“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” –Joan Didion
Flash Prose Winners 2019
The Winners Are — Fall 2019
From the Editor: I continue to be impressed with all the creativity and effort on the part of participants. We had an exceptional group of finalists and semi-finalists and I am always grateful to the judges for making final decisions.
I’m also grateful to those who thank me for my comments and insights. I’m interested in the thoughts of those who write to answer questions or share explanations.
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Our fall contest, Scintillating Starts, is posted under current contest.
First Place Winner is Archana Sridhar author of
A Thousand Ways To Say Who Won
A few times a week after school my senior year, I’d head over to the creaky old house that headquartered the tiny staff of The Oviedo Voice. Walking along the sidewalk, I’d crunch the carpet of shiny dried oak leaves curled up on the sides like palmetto cockroaches.
Sitting at my desk, I’d get fax readouts of scores from the previous day’s little league games and high school sporting events. When I’d started my internship, the editor had pointed at the miniscule print above the fold on the two facing sports pages, with Hungry Howie’s Pizza and Baptist Church ads below: “Parents are our subscribers and they love to see their kids in here. Sometimes scouts from Clemson or Auburn dig around for local intel, so think of ‘em all as your readers.” If I proved myself in reporting on the scores, I might get other assignments – a traffic accident, maybe even a town council meeting.
That winter, I was waiting to hear from colleges. I’d stare through the pale green Spanish moss hanging from the treetops, worried about whether I’d make it out of the swamp. I could hear the shouts of the football team bounce off the thin blue sky as they practiced their tackles. The color guard practiced at the other end of the nearby field, preparing for a halftime ceremony honoring the new military recruits from our class.
As I imagined all reporters do, I carried a little spiral notebook with me wherever I went. It held long lists of action words that might impress my editor: Lions creamed Tigers, Wizards bested Dragons… words after words to describe epic baseball and football battles.
One Saturday, after working a morning shift, my friend Jay picked me up in his Nissan 280ZX. In the trunk was a cooler of vodka and Kool-Aid and a boombox to play Dr. Dre and Billy Ray Cyrus. Taking the backroads to Cocoa Beach, I sat shotgun and jotted down verbs in my little notebook: licked (too sexual? or too old-fashioned?), inched past (for overtime?), lit up, laid waste to…
Whenever I felt nauseous, I stared out at the swamp cabbage and sabal palms zipping by, bright lime green against blue skies. Through the detachable roof, I felt the sun on my tanned thighs. Road-signs warned drivers to turn on their headlights. My scientific mind knew it was just a caution about the sun’s glare on the humid asphalt, but an older kid at school had said these old two-lane highways were haunted by ghosts who drove cars off the road.
I felt the car speed up. My eyes shot up from the notepad to see we were playing chicken with an oncoming truck. To our right, we passed a senior citizen in a flat-fronted minivan. There was no room to slide in ahead of the van at our pace, and no shoulder as an escape hatch – just brackish water on both sides.
My brain turned sluggish. I melded with the surrounding colors in all directions. Time slowed and then they appeared. They laid themselves out along the blacktop in front of me. An infinite lattice of white words emerged from nothingness, verbs that stretched themselves out and then floated up into the sky.
I pressed my feet into the floor and shouted “SLOW DOWN, GODDAMNIT!”
We lurched back into the right lane as the truck blared past us. We both panted and stared straight ahead. I unlatched my seat belt and leaned out the window to dry-heave. I pulled my head back into the car and picked up the splayed notebook from the floorboard. My handwriting bled across the narrow-lined paper like a foreign language: shamed (too harsh?),defeated, whipped (or whupped?), routed, vanquished…
I closed the stock-card cover on the blur of words as the landscape turned sharp once more. I knew we had our whole lives ahead of us now. There would be a thousand ways to tell the story of how we’d won.
Archana Sridhar is a poet and university administrator raised in Florida and currently living in Toronto, Canada. Archana focuses on themes of race, meditation, motherhood, and trauma in her writing. Her poetry and flash writing has been featured in The Puritan, Sidereal, The Hellebore, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere.
Second Place Winner is Tracy Spangler author of
After they stopped talking she wondered if they would ever talk again.
After they stopped talking she read three mindless books in a week.
After they stopped talking she wondered if he was relieved.
After they stopped talking she paid bills and drove her daughters to dance and picked her husband up from the train.
After they stopped talking she thought about when they first started talking and wondered if it was possible he actually did care about her, or consider caring about her, back then.
After they stopped talking she remembered that once when she showed his picture to a friend, the friend said they resembled each other.
After they stopped talking she thought about the tiny Ganesh she’d sent him, the remover of obstacles.
After they stopped talking she thought about how he talked in circles, and how impossible it had started to feel to try to get inside of them.
