My Poem was published by Poetry24

Yukon Grizzly

Yukon Grizzly (not the one killed) (Photo credit: ralky)

One of my poems was recently published by Poetry24, a great website which publishes poems inspired by news events. This poem was about the friendly blonde grizzly bear who was shot from the road near Carcross, Yukon.

You can read the poem here: For the Carcross Grizzly

You can read the news event here:

Shooting of ‘spirit’ bear sparks anger

Grizzly killing ‘classless’

Reflections on Writing studies at the MA in English and Writing program

During my time at Western New Mexico University’s MA in Interdisciplinary Studies, I studied English and Writing. I took courses in American literature; literary theories; ancient and medieval literature; Romantic and Victorian poetry; the Enlightenment; memoir writing; screenwriting; fiction and creative non-fiction writing. When I first started the program, my main intention was to study fiction writing. However, I quickly noticed the impact that literary analyses had on my development as a writer, and decided to enroll in additional courses in American literature, and studied American humor, the American novel, and the American West. Furthermore, as I learned more about the study of literature, I developed an interest in literary theory as well as other literary genres and periods including Romantic and Victorian poetry, Greek drama, ancient and medieval literature, and the Enlightenment. As a result of my experiences in the program, I am no longer interested only in American fiction, but also in the contemporary novel across American, British, Canadian, Australian, and other English speaking literatures.

This portfolio consists of all major creative work that I had written during the program. It contains four short stories and a novella; three of the short stories have already appeared in print, and the rest have been be submitted to a number of literary journals and magazines. The portfolio is organized according to the order in which the stories were written in order to reflect my progress as a writer at WNMU.

In the fall of 2010, I took my first two writing classes ever, and started working on what became my first publication, “The Silence of a Death.” The story is about a couple trapped in an unhappy marriage. Their entrapment was inspired by the material that I developed in the memoir writing class. I got the idea to use magical realism to represent the couple’s feelings from an exercise that I completed in the screenwriting course. The story was published by The Nevada Review in spring 2011.

I did not take any courses at WNMU the following semester due to other obligations, but was inspired to continue my development as a fiction writer. I spent spring of 2011 studying Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, a book that was recommended by one of my professors.The book opened up my world to how certain writing techniques elicit particular outcomes. It talked about process and craft, and provided examples and explanations from classic short stories, novels, and essays. LaPlante showed me that good writing does not come by chance, and that learning certain techniques could improve my writing tremendously.

Using LaPlante’s book for guidance, I wrote and polished eight flash fiction stories. One of those stories became the 600-word story, “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer,” found in this portfolio. “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer” explores a middle-aged woman’s struggle with her weight, and with the discovery that her ex-husband’s new wife is expecting a baby. This was the first narrative in which I tried to tell a story on multiple levels: one story on the surface and another using the characters’ memories. “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer” was published by Canada’s Lost in Thought Magazine in 2011. In England last summer, I listened to stories on the radio, and discovered audio literature for the first time. In summer of 2012, I took a class on literary theory and analyzed a flash fiction story by Tanya Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano, that is available both in print and in audio form. As a result, I discovered that flash fiction works just as well as an audio recording as poetry does, since the audio factor gives flash stories more texture, making them more memorable. Hershman’s story inspired me to transform “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer” into a recording that will be published by Chicago’s Word Play Sound, an audio magazine, this September.

“Missing” was my first foray into traditional length short story writing, and it went through more drafts and revisions than any other story up to that point. When I started it in the summer of 2011, I was struggling with the basics of storytelling. I felt like I could see the final product in my head, but did not have the proper tools to construct it. I wanted every creative decision to be made on purpose and went back to LaPlante’s book and reread the section about a post-war French literary movement called OULIPO or Workshop of Potential Literature. “Contrary to what you might think, absolute freedom isn’t always beneficial to creativity. Instead, what psychologists and scientists are finding is that constraints or limits and choices are often more conducive to creativity than the blank page (or the empty computer screen)” (LaPlante 552). As Igor Stravinsky said, “The more constraints one imposes the more one frees oneself of chains that shackle the spirit” (LaPlante 552).

