|Art by Dario Bijelac
June brings three new stories to Flash Fiction Online that deal with meetings and relationships. Not all of them are romantic, but they feature people trying to navigate their lives and facing intrusions into that space. A sphinx who appears in the garden. A pain that comes from outside a person’s body. An intruder on the moon. The pieces explore how these things are faced, confronted, and either defeated, endured, or integrated into a new status quo. The pieces are heavy with loss and longing but bright with hope and possibilities. To the reviews!
“How to Confront the Sphinx Haunting Your Garden” by Alexei Collier (826 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a guide for, well, exactly what it sounds like. Told in the second person, you are a person needing help dealing with the sphinx that has moved into your overgrown garden and who is keeping everything away. The piece establishes the situation with a quiet ease, the sphinx something that you have mostly made peace with only there is a wildness, an isolation that is still gnawing at you. The guide presumably instructs how to deal with this quasi-unwanted guest, but probably not the way that people would expect.
Keywords: Sphinxes, Loneliness, Riddles, Mirrors, Rituals
Review: I really like the way this story plays with the form. because the guide to me begins with the feels that this is about getting rid of the sphinx that has moved into the garden. It is, after all, deepening the isolation that you find yourself in. But the title says nothing about getting rid of the sphinx, but rather claims to be about confronting the sphinx. Not to banish it, it turns out, but in order to change the dynamic in the relationship between the two of you. And that’s a rather important distinction to be, because this could have been about the sphinx as a pestilence, as a blight, as the root of the problem, when really it isn’t. The problem here is not that a sphinx moved in, but that the environment was right for it, made so by your inability to get out and tame the garden, by the sort of numbness that seems to have crept into your life. And in that way the guide is as much about you as it is about the sphinx. It recognizes that what you need now is not to be alone, and the best way to accomplish that can be to invite the sphinx in instead of kicking it out. Because it makes room for you to actually deal with your issues and reach out instead of pushing away. To close a distance, even if it’s one that doesn’t carry the same weight or expectations of human interaction. For me it looks at this one step toward maybe healing from the loss or grief or sorrow that has separated you from the rest of the world. It’s a connection, the first of what might be many, and it’s also a lovely story very much worth spending some time with!
“Sine, cosine.” By Marie Clementel (1000 words)
No Spoilers: This story is told from one person to another inside of what seems to be a romantic relationship. The couple met and went out for a while before one of them developed a condition (that ran in their family) that caused them debilitating pain. Their options for dealing with that end up defining a lot about their relationship, and the dynamic between them. It’s a strange and fragile balance that they reach, and one that is both tender and beautiful. There’s an edge to it, though, a space where resentment might grow, where expectation might expand, and it makes for a complicated and careful piece.
Keywords: Pain, Sharing, Relationships, Medical Tech, Math
Review: Path(o)x is a medical...procedure(?) that involves people being able to share pain. And for the couple of the narrator and the person they are talking to (“I” and “You”), this technology comes at a time when their relationship is just beginning. And for the narrator, it’s something that seems to bind them to their significant other. At least, for me, they seem to jump at the chance to share in the pain that their partner is destined to suffer more and more from. The way that it’s described is interesting, too, because in some ways the narrator seems to have this almost romantic notion of this disease, this pain. It’s something that they can feel somewhat noble for helping the other person through. Which is a terrible reason to be with someone. Because it opens this space where things aren’t even, where one person is martyring themself for the other, and the story shows the edges of that, the possibility that the narrator was interesting because they were needed, because they could do this thing that had such a visceral and tangible impact. It wasn’t the emotional support they were giving, but a kind of relief. Which seems like it could quickly become something of a dysfunctional relationship, and yet at the same time I do feel that the couple here isn’t just using each other. Yes, they help each other out. Yes, they might even need each other. But for me they are motivated by a regard for each other, not just a guilt or a hope of the other person being indebted to them. And I love this idea of sine and cosine, that as one person is peaking in their spoons, the other is bottoming out. So that they can twist around each other like DNA, balancing each other, getting through the hardest moments and overall still even, neither any more of a burden than the other. It’s a story with a very careful path to walk, but it navigates with grace and style, a voice full of yearning and love. A great read!
“Fairy-Tale Ending” by Beth Goder (874 words)
No Spoilers: This story follows Immer, a being on the moon who lets her hair down like a net to Earth to pull back food or materials to build things for herself. And then one day she pulls up something that she didn’t expect, which is only the first in a series of surprises to come. The piece is quiet and beautiful, with a feeling to me almost like fishing—patience and repetition, which also happen to be elements of fairy tales. Because it’s about stories, about cycles, and about finding in them some value, but also rejecting parts of them as lacking, incomplete, or outright wrong.
Keywords: The Moon, Stories, Hair, Space, Nets
Review: This piece both draws on fairy tales (a being on the moon using her hair to create a bridge to Earth evokes stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and more. The piece has something of a lonely quality to it, but also a sort of quiet contentment. Immer is not miserable up on the moon. She’s waiting for a time when she can go and do something, when she can take to the stars and return home, but at the beginning all the reader knows is that she’s up there casting and drawing back her hair, eating birds and building furniture. And I like that she’s never portrayed in this as unhappy or less than whole. And when she discovers a book in her haul, I love that it’s not something that suddenly opens her eyes to the possibilities out there and makes her want to change herself in order to fit into the narratives she finds there. Indeed, she finds the stories lacking, wondering here the stories are of the girls who aren’t just victims or princesses, who run with wolves and hold their own power. And the book is only the first thing that shows up. The second is a man, and it’s with him that the story shows what happens when someone shows up assuming that she does fit those patterns, those stories, and just how limiting and violent that is. It’s walks the messy space where she does want to meet people, where she has this hope when she sees him, and does feel lonely for some company. But not to be objectified. Not to be subjugated. And she certainly won’t trade company for the loss of her freedom and power, and the story takes a deliciously dark path honoring fairy tales while also critiquing many of them. That still finds value in many of the stories while also recognizing that there’s a whole lot of room to do better than what’s been standard so far. Which makes for a darkly entertaining and wonderful read!