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Flash Feature: August 2013

August 2013

This month, we highlight several more stories from our issues that have captured our attention – for their content and character, their play with language and form or their approach to the theme. We’ve asked each writer to provide a brief commentary on the story we selected. Below, we bring you five stories from Flash Frontier, with accompanying author notes.

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Jaclyn Bergamino, Cicadas (November 2012/ EYE CONTACT

She could hear his abdomen, even from eight storeys above. She knew he waited for her, dressed in new skin holding the bark of a mango tree. For thirteen years, she had dug and hid, dug and hid, a pale pearl of a nymph sheltered in flooding clay. Prematurely buried. She had fed on rootjuice and waited.

And now, the time for burying herself had gone. She no longer wore the tough soil skin of the past. The brightness of being was nearly unbearable. She was green and larger than herself.

She sat exposed, mesmerized by the equatorial sunlight and the sound of his clicking ribs. She could see him from here, just a speck, but she could tell even at this distance that he looked back at her. Through her ten eyes, he was a kaleidoscope of rounded cicada flecks, mirrored and moving in unison, calling her to the ground.

And then a closer sound. Behind her, ten of the same dark-haired girls with lightning eyes and cloud-coloured skin reached a catastrophic finger in her direction.

She heard him again, dry-fly ribs rubbing together to blot out the sounds of metropolitan traffic and children. The vibrations called to her.

She looked down at the expectant mango tree and imagined the future she would create: millions of shimmery nymphs sprinkling from the branches, raining onto the soil below, christening the ground with their sparkling selves.

There was nothing for her to do now, except let go.

black and whiteBergamino’s commentary: In my years living in Bangkok, I became quite removed from the natural world. The busyness and pollution of the city made me feel claustrophobic. The pollution and smog of the city had me feeling dirty, and not in the good, get-yourself-muddy-and-play-in-the-dirt kind of dirty, but a grungy, grey kind of dirty. It wasn’t enough for me to see greenery and nature on long weekends away from the city. I needed it in my daily life.

Fortunately for me, Bangkok is teeming. Not just with people and cars and buildings, but also with the progeny of the ancient rainforest that once stood in its place. Strangler figs grow on the sides of skyscrapers. Bodhi trees push up from between the cracks in sidewalks. Water monitor lizards bask in the sun in urban parks. And cicadas add their buzzing to the hum of the city.

I took pleasure in these small things, seeing them as tiny ways that the natural world was still present in my life. It also felt like small victories for Mother Nature, as she found ways to work around and adapt to the giant metropolis. I started looking for these small victories everywhere, and writing about them when I found them. “Cicadas” is one manifestation of that search.

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Leanne Radojkovich, A Dog’s Soul (Dec 2012/ Jan 2013: THE GIFT) 

In winter, the porch was light-starved and goosebump-cold.

We sat in the kitchen, fire snapping and fizzing, while dog sat on the porch whining to be let in.

Each morning, I’d open the door and she’d knock me down and lick my face.

In summer, dog thought she was a cat, chasing sparrows across the lawn and trying to climb trees.

One morning, I opened the door and dog was lying on her side with her legs poking out.

Thwack! Thwack!

The sound of Dad chopping into the lawn.

The swish of earth sliding off his spade.

“Drag her over,” he said.

Her stiff legs made good handles but I was half out of my body with shock.

Dad rolled dog into the hole, testing the fit with his gumboot.

Something whooshed out, a fleeting pressure against my face: one cold kiss.

View a video of this story here.

biopicRadojkovich’s commentary:  About 18 months ago, I was looking around for more interesting ways to get flash fiction out in the world and thought I’d try posting video readings on YouTube.

I wanted the core value of the videos to be the story, so chose very simple visuals and three constraints: to film in a single continuous shot; from behind; wearing bare feet. The first video was also shot in portrait – a happy accident, as I then realised I preferred this to landscape, and continued with portrait as a fourth constraint.

Since then, I’ve posted ten readings on YouTube and these have been viewed over 2,700 times by people in 35 countries.

