|Art by Dario Bijelac|
“The Girl Waits” by Jennifer Haupt (502 words)
This is one of the shortest stories I’ve seen at the publication and makes great use of the shorter space to pack in the emotional weight of the situation. The tension of waiting is capturing powerfully, with this threat all around the main character, a threat that is by no means old but is no less immediate for having lived with a version of it all her life. What remains is a prison without the presence of guards, a box that the girl has put herself in because she hopes that it will keep her safe, as if anything can truly keep her safe. And yet it reveals something achingly human, that desire to have something be sacred, to have someplace be free from trouble. Children’s game are full of these ideas, after all, safety zones where a person cannot be tagged, where they cannot be touched. That these are agreed upon obscures the fact that they are in many ways fictional, just a constraint as long as everyone is playing by the rules. In the absence of rules, though, those safeties are stripped away, and the game changes into something very real and very deadly. The story does a great job, in my opinion, of setting up this situation and the precariousness of it, not answering exactly what has happened but rather hinting and showing what has come after. That there must have been chaos for a time, and rushing, and violence, but that now it’s the quiet that is heaviest, the fear, the desire to have something that is safe, where destructive forces are off limits. Except that they sneak in anyway, in the form of hunger and dread, weakness and dread. The story speaks of a fragility, tenuous as a spider’s web, holding us all together, easily trampled, easily lost. A great and rather gutting read!
“The First Stop Is Always the Last” by John Wiswell (977 words)
This is a wonderfully sweet and affirming story about fear, about loss, and about working through both to still find ways to enjoy life and take risks. The story centers a bus driver, Selma, as she goes about her day. Or as she thinks she does about her day. The thing is, the day really isn’t going in a way she’s aware because there’s a new person in charge of all time on Earth, who just happens to be on Selma’s bus. The story’s framing works as a series of time loops as Miri, newly crowned ruler of time, keeps winding back in order to avoid going forward. The warmth of the story comes not just from the way that it handles the awesome responsibility of the task of keeping time but also how it grounds that task, never making Miri anything other than human. And the interactions between the characters is adorable and strong, both of them strong in their own ways but Miri obviously a bit stressed and lost following the loss of her father, feeling inadequate to the task at hand. Selma’s presence and her words make this new job, which IS huge and also FEELS huge, seems more manageable by reminding Miri that she’s not weak or useless or lazy. And the two bond over the ways in which they are similar, revealing a theme for me that regardless of how large the task, from driving a bus to sorting the time of the planet, there is really no small task, no insignificant job. It’s not our occupations that make us important, or valuable, but rather that we are all people, capable of great good and yes, some mistakes, but that comes with the territory. That we must judge ourselves on the effort and skill we bring, and on the person we can become with time, training, and dedication. And that sometimes the most important thing is to just hear a few kind words, and maybe make a connection in an unexpected place. It’s a fantastic and fun story that you should definitely check out!
“Steadfast” by Charity Tahmaseb (656 words)
This story. How dare it. It is a beautiful and touching and triumphant story about two people living two very different lives, finding something in each other that they are starving for, that they need. The story features a soldier and a dancer finding each other at a wedding reception and making a rather instant connect, she finding in him grace and care and comfort and him finding in her discipline and determination and bravery. And the two of them deciding to spend time together, to not let their differences drive them apart. It’s a deeply romantic story and one that captures a great dynamic in these two characters, framing it around the nested story of the steadfast tin soldier. It’s a piece that really excels at timing and pace, drawing out the relationship just enough, complicating it with equal parts ease, subverted expectations, and an almost doomed feel to it. Because she has to go back into conflict and he must return to the stage, each person fearing and hoping and not knowing if the connection they had so little time to nurture will be strong enough to weather some big obstacles. And I like how the story draws so much between the characters from their feet. From this one aspect of their bodies that share something in common, even if it’s for very different reasons. Just as they can share this love even coming from such different places, living such different lives. And okay, maybe I like this story because I’m a sappy romantic at heart but I don’t care it’s just a stunning piece of emotional goodness and the ending is so joyous and light that I can’t help falling a bit for the entire piece. It’s another rather short flash fiction, but there is an entire novel’s worth of progress here unsaid, that a reader with the inclination to (like me!) can feel so much else that happens off screen. What’s here is sweet and powerful and bursting with feels, and what is left unsaid is a movie I would be crying all the way through. Just a wonderful story!