Flashing Monday

Seeing a few hopeful signs. Flour is sometimes to be had. Likewise TP. Most people are wearing masks (homemade or otherwise) and keeping their distance. This is nowhere near over, so be careful and stay safe. For now, here’s a bit of free flash for a Monday. We do what we can.

 

 

Subject to Interpretation

By Richard Parks

“No, that’s not quite it.”

Kenny was doing his best, but it was also proving my point. Human beings just did not undulate. Snakes sort of did, if you overlooked the fact that their wave motion was side to side, not up and down.

“But….”

“If I bothered to plot your up and down motion as points on a graph, it might resemble a wave. Without an artificial interpolation, it is simply you popping up and down like a bloody jack-in-the-box.”

“I saw a bellydancer once—“

“So have I. While I admit a proper belly roll is an undulation, it is only part of her body and temporary and has nothing to do with locomotion. Nor is any part of our bodies above the microcosmic shaped in an undulated fashion. Neither the direct nor alternate definitions of the term fit.”

Kenny glared at me. “I think you’re being a bit too dogmatic about this.”

“The very root of the word is from the Latin, meaning ‘wave.’ Words must mean what they mean. Neither more nor less.”

“When I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“Said Humpty Dumpty before his great fall, written by a master of nonsense. When I say you did not see a belly dancer nor Elizabeth Morganstern undulate across a room, it’s because that’s physically impossible. Worse, you put a ridiculous image in the reader’s head and interfered in the willing suspension of disbelief. If you’re describing a physical action, it must comply with the laws of physics. Now, write it again.”

By this time I knew Kenny was long past regretting asking my help on his little essay, but I did try to warn him I had no gift for teaching. Writing? Sure, I’m fair to middling most days and borderline decent on others. But explaining how to do it? No. Yet in my time I’ve met people who could barely write a check but give them a lesson plan and one good example and they could turn out the next Tolstoy, or at least a fair humor columnist. It’s a different skill.

So as a tutor, I was a bust. All I could do was point out errors and bad choices and make my students do it again and again until they got it right. If only by accident and the law of averages.

Kenny typed furiously for precisely two seconds. “I quit.”

Kenny stormed out of my office and onto the landing. I’d swear I saw little storm clouds over his head. “Watch the railing—“

Too late. Kenny’s sleeve caught on a gap in the steel. He made a bad step and the next thing I knew he was sliding down the stairs on his belly. Curiously, his body really did make an almost smooth distinct up and down motion traveling from his nose to his feet as he bumped down the stairs.

Assuming he lives, I’ll gladly confess I was wrong.

-The End-

©2020 Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Fiction: Invasive Species

I’ve chosen this portrait of Sheffield the Cat to illustrate the following. The reason will be clear enough later.

Again, I’m nose down on a story issue with no brain cells to spare. So this week’s blog post will be another piece of flash titled “Invasive Species.” The trigger word was “Arboreal.” I have no one to blame, really. It was my word.

 

Invasive Species

I’m watching the pitbull from a lovely old oak just across the neighbor’s fence. Nice place—plenty of green leaves to hide behind, plenty of dry leaves to build my crèche come fall. One or two limb holes where the beetles have cleared out the wood. Perfect for hiding acorns.

I think I’ll move in.

First thing’s first, though. There’s more at stake than my comfort. I show myself. The dog’s reaction is instantaneous and gratifying. Barking the tone I know means “Squirrel!” It’s a warning. Dogs know. They evolved here. They know who doesn’t belong and what to do about it. Fortunately for me, it’s a good strong fence and most of the acorns will come down on the neighbor’s side of that fence. They, on the other hand, don’t have so much as a goldfish. I know. I got a good look yesterday at their weekly supplies. Food and foot powder, mostly. One of them must have some world-class bunions, but I digress.

The barking means I can wake up the neighborhood any time I want, and they’ll blame the dog. This location is too strategic to pass up. I bark myself, but a proper bark, a squirrel’s bark. I get answered from the south, across Cedar Street. That’ll be Lukan. He’ll relay my new position to command. I should have approval by this evening. I’m one of many, spreading across the neighborhood day by day. Soon we’ll have it covered.

Tree rats, some call us. I prefer the term “Arboreal Warrior,” because that’s what we are. The indigenes think we’re natives because we’ve been here a long time. So have dolphins. Don’t get me started on those guys. Real party animals, but we don’t want the same habitat, thank the Maker. We’re persistent, but they’re wicked smart when they want to be. Fortunately for us, they just goof off in the ocean.

