The Doll Friend

PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

Prominent among Heidi’s earliest memories of home was looking up at a stained-glass image of a dolphin, surrounded in a circle of blue. At age three she called it the doll friend, and the toddler mispronunciation became the piece’s title among her family.

She didn’t learn how the Doll Friend had arrived until she was twelve. “It was left behind accidentally by the house’s former occupants,” her father explained. “We offered to ship it to them, but they weren’t interested. We thought about chucking it, but decided it looked kinda nice, so we kept it.”

Heidi appreciated her parent’s instincts.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 135

Last week our governor issued a statewide mask mandate. If you’re outside your home and can’t stay more than six feet away from somebody, you’re required to wear a mask. Nobody knows how this mandate will be enforced. Meanwhile, every key indicator — infections, hospitalizations, deaths — are as high as they’ve ever been.

In the chill of April, many of us hoped summer’s good weather would end this virus. Now I can’t run out to the hardware store to fill my propane tank without putting on a mask. We’ve done such a bad job of managing this crisis that I can’t figure out when it will end. We’ll get there, but it’s going to be a tough journey.

***

I’ve started working more. The tech writing firm I do contract work for started me on a second project last week, so I’m looking at 20-30 hours of week at least through the end of August. Tutoring at the community college ends for the summer session tomorrow; whether I’ll have work there in September isn’t known yet. I’m down to one day a week at the grocery store. I like working there on Friday, after completing my weekly tech writing and tutoring work. Get home at 5, and I’m ready for the weekend.

Working at home hasn’t been an issue for me. I actually enjoy it over commuting to an office. And for writing activities, conversing remotely is wonderful. The past few weeks I’ve attended several workshops during a virtual literary conference, and I truly believe I learned more remotely than I would have in person.

I’ve made a pretty good adjustment to this inconvenient reality. I just hope my family and I can continue in good health until we come up with a solution to this mess.

phoebe

At the start of this year, I made a commitment to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine each week. With today’s post, I’m one week closer to reaching that goal.

Founded in 1971, phoebe (all lowercase, thank you very much) is both an online and print literary journal.

What they say about themselves:phoebe prides itself on supporting up-and-coming writers, whose style, form, voice, and subject matter demonstrate a vigorous appeal to the senses, intellect, and emotions of our readers. We choose our writers because we believe their work succeeds at its goals, whether its goals are to uphold or challenge literary tradition.

We insist on openness, which means we welcome both experimental and conventional prose and poetry, and we insist on being entertained, which means the work must capture and hold our attention, whether it be the potent language of a poem or the narrative mechanics of a short story. Above all, we seek to publish quality writing.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 49, Issue 2 (Spring 2020)

Genre: Experimental realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Shape of Grief,” by Alyssa Quinn. On a visit to a doctor’s office, a woman insists on having an x-ray, which reveals she has a large metallic pillar inside her. After it is removed, she decides to keep the object. The sensual details in this story are quite memorable.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The stories rely far more on perspective and insight than they do on action or dialogue.

Profanometer: Dammit. One memorable story consistently used the term bleep in place of profanity, and it worked more effectively than I would have suspected.

Past Passions

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Learning to cook more, that’s been fun. A little unpleasant to drag the weights and yoga mats up from the basement, though the additional exercise made it worthwhile. Revisiting old hobbies has been one of few pleasures during this pandemic.

Been five years (six?) since that painting class at the community center. Tucked the supplies in a garage cabinet and forgot about them until I looked for nylon string for my trimmer last weekend.

The paints are dried out, but the easel’s in good shape, as are the paint trays. Time to rediscover another fleeting passion from the past?

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 128

My favorite distractions are returning from the pandemic wilderness. Major League Baseball will start an abbreviated season this Friday, and both the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League will resume their suspended seasons next week. In preparation for this post, I decided to look at the Yahoo Sports app on my phone, and it had been so long since I’d used it that I couldn’t remember which screen its icon was located on.

I’ve had too much on my mind to say that I’ve missed watching sports. But to finish a work day up in my second-floor office, then come down to the living room and turn on a ball game is going to be a welcome relief. It won’t be the same — seeing players perform in empty stadia is going to seem all wrong — but I’ll take what I can get, and I have a strong feeling even casual fans will tune in at record numbers for the simple reminder of an easier time.

There’s growing uncertainty about America’s favorite sport, what we call football and the rest of the world calls Gridiron Football, American Football, or Organized Mayhem. The National Football League has cancelled its four-week preseason that was set to begin in August, and while neither the NFL nor the collegiate leagues (almost as popular in certain areas of the country as the pros) had indicated it will delay the start of their seasons, the current spike in COVID-19 cases may force something like a shortened season beginning in October or November. Empty stadia may also be the norm for the sport.

