Tag Archives: flash fiction february



as·sim·i·late (əˈsiməˌlāt), v.t. [ASSIMILATED (-id), ASSIMILATING], [<L. assimilatus, pp. of assimilare < ad-, to + similare, to make similar to < similes, like],  1. to take up and make part of itself or oneself; absorb and incorporate; digest: as, the body assimilates food.  2. to incorporate or liken.  3. to make life or alike; cause to resemble (with to): as, assimilate the final sound of a prefix to the initial sound of a word.  v.i.  1. to become like or alike.  2. to become absorbed and incorporated: as, minority groups often assimilate  by intermarriage.

For our first week of flash fiction february, the dictionary project  features a flash fiction piece by writer Timothy C. Dyke. Enjoy!



After the Spooging

How much latitude are you going to give me? How specific do you need me to get when it comes to describing the mechanics of the fantastical elements? This is a surreal adventure. How completely must I convince you of the viability of this story’s reality? A part of Tennessee Williams comes to me as spiritual entity.

At one point this was going to be a nostalgia narrative about A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m 51 years old, and thirteen of my crucial lifetime experiences have involved A Streetcar Named Desire. Quick example: Two days before he beat me up in the basement of New England boarding school, Jamie Chesterson told our AP English teacher that Blanche Dubois was a slut.

Consider that I have been intending to write an A Streetcar Named Desire narrative for a couple of decades now. Do you believe in the collective unconscious? Can you imagine other writers who have been inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire? We all have heard this expression: “I just want to put this out there.”  So imagine that enough people put their Tennessee Williams intentions “out there.” Where exactly would that be? I’m just going to go ahead and say that The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams stays, for the time being, in my hard-drive.

Please don’t think I am trying to be off-putting. This could really happen. A collective intention to create a story inspired by Tennessee Williams manifests as some certain kind of writing energy. In the National Hockey League, when a team wins the championship, each member of that team gets to spend personal, one-on-one time with the Stanley Cup. The trophy itself goes on the road right after the playoffs. A guy in Alberta might drive the ceremonial vessel around for a day in the back of his Durango. I think the Stanley Cup has its own personal assistant. Imagine that this is also how it works for the part of Tennessee Williams that manifests as a certain kind of writing energy. Imagine that those who have earned the energy, share the energy.

I really wanted to acquire the figurative heart or the figurative brain of Tennessee Williams, just for a day, but I got his penis. I saw it in my hard-drive. At first I thought it was this thing I downloaded at night, but this obscene and virtual entity was witty, and it wore a hat. The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams spooged all over some documents on my desktop. I had been working on a story about a baseball player who loses his ability to see other men naked without weeping. The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams loved this story. Literally. After the spooging, the story rebirthed itself as something darker. The baseball player marries his psychologist who sends him to Mexico for an exotic series of therapies. The baseball player falls in love with a donkey cart driver who loves him back. The two men have sex on top of a bed of scorpions. They die. The jilted psychologist drinks bourbon, masturbates, and then drives off a cliff. My story is so much better now.

The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams wants to know what happens outside my hard drive in the world I call “real life.” I tell him not much. He doesn’t seem to believe me.  The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams asks me to write a story about The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams. He commands me to write the scene where he escapes my hard drive and goes rogue. I finish the narrative: “After the Spooging.”

The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams hitches a ride with some graduate students to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. He ditches the grad students to cruise the French Quarter, then the Garden District, Elysian Fields. The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams has not been to New Orleans for such a long time. Things have changed after all these years. The Figurative Penis of Tennessee Williams feels like an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. It takes him forever to find a good cigarillo. Eventually he discovers communities to probe. He introduces himself as Dick from Tennessee. He manages to assimilate.


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Timothy C. Dyke has published fiction in Santa Monica Review in 2008 and 2011. He was chosen as a semi-finalist for the Sentence Book Award for his manuscript of prose poems, Only Stories About Skin in 2011. His story “No Look Back” appears in Don’t Look Now: “Hawaiian Legends Made New,” a 2011 anthology, published by Watermark Books of Honolulu. A text/image collaboration with Noah Saterstrom, “Mound and Minds are Bumps,” will appear in The Spirit of Black Mountain College, a book project published by Lorimer Press in 2012. He has work forthcoming in Drunken Boat and Kugelmass. He currently lives in Tucson where he is writing a novel and pursuing an MFA degree in fiction writing at the University of Arizona.

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1flash \flash\  v 1: to break forth in or like a sudden flame  2: to appear or pass suddenly or with great speed  3: to send out in or as if in flashes <~ a message>  4: to make a sudden display (as of brilliance or feeling)  5: to gleam or glow intermittently  6: to fill by a sudden rush of water  7: to expose to view very briefly <~ a badge>  Synonyms GLANCE, GLINT, SPARKLE, TWINKLE —  flash·er


2flash n 1: a sudden burst of light  2: a movement of a flag or light in signaling  3: a sudden and brilliant burst (as of wit)  4: a brief time  5: SHOW, DISPLAY; esp: ostentation display  6: one that attracts notice; esp:  an outstanding athlete  7: GLIMPSE, LOOK  8: a first brief news report  9: FLASHLIGHT  10: a device for producing a brief and very bright flash of light for taking photographs  11: a quick-spreading flame or momentary intense outburst of radiant heat


3flash adj:  of sudden origin and short duration <a ~ fire> <a ~ flood>


4flash adv: by very brief exposure to an intense agent (as heat or cold) < ~ fry> < ~ freeze>


Welcome to flash fiction february 2012! All month long, the dictionary project will be featuring flash fiction contributions from guest writers. Like all weekly posts, these short pieces, all 1,000 words or less, will emerge from and be inspired by the word of the week (which I choose each week at random by closing my eyes and flipping through a dictionary). Keep tuning in and enjoy!


