New Flash Fiction: A FAIR FIGHT

NEW FLASH FICTION:

This one is awesome in a disgusting way that involves the worst kind of rodent. If you just … can’t …, then please don’t.

New Flash Essay: Hong Kong, My Twenties

2020:published in the journal Under the Gum Tree

Trotting downhill, toward the Star Ferry terminal, a pungent smell drew me to a nothing-special corner shrine made of concrete. It would never be listed in The Lonely Planet. It was hung with red lanterns and banners. Additionally, fifteen or twenty coils of incense the size of birdcages dangled from the ceiling. The bottom end of each was burning. The smoke could have choked an ox. I breathed in anyway, breathed in the burnt intimacy. I didn’t know much about intimacy. Sex, sure. Before leaving for Hong Kong, I undertook regular affirmations, “I am having a wonderful travel affair.” In the 80s, affirmations were to be chanted in the present tense, three times per affirmation, staring straight into the mirror.

Inside the temple, I watched everyday Chinese people shake bundles of incense in front of their foreheads and then place the slim grouping of sticks upright in sand-filled troughs before altars bedecked with red candles, idols, and strings of electric lights. Red. Made me wish I had their faith. Unsure of my welcome, I left for the sweaty street. Countless, crushing people demonstrated identifiable purpose, an after-office squash to catch a train or bus or ferry so like my routine this past year in Tokyo, no ferries, loving Japan but hating everything about teaching English except the salary that would afford me these next two months with nothing but my backpack and Asia. A friend planned to come with me. Then her boyfriend wanted her stateside.

On the sidewalk, the thronging Chinese bought plastic shoes, household goods, leafy green vegetables, whole fish. Some large animal’s organs. Cow? A goose minus its head, body split to display glistening innards. The long neck flopped.

“Gross,” I said to no one. It was one, big, lonely planet.

An escape from the street presented itself as a café painted a quiet green. Under the ceiling fans, older men in black pajamas sat in pairs at wooden tables, invariably in the same position: one leg tucked under the bottom, the other dangling not quite to the floor. Each pair concentrated on a game of Go, black and white boards, black and white stones. I took to a table, to be ignored for some time. Eventually, the waiter, unbidden, placed within reach a chilled schooner of tan-colored liquid. It tasted like sweet, milky rice. The men continued their game. The ceiling fans rotated.

A gush of rain drew me to the open window. The pavement was so hot that the water hissed, hitting it. Though I did not go on to have a wonderful affair, the affair I did have was the best I could do. When my two months ended, I returned to the orderly numbness of myself in Tokyo. For my next vacation, I visited my father in the States, He took an opportunity to explain why he always had to have a girlfriend outside his primary relationship. He said, “I need some place to flee.” More than fifty years old and still, the man could not handle intimacy. That was not going to be me.

 I returned to Japan. Three months later, three more months of a life that appeared antithetical to a Western concept of progress, I spent a week feeling as if my brain was un-bending. Finally, I woke from a dream, a thousand fractured images of sexual abuse. I told my acupuncturist, “I don’t want it to be my father.”

He said, “Whatever it is, it’s already been.”

A different day—there were a lot of seemingly random days, during that time—I sat on the grass in my favorite park, Ki-chi-jo-ji, sat in the weak sun that was stealing looks through the cherry blossoms. Had it been a more organized day, would I have found this new affirmation: “All I need is amply provided for, and I am safe.”

It was my father. 

I was safe.

People always want to know, how old were you? Did your mother know? From the time I woke from that dream, it would be seven years of dark nights and ultimate faith before incest became merely the data of my childhood, before the hiss of that downpour began to reveal the abundance of its possibility. I soared: a decent job that I actually liked; my first not-just-screwing relationship, one that lead to marriage. Two children, now teens. A house. Everything normal girls expected. When I stood at the window of the green-walled café, the rain bouncing off the street could only smell as fulsome as two months of freedom. I could have continued teaching English, spending two months of every year in a different Asian country, hoping for the best affair I was capable of. Could die alone. A third question people ask: how did you get through it? They mean the abuse. I hear: the years after surviving it.

There is an old story. A disciple goes to the Buddha, asking for the secret to happiness. The Buddha asks, “Did you eat today?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wash your bowl?”

“Yes.”

“Did you do a good job?”

A little pissy to report that my first publication of 2020 …

is only available to read if you purchase the issue for $8. Seems like a lot of money to make you read 800 words, even if the print edition is is GORGEOUS. I will probably publish the piece here on About Childhood after a month or so, once the magazine has had a chance to sell their copies. In the meanwhile ….

Hong Kong My Twenties: By the Numbers

Circa 1993, this flash non-fiction started life as two paragraphs from the first draft of my still-unpublished novel (grumble). During one of the many hundreds of revisions of the book, small sections leapt out to me as possibilities for short stories or flash pieces. This was one such piece.

Toward the end of 2018, I had a 800 words ready, fiction and a non-fiction versions. I sent them about and about, never really getting anywhere.

Toward the middle of 2019, I came across Under the Gum Tree. What a beautifully produced journal! Seeing that they had a travel section and published flash, I knew which piece I was going to send.

At the end of 2019, editor, Robin Martin, contacted me. UTGT was interested but needed a little more …. something … from the piece. Robin let me try again. I stumbled across a way to tie an afternoon spent observing Hong Kong with the feeling of always being out-of-step; ie: disassociation.

Yep, we’re back to the theme of sexual trauma.

I saw how my desire to no longer write about sexual trauma was getting in the way of a piece that was all about not understanding sexual trauma. I was just gonna have to go there.

I sent a draft to Robin. She returned it with the note, “You went there.”

I was still a number of drafts from the final version. (That’s why they pay us literary writers the big buck, folks.) Thank you to Robin and also to Clare Frank for letting me work on “Hong Kong, My Twenties” until it was fully baked.

“The Great Ultimate”: a question from a reader.

I don’t know whether to post this, but I am such a vain, silly pig that I will: On Facebook, a reader asked how I went about structuring my sentences. She wrote, “You write in a way that I haven’t read before. The way your narrator reflects. The way you add these to your story. Short and precise but not abrupt.” 

I thought I should pontificate.

Part of it is just the way I think. Another part is conscious. An agent once told me to cut my 400-page tome to 200 pages or fewer. I started by pulling out every “I” possible. Next, I realized that sentences (and paragraphs) of all the same length turned the page into literary Sominex. This realization led me to play with sentence and paragraph length.

“The Great Ultimate” is not the only piece of fiction in which I play with this technique. Check out perhaps the most experimental of these undertakings: Let Me Feel for You – the episode that, in Carlie’s chronology, directly precedes “The Great Ultimate.”

By the Numbers: “The Great Ultimate”

 

david-humphrey-tangle
Original art for “The Great Ultimate” by David Humphrey.

“The Great Ultimate” was the most recent of the four short stories adapted from chapters of my as-of-yet-unpublished (grumble) novel, and in October of 2018, I was eager to start sending it out.

I submitted “The Great Ultimate” to fourteen magazines before Evergreen said yes. For me, fourteen is an extraordinarily small number of submissions prior to acceptance.

Getting into Evergreen took some gumshoe. Finding no formal submission process on their website, I first sent a different story, I Wanted Ten, to the “info” address—just an attachment to an email. Heard nothing. For months. When “I Wanted Ten” was accepted by Blue Lake Review, I did what The Big They say you are supposed to do in such a situation: I contacted Evergreen—again, by simple email—describing the situation and offering instead “The Great Ultimate.” I’ll let Dale take the story, from here.  (Link: dale-peck-announces-alles-short-story-the-great-ultimate.)