Each of the fiction pieces in this issue takes a moment, a decision point, and unspools for us the threads—emotional, physical, spiritual—that have led the main characters to it. In keeping with what we are noticing these days among many people around us, be they writers or not, these writers pulling in, diving deep into specific moments, and taking the time to reflect on them.
As evidence of the spinning of a moral compass pointing to Moments of Being, as Virginia Woolf used the term, we first offer “The Drama Room” by the much-published author Elizabeth Searle. Here is an excerpt from the opening of this riveting tale of a teenaged girl who falls in love with a boy who is gay and then flashes forward years later to his death. An excerpt from the beginning: 1. Former Fantasticks. At silent 6AM, by the dawn’s early laptop light, I find them again: our stars. Onscreen, online– two fellow Thespians; two former Fantasticks. Blasts from my past. A boy and girl, then. And see, I’d loved, in my tortured teen way, both of them. I feel my fingers shake. Even now, in listless locked-down May of 2020, the morning air is suddenly charged with that old expectant backstage hush . . .
From Douglas Cole, in “The Traveler,” we experience the haunting, lyrical tale of a young woman escaping her past after her drug dealer father is sentenced to prison. Cole, a Washington State author of six poetry collections and an award-winning novel, blends genres to infuse suspense with prose poetry. An excerpt: Riding home in the bus she was aware of the loss of time. Moments, even in the brief span of time from the moment at which she left the courthouse to the moment she got on the bus, were passing around her and through her, rich, complicated symphonies of individual faces and wind and changes in the thin horsetail clouds up above in the sky, conversations, radio voices and music coming from cars, engine drones and laughter, of which for long segments she was not even aware. And there was no getting them back and no way of knowing just what had been lost.
Brenda Salinas Baker’s piece, “Desserts on a Tray,” is more expansive, but nevertheless begins at a precise moment, when a young woman must decide whether to attend the funeral of her lover’s wife. In just a few pages full of dry irony, crafted as a Mexican re-imagining of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Salinas Baker, an MFA student, renders a deft critique of Mexican high-society and its expectations of young women. With this beginning, she draws us right in: The morning of the funeral, I circled my childhood bedroom in a terry cloth robe. Pacing between the closet and the bedspread, I added and subtracted touches on two perfect outfits. One launched my escape, the other cinched my fate.
In “This Mortal Coil,” Angelo D’Amato, a first grade teacher working on his second MFA, brings us fully into a moment as well. This time, it is the baptism of a baby, gurgling, reaching for the drops and the light, while around him his young parents and the priest each struggle with their ambivalences, their fears, and their faith. The story is one of resignation, of people in patterns they yearn to break but cannot; but it is also, through the character of the child, one of hope. As the choir brings the psalm to life, Fr. Daniel taps one finger on the armrest, in time to the beat of his own impatience. Seeing Samuel squirm in Stacy’s arms, and seeing Stacy rock him, ever so slightly, and seeing Joseph tap his fingers and shift his feet and adjust his tie and look everywhere but at Stacy and Samuel as the choir approaches the refrain… Really, it makes him more sad than impatient. He had held and baptized both of them eighteen years ago; he had confirmed both of them; he had spoken to both of them about their choice in colleges, a little over a year-and-a-half ago; and now this baby, when Joseph is still a boy, and Stacy still a girl. Her face is pale, while Samuel’s glows pink.
With “The Gift,” Shamae Budd, from Utah, offers us a searing slice of tragic beauty as a man—lonely, far from his family, driving a truck down a long, a monotonous road—encounters a fragile young antelope. The imagery is visceral, the contrast between this frail, new life and the massive, metal truck devastating. One reads the piece with one’s heart in one’s throat. An excerpt from a few paragraphs in: For a few heartbeats, hands at the wheel, he remembered what it felt like to be at the beginning of life—before there had been time for things to go wrong. He remembered what it was like to hold his first baby, so impossibly small, so new—remembered the velvety skin and the way his new baby smelled: sweet, like freshly laundered sheets, only better. What had happened in the years between that moment and this one? Where had it all gone?
In the “The Way to the River” by Nance Van Winckel, another Washington State author and an award-winning author of nine poetry collections, we encounter an experimental, ironic story intertwining multiple points of view around an image more than a plot even as her characters reveal themselves. Excerpt from the beginning: People without an app need a map, and Lynn just gave away her last map. Its legend shows a hotdog for a restaurant and a bed for a hotel. The map was in her glove box where she’d never in her life kept a glove.
She’d gone to Valley Hardware, intent on buying what apparently was her town’s last outdoor chaise lounge. She’d called around. The last one in stock, the last month of summer in what was probably the last year of her mother’s life.
Finally, in “Something Resembling Faith” by Benjamin Selesnick, a boy faces a possible escape from his abusive father in a harrowing tale immersing us in a child’s point of view. Excerpt: Reflections of the ceiling fan were captured in the shattered glass beneath the window frame. Dad was in the middle of the room holding a saucer identical to the one he’d just thrown on the floor. Mom was barely inside the door frame, her legs were spread wide. She looked domineering, even though she was without a projectile. The nightstand next to the bed was toppled over, an array of magazines lay cozily on the hardwood floor, a closed tube of lipstick beside them.
Each of these fine authors delves deeply into those rare moments that could lead us to escape our pasts or be held captive to what has been. We invite you to join us in them.
Lee Hope & Anjali Mitter Duva