Flash Fiction • 1st Place
By Lilly Yu
There is a woman named Eva who lives upstairs. She listens to her opulent opera arias in her rose-silk nightgown, wrapped around her body like an effortless pink wave. The sound sometimes carries throughout the building, a coloratura soprano’s high gleam drifting through the cracks between the walls and windows, but no one minds. Eva’s next-door neighbors, an aging silver-haired couple, praises her melodies and invites her for dinner sometimes. A platinum-blonde woman across the balcony named Ursula Arnett, with lacquer nails the color of a pomegranate kiss on a little boy’s cheek, says the sound calms Sugar Cindy, her pink parakeet.
There is a man named Jude who lives downstairs, and he hears the melodies from Eva’s apartment, along with her footsteps and the soft padding along of her thick tabby cat. He drinks his coffee in the morning and hears the glittering sounds cascading through the building. Jude imagines the day-lilies outside listening, heavy on their stalks, bending towards the upstairs walls of Eva’s apartment. The wisteria glows in the grey mornings to Un Bel Di and the fiery roses fall asleep at night to Nessun Dorma. Jude follows their every rise and fall, depending on the music floating from Eva’s room, her footsteps coming and falling.
Eva keeps thick stalked star-gazer lilies in her living room, glistening stark white against the olive green of her curtains. They bloom a miraculous silver-moon tint from the magnificence of Eva’s music. Dark records hang on the pale wall on which leans an ancient phonograph that no longer plays. She imagines the grainy-glittering sounds rising from its machinery, seeping through the walls into the summer mornings and nights like it did decades ago.
Eva comes home late at night. She wears 3-inch round-toe satin pumps with her dresses, green or yellow a-line, cotton or silk, and sometimes Jude passes her and notices a white dress like a china plate, pink rosebuds on the edge near the golden-rimmed hem. 11:59, Jude waits for the last track to whisper softly from her record player, drifting through the ventilation and his thin ceiling, before she turns off the butterfly lights in her kitchen, changes from her rosebud-china dress to her pink nightgown, and drifts off to sleep.
Jude then attempts to treat his insomnia with his jewel-cases, the only time he will dare play them because of how his midnight singers fall in love at the beauty of Eva’s sopranos. He whispers his apologies as Paul McCartney sings his love and Freddy Mercury comes out with his multi-faceted voice. Elton John reprimands him on his piano. Paul says for him to go out and get her. Freddy says for him to pick her up at nine o’clock. Elton says for him to remember if her eyes are green or blue. Jude says neither, and he falls asleep with the lights on.
In the mornings he sometimes awakes to the sorrowful splendor of Casta Diva, rising above the atmosphere and trilling down again to greet the flowers. Jude hears her footsteps on the ceiling- Eva turning off the kitchen faucet, Eva watering her plants on the balcony, Eva’s muffled voice speaking to her cat. Jude hears the door slam and her insistent click, click against the cement steps, until she is too far away and he is missing her and her arias once again.
Flash Fiction • 2nd Place
By Kara Amundson
A yellow Chevelle pulled up to the curb and a guy unfolded himself from the driver’s side into the street. He was big and rectangular with strong handsome tanned features and a full head of mold-colored hair. He wore a white polo shirt and khakis and he slung his head from side to side like a bull waking up from a tranquilizer dart. He had a peculiar walk, a heavy waddle, as if he were grinding coffee with his rump. He hadn’t seen me yet, or noticed me anyway.
“Bi-ill!” A woman’s corrugated voice hit the air like a lawnmower battling a paving stone. “Bill! You’re late! You missed that plumber guy and he wouldn’t do anything because I didn’t know what was wrong and now he’s gone! He won’t be back until Monday!” The owner of the voice now materialized, a slightly-built woman with badly bleached hair pulled to the back of her small head in wiry confusion and held with a pink clip. She wore a yellow “hello kitty” t-shirt and gray sweatpants cut off at the tops of her thin, loose-fleshed, orange-brown thighs. Her face drew together at the nose like the tied end of a balloon. “Well?” she demanded stridently. The guy had opened the trunk of the Chevelle and was rummaging around in it, making mumbly responses that sounded both acquiescent and profane. The woman disappeared back into the house, leaving the back door ajar. He straightened up from the trunk and shot me a glance with olive-pit eyes.
“Bill!” The chop-saw voice seemed to have hit a knot.
“Yeah,” he said reluctantly in a deep, dim voice. He ducked his blocky head, slammed the trunk shut, and headed for the backyard. I’d seen all I was likely to see.
Flash Fiction • 3rd Place
By David A. Spellman
In the bright hollowness of morning, while the sun was warming the workers on the street, he laid himself down to sleep, deciding that although his tooth, perhaps, was twisted from the clenching, it would not be falling out. And no, neither would his hair.
