Thursday, March 17, 2016

Flash Nonfiction

No safe landings in a mosh pit. But we didn’t even call them that back then.
Girls and guys, cigarettes, blue nighttime city light. The air oddly soft; this city is not a big one, and it is summer. Honey and Andy sharing salty snacks. Other Andy trying to flirt. We didn’t know he didn’t like girls.
Sitting on the wall. Flowered skirt, jean jacket, CIA t-shirt tied in a knot. Aching for someone to fall into. Sea of boys and wanting to dive.
No safe landings.

For the second time, I entered Janet Reid's flash fiction contest. Her response this time:

DLM's entry (11:50am) isn't quite a story, but I love it very much. It's got atmosphere to die for.

In fact, I felt the same way myself. And the truth is: it is NOT a story. It is the cousin of things that actually happened. It is my memory of nights spent at a dive called Hard Times, for some reason allowed to tag along with my brother. The names are the ones these kids went by.

Driving home after one of these nights, my brother meowed at a police dog in a cruiser beside us. I was in the driver's seat, the ink on my driver's license scarcely dry (I was so young), and the station wagon was filled to capacity, probably nine punks and at least one bicycle poking out the back window - "$150 dollars worth of fine-able offenses" I remember the officer telling us, annoyed, after he'd pulled me over and explained he wasn't much in the mood, on his way back from a homicide as he was.

The flowered skirt was a white eyelet prairie skirt, tiered, with tiny, vividly-blue flowers. The jacket, actually a Members Only knockoff by L'Autre Mode, was my brother's. The CIA t-shirt was real; it was pink, given to me by A Certain Uncle of mine who is a mine of stories all his own, but he likes to fancy himself a raconteur, and has not been my uncle in 22 years, so I will leave those to him to tell (and not to) for classified reasons.

The shirt was pink, by the way. This extra-cracked me up as a wannabe political liberal teen. Muzzy, vaguely nonsensical, uninformed "pinko!" jokes abounded.

We saw Ten Thousand Maniacs at Hard Times, which still seems so odd. But, more often, it was Minor Threat, White Cross, assorted local bands and would-be bands.

Honey is the one girl of whom I have much memory; blonde. Sad. She was perhaps the most abused person I had ever met - or, at least, the person whose abuse was most apparent to me. I may have been younger than she (I may not have been). She made me feel so impotently protective. She still does.

The girls used to paw my face lovingly - "How do you get your skin so pale?" We had moved from my old neighborhood a year, maybe two before. I hadn't been to the pool since. I haven't been in the sun since 1983.

The bar was used as a location in Finnegan Begin Again. Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Preston danced where my brother did, where we grubby teens used to bum cigs off each other and call out gleefully to passing traffic, because: summer nights. I am surprised to learn, Sylvia Sidney was in FBA. Huh. She was married to Bennet Cerf, whose joke books in hardcover were a major part of my early reading.

Nowadays - still standing - the place was a coffee shop, last I checked. The streets run the same ways, but seem ... much more businesslike. They pass by the ghosts of the eighties - or before. Thirty-plus years ago, they were one of the places I lived.

And the atmosphere - yes. It kind of was to die for, Janet. But I never quite finished any story there.


Lilac Shoshani said...

Diane, I also love your flash fiction story very much! And your post is so intriguing and beautifully written, everything comes alive with your words. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into your life as a teen. Even then you had the kindest heart. <3 It must have been very scary when the officer pulled you over.

DLM said...

I laugh a little at how heartfelt your comment is, because ... really, the main upshot of those memories is the comedic mileage I have gotten out of that night I got pulled. I was so mad at my brother. But it's given me more good laughs than I can count - it's SUCH a great story.

As often as I've posted under my PUNK rocka tag, the fact is, this was actually a small part of my life. But it was so much more interesting than the other 95% back then. I was the sullen and unconfident kid at the preppy school who didn't want to be associated with its reputation. I was better off than the people in this story, and felt guilt about it - and resentment, too. I wanted to be cool, not privileged and boring. But that boredom was comfort. It *was* the privilege I still enjoy to this day.

The main reason I went that direction - even *knowing* it wasn't a story - is that I wanted to vary widely from my previous flash. I recently linked the piece I did on Abraham and Isaac, and my debut with Janet was the Penelope/Odysseus piece. There are other things I can see using for flash-spiration, but last week's prompt words just dropped me straight in that memory.

Jeff said...

Whether or not it's a "story" is a judgment I'll leave to others. But it is a poem.

DLM said...

Hi, Jeff! You are right - yes, a poem. And who should know better?

Jeff said...

I really do love it. I keep a Word doc of poems people post online so I can read and enjoy them later; hope you don't mind if I add this to it.

After I posted my comment last night, I asked myself: What if someone demanded that I defend this as a poem? It was fun to think through my answer today. The "prose poem" is easy to do badly, but yours is the real deal: deliberate formal decisions (those short sentences, a rhythm with a purpose behind it, wordplay at the end there); an unmistakable sense of place and time (which hits home for me personally); a deliberate concision—call it "poetic restraint"—in which you're forced to make every word count; and ambiguity, which can really make a poem memorable and unsettling.

DLM said...

Jeff, I am immensely flattered - thank you.

But if you tell me you were in Richmond in 1984, I might have to confess there is a 91% likelihood I probably crushed on you.

Janet Reid's flash fiction contests overwhelmed me (well, still do) to the extent that for the years I've been reading her I've never entered before this month. I still can't even read every entry; because I really "go there" when I read anything, the lightning world-building give me jet lag in two minutes flat.

But the discipline of the form is wonderful. I find it FREEING to have such a tiny space to work with. (Must be because I can't fall into my research ...)

Thank you so much and yes, of course, please keep a copy and enjoy. That's all we write *for*, right?

Jeff said...

Ha! No, not Richmond, but New Jersey, where my desperate attempts to be cool peaked around 1987. It's been all downhill since then...

Usually I write only tangentially about myself (if I write about myself at all), but lately I've been trying to take those ancient '80s experiences and turn them into something—both the nerdy, hunched-in-front-of-the-computer years, and the later trying-to-be-cool-at-New-Wave-concerts phase. Your poem suggests to me that I may be overthinking things—that I'm failing to get the atmosphere I want because I'm focusing too hard on the wrong in addition to enjoying a good read, I'm also grateful to you for showing me something I can be doing better.