The 2017 AWP Conference is just a couple days away. We’ll be exhibiting at table 548-T, and we’re co-hosting an off-site event on Thursday, February 9th.
This year’s conference is in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, a few blocks from the convention center, a misygonistic xenophone sits in the white house. Consequently, this year’s AWP must be about more than schmoozing and afterparties.
We’re a socially responsible publisher, and we typically donate copies of our print-runs to charities like Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and Open Books. At this year’s AWP Conference, we’re going a step further. We are donating 10% of all AWP sales to the American Civil Liberties Union. Just a couple weeks into the Trump presidency, and the ACLU has already challenged the Trump administration’s actions in court. The ACLU has along history of demanding equal rights and fighting for our basic feedoms, and we’re proud to offer whatever support we can.
On a related note, we hope you’ll consider attending Saturday’s Candlelight Vigil for Free Speech. The vigil will take place at Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House. It is just a short walk from the convention center. The vigil starts at 6:15pm. Hand-held signs only and no large bags allowed (leave that AWP tote bag in your hotel room). Speakers include Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.
If you know of any other vigils, protests, or other political events taking place during the AWP Conference, please e-mail us with the details.
We’re pleased to announce our next Flash Fiction Contest judge: Rebecca Schiff.
The winner of the 2017 Flash Fiction Contest will receive $300, online publication, publication as a limited-run micro-chapbook or broadside, and a copy of the judge’s latest book. Submissions open October 1st, 2017. Full guidelines are available here.
Rebecca Schiff is the author of The Bed Moved (Knopf, 2016). She graduated from Columbia University’s MFA program, where she received a Henfield Prize. Her stories have appeared in n+1, Electric Literature, The American Reader, Guernica, The Guardian, and Lenny Letter. She lives in Brooklyn.
If you’d like to get a taste of the judge’s style, you can read some of Rebecca’s work on Buzzfeed and The Guardian. (Of course, you could also just go buy her book).
You can also read last year’s winning flash fiction, selected by Leesa Cross-Smith, on our website. Or stop by our AWP table (548-T) to get a copy of the free micro-chap.
The day her youngest left for college, she came home with two cats. A boy and a girl, just like her children. Everyone understood. The nest was empty. It’s that thing. It’s only natural.
“You’re such a little peanut,” she said to one of the cats. “My little Peanut. Peanut Butter. Peanut Butt.”
“Biscuit,” she said to the other. “Bisquick. Little Bisque. Bisque-Kitten. Biscuit-Tin. Lobster Bisque. My little Lobster, sweet Lobster Claw.”
She bought them beds and toys and treats. She let them scratch her couch. She scooped their poop twice a day. She liked the crunching sounds they made when they ate their dry food with their precise little teeth. The metal tinkling of the tags on their collars, like tiny bells, joyful sounds that let her know they were close.
It wasn’t enough. While her husband was at work, she went to the pet store and bought some rabbits. The rabbits proceeded to do it like rabbits. More rabbits. Her husband helped her build hutches around the house. She fed them each their own head of lettuce. She stuck her fingers through the wire cages. They were soft, impossibly soft, so soft, eight, sixteen, twenty-four soft little feet, lucky feet.
Too many rabbits, her husband said. The nest was too full. He made her put an ad in the local paper: bunnies for sale. But then he had a heart attack, and when the house was dark and her children had left again and all the flowers had wilted and she put the cards away and there weren’t any more casseroles in the freezer, she was grateful she still had the rabbits, and it seemed to her, in fact, that she did not have enough rabbits.
Maybe it wasn’t rabbits, precisely. Maybe it was something else she needed. Hamsters. Hamsters were small. They could fit in your pocket. That could be her new thing. Now that she was not all the things she used to be, she could be the lady who did that, who went around town with a hamster in her pocket.
The hamster did not like her pocket. It did not mind its cage: the wood chips, the brightly colored tubes, sucking from the metal tip of the water bottle. The sound of its nails against the plastic, its feet scrambling through the loops, comforted her. “Silly hamster,” she said. “Hamster-Ham. You are my smoky little Ham.”
When she got the hamsters she also got two goldfish. Impulse buy at the checkout line. The same way she would sometimes buy a candy bar, or a trashy magazine. Two fish, a tank, a filter, fish flakes, pink pebbles, seaweed plants, a castle, a plastic diving man, a Jacques Costeau. She wondered what they would do if she stroked their glittering scales with the pads of her fingers.