Now, if only the cats would do the same. I see one now, and I freeze, down close to the branch. A big gray queen, but I don’t think she saw me. Not sure which indigene family she’s with. She could be a free agent just passing through, but I’m not that lucky. Cats have been here as long as we have, and in some ways they’re doing better. They’re not trying to displace the indigenes; they’re developing a symbiotic relationship. They get fed and cared for, and all they have to do in return is look cute.

I can do cute. I just can’t resist chewing on the cables. The indigenes are way too fond of cables.

That cat could complicate things. They’re evolved hunters, and like my people with cables, they just can’t help themselves. Plus I suspect, now that they’re established, they’re not above helping the humans out.

No matter. We will prevail. We are patient. We are resourceful.

“There are a lot more of us,” I said aloud.

“Good. More for me,” said the big gray cat, grinning behind me.

Oops.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Liminal Conversation

Since I’m currently torn between conflicts and thus not able to concentrate properly on any of them, I’m posting a piece of flash fiction in lieu of having anything to say. Except in a story.

The key word, in case there was any doubt, was “liminal.”

 

 

Liminal Conversation

Tisha was looking thoughtful. That was nearly always trouble. Then she looked at me, and I knew that the trouble had arrived. “Why does no one use the word ‘liminal’ in normal conversation?”

Dinner was over. Dishes were done. Tisha’s focus was almost scary, but once we were finished with the mundanities of the day, then a brilliant mind has the chance to wander, and hers could wander further than most. There had been a time when such questions left me bewildered, but that was mostly because I had been both smitten and impertinent enough to want to understand the thought process going on behind those haunting green eyes. After a few years together, I had learned to just go with it. “I imagine there are people who do, yet I’m not surprised there isn’t more of it. You have to admit, it’s a fairly obscure word.”

“But why then? It’s so useful.”

I blinked. “Well, in the esoteric sense of useful….”

She dismissed that. “Rubbish. I’m not talking Schrodinger’s Cat, here, where you need to express whether the cat is in a state neither alive nor dead, but in a transitional non-state. I mean mundane things, like a bridge. Liminal is the best description for a bridge I’ve ever heard.”

“Because it’s neither one piece of land nor another?”

“Silly. Because it is by definition the transition from one place to another. Once you set foot or wheel on a bridge, you are literally in a liminal state, neither here nor there.”

“And that state doesn’t change until you reach one side or the other?”

“Exactly. And let’s not forget its cousin subliminal, which I’ll admit does get used more often, but only because it expresses a concept that is defined by the liminal root. Liminal in that sense meaning ‘barely at the doors of perception.’ Subliminal is something a part of your brain recognizes and acts on, even if the conscious mind has no idea why.”

“As in just below the liminal threshold, whereas a faintly red sky near sunrise is at the liminal threshold if you recognize that it’s red.”

“You got it. Now how about a dock? A transitional state between land and sea, or rather land and ship. Completely liminal.”

“Or a shading between the colors red and pink? Neither pink nor red?”

“Absolutely liminal. Or how else would you describe the state between one breath and the next? You’re probably going to take that breath, but if you didn’t then it’s not between one breath and the next, it’s between life and death.”

“Or a bottle that just needs to lose one more bubble of air before it sinks?”

She nodded. “Really, anything of that sort. See how useful it is?”

“I do.”

Tisha was looking thoughtful again. “Do we still have that bottle of zinfandel? I could go for a glass.”

“Me too. I’ll get it.”

Three repeats of “red” and one mention of bottle. Liminal? Very useful, but subliminal? Winner, hands down.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a Puzzle

Every week (except this one, since the Library is being renovated) the Flash Fiction group meets and we read our pieces out loud, based around a “trigger” (word, not warning) from the previous week. Last week’s word was “comely.” Our group leader pronounced it differently than I always had, even though it’s an “archaic” word not used often these days.

I’ll also note that most of the writers’ work at these parties fits on a single page. Mine almost never do. Why? I’m too big a fan of dialogue to let that happen. So here is last week’s flash to illustrate my point, an almost completely dialogue driven, totally imaginary conversation on the correct pronunciation of “comely.”

It’s a Puzzle

She: “Thirteen down, six letters, ‘having a pleasant appearance.’”

He: “Comely.”

She: “It fits, but I believe it is pronounced with a long o.”

He: “Why in the world would you rhyme it with ‘homely’ when it’s the antonym of homely?”

She (shrugging): “Easier to remember. Besides, I think I’m right.”

