Three Flash Fiction Stories by Kathryn M. Barber

Ceasura

When you finally left me for good, I didn’t know if it was for the road, someone else, yourself, or that Taylor guitar. The notes your calloused and hard fingers created as they morphed strings into sounds still linger in my skull. I came home to find the apartment half empty—you’d taken your clothes and all the instruments, including my grandfather’s banjo hanging on the living room wall, leaving our home devoid of sounds and music. You left your favorite jacket and your rifle. I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it was one of those mornings where the sun was hot and alive but the rain forgot care, and the drops hit the sidewalk rhythmically, like they were trying to compose a melody or recreate a ballad you’d written and taken with you.

I watched the wetness weave a tapestry between me and that old water tower on the hill—you remember it, don’t you? The way it stood tall over the lights of Nashville, boastful and protective, like it was watching over you, or me, or us, or somebody. The entire apartment complex is built in a circle around that tower up on the mountain, and the night we moved in, you wanted to climb it, to sit on the railings and look over the city like God.

“What if we get arrested?” I asked you as we sat at the top, passing a bottle of gin between us.

“What if you marry me?” you said.

I didn’t answer you then, or ever, just grinned, let the gin burn the words out of my mouth. When we climbed down, I thought of the waterfall back in the sleepy town I left for you, how I used to sit underneath it in the summer time, my back to the rocks, soaking wet. I’d stare at the woods through the sheet of rain, a stampede tumbling down the mountain, thinking maybe those drops came together for the sole purpose of shielding me from something. You, maybe.

Three days after you were gone, I took your rifle out from beneath the bed, stood on the porch, faced the mountain, and aimed. I shot three times at the water tower, wishing instead I could’ve fired three shots in your guitar case, or you, or whatever it was that made you leave this time.

I stood beneath the water as it fell from the sky like the waterfall back home.

That was the closest I could get to drowning, baptizing myself in something that wasn’t you. Your jacket clung to my body, drenched. Perhaps the next time I would hear your voice, it would meet me from behind a screened speaker, a record with a thousand interrupting scratches. I longed for your music to return to my bones, your throaty, deep voice finding, creating, the words I lost, the ones I was always afraid of. I strained to hear the song in the water as it fell.

(*inspired by the Dixie Chicks’ “Let Him Fly”)

Taking My Turn on the Sin Wagon

The radio stations won’t play the Dixie Chicks. When me and Whitney called this morning, asked if they’d play “Goodbye Earl,” they told us they pulled their songs— indefinitely. Whitney’s mama told me I ought not worry about it, because my daddy would wring her neck if he knew she was letting me listen to secular music. She’s right. Daddy says if it ain’t about Jesus, that’s called secular. Anybody that’s got talent and doesn’t use it for Jesus is sinning. If we listen, that makes us helping with their sins.

Daddy caught me listening to “Sin Wagon” once. He found the CDs Whitney made for me. Whitney can get any CD she wants because her cousin borrows them from the Randall Library at her college. We labeled them wrong to be safe—Steven Curtis Chapman was really Ludacris, Ray Boltz was really Britney Spears. But he caught me once, asked me if I knew what mattress dancing even was. I said I didn’t.

“These women are saying it’s okay to sin. That’s just a slap in the face of God, Aubrey. Do you understand that?” he asked me.

“Yes, sir.”

“What did I tell you about the Dixie Chicks?” (Last year, in fifth grade, he came to pick me up and heard me singing Earl with my friends over by the tennis courts. He said singing about murder wasn’t very nice, but I told him Earl deserved it. He didn’t like that too much.)

“They’re not ladies seeking Jesus,” I answered.

“That’s right,” he said. “Don’t ever let me catch you listening to this trash again.”

But Whitney and her mama are good secret keepers. Miss Julie is the secretary at the church where my daddy preaches, so she doesn’t want him to know either. At their house, I get to watch PG-13 movies and listen to songs that aren’t about God.

“Miss Julie, why won’t they play Earl?” I ask.

“Well, because Natalie Maines went and shot her mouth off about George W last week, that’s why,” she says. “Said she’s ashamed the president is from Texas because she thinks he’s an idiot.”

Whitney asked if George W was really an idiot. Miss Julie said of course he was, everybody thought so, but just because we think something doesn’t mean it needs saying.

At dinner, Daddy asks if I heard what “my” Dixie Chicks had gone and done. He said people were running over albums in tractors. The used bookstore downtown dumped copies into street trash cans.

“What’s the big deal they don’t like the president?” I ask.

He clenches his fists. He does this when he’s preaching, too. “They got up on that stage and said they don’t believe in God, our president, or our country. They said they were ashamed to be American and ashamed of our military. And you want to fill your head with music from these unpatriotic, trashy, godless women?”

I keep calling the radio stations, asking them to play Earl.


Hurricane

The tide rises and falls in time with my grief: my breaths, like eighth-notes, staccato; the waves of the east coast like half notes, long, hard and sure. Behind the rain, past the line where the ocean met the sky, clouds loom blacker than the asphalt on Broadway, fuller than the swells of the river running beneath JSP Bridge and Titan stadium.

