved the boomerang and I gave it a try. I mimicked Joel’s form, including the low-slung arm, and watched the boomerang skim through the air and quickly drop to the ground. Maybe I had held it upside down. I looked to Joel. “That sucked.”
Undeterred, he said we’d keep practicing. I tried again with the same results. He tried again, and it looked like I had thrown it. That went on for six or seven more turns. The thing refused to fly in any manner we expected from a boomerang. It looked so easy on film, so why couldn’t we do it?
We tried throwing it over-armed like we would a baseball but only drove it into the ground. Joel thought to twist his wrist counter-clockwise on release and got the boomerang to fly a little further, but that was it. I tried the same and got nothing different except a cracking sensation in my wrist. We tried throwing with a sweeping motion across our bodies, like a frisbee, but any force we mustered wasn’t enough to make it fly more than thirty feet.
After an hour of trying and failing to duplicate Joel’s initial success, we were no closer to achieving boomerang prowess than we had been to effectively throwing tomato stake javelins two years prior. Our spirits were deflated, and the tendons connecting my forearm to my bicep burned. It felt like my right arm was hanging two inches lower than my left, and my wrist still smarted,
“One more heave,” Joel decided. He measured the wind, but this time stood facing it. He intentionally flung the boomerang high, trying to affect its trajectory and return, ever hopeful that he could still find dominion over the cheap piece of wood. It sailed high, but when it reached its peak, a gust of wind grabbed it and pulled it far over our property line into the tall, thick weeds on the land owned by our hippy neighbors.
We looked at each other and shrugged. We walked to the edge of the property, and then tromped into the neighbor’s jungle to where we thought we’d find the boomerang. It wasn’t there. We expanded our search radius, but no dice.
“I’m gonna be pissed if we lose that damn thing,” Joel said. He pointed to where he wanted me to look, and continued to guide our search for twenty minutes until our shoelaces and pants legs were full of burrs and our hands and arms were scratched from pulling apart thickets and brambles.
We never found the boomerang. We returned to my parents’ house dejected. There was a void in our thinking that we could sense but not quantify. We couldn’t grasp the immutability of the physical universe, and couldn’t verbalize our lack of understanding. There was no explaining why we couldn’t accomplish something that looked so easy or how the boomerang completely disappeared. The idea that something could be so absolute didn’t fit into teenage heads stuffed with gray matter and gray areas we were fated to perpetually negotiate. When I told my brother about our misadventure the next day, he laid out the concrete truth that we could grasp: A boomerang that doesn’t come back when you throw it isn’t a boomerang—it’s a stick.
My local public library offered a writing seminar a few weeks back: Memoir With Panache. It was a good opportunity to connect with some local writers and force myself to go in a different direction with my writing and thinking. I had a bit of fun working on my piece and thought I’d share it here. ~ Jeff
by Jeff Burd
One cool, sunny fall day when I was a teen, my friend Joel showed up in our driveway with a boomerang. He explained that he thought it would be fun to see if we could throw it. It wasn’t much of a surprise; we’d spent the last two years on my parents’ five acres in northeast Indiana determining the fun inherent in an arsenal of weapons. It was small-time at first but had escalated quickly—tomato stake javelins to a slingshot to bow and arrow to bb and pellet guns. Somehow my parents allowed small-caliber pistols and rifles, and then shotguns. I also had a secret go with my brother’s .223 bolt-action hunting rifle and was left with a half moon scar over my right brow from the scope. The idea of a boomerang was a huge and unexpected step in the opposite direction, but I couldn’t think of a reason not to give it a few throws.
“Where should we try it?” I asked.
Joel looked around the yard and overhead, where cumulus clouds had been bumping into each other most of the afternoon. “Somewhere where there’s not a lot of wind,” he decided. “Or trees.” It wouldn’t be the front yard because of that last qualifier. The back yard was too wide-open and windswept, and there was no guarantee we could keep the boomerang out of the pond. So it was the side yard.
We walked to the other side of the house and down a short slope. Joel handed me the boomerang. It was light and flexible, and the wing tips had been painted blue over the natural beech of the wood. There was a red stamp on one side: “100% Balsa”.
“This is gonna be like The Road Warrior,” Joel announced, which was enough to get my mind racing. The film, which we slavered over, prominently featured a boomerang in several scenes; albeit a heavy chrome one with razor edges. At one point, it is buried halfway into the brain of one of the bad guys; a few second later, another villain loses most of his fingers on one hand trying to catch it. The differences between the cinematic boomerang and the one we had didn’t register with us. If we could learn how to chuck that thing, we would be cool like most everything in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of The Road Warrior. And there was novelty, too. Most everybody where we lived was shooting guns, but hurling boomerangs? Not at all.
Joel took the boomerang back from me and found a spot in the side yard. He put his back to the wind, planted his feet wider than his shoulders, and declared, “Here goes.”
He reached his arm back and flung the boomerang side-armed like a sub-marining baseball pitcher. It spun in furious clockwise circles three feet parallel to the ground and was thirty yards away within two seconds when for reasons unfathomable to us it cut at a sharp upward angle, practically perpendicular to the ground. I guess we had expected the boomerang to take a long ovular loop and return to us. Instead, we watched it climb and then suddenly cut back in our direction.
“Aw shit!” I yelled, ready to run.
“Wait,” Joel commanded me.
I froze. The boomerang whirred over our heads and landed safely behind us with a soft thud.
Joel exploded. “Holy crap! Did you see that?” He wore a grin so wide it was falling off the sides of his face. I was mystified. Joel was a bulky, vague mass of a kid, but he was a decent wrestler, could run a few miles, shoot a basketball quite well, and suddenly seemed to have instant facility with a boomerang. How was all that possible?
Press Release: Police Report (downloadable) by Jeff Burd
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: (date mm/dd/yyyy)
On (date mm/dd/yyyy) at (time) A.M./P.M., at (location),
(name of random poor or minority citizen) was observed
by Officer(s) _____________ engaging in (identify
criminal act observed or suspected + criminal code number
[minimize / hyperbolize as needed]). When officer(s)
approached the scene, the party appeared to be
(circle all that apply)
- drunk and/or stoned
- concealing and/or reaching for a weapon
- unwilling to soothe the officer(s) ego(s)
- indifferent to the fact that police risk their lives every minute of every day
Officer(s) were unable to de-escalate the situation because
(circle all that apply):
- they feared for their lives
- they had not yet met their ticket quota
- the citizen didn’t appear to know his/her rights
- “de-escalate?” Are you serious? That’s rich.
While it is unfortunate that (repeat name of citizen above)
was killed (circle one)
- at the scene
- in transport to custody
- under legitimate circumstances while in custody
officer(s) will not be (circle one)
The actions taken have been found to be lawful, justified,
necessary, and in compliance with departmental policy by
(circle all that apply)
- other officer(s) at the scene
- the direct supervisor who mentors the officer(s)
- the chief of police who hired the officer(s)
- the mayor who once saw the officer(s) at a local high school football game
- the prosecuting attorney whose (circle all that apply)
was killed by someone of the same (circle all that apply)
- ethnic group
- social class
as (repeat name of citizen above).
The issue is now closed. The __________ Police Department
remains committed to effective policing strategies and building
positive relationships with the community.