flash fiction

Ways to Read the World by Robert Scotellaro


By Charles Rammelkamp

A triptych is an artwork made up of three folding panels. It can display a narrative sequence, show different aspects of a subject, simultaneously, as it were, and it can make a moral statement. Typically, we think of a triptych in terms of painting. Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is a famous example, displaying paradise and hell in smaller panels alongside the larger middle panel that displays humanity in all its sinful glory, indulgences of the flesh. The genius of Robert Scotellaro’s work here with the flash fiction genre is in using this three-part imagery to do all of the above, and he does it with a humor and compassion that has a reader wiping his (her) eyes. These deeply satisfying stories are riddles and three-act plays all at once.

“From a Hitman’s Sketchy Last Will and Testament Written on a Placemat at The House of Pancakes” is composed of three parts, “P.S.,” “P.P.S.,” and “P.P.P.S.” (Several other stories have the same three part titles, including “SensationalSaints.com,” “The Small End of the Funnel,” “Black Bananas” and “The Penalty of Silence.”) Without even reading the text of the flashes, the reader already has a vivid image of a gangster feverishly scribbling his thoughts in a booth at a diner, maybe on the run from the police or from some mafia bosses he may have double-crossed.

The first part begins, “You’ll find the key to a safe deposit box in the hollowed out copy of the one Agatha Christie novel in my bookcase.” He’s leaving his fortune to his son. In the course of his three fugitive thoughts we see his whole life. He cautions the boy to get rid of any guns he finds, but leaves him his collection of ceramic elephants. (“Notice how all the trunks are facing up. That means good luck.”)

“Okay so everything I did I did and that’s that,” he wraps up in “P.P.P.S.” No doubts, regrets or qualifications, certainly no apologies. “Enjoy the elephants.”

The forty-nine triptychs in Ways to Read the World feature a lightning-strike survivors support group, a prison guard “cowboy rap” band, a rodeo clown, a husband and wife in a horse costume (“Horse’s Ass”), a frustrated preacher’s wife, soldiers in Vietnam, and a plethora of husbands and wives, parents and offspring. Gangsters and hoodlums recur, in East Harlem and elsewhere. The effect is like opening a box of chocolates with four dozen wrapped pieces, each one a surprise.

The stories unfold (think of Bosch’s folding panels!) like a stage drama. Freytag’s Pyramid, devised by 19th century German playwright Gustav Freytag, a paradigm of dramatic structure that outlines seven steps in successful storytelling – exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement – is another way to appreciate what Scotellero has accomplished here in brief strokes.

Take the story “Close as We Get.” A husband and wife enter the stage for the first act, “Moon Dance.” They have a hobby of purchasing abandoned storage lockers, steamer trunks, treasure chests. The wife’s name is Rita; the story is told by the unnamed husband. Act two, “Negative Entropy,” introduces the inciting incident, the rising action: the discovery of an old boat’s log. It is the chronicle of a Ponce de Leon-like search for the fountain of youth! The chronicle is smeared with age. “I think about time, how it travels fast, sandpapers us down.” The third act, “Close As We Get Sometimes,” describes the climax, falling action, resolution and denouement: “I stop reading, can sense how this ends. Like all wild goose chases end. But I want to believe in the quest. It’s all about the quest, isn’t it?”  Resigned, he glances over at Rita, her hair down, so “you might think she was years younger.”

“Little Race Cars” is another example. The narrator’s cousin Peter, with whom he fought as a kid for the little gray race car token when they played Monopoly, has won the lottery! Lucky him! Only, now his wife Cynthia is leaving him because of the bimbos and hangers-on who’ve started flocking to their house looking for backing and handouts. All this happens in the first frame, “Fins.” “Hot Chocolate” develops the complications, the inventors who want his financial backing. “Hot Chocolate Again,” the third and final panel, brings us full circle to the inevitable. Peter could never tell a joke, try as he might, the narrator confides, but he gives his cousin a second chance. When he asks Peter if he has any new jokes, Peter replies, “Yeah, my life,” as he clicks on an enormous TV screen that’s like the emblem of his “success.”  The moral, of course, is implicit. Character equals fate, or something along those lines.