I want to drown in the Carolina sea.

The rain falls in sheets, like music. Like the sheets you scattered around our bed, the one that overlooked the main of the Gulch, your notes strung across carpet in black ink on white paper. It falls in sheets like the ones you used to drape over yourself in the morning, while the sun bathed both you and the guitar. It falls in rhythms; I can hear the iambs and dactyls banging beneath your clenched fist on the breakfast table, measuring your own words. The rain falls like it did the night God sunk the Opry below five feet of water.

I’m slow dancing in a hurricane.

The winds push against my skin, push like the motor pushed the General Jackson down the river on our first anniversary. They push like you pressed those piano keys for days at a time. They push me from behind like they did the morning I wove my way out of Tennessee and into the Carolina mountains. They are relentless, like you.

You are a siren. I could never escape your voice.

The thunder sounds like your rasp echoing through the mountains our parents were born inside of, the ones we fled together. We exchanged gravel roads for skyscrapers and microphones, traded those hills and that river for starless skies and the rumble of the Ryman when it comes alive on a quiet fall night. You always belonged in the lightning on a stage, and I always belonged in the shadows, in the thunder of the crowd drinking in your every note. You have always been the streak of light. I have always been the thunder of applause.

I had to go. There was nothing for me there.

You were a siren, and I had to escape your song.

I scoop the sand in my palms, scatter it around me like we scattered your grandmother’s ashes that spring. I scatter the sand like the peony petals I scattered across our bedroom floor that Christmas you never came home. I scatter the sand like you scattered your cigarette ashes from the west coast, across the mountains, into the Carolina sea, and back again. There is no lighthouse drawing me home from sea. The lights of Broadway, twinkles and shooting stars of Music Row, they’re gone now. These waves drown out your memories, your humming in the corners of me. In this storm, am I finally clean.

I didn’t want to drown in your hurricane—

but you saw shapes in clouds, revelation in the rain, majesty in the mountains that trembled beneath us. My storm was your blue sky. You found stability in that stage on the corner in midtown, reassurance in the stadiums that trembled for you instead. You dreamt of playing hymns at the mother church, of planting your favorite brown boots in that wooden circle. I only dreamt of you. Tell me: while you trailed, eclipsed, shadowed your dreams—where did that leave me?

I want to drown your memory in the Carolina sea.

The curtain called you, and that was my curtain call, my final verse, my fade out. I couldn’t breathe until I was rid of you, until the water filled my lungs, until I was drowning. In the morning, the applause will die, and the spotlight streaks will fade, and Apollo will drag the sun across a brand new sky. In the morning, the hurricane will retreat back to the horizon line. I left Tennessee with your ghost following behind me. Call it wrong, call it selfish, call it running. Call it whatever you want.

I call it a reprise.

(*inspired by Miranda Lambert’s “Dead Flowers” and Brinley Addington’s “Carolina”)

Kathryn M. Barber grew up in the mountains that follow the Tennessee/Virginia state line. She earned her BA from Carson-Newman University and her MA in English Literature from Mississippi State University. Currently, she is completing her third year in UNC Wilmington’s MFA Creative Writing program as a fiction candidate. She is a former intern for Lookout Books and serves as Ecotone‘s Nonfiction Editor. Prior to Wilmington, she lived in Nashville and taught at Belmont University, where her musically talented students began to influence her writing. She is now working on a collection of short stories and flash pieces centered around musical themes. Her work has also appeared in Literary Orphans, Cape Fear Review, Palaver, the Pinch, and Adelaide. For more information, visit www.kathrynmbarber.com.

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“When I Think of Bees” by H R Green

We sit on lawn chairs as I watch her finger the honeycomb. She turns it between her fingers, brings it close to her nose and sniffs, always suspicious of the wax. A sluggish hum fills the afternoon as humidity stifles even the mosquitoes. I ignore her glances and focus instead on the beads of sweat swelling on my palms. She pushes the comb against her lips, her fuzzy nape shimmers as she nibbles. She hands me a chunk that she pried from the hive where a thousand bodies crawled then writhed. I refuse it. Her gaze stiffens. She shrugs, drops the battered comb on brittle grass as she flits towards the pool. She sheds her shirt and the pants of her beekeeper suit as she walks, then wades naked into lukewarm water, bees forgotten.

I watch her pull the frames for cleaning. She brags that she knows each of her bees intimately, holds them, touches them. It makes for better honey. I ignore the angry hum of her phone and watch sunlight dry the husk of comb a sour, papery grey. Wisps from her smoker linger in the stagnant air, acrid with my insecticide. I think of the bodies that now litter the hive and the angry hum of her phone. It doesn’t matter anymore. She can never sit still in the frantic whisper of summer; I can never help but think of wasps when I think of bees.


H R Green, a writer from South Africa, now lives and writes in the Midwest. Her work has appeared in print and online in places such as Pank, The Rumpus, and Glassworks.

