“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ~~ Terry Pratchett
Excellence in Flash Memoir
Congratulations to winners, finalists, and everyone who had the courage to enter their work. Flash Memoir is a blend of truth and artistry. The stories here are true recollections to the best of the authors’ memories. While Flash Memoir employs the writing techniques of Flash Fiction truth can often be more powerful than fiction.
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In FIRST PLACE we have
By Jobert Abueva
Click. I turn around to see him lock the door. We seem to cross paths here often – our bladders synched to the same stopwatch. But this time is different: the extra rattling of the doorknob shut accompanied by his plastic grin and crooked teeth, neither of which I have seen him sport before. I return a half-smile and take a full step back, a chess piece in retreat.
His coffee eyes framed in silver square glasses, a scratchy mustache, and short brown hair. This is the face that stands by the filing cabinet and sits at the typewriter in Tatay’s, my Filipino father’s office building. This is the face that cheerfully asks if I would like a Coke, while I wait for my father to return from his lectures across campus. But now with every deliberate step he takes towards me, this is a face that becomes less and less familiar.
I bump up against a stall. I am still. He stretches his left arm, twig fingers combing through my hair. I close my eyes and tilt my head, following the slow random motion of his moist pulsating palm over my face and around my neck. The urinal stench, sharp as the air when we drive by the squatter slums, makes me want to hold my breath. Instead I let out a faint purr.
His hand wraps around my waist and guides it towards his Buddha belly. I tug away but my hand won’t release from his grip. His black polyester pants are slick as the negatives of a Kodak Instamatic. He hastily unzips reaching inside to release what’s brown and pink. He makes me grab it and has me pull and push repeatedly. It smells like Elmer’s Glue. Then he lets go, but I am still pushing and pulling in a rhythm all my own.
“Yes, just like that” he says.
It’s a rubber band. It’s a crayon. It’s a ruler. My eyes snap up at him, but his crooked teeth stare back at me.
I pinch my eyes as he reaches for the belt buckle to my khaki shorts. His hand brushes my crotch. My legs goose bump as he rubs me. I want to yelp, leap, flee. But I also want to see where this is all going. An electric current is running from ear to ear. I need to say something. Do something. Anything. Now. “Please, may I go?”
My heart is the rhythm of bongo drums. He shushes me with a finger over his pursed lips and takes several steps back. He is now hurrying up pushing and pulling. He has a serpent in his hands. He convulses and grunts, growing louder and louder. All of a sudden, his hand and voice halt into a freeze. A milky arc gushes, over the honeycomb tiling and lands directly in front of me, a streak of goo. He is breathing as if he is dying. Smaller arcs. Smaller streaks.
I stare at the floor, then at his face which is no longer crumpled origami. With his pants and Jockeys still around his ankles, he penguins over to the sink. But not before he reaches down into his pocket and raises up to my face a silver fifty centavo coin, a communion host that I am about to receive.
“Go buy yourself a soft drink. You deserve it.”
My father is whistling to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on the drive home. Spring. Summer. Beginning of autumn. Today he does not ask me how my day went. I don’t want him to. I would not know where to start, even if I had to lie. I cannot even tell how I feel about his not being in his office. Would it have even mattered?
I excuse myself as Mommy puts out the last dish of string beans on the table and we are about to thank God for this day and ask him to bless the food that we are about to receive.
I just want to be in bed and replay the afternoon over and over, projecting every move on my mind’s movie screen. There is this prickling sensation in the pit of my stomach. And across my six-year-old chest. The yo-yo of good and bad.
Jobert Abueva of New Hope, PA is recipient of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Literary Award for historical LGBTQ+ short fiction and two National Arts Club prizes in non-fiction. Credits include The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is working on a boyhood memoir. More on www.jobertabueva.net.
In SECOND PLACE we have
By Robin Merrow MacCready
My phone dings as I bounce over a speed bump in the Shaws parking lot. I look at it, suspiciously. My sister’s name glares at me as I find a spot next to the cart corral.
This is the start of the game we play on my way to Mum’s every Thursday. We want to arrive within minutes of each other so neither of us has to navigate Mum’s changing behaviors by ourselves.
I park and look at the text. This is weird.
Ask Mum when she cooked the taco meat.
It’s like a code and I need to figure it out before I get there.
Instead, I turn off the motor and ring up Kate for clarification. I’ll bitch and moan a little, an offering to our newly healed sisterhood. She’ll do the same back, a polite ritual of complaints about her day. Though it’s new, it’s getting easier six months into the routine of my Thursday overnights.
“Ask Mum when she made the taco meat cuz I don’t want to die,” she says.
I have her on speaker and I’m checking my wallet.
“Yeah, sorry, just getting organized. At the store now,” I say, putting a mask in my pocket.
“I just want to make sure she didn’t save it from last week, “ she says. Then she asks me when I’m going to get there.
“I’ll call her and ask her what she needs for the party and get the dirt on her taco burger. “Over and out,” I say, trying to keep it light.
“Roger that, sister. And text me when you get off the exit.”
Inside Shaws, I park by the flower display and call Mum.
“Hi, I’m on my way,” I say, tipping an orchid on its side to see the cost. She loves them and I consider it, but it’s blue.
“You are so sweet to come, Rob,” she says.
“We’re going to have Kate’s party tonight. Right?” I remind her.
“I hope so,” she says.