The first constraint I imposed was simplicity in plot. I decided to write a story with the simplest plot possible so that I could peel away the layers and discover the essence of a story. This is the basic plot of “Missing”: an elderly woman goes to a bus stop, waits there, and comes back. The other constraints I imposed was to take out all ‘–ing’ verbs and replace all forms of the word ‘to have’ and ‘to be.’ These constraints produced a great draft with precise sentences. Even though I later went back and placed many of these words back in, the overall process helped me immensely in that I was finally beginning to make conscious craft decisions about my writing. The final version of the story saw the emergence of what I now see as some common themes in my writing: sub-plots and memory.The first complete draft of “Missing” was called “Nadezhda,” a Russian female name that also means hope. The story was rejected by approximately ten literary magazines, but it was quickly accepted after I Anglicized the main character’s name and changed the title, upon my husband’s suggestion. “Missing” was published in Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature Anthology Volume II, a prestigious and well recognized anthology edited by Karen Connelly, a widely published and well known Canadian writer, and Misty K. Ericson, writer and director of the Institute of Arts and Social Engagement.

During my creative non-fiction and fiction writing classes at WNMU, I started writing what eventually became “How to Laugh in the Desert,” my longest short story to date. The 5000-word story is about a climber who lives alone in the California desert, and tries to climb a peak he had fallen from before. Just like “Missing,” this story is also driven by memory in that, during the climb, the main character reminisces about his climbing partner who had enlisted in the military. The reasons for his friend’s enlistment are not revealed because the story is told from the climber’s perspective, and he does not know the reasons.

I worked on the story for four months during spring 2012. I work-shopped it at a writing fiction course at WNMU and at ourstories.us where I worked with Steven Ramirez, a widely published short story writer and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate. I initially made the mistake of revealing numerous characters’ thoughts at the same time, and both workshops helped me focalize and polish the story to what is today. Furthermore, while working on the story’s many drafts, I also read Josip Novakovch’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop in my fiction writing course, and a number of works on narratology including Alan Palmer’s Fictional Minds, Dorrit Cohn’s Transparent Minds, and Monika Fludernik’s An Introduction to Narratology. As a result, I developed a better understanding of language and structures of literary works. In particular, I learned about free indirect discourse, a technique of revealing thoughts in third person character’s heads in past tense, and a number of other techniques. This research focused my writing efforts and allowed me to make deliberate decisions about the narrator, tense choices, and types of narration. As of today, “How to Laugh in the Desert” has been submitted to a number of literary journals both in America and abroad.

All of this work on language helped me in my literary analyses, and prepared me to methodically experiment with my writing. I was inspired by a number of essays in John D’Agata’s The Lost Origins of the Essay, a required text for the WNMU creative non-fiction course, and wrote a novella which is an accumulation of my creative writing efforts of the past two years. I wrote “Like Throwing Stones at the Moon” in the summer of 2012, and consciously decided on the narrator, researched disassociation, and played with notions of first and third-person narration. In this novella, lonely and sensitive Niles Duras walks around London reminiscing about losing his virginity with two women at a Los Angeles massage parlor, falling for an imaginary girl at a campground in northern California, and trying to embody the ideals of the American male in Montana. Niles, who occasionally detaches from his first-person identity and experiences the world as his third-person self, wants to keep his painful memories to himself, but the author, who wants Niles to tell the truth, won’t let him.  Playing with notions of fixed identities and static memories, this 18,400 word novella explores the rising tensions that form between the author and the main character. This work again explores memory in an effort to identify the difference between imagination and experience. Niles has a large imagination, and the tendency to fill in the blanks about what he does not know about the people he meets. Naturally, this way of being in the world leads to conflict between his reality and his imagination, making life difficult for him.

