flash nonfiction

Selfishly, I Planted Flowers by Rachel Sussman

Selfishly, I Planted Flowers | Rachel Sussman

I planted flowers whose delicate blooms and soft fragrances remind me of you, but what I really miss is your razor-sharp tongue and tart humor. But I can’t grow that, even if you are closer to dirt than to flesh and blood now. Just ash and bones. How is that possible? Even just weeks before you died, your words crackled with life, your texts zinged across miles and miles of land and sea to ping my phone with a jolt of humor and snark. But your body was ebbing, ebbing then, breaking down, and was I selfish to say that you not being dead was still my favorite thing? 

What I mumbled like an incantation (or a rant) to the flower bulbs as I planted them this fall—hands numb from the cold soil, body aching with repetitive labor, mind grateful for the expression of its grief—is that we don’t talk enough about how friendships are, in some sense, the greatest love stories of our lives. There is no altar at which we pledge our undying affection, just a collection of hours and days spent together, our feet tucked underneath us on couches as we tell and retell the stories that make us whole. Or sitting, legs stretched out like an offering to the whining mosquitoes, for hours after dinner on still-humid summer nights, opening our hearts to share all the things we secretly hate. (You can share what you love with almost anyone, but for your scorn, you need a trusted friend.) And I’m grateful to girlhood for the skill of being able to wile away an entire weekend doing nothing but sitting and talking—the light outside shifting gradually, the drinks in our hands changing, the people around us coming and going, while we remain fixed in our spots, cataloging the entirety of our lives, analyzing, considering, meditating. But, without any rite of passage, the years just go by—weekends spent together greedily soaking up as much of each other as we could, months or years spent apart, meaning to call or write, but always in each other’s thoughts—more or less uncounted until somehow they span decades.

Without realizing it, our friendship grew roots so deep and far-ranging that, by the time the call came that you were dead, you were interwoven through every aspect of my life—like a delicate, complex nervous system, ready to activate with the slightest brush. Everywhere I turn I find you again, your memory still filled with so much life and energy that I am almost ashamed.  I wish I could grow you again in my backyard. Reconjure you somehow to recapture another lifetime of conversations, even though I know that’s a selfish wish, too. Your body suffered long and hard, and who am I to wish it anything but rest? 

After you died, people were quick to tell me the things you were like to me—an older sister, a mentor—but I recoiled at them all because friendship was always more than enough. Now I wish I had captured every word we said, every inflection in your voice, every gesture of your hands, every expression of your face. Instead, I’m left with fragmented memories. (I worry I’ve already forgotten too much. I worry I was never good enough to remember.) I remember you standing in your yard, pulling weeds in your pajamas, the morning sun catching off your coke-bottle glasses, which you swore you let almost no one you see wear. I remember the first time you hugged me, surprisingly strong for such a slight body, and isn’t that so you? Surprisingly strong and fierce for just one person. I remember your admonition that I shouldn’t question your habit of keeping chocolate in your bedside table because You never know when you’re going to need some. And it’s true. We should always keep our comforts close at hand. I remember you teaching me to hide terrible children’s books down the back of the couch. Most of all, I remember sitting by your side, your face almost lost in the dark, both of us beyond tired, but not yet ready to say goodnight, your laughter and the sound of your voice, keen and luminous, filling the night. 

I told myself when the flowers come this spring—pushing up from a dormant wait in dark, cold earth, leaves unfurling—I will tell them about you. Into their translucent petals, their delicate heaps of pollen, and their thin stamens, all of which belie their fortitude and strength, I will whisper your name and your stories. And they, in turn, will pass it onto the bees, the rain, the dirt, the seeds, the birds, the clouds, the squirrels, the roots, until there is no corner of nature where your name and life will not be whispered or shouted or burbled or sung—although people may not know to listen for it. 

Now, though, the flowers are finally beginning to show above the soil, like small green spikes of promise. Now the birds are gathering, practicing scales, building, arguing in the tree outside my window. Now there is an insistent hope for spring. 