The story “History Lesson” sums it all up. A young woman (“Audience” – the first panel) is visiting her ailing grandmother, pill bottles arranged on her nightstand “like a medicine man’s rattles laid down.” In a burst of candor, the grandmother tells the girl about her risqué  life long ago (“I wore the reddest lipstick”) in the next panel, “Beehive.” Finally, in the third panel, “Snow Cave,” the grandmother winds up – her throat is dry “from spillin’ the beans,” advising her granddaughter to maintain her innocence. “You keep it that way for as long as you can. There’s no hurry, hon. Life will catch up on its own, no matter what. You’ll see.”

Robert Scotellero truly shows us new ways to read the world, backwards, forwards, upside, down, inside out and all at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Ways-Read-World-Stories-Triptych/dp/B09TYSFMSS

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.



The Flash Fiction of Lydia Davis


By Ray Greenblatt

Lydia Davis is a successful novelist and highly praised translator of Proust and Flaubert among others. She has also written poetry, but I find as well poetics in her short short stories, many of which can be read as poems in themselves. To show these traits, I will concentrate on her more recent collection of stories Varieties of Disturbance (2007), which was nominated for a National Book Award.


The building blocks of most any poem are imagery and rhythm. Let us observe and listen to ORDER about a house aging:  “The doors will not shut; the floorboards separate and the clay squeezes up between them; the plaster walls dampen with rain; bats fly down from the attic and invade her wardrobe; mice make nests in her shoes.” The house certainly comes alive in its decrepitude.

The piece HEAD, HEART is even shaped like a poem:

“Heart weeps.

Head tries to help heart.

Head tells heart how it is, again:

You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But

even the earth will go, someday.

Heart feels better, then.”

Poetic devices are strong like personification and the repeated “h” sound to tie words together.

In HAND we see our hands in a different light: “Beyond the hand holding this book that I’m reading, I see another hand lying idle and slightly out of focus.” Again, not only is the image strong but also the rhythm.

Davis in few words brings out human character as in FOR SIXTY CENTS. Davis looks at the happenings inside and outside a cafe: “The company of the people inside, who are laughing and turning endless variations on one rather cruel joke at the expense of a little balding red-headed woman sitting at the counter and dangling her crossed feet from the stool, who tries to reach out with her short, white arm and slap the face of the man standing nearest to her.” Notice the “ands” and participles that continue the rhythm of the extended thought. ”Turning endless variations” is a marvelous phrase.

This man gains dimension in only a few poetic words in A DIFFERENT MAN: “At night she hardly recognized him: a pale man, a gray man, a man in a brown sweater, a man with dark eyes who kept his distance from her, who took offense, who was not reasonable. In the morning, he was a rosy king, gleaming, smooth-cheeked and smooth-chinned, fragrant with perfumed talc, coming out into the sunlight with a wide embrace in his royal red plaid robe.” Davis does not hesitate to repeat words for emphasis—“man,” “who,” “smooth.”


It is often difficult to separate Davis’ writing techniques because they mesh so fluidly. THE SENSES uses imagery, but the underlying philosophy is so true: “Many people treat their five senses with a certain respect and consideration. They take their eyes to a museum, their nose to a flower show, their hands to a fabric store for the velvet and silk; they surprise their ears with a concert, and excite their mouth with a restaurant meal.”

From GOOD TIMES: “The good times might multiply perhaps as rapidly as the square of the square, or perhaps more rapidly, like mice, or like mushrooms springing up overnight from the scattered spore of a parent mushroom.” Images like squares, mice, mushrooms are used, but is the intellectual thought more dominant?

Here is another short short story THE BUSY ROAD in toto:

“I am so used to it by now

that when the traffic falls silent,

I think a storm is coming.”

Davis often uses first person to give immediacy to the thought.

Here is one more complete story SUDDENLY AFRAID stressing emotions:

“because she couldn’t write the name of what she was: a wa

wam owm owamn womn”

This lacks capitalization as well as a final punctuation mark; truly modern poem techniques.

ABSENTMINDED also deals with the realities of life: “You think about how living with a cat and the demands of a cat make you think about simple things, like a cat’s need to come indoors, and how good that is. You think about this and you are too busy thinking about this to let the cat in.”

Ironies are built into so many of Davis’ stories as in THE FELLOWSHIP. Here someone is applying for a position: “When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”


We must not overlook Lydia Davis’ sense of humor. It often keeps her more brutally honest topics afloat. Her sense of comedy runs throughout these stories, so we will examine just a few. Davis talks about her supposed 94-year-old mother in A MAN FROM HER PAST: “Though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.”