After they stopped talking she thought about the letter she’d written declaring herself, maybe the best letter she’s ever written, and wondered if he’d kept it.
After they stopped talking she thought about how she’d loved four men in her life. (The other three loved her back.)
After they stopped talking she thought about the woman he is with, the one he probably loves, and how when she met her, she felt that in different circumstances, the two of them would be friends.
After they stopped talking she wondered if he ever thought about her, and whether it mattered.
After they stopped talking she couldn’t listen to his music anymore.
After they stopped talking she thought about how he’d said they should accept each other as they are, and what he’d meant by that.
After they stopped talking she considered how stupid it would be to reach out to another person who had stopped talking to him, to ask questions, to commiserate. She did not do it.
After they stopped talking she remembered he’d written “survivor” on his LinkedIn profile. She wondered what he had survived.
After they stopped talking she sent him a book she thought he might like. He sent it back.
After they stopped talking she wished she could put the idea of him into a bottle and float it out to sea, or maybe a box and bury it deep in the woods.
After they stopped talking she thought he might get married or become a father or get hurt or die and she would never know.
After they stopped talking she imagined the frayed red tissue of her heart slowly beginning to scab over.
Tracy Guth Spangler is a veteran magazine editor and writer. She reads fiction constantly and makes her best attempts to write it. She also loves to take pictures. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey, with her husband and two daughters.
Third Place Winner is Steve Cushman author of
Throughout my childhood, my grandfather owner a trailer park in eastern Massachusetts. While my parents had moved my sister and me to Florida, we spent a couple weeks each summer at Garden Homes Mobile Home Park, driving grandpa’s toys, mopeds and bikes, even his old Willys Jeep around the 6-acre park, surrounded by woods. One day, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I drove a bike to a part of the park I hadn’t been to and noticed the street sign, Stevie Lane. Surely I was the Stevie memorialized here, but I couldn’t recall anyone mentioning it before.
Having a street named after you speaks to the promise you possess, yes? The implication is you will do, or have done, something of significance. The afternoon after spotting the sign, I asked my mother about it, and she said yes of course it was for me. When he built Garden Homes, Grandpa named streets after each of his six grandkids. Love this!
Now, thirty years on and both my grandparents gone, the park is no longer in the family, sold decades ago to grandpa’s business partner. Still, on a recent family trip back to Massachusetts I think of the street and wonder if I’ve lived up to a little of what the sign promised. I’d like to think so.
I decide to show Julie and Trevor the street name. My son is fourteen now and not much impresses him, but maybe this will. It’s July and warm, even in eastern Massachusetts, and the trailer park looks like my idea of most trailer parks and not the summer playground I remember. Narrow streets, boxed in by the long thin homes, most of which have a small, wooden deck, full with plastic seats or grills or Big Wheels or any variety of toy, some even full with bags of garbage.
Still, we drive and drive, wave at residents sitting on their decks smoking or talking on cell phones, residents who don’t seem particularly thrilled to see this family staring out the window of a rented black Malibu. This family who is obviously looking for something but afraid to stop and ask.
After thirty minutes, Julie says, maybe it’s somewhere else, a different part of the park, and my son laughs, says yeah Dad maybe they moved it. Love the attitude. In the rear view I can see him shake his head. I’d like to smack the little smirk off his face, but it’s not his fault. And after an hour we give up, head to a clam shack out on Buzzard’s Bay.
Eating clam chowder and clam cakes, a true delicacy here, I can’t stop thinking about that damn street sign. I tell myself to enjoy my family, this day, this food, this reprieve from another Carolina summer, but still I can’t, so I excuse myself, step outside and call my mother down in Florida. She says, oh yeah there was a Stevie Lane, a Kimberly Way, a Sean Avenue, and as she continues I close my eyes, see it there as I ride that bike in circles around the street sign. Inside my family is waiting, so I tell Mom I’ll call her when we get home in a few days.
After showers, and Trevor asleep in the hotel bed beside ours, Julie says don’t worry about it. While I could tell her about the confirmation call to my mother, instead I say, I know, I just though it would be cool for Trevor to see his old man’s name on a sign. But I know this wasn’t really for Trevor. I’ve hit fifty, that age where you start to measure yourself against earlier expectations.
She says we’ll have a sign made when we get home, hang it in the garage. We both know this is not the point, but I appreciate the effort she’s making. After turning out the lights, Julie reaches for me, and I tell myself this is enough, more than enough, and for a few minutes, even I believe it.
Steve Cushman earned an MFA from UNC-Greensboro and has published three novels. His first poetry collection, How Birds Fly, is the winner of the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award. Cushman lives with his family in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Our Honorable Mention Winners are
Julie Atkinson for “Loving Charlie”
John Brantingham for “Bearing”
Stephen Gibson for “Mentorship”