Perfume

Flash
Michael Crane


Photo Credit: Vetiver Aromatics/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

To Cath, the arts administrator at the local council.

My friend Odette started a new business and is about to become a merchant. She isn’t selling cheap clothing donated by family members of the deceased; she isn’t selling manufactured meat and calling it gourmet hamburgers; she isn’t a high-tech madam of prostitution over the internet and she doesn’t own a fish-and-chip shop that is a front for money laundering or child pornography. She has become an importer of perfume, but it is not an everyday perfume which smells like all its competitors; it is not manufactured courtesy of the death of many animals; it is a perfume unlike any other which she had to travel to Geneva to procure and it doesn’t have one identifiable scent but offers any one of a million possibilities that only someone who smells it can recognise. To a businessman it smells like money and to a sailor it smells like an ocean wave during a violent summer storm. To a builder it smells like sawdust and to a chef it smells like a perfectly cooked medium rare filet mignon with sautéed truffles on the side, bathed in gravy so fine and smooth it glistens in the candlelight. To a baker it smells like golden brown bread straight from the oven and to a farmer it smells like fresh cow dung on a spring day. To a painter it smells like turpentine and to a doctor it reeks of iodine. To a mechanic it smells like a combination of sump oil and gasoline and when Odette dabs a little perfume behind her ears, it is another different fragrance all together. it is the only product she believes in and it smells like a perfect faith: like speed, like a drowning man in an ocean waving for a life raft. It smells like the holy water blessed upon a baby’s brow at a christening and when she wears her perfume it smells like her laughter: wild and gregarious, like a mob of drunken seamen standing on a pier singing songs of sirens stranded on rocks.

From Sally, the wife
of her one true love.

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Michael Crane is widely published in Australian journals and newspapers and some US Magazines. Some of his favourite North American writers include JD Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood and Richard Brautigan. Email: michaelcrane680[at]yahoo.com

Sturdy Girls

Flash
Amanda Breen


Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr (CC-by)

Emily’s arm brushes against mine as the taxi lurches over the rain-slick streets of Amsterdam. Our flight from London landed 40 minutes ago, and even though we’ve only lost an hour, my eyelids are heavy, shuttering against snippets of lavender sky, traffic lights, bicyclists. Emily has been talking to the cab driver since we left the airport; they’ve covered his family history, the city’s top tourist attractions, and what kind of weather we can expect.

He asks her if we’re sisters, and I force my eyes open. I want to hear what she says, and it seems imperative I stare at the polyester headrest in front of me to catch every word. We are not sisters, I want to scream. No, she laughs, not sisters, just friends. I wonder why he’d even suggest something so ludicrous. Emily is twenty years older and exudes painful elegance: long legs, pale skin, sharp edges. I am soft.

The scene at Heathrow only hours before erupts in my head. Emily refusing to buy me a sandwich, pinching the flesh of my upper arm between acrylic nails, telling me she didn’t let any of her girls get dumpy. You should lose ten pounds if you want better customers, she’d snapped. I press my finger against the cold glass and draw a box. One bicyclist races through it, then another.

We stop when the waterlogged windshield glows red. It turns green. At first, there’s not a car in the lane next to us, then there is, and the bicyclist who thought she could run the red light slams into the windshield, which shatters, exploding into a bright spiderweb under the pressure of bone and steel. Horrified, we watch her arc through the air and land on the other side of the street, where passersby crowd around her, shriek in a language thick with consonants, whip out their cellphones to call for help.

The offending driver grips the wheel behind his splintered windshield, motionless. I stare at the woman, a crumpled heap in her coral blouse and dark blue jeans. I imagine her putting the outfit on this morning, sliding her arms through fluttery sleeves, slipping her legs into soft denim. She doesn’t move. No one touches her. Our driver shakes his head and speeds us away from the wreckage.

He clicks his tongue, makes a sucking sound. “These bicyclists have no respect for traffic signs. And this is what they get.” Emily and I stare out the window even though there’s nothing to see anymore. He sighs. “Well, she might be okay. She looked like a sturdy girl.”