I came to WNMU with an exclusive interest in writing fiction and studying American literature. I am leaving the program with a well-developed palate, an interest in all aspects of literary studies, and a dedication to my writing.  Analyzing other writers’ language and narrative techniques in my critical essays, allowed me to apply those techniques to my own fiction, and develop my short stories into complete works. As a result, many of those stories have been published in literary journals, and my novella has been submitted to a couple of small publishers and the Paris Literary Prize competition.

The MAIS program fostered my interests in literature and gave me confidence to pursue my own writing. I am now expanding the novella into a full-length novel. I view my time here as only the beginning of my work in literary studies, and plan to continue my education at WNMU next year, with additional coursework in Shakespeare, the British novel, poetry writing, magazine writing, and play writing. Furthermore, my time at WNMU also inspired me to seriously consider pursuing a PhD in creative writing and/or literature.

Work Cited

Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984. Print.

D’Agata, John. The Lost Origins of the Essay. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2009. Print.

Fludernik, Monika. An Introduction to Narratology. London, UK: Routledge, 2009. Print.

LaPlante, Alice. The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Novakovch, Josip. Fiction Writer’s Workshop. 2nd Ed. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. Print.

Palmer, Alan. Fictional Minds. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. Print.

*All stories in this portfolio are found (or forthcoming) on this blog

Reflection Essay on English studies in MA in English and Writing program

During my time at Western New Mexico University’s MA in Interdisciplinary Studies program in English and Writing, I studied American literature, literary theories, ancient and medieval literature, and Romantic and Victorian poetry. I entered the program with a primary interest in American literature, more specifically, in contemporary American fiction. As a result, the majority of my work was focused on the American novel, the American West, and American humor. However, as I started to learn more about the study of literature, I developed an interest in other literary periods, and took courses in Romantic and Victorian poetry, Greek drama, ancient and medieval literature, and the Enlightenment. Today, though I am still interested in contemporary fiction, I am no longer interested in exclusively American fiction. In particular, I am interested in the differences in the contemporary novel across American, British, Canadian, Australian, and other English speaking literatures. This portfolio includes all major essays that I had written in the program up to this point. They are organized according to reverse chronological order, with the most recently written essays first.

In the first section, I present to essays that incorporate concepts I encountered in a course on feminist theories of literature. In the first essay, I analyze the concept of unstable identities in Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano, a contemporary flash fiction story. The study of semiotics is based on the notion that meaning and reality are not contained or transmitted throughout the world via books and computers, but are instead actively created. In the essay, I argue that Hershman’s first person 250-word story inverts the notion of characters as singular identities and reinforces Julia Kristeva’s notion of the subject as a dynamic process with unstable identities. In the second essay, I analyze the concept of both/and vision in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of a Hedgehog, a contemporary French novel in translation. In particular, I argue that the novel’s narrators, both voiceless and thoughtless Others within society, its fluid and non-hierarchical structure, and its incorporation of Eastern traditions into Western thought all act to dissolve either/or dualism, and create a new kind of structure that promotes both/and thinking.

In the second section, I present a series of shorter essays that I wrote for a course on Greek drama. There are three essays on SophoclesAntigone, two longer essays on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and four shorter essays on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis. In the first essay on Sophocles’ Antigone, I analyze Creon’s peripeteia and hamartia, and argue that Creon’s peripeteia coincides with his anagnorisis, a change from ignorance to knowledge. In the second essay on Antigone, I analyze Sophocles’ use of the chorus and argue that the “Ode to Man” is a tool that allows Sophocles to praise mankind for its many accomplishments, and to warn mankind that, despite these accomplishments, it is not invincible. Furthermore, I also argue that the chorus is Sophocles’ way to remain invisible yet always present within the text. In the third essay on Sophocles’ Antigone, I analyze whether or not Creon and Antigone are tragic heroes and argue that, though Creon is uncompromising and stubborn, he is not a tragic hero because he does not fulfill one of the definitional requirements of a tragic hero. As a tragic hero, Antigone is driven by passion rather than reason; Creon, on the other hand, is driven solely by the desire to suppress, what he views as, threats to his power.

