Technically, This is Sudden Fiction

The following post is a fictional narrative, inspired by the photo below. At 617 words, it is considered Sudden Fiction – a shorter form of the Flash Fiction genre. Comments and criticism (hopefully, constructive) are welcomed.

My shrink might as well be an Angel of Death – and not the merciful kind.

This stupid exercise – another curse in the technological advances of medicine – was supposed to curb my enthusiasm for cutting myself with sharp-edged objects.

Fatal mistake, Dr. Reaper.

Eyes downcast on my raggedy, unpolished toes, I contemplate whether or not I can brave – and bear – another look at the sad, holographic, representation of self standing before me.

I should have listened to myself. How many times have I lamented that same sentiment, while standing in the holocaustal aftermath of second-guessed decisions? You’d think I would have learned by now.

As I doffed my frumpy clothing, and donned the gossamer chamber gown – not yet an hour ago – Dr. Reaper assured me that I was making a valid choice. One look into the Spectral Reflector, and I would clearly see that I was so much more than my various, paralyzing, mental afflictions. I would see in myself what he saw in me, what my husband saw in me: some mystical creature with the endless potential for acute mental clarity.

I’d known others who had braved this dark cavity of hidden truth, and come out the other side better for it. They spoke of beauty, with intoxicating confidence. They had overcome. I was foolish enough to believe that I could prevail, as well.

A single tear slides down my cheek, splashing the shallow ocher grout between expensive, carefully broken, cerulean saltillo tiles – no doubt chosen to reinforce the supposed opulence to be found in mental salvation.

Auburn curls suddenly break loose from the restraint of their imprisoning barrette, softly grazing the thumb of my left hand; a hand protectively cradling my now sodden face. An imaginary face. A well-practiced facade for… for what? Little more than misted lunacy?

The cool, filtered air of the chamber blows delicately across my uncomfortably naked skin. The goose flesh creeping up my spine a tingling reminder that I am, I think, real.

I know that I must look again. (Much like goose-necking near a car accident.) I have to confirm that which I have known to be true all along… that without the frenzied madness of my psychosis, I truly don’t exist.

The light of the Spectral Reflector dances like the fantastically calming waves that ripple around a pebble tossed in the serene waters of a pool; but its iridescent beauty cannot belie my darkest of inner truths.

One more cossetting sigh. One more moment to deny.

I drop my left hand – slowly – from my eyes, and reluctantly face the reflection standing before me.

This magical machine – built to strip away all faults, and show us only the truest parts of our selves – mirrors not the keen eyes and brightly glowing smile I was promised: only the pallid shadows of vapor, and the chill of empty space.

I reach toward my phantom counterpart, and she reaches back. Our fingertips nearly connect… but the fog flutters away at the hint of my touch. I frighten even my ghostly self, it would seem.

Dr. Reaper’s voice, loud and startling, reverberates from a tiny speaker in the wall, “Have you had ample time to look? Are you ready to speak of the enchanting vision you have seen?”

I whisper back, with a heavy threaded knot in my throat, “Yes.”

“Ah, good! I cannot wait for you to tell!”

The door opens with a heavy thundering sound. Bright lights flood the room, and I turn towards the dressing antechamber.

Dr. Reaper will ask with hopeful anticipation that I reveal to him my hitherto unseen truth… and all I will say is that I have not yet carved deeply enough.

Ernest Hemingway Wrote Flash Fiction?!

While flipping through the Classifieds in Poets & Writers magazine recently, I skimmed over the words “Flash Fiction” in the “Call for Manuscripts” ads too many times to count; and found myself rolling my eyes as I sighed with weighted sarcasm.

As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for more than twenty years (most of them in call centers), I have had plenty of exposure to an up and coming younger generation that has lost the art of conversation (communication in general, really); and – due to our fascination with the brevity of social media – has the attention span of a gnat. (And let’s be honest, sometimes the gnats are a more focused audience.)

I couldn’t help thinking that “Flash Fiction” was simply a way of granting writers the lazy permission to call pieces that have less than 280 characters “stories.” (Damn you, Twitter!)

