The phrase “prime number” is one that generally gives me the chills, reminding me of past days of math classes and the frustration tied to them. However, Prime Number Magazine manages to have the opposite effect: it’s a fun and quirky online journal with a lot to offer readers.
Issue 127 opens with three recent winners of the monthly Flash Fiction Contests: David Armstrong with “Quality of Light,” Sarah Ann Winn with “Boxwood Fox Hunt,” and David E. Yee with “Brotherhood.” My favorite of these is Winn’s piece, a haunting and darkly magical tale. A maze outside a home—or the maze’s occupants—brings bad luck to the narrator and their family. Car batteries keep dying, flowers are plucked from the garden and destroyed, someone is smashing “every window on the side of the house facing the maze.” Winn enchants with her writing, casting a spell on readers as they learn of the mysterious happenings and wonder about the cause. She does a great job with the flash genre, but I’d love to read more.
Following the flash winners are three winners of the monthly 53-word Story Contest. Each of these is inspired by a prompt. Donna Kennedy writes about school in “The Shed Is Best,” a touching story about finding a place to fit in; Noël Rozny writes about harvest in “Homecoming,” exploring the prompt’s idea of “raising the dead before interring them again” by calling ghosts home with “Hostess cupcakes, sparkly nail polish,” a sweet and sad little story; and Lorri McDole writes on being temporary in “The Little Transient,” which raises chilling images.
Next, guest poetry editor Seth Michelson shares his picks. Among his selections is “after drinking” by Lukas Ray Hall, another chilling piece. In this poem, the speaker’s brother, after drinking, “slurs the pistol towards me, asks again // why are you scared of me now?” When he turns the gun toward the woods and pulls the trigger, the gun expels a bullet and the brother “laughs, [I] honestly, // didn’t know if it was loaded.” The poem is frightening, especially when considering the note following the piece: “You are more likely to use a firearm against a family member than a criminal or intruder.” Hall writes with tension, forcing us to consider being in the same situation. How would we feel and react if a blood relative aimed a loaded gun at us and mocked us for fearing it?
John Matthew Fox, guest fiction editor, provides three prose pieces for readers: “Tempting the Serpent” by Sharon Goldberg, “D.C. Al Coda” by Richard Morrissette, and “Jackie, but Famous” by Matthue Roth. I was drawn to Roth’s character Jackie.
One day while rushing through the city, internally worrying about daily, mundane issues, Jackie sees herself on a billboard: “Godzilla-sized, eyes half-lidded, body contorting, almost doubled over, caught mid-swing, her pursed lips blowing into a saxophone as big as a fire station.” With her man-child son, Bobby, she discovers there seems to be a different, famous Jackie living a completely different, glamorous life. Jackie is enamored with the idea of being this other person, allowing herself to make choices that she normally would not, finally culminating in her sneaking in to an event for famous Jackie and assuming her identity. It is while she is here that Jackie begins to think deeper about her double:
[S]he began to realize: it didn’t matter. Nothing she did mattered. She wasn’t here because she’d done anything or because she had the power to do anything, but only because of circumstance, fate, what was expected of her because a complete stranger happened to share her face. She was Jackie. She was not Jackie. She was all the potential of Jackie, all the pasts and all the possibilities, everything that ever was and everything that could ever be. What wrong turn had she taken, what decision had she made that resulted in her being this and not that, a secretary not a sax player, or all the other things she was [ . . . ]?
That may be a little more existential pondering than I expected to encounter, but Roth shapes the story and leads us to this epiphany in a creative and unique way. His note that follows the piece offers his inspiration: commuters bustling through the Manhattan streets are “so much more interesting to watch than the professionals,” a statement fellow people-watchers can attest to.
Not to be missed in this issue is another fiction piece, Publisher’s Pick “Encyclopedia Helenica” by Joseph Rein. Rein constructs a story based around Helen Trudeau, a seventeen-year-old girl descending into an eating disorder. Rein breaks the story down into encyclopedia-inspired entries, another writer putting a unique spin on a story we have seen played out plenty of times throughout the years.
A nice addition to the issues for readers to look out for is a mini-interview (a flash interview?) that follows each piece and contributor bio. The writers answer three questions, the perfect length for someone like me who normally has a hard time getting excited about interviews.
Prime Number Magazine is far from stuffy classrooms and the nearly-failed quizzes of my past. The online journal offers readers a true bag of tricks, an enjoyable experience throughout. Writers wanting to join in on the fun can submit their work to the monthly contests and scheduled reading periods now.