In the first essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, I analyze the plot, or who knows what and at which point. In the second essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, I analyze the function of the chorus. In particular, I argue that the chorus serves a dual purpose; it acts like the consciousness of the people and the spokesperson for Sophocles. In the first three essays on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, I analyze different characters’ approaches to argumentation. In the first essay, I point out that, unlike Agamemnon, Menelaus identifies Agamemnon’s inappropriate acts and supports his observations with culturally relevant aphorisms. I argue that these different approaches to argumentation illustrate that Agamemnon is indeed the emotional and desperate leader that Menelaus accuses him of being. In the second essay, I argue that Euripides presents Agamemnon as someone who chooses to sacrifice his daughter, and hides his decision behind false rhetoric. In the third essay, I argue that Agamemnon’s reasoning shows that he has an implicit desire for personal ambition. In the last essay on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, I analyze Iphigenia as a hero and argue that her use of traditional language of male heroism illustrates that she possesses the same aspirations and ambitions for fame and immortality that Achilles and Agamemnon possess.

In third section, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on the American Novel. These essays focus on three major postwar novels, Saul Bellow’s More Die of Heartbreak, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and analyze the writers’ different uses of language in conceptualizing the self and the meaning of life.  In the essay on More Die of Heartbreak, I argue that there might be a scientific explanation for Kenneth’s inability to intuitively understand the world around him. In particular, I argue that while Kenneth appears to be self-absorbed, naïve, and immature, his dependency on his intellectual reasoning may be a result of an underdeveloped ability to read other people’s minds, or what cognitive scientists call mind-reading. In the essay on The Crying of Lot 49, I argue that by bombarding the reader with seemingly disconnected images, metaphors, popular culture references, and inside jokes, Pynchon portrays Oedipa’s quest as a journey in search of meaning that embodies the philosophical concept of the Absurd, the conflict between looking for meaning in life and the inability to find it. In the essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, I argue that while the novel is poignant and memorable for many reasons, it is its style of narration, its use of symbolism, and its structure as a novel of education that makes it particularly effective.

In section four, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on life and literature of New Mexico. These essays deal with identity and the American West. In the first essay, I analyze Rudolfo Anaya’s Alburquerque and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and compare how Anaya depicts the search for the Hispanic American identity to how Silko depicts the search for the Native American identity. In particular, I argue that unlike Tayo’s search in Ceremony, Abran’s search in Alburquerque stems from a place of love and security, a place that gives him the freedom to find his roots without losing himself. In the second essay, I analyze Edward Abbey’s The Brave Cowboy and argue that Abbey’s narrative style uses a variety of descriptions including sensory information, representations of consciousness, and realistic details to convey the brutality of industrialization and the beauty of nature. In the third essay, I analyze James McKenna’s Black Range Tales: Chronicling Sixty Years of Life and Adventure in the Southwest and argue that McKenna uses humor and hope to paint a vivid picture of a people who embodied the measured optimism of the nineteenth-century American West.

In section five, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on American humor. These essays focus on three major American humorists/satirists: George Carlin, Joseph Heller, and Mark Twain. In the first essay, I analyze George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? and argue that he examines euphemisms, political correctness, and patriotic talk in order to illustrate how all of these misuses of language soften its effectiveness, and contribute to a kind of degeneration of reality within our culture as a whole. In the second essay, I analyze Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and argue that while the novel’s numerous characters and seemingly non-chronological events present a rather convoluted plot, its third-person omniscient narrator helps Heller avoid preachy rhetoric in his satiric attack on American business. In the third essay, I analyze Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and argue that, while the portrayal of Colonel Sherburn is easy to dismiss as just another satire of a Southern gentleman, Sherburn and his speech also serve another purpose, namely to deliver Twain’s visceral attack on the cowardice of man.