And I do not want it. I feel a frantic scrabbling in my chest to push it all back down. Not yet, flowers. No more, birds. Wait. Stay dormant. Because when they blossom and pollinate and sing, you will still be gone. And, selfishly, greedily, furiously, I am not ready. 

It doesn’t matter what I say. The hyacinth I planted bloomed today. Little purple flowers that opened like trumpets without any warning. I stopped and stared. I stopped and thought of you, of you, of you. I stopped and wept. I knelt beside the plant in the still frigid dirt and whispered your name. 

Selfishly, I Planted Flowers by Rachel Sussman was selected as the winner of the 2023 HoneyBee Prize in Nonfiction by Hugh Reilly. Here’s what Mr. Reilly had to say about the piece:

“Selfishly I Planted Flowers,” is a lyrical exploration of lifelong friendship. Insightful commentary like, “You can share what you love with anyone, but for scorn you need a trusted friend,” stopped me in my tracks and made me read the line again and savor its power and truth. I thought of my own best friend and what it would be like to lose him. Authentic anecdotes like pulling weeds in your pajamas, help this story ring true. The careful word choice, the judicial use of repetition, and the consistent and memorable metaphor of a flower garden resonate and make this story unforgettable. The final paragraph reminds us that there is a finish, an end to all things, and an inevitable new beginning. Sorrow and hope intertwined.

More about the author:

Rachel Sussman’s work has appeared in Into the Void, Months to Years, My Chronic Brain, and is forthcoming in The Pinch. You can read her movie and television reviews, which have been called “snarky and piercing,” on She is also on Twitter and Instagram @RachelXSussman.

flash nonfiction nonfiction

The Heart and Other Organs by Nancy Jorgensen

The Heart and Other Organs | Nancy Jorgensen

Every Sunday, the same dance. You laced your leather Organmaster shoes, hopped on the bench, and folded back the keyboard’s roll top. Your hands hovered above the keys, shoulder blades forming miniature mountains under your shirt. I joined you on the bench, skimming the scent of your razored jaw. Your hip radiated warm against mine each time I reached for the corner of a page, turning as your hands and feet played the processional.   

The pipe organ is a complicated, 2,000-year-old instrument. Some say that until the telephone, it was the world’s most complex invention. But the cords of love and friendship weave a more intricate tangle. 

We landed at the same church, you the director, me the accompanist. It was the 1970’s. You taught me the organ—its console, stops, pedals, flue pipes, reed pipes, action, wind box. A litany of information you unrolled like a scroll. 

Melodies scampered from your fingertips to the chamber where ranks of pipes huddled in groups: clusters of similar shape, tendency, inclination, and habit. You and I were not in the same rank: me in college, living with my parents, you in a rented flat on the east side, close to bars and baths, village streets, and trendy neighborhoods. You, a single pipe, played only one note and yours was David, or John, or Ernest. Never Jennifer, or Katie, or me. 

One day, you led me to a shadowy corner of the narthex where tilty circular stairs mounted the air. We tiptoed the steps, like a series of half-tones, to the pipes in the loft. There, we studied the swirling configurations, each row taller and wider—the petals of a musical rose. Air clogged my throat, a blossom of myrrh, oak-wood polish, and you. Some pipes were spruce, others an alloy of lead and tin. And I wondered why people couldn’t be alloys too. Fast like brass and soft like copper. One thing and another besides.

The measure of air pushed through a pipe determines volume and timbre. Too much, and the tone is destroyed. Too little, and the sound is lost. It takes restraint to accept the organ as itself, allow the pipes to speak, and refrain from unreasonable demands. 

Visible pipes are often a façade—behind the decoration lies the authentic instrument. Listeners believe the pipes are stacked straight and sure when in fact they form an elaborate maze. 

The case that holds the pipes can be as large as a room. As large as a heart. 

