The author is Virgil Suarez, a Cuban born, extremely prolific writer. I point out “Cuban” as a nod to the rich roots of Latin American flash fiction (Junot Díaz, Cisneros, Bolaño, Márquez, Isabel Allende, Borges, Andrea Saenz, Daniel Alarcón, Alicita Rodriguez, etc, etc. BTW, If you are going to rail that Cuba is not Latin American, I would answer it is culturally.) I say prolific as a fact. If you have paged through a literary magazine, you’ve most likely read something by Mr. Suarez.
These Flash of the Day examinations are for anyone, but I’d like to particularity focus on the flash fiction writer. To comment on technique. To create compression is difficult: you must have sharpened tools. Let’s take a look at this flash fiction and then discuss, shall we?
Cuban Dream # 7
I’m on the beach running after a red parasol, each time I get near, a gust blows it down–it goes over German & Italian tourists, tumbling, kicking up sand into their drinks. They shout: “Ragazzo! Achtung!” A red umbrella in the distance, a knotted-tendril medusa of all my dreams–I run after it & step atop dead urchin carcasses. Unseen needles spear my soles, prick deep like lost loves. Puas, as my father called these urchins, these pains, warning me to steer clear. I leave blood tracks in the sand, beaded gems of my passing.
A woman wants to know if I can help her reenact Ava Gardner’s scene in The Night of the Iguana, the one with the two heavily-tanned boys who sandwich the star in the sultry Acapulco night. Pepe shakes his maracas. The other, the nameless one, dances behind Ava, arms linked tight about her waist. So shocking for 50s America. I say she’s got the wrong country. I say she’s got the wrong idea.
The umbrella becomes a speck, a small dot my father’s ghost plucks out of the air & puts in his mouth. I’ve gone deaf. I don’t even hear the waves, then sound becomes possible again. Waves hiss. Sand churns. I hear the roar of the surf. I hear someone behind me, calling for another mojito, this island’s minty, fresh elixir! In the distance my father’s ghost has become a raft in a rough-&-tumble sea: women & children fall overboard, splash in the water. Drown. Nobody notices. I turn to look behind me only to see a beach covered in blue umbrellas & under their shades thousands of naked German women, their waxen skin turning beet red. They are hungry seals. One hobbles over to me & begins to gnaw at my shins. Her bite feels like a clamping down of metal into flesh, the smashing of a finger under a hammerblow. It does no good to shout for help or try to wake up. This is the lost dream of a lost soul in a distant but not forgotten island.
Title: Like in poetry, titles are very important to flash fiction. This one implies a series (7 of…). The speaker doesn’t have one troubling dream, but many. For how long? or: How many per evening? A suggestion of recurring nightmares, or recurring repressed emotion (in a story set in contemporary times–a Freudian take is allowed). This is an interesting flash technique (and it is that, yet another way to get more across with fewer words), the layering involved in a series. It implies a rumination on the subject. It means a continuum. There is no actual need for a Cuban Dream # 6 or a Cuban Dream # 8, but they might exist, off the page, from Cuban dream # 1 to Cuban Dream # 294, etc. They might be infinite, the visitations of the father’s ghost (don’t ghosts walk forever?), these tourists (tourism seems eternal to me), this island (Contemporary Cuba. Changing, yet fixed in time…)
Object: Red umbrella. One thing I admire about flash is the way writers find so many creative ways to “thread” together a narrative, ways that deviate from Freytag or some more traditional plot structure. The image of the tumbling umbrella get the narrative rolling, a conflict, and a question: will he catch the umbrella? Once the umbrella is sent on its way, Suarez can leave it (though it’s still in the readers mind, a sort of “hold”) and then return at his wish. The umbrella (especially if referred to as a “parasol”) also seems to harken back to flash as a modernist form, a homage to the modernist eye of observation, the beach or park or picnic scene (think of all the paintings), flash fiction (like the prose poem) often concerning itself with what critic and writer, Margueritte Murphy calls, “looking” and “looking itself is an activity, a dynamic art.” The Parasol can also act in many other ways than plot thread. It’s antiquated nature might be commenting on Cuban/U.S. trade restrictions (you should see the cars of Cuba). It might provide levity (think Charlie Chaplain). It is red (symbol alert!). It does a lot of things. Again, in flash, you are looking for techniques of compression. An object needs to echo. The parasol does.
Allusion: Another common flash technique: Allusion can add additional layering to the actual words. What an odd one here: The Night of the Iguana, a truly loaded film based on a truly loaded play: desire, loneliness, longing. Besides the ridiculousness of the tourist (and this piece does have a lot to say about tourism and the tourist mind), I think the allusion hints to the troubled relationship between speaker and father and then finally, Cuba–pre-revolution versus post-revolution. If only the speaker could view the country like a tourist. A tourist has no national memory–they just drop in and start sunning and drinking. The speaker knew a before, his father’s time, another island all together.
Dream: I like how Suarez couches all of this under a “dream.” As a writer, it allows for a lot of technique that would appear forced in other situations. Note how sensory based, how full of movement this flash, and then the way the juxtapositions morph so quickly into each other. As a teacher, I sometimes see student writers using dreams as a crutch. (Anything is possible now, yippeee! And then he awoke…) Here, Suarez uses the dream as a device, a style almost, a way of writing to allow memory, hypersensitivity, rapid transformations of place and situation. In a dream, this fluttering (nausea?) is default. In a dream the nonsensical makes sense.