In section six, I present two essays that I wrote for a course on Romantic and Victorian poetry. These essays focus on two of the most famous poems in the English language, William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and compare my interpretations of the meaning of the poems to those put forth by other critics. In the first essay, I argue that using daffodils as concrete symbols of other people’s happiness, Wordsworth’s speaker undergoes a change from someone who is alienated and lonely to someone who, while still alone, is no longer lonely. In the second essay, I argue that Michael Levenson’s and Harriet Davidson’s interpretations of “The Waste Land” are merely supporting statements to Harold Bloom’s primary argument that the poem is a search for a way out of the waste land that is the early twentieth century.

The MAIS program was an eye-opening experience which helped me develop into a better reader and writer. I came into the program with an exclusive interest in American literature, and I am leaving the program with a well-developed palate and an interest in all aspects of literary studies. For example, I am currently interested in learning more about medieval and ancient literature and their contemporary interpretations, i.e. Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The program also helped me develop into a better creative writer. By analyzing other writers’ language and narrative techniques in my critical essays, I was able to apply those techniques to my own fiction, and develop my short stories into complete works. As a result, many of those stories have been published in literary journals, in America and abroad, and my novella has been submitted to a couple of small publishers and the Paris Literary Prize competition. The MAIS program fostered my interests in literature and gave me confidence to pursue my own writing. I view my time here as only the beginning of my work in literary studies, and plan to continue my education at Western New Mexico University next year, with additional courses in Shakespeare and the British novel. Furthermore, I am also looking into PhD programs in literature and creative writing.

Official Logo of Western New Mexico University

Official Logo of Western New Mexico University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upcoming Publications

“Like Fireflies,” London Literature Project, August 2012

  • London Literary Project champions poetry and flash fiction inspired by our namesake city.
  • For 2012 London Literary Project is launching the London Clock. Through poetry and flash fiction, the London Clock will be constructed, minute by wonderful minute, through the work of London writers and those inspired by our city. Writing will focus on a particular time of day anywhere in London, and once brought together each individual piece will help to create a picture of the city’s many faces, and the faces of the city’s many people, in a 24 hour period. See londonlitproject.com

Audio of “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer,” Word Play Sound, (Forthcoming September 2012)

  • Through a monthly podcast of thought-provoking literature, WordPlaySound gives accents and dialects, language and cadence an opportunity to flourish in ways they couldn’t on a written page. Available on iTunes. See WordPlaySound.com

“McKenna’s Black Range Tales: Chronicling Sixty Years of Life and Adventure in the Southwest,” Thresholds: Home of the International Short Story Forum, (Forthcoming September 2012)

My Fiction- “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer”

“The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer.” Lost in Thought Magazine 1 (2011): 8-11. Print. Canada.

After spending ten hours in a cubicle, Tammy Pfeiffer changed out of her work clothes to get their stink off her. She slipped the blouse over her head and unfastened her bra. Peeling off the Spanx and pantyhose, Tammy let the rolls around her midsection expand and looked at them bounce in the mirror. At 238 pounds, hate was hardly a word strong enough to convey her derision.

Pulling on a pair of sweats, Tammy wobbled to the kitchen. So far today she only had a shake for breakfast, a fruit parfait and a tuna salad with no mayo for lunch. That totaled to 930 calories and left her with exactly 370 for dinner, just enough for a slice of rye bread, three slices of turkey, and a bowl of greens. Healthy but tasteless, dinner took less than five minutes to make and less than two to eat.

This nightmare began on Christmas, when Tammy had promised her children that she’d lose weight. She hadn’t been below 200 pounds in fifteen years and the odds of losing 80 seemed about as good as winning the Powerball. But she wanted to get down to a healthier weight and tried faithfully every Monday.  Eleven Mondays later, she was four pounds heavier than she was on Christmas.

Perhaps this week would be different, it was only Tuesday.