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un·sound (2)


un·sound (un-so̵und),  adj. 1. not sound, whole, or perfect; not in perfect health or condition.  2. at variance with fact, truth, or reason; false; ill-founded. 3. not safe, firm, or solid; insecure. 4. not deep; light: said of sleep.


Well, we are in the final hours of February and this is the final post for this year’s flash fiction february. Enjoy this story from the mind and pen of writer Liz Warren-Pederson.


A Church-Going Woman


Marjorie! In English, while you slept bent over your desk, I actually listened to Mr. Blankenship go on about Horace, and do you know what he said? He said, “For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer.”

Oh, Marjorie. The Romans weren’t as funny about gender equity as the Greeks, but we know better now. For the sins of your mother, you too will suffer. I am sorry about that!

Marjorie, your mother’s shop is cluttered and smells like granny soap, so the yarn my mother buys when she buys from your mother is saturated with granny soap smell. And then the afghans she crochets with that yarn smell like granny soap, and so I always know which afghans came from your mother’s yarn. I’d like to go through the house and smell all the afghans and take the ones that came from your mother’s shop and set them on fire in the backyard. But it’s not the afghans’ fault, it’s your mother’s, and besides, my mother loves her afghans.

Marjorie, I’m tracking you. Have you noticed? I saw you making out with Tommy Jarman on Fifth Street. Does your mother know about Tommy Jarman? …would she like to know?

No one hates a browser like your mother, Marjorie. She gave us the beady eye right away when we came into the shop, but I thought she’d be content just to glare. I went to look at magazines, because I don’t “craft,” but my mother gets lost in all the yarns and beads and pretty colors, and everyone knows that Marjorie. Everyone. The people who don’t know it for sure can guess just by the way she acts, and your mother doesn’t have to guess, she knows: my mother is unsound. She is not of sound mind.

Marjorie, your mother is two parts 1950s librarian to one part Dog the Bounty Hunter. Your mother sells yarn, but she gives the scorn away for free.

Did my mother’s mother do something to your mother’s mother, Marjorie? Are we stuck in a terrible cycle? I can break the cycle, Marjorie. While you and Tommy Jarman pump out librarian-Dog daughters bent on my destruction, I will leave this little place, and go far far away, to the city, and to college, where I will be happy and free. There are more cycles to break than the one your mother continued, Marjorie. No one should have to live the way my mother has to live, and her genes can die with me.

Marjorie, your mother pushed by me where I stood looking at the magazines and she left a powerful granny soap scent in her wake. When I looked up, she was holding my mother by the upper arm as if my mother was a sticky toddler. She muscled my mother halfway across the store, past the mailman and the mayor’s wife, and scolded her about shoplifting. Unjust, Marjorie!

Marjorie, I saw you cheating off Teresa Johnson’s geometry test. Did you know that besides teaching geometry, Mrs. Billings is the drama club advisor? Did you know that I am her star pupil? Marjorie, I can cry on demand. It is true that everyone hates a tattletale, but Mrs. Billings loves academic integrity, and when I blow the whistle, it will be reluctantly, through many tears.

Your mother made my mother cry, Marjorie, did she mention that to you while your whole family sat down to a pork chop dinner?

By the time I got to them, Marjorie, your mother had dumped everything in my mother’s purse out on the counter. Her apple, her crochet hooks, her lipstick, her Kleenex, her paperclip necklace collection, her colored pencils, her small jar of mayonnaise, her peacock feather (snapped in half), her glass marbles, her dusty crumbs of a piece of toast, her lined notebook, her rubberbanded stack of motel keycards my father gave her, her chess pieces, her bobby pins. Do you know, Marjorie, there was no yarn, there were no beads, there was nothing from your mother’s shop.

You must know, Marjorie, that there are church-going people and there are good people, and they are not always the same. I know your mother is a church-going woman, but I have it on authority that she’s no good. We are alike in that way, at least, your mother and me.

Oh, Marjorie, I am so sorry for the awkwardness you will feel when you have to tell your mother you need new underwear. It is so strange, the way they seem to disappear from your locker while you shower during P.E. I hear they’ve been turning up in Tommy Jarman’s locker! He must think you’re a very naughty girl.

Marjorie. My mother is still in bed. Did you know a person could stay in bed for twenty-one days? I feed her toast and tea, so she must have the strength, but still she will not crochet.

Your grandmother and my grandmother live here, Marjorie, and their mothers did too. We cannot help it if they hate each other or if until now their hatred lived in us, dormant, unnoticed, until I saw your mother decide my mother was a thief. Did you know your mother called the police on my mother, and on me? Would you have done the same?

I see your mother in you, Marjorie, and you are easier to reach.


