“When Doves Cry” by Anne Panning
“Prince tipped extravagantly.” Anne Panning opens her segmented nonfiction microflash “When Doves Cry” with a spot-on description of Prince and extravagant, unexpected word choices. He left $100 bills under the ketchup and then “wiggle[d] his little fanny all the way out the door.” Who doesn’t remember exactly how that looked? Limos “gobbled” him up, “lavender lights pulsed proud” over midwestern “flapping cornfields.”
The next brief section, featuring the narrator and her college boyfriend (two “English majors in a Reagan-Bush world”), opens in medias res with a fight. “That fall I threw a glass bottle of Pepsi at you on Riverside Avenue.” In her craft essay in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, Panning discusses the importance of “ordinary, everyday objects”—what she calls “thingy-ness”—in flash. While a short story writer may engage in “static meditation” on an object, she argues, the flash writer relies on “active imagery” and sets the object in motion. The best flash is “thingy” and “verby.” As the glass bottle flies through the air, the action moves quickly: “I missed; it shattered, foaming all over the sidewalk as I stomped my foot at you to listen, just listen to me for once!” Later they don’t just become seniors: instead, “senior year hit,” and the action unfolds with another object and the same accelerated rhythm, resolved with an internal rhyme. “Senior year hit, and you threw a book bag at me; that was it.”
“My approach to writing flash creative nonfiction is often to use segmentation and juxtaposition,” Panning writes in her author’s note. Without spelling out connections, Panning juxtaposes what she describes as “Prince’s tumultuous relationship with Kim Basinger” and her own “messy relationship with a college boyfriend,” whom she addresses as “you.” The outcome of their affair is expressed through the “thingy-ness” of the homemade drum her boyfriend plays, the taillights on his car, and the wonderfully percussive rhythm of Panning’s syntax at the close of her flash. —CRAFT
Prince tipped extravagantly. He’d leave $100 bills tucked under the ketchup. He did not condescend, but would wiggle his little fanny all the way out the door. The limos gobbled him up and deposited him at Paisley Park. Lavender lights pulsed proud over Land O’Lakes HQ, flapping corn fields, and Target’s biggest bright red bullseye in all of Minnesota.
That fall I threw a glass bottle of Pepsi at you on Riverside Avenue. I missed; it shattered, foaming all over the sidewalk as I stomped my foot at you to listen, just listen to me for once! The mistake: We were both English majors in a Reagan-Bush world. My peasant skirts smelled Goodwill-musty; your wool army pants soaked up snow and steamed in subzero temps. You begged me not to use so many Latinate-based words. I begged you to shut the fuck up. By midnight, I’d be up in your attic bedroom, flat-out on the futon while you ground your teeth in your sleep.
When Prince fell hard for Kim Basinger, everyone whispered: Isn’t he gay? Or something? He canceled a Japanese concert to prove his love; she gave up Hollywood. Some say they lived inside his purple palace as happy as busy little hummingbirds. Others say he put a spell on her. He begged her to sing a sex song with him. Kim’s tortured eyes said no.
You raged tight like fire trapped in a bottle. He’s gonna blow! everyone said. Run! You beat that homemade drum of yours, eyes closed, your weird Dutch pageboy swinging as you hummed. Senior year hit, and you threw a book bag at me; that was it. I signed up for the Peace Corps. You drove me to the interview in your little brown Comet in a blizzard. I watched your red taillights stop, go, stop: disappear.
ANNE PANNING recently published her first memoir, Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss. She has also published a novel, Butter, as well as two short story collections—The Price of Eggs, and Super America, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. She’s published short work in places such as Brevity (five times), Prairie Schooner, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, Kenyon Review, and River Teeth. Her essays have received Notable citations in The Best American Essays series. She teaches creative writing at SUNY Brockport and is working on her next memoir, Bootleg Barber: A Daughter’s Memoir. Find her on Twitter at @AnnePanning.
Featured image by Steven Thompson, courtesy of Unsplash.