It’s 1972, I’m 15 years old, I’ve been writing seriously for about a year, I’m holed up in the only bathroom of our crappy run-down apartment in East Charlotte, my sister is banging on the locked door, and I’m slumped down in the lukewarm bathwater reading.
I’m haunted a little this evening by feelings that have no vocabulary and events that should be explained in dimensions of lint rather than words.
I’ve been examining half-scraps of my childhood. They are pieces of distant life that have no form or meaning. They are things that just happened like lint.
And the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Because sometimes it does that when I read stuff.
“Lint.” That’s the whole thing. I turn the page to see if there’s any more, and there isn’t, and my sister yells that I’m a selfish jerk who’s hogged the bathroom long enough and other people live here too.
I read “Lint” again. What the hell is it? I look at the book I’m reading. The cover illustration is a photo of a dark-haired young woman in a lacy blouse, grinning crazily, sitting beside a chocolate cake. The author is Richard Brautigan, a writer I’m only vaguely aware of, and the title is Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970.
Stories, I think. How is that a story? It’s only four sentences long!
This is three decades before the label “flash fiction” would be invented. “Micro-essay” won’t be a thing until the next century. Maybe this is a prose poem, I think. But the book says Stories.
“Are you in there reading that hippie crap?” my sister yells, and she kicks the door.
I read it a third time. It’s not a prose poem, I decide.
And it’s not a story. Maybe if you’re good enough, audacious enough, don’t care enough about definitions and rules and nomenclature, you can write a story that’s not a story and still call it a story.
Maybe, I think, maybe you just write it and let somebody else figure out what to call it and you keep writing, keep going on to the next thing. Maybe deciding what it is is not your job.
I wrap myself in a ragged blue towel and unlock the door.
“If you used up all the hot water,” she says, “I’m gonna kill you.”
ABOUT LUKE: Luke Whisnant is the author of the poetry chapbooks Street and Above Floodstage, the novel Watching TV with the Red Chinese, and the short story collection Down in the Flood. His chapbook In the Debris Field won the 2018 Bath Flash Fiction International Novella-in-Flash Award, and his flash has been published in many journals including Quick Fiction, Hobart, The Journal of Microliterature, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and CRAFT, where his “What They Didn’t Teach Us” won an Editor’s Choice Award in 2019. Whisnant’s new novel, The Connor Project, will be published by Iris Press in April 2022. He has taught short-form prose workshops for Charlotte Lit, the South Carolina Writers Association, Wildacres Writers Workshop, and in his own classes at East Carolina University.
EXPLORE SHORT FORMS WITH LUKE: Flash is the genre for fast times, with hundreds of journals and websites publishing shorter and shorter work. In this three-week class with Luke, you will learn some common misconceptions about flash; delve briefly into the history of short-form prose, including prose poetry and micro-essays in FLASH 101: FLASH FICTION & MICRO ESSAY. Fiction writers, prose poets, and concise nonfiction writers are all welcome. This class meets via Zoom on three Thursdays, March 17, 24 and 31, 6:00-8:00 p.m. More information here.