Slowly, he lit a cigarette, and for the first four drags, let the flame continue, watching, blankly, it burning free. Thinking:
If God was there or not, well, it wasn’t sad either way, and if this life was fair or if it was not, well, it’s all we have anyways. What decision did I think I could make?
Rising, he sighed, and then, with limp steps, shuffled.
All this endless introspection, this gray-faced philosophizing and hesitation, this weak-willed way of winning by infinite resignation. Oh, what did our thoughts ever do … for us? No. I’m through. Now, I’m going to be a human too. Now, I’m going to be an animal, just like you.
He said, wordlessly, to the roaring world below. It was cold out and would only be getting colder. Standing near the window, he could feel the remnants of the wind on his skin as he rubbed his fallen eyelids. All through the night he had thought and thought, with his jaw taut and his brow crumpled, about his numberless sisters and brothers: early knuckle-draggers, coughing poets, tired hunters, sons, daughters, farmers, singers, scientists, kings, queens, bloated sailor bodies bobbing in the sea, but now only thinking:
Well, well, what could this mean? Are we more good than evil? Accident or fate? Ahh, it’s all the same. Life answers its own question … I think … well … yes.
He fell on the bed and closed his eyes. Soon, he smiled. His thoughts: steak, the moon, his girl’s bare legs, and balloons.
Flash Fiction • Honorable Mention
By Dylan Holland
The butter knife my father held meant much more than it did to my brothers. The gaze he gave me, so wise and sly, let me know: you are the youngest, but only you will understand. It was not the bread on the side of his plate, or the fingerprint-marred handle, or the serrated edge like tiny teeth in a fish’s mouth. He meant for me to see what my brothers couldn’t, and though he talked to them, his eyes were on me, waiting for that unspoken moment when both of us would know the secrets he held in that piece of silverware. My mother was asking him to butter his toast already, but he did not yield. It was as if my father was the last in a line of knights, steadfast, saying: I do not break or bend so long as I have my honor to defend, by butter knife or sword. It is my duty. I was six, but I understood. It was mine to defend when he no longer could. Our eyes met. My father buttered his toast.
By Destiny Martin
Just before midnight on the eve of the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I stand in my dining room and unpack my china.
I finger the handle of a teacup and gently place it on the table, smoothing my hand over the linen cloth before taking another from the cabinet. Mother had urged the Vera. I stubbornly opted for the Lenox.
I work my way through the saucers, each receiving the same careful treatment, and the fragile stacks grow taller. “You must always take proper care of your china,” my mother’s voice echoes in the night.
The salad plates follow, forming an orderly row in front of the Crate + Barrel vase I love. Mother deemed only Tiffany & Co. worthy of a centerpiece.
I nest the soup bowls, each cradling the next like a newborn child. “Every lady should know how to serve Vichyssoise,” my mother once said. I like to eat my onion soup hot from a mug.
The table is nearly full as I take the last of the dinner plates from the hutch. Ten place settings, five pieces each. Completely untouched, except for the unpacking and perhaps a few lingering brushes in the giddiness of unwrapping mountains of wedding gifts. Mother insisted that china should be reserved for only the most important occasions.
I wonder what my mother would say if I took the stack of ten platinum-rimmed dinner plates, lifted them over my head, and let them fall on the hardwood floor.
Mother coped by taking too many sleeping pills. I imagine destroying expensive china in a very melodramatic way.
My swollen belly shifts—a reminder of this grandchild she will never meet. I rub my unborn daughter to soothe her restlessness. Taking a teacup, I finger the handle and return it to the cabinet.
By Jana Morgan
Shelby eats dog food. Especially at the bus stop. If I’m next to him, I can smell it. I don’t really ever see it. He’s stealthy. I do hear the crunch though.
He also swallows his fingernails after he bites them off.
I like Shelby. He taught me how to ride a skateboard and kill red ants with coffee grounds. My grandfather thinks his people are bad because they live in trailers at the end of our street, in lots without grass, only pine straw and black sand.
His dad is the fattest man I have ever seen. I can only see his top half, not the part that presses the velvet cushions flat into the floor of their living room. He’s on disability, and it’s not a hoax; he can’t do anything. I think Shelby is embarrassed by him. I can tell, the way he tries to hurry me past Mr. Lowry and the TV stand, talking without breathing about silly stuff, sometimes just repeating bits of the conversation we had on the front porch.
“Ya know I don’t care how big your daddy is, don’t cha?” I say, as I shove a piece of Wild Watermelon Bubble Yum in my mouth. He says, “yeah,” as he takes the piece I’m holding out.
Shelby’s room is small – when we lie down and stretch out our arms, we can touch each wall. The paneling is more like a stiff curtain pretending to be a wall. We can hear his daddy breathing heavy and farting on the other side.
“Shelby,” he calls, “son bring me the Phillips MOM.”
Shelby doesn’t hesitate. His daddy takes a gulp right out of the jar.
“Thanks, son. I love you.”
“Yeah, love you, too dad,” and kisses his head before we run out the door.