Prime Decimals 5.5
Stories in Which the Narrator Withholds Information
by M. V. Montgomery
“My partner and I were lured by that bane of mankind, gold. We were foolish enough to attempt the Sierras in January without packing any more provisions than what we could carry ourselves. Then a landslide sealed our fate—how I rue the day that icy cavern became our prison! What days of raw misery, of untold suffering and horror! Not until the Spring thaw did God send my bold rescuers, Captain Jack and his scout ranger team. Alas, too late for my partner, who had passed away in that cruel cave.”
“Yes, matter of fact I did know O’Leary, one of my lifelong parishioners. He came to confess to me on a wintry night much like tonight, after pulling off his most celebrated heist. He spared me no detail of the crime. And I understand he was shot down only hours later. Therefore, though he had at hand a heavy penance, we may assume the man did not die in a state of sin. Indeed, he is still well spoken of throughout these parts. Our new cathedral could not have been built without his beneficence.”
“I sleep in a box by day and come out only at night. I have no real will of my own; the Master keeps me tight in his grasp and never lets go. At times, to appease me, he will say we are a team. Ah, but if that were the case, why does he earn the silent respect, and even the awe of crowds, while I am never spared their raucous laughter? I nervously chatter like a monkey in my attempt to win their approval, and never succeed, yet they sit in quiet attention while the Master never even moves his lips.”
“Pap always said, ‘Champ, you know I’m there if ever you need me.’ And when the fightin’ got real bad and I just couldn’t take it, I recollected those words and suddenly knew what I must do. I changed course and flew that jet clear back to Wichita! Out of fuel, I landed in a cornfield and started the fall harvest early by skidding along those neat furrows. If my copilot Mike could’ve seen it, he’d like to have had a heart attack! Of course, he’d put up resistance to the idea of a visit in the first place.”
“My break-up with Angelica occurred on Valentine’s Day, which made it all the more painful. I had pursued her for what seemed like weeks, but it must’ve been months. I was always so eager to catch whatever glimpse I could of her on the street or at her apartment building. My buddies on the force said, ‘Dude, you really must stop all this, that girl has gotten to your head.’ I ignored them, of course, and kept up my wooing. Then finally they said, ‘Dude, no we mean it, you really must stop.’”
M.V Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Georgia. His most recent collection of fiction, Antigravitas, is available as a free e-book at http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/antigravitas.
It contains many examples of story experiments and “chained” flash fiction such as this one.
by Meg Tuite
followed by Q&A
They were the kind of couple you met and then wished to hell you could get a reimbursement for, or at least a rebate on, after you got to know them. You could have kept your oversized mouth shut when you spied them sandwiched together on the curb. They were a volcanic abyss of unrestrained love with their hands every which way and you had to actually cross a damn street, vacate your brain, and say, “you two hellions are going to combust from all this torrid public defilement.” Then you all laughed, of course, and you had to ask for their names, which even rankled of notoriety. Shale and Arist-e (short for Aristotle). You have got to be kidding? You should have run at that point, but no, instead you talked up and down and all around until you were the life of their party and they just couldn’t live without you.
So, next thing you know you were all having dinners and going out to clubs together, and you and your boyfriend, Bob, were now a real foursome with Shale and Arist-e. What the hell were you thinking? It’s not like you and Bob weren’t having a good enough time on your own, going to movies and having sporadic sex, but all that had freakishly changed. Whatever you had in your so-called relationship could never hold a fucking lit match to this sultry twosome. They called each other baby and pumpkin and were always holding hands and the heat that smoked out of them was drowning whatever fire you thought you once knew. You knew nothing, apparently.
Now, you and Bob were this frumpy, panicked couple that sat with plastered, sickened smiles on your faces across from these lavish lovers slathering each other with compliments and stories about all of the exotic places they’ve been and laughing at each other’s jokes, when you and Bob could barely look at them, finding yourselves staring at spots above their exuberant hair and platinum smiles because you secretly despised their feverish overdose. You wanted them to wrinkle and lose a few teeth right before your eyes. You called them hedonistic vermin and imagined their love blasting up into an inferno of hate. Maybe Shale found out that Arist-e was gay or he was having an affair with Shale’s mother, because you were sure her mother was hot too. You’d have to comfort the two of them through their separation and the inevitable break-up without any possibility of a hideous, libidinous make-up.