Liz Warren-Pederson lives and writes in Tucson, in a 1950s bungalow overflowing with pets. Her novel-in-progress follows the attempts of a bit-player from Andy Warhol’s post-Factory days to reexamine her experiences in his entourage and reconcile her self-imposed exile to Sedona. Liz blogs about herself in the more natural first person at Girl of the Golden West and can be reached at liz dot pederson at gmail dot com.


On the creation of “A Church-Going Woman”:

I was really excited about the word “unsound,” but discarded the first story that came from it, or rather, the story just kind of petered out. This story started out in a really old-timey vein, a sort of frontier gothic, with this precocious 13-year-old narrator and a situation (suspicious shopkeep/mother with unspecified mental issues) that just arrived fully-formed in my mind, along with the name Marjorie. Things got really overwrought, so I updated the time period, but kept the antiquated diction, ‘cause that’s how I roll. It’s still pretty overwrought. And I’m not sure what to make of all the repetition; it’s heavy-handed for sure, but I figured flash fiction is about the only place I could get away with such shenanigans. It’s over quick, like a shot.

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un·sound (un-so̵und),  adj. 1. not sound, whole, or perfect; not in perfect health or condition.  2. at variance with fact, truth, or reason; false; ill-founded. 3. not safe, firm, or solid; insecure. 4. not deep; light: said of sleep.


It is the final week of flash fiction february here at the dictionary project. I’m grateful to all the writers who took on the challenge, with no knowledge of what word they might receive, and shared their creations here.

For this final word, we have two writers sharing their work. Today, please enjoy this story by writer Esmé Schwall.




They chose Minsk. A river coursed—Eloise could envision it—through a plateau steamrolled by longing. Icy frigate. Impenetrable bastion. It was before she learned that to name was not the same as to imagine. In September, the dignitaries arrived, the teacher among them. He wore glasses. She held a sign—Your Sister City Welcomes You—and he paused to read it, his gaze a prism. The picnic was her idea.

The teacher stood near the chain-link fence that separated the shelter area from the now-closed pool. He was dressed like the other dignitaries, in t-shirts from the natural history museum where she had brought them that morning, shirts tucked into their brand new jeans, jeans bought a size too large and belted, jeans bought because they could be bought cheaply here. “Eloise,” the teacher said, “your city has undone itself.”

Eloise stuck a fork into her macaroni salad. She corrected her reflex to correct, and looked away from him toward the Frisbee players. Her son was one of the Frisbee players. Her mother had cautioned her to call her son something innocuous and unreal while he was in utero. Hershey, her son had been. He or she. Now he was fifteen, his face soft, but his jaw fiercening. The mayor approached the microphone and tapped it. The teacher had seemed on the cusp of speaking. The feedback whined. The teacher winced. Eloise saw her home particled like paint on the edge of a curb.

In the teacher’s hotel room she saw the river again, the crest of water, the land gone flat in its wake. The teacher brought his face to her belly. When she was pregnant her belly button had looked like a little nose within her belly’s swollen face. Her son’s father had drawn a pig face around the sticking-out belly-button, making it into a snout.

“Next year, in Minsk,” the teacher said.

For two months, the teacher wrote. He sent her a map with the sites he promised to show her: castles, a fortress, Baroque churches. He wrote the letters on very thin paper. In November, on TV, Eloise saw a woman pleading with East German soldiers. Eloise’s son made fun of the implacable men in uniform. He growled, imitating them, his voice thick with accent. “You are prompted to return,” he said. “We are not immured—we are protected.” By the end of the weekend they had seen the Wall chiseled at, tugged down by ropes. The graffiti reminded her of her son’s skateboard. She wrote to the teacher that her son was failing even English.

One day, the city employees’ head of human resources called Eloise in for a chat. She must stop using the advantages of her office as a vehicle for romance.

“What are they going to do, censor your mailbox?” her son said. From the couch they watched David Hasselhoff on the Wall. His jacket pulsed with Christmas lights. “They don’t get to decide shit like that.”

“Language,” she said.

Her son rolled his eyes. “This sucks,” he said. “They should’ve invited Fugazi.” Even when they sat in a room together his voice sounded like something coming through a radio.

There were no more letters from the teacher. There were two rivers in Minsk, she learned, the Svislach and the Niamiha. Minsk reminded her of Pittsburgh. She bought a dress for the mayor’s annual tree-trimming event. The tree-trimming was held downtown where no one shopped anymore. Parking was expensive. They stood near the fountain where her son skateboarded on weekends; they stood in front of the head shop where he bought Converse from the clearance rack. The mayor scaled a ladder to grace the top of the tree with a giant dreidl made from Kwanza-colored lights. Celebration was a tea they steeped in.

As the mayor climbed down, her son said, “Here goes nothing,” and ran forward through the small crowd, pushing his way toward the tree just as the mayor stepped off of the ladder. Most news cameras missed the shot. Eloise only saw her son’s back and the mayor’s recoil. The gestures had no meaning yet, the way, in Berlin, resistance and retreat had made the same sound at first: a matter of footfalls. Her son vanished into the hold of a bystander.

It was only a joke, he said later, when he was allowed his phone call from juvenile detention. And anyway, did she think it had been fun to drink ipecac?