When will it be safe to go to a ball game again? Large gatherings will be the last to return, although outdoor sports such as baseball and football will likely come back before indoor sports, concerts, and conventions. I haven’t attended a professional baseball game in two years, but if the gates open next spring I’m going to attend as many different ball parks as I can get to. Watching sports is a trivial distraction which nonetheless gave me great joy, and I look forward to indulging this passion once more.

GNU Journal

Every week this year, I’m planning to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine. Here is the latest.

Since 2016, GNU Journal is published once a year by the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program of National University.

What they say about themselves: “There are plenty of literary journals you could read, but most are highly specialized, resulting in a limited view of contemporary writing. The GNU seeks to create a comprehensive creative platform for both readers and writers.

Who among us has never enjoyed a genre considered non-literary by some? A great horror story, an engaging science fiction tale, a compelling young adult narrative, a Sunday morning comic (or two). Who is to say these are less important to our culture than writings with a more traditional flair?

It could be argued that one must sample all types of writing in order to gain a panoramic understanding of this delicious literary soup we are lucky enough to savor. Anyway, lovers of great writing will recognize it as such regardless of genre or style. So pull a chair up to our table. That’s right. There is plenty of room and something for everyone. Enjoy.”

Issue reviewed: 2020

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative content

 One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Eulogy Curators, LLC,” by Mark Spann. The Research Team of Eulogy Curators sends a message to one of their clients seeking additional biographical information in order to write the client’s eulogy. The team receives a response from an unexpected source. A fun take on the epistolary format.

Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. I enjoyed how many of the stories experimented with form.

Profanometer: Dammit. Most of the stories didn’t contain a single obscenity.

Following Instructions

PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

The instructions were explicit. Leave package at gate. Call after you leave.

Six months ago, I would’ve waited anyway, to deter theft. But we’re dealing with a bigger threat now.

I pull the van out of the driveway, and pull up to the curb. My call goes immediately to voicemail.

“Hi Mrs. Benton. Your delivery’s at the front gate.” It’s all I’m required to say, but I feel urged to keep talking. “I’m just a driver and don’t know you, but I hope you’re all right. Be well.” Urge satisfied, I disconnect the call and continue to my next destination.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest with a 100-word limit and a photo prompt.

Day 121

My son came home over the weekend. First time my wife and I have seen him since January. We paid to have him tested before he arrived, and weren’t surprised to find out he has COVID antibodies. He suspected he caught the coronavirus in April, and the antibody test result pretty much confirms this. He only had a day or two of mild symptoms; he seems fine now, except for recurring stomach aches. If you want to worry yourself sick, do about fifteen minutes of Google research on lingering COVID-19 complications, especially among young people.

Some friends of ours have criticized us for allowing our son to return, or at least not quarantining him for 14 days after he arrived. Yeah, antibody tests aren’t completely reliable. But I’m not going to live in fear. We’re taking on a bit more risk by having him stay with us for a month, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Kaleidotrope

My latest weekly review of literary journals and genre magazines. 

Founded in 2006 as a print magazine, Kaleidotrope is now an online magazine published four times a year.

What they say about themselves: “Kaleidotrope tends heavily towards the speculative — towards science fiction, fantasy and horror — but we like an eclectic mix and are therefore always eager to read interesting work that falls outside those categories. Man does not live on space ships, elves and ghostly axe murderers alone, after all. We’d suggest picking up a recent issue to familiarize yourself with the zine, and/or checking out other work by our past contributors, to get a sense of what we’re looking for and what we like. In the end, what we want is interesting and unconventional work, well-written stories and poems that surprise and amuse us, shock and disturb us, that tell us things we didn’t know or reveal old truths in brand new ways. We want strange visions of distant shores, of imaginary countries and ordinary people, and work that doesn’t lose sight of entertainment and the joy of good writing.”

Issue reviewed: Summer 2020

Genre: Speculative Fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “A Love Like Bruises” by Jeremy Szal. A captured alien is interviewed by a human who has a fascination with these conquered aliens. The human’s curiosity leads him to strike an unfortunate bargain.

Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Plenty of compelling narratives throughout.

Profanometer: Dammit. The language was appropriate for the storyline and characters, but if you have a problem with TV-MA dialogue then this isn’t for you.

Manual Accomplishment

PHOTO PROMPT @ A. Noni Mouse

Some kitchen utensils are not fit for the dishwasher. Delicate food containers that warp in the washer’s heat, plastic mixing bowls and rubber spatulas that absorb the concentrated soap, knives that dull under the high-powered water, anything made of wood — all better served being washed by hand.

Denton actually enjoyed this task. So few required manual attention that he’d be done with a night’s work in under 20 minutes, and in stepping back from his task and seeing his work drying in the rack next to the sink, he felt a sense of accomplishment he rarely experienced in his office job.

Another Friday Fictioneers submission composed in under 20 minutes. I’m liking this word-per-minute rate!