Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

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              As I’ve gotten older, busier, and generally more stressed, I’ve noticed something sad about myself: I seldom read for fun anymore. When I was a growing up in the truly riveting hubbub of Morro Bay, California I would make a conscious effort to sit myself down and read a gosh darn novel or even just a few short stories every week. Eventually I didn’t even have to try because reading was the most wonderful thing I could be doing. There was nothing like getting lost in someone else’s world for a few hours and, to be honest, that’s still one of the most incredible things life can offer us. When I reached college, however, I found my time increasingly taken up by technical readings for my courses in anthropology, philosophy, or whatever I was taking that semester. And let me tell you, after a week of reading Marxist theory and critiques of cultural ecology, nothing and I mean nothing sounded less appealing than sitting down with and trying to actually understand the copy of Infinite Jest that’s currently collecting dust on my book shelf. And after several months of doggedly ignoring all the books I’d been collecting, I finally realized something: I would have to force myself to read for fun or face the reality that I would only be reading technical pieces for the rest of my life. And I was not cool with the latter option.

              The first strategy I utilized to make myself read for fun was by taking an English course. English courses are a lot of work and anyone who tells you differently is wrong and probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But in spite of the work (or maybe because of it), English courses are also unbelievably rewarding. English 27: Introduction to the Study of Fiction allowed me to read seven incredible novels that I would never have picked up otherwise (as someone who reads mostly science fiction it was a trip to actually have to sit down and read Heart of Darkness for a grade but you know what it was great). I got to read amazing books for units! And write about them, which is a reward in and of itself. It was so amazing to be able to read and critically engage with literature that I never would have looked at before. Had I not taken that English course, I wouldn’t have even discovered how much I love Thomas Pynchon. So that particular experiment in forcing myself to read non-technical writings was a complete success. But alas, the summer rolled around and with it the time in which I could take classes outside of my major came to an end, so I had to think of strategy number two.

              Strategy number two was less about clever tactical course-planning and more about brute force. Amidst the balmy days of summer, my favorite author published an 880 page hard science fiction space odyssey and I vowed to finish it that summer in addition to about five other books that were burning a hole in my bookcase. So the strategy was basically to utilize my summer months to read as many books concurrently as I possibly could. I failed. But, boy, did I try. I got through probably about seven hundred pages of literature by the time summer ended just by sheer force of will, but it took me until the end of winter break that same year to finish the space odyssey. But that winter break introduced me to strategy number three: power reading.

              My first experience with power reading was with Camus’s The Stranger. If you aren’t familiar with that particular title, all you really need to know is that The Stranger isn’t that long. Maybe 160 pages, tops. One night after Christmas, I decided to read The Stranger but given my track record with actually finishing the books I start I knew that I needed to finish it all in one sitting or I wouldn’t finish it at all. So that’s what I did. It took me two and a half hours of non-stop reading but I did it. And it felt amazing. And so, I decided to try this tactic with something a little longer over spring break. (In between winter and spring break I didn’t read a single book; it was really sad.) Over the break, I went on vacation to a place with no Internet and I attribute this in part to the fact that I finished a 660 page book in four days. I was a well-oiled reading machine. I don’t think I had ever read anything as quickly and as thoroughly in my entire life. This too, is more an exercise in brute force rather than in self-control and cleverness. As of right now, however, power reading appears to be my most successful tactic for dealing with the fact that during the school year I have less and less time and drive to read for fun.

              Other strategies I’ve not tried myself but have seen others successfully employ include but are not limited to: having a book to read on your breaks at work, reading books of short stories, reading just before bed (I have tried this and fall asleep every time but other people do not), joining a literary journal (I actually do this one but some people don’t consider work fun for some reason), read poems, attempt to substitute Netflix with books at least sometimes, and many, many more!

              And perhaps this issue isn’t as universal as I feel it must be given my complete and utter lack of interest in staring at more pages full of words after spending my week doing just that, but maybe someone somewhere is struggling with this is very same thing. And if you are, hi there. I am here for you. Reading is the best and it is possible to find time to actually finish books, it just might take more effort than you’re used to. But stick with it because one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to get lost, at least for a little while, inside someone else’s reality and to learn from it.

