Do you know this 420 Characters thing Lou Beach has going on? This idea of writing a story in 420 characters or less is fabulously appealing to me. Of course, right? It’s a tiny, forced form like haiku and tanka. What’s not to love? Also, it reminds me of one of my favorite story collections, the gorgeously brilliant and perfect Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata. That collection has been a favorite of mine just about forever. The stories are so-named because each is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand … and they are so delicately, beautifully crafted.
Beach’s idea pleases me, even if all of the actual stories don’t. I started trying my hand at them to give myself a quick shot of fiction writing — like comfort food — to get me through all the crazy grant writing I’ve been slogging through lately. They’re tiny. About 2½ texts long (yes, I write them on my phone so I can keep track of the character count). An odd thing I’ve found with the stories I’ve written so far is that most of them run sad. Something about the shorthand-ness of them seems to carry a kind of finality that comes out as melancholy, pain, bad endings. I’m curious to see if they continue this way. They’re not fabulous, but I do like some of them, and I’ve decided to put them up here.
Tonight, there are two. This first one definitely went to a darker place than I’d imagined it would.
In a different story, Seth would marry his high school sweetheart, run a car dealership downtown. But that wouldn’t be his story. He crouched beneath the stairs, almost holding his breath, praying – for a ringing phone, for a knock at the door. But instead he heard the cellar door open, heard his uncle exhale, imagined he could hear him smile. “I’ll be right down, boy.” Seth nodded, the knife hilt warm in his hand.
I want to put titles on them, but they’re so small, the titles overwhelm them somehow. In my head, this next one is called “Eminent Domain,” but that’s way too heavy handed. I think they may have to live title-less.
It was the last time any of us would see the old house. The wreckers were due in the morning, their destruction only a breath away. It was better, though, than forced flooding, a lake full of foundations, chimneys turned to fresh water reefs. We swept and mopped, cleaned the windows, polished the drawer pulls. Mama said a prayer, Nana swore. We locked the door behind us.