But I did saw it, and that’s me. I’m seeing all kinds of things these days. You know, The Muffin Man, for example. Saw The Muffin Man yesterday, at the car wash.
He woke up. He thought he could hear their child’s breathing in the next room, the near-silent, smooth sound of air in and out.
He touched his wife. The room was too dark to let him see her, but he felt her movement, the shift of blanket and sheet.
“Listen,” he whispered.
“Yesterday,” she mumbled. “Why not yesterday,” and she moved back into sleep.
He listened harder, though he could hear his wife’s breath, thick and heavy next to him, there was beneath this the thin frost of his child’s breathing.
The hardwood floor was cold beneath his feet. He held out a hand in front of him, and when he touched the doorjamb, he paused, listened again, heard the life of his child.
His fingertips led him along the hall and to the next room. Then he was in the doorway of a room as dark, as hollow as his own. He cut on the light.
The room, of course, was empty. They had left the bed just as their child had made it, the spread merely thrown over bunched and wrinkled sheets, the pillow crooked at the head. The small blue desk was littered with colored pencils and scraps of construction paper, a bottle of white glue.
He turned off the light and listened. He heard nothing, then back out of the room and moved down the hall, back to his room, his hands at his sides, his fingertips helpless.
This happened each night, like a dream, but not.
(“Night” can be located with 71 excellent flash fictions in this anthology.)
Why is Ricos nacho cheese inside lava lamps? Why do horror film take place in thunder and lightning? Why do couples trade lipstick in the rain? A catch in your voice. A coyote on a highway. A conveyor. The ocean invoked in a carpet of sardines. Sunlight on corn. A hand grenade nestled into a snow bank. Fog machines. A tumbleweed the size of your college debt. Whistling birds, that one bird they put into every movie. Foam. The smell of crushed jasmine and gasoline. The time you rode the subway and a woman handed you a squirrel. Disco balls. The smell of your eyes that day. Black and white photos of abandoned laboratories. The sound of Mexico. An entire wall of your apartment covered in the Nixon and Elvis photo. A shoebox of weed. The moon.
What is of I speak?
The excellent thing about flash fiction is the sheer variety of technique. Some write very narrative flash, some go with lyrical–all of this is naturally on a spectrum. Here, we have “the unopened envelope” as plot. What’s behind the door? Mystery. But that’s the only narrative interest in advancing. The flash is more than happy to NOT advance. To ponder, freeze, flail.
TO TREAD, in darkness.
Some flash writers see ambiance as the central medium, the tone and mood as the essence of the thing. Emotion transferred through craft. Flash always borrows from the poet. The poet has known brevity for eons. And setting. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows sound. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows objects. The poet knows. Word choice.
Gary Snyder goes:
The shack and a few trees
float in the blowing fog
I pull out your blouse,
warm my cold hands
on your breasts.
you laugh and shudder
peeling garlic by the
hot iron stove.
bring in the axe, the rake,
we’ll lean on the wall
against each other
stew simmering on the fire
as it grows dark
Indeed. Here we have intimacy, though we don’t need the word, do we? But I digress…Let me clarify:
The flash writer waits in Nashville and the poet is an International air route.
The flash writer is an Iowa based firm (such as Maytag). The poet is broomcorn.
The flash writer is all, “legal name change.” The poet is a public, wooded park.
So the flash writer needs the poet.
Let’s talk craft. Or HOW DOES BRETT LOTT DO IT?
“Night” says shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
“Night” says wobbly, disoriented, waking from a troubled sleep.
“Night” says “Is this my life?”
EUPHONY is a funny word. It sounds like a musical instrument or a Willy Wonka character or a waterway crowded with wandering water balloons, etc. Actually, it’s the glow of sound, providing a pleasing effect to the ear, the synapse, the tingle of the armpits. It is achieved not only by the selection of individual word-sounds, but also by their relationship in the repetition, proximity, and flow of sound patterns.
They are melodious. Or, if placed exactly, they move us, maybe to tremble.
Read it aloud. Like poetry. Make your individual letters, the actual words, assist in your larger function. Make the dancer the dance.
ALLITERATION you know all about. …near-silent, smooth sound…
Read it aloud.
A combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone.
Read it aloud.
On and on. A flash is elegant, is contained, is maybe an egg, a jeweled thing…with a life beating inside. “Night” is so quiet, yet there dwells its power: the sliding of a snake across a hardwood floor, the gentle whir of a falling thing, breathing, the dark.
Cold, frost, night…
Objects. Always objects…that bottle of glue. Waiting.
Sparse dialogue. A few words. But saying a lot.
Doesn’t it all join–the hallway, the torqued sheets, the child’s desk–to let you read right off the page? Let you consider all the glorious (and terrifying) white space?
Well, now you have a formula for flash. What we must admire here is Brett Lott’s economy and control. The text folds into itself. It then folds out, to resonate, like grief.