Each Sunday morning, the nave became a ship, rows of shoulders hunched in brown wool coats, dry lips twitching in prayer, watery eyes searching for safe harbor. Every few minutes, towering oak doors revolved on brass hinges, and an icy draft slithered up the walls. At eight o’clock, you opened the organ’s shutters and sank your fingers into a triad. The sound became a river as it oozed from the loft, streamed down the statues, and spilled over the altars. The treble a waterfall. The bass a gorge. Your tenor voice washed the microphone with a hymn that flooded high to the spires and wide to the walls of stained glass. 

A pipe organ is delicate and temperamental. It swells in July’s ninety-degree humidity. It shrinks and shivers during Midnight Mass when temperatures drop and snow drifts the windowsills. Caring for it requires imagination. 

An organ’s metal pipes last for centuries. But leather parts wear out and must be replaced to restore the instrument’s health. If only that were possible for human parts. For men with Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, AIDS.

A new organ may cost hundreds of thousands for a medium-sized church. Or several million for a cathedral or concert hall. The value of the organist is immeasurable. 

So many preludes, fugues, chansons, nocturnes, intermezzos, cantatas, marches, interludes, meditations. We filled every crevice with the sound of sopranos and altos, trumpets, tambourines, and flutes. But when your lungs collapsed and your skin turned thin, the pipes stood silent, the air stood still. 

From the street, all appeared unchanged: twelve-foot oak doors under a lofty stained-glass rose window and soaring steeple. But inside, melodies hung suspended. 

At your funeral, a lone musician played a requiem, somber fingers traveling in minor. I sensed you in the room, hovering near the console, phantom arms searching for a chord.     

About the Author:

Nancy Jorgensen is a Wisconsin writer, educator, and musician. Her most recent book, a middle-grade/young adult sports biography, was released in 2022: “Gwen Jorgensen: USA’s First Olympic Gold Medal Triathlete.” She is also an essayist writing about music, equality, family, aging, and education. Her work appears in Ruminate, River Teeth, Wisconsin Public Radio, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Find out more at

flash nonfiction

Mutation of a Body by Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

Mutation of a Body | Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

Control taken too far will batter your body. Your slender frame will mutate, bones jutting out beneath loose material. 

Control will be important to you. It will drive you, consume you. Control will be your burden.

You will walk into rooms, jeans barely staying above the hips, concave contours of chest and stomach prominent through tops. And mouths will drop open, eyes wide. You’re sure they are fascinated, jealous of your control.

I’m not so sure.

As chunks of hair fall from your scalp, and your face sinks in, and your body begins to eat its own muscle, leaving dangling flesh, you will be self-righteous with your control.

At twenty-two, your control will drop you, sending you into a coma, shutting down your body. You will wake to warm towels shrouding your face, machines beeping and blipping, family lining the room, and neon light piercing your eyes.

You will spend almost two months in the hospital. most of it remaining a foggy memory.

Eventually, your eyesight will grow dim, the pictures before you faded, no longer crisp and clear. Facial features become a soft haze in your cloudy vision. Your control will find you on your knees, carpet scratching, tears rolling down as the world whittles down to four senses.

Your control will leave you breathless.

The last time you see sunlight, you will be in bed, staring out the window. Dust moats will swirl in the Sunbeams and catch on silver threads in your lilac comforter.

The last time you read a print book, it will be some romance novel; a well-intentioned gift from your parents. Head turned eyes straining, each letter will appear and slide in-and-out of view, like a fish swimming in-and-out of focus.

The last time you see color, your hand will graze along racks of clothes hanging in your closet, colors arranged by shade. A textile rainbow.

The last time you see yourself, you will stand in front of the hall mirror, so close, your breath fogs it. The image an Impressionist rendering. Blonde hair, tanned skin, long limbs will drift off into a haze, your outline softening at the edges, pale and opaque.

The last time you write by hand, it will be in a blue notebook, pen posed between fingers, scribbling invisible words across the page.

Your control will give you the last visual memories you will ever have.

