#FlashFiction Friday: Francis

I first wrote the following flash fiction piece as a response to the 2015 Quantum Shorts contest—which called for works inspired by quantum physics—and revised it based on feedback from my Red Oak Roundtable group. A guideline of the contest was that submissions be made available via a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which I am doing here. The piece is inspired by quantum cognition theory (admittedly controversial but nonetheless intriguing) and Schrödinger’s cat paradox, as well as a real life memory.


The hilly undulations of the dirt road worn hard and smooth by drought and sun were as familiar as the feel of her tongue against the grooves of the roof of her mouth. Why the feeling was familiar not only eluded her but was not a thought she could form. She knew only that the swells beneath the wheels of the car, up and down at specific slopes—how quiet the ride was, not at all like before—were a part of her. She was at once then and now.

Photo: Elisa Paolini (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Her eyes fell on the barbed wire that separated road from wheat field, and she played the mental game she loved as a child of trying to track only the immovable line parallel to their motion, keeping her focus absolutely still, without allowing her eyes to follow individual posts as they left her view. She could do it only by looking simultaneously at the fence and the line of Badlands formations in the far distance, and she could sustain the focus for only a few seconds at time.

The man sitting in the driver’s seat spoke. When she met his gaze in the rearview mirror, the spell was broken, returning the heaviness of her four score years.

“Mom, you doing okay back there?”

Mom. Yes, she was a mother. This was her son, this impossibly large, hairy man who looked nothing like her Jimmy. They were going to a celebration for someone. A birthday. They were going home.

She would see Francis.

That was why she had agreed to come.

He was waiting for an answer. She smiled her response, knowing it would suffice.

Francis. Her breaths now were shallow, her heartbeat fast. She leaned forward in anticipation. The purpose of their journey was already gone, but Francis remained. Grew more real, in fact, as she entered the memory. How long had it been since she’d held him? Francis. She was holding him now, the first day she brought him home.

These moments happened to her more and more frequently. She had somehow become disentangled from the flow of time, each moment of living slipping into the past as smoothly and surely as the fence posts. She alone remained still, unable to hold on to what had come just before but newly able to ride an emotion to another place, another time, often in the distant past but sometimes—like today—to a space not that long ago.

This state of being was more than remembering, more like an action, and more than a little spooky at first. In the beginning, she had tried to explain the experience to the people in the place where she now lived, to the woman in pink who helped her to the dining room and the man in the green pajamas with big pockets who came every week to move her legs as though they were cranks on a piece of machinery. Their kind smiles told her they did not understand.

The woman who sat in the front next to the man said, “We are almost there, Lillian.”

“I got him from the pound,” she said, hearing the excitement in her own voice. “He was going to be put down the next day, you see, because no one wanted a dog with only one ear.”

The man and the woman looked at each other, their faces now in profile. “You did tell her, didn’t you?” the woman asked in an intense whisper.

“Of course I did,” the man said. “Last year, right after—“ He looked up again at the rearview mirror and she saw him shake his head as his words made their way to her ears: “Don’t worry about it. She’ll forget in a minute anyway.”

Francis was a mere puppy at first, a runt who had got into a fight with a wild dog in town, leaving him scarred and wary. She kept him in the house, fed him half of her meals, cooked him bacon, taught him to do his business outside, even allowed him to sleep in her bed. Chester would be appalled. He did not approve of house pets, but it was just her and Francis now. Chester. She rubbed her temple with arthritic fingers, unable to make sense of who Chester had been or why he was gone and Francis remained.

The car slowed, then turned onto a rough gravel driveway, crunching to a stop. The word home came over her like a fog before dissolving into a white, two-story farm house lined with purple and white lilacs.

Someone opened her car door, and she was suddenly moving as fast as she could into the open air, looking right and left. her vision clouded by a tangle of thick grey hair that had blown loose from the pins holding it in place.


The man who had driven her to this place was walking toward her, frowning.

Her metal cane fell to the dirt as she clasped her hands over her ears and shut her eyes tight. “Do not say it!” she yelled as loudly as she could, unsure if her voice was heard by anyone other than herself, her words drowned out by the insistent barking.

* * *

Creative Commons License “Francis” by Lisa Rivero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Cuddle up with some flash fiction this weekend

It’s mid-January, and while the weather outside may not be frightful at the moment in Wisconsin, it is far from delightful.

Picture1Why not spend the weekend warming your creativity with some flash and micro fiction? Start by reading “Grow Your Own Mesozoic!!! Just $14.99” and “My Father Sold Machines,” then browse the flash fiction publishers and websites below. You might even be inspired to write some of your own! See “Stories in your pocket: How to write flash fiction” for more.

