For my seventh birthday, my uncle took me and my cousins to the circus. I was not particularly interested in circuses but according to the poster (this was back before the internet), they had the one thing in the world that my seven-year-old heart desired: a unicorn.
So we drove in the cranky Dodge Ram to the sports arena in the nearby city of Jacksonville and went in. Everything was gaudy and tawdry and absolutely fantastic. The roaming spotlights, the smell of elephant shit and cotton candy, the sequins and ruby red lipstick, it was so different from how I usually spent a school night. And then, the unicorn. I gripped my best cousin’s hand in anticipation. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages…
It was not a unicorn.
It was a goat.
I tried not to show my disappointment to my uncle and his wife (second wife so I did not call her my aunt). They had gone through so much trouble for a niece that they barely knew, despite the fact that I lived next door. It was before the scandals, the accusations. We were just family then.
And I did learn a valuable lesson that night, on the cusp of my seventh year: in this life, people will try and convince you that the mundane is sacred. Keep your eyes open for barnyard animals disguised as mythological creatures.
This issue, the last one for a while, features four excellent stories:
Last summer, the heat was a killer. Every day, the news reported more causalities of the brutal heat wave, old people, young people, people who worked outside, played outside. A first grader died during a short excursion to the local park, prompting a nationwide campaign of keeping the children indoors, protecting them from the heat.
And now that summer dawns again, everyone is worried. Will the heat be as cruel this year, will it make us suffer, make us melt?
Heat, anthropomorphized into a killer so that we have not something to blame but someone.
In this issue’s collection of eight stories, heat influences and threatens, heat appears as an actual weapon and as a vehicle of remembrance.
In this issue, writers were asked to use this very leading phrase to launch their stories. The stories this issue are doubled in length, resulting in six juicy stories to satisfy your reading appetite. Enjoy!
My mother was born a brunette with raven black hair that glowed blue in the sunlight. Her complexion rivalled Snow White, making her an exception in a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired family. She had me later in life, back in the days when thirty-six is older than it is today. Her style had changed by the time I came along, becoming more comfortable and casual than when she had raised my older siblings. I was born at the very end of the seventies but a decade earlier, my mother had been very fashion conscious and made the most of her dramatic features. She never wore pastels or flower prints or anything soft and flowing. My mother kept her color palate minimal but bold, choosing to wrap herself in black, white, and red. Very few people can pull off red on a regular basis but it was my mother’s signature color at one point and deservedly so. Her nails would be bright cherry red as would her lips, matching everything in her wardrobe.
As an adult, I have tried to do the same but red makes my face look flushed and here in Japan, people only have red cheeks when they are inebriated. So I avoid the color for myself though I appreciate it on others. Red is not an easy color to pull off, but those who can do so with aplomb.
Which leads me to the stories for Issue Four. Eight stories showcasing red as a political statement, as a symbol of hatred, of passion, a memory, a dream. All the stories this week are rich with the color, the authors imbuing their prose with a boldness only red can provoke, and doing so with much aplomb.
This is our first photo prompt but it will not be our last. I selected this one because it just says so much: a powerful emotion is captured but along with it, a stillness. Is he reacting to the newspaper before him or is he hoping the newspaper will distract him from something more disturbing outside of the frame? Or is he reacting to anything at all? Perhaps the sun is too bright, perhaps he is exhausted from taking care of his colicky grandson so his daughter could get some much-needed sleep. So many story possibilities in this one picture, six of which are laid out with incredible creativity in this week’s issue.
(2) Lunch by Dawn DeBraal (3) Trash by Kelli J Gavin (4) Submerged Vanity by Henry Bladon (5) In the cafe by Sunil Sharma (6) Father’s Day by Michael Natt (7) A Search by Debjani Mukherjee (8) The Obituary by Mark Kodama (9) The Other Side by Brandy Bonifas
My mother always has some bizarre detail woven into her letters about the mundane. Last week, I got one that included this gem: so your brother had a blackout up there (the electricity, not your brother) and he and the neighbor went to investigate. Turns out a raccoon had bit into the transformer somehow, messing everything up. And they know it was a raccoon because the poor thing was there on the ground, still smoking.
