(That competition is open and running again, by the way, full details at http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/comp.html)
The Book Of Small Changes takes its inspiration from the wisdom of the Chinese I Ching, replacing those ancient fortunes with new stories: where the sea mourns for those it has lost, where encyclopaedia salesmen weave their accidental magic, and where the only true gift for a king is the silence of snow.
The book is available in paperback and Kindle formats. More details at http://gumbopress.co.uk/booksmallchanges.html
We are also looking at other collections, and hope to have news of future publications soon. If you wish your collection to be considered, submission details can be found at http://gumbopress.co.uk/submissionscollections.html
In other news, we are now starting to sift through submissions for the first issue of Flash Gumbo. There is still time to see your story in that issue, so send us something through in the next week and you might make it into the inaugural issue. Submission details for this are at http://gumbopress.co.uk/submissionsFG.html
And, as a treat, and to give you some idea of what we like, here are some flash-fictions that originally appeared in our previous e-zine, Word Gumbo. Enjoy!
by Joanne Key
(Originally published in Word Gumbo issue 4.)
They leave the house and carry the silence between them like an empty frame. The clumsy shape and sharp angles make it difficult to handle; it forces them into a push-me-pull-you motion until they get the feel for it: how to grasp with their fists, balance their distance. They stop outside the gallery and decide at the same time to wander in, not because they are synchronized, but because they know they can rest in this place where absences blend easily into white space.
She finds herself climbing the steps into every portrait; testing the boats in all the harbors. He heads straight to the lighthouse. She scans the seascapes for hidden images in the pages of waves, but all they say is keep looking. Turning her head, she catches sight of him, looks for the thing that has captured his eye, stopped his heart, and sees him, in the distance, admiring the rigging of a ship in a bottle.
As she crosses over, she looks to the love stories: the two shadows on the beach who have found all they need under a heart-shaped sunset; night-swimmers meeting at the line the sun has drawn under the day; stick people fused by their hands and marooned inside an island of themselves, but she cannot hear his voice in her head until she reaches an assemblage: an artwork of washed-up flotsam which she understands. The perspective of driftwood is all hers, and she knows he would call it “wreckage” and say it has come to this only because there were not enough fragments to rebuild the boat.
Out on the sea wall they watch the day narrow. Thin shadows linger on rocks like clock hands and the brass bell of sun seems to chime - There Is Still Time. He holds a lens to her face and in her head, she practices reaching out from behind glass to say: I love, I love you, I love this. Instead, she decides to just smile for the photo, but the camera detects a blink behind sunglasses and he is captivated by its eye for detail. This breaks the silence, creates a space wide enough for him to step though and ask, “Are we OK?”
She doesn’t say that the blink was a refocusing; a homing-in on the image that has appeared on his shoulder all through this holiday: a creature rising from the surf and repeatedly throwing itself at the shoreline, only to find one breath of form and enough time to leave the same hurried note, over and over, in the sand. Yesterday, she read: I am more than water, today it says: I tried my best to hold on. She watches his face and takes his hand, because she knows sometimes when there are not enough words to give; you can just grab hold of the signs and quietly run away with them.
In A Different Light
by Downith Monaghan
(Originally published in Word Gumbo issue 3.)
Since you moved to the city, people see you in a different light. It was expensive, but the blonde highlights disguise the mousy brown hair and you wear pencil skirts and silk blouses now, instead of scruffy jeans. You even found a shop that carried kitten heels for wide feet. Yes, since you moved to the city, people see you in a different light. But you know better. Back at your new flat, when you shut the door and turn on the light, you see what they don’t, what the mirror doesn’t reveal. Beneath the swish clothes and silky undergarments, you’re still the same bloke from Hampshire.
by Cheri Ause
(Originally published in Word Gumbo issue 5.)
At the end of his shift, he turned off the patio and pool lights, the signal to motel occupants they could not enter the area until morning.
The water was warm, the air only slightly cooler each time she lifted an arm. She rolled into a turn at the end of the pool and re-surfaced, now gliding soundlessly on her back across the dark water. The marquee on the street cast a dim glow: Travelodge. The single L slipped between the two words: travel, lodge.
Earlier that night she’d ridden with him through the traffic and neon of State Street, the top down on the Austin-Healey, the tails of his silk tie trailing over the shoulder of his white shirt. “Twenty-three?" her mother said before she left. "What does someone his age want from a seventeen-year-old girl?”
Still wearing his slacks and shirt, he sat in a deck chair and watched her swim, her body indistinguishable from the dark medium except for the pinpoints of light flickering across it. Once she raised her hand and snapped it, sending sparks of water in his direction.
“Hey. Knock it off,” he said, but he didn’t move. She imagined his mouth and the partial moon crease to the right of his lips when he smiled.
She dived beneath the surface and slipped deeper into the shadows, the edges of her body softening, dissipating. Amniotic. With a dolphin kick, she propelled herself to the far end of the pool. When she emerged, he was standing above her, a towel draped between his hands.
“Ready to get out?”
He unlocked 3A, the same room they would use all the other nights that would follow—gone forever the fumblings of backseat boys. In the dim light, the radio played something sweet—Getz and Gilberto, Chet Baker, Trane ballads. In this way she learned to love jazz, sitting naked on a bed while he dried her hair with a coarse white towel. In this way she learned to love a man, the smell of chlorine, bleached cotton, and sex, co-mingling and indistinguishable.
Double Blind Date
by Jim Eigo
(Originally published in Word Gumbo issue 2.)
From the passenger seat I turn my pounding head around as far as I can manage and still maintain my surface nonchalance. What do I say? I’m not really keeping track. The move is just an excuse to fill my eyes with her. The sight of her in the flesh once more confirms what memory has known for several hours. I watch them—the exceptional girl I’m now looking at and the exceptional girl I’ve been entertaining in my head—draw close and kiss in the looking glass of my heated imagination.
In the dark of the backseat of the car, her calm, heavy eyes rise to meet the oncoming headlights. Otherwise she barely registers their passing. Nor does she react to whatever I’ve just said. Perhaps it merits no response. Under the exaggerated play of flash and shadow she sits, placid, happy by the look of it.
How in hell can she be happy with the guy she’s been stuck with the whole damn night, the one she’s now stuffed next to? From shoulder to toe, he presses his inexcusable bulk up against her long, fresh body. How can she be happy with the familiar way he’s draped his arm around her? Like cocktail sausages, his thick fingers rest on her bare shoulder like they belong there. He disgusts even me, and I’m his best friend. I know the deep rot his flesh hosts. When he smiles (which he does right now with transparent intent, as dumb and smug as the bugs of high summer that right now are smearing themselves across the speeding vehicle’s windshield) I can smell it on his breath.
When he smiles she responds with a muted laugh, uncrossing her legs before she crosses them again in the opposite direction. Stockinged thigh strokes stockinged thigh, making a sound like a distant cloud of insects. Something’s coming! Can I be the only one who hears it? No, no functioning male within earshot could fail to pick up the signal. My friend moves his free hand from his knee to hers and there it stays—content for now but for how long?
His thoughts leer loud and clear. I can hear the gears in his head whirr from here, like a rogue projector discharging its pictures out into an unsuspecting world, backlit luridly. But in the dark of the hurtling car, if I spoke right now what my heart knows, my startled date might drive us all off the side of the highway into who knows where.