And just when you thought it was time to move to another city, you and Bob discovered that your steaming, monstrous thoughts toward this radiant couple were exploding simultaneously. You and Bob, overnight, became the sublime couple that had an outrageous secret, smacking each other under the table while listening to the bubbling couple bubble. After dinners with the soul mates you and Bob were racing home, slamming each other against the walls, making raucous love like you hadn’t done in years. It was a lust-filled period for the two of you as you rolled around and basked in the underhanded refuge of your coupled adrenaline rush.
Unfortunately, fortune based on another couple’s atrocious fortune couldn’t last. Soon enough, Shale and Arist-e figured out that they were the brunt of your happiness, which immediately dampened theirs, and so they assuredly moved on to another unhappy couple that didn’t know they were unhappy, until they met Shale and Arist-e. You and Bob went back to movie nights and popcorn and the sex became less brutish, more sparse and more routine.
Until that one day you spotted another couple stargazing into each other eyes and kissing from across the street.
Meg Tuite's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 magazines, journals and presses including 34th Parallel, One, the Journal, Hawaii Review and Boston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. Her novel Domestic Apparition is forthcoming in March 2011 through San Francisco Bay Press. She writes a column, “Exquisite Quartet,” for Used Furniture Review. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: I have a friend who runs out on the street whenever she spots a couple who look somewhat content and proceeds to inundate them with her charm. Her marriage is not ideal, to say the least, and so imagined this interaction of two couples out to somehow change each other’s relationship, for better or for worse.
by Steve Mitchell
followed by Q&A
In the kitchen, I’m solid. I gather weight. In the kitchen, I know where I am. Stirring the peas, feet planted before the stove. And even if my brain flies in a hundred directions and voices rattle my head with the echo of decisions already made, I know my feet are below me, resting on the new tile we put in last year to replace the hideous green linoleum. I check the lasagna in the oven, I slice the bread. I don’t think about last night. It’s there but I don’t think about it. I stir the peas, watching intently as the butter loses its shape and spreads. Last night, when the phone trembled on the table, I slipped out of bed, already awake to him.
It was only a glance but it was enough to get the whole thing started. Enough to churn up a whole new possible history from the murk of who I am. Or think I am, or want to be, or can’t imagine. It was only a glance but it was the kind of glance that’s felt as a touch. He across the counter from me, eyes shifting from the groceries and up toward mine. It's the kind of glance that connects in my body, sending off sparks in all directions, making me remember my arms and legs and breasts.
And when he followed me to the door, leaving the register behind and the old man open-mouthed, that’s when I turned to him, meeting his eyes for the first time. Maybe I was blushing, I don’t know, but I gave him my number. Stood there catching my breath as he poked it into his phone. Forced myself not to look down when he looked up and smiled. I’ll call you, he said, and he did a few hours later and I’ve carried his glance and his voice for a week now and like a small child with her secret treasures, I make excuses to be alone and unveil those things again, spreading them in my lap, turning them in my fingers.
When I was pregnant with my first child, there were moments of terror. I was twenty two, just out of college, married for a year or so. There were times I’d become paralyzed with fear at the reality and responsibility of a new life and I could not recover whatever beautiful dreams Mark and I had when we’d decided to become parents. I’d talk to my mom and she’d attempt to soothe me.
I remember one day: it’s April and we’re sitting in a restaurant. We’re finishing our coffee. I’m squirming, aware of this alien thing growing inside me, aware of the plea in my voice when I speak. I remember closing my eyes, across the table from her; flattening my palms on the table with my eyes closed.
Last night, the phone woke me, shaking on the table near my head. I grabbed at it, my hands hot, and slipped from the room and into the hall to read his text, his text which told me I was loved and wanted, which made me a real person somehow with a body someone might hold in a flash of desire. I held the phone in front of me, squatting in the hallway outside the bedroom door, bathed in blue from the tiny screen.
“What in the world are you doing?” Mark asked, looming in the doorway behind me, absently rubbing his chin with one hand, “it’s three in the morning.” I snapped the phone closed. “It rang. I thought it might be an emergency but it was just a wrong number.” I stood up beside him. “Come back to bed,” he said, and he vanished, leaving me alone in this dark hallway, this dark house.