Eloise pictured the shiny buttons of the mayor’s suit gone milky with vomit. She had already been faxed a copy of the mayor’s dry-cleaning bill. “I’ll come get you in the morning,” Eloise told her son. He needed consequence. She knew this, and yet her voice shook, delivering it. The East German soldier she’d seen on TV had claimed that normal humans wear down after a mere twenty-four hours without sleep. “But we don’t tire,” he said.

In the morning, she waited in the lobby for her son to be escorted out. “Mom,” his lips mouthed when he saw her. She couldn’t hear him yet through the glass.


Esmé Schwall earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. She teaches writing to high school and college students and plays cello with the band Seashell Radio. She can be reached at esmeschwall at gmail dot com. This is her first attempt at flash fiction.



On the creation of “Unsound”:

The protests in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Wisconsin have been on my mind. I’ve been in awe. I’ve been fearful. I’ve been enraged. I started my teaching career in the Madison public schools. Many of my friends and family members continue to work there. I’m now a teacher in a state without collective bargaining. I’m now a teacher in a border state. I’ve been thinking about inexorability and permeability. I heard that people in Egypt ordered pizza for the protestors in Madison. Minsk and the Hoff came up in separate conversations this week. That led to a memory of my hometown’s sister city project (not with Minsk), which led to a memory of a schoolmate puking on the mayor in protest of slick deals with big business. I remember watching the Wall fall—I was in ninth grade, sitting on the floor of my friend’s living room. Her dad, a social studies teacher, was with us. I was aware of the moment as one that I would remember. In memory, the footage is clamorous. But when I YouTubed it yesterday, I was surprised by the quiet. It’s interesting that in remembering, I’ve imposed victory and sensibility on the struggle. In the actual moment of protest or action, we don’t know how it will turn out.

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hy·dri·od·ic (hī-drē-ˌäd-ik),  adj. [hydr- iodic], designating or of an acid, HI, produced by the direct combination of hydrogen and iodine or by the hydrolysis of phosphorus tri-iodide: it is a colorless gas, readily soluble in water, and forms salts called iodides.

Here we are, week three of flash fiction february, and I’m pleased to present a story by writer PR Griffis.



My girlfriend, Stacy, she had this problem with her brain a few years back. Not an aneurism, but something like that. Pressure on the brain. They went in to operate, to relieve the pressure, because it got so that she would blank out on the words for commonplace objects—phone, lighter, keys, wallet. That thing, she’d say, pointing, brow furrowing. That thing there.

They went in to operate, like I said, but they nicked something in her brain. Some something that at first didn’t seem like a serious something. The doctors had told the family they should expect some slight change in mood, or maybe told them it was possible. Not to be surprised if it happened. One of the risks of the procedure.

Had they not operated, apparently, the pressure would have built until it crushed out voluntary motor functions: speech, walking, like that. Then involuntary motor functions—breathing, heartbeat, temperature regulation. I mean, at least for a while, you could remember to breathe, at least while you’re awake, but I wouldn’t know how to start reminding my heart to beat. And temperature regulation? Humans, so I understand, have a very narrow band of core temperature—something like 95 to 103—where the organs can continue to operate. How would you know when you were too cold or too hot, and what would you do about it? Had they not operated, it would have been fatal, like I said.

This thing that they nicked, it didn’t so much bring about a personality change as it did fundamentally change her relationship to things. That’s the best way I know how to describe it. The first place her family noticed the difference was with words. Before, she would stare at the vacuum cleaner for five minutes, trying to remember what to call it, knowing that she knew or had known—now, apropos of nothing, she would up and say saponification. Or transmogrify. Or hydriotic. Five-dollar words, out of nowhere. She had no idea what they meant. Who knows where she got them?

Had that been all—dropping into everyday conversation contextless SAT words—maybe it would have been okay. But her relationship with the world changed as well; she was at some kind of remove. She would tell her family, for instance, in thanking them for birthday presents, “I deeply appreciate this token of kinship, and I hereby agree to the implicit contract to provide you with a gift of equal or greater value when your birthday comes around.”

At first, her family was so happy she wasn’t dead that they didn’t mind too much. More words is better than no words, and a different Stacy was certainly better than no Stacy. Even if that Stacy was vastly different than the one they’d known up to then. But after a while of this—her being the human dictionary with no definitions, her seeing the process of courtship, for instance, as a series of exchanges culminating in a tacit agreement regarding when and with whom and to what end it was appropriate to engage in procreative acts—there was some talk among her family members about suing the doctor who did the surgery.

There was talk, but they’re the kind of people that tend to pony up for the electric bill right after it gets cut off for nonpayment. As in, for instance, one of the younger kids (her family’s the have-the-kids-at-home-types), he’s six or seven now, they’ve still got his umbilical cord and placenta in the deep-freeze out on the porch. They’re planning on doing something with them, they say. Something symbolic. Hopefully they’ll get to it before the power gets cut off for long enough for it to go bad.

All this happened a few years before I met her. The Stacy she is now is the only one I’ve known, this other one something that gets related by her family at reunions, Sunday dinners, Fourth of July celebrations. She doesn’t really ever talk about it.

“What good does it do to talk about what was but isn’t anymore?” she says when I ask her. She shrugs when she says it—a lift and release of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, the raising of one eyebrow, a flip of the hands. Gone today, gone tomorrow, she seems to be saying. So it goes. Nothing to be done.