Tammy plopped on the couch and logged into Facebook. She scrolled through mundane status updates, from people she vaguely remembered and rarely spoke to, pausing on the one person whose profile she always looked at whenever she wanted a reason to wallow.  

Lisa Marie in a size 2 Vera Wang wedding gown, Lisa Marie on her honeymoon cruise to Greece, Lisa Marie in her 5,000 square foot house with an indoor swimming pool. Lisa Marie at a congressman’s fundraiser, with her tanned arms around Tammy’s husband and children. Lisa Marie Thatcher, now known as Mrs. Richard Pfeiffer, MD, was 22 years younger and 100 pounds thinner than the first Mrs. Richard Pfeiffer, MD.

Lisa Marie was Rick’s do-over. She was Tammy version 2.0.

Consumed with an urge to eat a carbohydrate, Tammy vowed not to look at that woman’s page for the rest of the evening. She needed to take control of her cyber stalking but an alert that Lisa changed her profile picture was too hard to resist. Leaning in for a closer look, Tammy gasped when she saw that it was a sonogram.

No, it couldn’t be true. Rick didn’t want any more kids.

Tammy slammed the laptop shut and dashed to the pantry. Sparser than the refrigerator, the cupboards contained items that were much more suited for soothing a broken heart. She grabbed a bag of potato chips and devoured them. A two-year affair, a divorce after 23 years of marriage, and a hot young wife were one thing. But a new child, after he had insisted that two were plenty (she had wanted four)., that was too much.

Tammy licked the inside of the bag and moved on to a box of pretzels. They were supposed to last for the next five days but were gone in fifteen minutes. The wedding was six months ago and Lisa Marie was due in four.  In less than three years, she had managed to turn a stubborn overweight workaholic with one foot in the grave into a slim cycling fanatic who retired early and started a family. It wasn’t a scam but Tammy felt like she had been scammed. Lisa Marie had bought Tammy’s damaged Picasso for $10 by letting her think that it was a fake. 

Tammy used a foot stool to reach above the refrigerator. There she found a can of condensed milk that she had kept for this kind of emergency. The label said, 210 calories, 55 grams of carbohydrates per serving, 10 servings per can, but the numbers hardly registered. Tammy grabbed a spoon and tried to fill the void of being the other Mrs. Pfeiffer.

My Fiction- “Craving”

“Craving.” Kerouac’s Dog Magazine 3 (2011). Print. UK.

Watching Meryl toss her hair in the rearview mirror, Clive held his breath.  Her burgundy bra strap peaked out and sparkled in the sunlight. Mesmerized, Clive imagined the sound it would make snapping against her skin, like the pop of a champagne bottle. His son Derek was caught in the middle of a texting war, barely noticing the goddess sitting next to him. After the car came to a full stop, Meryl gathered her things and waved goodbye. Watching her walk away, Clive wondered how much longer he could take keeping his lust to himself.

Neither hero or villain, Clive McCandless was a regular middle aged man with a work a day life, an ex-wife, and a child support order. It took him a long time to come to terms with the idea that he had nothing particularly special to offer to the world and that in itself was okay. But that was all before he met Meryl. Meryl Jenkins, his son’s stepsister and his ex-wife’s lover’s daughter, was Meryl Streep circa Kramer vs. Kramer.  She was kind and audacious and shy and sensual. She was everything that Clive has been looking for in a woman for forty nine years, the only problem was that she had only been alive during the last sixteen.

On the drive to work, Clive tried to remember if he had ever felt this overwhelming need for a woman before.  It has been a full six months since Meryl came to live with her father and Clive’s ex-wife and that was the first time he had seen her since she was fourteen. She lost twenty pounds, gained four inches and two cup sizes. Her hair was no longer jet black and her attitude was too much for her mother to handle.

