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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

 

Author’s Note

At this point in my many years of making work, I am much less a determiner, less in charge of things—consciously anyway—and much more of a conductor/conduit/follower. I studied poetry in Iowa, but my public success has been as a novelist. And what I really want to be when I grow up is a musician (of sorts).

I go through my life in a creator state of mind. There are numerous writing projects underway (in all stages of completion or abandonment); scads of paintings, 3D, photos, and video art projects filling more and more real and virtual space; and increasingly, making and manipulating sound is taking my time and filling my spaces. Ideas and beginnings gather and collect. Too, I have several projects that combine all of these elements. Through diligence and intention, I have learned to quell any pressure to complete, to perfect. Anything. I have endeavored to be present in the making of whatever idea presents itself to me. And they always do, those ideas. I’ve learned to love and wallow in the creative process, with limited attention to what the final product has to or must be. Be like. The result is that I finish a lot of work (on its schedule rather than mine). Then I move on to the next thing.

It’s been years since I’ve written a poem. That one came to me as a surprise, and I did nothing with it except give it to my wife. Recently, and between video projects, I fell into a flash fiction hole. Found a rich vein there; two dozen and counting. And of those, “Let’s Say, Triptych” started life as that last poem. Much of the meaty parts of the poem are present in the first panel of the story’s triptych. But I was in full-on fiction writing mode, and following, not leading. Following. There’s a thirty-year old idea in the story. There’s a tomato sauce stain from last week.

I was very pleased with where the narrative led me.

 


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.