In the three years we’ve been together, she’s been writing down the words, looking up the definitions. Committing them to memory. Hundreds of them. Thousands. At night, in bed, she repeats these words to herself, her finger tracing the pages of her notebook, trying to fill in the blanks.

Saponification,” she says, her voice flat and odd. “Verb. From the Latin sapo- for soap. Chemical reaction that occurs when a vegetable oil or animal fat is mixed with a strong alkali.”

“Okay,” I say.

“Transmogrify,” she says. “Noun. Pseudo-Latinate. Process by which something changes, especially in a surprising or grotesque manner.”

“What else?” I say.

Hydriodic,” she says. “Adjective. From the Greek hydro-. Designating of an acid produced by the direct combination of hydrogen and iodine; a colorless gas, readily soluble in water, forming salts called iodides.”

“Io-dines?” I ask.

“Io-dides,” she corrects me.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“Where does this end?” I ask her sometimes.

“Death, certainly,” she says. “And maybe before. I can’t really say.”

“When are we going to have a kid?” I ask her.

“At whatever point the male and female gametes—the sperm and the egg—join and turn into a zygote,” she says.

“I love you,” I tell her, turning off the bedside lamp.

“Perspicacity,” she says in the darkness.

“What’s that mean?” I say.

“I don’t know yet,” she says.

Tonight, in bed—me supine, arm wrapped under my pillow, her sitting up, her back supported by the headboard—her brow is furrowed.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“You don’t know what?” I say.

“It seems like it should matter,” she says. “And if it seems like it should, then it does.”

“What?” I say.

“There was supposedly another person here,” she says, pointing to indicate herself. “This is what my family says. This is what they tell me. This is what they tell you. But what if there wasn’t?”

“If you were always the way you are?”

She holds her hands out, palms up, in a gesture reminiscent of her what’s to be done about it? Except now she turns them over. And again.

“What if everything you were ever told about me was a lie?” She says. “What if everything I was ever told about me was a lie?”

I don’t know what to say to this, so I say nothing.

“Including this,” she says.

“And this,” she says.

“And this.”


PR Griffis is a writer and editor for The Murky Fringe, an online-thingie reachable at themurkyfringe.com. He lives with his wife, the writer Mika Taylor, in a defunct mill town in northeastern Connecticut. He is currently at work on a novel; his shorter work has previously appeared in Devil’s Lake and The Rio Review.


On the creation of “Five-Dollar Words Out Of Nowhere”:

I felt like I’d been dealt a crap hand with this word, kind of like when you come to a point of desperation in your dating life where you say “I’ll ask out the next person who walks in that door, give myself up to fate,” only to have it be your best friend, or your mom, or someone wildly unapproachable. But there was something in the “production of salts” portion of the definition, a metaphorability of the sort I enjoyed very much in Ron Carlson’s “Towel Season,” which if you haven’t read it, you should. From there, I started sketching in my head, and the logical impossibility implied by the statement “everything I say is a lie” presented itself to me. Most of the writing I’ve done of late is either on a novel or in 200-word bursts, so it was interesting to work under a different set of constraints. My main focus as a writer of late is trying to disprove the notion that all short fiction has to be slit-your-wrist-tragic or laugh-out-loud funny. In this, I’m trying to make my fiction more like life.

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Preservation Hall, August 2009, Lisa O'Neill


dis·cuss (di-ˈskəs),  v.t. [ME.  Discussen, to examine, scatter < L. discussus, pp. of discutire, to strike asunder, shake apart, scatter  <  dis-, apart + quatare, to shake, beat], 1. to talk or write about; take up in conversation or in a discourse; consider and argue the pros and cons of.  2. [Colloq.] to eat or drink (something) with enjoyment.  SYN.—discuss implies a talking about something in a deliberative fashion, with varying opinions offered constructively and, usually, amicably, so as to settle an issue, decide on a course of action, etc.; argue implies the citing of reasons or evidence to support or refute an assertion, belief, proposition, etc.; debate implies a formal argument, usually on public questions, in contests between opposing groups; dispute implies argument in which there is a clash of opposing opinions, often presented in an angry or heated manner.


This second Sunday, the dictionary project‘s flash fiction february features a flash fiction story by writer César Díaz. Enjoy!


Preservation Hall

Life of vagrant alleys, of pool halls and restaurants, and whiskey n’ beer taverns soak into the walls of Preservation Hall and sets them throbbing to jazz. At night, these doors open to people who come in stamping feet and nodding. Road shows torch songs that meld into the swollen hearts of lovers of bebop, of blues, of hot jazz. These songs sop the walls; seep out towards the life of New Orleans alley rats and barflies. During the afternoons, these houses are dark; the walls sleep before the musicians plug in, before the singer rehearses. Or until Hayward comes within them, that’s when the walls pulse and the shadowed air grows luminous.

Hayward is the owner’s brother. He is seated at the back by the bar, watching the stage just before rehearsal. Light traces down upon him from the ceiling. Half of his face is a balmy orange, the other in shadow. A dim glow of the club rushes to and Hayward’s mind wonders. He asks the bartender for whiskey.

Stage lights are soft focus, as if they shine through fingertips. Beneath them, hid only by a mere shadow of a set, is Marian. She sings without piano, without ensemble. Hayward begins to feel as if his body was an audience listening and singing, and snapping fingers, swaying heads, eyes closed, all smiles. He singles Marian out.