“Well, I’m at Shaws right now so I wondered what I could get for the tacos. Are we still having them?” I say, serving up the volley. Come on, Mum. I will send her my taco vibes so I don’t have to ask her embarrassing questions, like if she has rotten meat in her fridge. I let the silence be there in my ear and roll the cart back and forth the way I did if I had a fussy baby in it. It was a shit day at school and I’m a very tired teacher.
“Well, I think so. Tacos is what Katie said.”
I open my eyes just to roll them dramatically. She’s acting like she hasn’t been talking about this all fucking week and every fucking day when I talk to her.
“The meat. What about the meat?” I ask.
“Meat?” Bingo. I’ll just get burger and cook it myself.
“What else do you need? Besides meat.”
“I have plenty of cheese,” she says, giggling at her cheese habit, which she passed on to all her kids. “And I know I have an onion somewhere in here.” More giggling. I hear her scrounging around in her fridge. The drawers open and close and plastic bags smoosh together. “Oh, I have some of those cute little baby peppers. I love them, don’t you?” There’s a pause while she waits for me to answer. The last time I cleaned out her fridge there were three bags of multi-colored baby peppers. I could only save four of the buggers, but I washed and dried them and found a small Tupperware just the right size. I gingerly laid them in their beds. They’re still there–just mush now.
Her voice brings me back. “Not everyone likes onion like you. You were a good eater. Not like your sister. Where’s that can of olives.” There’s a scratching sound in my ear and a crash. “Oops!” She finds the phone. “Robin! Are you there?”
Her three-alarm screech sends a stab to my gut. I want to tell her that I’m not the one that dropped whatever, but she knows that.
“Everything okay?” I ask, imaging the olives, cracked cheese ends, and splattered salsa on the floor.
“I don’t need anything. Maybe just a bit of lettuce,” she says.
I silently do my tactical breathing, the one the military does when it thinks it might be blown up. In this case I am the bomb. One, two, three, four… Again.
Robin Merrow MacCready is a writer, artist, and teacher from Maine. She has published two Young Adult novels; BURIED (Dutton Children’s Books), winner of the 2006 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult fiction, and A LIE FOR A LIE, published by Henry Holt. This is her first nonfiction piece.
In THIRD PLACE we have
By Marija Plavcic
It was summer, just as war has ended. In this war, we were bombed, occupied, separated from our families. The war ended in our country but lingered in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in our heads.
“Go back to Serbia!” people would mutter, even yell, when passing my neighbors’ house. Kids were spreading rumors; the mother was poisoning the cats, the father was a drunk, the daughter was ugly, and the son was stupid.
I lived in an unfinished cement block house, piles of construction sand scattered all around our disorderly yard. Once, as I opened the front door, I saw some kids digging something in the sand.
“What are you doing?”
“Oh, we’re just digging a grave for Milica,” they said.
“Cause we hate her.”
“Oh.” Milica was the daughter in that family. I could have – I should have – said something. After all, it was my sand, and I could tell them to leave. But I just stood there.
In the evening, all the kids, even the kids from that family, were on the street. Sometimes we’d sit on a little wall near their house. Kids would yell slurs at their mother. Vuk would protest, only to attract all the insults on himself. I wondered why he even bothered hanging out with us. As stupid and cruel as the kids were, the bullying mostly remained verbal. I’ve been watching silently all the teasing and the provocations, just as I watched those kids dig a grave for his sister in my sand. I never joined them but never protested either.
Looking back, I might have protested, if I wasn’t in love with him. I was too afraid someone might find out, for all the usual 11-year old reasons, but also because it would fuel even more hatred and cruelty.
Summer days we spent melting around the house or going to the beach in the afternoon. Oh, the beach, such a sorry sight in those post-war years. Everything was devastated, entire hotel resorts vacant. All the usual bustle of beach bars, ice cream shops, rentals of all kinds, everything gone now. But we were perhaps too young to clearly notice the wasteland that surrounded us.
In the evening, we’d all come out on the street to hang out. The hierarchy was long established. I, as the youngest girl in our group, was spared from mocking only when Milica was around.
The sun has long set, but the heat was still pulsating from every solid object around. We were playing a game that could best be described as poor man’s tennis. All you needed was a tennis ball and some chalk to draw the lines. Some kids, especially those higher in the hierarchy, would get needlessly and absurdly upset with this game. At every strike, they were more and more aggressive towards Vuk. He tried to play it down, but soon shoving started, and shortly all the kids turned on him. Somehow he managed to run around some houses. Some kids ran after him, others went to the opposite side to find him there. But, he found a way back through another backyard and jumped into the street right in front of me. At that moment, one of the older boys came and grabbed him.
“Hit him! Hit him!” he yelled at me. I was hesitant, trying to figure out what to do.
“Hit him! If I let go of my grip, he’ll slip away!” he said.
And I spread my palm and hit him on his bare back.
Vuk looked at me. It was the first time I saw this look in his eyes. Kids were cursing his mother, threatening him, ridiculed his sister, and his face remained stone cold. Not now.
After that evening, he was not joining us on the street anymore. Soon his family moved away. Many summers passed since then when it struck me. Perhaps Vuk could put up with all the shit thrown at him as long as there was at least one person that wasn’t part of the mob. Until I was.
Marija Plavcic lives and works in Croatia. She writes short stories, mainly in her native language, but has started experimenting with writing in English, too. She lives with her husband, two boys, and three rescue dogs.
Simona Carini, author of Yellow Gloves
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