He: (Pausing to Google): “It’s neither right nor wrong. Merriam-Webster says both are correct.”

She: “Rubbish. They can’t both be correct. One is right so the other has to be wrong. Ergo, you’re wrong.”

He: “Let’s not get Latin involved in a simple pronunciation dispute. Actually, now that I look at the definition again, I am wrong.”

She (Smirking the tiniest bit): “Told you.”

He: “I was only wrong when I said both are correct. There’s actually a third way to pronounce it, but it looks Swedish.”

She: “I’ll leave the Latin out if you’ll leave the darn Swedes out. It’s not a Swedish word.”

He: “I said it looked Swedish. I look Irish but I’m actually Italian on both sides.”

She: “You’re actually annoying on both sides. And there has to be a correct way to pronounce that word.”

He: “Nope. Merriam-Webster says all three are acceptable. You want to argue with Merriam or Webster?”

She: “I’ll argue with anyone I know is wrong.”

He: “Should have stopped after ‘anyone.’”

She: “Smartass. Besides, it’s not acceptable to me, no matter what Merriam or Webster say. They’re both wrong, and according to you I should say it as if it rhymes with cum-ly? That borders on obscene.”

He: “I’m saying I pronounce it as if it rhymes with ‘bumb-ly.’ You can pronounce it however your perverted little heart desires.”

She: “Did I ever say I love it when you talk dirty? Well, I lied. It’s pronounced ‘combly,’ and that’s all there is to it. As in comb your hair, if comb was an adverb and not a noun or verb.”

He: “Did I ever say I love it when you do crosswords, because it’s a relaxing hobby?”

She: “Not once did you say that within my hearing, so I guess you didn’t lie. That is where you were going with that little bit of business, wasn’t it?”

He: “More like a bit without the business. In the sense of a comedy bit.”

She: “Then that bit didn’t do the business. In the sense of being funny.”

He: “You’re never going to finish that puzzle at this rate, you know.”

She: “It’s never about the destination, it’s always about the journey. A good discussion beats a bad puzzle any day.”

He: “I thought we were arguing.”

She: “You also thought that word rhymed with bumbly, so what do you know?”

He: “Can we just move on? What’s the next clue, because I obviously need one.”

She: “When you’re right, you’re right. Fifteen across, nine letters: Unyielding or inflexible.”

He: “Obstinate.”

She: “That doesn’t sound right.”

He: “I’m staying out of this. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls’.”

 

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Slow Going

I’ve gotten slow.

Normally it shouldn’t take more than two weeks for a novelette. Here I am at a solid week and I still haven’t finished a short story. It’s not because I don’t know how the story goes, I do. It’s not because I’m not working on it, I am. Not really sure about the because, actually, but I’ve got my suspicions.

To begin at the beginning, I’m a member of a flash fiction writer’s group. I’ve been in writer’s groups before. Back in Mississippi we had a very successful writer’s group that produced several published stories and even one Nebula nomination (not me, alas). I hesitated about joining the local group simply because it was flash fiction, which I’ve never been a fan of, but I was curious about the local scene, so I finally put my misgivings aside and very glad I did. It’s a talented bunch and flash has its own challenges. When I think of flash, I think of anything under about 1500 words. Nuh-uh. Here we have 500. Max. Some groups go even shorter.

Start with a challenge word. We write whatever we want, but it has to include the challenge word for the week. Three of those week’s words resulted in new Yamada stories. In 500 words. Still wrapping my head around that one myself. Naturally enough, for each of those I had to leave a lot out and imply a lot more…which meant I naturally wanted to expand them. The first one sold to BCS last spring. Working on the second one now and have plans for the third, but here’s the thing–I am writing very slowly. Yes, now we’re back to the subject of this digression. Which there wouldn’t be room for in flash, but there you go.

I think flash has me in the habit of drafting more carefully. Fine in a rewrite, but it tends to hamper things on a first draft. First draft should be more like careening down a hillside on a bike with no brakes. Even so, I usually end up with a 6-7 hundred word draft that has to be cut to 500. So when I do the same thing on a story that would normally run in the 3000+ word range, that doesn’t work as well. It slows you down.

Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can make a conscious effort to fix it. But of course first I had to become conscious that there was a problem. Which I should have realized when it took me six months to write a novella when I’ve finished full novels in three. Or an entire week to only get two thousand words of what I think will be a 3500 word story, once I’ve put in all the stuff I had to leave out the first time.

Wisdom is uncertain. Learning is optional, but better than not.