Let’s Say, Triptych by Steven Sherrill
“Let’s Say, Triptych” by Steven Sherrill 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.
Steven Sherrill’s microfiction piece “Let’s Say, Triptych” checks all the boxes: a voice that latches on and won’t let go; an emotional resonance that deepens and shifts the second you think you’re close enough to see it clearly; and disembowelment. The narrator lives as many of us do, stuck in a thought loop, trying to escape his scary, honest, beautiful reality. As the piece begins, the protagonist fixates on a barefoot girl—“The look on her face, maybe suffering, maybe bliss”—who embodies the conflicting realities he considers. In his accompanying author’s note, Sherrill says he’s learned to follow where the writing takes him rather than serve as a “determiner.” This is evident as the prose leads us further into our narrator’s fantasies until the language confronts reality, breaking from repetition and helping us see the world with fresh eyes. What he finds is what we all find in rare moments of clarity, that beauty and love will gut you clean. —CRAFT
Let’s say you follow her home. The barefoot girl on the corner of Union, where Nut Creek gnaws at the back steps of a church and the struggling crisis center. She cuts her own hair, with garden clippers. Let’s say. Hacks. The look on her face, maybe suffering, maybe bliss. You can’t decide. Can’t tell. Let’s say she’s talking to herself. Or singing. In this version, you don’t know the words. “Stop,” you say. “Don’t,” you say. “Let me teach you.” Let’s say you follow her home. Let’s say you don’t go to your roomful of undergrads, ready or not, for your ekphrastic writing exercise. You follow her home. Except it’s not home, and you just want to wash her feet. “I know things about art,” you say. “I want to teach you,” you say. She recoils. “You’re nobody’s savior,” she says, then disembowels you with her shears.
No. No. No. What happens is this. Let’s say you follow her. Home. The girl on the corner with the hair and the rage. Your real wife, your real kids. Too bad. You have to be true. To your dream. You stop teaching. Devote your life to her feet. Carvings of same, perfectly rendered, in miniature, in soap. Try not to think about her hair. You offer her skulls of roadkill deer. You offer her viable sperm. “I know things about art,” you say. “I want to teach you,” you say. She recoils. “This is ridiculous,” she says. “I’m not your savior.” She takes the clippers, having hidden them, for all these years, in her mouth. Or maybe her sock drawer. Either way, she takes the clippers. Disembowels you.
Hey. Come on, now. Let’s say the truth. Truth is you’re a coward. But no more or less than anybody else. Let’s say you go home. Real home. Your wife is mad at you. There’s a tomato sauce stain on her shirt, disappearing into the pocket over her heart. You sob, but only inside. You should help your daughter with Social Studies, but you’re mad at all of them. Can’t remember why. Let’s say you want to tell her about something you saw. Out there. Let’s say you can only gesture. Let’s say she sees it, that gesture, and knows enough, and in her knowing, reaches, returning her own. Gesture. Lord help us, the depth of that love disembowels you.
Though most of STEVEN SHERRILL’s years and public success have been as a novelist, he was born a poet. Somewhere along the way, he took up banjo and synthesizer. He’s having so much fun in this realm of short-short-flash-micro. It feels like home. In the end, in the stories, he’s hurling himself against the potential for love in almost everything.
Featured image by Bruno courtesy of Pixabay