This month, we highlight several stories from previous issues that captured our attention – for their experimental form, content and character, or approach to the theme. We’ve asked each writer to provide a brief commentary on the story we selected for a second (or third or fourth) reading. Below, we bring you five selected stories which you may recall from our earlier pages and their accompanying author notes – some commentaries in exactly 250 words. Enjoy!
Rachel J Fenton, Young Girl with a Sheaf (Dec 2012/ Jan 2013, THE GIFT)
Avignon glows golden as an August field of ripe corn. A walled town: there is a sense of what it feels to be a mouse lost in sheaves, drowning in stalks. Will grips my hand and we go on.
I expected screams, terror-curdled wails, not this:
our heels echoing our hearts the only sounds as we make our way along the gravel path. The light, pied, in need of an artist to paint it, and there she sits, the so-called nightmare, just in view between the laddered shade of a sentry of trees, and the doorway of the madhouse.
Will adjusts the camera. I walk the last few yards alone, see in Camille’s hands stalks of corn; in her eyes, so blue, even now, it is eighteen ninety, I am not sixty-eight but twenty-nine, looking at the exhibition catalogue, yearning to meet the maker who would become my dearest friend. She did not disappoint.
There was a rumour she should not be in Montdevergues, as there was a rumour the rumour she started (Rodin stole her ideas) had her committed. Every rumour holds at least one ear of truth.
My forehead to felt: her hat.
“They told me you were mad.” A tear’s lost in the creases of my face.
“You pester me.” She has woven the corn into a sunwheel.
“Avenie ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa. Forgive me.”
She gives me the sun. The camera clicks.
Fenton’s commentary: Most people have heard of Rodin. I was twenty, on my first (only) trip to Paris with a lover, when I discovered Camille Claudel.
I became obsessed with her, her work, her life, her love affair with the man who signed his name to her sculptures – such is the price for an apprenticeship with Rodin – and her ending.
Her life presented in two parts: the privilege, a father who indulged his daughter’s interest (unusual for the period), recognition by Rodin, the apprenticeship, passion, and her close friendship with the English sculptor Jessie Lipscomb. Then there was her “madness”. Enough said.
I came to the conclusion her insanity was that she had accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and had worked intensively and without care for herself since their relationship had ended. She became an embarrassment to her brother and he had her committed.
“Young Girl with a Sheaf” describes an actual photograph taken at the asylum, the imagined moments preceding it. The blank space represents the remembered life; that lived outside the perimeters of the photograph, the truth.
I thought what better way to understanding than to inhabit the friendship of women; friendship that, despite the distance of years, lifestyle and countries, in the end proved stronger than the love that allegedly drove Claudel mad.
The St. Bridget’s Cross sun/corn wheel is symbolic. The Italian proverb: artistic licence.
Curiously, Rodin’s sculpture “Galatea” is almost identical to Claudel’s “Young Girl with a Sheaf”, yet Claudel’s piece was exhibited two years earlier; madness.
Tim Heath, Hydrangeas (June 2012/ HOLD MY HAND)
“You’re silly,” she says, watching me plant the hydrangea cuttings.
“Those sticks won’t grow and they’re old-fashioned.”
“Fashionable again,” I reply. “Cheap too – just nicked some from your mum.”
I pat down the cuttings and look up. The sun silhouettes her body. Desire grabs at me. Sun, soil, my wife and I am lost.
“Come here, you bossy woman!”
“No…you’re grubby…and the neighbours?”
But she comes to me and the sun is eclipsed by her hair. Today, in our garden I learn again how strong she is.
“You’re a silly, grubby, wonderful man,” she breathes and breathes.
The hydrangeas grow. I become a gardener.
“Why are you hacking at those poor hydrangeas?”
She is sitting in the garden chair with our child. Her dress is damp from feeding.
“Make ‘em grow better…that’s what it said in the paper.”
I take her hand. Today, I learn that babies, too, can smile.
“The children want a trampoline,” she says. “If you trim those old hydrangeas, one could go there. “
She is surprised I don’t protest. She doesn’t know I love working with the smooth, round stems, the smell evoking memories.
I drag the trampoline away and tip it over. It seems so much heavier.
“It was always a clumsy sort of a thing,” I tell her.
“Yes, you dear, clever man, yes.”
Today, she is able to sit in the chair.
I break some dry stems off a dead hydrangea and reach for her hand.
Heath’s commentary: This is story that I have played around with for some time – it has been a longer story and a poem but seems to have found comfort in becoming a 250-word flash fiction piece. In its various forms I was always trying to depict, and celebrate, both long lasting love and the to and fro not quite bickering that gives a bit of sparkle to everyday interactions. And, of course, it was so important to do this without using those words, but to endeavour to show the passage of time, and the growth of the relationship, largely by reference to the garden, the hydrangeas and the trampoline. It seemed best to use dialogue, as much as possible, to convey changes – it was my hope that the wife’s voice would show a steady change from banter (the loving desire to improve one’s partner?) to an easier voicing of love, the change from calling him a ‘silly man’ to a ‘dear and clever man’.
Leah McMenamin, Wanderings (June 2012, THE ROAD)
We walked it at twilight. That way the day’s heat spun up our legs from the concrete, like a tabby cat threading between our ankles.
When there were no cars we held hands and walked on either side of the median lines. At nights the cats eyes blinked at us, wardens of the dark, and we played hopscotch in the stretches between them, hopping on one leg and then the other.