Jackie Nichols, BFR Staff

To almost all pedestrians, the cobblestone streets were most charming in the lamplight of evening. They were reminiscent of grander cities, or of grander times for the once triumphant city of Sarajevo. But, for Ethan, the darkness could not be illuminated by wane streetlights, and searching for street names and signs of the bus terminal was next to impossible. He used his limited Bosnian vocabulary to try and tell passersby that he was looking for the bus station, but it was useless. This town was not a common tourist destination and the locals were not accustomed to speaking with someone who spoke so poorly. He rushed along the many side streets and, after a number of ups and downs, reached his destination in a huff. He showed the attendant his ticket and boarded the bus.

The bus was mostly empty, and Ethan continued to the back where there was a girl, about his age. He put his coat and carry-on in the seat adjacent, and set his luggage on the shelf overhead. He settled into his seat, and closed his eyes. The air from the vents was cold but he began to fall asleep. The bus driver made some announcements in Bosnian, and the sudden motion of the bus’s departure jolted him awake. He checked his phone again, and saw that the bus had wi-fi. He connected to it and, checking his messages, found he had missed five. Two were from his mom. The first: “Hi Ethan, just wanted to let you know that your dad is in intensive care now. The doctors are doing what they can, but we don’t know much yet.” The second said: “Your father is in an induced coma and we are awaiting further news from the doctors. Hope you are travelling safely. Love you.” Ethan put down his phone. Outside his window the battered streets of Sarajevo passed by. He saw families inside their homes and couples out on the sidewalks.

He thought about what he would have been doing at home, three months ago. His mom would have been making dinner around this time, probably would have asked him to run to the store for the scallions she forgot. And then there was his dad. His dad would be in his recliner, staring gravely at a half-filled crossword. Ethan would hear the intermittent sighs and perplexed mumbles from his own spot in front of the TV, volume half way. He would turn over some conversation starters in his head. “Hey dad, want some help?” No, too belittling. Besides, he had to go get scallions.

He checked his phone again, twenty more minutes on the bus. He looked out the window again, and couldn’t help thinking about his family at that very moment, so far away, in a too brightly lit hospital hallway. Heels, pens, and keyboards clicking loudly, reverberating off the linoleum. They were probably crowded together in the stiff chairs, his mother with a box of Kleenex and cup of coffee idly in her hands. He thought of his dad lying in a room, alone, silent, except for the beeping of the heart monitor and fan of the air conditioner. He wished he could reach out and shake him awake.

He was suddenly alarmed by a shove. The girl adjacent to him was trying to get something from her bag. He looked at her with a surprised look and she apologized. He mumbled some words of reproach to her.

“Oh, you are American?” she replied.

“Yes,” he said.

“Sorry to bother, but I was thinking if you had a light,” she said.

It took him a moment to realize she was holding a cigarette and wanted a lighter. “Oh, no. I don’t smoke. Sorry.”

“It is nothing,” she said and waved her hand. She turned around and continued digging in her bag. A sudden bump in the road caused some articles to fall from her lap. Ethan reached down and gathered the things at his feet. He picked up a worn photo of a small girl in the arms of her father. They were standing in front of a brightly graffitied wall. He realized he was staring and quickly handed her her things.

“Thank you.” She put the things back in her purse and settled in her seat. “So, where are you going?” she asked.

Ethan sighed to himself, wishing for silence. “Home, to the U.S. To St. Paul in a state called Minnesota.”

“Minnesota? Hm, I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it is very exotic, yes?”

“Not really, if you live there.” He stopped talking then and looked straight ahead, but she spoke anyhow.

“I am going home also. To a town called Grimauld in France. It is in the south and it is very beautiful there. My mother, and brother, and sister, and grandma are there. They will be very happy to see me,” she told him.

They arrived at the airport in a few minutes and Ethan collected his things and got off the bus. He walked over to the map of the airport and found his terminal. He heard someone walking towards him and the girl stood next to him, also looking at the map.

“My plane is in A. And yours?” she inquired.

“Mine is in A, too.”

“You are stopping in Paris?”

“Yeah, I have a layover there.”

“Me too. I think A is over there.” She pointed to the left. “Perhaps we are on the same plane.”

“I guess we might be.”

So the two walked in that direction and found a sign which indicated they were in the right place. They walked in the direction of an old bench by the windows overlooking the runway.

He put his things down on the floor, and she put hers there as well.