Weeks later she was out running errands. She was buying food for herself and for the cats and the fish and the hamster and the rabbits. When she got to the dairy section, she thought, how silly. How silly to spend money when there are creatures that will give these things to you for free.
She bought a full-grown chicken and a couple of chicks. She named the chicken Pokey. “Little Poke,” she said. “Hey there, Pokey-Partner.”
She put the chicken in a coop in the yard and the chicks under heat lamps in the living room. Their yellow feathers glowed under the hot red lights. She cupped a chick in her hands and said, “What a lovely fluff. Fluffy baby.”
Then, of course: a cow for the milk. A couple horses, because, why not?
To the horses, she said: “Beautiful. Perfect,” and she ran her palm over their wet velvet noses, kissed the wide hard plane of their foreheads.
Birds: lovebirds, parrot, parakeets. She gave them their own room. “This is for the birds!” she punned. Soon, she joked to no one in particular, she would need an ark. But, she laughed, there were sometimes more and sometimes less than two of every kind.
But when she fell asleep at night, she thought: this is not what I want. How have I strayed so far from what I want?
What she really wanted was to lock herself inside a cage. For someone to feed her, bathe her, pet her, brush her. She wanted someone to make up nicknames for her, call her sweet diminutives, to hold her, tightly, so tightly she could not breathe, and tell her that she was beautiful, perfect, perfect; that she was the best thing in the whole world, the only thing, and she wanted to go limp in that warm embrace, to know nothing except the sound of a soft voice singing her praises, unintelligible words of comfort, murmurs of endless, boundless love.
About the Author:
Jillian Jackson is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at Boston University, where she received the Florence Engel Randall Graduate Fiction Award. She’s also the recipient of a St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Emerging Artist Grant. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly and Misadventures Magazine.
This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith.
Image Credit: © Vadim Gnidash – stock.adobe.com
We’re pleased to be participating in an AWP 2017 offsite reading with F(r)iction, Sibling Rivalry Press, and Upper River Boot Books. The event will be at Bar Louie, located at 701 7th St NW (just a few-minute walk from the convention center). Event starts at 8:00pm. No cover charge, and the first 50 people in the door get free drink tickets. Find the event on Facebook and share it with your friends.
Readers for Conium Press are:
- Maryse Meijer, reading from “Her Blood,” published in The Conium Review: Vol. 5.
- Melissa Reddish, reading an excerpt from her novella-in-flashes, Girl & Flame, published by Conium Press in 2016.
- Kate Garklavs, reading her flash fiction, “In Memoriam: Lot 69097,” winner of our 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith.
The Conium Review‘s outreach coordinator, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, will also be reading from her Sibling Rivalry Press chapbook, Adventures in Property Management. Readers for the other presses include David Abrams, Amie Whittemore, Ben Janse, Joy Baglio, Michelle Lin, Kazumi Chin, Kai Carlson-Wee, Anders Carlson-Wee, and Geffrey Davis.
We hope you can make it, and stop by The Conium Review‘s AWP bookfair table: 548-T.
The house was a three-bedroom with a square backyard, one short flight of stairs descending to the basement and a second leading to the upper floor. The living room was drafty, so she caulked along the window frames. The garage had mice, so he bought traps—the ones with the sticky paper that resulted in a slower death for the struggling rodents, but which spared him the sight of any blood. They performed these tasks with cheerful efficiency. They were goal-oriented people. “Thing-doers,” she liked to say at those first, early parties where they were the only married couple, where they spoke in triumphant first-person plurals about their home improvement projects. They were people who got things done.
He was the first one to notice the extra step, stumbling over it on his way to the kitchen one morning. His feet recognized it before his brain. He had to go back and count: four, five, six. He wondered if he was losing his mind. The past month had been stressful. Their sickly newborn had spent the first week of its life inside a lighted box at the hospital like a rare museum artifact. Then it came home, it became a he, a living creature to dote on and fret over and sometimes secretly despise as they rushed to and from his crib, dead-eyed with exhaustion.
