by Valerie Fioravanti
followed by Q&A
The music crests, and the audience surges from the park’s great lawn to the rhythm of the final notes. You resist checking your watch by eating the last two dolmas from the Armenian deli he loves so much. The musicians return to the stage in small groups, performing for themselves and the remnants of the crowd littering the grass, all couples, except for you. This spontaneous performance under a low yellow moon, fanned by an easy May breeze should be savored, but you’ve eaten your way through a picnic packed for two.
It’s probably your fidgeting that attracts the donuts, although Dan believes you exude blue fever’s opposite—men in uniform can’t resist you. You flash the friends-and -family shield before they can begin the it’s not safe alone speech, and the two officers take a synchronized step back. “Any news from the 30?”
The older one, his shirt overstretched across the chest, nods. “Five-alarmer at an SRO uptown.”
The younger one leans down and swats the leaves and picnic crumbs from the edge of your blanket. “Unit’s flooded with event OT, we can get you home in a car.”
You stand because there’s no refusing, but Dan’s long stride finally cuts across the path. His stench outpaces him, filling your nostrils with sulfur and heartbreak. His voice, when he’s near enough, is an adolescent quiver. “I was first at the scene, but she just dropped him. I’m the quick one. That’s my job. To react.”
His eyes are empty spaces, and the two other officers immediately turn their backs. A soldier down needs alcohol and a woman—only the order and proportion of this cure is debated. Dan, the child of alcoholics, favors a return to prohibition. You lead him past the crosstown traffic to the lake, his hands clutching yours like a lost child. He holds on to the fleece wrapped around your waist as you pick the boathouse lock with the pin of his police badge. The rowboat you heave into the lake is painted the blue of his uniform shirt, the blue of the stripe on his squad car, the blue of a terrified toddler’s eyes, now young forever.
You strip Dan from the top layers of his singed, sooty clothes and guide him into the boat. His eyes still reflect flame and you cannot swim, but you can hold on, and you can rock with him until the damp breeze blows the smoke from his nostrils.
“I need to look up more,” he says. “Be alert across all sightlines. Assess all evolving possibilities.”
“You will.” You press your forehead to his, as if to transmit your faith telepathically. “You do.” Above all else you admire Dan’s stubborn heart, still so soft despite the hard neighborhood you were raised in and fled together. His fingers reach for your buttons, and you help him. You do your best to steady the boat as he rocks it, and the cold, clear water laps over you as he creates his own wave.
After, Dan strokes you drowsily. His body’s so transformed it’s hard not to snicker. Such an easy fix. “You know Delilah? From the bible?”
You grab the curls that have grown past his nape. He was ordered to the clippers twice last month. “I just stole your strength?”
“No!” His brows form a deep, earnest V. Even in kindergarten he was impossible to tease. “You’re her opposite. Hal-i-led. You make me stronger.”
Haliled. The hair on your arms rises, as if the chill of the evening has finally taken hold. Only you’re suffused with warmth. You have never been like him. Resolute, imbued with such clear purpose. This is your life with him. This is your life.
With him, this will always be your life.
Valerie Fioravanti’s work has appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Night Train, and Cimarron Review. She currently teaches flash fiction and other workshops online for the UCLA Writers’ Extension and runs the reading series Stories on Stage in Sacramento. While she is—like many of her ilk—abysmal at math, she values stubborn indivisibility, in numbers and otherwise.
Q: What was your inspiration for the story?
A: “Haliled” originated as a prose poem and workshop meme after a friend jotted Note to self: write erotica in her notebook during class. While my erotic poem took a sex-free detour into charred flesh and despair, I decided to honor the original intention when I transformed it into flash fiction.
The Father of Modern Chemistry
by Stefanie Freele
followed by Q&A
We only keep Vidor around for his announcements. I mean, we don’t really need him. It’s not like he pays rent or anything. Basically, he sits in his couch-dent and proclaims things.
Like for instance, when we pack for our hiking-honeymoon mumbling, “Let’s see I’ve got extra socks, extra rain pants, what else?” Vidor says, pack an extra head? Or, when Jay comes out of the shower, “geez my hands are pruny,” Vidor declares, That’s nothing. Yesterday I had a pruny peepee.
“Goodnight Vidor” we say and he waves a hand, Night Raisins.
In our bedroom we try to remember when Vidor arrived, how he got to our couch. Neither of us recall. He’s always been here with his four day-old beard growth, his green moose pajamas, his sherling-slippered feet up on the coffee table.
He must have come from somewhere. We resolve to ask in the morning.
