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We’re All Just Trying to Keep Our Shit Together at the DMV by L Mari Harris


“We’re All Just Trying to Keep Our Shit Together at the DMV” by L Mari Harris is one of four pieces chosen for the Editors’ Choice Round in the 2020 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest. Our editors selected pieces that showcase the range of forms and styles in flash fiction.


In L Mari Harris’s fragmented flash fiction piece “We’re All Just Trying to Keep Our Shit Together at the DMV,” the conversational, often humorous tone creates an intimate connection between the protagonist and reader almost instantaneously. Narrated through the first-person lens of a young woman grappling with commitment issues, the precise detailing throughout brings dimension to not only the characterization, but also the dynamics which continue to shape this young woman’s perspective. In her accompanying author’s note, Harris compares writing the fragmented flash to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle: “Life rarely makes sense from separate moments across a lifespan, but these moments have a Jungian synchronicity.” Each fragment, each memory, layers against the next, constructing a complex narrative that feels expansive despite its brevity.  —CRAFT


 

The woman sitting in front of me loudly whispers in her crying baby’s ear, “Sobby Robby, stop it. Shut up, Sobby Robby.”

There’s a glob of hard dirt stuck below her right ear. Or maybe it’s a birthmark.

Her long hair is matted and falls in a clump over the chairback, and I mouth three times, Grab her hair, Sobby Robby, pull hard, like an incantation.

My number’s called, and the counter man greets me with a grunt. Grunters make me nervous.

So, I tell him about the time my dad walked out on my mom and me when I was twelve. He holds his hand up just as I’m getting to the good part about Louise down the block and her sassy denim shorts she’d parade around in that summer before she split for Clearwater with my dad.


I told Steven when we first met I carried detritus from my dad leaving.

I actually used that word.

Steven’s a biologist. He said, “We all carry the bodies of dead organisms with us,” and that’s when I leaned in to kiss him. He tasted like cherry ChapStick.

Now he’s got me all lopsided and twisty turvy. He keeps texting me to wear my red dress tonight, and I itch just thinking about what he’s up to. Secret keepers make me nervous.


My mom dated a string of guys after my dad left.

Three of them were named Larry, and two of the Larrys moved in (not at the same time).

Larry 1 was okay. He taught me how to play Nine Ball.

Larry 2 was a dick. Whenever mom was out of the room, Larry 2 would tell me how stupid my dad was for letting a great woman go. Then he’d hook his thumbs in his belt loops like he was the Marlboro Man or something and grin.

“What about me?” I’d ask.

“What about you?” he’d reply.


The scowling man stamps my paperwork harder than necessary, tells me to stand in another line across the room.

That line is twenty deep. I see Sobby Robby’s mom gesticulating with her free hand, finger pointing at that counter man’s face.

Sobby Robby is still crying, and the counter man just stares at her like he’s waiting to die.


After Larry 2 moved out, my mom said she was taking a very long break. That it was her time to shine amid the peace and quiet of evenings alone bingeing on Snapped episodes. She told me she could have been one of those women many times over the years. “Listen to what I’m telling you. I came close.”


On a sixth-grade class trip to Six Flags, we all got stuck on the rollercoaster.

I was at the very top when the rollercoaster ground to a screeching halt. Amid the screams of the other girls and the whoops of the boys, I stared up at the cloudless blue sky.

Then I looked down, saw the workers in green uniforms scrambling and the flashing sign of a booth advertising snow cones in forty flavors. I ticked off the flavors I could think of—cherry, raspberry, grape. I stopped at lemon-lime. Figured they must have made up a lot of those flavors and most probably tasted like cherry anyway.


Before Steven, I dated a guy who dumped me for a woman who wore tight tank tops that strained across her fake tits.

He’d text me every so often, how much he missed me blah, blah.

Then, one day, he texted me a sonogram picture.

WTF? I wrote.

AREN’T YOU HAPPY FOR ME? he shot back. In all caps like a tough guy.

You’ll be an even shittier father, I wrote back.

Then I wrote his number on a bathroom wall at the truck stop off Exit 244.


Sobby Robby’s mom catches her breath and sees me staring at her. What sounds like a yelp escapes my throat, and everyone around me stares.

I yelp again and point at Sobby Robby’s mom across the room. “It was her.”

“Bitch, you don’t know who you’re messing with,” she yells.

She hefts Sobby Robby higher on her hip and stomps over. Gets in my face. Says, “Now what are you going to do?”

Aggressive people make me even more nervous than grunters and secret keepers, so I tell everyone I think my boyfriend is going to propose tonight and how I just want to run somewhere far away, like New Zealand or Spokane.

Everyone just stares at me, including Sobby Robby, who’s stopped crying.

I tell them I have commitment issues, that my dad walked out on my mom and me. I tell them about Louise and her sassy denim shorts. I tell them about my ex dumping me for a woman with fake tits.

I tell them everything until there’s nothing left to tell, until all I can do is lean over and kiss Sobby Robby’s sweaty little head. Whisper, I’m sorry life won’t ever make sense.

Because I know.

 


L MARI HARRIS’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in matchbook, Ponder Review, (mac)ro(mic), Bandit Lit, Pithead Chapel, Tiny Molecules, among others. She works in the tech industry and lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at lmariharris.wordpress.com.

 

Featured image by Uwe Jelting courtesy of Unsplash

 

Author’s Note

A high percentage of my flash fiction is in the fragmented form. There’s something very Proustian about this form for me. We humans tend to have random memories pop into our heads when we’re doing the most mundane things (like standing in line and someone’s actions spark the memory of Louise and her sassy denim shorts who stole your dad away when you were a kid). Those little memories spark emotions, which in turn tend to spark more memories and more emotions.

My flashes always begin with an image tied to an emotion (in this case, a young woman with commitment issues who is anxious thinking her boyfriend is going to propose). I never edit myself in a first draft—I just follow the rabbit hole and write whatever associations, regardless of how tenuous, pop into my head. “Fitting” these together into a coherent story comes later, when I begin to pick that first draft apart—rearranging, deleting—as the emotion I’m trying to convey starts to take shape within my choices. Once I’m happy I’m heading in the right direction, this is when I read the piece out loud, and I listen for the words and sentences and images that announce their need to be erased, to let their absence shout their importance to the reader instead. I keep chiseling away until I can’t find one more instance where I’d make a change, then I put it away for a few days or weeks until I feel like I can look at it with fresh eyes. Invariably, I end up rewriting entire sections and/or cutting even more.

Life rarely makes sense from separate moments across a lifespan, but these moments have a Jungian synchronicity. This is why fragmented flash is my favorite form as I put those moments together like pieces of a puzzle. And it’s our job as writers (or storytellers—I like storytellers much better) to make the puzzle pieces fit and to create the picture on the front of the puzzle box. I love it when even I’m surprised at what the front of that puzzle box ends up looking like—sort of like life’s moments, how they still can surprise me, how I never thought this moment would connect to that moment from years ago. But they do. You just have to look for the truth in each moment.

 


L MARI HARRIS’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in matchbook, Ponder Review, (mac)ro(mic), Bandit Lit, Pithead Chapel, Tiny Molecules, among others. She works in the tech industry and lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at lmariharris.wordpress.com.