The pianist’s hand slips onto the keyboards, improvises. The walls awaken. The pianist’s arms, limbs, fingers—fiddling and shifting and lifting. In the air, on the floor, fills the rhythm of the music.

Hayward to Marian in thought: Soon the pianist will herd you, tame you, darlin’. Blunt your sharp pith into soft gestures. Soon the audience will see you, call you beautiful.

Marian croons, intones. The pianist follows suit in snatches and jazz turns. Voice and strings, spare with loose passion, whelm the room. It stops, and the music retracts. The walls again are off. The stage once again, silent. Men clap.

Hayward: She whom I’d love. I’d leave before she knew that I was with her.

Hayward’s blood presses in. He wills his thoughts, gulps his whiskey to rid his mind of this lust.

Hayward stares.

“Missus Blake, wonderful! Bravo!” says the hall’s manager.

He wants the rehearsal done with. He wants quiet before the men and women from as far away as Mandeville on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain come and dine, drink, and dance up and down the Quarter. He’s noticed Hayward’s songstress. He watches her. He wants her, and Hayward observes the hall’s manager from the bar.

Marian lines up, the piano next to her. She snaps her fingers—music starts. This time a saxophone. Its sound carries and flows where it will not strain Marian’s throat. Marian allows herself to carry, to flow. Her lips are curiously full, and very red. Her legs in thin tan stockings make her lovely.

Hayward: Oh, stage-bird. Music girl. Lil’ stuck-up West Coast jazz girl. You’re all up there. Murmur your music, paint the walls in sounds. Bartender, more whiskey!

Another music break. Marian sees Hayward. She knows he’s been looking at her. She’s been watching too, off and on. She plays coy.

“Who’s that?” she asks.

“The owner’s brother,” says the pianist.

The pianist stares at Marian.  He notices her glances, how she tilts her head, her dark brown locks wave over her bare shoulders. She moves for Hayward around the stage until she sees she has him. Then she withdraws proudly.

The pianist adds, “I hear he’s no good.”

Marian: Oh, hun, I know respectable folks, lotta of ‘em. New York to Chicago to Philadelphia. I’ve had better men. Doctors and lawyers. Not the hall’s owner’s brother. My.

A haughty laugh, a smile and glance back at Hayward.

His eyes are fixed. He waits for her to fly, paint the walls with her sound. Her bare shoulders coaxing, her thighs firm against her purple dress.

Hayward: I bet she can… I got my place close by. Gotta get her right. Keep her loveliness.

Marian: “What’s eating that guy, anyway?”

“He loves you, darlin’ just look at his gaze,” the pianist says.

She swings to the front of the piano. She leans a bit, her brown hair revealing her bare back. Marian feels his eyes. She moves for Hayward. Her back towards him but projected.

The pianist again strokes his keys.

Music starts, again. Hayward’s head bobs.

The saxophonist plays his notes softly. A fluttering butterfly. Taunting. Undulating. O’ just a little more.

Hayward asks for another shot.

Marian to Hayward in thought: I bet you can’t love. You’re too skinny. Like making love to paperclips. Your lips are slight. You couldn’t love me anyways. But I could get dinner or a gift, a dress out of you anyways. Men like you will marry if you love. Would you love me? Give me kids, a home, everything? Oh, you will. If I make you. Just watch, hun.

Marian sings. For a moment, she forgets her tricks. She forgets Hayward off in the distance, drunk by the bar. She bellows glorious notes like muscular limbs. Her croons like sugar heartaches. The walls press in, she is in control. The wall come alive, a flesh-throbbing body that for a split moment pushes Hayward and Marion together. His heart against his mind.

And then, just then, the shaft of light from the ceiling goes out. Hayward’s eyes follow it. Along with the light, pulled upward, goes his mind…. into dreams:

Marian sings—

Marian dressed in black. A thin garment. She waits alone on stage. Hayward dressed in a suit and tie approaches. His feet shuffle forward, floating as if on air. The air sweet with a nutty scent, roasted and warm. Marian knows he’s coming. At that moment she steps off the stage. Her face is tinted a yellow glimmer of autumn leaves. Old Southern flowers, her perfume. Hayward’s eyes speak, “I saw you first, I did.” His melancholy runs deep, sealing all his senses but his eyes. Marian walks away. He reaches for her. She nears the shadows and glides away from the soft light of the stage. “She’s not for me, even in a dream.”

—Marian croons.

They’re at Preservation Hall. It’s as if Hayward knows nothing of it. Only that Marian is its walls. They are singing walls, tender lights throbbing, bobbing, and pushing inward. On Hayward. It is how he feels. It is the whiskey and not his instincts. He has lost his faculties. Hayward enraptured. Marian, his butterfly.

The pianist crashes a chord. Her walls collapse.

The light above him is no longer.

Marion turns and seeks his face, his eyes and they are not there, but shadow. She looks one way, then the other. Pulls her hair, sways her hips. But it’s no longer the same. Hayward’s eyes are not there. His mind gone elsewhere. He has made a decision. She is not for him.

“Missus Blake? Missus, are you okay?” asks the pianist.

Her eyes flood with tears, she stares at the ceiling lights no longer shedding the light towards the bar. On Hayward.

Hayward is gone. He has let her go.