“My name is Nadine,” she said and put forth her hand.

He shook it, saying, “Hi, I’m Ethan.”

They sat on the bench, and, together, they waited.

Brittni Bertolet, BFR Staff

Bertolet 1Four of us sit on the back stoop of our cabin, at the precipice between forest and not, with the dim glow of the porch light illuminating only half faces. David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System, lays open in front of us. The cover has been stripped from its spine—exchanged between sweat-covered hands one too many times—and the yellowing pages are left loose-leafed and frail.

It is the end of the summer. A winged insect lands on exposed skin, breaks membrane, and fills itself with red and warmth.

I do not notice the mosquito until it is far too late.

Bloated with blood, it withdraws once it is satiated and retreats back to the forest behind us, beating wings to continue ceaselessly onward, leaving only a concurrent point of irritated flesh. I slap the enflamed skin and curse the pest as it flies away, vexed with these creatures for their hindrances, while the others continue to swat the space around their heads. For a moment, we do not move otherwise—the stoop a point of claimed place in which we refuse to feel intruded.

Let’s go inside. I’m getting eaten, someone finally suggests, standing up and brushing wild from the bottom of their pants. I turn to the forest one last time as a firefly fluoresces amongst the trees, lighting darkened paths and inviting us to explore. It is gone before I am entirely sure it was ever there. But now my skin is tender, scratched raw in the night, and I think of these tiny creatures—of their persistence in the wilderness, of their realness, of their distinct Otherness. I wonder if they know what I am. I wonder if they know what they are—their swift departures taking pieces of myself I can afford to lose: the sweat from my arm that now clings to hind legs, and the red warmth, which nourishes and gives it flight.

Bertolet 2

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

I have a talent for recognizing faces in the crowd while remaining a face in the crowd. They stand out more than I do in my tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts or my Frida Kahlo socks. I see the flags flying over their heads; the staff marks where our paths have crossed, and the colors mark our memories. There’s Marge from Beverly Cleary, the girl who defends R-Kelly when she’s drunk. And there’s Nick from Latin American Studies, the lacrosse player who pronounces Chile like “chili.”

I relive these experiences constantly with different people all the time. I’m the only one who recognizes the other person, but it’s not like I do anything about it. I don’t say hello or wave frantically to get their attention. But with her, I did.

 

Dorothy sits with her feet crisscrossed, her fingers interlaced in her lap, and her head bowed low. Before I approach the green bench she rests on, I see how much age has withered her. The clothes she wears—her light pink plaid shoes, dark grey slacks, white dress shirt, and the black North Face jacket—hang loosely on her. Her hair is completely white, whiter than the dress shirt she wears on a daily basis. It seemed like only a few years ago that she was the woman who protested eating hamburger after the Mad Cow epidemic hit the US, who told me when I was eight years old that I’d never be a better writer than her, and who drove both of her Volvos into two different telephone poles.

I walk slowly to the bench, the dry grass and wood chips crunching under my feet. She looks up and the sun hat shifts on her head, “Well hiya, kid!”

“Hey, Grandma. How are you?”

“I’m good. Just resting.”

“That’s good. Can I sit here?” I point to the seat next to her.

“Oh, sure.” She grabs the small purse sitting next to her and sits it on her lap. It’s a new purse that she’s used the past two years. She never opens it, but she always fidgets with its zipper.

I sit next to her and we watch the families flooding out of the dining hall. I watch their every move, hoping that one of them will help spark a conversation between us. We used to talk a lot more than we do now, but it’s been six or seven years since it happened.

“What’s… that thing over there?”

I look in the direction she’s pointing. I tell her that it’s some sort of pipeline that firefighters can use in case of an emergency. I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but she gives me a small shrug saying, I’ll take your word for it. She looks up at the sky, staring at the tops of the trees. I follow her gaze, trying to see what she’s seeing.

I flip my phone open to check the time. “My dad wants me to take you up the hill to take your meds. You almost ready to go?” I ask, predicting the answer she’s given me every time I’ve asked.

“You know, I think I’m going to sit here for a little while longer.” I nod, and we return to our silence.