About the Author:

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter (she/hers) is a mom and writer from the Midwest. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. You can periodically find her on Twitter, until she becomes famous and can start engaging with trolls.

She’s a freelance writer whose work has appeared in 13thFloor, Hippocampus Magazine, Random Sample Review and elsewhere.

flash nonfiction

The Reason You’re Wrong About Wearing Shoes in the House by Mathew Serback

The Reason You’re Wrong About Wearing Shoes in the House | Mathew Serback

I kept my Jordan’s strapped tight until my ankles were black and blue from the double knot in the laces. Those shoes were the only thing that helped me escape the parabola of poverty I carried with me throughout the house when we had no heat in the winter.

I was ready to get jumped for my Jump Man.

Oh, my – soulless shoes, worn through the middle, decayed like other idols I couldn’t abandon. It was only when I was in those Jordan’s that people paid attention to me.

What a bright future he’s going to have.

I didn’t exist beyond a pair of shoes, which my parents thought were a lifeboat that might get them out of the blocks and blocks of abandoned brick buildings, strip clubs, and dollar stores. I never lost the sense of irony that my Nike Airs took me to the clouds, but they’re also the reason I came back to Earth.

They laugh now when I tell them the banks around here have changed their names so many times I feel like the money is ashamed to be associated with us.

I wonder if they laugh when they see a kid in a pair of those Nike’s circling the park, hoping to make it to the court in time to yell, “I got next.”

I don’t laugh.

I hope. And I hope they do too.

About the Author:

Mathew Serback’s debut novel is available for purchase right now. He’s been published by Literary Orphans, After Happy Hour Review, GASHER, and many more. His favorite Disney movie is “Aladdin,” and he hopes you make assumptions about him based on that fact. Flying Carpets ARE real.

flash nonfiction

Where All My Sick Things Go by Liliana Rehorn

Where All My Sick Things Go | Liliana Rehorn

The realization that I wasn’t actually sick – at least not as sick as my mother told me I was – wasn’t as liberating as I thought it would be, probably because I never completely believed it. So when Dad came to visit me in Cork, I found myself talking about how not depressed I was, how functional I was because X (I was in Ireland),  Y (I was in yoga school), and Z (I would describe myself as happy).  

There really is a difference between having a mental illness and being a writer, I told him while we were walking along Oliver Puckett Street, and he laughed. It was Sunday in summer. The sky was grey and bright and the streets swarmed with people. There was the sound of cafe doors opening and shutting, and music playing on street corners.  

We walked and walked and the rain didn’t bother us. We walked around Camden Quay and circled back towards where I lived. We crossed the bridge near Rutland Street and the rain rippled the river. The air was neither clean nor dirty. It smelled like a hot kitchen with the door open, like soup and soapy water. 

We talked about books. About what Alexei and Karenna were up to. 

Near Douglas Street, we saw a man collapsed on the sidewalk. He was leaning with his back to the wall by the bridge. There were people crouched next to him trying to help. His face was contorted. It made me uncomfortable to watch something sad like that when there was nothing I could do, so I made it disappear and pointed out the gelato place down the road, and the organic shop where I would go to buy dates and Dutch peanut butter. 

Further up the road, Dad said the gate at home’s still broken. I thought of the gate and how the dog would stick her head through the gaping hole at the base, whining when we walked up the path to the front door. And the front lawn where Alexei and I would play paddleball, the red brick wall where I would sit with Rico in the sun. 

Thinking of all this did not evoke any sense of home. More than anything it evoked the feeling of an absence – one that allows you to think of things, but not feel them. Abstractly, I thought of Mom upstairs, sick in her room, the blinds cutting the yellow light, drawing stripes on the delicate clutter. 

For the first time, we talked about Mom – how her illness had complicated everything from fixing the gate to moving houses. I told him that since leaving home no one else had made me doubt things that had happened or been said. I told him I was never sick and it felt good to tell him that. Stepping over a soda can, I said things were the way they were because she loved me too much. I wasn’t what she wanted.