Which made me think, we have not had any stories focusing on the other species of this world. Of course, the word wildlife could be twisted into different meanings and that is fine. Just make sure the story includes wildlife of some sort or the other and you will be aces.
As always, 500 words or less and due on Thursday, February 21st by 8 pm.
Hey there and welcome to Volume 2 of Mercurial Stories.
My grandmother had always said she detested the smell of roses, called them funeral flowers, and because she was my first kindred spirit on this planet, I adopted this attitude towards the beloved bloom.
So when Frankie Oscar the Third showed up on Valentine’s Day at my junior high school with a dozen of them cradled in one arm and a heart-shaped box of chocolates covered in fake roses in the other, I found myself more nauseous than delighted. Nauseous and embarrassed. I had gotten a bigger present than any other 8th grader and from my high school boyfriend at that. I should have felt smug as well as delighted. But I did not.
The note he had included in the card made it all the worse. It read just like all his other letters, I love you, sweetheart. Again, wasn’t that what I was supposed to want to read? And yet I found it incredibly boring, the same sentence over and over, hastily scribbled on wide-ruled notebook paper.
My mom told me that I was supposed to keep the roses in the empty chocolate box, a sort of romantic trophy that I would eventually be sentimental for. So I cut off the flowers’ heads and tossed them into the box then stored it at the back of my closet. Later, on a laundry-washing weekend home from college, I came across the chocolate box when looking for an old marbled composition notebook. There inside were the rose heads, their red petals now shriveled and black. The sickly sweet smell flooded the room. I put the lid back on, walked out to where my father was burning a pile of leaves, and tossed the box in whole.
It might seem a little strange, in light of that story, that I should select, for a story due on Valentine’s Day, the prompt “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. And yet I decided on it because I assumed that my writers would have wide-range of perspectives about the holiday. And I was not disappointed.
Today we have five stories with titles from the now extinct Conversation Hearts candy, the small candy with big messages.
A year ago, I started this endeavour as an attempt to balance my writing practice with my Japanese study. It was, essentially, a resolution. Like all resolutions, I faltered many times. I wanted to quit every other week, questioned the conception of such a foolhardy resolution, was puzzled by the evolution of the project. It grew from the seed of my desire to write regularly and became an entirely different tree, filled with the fruits of others’ labours.
Accepting the tree as it was, letting it grow into what it is now, was more meaningful than establishing a better writing practice, it turned out. Supporting others in their own literary resolutions required a creative skill set that I did not possess at the beginning of 2018. Many people question the point of New Year resolutions and this is a much overlooked value of the tradition: setting a goal and heading towards it, even if you end up far away from your intended destination.
One glaring aspect of sticking with this project over the last year has been a very practical one: the realisation that I cannot do everything. Teaching full-time, raising four young citizens of the world, and running this website has consumed all my minutes, leaving no time for my language studies. And since I cannot let go of two of those elements, I am afraid that I must surrender the time given to Mercurial Stories so that I can focus all my non-work/non-parenting time to my studies.
I am an immigrant. I shed the nomadic expat identity when I started thinking about high schools and universities here in Japan for my kids. I have always resented studying the Japanese language because it took away from my writing but I also discovered over the course of this past year that I want to become a translator, specifically a literary translator. My reading and writing skills can still be of use, combined with my ever-expanding understanding of the Japanese language and culture. Thus, I no longer resent the time and effort I must invest. It is a long road ahead of me and first I must dedicate one year to an intense course of study that involves total immersion: reading, writing, and eventually speaking in Japanese for at least 70% or more of my days. This means that editing an English language flash fiction journal will not be feasible.
Know that it is a hiatus, not discontinuation, but it will likely be a lengthy one: it is possible that I will not return here until 2020. The website and FB page will stay alive so you can read (and link to) stories from past issues. And when I have passed my proficiency exams, I will let you know what the next prompt will be. Until then, I just wanted to tell you how grateful I have been for your participation with this “resolution”. Thank you for your stories, your encouragement, your readings, everything. It has been a very interesting journey.
Okay, now on with the show….
This week we have seven resolute stories to get you going for the New Year: