Hillary Leftwich (The Conium Review‘s associate editor) is currently serving as nonfiction editor for The Fem Literary Magazine. The Fem‘s founders created the project to promote “writing that could be sexy without being objectifying, heartbreaking without being misogynistic, and that featured women, queer folks, people with disabilities, and people of color as more than symbols” (qtd. from The Fem‘s “About” page). Hillary has acted as the nonfiction editor for a few months now, and she’s enjoying her new gig. She’ll continue to work on both The Conium Review and The Fem, and we’re glad to see her expanding into new editorial areas.
On the writing side of things, Hillary’s “Runt” was a finalist in the Tethered by Letters spring flash fiction contest. Additionally, her story “Bottle Rockets” will be the featured story in Whiskey Paper‘s January, 2016 edition.
John Englehardt (recent winner of our 2014 Flash Fiction Contest) was recently published at The James Franco Review. Read John’s story, “Seaside,” here. Congrats on the recent publication, John!
You find happiness beside a food truck on Pike and Broadway, while you are waiting for the tacos you just ordered. It’s an illogical type of happiness, the kind that has no object, as if a net that smothered your thoughts has been chewed away, and now your attention spills outward. So you decide not to go home. You carry your tacos to the park to eat them with yourself—which, you decide, is not the same thing as eating them alone.
So you walk, and you keep finding what the happiness is. You think: it is the plum blossoms. It is the dogs carrying leashes in their own mouths. It is how your blood feels powerfully sober. It is a group of people at a bus stop who all stand on their toes, lean over the curb, together catching sight of their bus, which is just now coming down a hill.
So the next morning, you are in line for coffee when a nanny for some rich Microsoft family walks in. She’s holding hands with a toddler. A few minutes later, she offers him banana chips and he swings his entire arm in a Frankenstein-like fashion across the table, scattering the chips across the floor. The girl doesn’t seem to care. She gathers her hair across a front shoulder and sips the brimming foam from her latte. And when she straightens and smiles at you with her whole face, you decide to ask her out on a date.
That night, you both walk through snow flurries, to a bar that has transformed with the weather, feels like a ski lodge. The girl orders whiskey. When her hair dries out, it looks iridescent from the bar lights, like a frizzy halo. She gets drunk with you and tells you about writing suicide notes to her parents when she was only six years old, about an ex-boyfriend who had to take all his clothes off anytime he took a shit. You think: this is fun. You think: I am learning.
One of your friends throws a brunch party. His house is a big faded triangle with bicycles and damp people oozing from the doors. You eat waffles late into the afternoon. Then a strange guy with hair braided into pigtails—someone’s co-worker, probably—interrupts a group conversation. He says, “Man, I don’t believe in power. All power is just inferiority, anyways.” No one responds. The whole room is silent, and one friend is holding a pillow to her chest and smiling at the ceiling. You decide that all of you, together, are making the world a better place with that silence.
These days, you rarely check your email. You are not signing onto Facebook to look at pictures of “Ashley and Justin’s rustic barn wedding.” You are not wishing for the things people always do. You are not jealous of the couples wearing sweat pants in Trader Joes, buying falafel mix for dinner on a Friday. You do not even want a volatile lover inconsistent with your own nature. And when you look in the mirror, you do so only long enough to decide that you are balding with dignity, though just a few years ago you would not have considered that to be possible.
The Microsoft nanny asks you out to lunch, to a restaurant that only serves Pho and cream puffs. After squirting plum sauce into her “medium veggie,” she tells you she has contracted a skin disease that, while treatable, is painful and semi-contagious. It will be two years before she can be sexually active. You’ve only been on one date, so you can’t be sad. She takes you into the bathroom and pulls down her pants to show you the red dots spreading around her thighs and torso. Molluscum Contagiosum. She got it from swimming in a hotel pool. You walk her home, and saying goodbye feels like practice for the other times you’ll have to leave someone else, for when it will be much more difficult.