Preservation Hall, August 2009, Lisa O'Neill



César Díaz is a writer living in Austin, Texas. He is a recent graduate of the nonfiction program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He’s working on his first book. He can be reached at diaz.cesar at gmail dot com.



On the creation of “Preservation Hall”:
When I received my word, I immediately jotted down keywords that rang out to me, words that elicited an emotional and visual response. These words from the Latin root meaning of ‘discuss’: to “examine, scatter, strike asunder, shake apart,” got me thinking about an idea for a story where two characters interact without ever speaking a word with one another. I’m fascinated by the way we “talk” through body language, eye contact, and what I think is pure human instinct. In my story, I wanted for Hayward and Marian to have an entire discourse with one another, a back and forth argument where one tries to figure out the other, and in doing so a decision or course of action is made by the story’s end. I wanted my story to have a very “hot jazz'” feel to it, where the language, the tone, and delivery of the story becomes the lens by which the reader examines this interaction between Hayward and Marian. I wanted the reader to feel the jazz club, to see how the walls throbbed and came alive with the music, while also gently lulling the reader into an imagined space before dropping them back in reality. All in all, my word inspired the creation of a lyrical story, a sort of verbal minstrelsy that mimics what Marian does to Hayward: moves around the stage to attract your attention before withdrawing proudly.

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con·sort (kon-sawrt), n. [Late ME.; OFr.; L. consors, consortis, partner, neighbor < com-, with + sors, a lot, share; cf. SORT],  1. originally, a partner; companion; hence.  2. a wife or husband; spouse, especially of a reigning king or queen.  3. a ship that travels along with another.  4. [Obs.], a) [OFr. consorte; L. consortium, community of goods < consors], association; fellowship; company. b) agreement; accord.  c) [altered  < concert] harmony of sounds.  v.i. 1. to keep company; associate.  2. to be in harmony or agreement; be in accord.  v.t. 1. to associate; join: usually reflexive.  2. [Obs.], a) to be or go with; accompany; escort.  b) to espouse.  c) to sound in harmony.

This week, the dictionary project‘s flash fiction february features a flash fiction piece by writer Kindall Gray. Enjoy!

The Cyclone

Gretchen waited at the entrance of the New York Aquarium for her former husband.  She wore a chartreuse scarf and carried a red handbag.  Above her the sky was the color of deep metal.  She tucked a hair behind her ear and looked at her cell phone again.  Nothing.  A rotund, mole-covered boy pushed in front of her to the ticket booth, and asked his mother why they’d come to Coney Island in the first place.

“To see the animals,” she told him, smiling apologetically at Gretchen.

“But I don’t want to,” he said, and stomped his feet.

Gretchen’s phone lit up and she pressed it hard against her ear. “Hello?”  She turned away from the mole child and his mother, who were now making their way into the aquarium.

“I can’t come,” Malcolm said.

Gretchen brushed hair out of her face.  The wind was cold and hard.  “What?”

“I’m not coming.”


“I just can’t,” he said.  “It’s stupid.  You know?  Like.  It’s useless.  It’d be cruel of me to go.”

“It wouldn’t be,” she said, and felt her fingernails digging into her palm. She could see the enormous Cyclone in the distance, rising above the Coney Island skyline like the skeleton of a dinosaur.  Even from far away the architecture looked haphazard, but still she wanted to ride with Malcolm, bump over the old, dusty tracks, and listen to carnival music.  She wanted to eat funnel cake and drink beer.

“I’m not coming,” he said again.

“But the roller coaster,” she begged.

“We’d probably have died on it.”

She waited a moment, unsure of how to respond.  This was the worst possible thing.  “I can’t believe you.”

“Believe me,” he said.  “It’s better for both of us.  I’m not going to pretend it’s okay anymore.  This thing we’re doing.”

“It doesn’t have to be okay,” Gretchen said, and meant it.

“She’s here right now.  Melanie’s here right now.”

“You said we’d still be friends.”

“I said it but I didn’t mean it the way you wanted me to mean it.”

Gretchen swallowed.  Hot tears ran down her chin.  A man passed with his jacket pulled around his shoulders.

“Fuck you,” she said, and ended the call.

She slipped the phone back into her pocket and turned to face the aquarium again.  Should she go inside?  Should she go on the coaster?  Should she locate a bar and get drunk?  Or take the subway home? Should she call her mother?

Malcolm.  Only a week earlier they’d gone to a club together, and then to a pizza place in Brooklyn.  They’d shared an order of garlic knots.  Sure, he talked about his new girlfriend most of the time, but he’d been paying attention to her, sharing with her.  He’d been her friend.

Suddenly she felt a presence at her side.  The fat boy with moles clutched her red purse.  He was alone.

“Where’s your mom?” she asked, alarmed.

“My mum’s inside,” he said.  His skin was like burnt almonds and his moles the color of dark chocolate.  They speckled his face like a constellation of stars.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.  She glanced around and it was just the two of them.

“You’re crying,” the boy said.  “I hate maminals.”  He was too old to mispronounce such an easy word, which made Gretchen feel sorry for him.  She thought he was at least seven or eight.  “I want to go on the coaster,” he pointed.

Gretchen turned toward the coaster.  “The Cyclone,” she said.  “Why do you hate animals?”

“They’re always looking at me with their weird eyes,” he said.  “And I can’t speak to them.”