“Slicer” by Jerry Rabushka

I’m at the deli counter, hemmed in by aisles and product and customers and attitude. I watch him, a sharp featured amazing and aggressive guy who I’ve only ever seen standing on this one section of floor. Slicing cheese, slicing meat, putting together a sandwich. He’s got dark black hair, a mustache at least, a minefield of stubble, a Mohawk, tattoos, sleeveless. I’m not sure if that’s dedication or hostility he’s putting into his work. He has never noticed me.

I’ve failed, all my life, to make contact with people in this place. His eyes never turn my way. Nobody’s eyes do. He is focused on not noticing, but he has to see me to not see me. I wonder what he would say if I forced him with a greeting. It is not safe here.

I wonder if he has friends, or love, what he does when he goes home. If he goes home. If he smiles. I wonder too much because there is too much to wonder. I wonder, too, why I wonder. I wonder what anyone would say if I breached the wall. I have my words picked out for the deli clerk taking my order, always the same words, always the same sandwich, same sides, same intonation.

It’s library-quiet with a humbling humidity in this place, perhaps it keeps the police out, or the loiterers; you can’t be too sure here in the drinking capital of the world so dependent on sales and security. I keep looking at a fridge full of non-alcoholic beverages: sugar, sugar, more sugar, aspartame, blue, yellow, pink, protein, expensive, water, expensive, OMG CHOCOLATE, someone else must drink this stuff but I keep talking myself out of it.

A couple guys meander into the aisle looking for just that right combo of sugar and aspartame, a beefy scary black guy and a creepy hairy ’stache-heavy white guy, both of them carrying around their adjectives just for show. If that ’stache were gold his head would hit the floor. No one has sleeves tonight, the smell of the guys and the smell of the deli meet at the front of the counter. The two men barely fit in the aisle and I need to move so they can open the fridge. In the next aisle someone waits annoyed for a roast beef. You being annoyed will not make him slice faster, he doesn’t know you are here. I don’t know why he’s annoyed, but I can’t absorb the heavy breathing and I’m trapped in a corner watching Slicer.

I lose who I am in his acrobatics; it’s a dance that tunes out everything, a choreography that keeps everyone at bay—the regulars, the drunks, the tourists that don’t get that this is off their approved path. They’re all in my way, so we’re stuck here like sweaty wrestlers in an elevator until someone finally addresses me by the name of my order.

This is so hard, my voice sounds like I just got pushed off a train. “Hey…see ya.” I break the code, but I’m glad he doesn’t acknowledge.

At the checkout counter there’s a woman with dark and springy hair. I think. And glasses. Still, I think. I haven’t paid enough attention, even after all these years, to remember. I’ve learned not to ask her how she is, because she doesn’t want me to know. I make up her life story: she comes to work, takes the cash, goes home and watches reality TV. Probably has a sandwich. Maybe a beer, but I’m not seeing it. More like whiskey and Diet Coke. Somewhere in her life are a husband and kids, that could be yesterday or years ago. She’s got a pink top and I’m not going to look any lower.

I’m going to walk a few blocks away, closer to the tourists and closer to the bedlam. I’m going to sit down on the ground against a building, move some trash out of the way, unwrap, and eat. I try not to touch anything on the way. I’m not sure what I need to do here to be seen, other than trip someone. Not willing to risk that. In a world created on good times there are always those lonely souls that parasite their good times off the others.

I’m trying to learn that of the guy at the deli, the woman at the counter, are they rowing in this same canoe with me or do they live across the lake, on the other side of forgotte?. I catch my reflection in something metallic. I haven’t shaved in five days. I forgot. I see a few extra pounds I probably met here at the deli counter. And then I think that Slicer—he wouldn’t look like that if he didn’t have somewhere else to be. Somewhere amazing and exciting that I will never see with my eyes or my heart. Maybe it’s anticipation. Maybe it’s a room, a TV and a beer.

I step out onto the street wondering if I’d actually ever been there.


Jerry 2Jerry Rabushka, from St. Louis, MO, is a playwright, fiction writer, musician and composer. Many of his plays are published by Brooklyn & Heuer Publishing and are performed nationwide. His novel Star Bryan is published by Rebel Satori Press, and another novel, The Prophecy, is due out in October from Bold Strokes Books. Musically, his CD What Kind of Love by his group The Ragged Blade Band is available at CD Baby and other sites.

“Wild Horses” by Barry Basden

In a scruffy, near-empty bar off 14th, a couple buys me a tequila and we talk old tunes. They are slumming, the woman clearly in the lead, sizing me up. Her music memories come alive and I offer to get my guitar out of the car.

The barman catches me at the door. You’re not bringing any guitar in here, he says, and hands me some change. Now put this in the jukebox and go sit down.

More tequila and lyrics. The graceless lady’s hand slides up my thigh and I see the man grinning. We’re about ready. First the john. Near the sink, I finger Am, C in the stale air and splash the song on the cracked mirror and across two dingy walls.

Easy to do.


Barry Basden lives close to a wild river and edits Camroc Press Review. His writing has appeared elsewhere.