“A Dog’s Soul” was filmed at Pakiri as evening fell. The gold dusk made me think of the story’s narrator – her dog’s death had been preserved in her memory like an insect caught in amber.

More here.

Martin Porter, A Northland Walk (July 2012, THE ROAD

Ascend by the juniper trees. Feel for the signpost at the gap in the wall, smoother than the gateposts on either side. The road becomes gradually steeper until the smell of wild rosemary becomes imperceptible. Walk for fifteen minutes, listening out for the many tui on this stretch.

The warmth of the tarmac will change at the junction. Do not continue straight, it leads to a dead end where the wind rushes over the cliff. If the surface is smooth and encroached by bush, turn back.

Take the path leftwards. It is rougher at first, with ridges that run across the width before the first corner. Take care not to trip. It initially curves northwards but gradually tends towards the east, near the thyme. The scent of the pasture is distinctive throughout the year but may be disguised by the overpowering mix of herbs, particularly in high summer.

The track now climbs in an energetic gradient. It becomes stony, so wear good shoes with toecaps, I should have mentioned that earlier. Notice the occasional elder blossom in summer.

Be aware of sheep droppings along this stretch, they are slippery, so treacherous, and sometimes hide in the perfumed air.

Enjoy the experience of the summit. The breeze is magnificent, hitting the face on every side. The open air is astringent and unusually wild. Cicada, beetles, bees and wasps abound. The heat from the sun is sensational, and because the plateau is so bare, will seem to come from all directions.

Martin PorterPorter’s commentary: Written around the theme of the road, “A Northland Walk” is a hybrid memory written around a walk I completed just south of Whangarei but mixing in detail from the north coast of Jersey and North Yorkshire.

Writing by omission has been a feature I have explored in my work, particularly in the last decade. Here, I have used the walk to explore senses and sensations, including textures, timescales and temperatures as well as scents, sounds and slopes, but challenge the reader to take part in the creative process through the subtext (which may not be immediately clear) by excluding any visual cues.

I once walked Nine Standards Rigg in Northern England on a dismal foggy day accompanied by a blind tramper, whose name I have lost in the mists of time. He taught me it was possible to overcome the domination of the other senses that sight can impose on us. This piece owes almost everything to his companionship, insight and vision.

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Kathryn Jenkins, Leaving (July 2012/ THE ROAD

We’d taken three months off work to rebuild, consolidate, perhaps make that baby we said we wanted.

“Let’s drive round Australia,” you said.

It seemed like a good idea, so we flew into Perth and headed for Cervantes. I walked among the limestone pillars and cried, my whole body tingling with the land. You laughed.

“Let’s drive the Gunbarrel Highway,” you said. “You want to go to Ayers Rock, we’ll get there faster.”

“We’ve got three months,” I said, “can’t we take our time.”

“Life’s too short to take our time.”

The next day we turned east and drove to Wiluna, picked up our permits, stocked up on food and water, and swapped our Daihatsu for a Landrover.

We arrived at Uluru five days later in the rain; the earth, full of flavour, its scent tangy and damp. You ran from one photo stop to the next. I wandered, my collar turned up, watching rivulets cascade down the rock face, springing from nowhere and dashing sideways with no apparent cause.

That was yesterday. This morning the rain has gone and I leave you sleeping to watch the sun rise. The sky writes me a story on deep purple velvet; weaves pink threads into lilac clouds; creates a tapestry on the edge of the sky.

You join me, yawning as if you are swallowing the day.

“Let’s go to Alice Springs,” you say.

“I’d like to stay.”

I feel your thoughts churning. You won’t wait for me… and I won’t leave.

Kathy 1Jenkins’s commentary: I don’t tend to write from experience, finding it easier to imagine events rather than twist my own life into a version of fiction. But there are a few stories, and only in flash, where I have explored using fact as a basis for fiction. It doesn’t always work and is sometimes still too raw and too close to the truth, but in “Leaving” I was able to use my experiences to craft something that said much more than the original incidents could.