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Amanda Breen recently graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studied English with concentrations in American literature and creative writing. She likes to write about women and power, and is especially interested in how gendered constructions of power impact individuals and relationships. Her work has appeared in A Barnard Writer’s Life: The Collected Works of Creative Writing Concentrators, and she looks forward to experimenting more with flash fiction and shorter forms. Email: abreen2415[at]gmail.com

Dissolve

Flash
Gaynor Jones


Photo Credit: Elné/Flickr (CC-by)

We sit in quiet lilac rooms on plastic chairs. Paper on the table, posters on the walls. They already know the who, the where, the when and it’s enough for their notes. But they’re desperate for the why.

First sip, first toke, first hand fumbling into your jeans. Excitement, that’s all. They’ve either never had it or they’ve forgotten.

On weekends I go from couch to couch, maybe room to room. They put things in my mouth then put the thing in my mouth, and it dissolves and I dissolve with it. Life melts into colours, like dancing inside a rainbow.

Later, as it wears off, I hang out the window in the room above the chippy where they store us, half laughing, half crying. ‘Help,’ I call out, needing to be saved from myself.

Then it’s meeting after meeting after meeting.

For some it’s just their job; they’re paid to care about me. Others really do care and they are the worst. Their vacant mouths wait for me to speak so I say what they want, nod along with them. Sometimes they get through and I pick at the dry flakes on my skin, spilling out promises I half intend on keeping. But then I remember the colours.

And the next Friday night, I escape, find them and dissolve all over again.

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Gaynor Jones is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She writes micro, flash and short stories and organises the Story For Daniel flash fiction competition. Her work can be read in Ellipsis Zine, Flash Frontier, MoonPark Review and The Airgonaut, among others. She tweets at @jonzeywriter. Email: gaynor[at]jonzey.com

Last

Flash
Michelle Dotter


Photo Credit: Imre Kissik/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

What I remember most is the heat. It was so hot that summer we were fifteen that we couldn’t breathe—every day was like a thick cloud of steam sitting on the cabin by the lake. Even the crickets were quiet. The sunset made the lake boil in the red earth.

At night, we couldn’t sleep because of the aching humidity that never went away. Even with all the doors open, the air didn’t move—I exhaled and pulled the same inhale back in. Watched you doing the same. One night I caught your eye and we ran down to the well and threw buckets of water on each other, fully clothed, soaking ourselves until we shivered in spite of the heat. Then we sprawled out on the dirt floor of the cabin, each of us listening to the sound of the water dripping out of our shirts. It made little pools on the ground, and I rolled over to keep as much of my body in the water as possible, and so that I could see you through the shadows, the charcoal smudge of your face dreaming of dreams.

The best were the nights when neither of us was tired, and we lay there staring at the ceiling like the dark planks were suddenly going to open into another world and pull us into something—the black box of the universe at the moment of unfolding, when every thought was a supernova. It never happened but I never stopped believing it might. I’d shift and put my arm under my head and you’d roll over onto your side, putting up with the heat of one part of your skin touching another so that you could look at me. You were my mirror, my mirage in the dark.

Nights like that, my name sounded strange when you said it, like you were testing each syllable because you weren’t sure it was going to hold. I’m burning up, you’d say as you laughed, and in the moonlight your face grew up so fast that I wasn’t sure, for a minute, who I was talking to. Let’s jump in the lake. Race ya.

The last night, you were still dripping when you stood up. I stared at the back of your shirt, at the dampness that made you shimmer as we ran to the dock, the first time you ever beat me. The moon was sleeping on the surface of the lake; it woke with a start as you jumped right through it, silent like the crickets I hadn’t seen all summer.

When you went under, I held my breath for you.

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Michelle Dotter is the editor-in-chief of Dzanc Books, a nonprofit independent press committed to literary excellence in fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Entropy, and the No Extra Words podcast. Email: michelle.dotter[at]gmail.com

Alone with Lilacs

Flash
Lauren Dennis


Photo Credit: popofatticus/Flickr (CC-by)

Unless it has been obscure up to this point, let me be clear. I am not sporty. My dad was a career P.E. teacher, not “gym” teacher (“I don’t teach a room. I teach students Physical Education.”) and I, a drama nerd. My dad dedicated 25 years to courts, squeaky shoe sounds, sweat, and rubber round objects thrust too technically into my young hands. I, in turn, played my goofy, non-athletic daughter role, fumbling every pass through his thinly-veiled frustration.