For the next hour and a half, I ask her icebreaker questions that I already know the answer to. How has the weather been in Berkeley? Really… cold. Have you been going to the Happy Hours at Amy’s cabin? Yeah… Lars brings me some wine and crackers. Have you written anything new recently? Well, no. I haven’t had time. I’ve been… busy lately. (I call my Uncle Lars every night who responds, “Oh, we just watched TV.”)

She swatted an ant that was crawling up her leg. She let out a laugh, “That was huge!”

“I never knew ants could be that big!” I joke.

I was thinking of another question when she asked, “Have you seen my mom?”

I don’t let the sigh leave my chest. I know that I should tell her the truth, but what’s the point? I remember the lesson I learned at Miller’s Place, when the patients would ask the head nurse where their husbands and wives were. “I haven’t seen her around in a while. What does she look like? I’ll keep an eye out for her.”

“Oh, yeah okay.” She chooses her words painstakingly, fitting each into her narrative. She tells me how her father, a Portuguese butcher, left my great-grandmother when he found out she was older than him, how they sold produce on the side of the road, and how her mother would only smoke two cigarettes a day—once after breakfast and the other after dinner. The more she talks, the longer it takes for her to form her story. I let her struggle through it because I’ve never known much about her or her family. She never liked talking about her life, but she showed me the diaries and bundles of old envelopes she wrote in for most of her life.

I hardly recognized my dad walking down the hill. “Hey Mom.” He said, waving at her.

“Well, hi…” She nodded, trying to remember the name she gave him.

“Let’s go take your meds.”

“Oh, okay.” She struggled to get up from the bench, so I gave her my hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I whisper.

We begin the trek up the hill, stopping every five or six steps to let her catch her breath. As soon as we get to her cabin, my dad asks, “Do you know who this is?”

She looks up at me, “Well, no.”

“She’s your granddaughter.”

She looks up for the second time, “Oh!” She shines a smile up at me, and I smile down, trying to hold back my tears.

Evan Bauer, BFR Editorial Staff

In judging this year’s flash fiction contest entries, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Yasunari Kawabata, a master of the form.

Yasunari Kawabata was a Japanese writer who, in 1968, became the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. While he is likely better known for his novels, such as Snow Country and The Sound of the Mountain, Kawabata worked on short stories throughout his career. He calls these stories “Palm of the hand stories,” likely because they could fit in the palm of one’s hand. Each story often comprises only a single page, with longer ones ranging from three to five pages, yet all of them reach beyond their limited confines.

Kawabata was a master of concision; he knew exactly what to include and what to leave out. The brevity of these stories results from this careful craft. The stories contain only the necessary, and these necessary components guide the reader’s imagination in exploring what is left out of the stories.

In “Canaries,” in just over one page, we read a man’s letter to his former mistress. The affair happened long ago, and the man’s wife is now dead. All that remains of the man’s past love affairs is a pair of canaries gifted to him by his mistress, and these canaries, along with the question of what to do with them now, guide the man’s letter. Though the letter is remarkably brief, readers learn a novel’s worth of information about the man’s relationship to his wife and mistress. This effect is characteristic of Kawabata’s tight control; by attaching abstract concepts—grief, regret, the nature of memory—to something both concrete and unique—the canaries—Kawabata was able to craft an evocative story of astounding brevity that lingers in the mind far longer than the time taken to read it. The story presents a limited amount of information, but its presentation kindles the reader’s imagination, allowing the reader to explore perhaps why the man cheated, why the affair disbanded, why he let his wife care for the canaries, and so forth. It is this style of carefully selecting what to leave to the reader’s imagination, I believe, that allows Kawabata’s stories to function so powerfully while breaking from the more traditional story form of having a clear beginning, middle, and end.

With regards to concision, another aspect of note in Kawabata’s stories is his treatment of names. On the whole, characters’ names are withheld; instead they are simply “the man,” or “the innkeeper,” or “the hairdresser.” Only when the number of characters warrants the use of a name for purposes of differentiation do characters receive names. This authorial choice ties back to Kawabata’s tactic of boiling a story down to only the essentials. For example, in “Her Mother’s Eye,” the kleptomaniac nursemaid is referred to only as “the nursemaid”; a name would not be relevant, but her profession is. Similarly, the story’s innkeeper is simply “the innkeeper,” and the maid simply “the maid.” This tactic achieves two effects: it establishes the characters’ relationships to one another in few words, and it gives the characters an ephemeral, ghostlike quality. This second effect is slightly less subject to critical analysis, but there is something to the namelessness of characters that makes them simultaneously more and less memorable. It is as though each story occurs in a rolling fog, unveiling itself during a reading, then dissolving back into the fog once the page is turned. The specificity of each character’s role in a story leaves a lasting impression, but the reader’s incapability to attach this impression to a name, as though it could have been any man or innkeeper or hairdresser, gives these stories their ethereal, dreamlike quality. And this effect, I believe, is one to be admired.