But the staircase to the second floor continued to grow. Up to eleven steps by the time his mother visited and informed them that they did not have the baby on a schedule—the baby had them on a schedule. She didn’t mention the elongated staircase, though his wife had embraced the anomaly with enthusiasm, marching up and down the steps with a five-pound weight in either hand, determined to return to pre-baby shape in record time.
Over the years they called in experts. Carpenters, architects, structural engineers. A clairvoyant wanted to feature them on her TV show, certain they were hosting a spirit who reached out with ghostly fingers to manipulate the steps.
They stopped having friends over. It was embarrassing, trying to explain. They wanted to sell the place, but who on earth would take a house with 43 stairs? The people at her office complained when the elevator shut down, and that was only two flights.
They resolved to ignore it. It was the same strategy they offered their son when his little sister parroted his phrases. Just ignore her. She’ll get bored and go away. For a while it worked. The stairs seemed to max out. She returned to school, working toward her MBA on the company’s dime. He went part-time and learned to cook like Ina Garten—gazpacho and shrimp scampi, coconut cake on gleaming metal stands. Weekends, they rented movies, avoiding Netflix because they distrusted this growing culture of instant gratification, but also because they liked the sight of their children galloping pink-cheeked between the racks of DVDs.
Then his father died. It took something out of him. He became fussy and fearful. He obsessed over their children’s diets. On evenings she had class, she worried he wasn’t feeding them enough. She took to sneaking junk food into their backpacks. Her daughter gobbled these treats on the bus ride home each day, tonguing the traitorous cheese dust from beneath her fingernails. The packages in her son’s bag always returned unopened, yet in an act of some great cosmic injustice, he remained overweight.
The staircase began to grow again. Three, sometimes four steps a night. It curled in tight spirals. He thought of a nautilus; she, the twisted ladders of DNA. Their daughter was fond of the stairs. She had a name for each one. They could hear her greeting them as she ascended to her bedroom—“Hi Mitsy, hi Scooter, hi Phil—” her voice fading into the heights, then silenced. For their son, the stairs were the torment of gym class all over again. He begged to sleep in the first-floor study. His father worried about all the things a boy could get into. His wife told him to stop hovering and hired a team of baffled movers to maneuver her son’s bed down the 97 steps.
In the past year, she’d begun sleeping with the woman who delivered the mail. “For the free stamps,” she told her husband when asked why she’d done it. She had expected the telling to ignite something between them. Instead it only sat there like a sidestepped piece of roadkill, awaiting pick-up from the people who were paid to do that sort of thing.
They were forced to take rest stops on the journey to the second floor. Their bodies had started to protest the climb: her hips, his feet. At the midpoint, they could hear neither the stutter of video game gunfire from their son’s first-floor bedroom, nor the shrieked Japanese of their daughter’s Anime shows upstairs. There was only the house—an orchestra of shudders—and their own frail voices as they pitched ideas, the same ones every night.
They could install an elevator.
They could move, permanently, downstairs.
They could take the financial blow and abandon the house.
But by the time they reached the second floor, aching and sweaty, it was all they could do to collapse into bed.
Lighting bolts cut through his dreams. She saw an endless snake of roller coaster tracks, writhing through a fiery sky. When the scene morphed and they found themselves teetering at the top of the stairs, it was not always clear whether they were dreaming or not—for if it was a dream, it was so lifelike that when she sprang over the railings and began to free fall, when he dove headfirst from the topmost step, there was the perfect crystallized panic, followed by the gut-swooping relief, of having relinquished oneself to an irrevocable mistake.
About the Author:
Tessa Yang is an MFA candidate at Indiana University where she serves as the Associate Editor of Indiana Review. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clockhouse, The Writing Disorder, and Lunch Ticket. Her short story “Runners” was a finalist for The Cossack Review’s October Prize and will appear in Issue 7. When not reading and writing, Tessa enjoys playing Frisbee and counting down the remaining days until next year’s Shark Week. Follow her on Twitter: @ThePtessadactyl.
This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith.
Image Credit: © pylypchuk25 – stock.adobe.com
James R. Gapinski has a new flash fiction, “The Devil’s Mark,” published in the Winter 2017 issue of Psychopomp Magazine. You can read it here.
James is the managing editor of The Conium Review and associate faculty at Ashford University. His work has also appeared in The Collapsar, NANO Fiction, Word Riot, and other places.