“Oh,” Gretchen said.  The boy’s reason made sense, in a way.  “You’d better go find your mother.”

“No,” he said.  “I’m going on the roller coaster.”  He turned from her, and began to walk toward the Cyclone, toward the boardwalk.

“Wait,” Gretchen said.  “You can’t.”  She couldn’t allow a smallish child to leave the aquarium.  What if somebody kidnapped him?  The mother would blame Gretchen.

The boy continued on and didn’t turn back.  Gretchen watched as his body grew smaller and smaller in the distance.  She checked her phone again and then dialed Malcolm’s number.  Her fingers were growing numb from the cold.  He didn’t answer.  She called again.  No answer.  Finally she left a message: “How dare you.”

She stood at the entrance of the aquarium for a long time and waited for the boy’s mother to come searching after him: “Have you seen my child?”  What would Gretchen say?  Would she lie?

The idea of lying to the boy’s mother filled Gretchen with a horrible guilt, and she cried harder.  She wasn’t sure if she was crying for the boy or for Malcolm or for the boy’s mother or for herself.

She took off running in the direction of the Cyclone.  She passed roller-skaters, homeless people, and couples making out on benches.  She passed tourists eating hot dogs.  At the entrance of the Cyclone she looked for the boy.  None of the heads in the crowd belonged to him.  Eventually she saw a small child standing dejectedly beside a ticket booth, staring down at his fingers as if waiting for money to appear.

She rushed over. “You’ve got to go back to the aquarium and to your mother,” she said.

“I don’t have enough money for the Cyclone,” he pointed.

Gretchen looked at the ticket booth.  Eight dollars a person.

“You’ve got to go back to your mother,” she said again.  She was still crying.  “I can’t have this on my conscience.”

“What’s wrong with you?” the boy asked.  “Will you just take me on the Cyclone?”
Gretchen looked up at the roller coaster.  The cars flew down the tracks at break-neck speeds.  They made the sound of clothes in a dryer.  She imagined the wind in her hair, the way the stale carnival air would fill her lungs and make her forget Malcolm.  Or maybe she’d even pretend the boy was Malcolm.  When they’d started having problems, and then after he moved out, she thought she’d be okay as long as he still cared for her.  Even as a friend.  Now he’d taken that care away.

“Okay,” she said to the boy.  His eyes lit up inside his face and he grinned, revealing a perfectly square gap in his smile as well as a silver filling in his back tooth.

She bought the tickets, and they waited in line.  A woman climbed off the ride, walked down the railing, and vomited in a trash can.  The boy grabbed Gretchen’s hand, and she let him.  When their car was ready, they walked to it arm and arm, and Gretchen let the boy get in first, as if he were the lady and she were the gentleman.  Gretchen felt dizzy with her own daring; taking the boy on the ride was risky, strange, out of character.

As the ride started, the boy said, “I don’t want to go on this after all.”
And Gretchen said, “You don’t have a choice, now.”

And the ride began.  As the world melted around her, Gretchen felt only air inside her lungs, icy wind on her lips, and laughter inside her throat. The laughter came out in a kind of hysterical scream.  The boy screamed too, but he was smiling.

Kindall Gray is a writer, a teacher, and an Arizona native (don’t hold that against her).  Her fiction has previously appeared in Back Room Live and Toasted Cheese, and she is currently at work on a collection of short stories and a novel. She can be reached at kindallg at g mail dot com.

On the creation of “The Cyclone”:

When I got my word, “Consort,” I immediately began brainstorming–and I kept thinking of couples, couples, couples; couples accompanying each other, “complementing” each other, and going on journeys together.  So I decided to write about unlikely couples–and the unlikeliest couples became a woman and her ex-husband, and of course a woman and a boy.  The story kind of morphed in front of me, and I let it.  At first I thought it would be more about Gretchen and her ex, but then it became about Gretchen and the boy and her reaction to the boy. — K.G.

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Screen shot from Road to Perdition (with some photo editing by me)


1flash \flash\  v 1: to break forth in or like a sudden flame  2: to appear or pass suddenly or with great speed  3: to send out in or as if in flashes <~ a message>  4: to make a sudden display (as of brilliance or feeling)  5: to gleam or glow intermittently  6: to fill by a sudden rush of water  7: to expose to view very briefly <~ a badge>  Synonyms GLANCE, GLINT, SPARKLE, TWINKLE —  flash·er

2flash n 1: a sudden burst of light  2: a movement of a flag or light in signaling  3: a sudden and brilliant burst (as of wit)  4: a brief time  5: SHOW, DISPLAY; esp: ostentation display  6: one that attracts notice; esp:  an outstanding athlete  7: GLIMPSE, LOOK  8: a first brief news report  9: FLASHLIGHT  10: a device for producing a brief and very bright flash of light for taking photographs  11: a quick-spreading flame or momentary intense outburst of radiant heat

3flash adj:  of sudden origin and short duration <a ~ fire> <a ~ flood>

4flash adv: by very brief exposure to an intense agent (as heat or cold) < ~ fry> < ~ freeze>


Welcome to flash fiction february! All month long, the dictionary project will be featuring flash fiction contributions from guest writers. Like all weekly posts, these short pieces will emerge from and be inspired by the word of the week (which I choose each week at random by closing my eyes and flipping through a dictionary). Keep tuning in and enjoy!

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