“I pulled my mother’s head out of the cream of wheat and wiped off her face and neck with a well worn green and yellow sponge from the kitchen sink.” And so goes the first line of Barry Graham’s chapbook Not a Speck of Light is Showing, a violent, rough, oversexed collection of flash fiction that, despite its hard-edged nature, tends to welcome readers at the oddest moments with its surprising revelations of humor and tenderness. Take this quote from "Dishonorable," for example:
I could feel the glass crunch against the tweezers and the shard drive deeper into my heel. She dug in a second time and grabbed hold of the glass and pulled it out. [. . .] I walked into the kitchen for the broom and dustpan and swept up the glass so I wouldn’t step on it again, then went to the bedroom and finished getting dressed. All my boxers were dirty so . . . I chose looks over smell and took them into the bathroom and flipped them inside out and sprinkled lavender scented baby powder all over them and shook the excess into the sink. I flipped them the other way and spritzed Cool Water cologne on the outside. My father taught me this trick before I left for sixth grade camp. His father taught it to him before he left for the Army. [. . .] My foot was still sore in the morning.
This is pretty typical of how Graham begins the stories in the chapbook, in that he often uses a moment of violence or questionable activity to set off the piece. A few more first sentences demonstrate this technique: “Won’t it be funny, ten years from now, when we look back at what we laughingly refer to as the pitchfork incident?” and “I’m outside my father’s house, looking through the window, he won’t let me in.” Often, his narrators either recall or experience a moment of pain in their life, and by doing so, they reach a tender realization, however small, in the final sentences.
In “Dishonorable,” the glass shards in the narrator’s heel interrupt his dressing to go out. Certainly Graham could have begun with the narrator sniffing at his boxer shorts, but then we would have lost that final sentence, which by its proximity to the mention of his father, gives us some small sense of the pain that accompanies such a memory. Graham has a good feel for how seemingly incongruous sentences, when placed together, can really ring out in a reader’s mind. And what is nice about this, is that Graham also knows that such a move needs only rarely to occur so as to have a greater effect. In a collection of stories as gritty as these, his subtle touch is much appreciated.