One hundred words. Or, flash nonfiction, as they say in lit nomenclature.
There’s a new piece in Thread’s literary patchwork – a section devoted to short personal essays no longer than 100 words. I’m calling it, Stitch, because that’s just about how long it takes to read one of these stories. (It takes far longer to write one.)
See the Submissions page for guidelines. Indicate that it’s Stitch you are going for when you submit your piece. I post a new piece each month. Scroll down for full Contributor bios.
Strangers on the Street
As I crossed the street at rush hour, I saw the woman who shares my name crossing in the opposite direction. We’ve never met but I found her on Facebook the day he told me about her. I clicked through her photos, trying to understand why she won him. She was elegant and posed by beaches and mountaintops. I didn’t want him, not anymore, but I hated her for being everything I wasn’t. She passed without looking, because to her, I was just another nameless face.
If you knew that gravity would reverse itself and the walls of space flatten like a cardboard box, would you still jump so high?
Someone Else’s Life Flashes before Me
From my moving car, I see a magical residence downslope through the trees. I am going too fast, and the glimpse only lasts about 1.35 seconds. A pink bus is surrounded by a broad blue deck filled with rose, fuchsia, and violet. A woman in pink plaid, maybe gingham, is walking on the deck. I think she is a natural beauty who doesn’t need make-up but wears lots of it anyway, and catches one off-guard with her sharp wit. There is no point in even thinking of a life with her, for the wont of a pink bus.
On summer nights, my father stood resolutely on the porch to listen for thunder, to observe lightning. When that lightning cracked the sky and lit the world the color of steel, my father’s rules were absolute: No telephone, no television, no shower. During a particularly window-rattling storm, Dad rushed us into the ’65 Malibu, sure that the car, with its rubber tires, was the safest place to sit out an electrical storm. My father belted us three kids together in the backseat, the silver buckle pressing against my belly, the car never moving off the driveway.
Forty-four satin buttons ran up my spine, holding me tight in the shiny ivory wedding gown. My size 12 feet were tucked inside ballet slippers, trying to look elegant but I felt like a mixed-up kid dressed for Halloween. Walking down the aisle I saw my brother, my keeper, my truth teller, the only one who said what others wouldn’t. That he never liked him. The heaviness of the dress weighed me down. There were twelve steps to the chuppah. Then five. And in that last step and I knew for sure I was making a mistake.
I was working at a music shop when a man walked in carrying a small instrument. He placed it on the counter, unrolling the rags like bandages. The instrument was a sunburst, A-model mandolin, rounded and full as a teardrop. “Yesterday, this belonged to my daughter,” he said. He looked at me and I suddenly felt the energy in grief. It was a sweaty, palpable sting. I read the details of the accident later in the paper. And as I read, the storeroom grew warm, like a hundred string instruments were vibrating in the air, performing a private elegy.
The Perfume of the Dying
A dense, sweet smell fills the hospital room, like October orchards full of fermenting fruit. They tell me it is the scent of the dying, and not unusual for my aunt’s kind of cancer. How fitting, I think. She always entered a room on a cloud of perfume, usually something musky that hung in the air like hummingbirds. What I wouldn’t give to spray some on her wrists now. Instead, I watch her breath slow. I take her translucent hand. I inhale the perfume of the dying. Her scent lingers long after she is gone, just as it always has.
My sweaty torso is slumped over his legs as I face his feet. We lie like this for some time, quiet, our breaths slowing. I look up and notice his toenails. Too long. They need a trim. I offer. “Sure,” he says. I kneel in front of him. The light is soft from the small bedside lamp; the room is warm from our lovemaking. Small wedges of hard nail fall to the floor, my free hand holding his octogenarian foot gently in place. I feel a deep sense of purpose and privilege; what we do when love is complete.
Nina B. Lichtenstein
The shuttle driver monologues about his family in a desperately friendly voice. His oldest is Jeff, Jr; his daughter Unique gave him his young grandchild. Like a man pinned against a wall trying to humanize himself before a heartless mob; like by blurting out the names of his loved ones it will grind our eyeless apathy to a halt. We do not lift our faces from our phone screens, though as the shuttle speeds through a red light, a soft bark of condemnation begins to surge.
Kristine Langley Mahler
He said it was like being crucified alive. He submitted to therapy and passed a lie detector test. The therapist said he didn’t have a sex problem. But what could the headmaster do? His name was in the papers, on Boston talk radio. He was my teacher in high school, a favorite. Cheering all those teams, loudly with his cowbell, had been a waste, he said. Now he is dedicating himself to the elderly, combing the hair of a woman in hospice, holding the hand of another, telling me nobody should have to die alone.
Her hair a tangled bundle of flyaway wheat, tiny toes gripping the crisp terrain, she toddles away, chubby fingers sweeping aside the silver-grey taffeta I made her wear. Her two older brothers pursue her clumsily, but she laughs, mellifluous squeal piercing the early-day exurban hush. These gadflies can’t really catch her; no, not yet. Already they’re too laden with their ages’ rigors: shoe tying, potty training. Invisible, invincible – she propels her twelve-month self forward, joy imbuing her with sylphish grace, supernatural speed. Nothing can capture her, but this photo.