Work was uneventful as usual. Dan Landers, Clive’s toupee-wearing cubicle neighbor, circulated rumors about possible cutbacks and Doreen McKenna, the woman who sued the company for sexual harassment, retreated to the ladies room every two hours with her breast pump. After hating himself for eating three muffins during the morning meeting, Clive spent much of the afternoon cyber stalking Meryl on Facebook and Twitter. He examined and reexamined her pictures, read her postings, and debated whether or not to write her a casual hello. Was there even such a thing as a casual hello from pot bellied father of her stepbrother?

 

After work, Clive parked the car in the garage and got out. Out of habit, he straightened out his suit and pressed the button to close the door. He looked forward to an evening alone in front of the television, with Chinese takeout and a glass of wine. Sonya was away at college and Derek was supposed to be at his mother’s. Clive opened the door and flipped on the lights. A pair of epic breasts stared straight at him. Perky and round, they peaked out of the familiar burgundy bra and vibrated softly up and down. Meryl let out a yelp, jumped up, and grabbed the blanket away from Derek. Frozen in place, Clive watched her dress haphazardly and run up the stairs.

After that, everything was a blur. Clive somehow managed to get back to the car and out of the garage, driving like hell trying to forget that he just walked in on his son having sex with the love of his life. But it was no use.  The hatred he felt for Derek was only surpassed by the hatred he felt for himself. Lost in a tundra, Clive knew no way out.

My Fiction- “The Silence of a Death”

“The Silence of a Death.” The Nevada Review 3.1 (2011): 55-58. Print.

He reclined the leather chair and examined his fingertips. The nails were short and uneven and the skin around the cuticles was rugged and bloody. He hated to pick at them but it was too early in the day for either a shot of whiskey or a joint. Ben Dale tugged on a loose piece of skin on his left index finger to calm his nerves.  Nauseated almost daily, he still refused to see it for what it was. His conscience was making an announcement, he was a fraud. 

Drinking the last of his coffee, Ben wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His lips cracked and formed a blister. His face felt like he spent two days in the desert in the middle of July. His eyes burned but rubbing one was like slicing the cornea with a razorblade. When he smelled smoke, Ben stood up. The odor was faint at first. He turned on the ceiling fan, opened the window and waited for the air to clear. The curtains swayed in a gentle breeze but the fumes grew worse. Ben loosened his tie and took off his jacket. He was sweating profusely and portions of his dress shirt adhered to his skin. Strangely, the sleeves were inflated a bit. He unbuttoned the left cuff and smoke poured out. Smoke then fire.

Engulfed in flames, Ben ran into the hallway.  The secretary yelled for him to drop and roll but he heard only the sound of his own howls. One of the partners forced him down to the ground and covered him with a trench coat. The secretary sprayed him with a fire extinguisher. When the fire died down, Ben remained still and tried to make sense of what happened.  It was Wednesday, a day of no particular importance. He ate breakfast and got into his Mercedes at the usual time, when much of Henderson, Nevada was still asleep. Undisturbed sprinkler dew glistened of the manicured lawns. It was a normal morning, during a normal week.  He and Emma didn’t speak but nothing was unusual about that either. They were only cordial to one another at the marriage counselor’s office. The ambulance finally arrived.  Paramedics wiped off the foam but didn’t find a single burn, on either his skin or his clothes. Some fire damage was found on the back of his office chair. Confused and despondent, Ben swallowed an antidepressant and returned to work.

 Emma Dale waited for the garage door to close prior to turning on the television. It eased her loneliness but the programming was predicable: flash floods in the Midwest, rising unemployment, senate confirmation hearings.  Her husband didn’t disappoint in forgetting their baby’s seven month birthday but she saved this ammunition for a later time. Needing him home for at least one full day to bear the brunt of that mistake, Emma had to wait until Saturday.  She put the infant back in the crib and sat down on the couch.