While I think it can be inauspicious to try to emulate another writer’s style too closely, I find that there are a few valuable tips to be gleaned from Palm-of-the-Hand-Stories for the aspiring short fiction writer, especially in terms of flash fiction. First, when envisioning one’s story, one should consider what the absolute essentials are, and in this process, one should not be afraid to reevaluate how these essentials are determined. Things that may seem essential, such as a clear story arc or character names, may in fact not be, as can be seen in Kawabata’s stories. Having determined the essentials, one should boil down the story until only the necessities remain. Leave the story on the burner, leave and return, switch to a different burner and let it simmer, leave and return until it has been distilled into its most concise form. Once the story says the most it can in as few words as possible, then one can at last turn off the stove.

And for those who simply enjoy reading short fiction, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Palm-of-the-Hand-Stories. Savor one of Kawabata’s delicate, poetic pieces each night and let it whisk you into its foggy, dream world as you fall asleep.

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

Ernest edged out of the field and onto the bare, cracked earth. The grass rustled behind him as he left it in his wake. The stone river stretched before him; the bank on the other side, shaded by poplars, shimmered under the summer sun. He put out a foot to test the water. Hot.

Too hot, really, Ernest mused. But unavoidable. The river wavered in front of his eyes. He squinted at it, shifting his head from left to right before stepping out onto it, bare feet crying at the heat.

Better be hasty. Ernest hated this part of the season. Every year the river had to be crossed, every year it was almost too hot to bear. His feet had been used to the cool earth by the pond and the shade of the grass, but now the pond was dry again and he had to cross the river. But the first step was always the hardest.

With the first step completed, Ernest felt his confidence blossom. Oh yes, he thought. This will be my fastest year yet. The sun radiated onto the skin of his back. He could feel it drying. Better be my fastest year yet. A few more steps and he trod across a particularly blistering patch of the river. The sensation made him jump. I can’t do it. I have to turn around. It’ s too much. I’m too old. His feet were growing increasingly uncomfortable now. Ernest’s breath quickened as his muscles told him to turn back. He was itching to obey. Ernest looked up to gaze at the poplars, who were sighing sweet things to him. No. No matter. I’m almost halfway there anyway.

It was true. Ernest could almost see through the poplars to where the land dipped down to the creek bed. He could almost smell the water. His skin shivered at the thought of the cool liquid. The whisper of the grass on the approaching bank invited him to move more quickly into their embrace.

Ernest complied, feet protesting as he hastened his stride. He was nearing the opposite bank. Only fifty more steps to go, he reckoned. Once he got to the other side he would be able to rest before continuing on to his spot by the creek. He almost wept at the thought. His eyes strained against the sun.

The edge of the river was fast approaching. Record time. The river shook. The river rumbled. Ernest paused and a shadow fell over him. His feet stopped hurting. The shadow moved away.


Cathy turned around in the front seat to see what had jostled under the truck, but they were already too far away to see.

“What d’you think that was?” she asked. Marcus glanced in the rear view mirror.

“I dunno. Bullfrog maybe.”

Cathy frowned, “What was it thinking? Crossing the road like that?”

“It’s a bullfrog, Cath. It wasn’t thinking anything.”

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

I often find myself wondering why I’ve come to enjoy the things that I do. The literature that I prefer to consume occasionally has acknowledgeable intellectual or literary merit, but more often than not, it is not “capital L” literature. It’s very lowercase L. It probably has elves in it. Or spaceships. And I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I don’t know which powers-that-be decided what writing is to be valued in the modern zeitgeist, but I doubt they would approve of my choices. In my experience, the science fiction tomes that I hold so dear seldom make their way onto the shelves of classic canonical literature. There’s a strange cultural stigma surrounding the genre, the likes of which I have yet to see affect other schools of writing and their consumers in the same way. Science fiction lovers, however, are hardly the only readers to get funny looks for enjoying what they do.

