FictionNow’s Summer 2013 issue boasts the stories of three writers: Henry W. Leung, Sarah McElwain, and Richard Smolev.
Leung’s “The Sound of Just Rightness” is one that reveals the relationship between the two characters over time. From the beginning, you can tell that it is a male-female dynamic, but what you might think is a husband-wife relationship, is actually that of two siblings. The narrator and Patty are both interesting characters: the narrator is a blind man that makes money playing jazz music on the street, and Patty is a larger woman who cannot be distracted from her television shows. They bicker throughout, and it is clear that their relationship is complicated. In the final scene, he wakes to play a new song, “neither gospel nor blues, nor pop nor rock, but it’s something to dance to”:
She almost yells at me but stops, and stands there listening. We’re a dozen paces apart with nothing between us but song. I want her to sing it with me, to tell me tears are burning her eyes. I want her body to speak, to shake off her troubles like a skin.
But she makes no movement and I can’t know what she’s feeling. All I can do is keep the space filled up with music and listen, and leave it up to Patty to see if anything can change.
McElwain’s piece has one of my favorite scenes from any story I’ve read in quite a while. Upset that her boyfriend cheated on her and in a rut at work, the narrator stumbles upon a snow bank of holiday garbage, among it “was a purple Styrofoam wig head.” She takes it with her, strapping it into her passenger seat for the next week. Then she sneaks into the old apartment she shared with the boyfriend (where he still lives):
I put [the purple Styrofoam head] in the bed. Lying on a pillow in the dark, it had a startled look that reminded me of Liza Minnelli. I covered it with the quilt then slipped out the window. I jumped down from the porch, walked to my car, then drove back to Pelham.
The phone rang around midnight.
“You crazy bitch,” he said. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Surprise,” I said.
And I felt a lot better after that.
And finally, “The Prick of The Needle” by Richard Smolev tells a story through the point-of-view of an older woman who has forgotten the touch of a man. As a young man doctors up her foot, she recalls when she was lured in by a Father Braxton:
. . . I did nothing to resist. It had been years since Stewart made me feel like that. Warm in parts of my body I’d forgotten about. Even damp. And above all else, desired. Father Braxton fumbled so with my undergarments I found myself coming to his rescue. Was I a victim? I can’t say that. It would be unfair to Father Braxton. I was so willing. Submissive.
But, in the end, she asks the doctor if the pain really ever goes away.
By providing only three pieces, FictionNow puts more weight on each one, offering the reader a chance to ponder more on the writing, the stories, and their importance.