So you walk alone until dinnertime, and by then all the brick apartment buildings and Victorian mansions have their lights on. Tenants are painting at their kitchen tables. They are putting everything in drawers. They are smoking too much weed and spending hours reading about the Illuminati. They are poised on living room rugs, performing stretches that will help with sciatic nerve pain. They are not the type of people who think that, at age 26, if they haven’t found someone to “be with,” that they might end up alone. They do not pretend that there can be a plot for their happiness. They know how feelings that never change are lies.
It ends while you are asleep. Your mind discovers that there is no reason for your happiness. It’s not that your subconscious reviles that emotion—it’s just that, from a certain angle, happiness looks like something you don’t need anymore. So it gets released, and in the morning you sit in bed, laptop on thighs, staring at previously read emails. You get ready, but the longer you look in the mirror, the more you have to stand in front of it. And on your walk to work, all the blinds are closed. Attractive strangers are smug. You want to care about the plum blossoms, but you don’t. You try to see them falling around you like pink TV snow. You try to see them as they were. But what you are doing is this: you are reaching out into the world to find happiness again, but it’s one of those things that wouldn’t be real if you could touch it, that wouldn’t be worth much if it could be chased after leaving.
About the Author:
John Englehardt’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sycamore Review, The Stranger, Monkeybicycle, The Monarch Review, and Furlough Magazine. He won the 2014 Wabash Prize in Fiction, as well as The Stranger‘s A&P fiction contest. He’s a recent graduate of University of Arkansas’ MFA program, and now lives and works in Seattle.
This story won The Conium Review‘s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Ashley Farmer. It was also made into a micro-chap and distributed at the 2015 AWP Conference in Minneapolis, MN.
This story is one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the Sundress Publications anthology, Best of the Net 2015.
This story was nominated and listed as a semifinalist for the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology, Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Stuart Dybek.
Image Credit: © carlacastagno / Dollar Photo Club
We’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 Flash Fiction Contest. Congratulations to John Englehardt for his winning piece, “This Is Great But You Don’t Need It.” This year’s judge, Ashley Farmer, says “This story is a heart-breaker and a rule-breaker, a clear breath and a gut punch. It’s unorthodox in its point of view and risky in its sincerity. A full life and full world in three short pages, yet I’d stay there for longer if I could.”
John Englehardt’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sycamore Review, The Stranger, Monkeybicycle, The Monarch Review, and Furlough Magazine. He’s a recent graduate of University of Arkansas’ MFA program, and now lives and works in Seattle. John will receive a $300 prize and a copy of Ashley Farmer’s latest book; his winning story will appear on The Conium Review Online Compendium, we’ll turn it into a handcrafted micro-chap for distribution at the AWP Conference, and John will be reading “This Is Great But You Don’t Need It” at an off-site reading at Eat My Words Books in Minneapolis, MN.
The 2014 Flash Fiction Contest finalists were Sarah Colwill-Brown, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Melody Sage, Caitlin Scarano, Hsien Chong Tan, and Will Walawender.
The Conium Review editorial staff thanks everybody who submitted and supported this contest. We look forward to announcing next year’s judge soon, and we hope many of you will consider submitting to the contest again in 2015. In the meantime, remember that our general submission queue is currently open. Furthermore, our Innovative Short Fiction Contest, judged by Amelia Gray, begins reading submissions on February 1st, 2015.
We’re pleased to announce our annual flash fiction contest. This year’s judge is Ashley Farmer. She is the author of a The Women (Civil Coping Mechanisms, forthcoming 2016), Beside Myself (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014), and Farm Town (Rust Belt Binder, 2012). She’s also the Co-Managing Editor of Juked.
This contest is run through The Conium Review Online Compendium. The winner receives a $300 honorarium. The winning piece is posted online, but we’re also making the winning piece into a tangible object. It will become a broadside or micro-chap that we will hand out for free at our AWP Conference table. If the winner is attending the 2015 AWP Conference in Minneapolis, there may also be a chance for an off-site reading of her or his work. For the winning author, this a great opportunity to get your work out there and make some dough in the process.
The contest opens for submissions on October 15th and closes on December 15th. There is a $10 contest entry fee. Full guidelines available here.