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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 13: May 2022
Microfiction: 268 words
By John Brantingham

Mary Before Degas’s Dancers
in the Rotunda at the Paris Opera

 

Standing with Karl before Degas’s dancers brings Mary back to 1973 when Karl was off in Vietnam, and she was stuck at home with Mattie, her four-year-old daughter, no money to speak of but her parents paid for Mattie’s ballet lessons. Her friend, Angie, took her daughter there too, and the night of the big performance, Angie and her husband had a screaming argument in the parking lot, and Angie took her daughter home in the car leaving him there, so Mary offered him a ride.

He cried when they made love, and she touched his tears with her fingertips and moaned loudly while Mattie slept in the other room, and she never told Karl or Angie about it because why pass the pain off to them.

Degas’s dancers, mid-spin, make her cry somehow, and she excuses herself to the ladies’ room because she doesn’t know how to explain her tears to her husband. Karl came back from war different, distracted, and she’s crying for the pain he’s carrying inside himself. Angie’s daughter died later that year, and she’s crying for the little girl. Angie and her husband divorced, and she’s crying for them. Mattie woke up to find a strange man in her house, and she’s crying for this secret she’s been carrying with her. She’s crying for herself too, that one moment that has created a lonely space inside of her.

She’s trying to remember the name of Angie’s husband but can’t. It might have been Doug. She wonders where he’s gone.

 

Dancers in the Rotunda at the Paris Opera: Painting (ca. 1894) by Edgar Degas
Dancers in the Rotunda at the Paris Opera

This oil on canvas (ca. 1875-78 and ca. 1894) by French impressionist painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is held by the Norton Simon Art Foundation (link retrieved on 16 May 2022): https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/M.1968.25.P/


John Brantingham
Issue 13, May 2022

was the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and now lives in Jamestown, New York. He is the author of 19 books of poetry and fiction including his latest, Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press, 2020). His poems, stories, and essays are published in hundreds of magazines and journals. His work has appeared on Garrison Keillor’s daily show, The Writer’s Almanac; has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize; and was selected for publication in The Best Small Fictions anthology series for 2022 and 2016.

Author’s website: johnbrantingham.com

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Finnegan’s (Fiancée Goes McArthur Park on His Birthday) Cake, flash fiction by Brantingham in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 9, August 2021); selected for publication in The Best Small Fictions 2022 anthology

Objects of Curiosity, a collection of his ekphrastic poems (Sasse Museum of Art, 2020)

For the Deer, one of two haibun by Brantingham in KYSO Flash (Issue 8, August 2017)

Four prose poems in Serving House Journal (Issue 7, Spring 2013), including A Man Stepping Into a River and Poem to the Child Who I Almost Adopted

 
 
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