We enter the room together but try to ask offhand as if we’re just curious, not interrogating.“Vidor? Where were you before our cabin?”
Pre-couch? He ponders. Yes.
There is a part of me that thinks I should be concerned. Should a grown out-of-work man be living with newlyweds?
“Vi? Are you happy here? I mean, is it better than where you lived before?”
He stirs his hot chocolate. That’s all we’ve ever seen him drink, hot chocolate. I’ve been wondering if happiness is a chemical reaction. For some people, it’s great big rain boots and a waterproof hat.
Retreating to our room to debrief, Jay recalls Vidor interested in a pizza, olives, so much better than that red wheelbarrow, but, did anyone ever see him chew? I think I saw Vidor come out of the bathroom once, but then again I’m not positive. Perhaps he showers and toilets while we’re at work? Has he ever been out to play in the snow?
Jay shrugs and tells me to let it go. “Vidor’s dependable and keeps the cats company.”
I’m really not uneasy about Vidor, just curious. I mean, but don’t want to say out loud: What if he wants to move on? How do we make him stay?
Out in the living room, I interrupt Vidor engrossed in a Scientific American with a calculator on his lap and binoculars around his neck. “Vi? What is it about you?”
He puts down the magazine and looks at me over his glasses. We’re out of laundry detergent and you worry too much. Both sides of an equation are equal. He resumes reading.
Flakes flurry behind him in the woods and I notice that both birdfeeders are full and the chickadees are fluttering the ground to peck. The picture is winter-perfect.
“Equal.” Breathless, I run down the hallway in my long underwear and jump into bed. Equal is the word I needed to hear. “We’re all good Jay.”
Jay cozies up to my neck, “I’ve been telling you we’re all good.”
I rest my heavy leg on his. “Guess I had to hear it from someone else.”
We whisper about big future plans, sledding, white chickens and wheelbarrows, all at the same time.
Stefanie Freele’s short story collection Feeding Strays was a finalist for both the Book of the Year and the John Gardner Fiction Book Award. She is the Fiction Editor of the Los Angeles Review. Recent work can be found in Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Night Train, Vestal, and Word Riot. Stefanie has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop.
Q: What’s the inspiration for this story?
A: This story was inspired by several events including: a Flash Factory prompt, a William Carlos Williams Poem, and the couch-dent left on my brothers’ 1970s brown velvet couch by a roommate.
by Scott Owens
followed by Q&A
He wanted to understand
absolute value, thought
that might mean the redemption
of everything, hookers and addicts,
his own life, thought
that might be what Jesus
meant, enemy as brother,
each other as I you,
judge not that you be
not judged, but no matter how
he tried, understanding,
forgiveness, silver linings,
things kept coming up the same,
always less than zero.
Author of six collections of poetry and over 600 poems published in journals and anthologies, Scott Owens is editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, vice president of the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and recipient of awards from the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Academy of American Poets, the NC Writers’ Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC. He holds an MFA from UNC Greensboro and currently teaches at Catawba Valley Community College
Q: What was the inspiration or genesis for your poem, "Absolute Value"?
A: I’ve always struggled with the idea of absolute value. In fact, I remember arguing with my seventh grade math teacher about the illogic of the concept. To me, the direction of something’s value, i.e. positive or negative, is much more vital than the distance of that thing from some medium or point of origin.
by Michael Bazzett
followed by Q&A
Pascal might be correct about the agony of human history
resulting from our inability to sit contented in a room alone.
If so, the urge to demolish will strike and when it does
fire is acceptable, and even transfixing, though also strangely
passive when compared to swinging a wrench
in a room full of bones still sheathed and tensing
in the limbs of those dead-set on avoidance.
One can sit on a hill, arms clasped about the knees,
and watch a barn pulse and roar in seizures of heat.
The smell of gasoline might lift from one cuff as the cinders curl.
Or one can heft oiled steel by the haft and go to swinging work
like a grim berserker in a muddy field, the weight of the axe
straining the ligature, broadening the arc of your reach in the world.
Michael Bazzett’s work has appeared in journals such as Green Mountains Review, Best New Poets, The MacGuffin, The National Poetry Review, and Rattle. He was the winner of the 2008 Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and his novel for young readers, Marley Barbeau, was recently excerpted at Hunger Mountain. New poems are forthcoming in The Literary Review, Bateau, and Sentence. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.
Q: What was the inspiration genesis for your poem, "The Choice"?
The genesis was simple: Pascal’s quote, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” It doesn’t seem to present a lot of options.