Flash Fiction Friday

Waiting Room Word Search

Word SearchWe met when I was thirteen, and we were married and had an apartment of our own when I was fifteen. My husband went into the army as a sergeant, that’s how well he did on that test they gave him. We are looking to move to Mississippi. He can be on the police force there without the crime and danger we have here. There will be the heat, of course. That is one thing. But we’ll have air conditioning. Then there are the bugs. Mosquitoes as big as flies and cockroaches as big as waterbugs.

One thing I won’t miss is the snow.

Our younger son wants so much to go into the military like his father, but they won’t let him in because of his learning disability. My other son was killed by a drunk driver, 25 years ago on the first day of spring. You heard of Tougaloo College? In Jackson? He was there, in his first year. But it was a blessing. I thank God every day for the blessing. There were five in the accident. The drunk driver and his two friends were okay. My son’s roommate pulled my son from the car. He thought he was just unconscious, you see. Even with two broken knees himself, he pulled my son from that car before it exploded, and he told me later he was sure he had saved him. He didn’t know he was already dead. But it was a blessing. He didn’t suffer. My grandson came in April, and he’s the spitting image of his father, just like him, tall and lanky and slow talking, and that baby was a blessing to me.

It’s that grandson who got me to doing these puzzles. He told me to do five a day, so I got this book at the dollar store, and I do two in the morning and two at night and one in the afternoon. I like them easy. Two of my aunts were just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, both at the same time, so I made an appointment with my doctor to see if there’s a test I can get to see if I have it. But my grandson said these puzzles will keep my brain clear. He’s a good boy, just graduated from college and taking an online class on the computer, to learn something else. I forget what.

My first boy, he goes and signs up for the army after high school so he’ll be able to go to college after, and they send him to Nicaragua and he comes back without a scratch. Then he goes to college and gets killed.

Photo made available from squeezeomatic under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

More Flash with Substance from AWP 2012

FlashI already wrote a bit about the flash fiction session I attended at AWP last week, but I want to expand on it, now that I am writing on a laptop rather than an iPhone (which, by the way, worked so much better than I had hoped—another post for another day).

The panelists for “Flash Points: Publishing Flash Fiction in an Evolving Landscape” were these:

I first become interested in flash fiction from Christi Craig, whose Wednesday’s Word flash pieces I found captivating. It was at Christi’s suggestion that I began to use the flash form as a way to explore family diary entries I have been transcribing. I was hooked on flash in no time.

Here are some of my notes from “Flash Points”:

  • Avoid thinking of flash as simply a joke with a punch line. In fact, avoid punch lines or any other last lines that take over the rest of the piece.
  • Glenn Shaheen noted that humor often does work in flash when the piece has “a few emotions working simultaneously and against each other.”
  • Several of the panelists accept sequences of two, three, or more related flash pieces.
  • Roxanne Gay thinks of flash as an exploded diagram of a moment, but with a narrative arc. At the same time, she says that some flash pieces subvert a narrative arc with their form.
  • Almost all of the panelists said they see lazy writing trying to pass for flash. Flash fiction requires as much revision as longer forms, if not more, because every word bears more weight.
  • Several of the editors request revisions for submissions that have potential but are not quite ready.
  • While flash is known for surrealism, it can also be realistic.
  • Finally, what is the difference between prose poetry and flash fiction? The broad consensus: they are for all practical purposes very often one and the same.

Whether you are a flash veteran or new to the form, check out these submission guidelines for each of the featured publications:

Do you write flash fiction, or do you want to?

[Note: links for matchbook updated since original posting]

Flash Fiction as an Exploded Diagram

I’ve had to make a slight change in plans based on WiFi availability (why I’m reluctant to spend a few dollars to pay for WiFi after all I spend for the hardware to tap into it makes no sense at all): Since I have 3G service on my phone by not my iPad, I’ll be blogging via the WordPress iPhone app. Let’s see how it goes!

Yesterday: My husband and I arrived on the train to a warm and sunny if very windy day in Chicago (later we learned that the wind was the northern edge of the devastating storm that hit much of the Midwest). We walked from north of Water Tower Place to the Hilton to pick up our registration materials, and back. Exercise for the trip: check.

The 9 a.m. session on publishing flash fiction was led by editors from PANK, NANO Fiction, matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly, and the Cupboard. I took a lot of notes, which I’ll share later, once I have my laptop. For now, though, here was my takeaway moment, from Roxane Gay:

Flash fiction is like “an exploded diagram with a narrative arc.”

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post again today, but I’ll try. If not, until tomorrow…