Say you read five paragraphs that change your life forever. Make you see the world in a different way, stick in your mind like a mouse in a glue trap. Flash fiction is supposed to be a quick hit that leaves a lasting impression. But how to capture your attention in a mere 500 words? With an unexpected encounter? Gorgeous imagery? A twist ending that editors say they disdain but always seem to surface in flash fiction anthologies, like sharks devouring unsuspecting minnows.
Say God walks into your kitchen and makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich. Is this a good opening? Or is it too out there? Say your husband walks into your kitchen and tells you he’s leaving you for another man. He’s crying and contrite; this makes you even more resentful. How could he not have spoken up sooner? Being gay isn’t something you discover in your 50s. Say your daughter walks into your kitchen and announces she’s dropping out of college and moving to Boston to become an aesthetician. You don’t know what that is and don’t want to lose ground by admitting it.
Say there is no kitchen. You live in your car because you lost your job and the sheriff is summoned at the landlord’s bequest, moving your crappy, scarred furniture onto the sidewalk. It’s raining. Cold liquid darts that ping against your skin. You’re not an addict or an alcoholic, deserving of sympathy. But you caused this just the same.
Say you’re halfway through your short short story and still no ephiphany or transcendent moment, no phrase that perfectly encapsulates a brief, troubled moment in time. What would you do? How would you turn things around? With an unusual setting? A quirky line of dialogue? By introducing a character you wish you could follow for more than a page and a half? A taxidermist who stuffs his mother. A pregnant women eating beetles. A writer whose characters move in and take over her life. It’s hard to be memorable – no matter what the word count.
Say you’re sitting in your kitchen, staring out the window. A cardinal hovers over the feeder. Could you write this more poetically? Would that make it transcendent? A cardinal’s wings tremble as it wrestles with a seed. Something needs to happen to the cardinal. Or to you. A hidden desire, a startling outcome. Say you find an engagement ring in the feeder. You can’t tell if it’s yours but you think it’s a sign. You take it to a pawnshop and the man gives you fifteen thousand in cash. Enough to walk away from your kitchen, to shrug off the husband and daughter like a lizard shedding its skin.
Say you’ve arrived at the end of the story. You’ve run out of words, begun to quietly panic. You take a butter knife, pry the glue off the mouse’s tiny feet, ignoring its pitiful squeaks, the accusatory expression it bestows on you as it limps away.
Beth Sherman received her MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in The Portland Review and Black Fox Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review, KYSO, Delmarvia Review and Joyce Quarterly. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize. She has also written five mystery novels.