Once upon a time, they were in love even if only with the illusion of the other.  They met in law school and married for money and status. Their families approved and perpetuated the façade.  But three years later, the illusion was gone. All that was left was a projection of happiness, a real estate advertisement with an emphasis on the positive. But an image is not a reality and the reality was that Ben resented her. Emma knew it and resented back. They got engaged when she got pregnant. She had an abortion because a proper wedding was expected. And a proper wedding of no fewer than 250 guests couldn’t be organized before she started to show. The decision was mutual and the false front was up. But that mattered little since the foundation was rotting from the inside out.

Emma was haunted by these thoughts. Alcohol numbed their effect a little but nothing made them go away completely. She imagined the smoothness of the glass in her hand and the sweetness of the wine on her lips but wanted to wait until at least noon. Staring into space, something unusual caught the corner of her eye. The far wall was moving. Emma turned off the television and waited for a few seconds. When she looked up, the wall was closer. The desk, near the left wall, was right next to the coffee table. Thinking back to last year’s remodeling project, she remembered that the room was precisely 17’x18’. It now measured at a little less than 15’x16’. Emma cautiously walked up to the wall and positioned her hands at right angles to her shoulders. For extra support, she placed one foot behind the other and pushed with all her might. The wall didn’t budge. Admitting defeat, Emma collapsed on the couch. A few hours later, the walls were back to normal and she moved the furniture to its proper place. Ben came home and they ate dinner in silence. Ignorant of the fact that willful blindness always has a price, neither revealed their secret.

The next morning, the walls started to close in early. Emma drank a beer to stave off some of the claustrophobia. Ben buried his head in a deposition and worked straight through his lunch break.  Yet fears were masked only temporarily. By early afternoon, Ben again saw smoke and smelled the undeniable scent of burning flesh. He dropped to the floor and rolled from one side of his office to the other. Black clouds quickly morphed into slivers of flame. The fire was finally put out when the secretary burst in with a fire extinguisher. Ben had no visible burns and the paramedics were not called. Later that afternoon, the law partners organized an emergency meeting. Spontaneous combustion was a liability and Ben was encouraged to seek other employment.

He drove home in a state of dread. Given that he grew up in a family where a sense of purpose was associated with upward mobility, unemployment was even more devastating than spontaneous combustion. Ben’s father was a retired insurance executive who considered principles the same thing as obligation and greed. He spent most of his adult life drowning in pride and antidepressants and Ben knew no other way. He admired his father’s commitment and waited for the opportunity to sacrifice for his own family, like his father did for his. Sometimes he almost wished that Emma was already like her mother, an alcoholic with three DUI’s and two failed stints in court ordered rehab. That way she could fulfill his last desire, to be needed forever.

Lacking a feasible explanation for what happened, Ben dragged his feet over the doorstep and dropped his briefcase on the floor. It was only six but Emma already drank her eighth beer and rearranged the furniture for the fifth time. The room was at least three feet smaller in perimeter and the far wall was now only a few feet away from the couch. Paying no attention to his incessant blinking, Emma waited for Ben to notice. 

He didn’t.

Ben’s face turned pale and his lips cracked. Faint smell of burning flesh filled the room. He unbuttoned the right shirt sleeve and let some of the smoke billow out.  It was starting again and he waited for Emma to notice.

She didn’t.

Neither recalled who uttered the first insult but it didn’t really matter. They screamed at each other on top of their lungs and each putdown relieved a part of the affliction.  The walls regressed a few inches and the smoke dissipated a little. The fight continued until a quiet wave of relief swept over them. Everything went back to normal. At least it appeared so.

The Dale house burned down a few days later and few people heard anything from them since. Both were at home when the fire started yet oblivious to the fact that the entire second floor was an inferno. While no formal charges were ever filed, suspicions circled like bees around a honeycomb. Co-workers and neighbors whispered about Ben’s history of setting fires and Emma’s propensity to drink but the scene offered little in the way of incriminating forensic evidence. It was determined that the infant died from smoke inhalation. She was found in a room whose walls were recently altered and moved closer. She had no visible burns but the residue on her skin indicated that she was a likely source of the fire. Many questions remained unanswered. The death was ruled an accident.