I am seven. My dad is teaching me how to throw a neon Nerf football. He is giving me too many instructions, and every time I get one, I lose the other.

“Put your left foot in front a little.”

I do.

“Hold the ball at shoulder level. You’re too far back.”

I adjust the level, my left leg moves back to its original spot.

“But keep your left foot forward.” He physically adjusts it, his breath mean on my thigh.

Foot is now forward. Arm drops down,  past shoulder level.

My dad’s sigh.

I hold my breath for the next instruction.

“Now, throw the ball to me, in a spiral. Just let your fingers open slightly, and the ball will roll up them as you release.”

I’m a good kid. I place my left foot forward theatrically to prove it and maybe get some praise for remembering. I let the ball go, still holding my breath. It makes a small circle on its path toward my dad. It lands in the nearby lilac bushes, but my dad is happy.

“You made it spiral!”

I breathe and suddenly I’m crying.

“What’s wrong with you? That was the perfect pass. Anyone would be thrilled to make that kind of pass. What is wrong with you?”

I can’t answer. I am seeing myself from the outside, the way I do when I watch others when preparing for a role in a play.  I am a small dot on the square patch of grass below. And I am crying. I don’t know how to answer. I am too small. I don’t know the rules. I want my dad to love me, whether the ball spirals or not. The sliding glass door closes behind him. It returns my reflection. A disappointment. Or, an athlete who could have had it all. I decide I am the victim in a soon-to-be-acclaimed movie about overbearing coaches, and I just missed the last hurdle in my pre-Olympic trials. I may not be going to the Olympics anymore, but, I am certainly headed for the Academy Awards. Tears flow freely down my waiting cheeks. I swallow and the lilacs wash down my throat, their sweet simple syrup filling my mouth with tiny rounded petals.

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Lauren Dennis is a mother of two, violently fighting against the confinement that may or may not come with that title. She writes because she has to, and has been published in Scarlet Leaf Review, The Flash Fiction Press, daCuhna, and Microfiction Monday Magazine. She has received formal critique and feedback from the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado, where she resides. Email: laurenelyse.dennis[at]gmail.com

Spare

Baker’s Pick
Helen Coats


Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Two tickets, free, addressed to him. That was all. He waited by his mailbox for days, expecting to receive an invitation to the premiere, but it never came. No matter—he could attend a showing with the public. The welcome mat of the cinema was his red carpet, the buttered popcorn, a five-course meal. He wore a tuxedo so that the other moviegoers could pick him out from the crowd. They would recognize his beard, a red bush, and whisper,

Whoa. That’s Fisherman #2.

You can see him behind Chris Pratt in this shot.

He caught a bass on camera.

Maybe someone would want to see the fish again. Maybe someone would ask for his autograph, his spare ticket. He would be generous. He would personally accompany them to the show, would regale them with a blow-by-blow account of backstage mishaps and happenings. He would recount how ecstatic he was when he caught the fish, how it weighed down his line like an anchor. He would share this, his one venture into the spotlight, and he would make a friend. But the more he thought about the prospect, the more he grew ashamed of his papery dream. Instead of waiting, he spent the extra ticket on next Sunday’s matinee. As always, he went alone.

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Helen Coats is from Rock Hill, SC, and is currently enrolled as a Liberal Arts major at Purdue University. Her work has appeared in Litmus and Visions Literary Magazine. Email: coats.helen[at]gmail.com

Hush Hush, Little One

Flash
Merran Jones


Photo Credit: Daniel/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Those hands: the knuckle creases and droplet nails. Overnight, they’d changed from newborn-pink, fisted and desperate, to chubby, toddler-white. I’d observed her grow and yet hadn’t. It’s entirely possible to watch something unfold and not see it.

And our ‘Little Man,’ who hadn’t yet learned to hear or breathe… how unfair his heart should’ve beaten for only a fraction of mine.

I now have two shadows—one which stretches outward on long summer days, and one which casts inward, into the space where my children used to live.

*

“Your little girl didn’t make it, neither did the baby,” the doctors said like an afterthought as I lay in intensive care, as though my lacerations and internal bruising were the real trauma.

Nothing hurt like the pain of hearing I’d caused my children’s death.