My white friends want me to read their fortunes in coffee grounds. I do, but I make it up. I sit on an oriental rug from J.C. Penney’s, stare into the meaningless black smudge, and suddenly develop an accent. Offer images like, “A woman reaches toward nothing…” “… A sloth eyes a mannequin while dancing.” In coffee grounds, in my life, everything is symbols. I’m told that coffee served without spilling means you’ll find a husband. Am I alone because I let the pot boil over? I serve coffee but say nothing. There’s a drop on the tray. I let them interpret.
Katie J. Beberian
Meeting Primo Levi
One day in Turin, I met a man twice my age whose shy, bespectacled face had looked long into human darkness. In Auschwitz, he said, they took away your clothes, money, photos, past, future – your language, even. Many died of despair, but he saw one man simulate washing himself to survive. I thought to myself, he is a saint. Fifteen years later, when the radio in my kitchen announced his suicide, I staggered against the fridge, yelling Goddammit, the Nazis got him after all.
“Think the home team will lose again?” my younger son asked with a sigh. His enthusiasm was crippled by his eye for athletic prowess. For my older son and me, the outcome was irrelevant. We savored the sharp crack of the bat, the tinny organ music, and the tantalizing aroma of nacho cheese mingling with sizzling red hots. Our muscles tensed, propelling us toward every foul ball or free T-shirt. The magic of the ballpark settled upon us, and we wore it as proudly as you would a cloak of sand after a day at the beach.
My little sister used to beat her head against the wall when my parents fought. She wanted them to stop. They heard her once, but they argued more. I was never going to be like them. There would be no fighting. My daughter wasn’t going to be pulled into my marital problems. If things got bad, I’d get a divorce. But when I think of the popcorn wall that my sister and I shared, I don’t think of my marriage. I’m just ashamed that I didn’t stop that little girl from hurting herself.
Frederick Charles Melancon
Another Guy’s Shoes
Note: If this piece looks familiar, it should. A longer version of this essay appears in the Summer Issue of Thread. When I asked Jacqueline if she was up for writing a 100-word version just for the heck of it, she was in. Here is the result:
We were at a Taco Bell when a skinny guy wearing saggy jeans, faded Oakland A’s t-shirt, and royal blue Nikes comes over. “Wanna buy some shoes?” he asked. Mine were New Balance. My husband’s were sale sneakers from Big Five. The guy repeated his question, lifting one foot and wagging it. “Brand new. Only put them on to walk here.” If we bought them, what was he was going to walk home in? “No, man. Thanks,” my husband said. The guy nodded and headed over to another customer, treading lightly, as if his feet weren’t quite touching the ground.
Photos (except for “Capturing Ailie”) by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2017.
Heather Mangan is a writer and storyteller from South Dakota who currently lives in Chicago. She blogs at heathermangan.com.
Tom McGohey is a retired professor who taught Composition and directed the Writing Center at Wake Forest University and lives in Newbern, Virginia. His essay published in Fourth Genre was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina whose essays and photographs have appeared in Montreal Review, High Country News, Compose, New Theory, Lowestoft Chronicle, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for Best American Travel Writing and Best of the Net.
Judy Bolton-Fasman’s creative nonfiction has appeared in many literary venues. She writes about culture and arts for a variety of outlets. You can find out more at www.thejudychronicles.com.
Lori Dube is a freelance writer, social worker and life coach. Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, JUF News, Crain’s Chicago Business and Make it Better Magazine.
Rachel Hoge is a Tennessee native whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Ravishly, The Washington Post, Paste Magazine, Catapult, and others. She’s an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas, a previous intern at the Oxford American and BookPage. She’s at work on her first book of nonfiction. You can follow her on Twitter @hoge_rachel.
Kim O’Connell is a writer based in Arlington, Virginia, whose articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal, Brain, Child, PsychologyToday.com, unFold Poetry and Little Patuxent Review. She has been a writer in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was the first-ever writer in residence at Shenandoah National Park.
Nina B. Lichtenstein is a storyteller and teacher who lives in Maine. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Lilith, The Brevity Blog, and Literary Mama, among other places. Her book, Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa, was just published.
Kristine Langley Mahler’s nonfiction has been recently published or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Quarter After Eight, Sweet, Tahoma Literary Review, and the Brevity Nonfiction Blog. She is a graduate student in Omaha, Nebraska.
Kurt Mullen is a writer who lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in Powder, Paddler, Canoe & Kayak and Berkshire Magazine. January 2017.
Mindy Watson is a DC/Northern Virginia-based creative nonfiction writer and writer/editor. Her nonfiction has appeared in Ars Medica and her poetry is forthcoming in The Quarterday Review. December 2016.
Katie J. Beberian is a writer who teaches composition in Fresno, California. November 2016.
Michael Rabiger is a filmmaker, educator and writer on film directing. He is working on a biography of Thomas Hardy. October 2016.
Andrea Isiminger‘s work has appeared in several anthologies and online at Chicago Literati, The Vignette Review, Mamalode and Transitions Abroad. She lives in Madrid, Spain. September 2016.
Frederick Charles Melancon is a teacher and a writer. He is a native of New Orleans and he currently lives in Mississippi with his wife and daughter. Premier edition: August 2016.