We crossed the bridge again, the water underneath tin colored and swollen. We walked by taxis waiting at the curb, then circled back the way we had come. I thought what a terrible thing it is to love someone too much. And how when you get sick you lie in bed and feel your body hurt and watch people die on television. 

We passed the spot where the man had collapsed but he was gone. It had stopped raining. There was a stillness to the air now, the puddles of water like an aftermath. 

Dad said she hasn’t been well but I knew that already. 

When we said goodbye later that night, I walked home alone and stopped at my usual place by the bridge. The two swans were on the river again, glowing grey by the branches, the reflections from the street lamps marking the water. One slept with its neck tucked in and the other just sat and was still. I felt the absence in my stomach. 

It was still there when I shut the door to my room. I sat on my bed, felt it turn over and grow. Now I wanted to remember. But it was strange – when I tried to picture my mother’s face, I couldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t remember – I just couldn’t find it. It was like walking into a room with no light and touching what’s closest – never the right things, never what you’re looking for. I found the ghost of her jawline and the pale green veins in her hands. I found the things related to her – the black bedside table with its drawers full of chewing gum and chapstick, the Buddy Lee dolls on the shelves, the stacks of clothes on the bed – but I couldn’t find her. 

The absence was terrifying in its incompleteness. Because you don’t forget, but you don’t remember either. It’s there but you can’t see it, like looking at something after standing up too fast, most of it thick black spots.

The absence exists because the thing that would otherwise occupy it is not practical to keep. Only sometimes does the thing resurface. It confronts you with the pieces. You remember some things but not all. And the more you look at it, the more it changes, and the less certain you are of what it was. 

I am sure of very little. Only the night that she slammed my bedroom door and said she didn’t after. Vaguely I can recall the day I died to her. I recall not leaving my room for eight days. Things swim detached – dust on the blinds and I hate you. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I am sick, or was.  

I haven’t been able to see my mother’s face in a long time. When I try I only hear the stairs. I see the doorway I would stand in sometimes when she was sleeping. I only half-remember things, like dead hummingbirds on the front porch. Getting pollen on my nose. I could write about home in a thousand different ways and never get it right. Just pieces of things like the sun on my neck and how heavy everything was – the leaves shaking at night, Rico on my lap, my Peter Rabbit light switch.  Transdermal patches that can make you sleep forever, and on my bookshelf rows of all my sick things: teeth in a box, my bad-dream monkey, my bones, my comb, my doll with the broken foot.  

Liliana Rehorn is from Southern California. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2016 with a degree in Languages, and since then has traveled and lived in Spain, Italy, Ireland, and France. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in such publications as Bayou Magazine and the Opiate Magazine, and she was the winner of the 2019 JuxtaProse Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Paris, France, where she is teaching yoga and pursuing a second degree in philosophy. 

flash nonfiction

Street People – Portraits of the Opioid Crisis by Sally Quon

Street People – Portraits of the Opioid Crisis | Sally Quon


Marianna is on the street tonight.  She has a bed, but there are times when her psychosis is too big to be contained within the shelter walls.  For the sake of the others, she is sent out.

The street is not a safe place for any woman, maybe especially for Marianna.  She’s an easy mark and her boyfriend, Silver, likes to beat her.

Marianna carries on a constant conversation with herself.  I try to engage her, but she doesn’t respond until I ask, “Who did this to you, Marianna?”

She looks me in the eye and says with perfect clarity, “I’m no snitch.”

After a moment, her private conversation resumes.

If you were to listen closely to the words Marianna says, you’d be horrified.  That didn’t really happen, did it?

I don’t know.  It doesn’t really matter.

It’s real to her.


Abel leans against the counter in the washroom.  His face is marked by dozens of open sores.  Some say the sores are a result of a compromised immune system, others think it’s poor hygiene, and still others think it’s just the body doing its best to expel whatever toxins it can.

Abel thinks it’s because the other residents pour acid on his face while he’s asleep.  He often slips to the floor and sleeps underneath his bed to keep it from happening.  That’s also the only way to prevent shelter staff from casting spells on him.