It seems that no matter what one likes to consume, there will always be someone else telling them that they are incorrect for doing so. People who like sci-fi are told that there is no literary merit in their favorite genre (sometimes this is true, I won’t lie). Those who prefer to read the classics or postmodernist works are called pretentious (I have done this and I am sorry; I see the error of my ways).

And yet, although there seems to be no escaping the scorn of others when being true to your own taste, I say ignore those people who scoff at your favorite book. Don’t let others make you feel guilty or unintelligent for following your literary heart. In the long run, it’s far more fun and satisfying to accept the styles of writing that you like and roll with them than it is to consistently force yourself to consume literature that doesn’t interest you.

This being said, there is, of course, an undeniable intellectual benefit in expanding your horizons and taking in the kind of writing that you would otherwise pass by. For me this meant making myself read Jane Austen, the Brontës, and, on a particularly dark day, some James Joyce. And it’s a good thing I did too because I now know that I definitely do not like Emma but that I did enjoy Wuthering Heights. I’m still mulling over the Joyce. Go figure.

There are absolutely times in which I can feel the weight of the literary world on my shoulders, letting me know that what I’m reading doesn’t “qualify” as great writing or as something worth consuming, regardless of the intelligence or creativity that went into creating it. I choose to ignore this in favor of a more optimistic sentiment: read what you like and like what you read, regardless of who tells you not to.

Leonardo Valdez Ordoñez, BFR Staff

“Mom. I’m okay. Really,” I swung my backpack over my shoulder and closed the car door. The cold, morning mist clung to my pale skin. I could see my breath come out of my mouth. My mother’s face looked sad and tired through the car window.

“Okay, honey. Remember, when you come home, I’m still going to be at work. Either Sarah or Matt will be home,” she said. My older brother and sister both went to the community college and they had the day off. It wasn’t fair that I had to come to school.

“Fine. Bye, Mom. Love you,” I waved at her through the window and walked through the dew covered grass and through the doors to my school. The halls buzzed with the excitement of the last day of school before Christmas break. I arrived at my locker just as the bell rang. I stuffed my jacket in and took out my books for first period. The kids in the hall were beginning to disperse as they rushed to class, not wanting to be late. I ran down the hall and straight into my ninth grade Geometry class. Everyone stared as I walked in, and as soon as they saw it was me, they continued their conversations. Nobody gave me a second look.

The day went by slow. By the time it was lunch, I felt sick. I felt like throwing up and my head hurt. Deciding to ignore it, hoping it would go away, I ate my lunch in the library alone. I took out my phone and checked my email. They library was warm and cozy. The chair I sat in was hard, and the table was scratched and scuffed from years of being used. Being surrounded by shelves and shelves of books was comforting. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t mind. Ever since we moved to Washington from Florida, I had been miserable. We lived in a suburban home, and the neighborhood was supposed to be really nice, but in reality, it was dirty.

As I sat in History, I felt sicker than I had in the morning. I couldn’t pay attention to anything the teacher was saying, no matter how hard I tried. I stared out of the window, daydreaming, when the loudspeaker buzzed with static.

“Gabriel Thomas. Please report the main office at once. Gabriel Thomas. Report to the main office at once.” The entire class turned to look at me. I stood up, collected my things, and the teacher ushered me out. I ran to the office. My head hurt worse than before. I opened the door and walked in. There, talking to the principal stood two policemen. My father sat in a chair and my sister in another. My dad stared at the floor, and my sister was sobbing into his shoulder. As soon as my father saw me, he stood up and embraced me in a tight hug.

“Dad, what’s going on? What happened?” I asked. He let go of me and looked into my eyes.

“Gabe. Please sit down.” I took a seat next to my sister. She wouldn’t look at me. The policemen and the principal came over. One of the policeman knelt down next to me.

“I’m sorry, Gabriel,” he said. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and he smelled like coffee.

“What happened? Please, someone tell me!” I was frustrated.

“I’m so sorry. Your mother,” His voice broke. He coughed and tried again. I looked at my dad, his eyes were welled with tears, and he looked like he was trying not to cry.