“Leaving” is not about any relationship I have ever had with an individual but it is about the relationship I have had with the land. I have visited both Cervantes and Uluru, the first with my husband and children and the second with my mother. I did cry while walking among limestone pillars in Cervantes while my family looked on mystified – thankfully none of them laughed – and, while I didn’t have quite the same emotional connection with the land in Uluru, it was raining the day we arrived and I was always up at dawn watching the sun rise. The depiction of the rising sun in “Leaving” is taken almost word-for-word from a description I wrote one morning at Uluru.

I have not driven the Gunbarrel Highway but the idea fascinates me – that enormous stretch of nothing is something that I search for. Whether I will ever travel it and have a connection with it strong enough to write about, I don’t know.

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Rachel J Fenton, Hunters in the Snow (August 2013/ SNOW) 

My hair made antlers.

*
The sky: coloured lead.
*
“I’m not enough?”
*
Green was everywhere.
            Green laughed
*
             I pointed, “That’s new.” Had I expected skaters still cutting circuits into the ice?
                                                                                                                                               “I
thought it’d be more green, like in the painting.”
*
Green said.
              We had a good view of Ikea on Amraser-See-Strasse where the lake used to be.
*
               “Things change,”
*
                Trees weren’t lined in a perfect diagonal to lead us into the scene; painted white, the church steeple was now difficult to pick out from the snow, and the river was in the wrong place though still rippled like a vein hanging from the teeth of the Alps like a shred of Actaeon.
*
                We had walked a short distance from the Hotel Bierwirt where my husband was sleeping off the previous evening’s overindulgence.
*
                We stopped to look across Amras as if we were hunters come home empty handed. Behind us Ambras Castle, its windows cross stitched eyes, birds’ footprints.
                We had walked a short distance from the Hotel Bierwirt where my husband was sleeping off the previous evening’s overindulgence.
                Trees weren’t lined in a perfect diagonal to lead us into the scene; painted white, the church steeple was now difficult to pick out from the snow, and the river was in the wrong place though still rippled like a vein hanging from the teeth of the Alps like a shred of Actaeon.
                 “Things change,” Green said.
                  We had a good view of Ikea on Amraser-See-Strasse where the lake used to be.
                  I pointed, “That’s new.” Had I expected skaters still cutting circuits into the ice? “I thought it’d be more green, like in the painting.” Green was everywhere.
                  Green laughed, “I’m not enough?”
The sky: coloured lead. My hair made antlers.

Rachel FentonFenton’s commentary: “Hunters in the Snow” is a deconstruction (undo) narrative of ekphrasis about Pieter Bruegel’s painting of the same name, a work I have obsessed over for years because of the indefinable shade of green/blue/grey that sings from it, and the visual devices and form the artist employed. I’m grateful to FLASH MOB 2013, where this piece first appeared, for giving me the impetus to push inspiration to outcome.

I interpreted the sticks the hunters are carrying in the painting – one slung with a hare – as being like antlers in appearance, so I accompanied my meta-fiction with a self-portrait, hair styled into antlers (for the love of puns and homonyms), and inhabited my story from the first person point of view. Here two time frames emerge: one bringing the past of the painting to life, the other re-imagining a new scenario for the image in the present.

In the present, there is a character named Green – he represents the impossible to define shade – hence both he and the colour (shade unspecified) green are “everywhere”. Hunting here, then, is adultery; the chase for a heart if not a hart. As the protagonist (as Elizabeth Bennet said in Pride and Prejudice), “I am undone”.

After days of research I found what I believe to be the exact location the scene was painted from, courtesy of a couple of other bloggers who had done some research of their own, and used Google Earth’s “street view” to put myself in the hunters’ shoes. To virtually stand where Bruegel did gave me a real rush – it set the tone for the content of my story.

Each line of the flash was positioned on the white screen in alignment with where it would land in the final text block – the first text “flake” to fall being submerged by all subsequent flakes in the final drift. So, to represent the two time frames, we read the text fall, then we read it again, when it’s  compacted, in chronological order – realising then that the first read through was in reverse-chronology. It asks us to reconsider what we’ve read from another perspective, to pause, to look closely at snow.

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Please see the August 2013 issue — snow here

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