However, after a few moments of rather indulgent fury – and being the quintessential over-thinker – I realized that I may in fact be stereotyping based on my own limited experience. Paused in a calmer state of rational thought, I also acknowledged that I really had no idea what the term “Flash Fiction” truly meant. So I busted out the laptop, and asked the omnipotent internet for an answer.

I read several articles from different sources, but liked the article I found on reedsyblog best. In part, because it offered a downloadable word count cheat sheet that I found entertaining. (Though I laughed out loud when I read “… help create stories that are free from plot or pacing issues that can exhaust readers.” Clearly, they are not fans of Stephen King’s early novels. Which, by the way, I find fascinating.)

The first paragraph of the reedsyblog article says:

Flash fiction is a medium of brief and enclosed stories. Its average word count ranges anywhere from five to 1,500 words, but the consensus is that the maximum tops out at 2,000.

And on the cheat sheet, it specifically states ⚡Flash fiction: up to 1,500 – with a five-hundred count word gap between the 1,500 word maximum, and the 2,000 word minimum for short stories. Po – tay – toh: Pa – tah – toh, I suppose.

The article also offers a brief look at some of Ernest Hemingway’s “micro-stories”; references well-known works in “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” and “Aesop’s Fables”; and gives shout-out honorable mentions to other prolific writers.

Conclusion? Shorter works can, in fact, be art.

I am no Ernest Hemingway

The reason that I am rambling on about short fiction is because I was considering giving it a go today.

As someone who rarely writes (or speaks, for that matter) with brevity, shorter pieces present a difficult challenge for me. And lately, I’ve been in an I shall overcome type of mood.

In addition, I glanced at the 365 days of writing prompts from The Daily Post at WordPress this morning (which you can download here), and read this:

July 14
Opposite day
If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I normally write non-fiction (as you, Dear Reader, well know); so my first assignment for today is to post a photo.

What’s haunting about the “Opposite Day” suggestion is that I am a very visual writer. I far prefer having to write a story about an image over having to write one from a verbal and/or written prompt.

Add it all up, and you get this:

Poets & Writers Classifieds Frustration + Omnipotent Internet Inquiry + WordPress Writing Prompt + Image = Dare to Attempt a Flash Fiction Piece

Clearly, the universe is mocking me; and I (albeit, hesitantly) accept the challenge!

Stay tuned for a Flash Fiction piece based on the image above… though I can promise you, Dear Reader, that I am no Ernest Hemingway.

Dear Readers,

I know what this looks like. Good Lord, that daffy broad went and nuked her site again. In the most literal sense – past posts have been removed, color scheme has changed, site identification/title has been deemed irrelevant, custom header image has been revised – you would be right… but this time around is different, I assure you; so please, let me try to explain.

Have you ever heard anyone say, Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it? It’s an old proverb that’s tossed around quite a lot; and I’d never really understood it.

In fact, my gut reaction to hearing such “nonsense” had always been, Why in the holy hell would I not want to receive what I’ve wished for?

I was working under the questionable assumption that wishes were the equalivent of best intentions. I.e. I wish for happiness, health, comfort, etc. – and that having them granted was an inherently good thing.

But then, about a year ago, I heard an Anonymous gentleman take this proverb one step further. He said, “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it… and not always in the way you had hoped.”

Honestly? My mind was blown. All of a sudden, an old saw that I considered to be downright stupid, made total and complete sense.

At the time, my brother’s death was still a raw, gaping, open wound. (Still is, if I’m being completely forthright.) And as soon as I heard that gentleman say what he did, I thought, Wow. We asked for my brother’s pain and suffering to end. He’s no longer in pain. He’s no longer suffering. But, the boy is dead.

All of the prayers that had been sent into the universe on my younger brother’s behalf had been answered. We just never considered the fact that death was a viable solution. (I mean, how much more of a final end to anything is there?)

I was stricken with renewed grief, unbearable guilt, and paralyzing fear.