Here is the entire COLLABORATION WITH FLY:

“I put that word on the page,

but he added the apostrophe.”

Understatement works well where little suggests more.

One more complete story INSOMNIA:

“My body aches so—

It must be this heavy bed pressing up against me.”

This almost sounds like a one-liner from an old comic, like Milton Berle or Bob  Hope. However, the title suggests something more serious.

And finally the short story CHILD CARE. The father is in a bad mood and so is the baby. The father knows it is his turn to take care of the child and that he must do something. Davis renders a storyline and characterization as well as irony and humanity. The last line is: “Together they watch The Odd Couple.”

Lydia Davis has re-fashioned a relatively new literary genre, Flash Fiction, putting her own unique stamp on it. Yes, fiction tells a story, but by employing poetic techniques it can be an even more supple and evocative form of literature, no matter how brief.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Varieties-Disturbance-Stories-Lydia-Davis/dp/0374281734

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).



The Dog Seated Next to Me by Meg Pokrass

the dog

By Charles Rammelkamp

Meg Pokrass’s flash fictions are like puzzles whose pieces you have to consider individually and together, to see how it all fits, twisting the kaleidoscope to consider the patterns. Often humorous, witty, they nevertheless touch on a sadness at the heart of the human experience. But if the fictions are often searing with a sort of alienation, estrangement, loneliness, they nevertheless also hint at joy. Indeed, the epigraph to this new collection, is an apt quotation from the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov: “Even in Siberia there is happiness.”

Pokrass’ writing is always fresh with insight and image. Sentence by sentence you can never be sure where she might take you next. Take this observation from the story, “Spider”: “We humans and insects are all in the same boat, hoping for food, praying for love.” As in so many of her stories in this collection, the female protagonist of this story has fallen out of love with her husband, though she remembers how he used to make her feel safe and implicitly misses that warmth of human connection.

Or take the story, “Cured.” It begins: “He tasted like a bologna sandwich.” How can you not read on to see what that means? We learn that the man has lost his wife, is saturated with grief. “Grief was not angular, it was soft, droopy wet.” The protagonist of the story, a woman whom we understand is likewise on the rebound, wants to comfort him, with her sex, yes, but not only. Yet the task just seems too elusive, in the end. So many of the women in these stories go on dates with guys they meet at internet dating sites, almost always with sad results.  “For months she’d ignore the stabbing feeling of her recent divorce,” she writes in “Hi, Hi, Hi,” a story about a futile email relationship that’s a reaction to the protagonist’s situation.

As the title of the collection might suggest, dogs have a metaphorical potency in these stories. Indeed, all pets do; rescue animals in particular are a sort of metaphor for the discarded partners who populate the stories. Nowhere is this more stark than in the story, “The Bite,” which begins, “You didn’t know he had escaped. You thought he was a terrific dog, smitten with you….” It becomes clear (sort of) that this stray is actually a man.  (First hint is when he follows her: “If he could talk, he may have said something about the ‘view’ (meaning your ass).”) He has a wife (“his owner”) who goes ballistic when she discovers the affair.  The woman “…screamed at you, growled a death cry that would stop chopped ice. Told you that you were ruining her life.”

A similar confusion between human and canine is found in “What the Dog Thinks.” The story starts: “Today she seemed to be chasing her tail. I mean, chasing herself into a bad mood. At 11AM she was wearing her astral nightgown and her Jupiter slippers.”  What appears to the reader as a dog at first crystallizes into a human being, like a photograph in a developer tray. Later in the story, the protagonist reflects, “I’m tired of being a wife. It’s not a job I’m good at.”

Dogs are mentioned in about eighteen of these stories (cats in about 7; a blue-tongued skink, otters and parakeets, too), including a labradoodle in “In the Middle of Nowhere.” (“Sometimes she wanted to run away from her husband, but she could not live without their labradoodle, Timmy.”) In “New Dog,” the protagonist reflects on the replacement dog a man she recognizes is walking in the park; the old one has recently died. It’s not as gentle as the original dog, but “She believes that one must dispose of the past. That dogs are similar to ex-husbands. Moving on is critical.” Recently divorced, it becomes apparent that the woman is coping. “”She’s learning how to be thankful rather than grateful.”