“I can’t breathe,” I said.

“That’s the tube in your chest. You have a collapsed lung.”

“No, that’s not it.”

I’d hit a Stobie pole at full force, sustaining kidney damage; spleen and liver lacerations; pelvic, rib, and sternal fractures. I saw the car after I was extracted, crumpled into a grimace. The Stobie pole leant at an obscene angle.

Now I can drive again, I pass one after another. They all say, what if, what if, what if… The tic of guilt never leaves.

I’d felt strange the morning of the crash, as though I might have a seizure. The house kept telling me I wasn’t in it. Sounds were too big as they tried to collect in my ears.

My neurologist cautioned me: “Your epilepsy can worsen when pregnant. We may need to increase your medication.”

But I ignored the warning signs. Chloe needed nappies and I needed fresh air because she was driving me crazy.

When they pulled my belongings from the wreckage, they found the nappies in the boot, along with a packet of dummies for the baby, in anticipation of those long nights, imploring him to, “Hush hush, little one.”

He succumbed to the quiet for a different reason.

*

I beg my husband to move us away from South Australia. To a place where Stobie poles don’t dominate the landscape, a place where the cables are buried deep underground. But I can’t leave our children. Their two graves rest side by side, surrounded by other graves where the years can be counted on one hand.

“It’s alright, darling,” my husband says. “It won’t ever be the same, but it will get easier.”

I want to believe him. Maybe if I cede myself to time and age and, eventually, menopause, it won’t hurt so much when I inhale, maybe people will stop asking if we’ll try for another.

I drive to the cemetery, passing 56 Stobie poles. I place multicoloured poppies on my children’s graves. The flowers from two days prior are still fresh. I lean forward and whisper to the stones and the moss, the ashes and dust. Then I drive home again, the tic of guilt in time with my heart.

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Merran Jones’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Vestal Review, After the Pause, and Flash Fiction Magazine among dozens of others. She lives in Adelaide, Australia, and is a physiotherapist and mum in her spare time. See more of her work at merranjones.com. Email: merrankjones[at]gmail.com

New Chairs

Flash
Malka Herman


Photo Credit: Jin Choi/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Sometimes, she wished he would abuse her. Leora immediately felt guilty for the thought, but when she realized no one could hear her, she lovingly turned it over in her mind. She was 23; married for two years to a man she didn’t love but gave her no good reason to leave. Right now he was sitting in his favorite chair—tan corduroy with burgundy stains—reading this week’s Torah portion.

“How was your day?”

He looked up from his book in a foggy confusion, “Um… it was good. Thank God.”

“Mine was good too.” She tried to think of something that might keep his attention. “I bought a new set of chairs for our kitchen table.” She dragged one from the kitchen and made him look at it. “New furniture kind of feels like having a stranger over, doesn’t it? All out of place and wrong, and then one day, when it’s seen too much, it becomes part of the home.”

Her husband’s expression turned panicked. “Having guests over is a Mitzva, Leora.”

She felt a little bad, seeing him this uncomfortable. “Yes, you’re right.”

 

At eight o’clock they both undressed in the dark. He was an accidentally good kisser; something sensual about his lips.

“Am I hurting you?” He always asked this after he entered her. She shook her head no so he slid in and out of her briskly, reminding them both that this was an action meant to produce a baby and not physical pleasure.

Leora thought about her friends who described sex as something spiritual and satisfying; she pictured her husband’s lips all over her and fantasized about their two bodies in naked light, in the shower together, on the kitchen table. Without realizing what she was doing, Leora let out a small moan of pleasure. Her husband stopped his motions, embarrassed for her.

“Sorry.”

He pulled himself out of her and went to take a shower.

 

Leora had a nightmare that night. She sat in a field of corduroy grass while one dark, burgundy patch started at her feet, spreading outward until it covered the whole field. When she stood up she realized the burgundy patch was actually her own blood, draining flesh from the soles of her feet until all she had were stumps for legs.

“What am I supposed to do now?” She screamed into the empty field of blood.

“Sit.” Her own voice echoed back.

Leora woke up. Her husband slept in the bed next to hers and she had never been more grateful for his presence. That weird whistling noise his nose made at night grounded her in its disgusting normalcy.

Leora went downstairs, made a cup of tea, and sat on her brand new chairs.

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Malka Herman graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May 2015. Since then she has worked for Penguin Random House, lived on a ranch in Colorado, and taught a writing course at Duke for high school students. Who knows what’s next? Email: mherma16[at]jhu.edu

The Twelve Steps to a Better Friday Night

Flash
Izabella Grace


Photo Credit: Jessica Spengler/Flickr (CC-by)

1. Admit life has become unmanageable—that you no longer wish to pin time to a bar stool and seek answers in the depths of a cloudy pint glass.

2. Believe in your power to act. Stop stealing glances at Aoife, while she tidies menus and polishes glasses. Say something. Anything. Ask how she’s keeping. See if she’s heading out tomorrow. Man up. You can chat to other girls. Why not her?

3. Decide you deserve better than to collapse into a pool of your own vomit at dawn.

4. Call Aoife over. Marvel at her sweet floral scent and how the lights spark copper in her pretty curls. When she asks, “how’re you doing?” act like a nodding dog. Fiddle with the beer mat, and ignore the way her dimpled smile makes your heart hammer.

5. Think of something clever to say. Quick. Then, when words scatter, blink until the puce-faced landlord calls away your dream girl.

6. Die. A dozen times. Blame the drink for pickling your thirty-year-old brain.

7. Stumble out into the dark, wet, pub garden for a cigarette or four. Scratch your bearded cheeks, and scan the starless sky for inspiration. Wonder if your dad’s up there, still hugging a whisky bottle and drifting on a cloud. Admit you’re turning into him. Admit you don’t have to.

8. Make a list in your head of people you’ve harmed, discounting your thieving, gobshite brother. Swear in future you’ll talk to your mam, not just grunt.

9. Shove away last Saturday night’s memory of that lanky fella’s nose crunching beneath your fist. Step out from beneath the striped awning, and let the cold rain wash away your sins.

10. Wait for Aoife to collect dirty glasses from the table beside the window. Head inside. Ruffle your drenched hair, and joke about building an ark. Then, when Aoife’s laughter warms your skin, blurt out how you’ve meant to ask for her number.

11. Follow her back to the bar, and grin like an eejit when she slips you a curled strip of paper.

12. Seek a way to celebrate. Reject alcohol. Hesitate. Then order another pint. Just one. Sure, what harm will it do?

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Izabella Grace grew up in London and now lives in rural Ireland. She writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Cease, Cows; Black Heart Magazine; The Molotov Cocktail; Dirty Chai Magazine, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @iza8ella. Email: izabellagrace[at]outlook.com

Red Hair and Rain

Flash
Tomas Marcantonio


Photo Credit: jpellgen/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Red hair and rain fell over her pale eyes and the roar of weekend men shook the windows of the damp bar behind her. The street was dark and quiet with the misery of lonely winter, but the artist came with such purpose and caramel clothes that he might have been walking straight out of summer’s garden gate.

‘You paint it, I sign it,’ the artist said to the girl on the edge of the gutters. ‘Together we see what revenge and money and ridicule we can milk.’

It took less than an afternoon for the red-haired girl to finish the painting, less than a week for the papers to declare it a masterpiece. It took less than a month to move into the penthouse by the harbour and forget the hard cobbled roads of the lanes and the sad fall of copper into her wet hands. It took some sudden guts and another month of finery to expose the lie, to declare herself the true artist and genius behind it all.

Money, fame and praise tickled her cheeks each day as easily as the raindrops on the streets once had. The darling of the gutters became the darling of the art world, but the art world had its own stencilled script to follow. There couldn’t be a rise as swift and sweet without a sudden scythe to hack it down just as suddenly. Lost her focus, trying too hard, out of sorts, the reviews joyfully declared. The money soon lost on parties and happy destructions, the penthouse gone and the red hair quickly back to her gutters. The artist in his caramel clothes walked right out of summer’s garden gate and dropped a coin at her feet, and the roar of weekend men shook the windows of the damp bar behind her.

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Tomas Marcantonio is a writer and English teacher from Brighton, England. He graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in English Language and Film, and has since travelled widely. He is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he writes whenever he can escape the classroom. Email: tommarcantonio[at]hotmail.co.uk