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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 12: March 2022
Flash Fiction: 563 words
By Roberta Beary
[Featured Artist]

Gap Year


Melissa’s middle-age spread squishes in the plastic seat, one of a circle of twelve. A handwritten sign says, Hold Hands and Breathe. Instead, Melissa’s fingers interlock, as if she’s queueing for communion. “I pass,” she says. The woman on her right hands her a tissue. The man on her left says, “No worries, luv.” Melissa feels the hard plastic rim stabbing her shoulders. Hears the man’s son was a sculptor, a real fighter who never gave up. When they break for tea, Melissa tells the woman she’s left something in her car. She pulls her coat tight in the chill April air.

The driver’s seat is warm. The greenhouse effect, as Ethan had explained on their way to Heathrow. Before, he’d said he would take the train and say his goodbye at home, but Melissa overruled him. By the time she’d worked her way through the last of the traffic detours, they were barely speaking. Under the International Departures sign, Ethan gave her a quick kiss and told her not to worry. From the car, she watched his backpack get stuck in the revolving door. Freeing himself, he gave her a wave, then vanished. Melissa sat in her car until the cop said the next time he saw her there’d be a ticket waiting. She stared at him, the same brown hair and hook nose as Ethan. Maybe from a fall off the monkey bars in third grade? The cop yelled, “Get moving, lady!”

Melissa inhales the new car smell. “The greenhouse effect,” she says to the fly on the dashboard. She opens her handbag, resurrects the pile of envelopes. Pale with colorful New Zealand stamps. Her name and address are handwritten on seven, typed on three. One in Japanese brush stroke postmarked Christchurch. Ethan’s smile when she opened the box of bottle ink and tiny swordlike pen nibs on Christmas morning. “You can cross calligraphy off your bucket list now, Ma.” The envelopes slide along her lap in the sunshine. Melissa feels the top of her head for her granny glasses. Takes a deep breath. Slits the brush-stroke envelope with her house key. Her hands start shaking. “Another time,” she says to the fly. “I’ll read them another time.”

Ethan, at the kitchen table, his laptop open. Melissa had edged closer and smelled the baby shampoo she pretended not to notice in his bathroom. Ethan said, “The spreadsheet’s dead easy, Ma, I just scroll and insert.” Ethan's screen bloomed with names of friends who’d offered to put him up for each city and town. How many times had he shown her the spreadsheet’s share function on her phone? “See, Ma, you’ll always know where I am. Even when I’m in a dead zone on the South Island.”

Melissa strums the cards’ edges. What had she done with Ethan’s harmonica? The one police found in his backpack. Carefully she ties the bow around the cards. She snaps her bag closed, startling the fly. Melissa opens the window a few inches. “Mind yourself now, safe home.” The fly buzzes, landing on Melissa’s folded hands, its body as light as a communion wafer. Together they watch the group members exit the centre. Hurry to their cars. Sunlight deepens, its warmth filtering through Melissa’s fingers. “The greenhouse effect,” she says again. The fly spreads its wings, as if ready for take-off.

—From the author’s book-in-progress, a collection of fiction (micro and flash): The Years Go By in Single File

Roberta Beary’s
Issue 12, March 2022

second collection of short poems, Carousel, is co-winner of the Snapshot Press 2019 book award contest. Her first short-form collection, The Unworn Necklace, received a finalist book award from the Poetry Society of America. Her collection of prose poetry, Deflection (Accents Publishing, 2015), was named a National Poetry Month Best Pick by Washington Independent Review of Books.

Long-time haibun editor of Modern Haiku, Ms. Beary is also co-editor of Wishbone Moon: An Anthology of Haiku by Women (Jacar Press, 2018), and she recently judged the Sable Books Haiku Contest for Women Book Award.

Her writing has appeared in Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural Weekly, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and The New York Times, and is also featured in A Companion to Poetic Genre (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) and Haiku In English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013).

Ms. Beary lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, Frank Stella, and tweets her photoku and micro-poetry on Twitter [at] shortpoemz.

Author’s website: https://robertabeary.com/news/

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Guest: Roberta Beary on Rattlecast 133 hosted by Tim Green, editor of Rattle poetry journal (YouTube, 28 February 2022)

Roberta Beary, haiku poet and editor, on writing Haibun, interview on YouTube (8 February 2021) with Mike Rehling, editor of Failed Haiku

Tiny Love Stories in The New York Times (8 January 2019); scroll five stories down the page for Roberta Beary’s “Now It’s All Fresh Fish” and her photograph of lobster traps in Clew Bay, Ireland.

The art of brevity, an interview by Ciara Moynihan in Mayo News (22 January 2019)

Lunch Break, a haibun by Beary in Rattle (#56, Summer 2017), Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness; includes audio (17 July 2017)

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