He liked the way the road prostrated itself before us. “It is both a god and a servant,” he said to me. We watched the road works we passed. The workers laid down the tarmac inch by inch, smoothing and stretching and drying.
We walked past them and it was as if they had never been, as if the road was an organic occurrence. Towns crowded us, but when we walked on those great open roads all was possible.
When our shoes wore down we simply left them in the toetoe that crowded the road edges. Our feet got scratched by stones and cut by broken glass. Once we slept beneath rubbish bags in the rain, and saw a lost cow lumber in front of us. It seemed disgruntled, confused by the intrusion of asphalt where there should be grass.
We dreamed of the road at night, of its endlessness, and felt sad for our own imagined immortality.
McMenamin’s commentary: The theme for the June issue was the road, and I wanted to capture the power of physical movement, the action of putting one foot in front of the other and how that everyday occurrence is actually rather miraculous.
I had been thinking for some time about a holiday I had taken with my friend. One day we left our campground intending to walk to the corner dairy, and instead kept walking up the road for hours.
We passed through a couple of small townships and left them behind, and in this story I wanted to communicate a small part of that memory – the action of walking, the unbroken stretch of road in front of us, and the changing landscape that kept us company that day.
Elizabeth Farris, Afternoon Tea (April 2012/ AFTER THE PARTY)
Happy Hoppy Bunny has fallen from his seat and lies sprawled across the floorboards. A purple bow round his neck -– formal attire for the occasion -– has come untied. Rag doll Charlotte Anne is slumped over, face down on the table. Her yellow string mop hair is stained from the tea which had spilt from her teacup. Mike the orange monkey barely hangs on. He dangles -– mid-air -– his curly wire-filled tail loops through a slit in the back of his pink plastic chair. One more tremor and he’ll join his rabbit friend on the floor.
The three-year-old hostess had rushed outside without an apology, overturning her little stool. Her mum’s porcelain teapot, decorated with perpetually-cheery yellow daffodils, remains on the floor, smashed into pieces that will never be glued back together.
Without a sound, the man makes a notation on his clipboard and leaves the house, carefully locking the door behind him, even though the doorframe is fractured and an adjoining window is shattered. He affixes a red sticker onto the outside.
In the front yard, the Student Volunteer Army battles an invisible enemy that can never be defeated. Once again, their shovels scrape, removing the inert grey silt which has buried the lawn. They fill wheelbarrows full of lifeless liquefaction, and cart it away.
A random cluster of daffodils may emerge from the garden next spring.
Farris’s commentary: I enjoy flash fiction that is a photograph capturing a scene suspended in time. Something happened before this moment and objects give evidence of the backstory; it is the job of the reader to piece everything together.
The theme for April after the party suggested inclusion of the motion after the click of the camera’s shutter.
The Christchurch earthquakes changed so many lives and triggered compassionate action all over New Zealand. And it was the Student Volunteer Army that epitomized the Kiwi way – taking care of others.
Mike Crowl, Scropian (September 2012/ TURN THE PAGE)
“The scorpion is predatory… eight legs… pair of grasping claws… .” Turn the page. My eyes are only skimming the text. This assignment isn’t going to be easy. With next to nothing going on in my head, I’m practically braindead. A couple of heads in the library turn briefly, because I said braindead out loud. Apparently. I hope their assignment subjects are even more difficult than writing about a scorpion. I keep typing it on my tablet as scropian. Scropian is legit, so my brain claims (though not Spellchecker). Brain’s on the verge of abandoning me for a quick kip. Maybe I’ll copy something off the Net, use an article out of Wikipedia, change a word here or there, hope Ms I-know-everything-about-flora-and-fauna won’t notice. If she asks me outright if it’s all my own work, I won’t lie. I’ll say: everything’s on the Net these days, so what’s the point of reinventing the wheel? I like that, reinventing the wheel. See? There’s nothing original around, otherwise no one would have come up with that cliché. Pity I couldn’t write a story, instead of an essay. A story about reinventing the wheel would be cool. There’s this gigantic explosion – destroys every wheel on the planet. The hero – he’s a junior scientist – he tries to reinvent the wheel and discovers an even better way to get around.
Yeah, like what?
My brain doesn’t like having its nap interrupted. Turn the page: – “…scropian venom…has been known to kill…a hamun bieng… .”
Crowl’s commentary: I’m an intutive writer, I guess: I start with a seed and things grow of their own accord. I don’t usually have an idea where I’m going when I begin. (This happens when I’m writing music too.) The seed for the Flash Frontier pieces is usually the theme itself. Sometimes a play on words occurs to me, or else I just start writing with the theme in mind and see what happens. It’s a bit like a door opening inside the brain. Sometimes the door has to be wedged open with my foot while I type, the story arriving bit by bit. It’s not necessarily fully-formed, but takes shape as the bits appear.
The word count in flash fiction provides a nice constraint. There isn’t room to start developing characters or ideas; everything has to be pared down to the bone, and words that seem important initially get chopped away. This disciplined form suits me: I can leave things unsaid, letting readers fill in the details for themselves. I can even pretend I’ve left things unsaid, and wonder what’s missing myself.
In the case of this story I have a notion that it started because I mistyped the word “scorpion”. However, I might have imagined that idea since. I’ve found it interesting that other people have actually seen more in the piece than I did…!
Please see the April 2013 international issue — high tide — here.