In the eponymous story, another marriage has fallen apart, but as in many of the stories, the protagonist has not actually been able to “dispose of the past.” Indeed, she finds herself with “the man who used to want me but is now my friend.” They are sharing a salad. “He is seeing a much younger woman now, so I talk to the dog seated next to me.”

Not surprisingly, several of the women at the center of these little stories are in therapy. In the story, “Margaret Thatcher,” “You talk to your therapist about all the guys you’ve loved. You charm her, a weekly comedy act.”  Grief as performance art. In the story “Prescription,” indeed, a dog figures into the therapist plot! It begins, “The last appointment, my doctor popped the question – asked me to pet-sit and house-sit for him while he traveled to Florence.” The doctor has an arthritic dog named Jeeves. The protagonist cares for the doctor’s garden while he is away. The story ends: “Jeeves waddles out and plunks next to me to sit in the sun.”

There’s so much unspoken emotion in Meg Pokrass’s fiction. It makes talking about her work difficult because you feel like you’re missing so much in the analysis and description. Joy? The joy is in the writing itself! You have to read her book to see what I mean! And you’ll be so grateful that you did! And thankful!

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781949790238/the-dog-seated-next-to-me.aspx

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf



Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore


By Charles Rammelkamp

Subtitled An Album, Ghostographs is like the memoir of an alternate universe. In her Author’s Note, Maria Romasco Moore mentions buying a Whitman’s Sampler box full of fading photographs of strangers at an antiques market in Altoona, Pennsylvania, when she was a child and imagining the lives of the people in the snapshots. That’s Ghostographs in a nutshell. The thirty-three short fictions that make up the book are all accompanied by the photographs that inspired them. Yet they all add up to a picture of a small town in post-industrial America, though with certain magical additions.

An example of how Moore’s imagination works is the story, “Aunt Beryl.” First, though, you must realize that there are a handful of aunts, as we learn in the story, “My Great Aunts,” accompanied by a photograph of five middle-aged women surrounding a child. “I had more of them than was strictly necessary,” she writes, displaying her sly sense of humor. “Everybody said so.”

Aunt Beryl is one of these aunts. The photograph that inspires her story shows two small children in the foreground, the black-and-white photograph overexposed as family photos tended to be back in the day, the faces washed out, hard to distinguish. The shadow of a woman in a hat stands before them; the sun behind her, her shadow shows a figure wearing a floppy hat. The story begins, “I’ve met her many times, but I couldn’t tell you what she looks like. I never once got a good look at her face.” She goes on to describe the floppy hat. “In my memories of her, it is the hat that stands out most. I would recognize that hat anywhere.” Indeed, the hat on the shadow figure hangs over each side of the face like forlorn donkey’s ears.

Moore sketches the town with its iconic landmarks – the abyss, a potent metaphor, like Hades in Greek mythology (“We were proud that a town as small as ours had an abyss of its own.”); the river that runs through the town. Back in the day, the river ran milk and people brought their glass bottles there to fill them. Then came the factories, and soon the milk was gone. In its place, molten glass, irregular jeans, clusters of caramel popcorn. And then the factories disappeared, and this indeed is how small-town America has evolved over time. This story is accompanied by a black and white snapshot of what appears to be a family swimming in a river.

“The River” is followed by “My Father,” with a photograph of a man standing in the river. “…my father made his living fishing for phantoms.” He “sold his ghost fish to the butcher, who knew how to prepare them….”
Thus Moore casually sneaks in references to her most potent theme – the haunting of the past that leaks into the present. And isn’t that what “an album” is? Take the photo album off the shelf, blow away the dust, look at the photographs of yourself and your family decades ago! Indeed, this is the secret of the title, Ghostographs – for just as “photography” literally means “writing with light,” these are the stories of ghosts caught by a camera lens.

It’s no surprise, then, that light and shadow, light and darkness are apt metaphors in Ghostographs. In stories like “Different Kinds of Light” and “Light” and “God in the Garden” we learn, via her grandfather, about the many kinds of light. (“Time is a kind of light, my grandpa told me,” she writes in the story, “Time.”) A girl named Tess, whose story is accompanied by an overexposed photograph of a little girl in a white dress, such that the girl glows, luminescent, is so radiant that “Moths migrated from miles around just to throw themselves at her…It hurt our eyes to look straight at her.” Later, Tess loses the light and in the children’s games of hide and seek, she is impossible to locate!