This house which smells like us. The kids when they were young, in diapers toddling chair to chair. Mark and I, growing up, figuring ourselves out. The sleepovers, the forts built under the dining room table, the stupid fights about stupid things. The dirty clothes and the clean. Soccer uniforms, gym tights, and secret diaries with a key. We’re embedded in the carpet and the sheetrock. Move everything out tomorrow and we’ll still be here as shadows or ghosts.
This house which is quiet now, in the moments before the kids come home, while I fuss with dinner, waiting for noise and news, the slap of books on the counter and coats dropping to the floor, remembering my mother, always somewhere in the kitchen when I would burst through the back door fresh with the glow of my schoolday.
My mother who would listen and smile, the sort of smile I realize now all mothers reserve only for their children, the sort of smile she gives me at the restaurant when I rub my tightening stomach and ask her, “Why? Why did I decide to do this? It’s just too much.”
Her hand slips across the table to cover mine. “Darling,” she says, “With the really important things, all we can do is say yes, and figure it out from there.”
I think I’m going to cry: “Did I say yes?’
Mom nods gently. “You said yes.”
Steve Mitchell has been a construction worker, cowboy, substitute teacher, chef. He's developed and managed a mental health program for the Chronic Mentally Ill. He's worked in theatre, film and multi-voice poetry. He's published in Contrary and The North Carolina Literary Review, among others, and was nominated three times for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom can inhabit very bad movies. He has an ambivalent relationship with his cat, Mr. Zip. Sometimes, he just doesn't know. And that's all right.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: “Already” formed quietly around the last line in a way that doesn't happen very often but makes the usual tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth more than bearable. For me, it has something to do with faith, both the story and the story about the story.
Back to the Beginning
Followed by Q&A
i: The house we were supposed to have supper in
My mother keeps forgetting where
she left me—underpass,
in her purse with the stale lipsticks,
by her perforated heart from which memories
spring out like sprinkler jets—or floating
in the fountain with a line of ducks?
On the door’s other side, my pulse
knocks and knocks, with her
at her sewing machine
stitching the girls’ ripped dresses
and then with iron-ons she will patch
the boys’ torn knees.
And she has forgotten which house
we were supposed to have supper in, and now
the neighborhood dogs have also forgotten
their dog names, and they are chasing every
passing car, with no care for their own lives.
Now even the house gives up and goes,
is carried by a conveyor of fences into a night
where no-one needs to sleep, their dreams sink
on ropes going down through the water
to keep our boats from drifting away
in the night, when boats will try to set sail
for any other country.
But if we got in the car, and the car was tiny,
and if we were riding it into the stereo,
going over a waterfall of voices, then
we would slip through the sieve of the speaker
and paddle the song down to the ocean,
settle into its fathoms, going back
to the beginning of sleep.
ii: Hearing Yonah
Slipped into the story: forgotten
in a tunnel from her purse into early
morning, the squeeze down warm walls
and out into a long tray of night
with rubber handles of day. Onto
outstretched cotton and commanded
to move air through, in blank holding
tank of nursery, waiting for
what, a sun, or to be
replaced in soft, drawn off dry
land and surrounded.
Now I understand: yes,
if this was my fate then run from it, down
to the wet, call for crimson,
the slick of mucous, to be swallowed
into saline tides.
Yonah, you didn’t argue with the blue
above storm-clouds, or deny the fish
violets, bright yellows prisming past your face—
you just wanted to work backwards. And now I know
you were happy as they threw you over, relieved
from the rattle of their lotteries, the strain
to translate. Smiling on your balloon ride below,
insulated with mattresses of fat, eyes eased
closed in your rib-arch vault.
Then you could sing back a name to the big
pulse of sky, solar, lunar, down
under a mountain of water your breath lapped in
like lazy waves, and your mind’s constellations
wheeled open as your voice unlocked floated
up towards us, through two thousand layers of ocean, chanting
God is my rescuer, receive this my hymn.
Dan Alter has poems published recently or forthcoming in Saint Anne’s Review, Poetica, Assembly, and Zeek. In 1992 he was an Arad Arts Project Fellow. He lives in Berkeley with his wife Jess and daughter Hadas, where he makes his living as an electrician and makes his unemployment changing diapers.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: The first section of the poem began with the first line and took its own course. At some point I realized uneasily what was welling up from my subconscious. Then one morning with a flash the biblical story of Jonah opened itself into the end of the first section (and its underlying image), and the second section unfolded.
Kristine Ong Muslim
He splits open those women
made of leaves and twigs,
and he sometimes discovers
their roots. He receives applause
for that little carnage, that little
carelessness with a knife.
But the glint of a knife
thrown mid-air dazzles
no one. Even if the motion
cuts sea and sky with one
horizontal line. Even if it
gives birth to a generation
of imaginary horizons.
Kristine Ong Muslim has poetry and prose appearing in hundreds of publications, including Contrary Magazine, Hobart, Moon Milk Review, Narrative Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, and Southword. She authored the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing). Kristine Ong Muslim has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award. Her publication credits are listed here.
Still Life with Women, Artists, and Platonic Forms
followed by Q&A
—at the “Gallery Girls” drawing event, Armory Show, 2010
The sculpted pose of quickly drawn bodies,
under blue light yellowed skin, sings youth
and aging death, while the cabaret DJ pulses
a waltzing Wiemar dissolution across
our couch of eyes.
Artists flick their chalk,
pencils, pens—coaxing dim tools
to caress white paper. Squirming blonds
in mini-skirts stumble by with legs
that stretch beyond our sight and back.
Who can take us lift us through these
snagging thorns without lust or blood?
At center stage, one model’s feather bobs
a lure in turbulent air—one false wing
in a feathered night of quills kissing ink
onto pages of idolaters.
the forms inherent in flesh and bone,
harder to grasp than a smile, somewhere in
the leathered bellies, buttocks, breasts and thighs.
The true form of things lies behind the dim cave
wall on which, like a Hollywood film, our shadowed
This game could reach the end
of our desire—connecting us now—happy
enough to do this dance in the variegated
flock of flirtatious art.
Our dreams are caught
and crowned with pencils, breasts, and eyes.
Tonight there is only one elevator out.
Rimas Uzgiris’s poetry has been published in Bridges, 322 Review, and Lituanus. His translation has appeared in The Massachusetts Review. Currently, he is enrolled at Rutgers-Newark University in the MFA program in creative writing. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and taught philosophy at Brooklyn College and St. John's University. His book Desire, Meaning, and Virtue: The Socratic Account of Poetry was published in 2009. He resides in Brooklyn.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: This poem came out of my experience at the “Gallery Girls” drawing event during the New York Armory Show in April, 2010. As artists sketched models to Weimar-era music spun by a DJ, I sketched my own impressions of the scene. These impressions were then connected to the Platonic notion of Forms inherent in the things of the world, and our pursuit of the good. (Platonic Forms are the real natures of things, e.g., the real nature of human beings, of cats, of hydrogen, of goodness and beauty—and so abstract objects—not, as is erroneously believed by some, ideal objects in some non-earthly place.)
followed by Q&A
I draw what I can on paper–an oval body in the centre,
adjacent to a circle, which becomes the head after I put
down two dots to grant it sight. Then I add
four tiny straight lines and call them feet.
This is how I draw a dog, a fox or an ox.
When it comes to humans, I do worse–
the hangman figure represents the mankind,
ageless, genderless, raceless.
So lacking varieties, and yet so utopian,
at least everyone is equal by looking alike.
This is also how I draw myself, whose body
is made of a narrow unsupportive line,
a body of no space, no volume, therefore no need
to think about the size of my heart.
Nicholas YB Wong is the winner of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition and a nominee for Best of the Net 2010 and Best of the Web 2011 Anthology. His poetry has appeared in Saltwater Press and is forthcoming in Assaracus (July 2011) and the Sentinel Champion Series (May 2011). He is currently an MFA candidate at the City University of Hong Kong.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: I was inspired to write this by a poem written by Louise Glück. The pauses in her works have drawn my attention to reading them more carefully, especially on her use of various sorts of nouns. The first line is half-borrowed from her “Portrait,” so is the idea of the ending. Yet, I have taken “my portrait” further to a larger issue that concerns all of us: difference. It is a poem about conceptual sameness and difference, be it of writing or drawing (and yes, I am a bad drawer).