“Your mother has died. I am so sorry,” The policeman stood up and slowly backed away. What had he just said? My heart raced, and I felt dizzy. This couldn’t be. But then, the realization struck. They all looked serious. They weren’t kidding. I didn’t notice until after I had begun to cry. I sobbed and hiccupped as my sister held me. Slowly, I slid down my seat and onto the floor.

“Gabriel, kid. I know. I know,” My father lifted me up and held me. I was gradually blacking out. The last words I heard were: “We don’t know. All we found was the body, but there was something. A slip of paper.”

******

My mother died in a river. They found her body. The morning they found her, it was cold and dreary. No wonder I had felt sick the moment I left my mom. I felt sick the moment she left me. The moment she left the world. Nobody knows what happened. The investigators thought it might have been suicide. I didn’t know what to think myself.

When they found her, a piece of paper was wedged under her tongue. When they found it, they immediately contacted my family to see if we knew what it meant. The words written on the paper in my mother’s small scrawl were barely legible, but I could tell what it said. It read:

“The beginning of the end.”

Still, three years later, I haven’t totally found out what she meant by that. I have formed bits and pieces of what I think it could mean. When I put them together, they don’t make sense. But, I will not stop until I figure out what the last thoughts of my mother were, before her last breath. I will not cease. I will only stop at the end of the end.

Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

Sci-Fi.

An abbreviation that has the power to invoke utter joy or disgust given the beholder of the topic.

I personally used to be one of the blind that discredited this genre as gimmicky and meritless. Though I appreciated the concepts and imagination, I never considered anything even faintly classified as science fiction to be “literary” or of “literary merit.”

That was until my mother put Pastoralia, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, in my lap. Tenth of December soon followed.

These anthologies had no boisterous, graphic design cover art or obsequious font, so I doubted that this was in fact science fiction.

What I like specifically about Saunders-esque science fiction is its subtlety; how the science fiction aspect of his writing does not come from blatant exhibitions of, or references to, subjects preordained as science-y.

His literary trick is best described as continuous discontinuities. For Saunders this manifests in some of his short stories in an extremely unnerving manner.

The difference is this:

In most science fiction, the reader is presented a fictional world where everything is different. It is garnished with flying cars, dinosaurs, etc. There are innumerable rules governing the world and not all of them are cohesive when put in place next to each other. How this world exactly works gets confusing because the ambiguity surrounding what is different about this world is not consistent. Too many extrapolations, additions, twists, and throw away, last minute explanations that shoddily fill in gaping plot holes. In other words what is different about the world from ours, the discontinuity, is not continuous.

In Saunders’ worlds, it is typically difficult to first perceive the slightest difference between his literary world and our own. He chooses and places perversions of the expected in a setting the reader is all too familiar and comfortable with: a world without flying cars or dinosaurs, a world that is otherwise their own. Except for the twist.

I personally prefer Saunders’ more subtle approach, but, subtlety aside, even mainstream action-centric science fiction could stand to observe his skill.

A Saunders’ twist is the discontinuity, and this discontinuity is continuously integrated into the world it inhabits, creating a new world for this fiction to take place in. It is an eerie alteration of what we know so well. Though it is not as outrageous a presentation as mainstream science fiction, it leaves much more room for metaphors and allegories, but most of all, a real fear of that world which is only a slight deviation away from our own.

Continuity is crucial to world building. But of course we all knew that.

What is even more crucial is the continuity of a discontinuity. Being meticulous about your representation and presentation of an aspect of your world that defines it and distinguishes it from “reality.”

You, as a writer, want this discontinuity so well integrated that your reader is taken aback when it surfaces, when they finish your story and are left with a discomfort,  an eeriness regarding how clear and permeating that world felt.

The staff of the Berkeley Fiction Review is pleased to announce the winners of our 19th Annual Sudden Fiction Contest!

Their work is featured in the current issue of the Berkeley Fiction Review.

Visit our Current Issue page to see a glimpse of Issue 35, or visit our Order page to purchase your own copy today!


First Place:

“The Early Departure of Cameron Bailey” by Aaron Sommers

Second Place:

“Where Have All the Boys Gone?” by Kathleen Lane

Third Place:

“5150” by Mallory McMahon

Honorable Mentions:

“Your Tragedy is Important to Us” by Ryan Habermeyer

“Vacate” by Georgia Peppé

“Ballerina” by Leidy Nallely Villarreal Salazar