What captivated me immediately about this little gem of a story is the straightforward way that Osborne presented the characters, place, details and plot. Yet “Neon Fire” is by no means simplistic. It’s a deeply layered, textured story of two people trying to be in love. Trying. Jennifer has her ways of going about it, while Rick seems to define love from a position of distance. The story takes place in a cold, wet Boston; not in Paris where the couple had spent an idyllic holiday. Rick cannot forget (or forgive?) that it is Boston, now, and things have changed. But have they? Is Jennifer, flighty and seemingly lovely, really so different a woman from the Jennifer in Paris? Or has Rick shut down and made space between them that can’t be bridged? It held me right to the very end. I’m a romantic but a modernist, too. It wasn’t corny but scarily real. I loved “Neon Fire.”
In a remarkably short space, Lydia Copeland’s “Small Potatoes” takes us down deep into two lives. It’s fitting that we begin beneath the surface of things, under a beach house: a man with a sunburned nose, a woman who wants to kiss it. Cobwebs in their hands, shells at their feet, wind showering down palm leaves. Wind lifting the man’s hair, the woman’s clothes. Lifting us, too. A game they play, imagine-the-future, makes us ache for them both: this man possibly could be without this woman in some short months, and this woman, maybe this woman will be with a new man, the one she’ll marry “just because.” But it’s only a game, right, here under the beach house? A playful guessing, a reaching out into the future, a way of tricking the universe so that they might stay together. Because we want them to.
And yet, there’s a second paragraph, when things break. The man is cruel, the woman distant. No kissing of a sunburned nose here, no touching at all, not even eyes looking to one another. Their game from an earlier time was prophetic. And the garden these two are before now, so different from that dark, safe place under the beach house, that garden is “closed up for the evening.” Everything is, for these two. And I love every word, despite the fact that my heart breaks a little every time I read the story.
This poem spoke to me firstly because English is a second language to me, as it is to the author. Although she is not German, she adopts the view of a German perfectly by direct citation and by drawing on deep cultural references like the director Fritz Lang, who used sound as a character in early films like M (1931) and who is, for Germans, associated with the loss of ‘mother tongue’ because he had to emigrate during the Nazi era like many Europeans, thereby losing his ability to create in his own language: a foreshadowing of the often involuntary displacements of globalisation. This poem is at once contemporary but not trivial, and intimate, without drifting off into cliché: it employs the relationship with the mother delicately, thereby alluding to an important quality of mother/tongue to which we are loyally and painfully tied for life.
And the poem reads beautifully, too.
Fictionaut Faves is a new series in which Fictionaut members discuss one story they have faved. Fictionaut Faves is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.