|Art by Dario Bijelac|
Loss anchors the stories of March’s Flash Fiction Online. Loss and yearning and something dark and oppressive. For some, the loss is of identity, or family. For some, the darkness is a totalitarian regime, or an abusive parent, or death itself. And in each characters must struggle to find something that makes dealing with the darkness worth it. Music. Desire. Ghosts. The sad thing about the stories is that none of the characters seem entirely successful in escaping their darknesses. But there’s still some hope to be had. And plenty of good reading. So let’s get to the reviews!
“Pianissimo” by Chelsea Hanna Cohen (989 words)
No Spoilers: The story is told from the first person plural, not a royal we but a more intimate one, following a group, a family, as they seek to avoid being taken by a regime that has outlawed music. The piece, short as it is, still does a powerful job of conveying what it means for the family—their connection to the music which is part of their identity, their desperation to not be taken away and lose all they have, and the cruelty of this regime which is obviously demanding that they either erase themselves and embrace the law or else be broken so as not to present any kind of “threat.” It’s a wrenching read, though I feel one that also deals with hope and survival, resistance and subversion.
Keywords: Music, Prisons, Punishment, Hiding, Memory
Review: The premise of the story is a strong one for me, that music could be this physical thing for this family, that it could be so tied to their identity and as such targeted for removal by a regime hoping to sell a vision of a kind of sameness, a safety that only exists when We all share the same traditions, tastes, and outlooks. That the We of the story exists as a group denotes their outside status from the regime, and marks their doom when it comes to trying to hide their nature. Because it goes deeper than the songs, deeper than the obvious things that the regime has outlawed. They hope that if they pass enough they can fool inspection, not quite wanting to accept that for the regime it’s not enough to pass. It’s not enough to pay lip service to the sins they author. They require active participation in order to share the burden of those sins and make everyone as culpable as the worst believer. So it’s heartbreaking but not really surprising when the family is found out and imprisoned. When what they feared comes to pass. Only it doesn’t quite break them. It doesn’t make them loyal or docile. Instead, it teaches them that there is no point in trying to play along. That they need to embrace their songs. Their music. To try and snatch something back from the hungry jaws of oppression and injustice. And it makes for a fine read!
“Circle, Circle, Circle, Slash” by Jason A. Zwiker (980 words)
No Spoilers: Eli is a boy with a mother rather preoccupied with sin and the Devil. So when Eli and a friend seem to get close in a way she fears is inappropriate, well...things get a bit weird. The story is heavy with the weight of Eli’s troubles, his precarious position of wanting to reassure his mother and love his mother while being drawn to the things that she frames as sin. It shows the way he is pushed to hide who he might be, as well as the trauma that leaves him confused about sin and salvation, the devil as desirable as opposed to the devil his mother sees. And throughout always is the fear, the vulnerability, that Eli is mostly on his own against the more real threat in his life, not the devil but his own mother.
Keywords: Growing Up, Friends, Teeth, Parenting, Sin, The Devil
Review: There’s a lot to take in with this rather dark flash story. And personally I do read Eli as queer in some way, and read how his mother is treating him a way that she’s hoping that he’ll hate himself and stop himself from exploring that part of himself. At the same time, I don’t think that he’s necessarily queer, because he’s a kid and friendships can just look like this, full of things that would make adults Think Things because the context is different for children. Either way, it does a very good job at looking how parental abuse can work and how it can shroud itself as concern, as religious devotion, in such a way that it’s very hard to see what’s really happening, what’s really at stake. It’s easy to see that concern that she seems to be expressing as meaning that she cares about him, when really she cares about herself and keeping him with her. I like how the story drives that home, too, showing that the whole point is getting him to assure her that he’ll stay, that he’ll be good, that he’ll be what she wants him to be, when really he’s at the point where the words leave his mouth but don’t really mean that much. Because he’d say anything to avoid the punishment, the mental torture that she’s putting him through. It’s a harrowing read, rull of darkness and the sense that Eli is constantly walking a minefield waiting for his mother to explode at him. It’s wrenching and it’s quite good, and well worth checking out!
“A Plea for a Haunting” by Ray Yanek (570 words)
No Spoilers: Danny splits his time between visiting his brother and visiting old buildings. Both are rituals of sorts, though the former is newer in light of his brother’s hospitalization and the former is now tinged with the feelings and griefs of that reality. The story follows Danny as he remembers his brother, as he seeks something among the derelict constructions he visits. It’s a piece full of yearning and a broken kind of hope. Something between resignation and desperation, all of Danny’s efforts twisting around this impending thing he doesn’t want to face, that’s coming all the same and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s, in a rather appropriate case, a haunting read.
Keywords: Ghosts, Hospitals, Recordings, Siblings, Illness
Review: Okay so I might be into ghost hunting and in that sense this is a neat story, because it features a pair of brothers who seem to have bonded over this. Or where the younger brother, at least, the sick one, wants to find a ghost. A haunting. Which is so very real and raw, because it’s something that might give him hope. That death is not the end of things. That he’s not going to have to leave. That maybe he and his brother can continue doing things together. And in that way Danny wants to believe as well, though with a different kind of urgency. For me at least Danny seems to be the older brother to the end, there, not really caring himself but wanting this thing for his brother, wanting to help him fulfill this one wish before the end. And so he goes out again and again with his recording tech and tries to find something that neither of them seem really hopeful about finding. Because it gives them something to do and focus on that isn’t the reality of the illness and decline. The terminal nature of the situation. And the breaking of the kind of compact that comes with siblings and with age. Because it’a always unexpected for a younger sibling to die first. And so both brothers are afraid and hurting, trying to hold onto the memories they have of each other, of their past and their hopes. And yeah, it’s an emotional knockout, going right for the feeling and hitting home to devastating effect. It’s sad and beautiful, a fragile and lovely and lonely exploration of a grief that hasn’t quite arrived and yet is already being felt by both brothers. A wonderful read!