Short fiction? Flash fiction? Micro fiction? Sudden fiction? Quick fiction? Nano fiction? Hint fiction? It’s like naming a baby. What am I to call these experiments in story, barely more than a few short paragraphs long, that can, when well written, say so much? I rather like the term ‘hint fiction’ because very short stories are more suggestive than prescriptive. They are distinct because of their length, but are also unstructured. They defy, thankfully, any ‘rules’ about how to write them. Maybe they are ‘unaffected fictions’ although the form demands the careful attention of both writer and the reader.
Perhaps their mystery is what attracts me?
Before I offer three of my ‘hint fictions’ I’d like to quote from Robert Shapard’s brief introduction to a special section of World Literature Today, ‘The Remarkable Reinvention of Very Short Fiction’:
If you are new to reading flashes and micros, be warned, they are so short they are easy to dismiss. Grace Paley said they “should be read like a poem, that is, slowly”- and if you find one particularly troubling, or to your liking, one of the pleasures of very short fiction is that it takes only a moment to read and reflect.
A friend recently advised me to, ‘let each work choose its own form, usually you won’t know (poem, prose, prose poem) until you’re at the editing stage.’ I agree with him, but I like to play with and explore different forms. It’s like trying on different garments. Poets experiment with new forms all the time, it seems a pity to me that some fiction writers get stuck in a genre. I was stuck in a career for over thirty years so I’m enjoying playing with different short story forms. What do you think? Short or long form stories? Hint fiction, flash fiction or prose poetry? Does it matter?
She could see the space around an object, the brief halt that preceded the next step, the lull before wing lift. She heard the beat between the notes and the silence that encircled every utterance.
She tried and failed to teach him. ‘Trust’, she said, ‘the pattern and the void, you’ll see that the world is cast from nothing.’ He looked and saw people walking along the street, gulls thieving pieces of bread, and heard only the sound of her voice saying, over and over, ‘how can you miss them, the spaces, the pauses, the silence?’ but he did not know how to listen to silence.
A LONG REIN
Sometimes she felt braided, like a rope, twisting and turning on herself, knotted but never secure.
She decided to learn to weave, set up a studio, bought a loom but in the end felt she was only imitating the mystery of warp and weft, that their constraint mocked her.
Finally, she unravelled the paradox of rope; when confident, rope curbs a parcel, submits the largest vessel to a wharf, fastens delicate veins with a simple hitch. Diffidence was discarded cords that tangled and snarled at people’s ankles.
She started running. After months of training she became thin, lithe, muscular, like a length of corded nylon.
POSTCARD FROM ARRAS
For Reginald Leslie Thomas, 1894-1966
In 1916 he wrote, ‘Dear Mother, I am still in the best of health,’ on the back of a postcard from Arras. On the front, grey and black buildings were consumed by salmon pink flames. He ended the note with, ‘Your Loving Son’.
When I was three, I’d sit on his lap and take small, cool sips from his glass of beer. He taught me how to wash a car, how to stand, listen, wait and never join an argument unless necessary. I usually fail that last lesson.
Years after his death he appeared in a dream, waiting sleepless and reassuring in a darkened lounge for a prowler who wanted to steal ornaments from the mantel above our fireplace.
I cannot write of his war; I cannot comprehend the sound of a gun fired at another human. I cannot fathom his sacrifice because sacrifice excludes anger and I am angry that his blameless self was unknown to me. War was the prowler who bequeathed to me a gentle, tired, beloved grandfather who could not speak the unspeakable, whose unspeakable war haunts us still.