Three of the stories are entitled “Hide and Seek” and this is yet another of the threads Moore weaves through her collection. It’s easy to make the connection between visible and invisible, light and dark, the dichotomy of ghost and person in that pair of words.

Moore introduces a number of memorable characters, in addition to Tess. There is Lewis, a disdainful contemporary who grows in stature and at last becomes unrecognizable. There are the aunts, Edna and Ruth, Beryl and Millie, a woman named Hannah, the postman’s wife, who sends away for a mail-order baby. There is Rhoda, who adopts a baby pig, is rumored to suckle it at her breast. “Lewis saw her holding its front trotters in her hands, trying to teach it to walk on two legs.” (A photograph of a woman cuddling a pig accompanies this story.) There is Mabel, who “slept all summer and only woke up when it snowed.” And there are her father and mother and sister and grandpa.

The final story, “Ghost Town,” is almost elegiac in tone, accompanied by a photograph in which nothing can be clearly distinguished – only ghostly images. It’s about that unnamed hometown, which might be Altoona, Pennsylvania, but could just as easily be Potawatomi Rapids, Michigan, or a thousand others like them. “…they aren’t the people I used to know. The people I used to know are only ghosts.”

Maria Romasco Moore has a vivid and empathetic imagination. Her stories honoring that very real alternate universe are a delight to read.

You can find the book here: https://rosemetalpress.com/books/ghostographs/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.


Thank Your Lucky Stars by Sherrie Flick


By g emil reutter

In this collection of short stories and flash fiction, Flick, displays her unique ability for seamless transition from urban to rural to suburban, often in the same story. Her use of metaphor and stunning imagery draws the reader into each story and unlike many collections of short fiction and flash fiction. This collection is like a fine quilt layered in a complex weave of unpredictable outcomes and character development.

She brings us Lenny the Suit Man who sells to millennials out of van, yet they are fine suits and his customers seek advice from the suit man. Flick tells us of the nickname, Sweetie Pie, in a flash fiction piece about infidelity that a woman bestows on her man when he finds an unknown sock in the his bed.

Flick writes in Birds in Relation to Other Things:

I remain in this small room. Her, it’s always dusty twilight. Our window pane is loose and cracked. It rattles with the breeze.

I talk softly into a coal-black phone after it has run twice. I listen to my voice. Reassuring. Reassuring. I put down the receiver.

You’ve gotten into an old car, a car in which you’re comfortable. You glance in the rearview mirror and drink juice from a bottle.

The birds have come to know me well. They trust me. They perch on my lamp, chair and ashtray. They are small and move quietly around my soiled clothes and hair, my dirty fingernails.

She writes of the polyester and plastic women of Las Vegas. And this from Pittsburgh Women:

When it’s dark, the women walk outside. They hear the clank of machines, the rattle of trains, the breeze tapping its way through every single tree. The women inhale with their hands on hips: they strike wooden matches to hold the flame to the fuses of fireworks, which pop and sizzle as they dart up into the night sky.

The story, Open and Shut, is about a young woman who moves from San Francisco to Nebraska. Flick in this defining story of the collection transitions from the urban to rural, from man to man, hipster to cowboy in such a seamless manner that the story flows like an uninterrupted breeze just above the stormy, gritty realism.

In this relationship driven collection she writes in the story, Snowed In:

So when he calls, leaving a message about forgotten coffee, he is already a thing of the past. The coffee is in the past—our morning, our voices, our life, it is back there in a different time. This time, on the other side, has little room for details.

In the story, Ashes, Flick displays her attention to detail and avoidance of cliché as in this passage from the story:

Up ahead, she sees red-black-and-flannel, someone in jeans walking along. Uncommon this early. Jocelyn has been studying the mosses and has strayed from the trail to climb a large rock with frilly, lacy green lining its top and side. Like carpet. She daydream about moving into the forest. Building a house that has trees soaring up through it and real moss carpet to dig her toes into.

These images as in all of Flick’s stories are fresh and relatable to the reader.

You can find the book here: https://www.autumnhouse.org/books/thank-your-lucky-stars/


g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/