Light Bulb!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak would have a paralyzing effect on my already delicate inability to make decisions.

Subconsciously, I began to worry that I could ask for the right thing at the wrong time (say when the universe was ovulating, and therefore, terribly moody), and end up with a catastrophic answer to a well-intentioned inquiry.

I stopped praying. I stopped analyzing. I stopped asking. I got stuck.

I found my way back to the path of least resistance. I started pointing fingers, and assigning blame.

Instead of trying to move forward, I fell back into the past. Old fears and bygone hurts resurfaced; and before I knew it, they had taken over my already limited world view.

In response to the fear of being without a pay check (even though we’re doing okay), I took the first employment offer that came my way. An offer that wasn’t in my field. An offer I didn’t really want. But, I threw myself into it because that’s all I’d been able to do.

My life – since hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak (and I say that without assignment of blame) – had once again become an exercise in survival, as opposed to one being lived.

Mitchell saw it. My friends saw it. They all warned me that I was spiraling out, and dangerously close to losing my sh*t… because all they were reading in my writing was pain, despair, loneliness, and grief.

I had foolishly forgotten that life is so much more than the sum of our fears… and did not see that my addictions were actively working to reclaim their tyrannous throne.

Thankfully, the universe stepped in when I needed her most; and not in a catastrophic way.

On Friday evening, my mother-in-law (who never calls me, because I don’t ever pick up) called… and in a moment of rare bravery, I answered the phone.

We didn’t speak for long, but we used those brief moments wisely. We shared our concerns about my husband’s health, and my own.

She offered a way out from under the job that was causing my crippling anxiety, and the consequent breakdown in sanity. My husband and I – albeit, hesitantly – decided to take it.

With the self-imposed weight of the world off my shoulders, I started to examine other parts of my life that were causing undue stress, and the way I was approaching this blog – like a menacing project – was one of those parts.

Project: An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

Oxford Dictionary

I started reading the posts, and realized that I was writing for all the wrong reasons.

When you work in Exceptional (Special) Education, you learn that children stand apart from their diagnoses: Down’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, etc.

These various afflictions are but a small part of a much larger whole. Diagnoses are labels. Labels imply limits. And if my kids have taught me anything, it’s that individuals are limitless.

I needed not to start over, but to shift my perception.

Yes, I am an alcoholic and an addict. Yes, I am a Borderline. Yes, I am unemployed. Yes, I sometimes fail to meet expectations (mine, and those of others). However, these things do not define the whole of who I am.

I am not a writer because of these things, but in spite of them.

So I decided to remove the subtitle – formerly The Absurd Misadventures of a Borderline – because I felt it imposed limits on who I am, and what I sensed it was appropriate to write about.

I need for this blog to reflect all of me, instead of only a part – a part that is often dark and full of miserable despondency. The part that assigns blame, instead of taking self-accountability.

I’m not saying that the malicious harpy within won’t pound away on the keys of my laptop from time to time (She calls this “typing with purpose.” Up in the Air, anyone?), nor that she won’t show up in my posts uninvited. I’m simply saying that she’s not the only one allowed at the helm of this crazy ship.

Stephen King once said, “The glory of a good tale is that it is limitless and fluid…” And to that I say, Amen, Brother!

I first started writing because in doing so I often surprised myself. I found hidden answers to internal questions. I made bizarre, seemingly random connections from point A to point Z… and could follow that itinerant road map into the wilds of imagination.

Do I sometimes write to deal with anger? Absolutely.

Is anger my only emotion? Am I nothing more than a rambling, lunatic hostage to my mental afflictions? Absolutely not.

I am the whole sum of a myriad of pieces. Some are shattered, and have dangerously sharp edges; but others are silky smooth, and covered in glitter and gold… and I’d like for you, Dear Reader, to see them all.

When Mitchell saw what I had done to the blog, he looked at me, mouth agape, and said, “Again? Seriously? I give up.” But he won’t. He will cheer for me, as he always has. So I beg of you… grab a pom-pom, and shout loudly from the sidelines. Don’t give up on me yet.