The story, by Nancy Stohlman, appeared in the inimitable Blink-Ink Quarterly:
My Father is Trying to Set the World Record for Days Spent Petting a Shark
The trick, he says, is to just lightly move the fingers. The shark has the frozen, unimpressed expression of all sharks. Are you coming home for dinner?
I can’t stop now, he said. It’s only been 9 hours. It’s about goals, he added. Your mother never taught you the importance of having a real goal.
So much to unpack in just fifty words! A strange marker between the menacing and the nurturing (not to mention the brilliant sentence: “The shark has the frozen, unimpressed expression of all sharks.”) Of course, Nancy Stohlman is a well-known author in the flash fiction world, with a number of fabulous collections under her belt and a reading series (the FBomb) running in Denver and New York City. Though I'd read and even written and published a few short-shorts by that point, it was this story that really whetted my appetite for a form that seemed boundless.
(Thank you, Nancy!)
Fast forward a few years, and it feels even more boundless. Flash publications, anthologies, competitions, workshops, festivals… Look anywhere, and it’s there. Some of my favourite venues for flash include Wigleaf, Smokelong Quarterly, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review, Passages North, and many more besides. Even the biggies are swept up: Tin House, Electric Literature, and the Kenyon Review all run columns and/or competitions dedicated to the form.
Which is why I'm thrilled to introduce a special flash issue this month! In this issue, you’ll find micro fiction and longer flash; episodic and collaborative flash (and one piece written as a block party invitation). You’ll discover (or renew your love for) the work of three well-established flash authors (Robert Scotallero, Mark Budman, and Paul Beckman) and three who are fast making names for themselves (Sophie van Llewyn, Stephanie Hutton, and Judyth Emanuel). I hope you enjoy this issue as much I enjoyed putting it together! I think I’ve written more than I should!
Featured Writers: Sophie van Llewyn and Stephanie Hutton (co-authors)
“The singer exhales a series of smoke rings as if to gain his attention. Then she starts the next song. It’s in Spanish. Consonants growl from the back of her throat and spurt from her tongue trapped between perfect teeth. Frank can’t look away from kohl-rimmed eyes that seek him out, pin him to the chair. And even though he speaks no language but English, he understands the message: he hasn’t got long left.” - Stephanie Hutton & Sophie van Llewyn, “Chimaera.”
Featured Writer: Robert Scotallero
“The widow was on fire. The neighbors could see her standing by the top floor window of the big house, putting out the curtains she brushed against. At the supermarket she melted all the frozen foods she passed. The checkout clerk was polite, but kept his distance” - Robert Scotallero, “One Thousand Forms of Love, Minus Nine Hundred and Ninety-Seven.”
“My fine young man full of life then, thirty then, horny then a bedsit ciggies giggle fucks of steamy hair raising heights and howls and headies. Lie down, he says, And close your eyes. Three months left. always that short time, stoner blaze laughing about minus entire knowledge what mysterious facts of knishes. And after loss what other lives force to live me missing. Him.” - Judyth Emanuel, ‘Same As It Ever Was.’
“Due to inappropriate behavior and comments from Chuck, Bud, Mary Helen, Bea, the Michael’s, the Smith’s, the Simkin’s, Wolcott’s, and those cowardly anonymous neighbors who egged the Hagen’s and Levine’s house, spiked volley balls and threw bocce balls through the Hagan’s and Levine’s family room sliders, brought their dogs by to crap on the Hagen’s and Levine’s front lawns, and left those fowl notes and dirty pampers in the mailboxes of the Hagen’s and Levine’s and had their kids threaten the Hagen and Levine kids we are calling off the Laurel Street Block Party (between Cactus and Thornberry).” - Paul Beckman, ‘Block Party’
“ Then the red phone ringed, for the first time in fifty years. Conversely, the white one kept ringing non-stop. In the beginning, the secretary answered every call from the white one. He recorded complaints and requests in the log for the Boss and then washed his hands. Figuratively, of course, because there was no pause between the calls. The secretary had no idea if the Boss acted upon them. He had never seen the Boss, and never talked to Him. He was hired through the US mail. The key to the office as well as the directions came in the mail, too. ” - Mark Budman, ‘The Secretary.’
Nancy Stolman fiction piece reprinted with the author's permission