But it’s not Abel’s face that is causing him concern today.  He has an open safety pin, and he’s using it to dig around in his forearms.

He’s trying to get the worms out.


She’s not the most beautiful girl in the room, but she’s close.  What Lucy’s got that the others don’t is that spark behind her eyes, a personality that overflows, that won’t be contained.  She’s sweet, she’s funny, and everyone wants to be her friend.  She’s fresh and new.

Lucy can’t even put the needle in.  She gets someone else to inject her – doctoring, they call it.  She’s so afraid that she looks away, and squeals when the plunger goes down.

“I’m trying not to do it anymore,” she whispered to me.

“As long as you can stay away from the needles…” I know that I’m wasting my breath.

“I hate needles.”

“So why do them?”

“These people,” she waves around the injection room, “are the social elite of this place.”

I give her a look.

“The truth is,” she says, “I was hooked before I ever used a needle.  The first time I saw someone do a shot and have an orgasm on the floor.  That’s why I do it.”

Lucy, I want to say, there are better ways to have an orgasm.  Ways that won’t kill you.

But she’s already walking away.


The drugs kick in. The needle drops to the ground.  Shawna’s eyes are half-closed; she stretches, cat-like, and her hands begin to move over her body.  This is the dance of an addict. It’s sensual, a ballet.  Shawna moves slowly, deliberately, naked pleasure on her face.  She is strong, beautiful.  She is a child, half-wild.  Writhing in her chair, she slips to the floor, her body twisting and bending, shuddering with ecstasy.  I am embarrassed to watch – I am a voyeur, unable to look away.  It’s not that I get turned on watching Shawna use, although maybe I do, a little.  I just want to know what it feels like.  I imagine it.  It scares me.  It thrills me. 

About the Author:

Sally Quon is a dirt-road diva and teller of tales, living in the Okanagan. She has been shortlisted for Vallum Magazine’s Chapbook Prize two consecutive years and is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including Chicken Soup for the Soul—the Forgiveness Fix, BIG, Straightening Her Crown, and When Home is Not Safe. Her personal blog, is where she posts her back-country adventures and photos.

flash nonfiction

The Banks of Fairview Lake by Geoff Watkinson

The Banks of Fairview Lake | Geoff Watkinson

When I was five years old, I took my last trip to Fairview Lake—a glacial lake one mile long and half of a mile wide in Sussex County, New Jersey. My maternal grandparents owned a cabin in the small lake community, which was sixty miles north of the town where I grew up. My first vivid memories emerge from the banks of that lake. 

It’s July, late morning. I’m sitting in the backseat of my grandfather’s Cadillac. My younger sister, Kelsey, is beside me and my older brother, Bryan, is next to her. I watch the trees pass by, nursing a stomachache. Bryan puts down the window. I close my eyes and slabs of sunlight flash across the inside of my eyelids. Poppy sings “Row Your Boat,” and it turns into a round, all of us singing. At some point, I drift off.  

When I wake, Poppy is turning onto Fairview Drive. The car plunges down the hill—like a log flume dropping at Disney World—and onto two miles of coiling dirt and gravel road. The Kittatinny Mountains surround us, southeast of the Delaware Water Gap that separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania. As soon as Poppy parks in front of the cabin, Bryan and I take off our shoes, run out back, take our fishing poles from the shed, and run down the road toward the lake. 

“Put those shoes back on and be back in an hour for dinner!” Grandma yells. There are copperheads and rattlesnakes and bears. That means little to us. I had once seen a water snake swim from beneath a grouping of lily pads and pass Grandma as she did the backstroke. The wildlife intrigued me.

Bryan and I reel in the sunfish. Time fades. I didn’t yearn for it to pass like when I was in church pews or school desks. Poppy walks down from the house to retrieve us for supper. The three of us walk along the vacant road as the fading daylight trickles between the trees. Fireflies flicker. Crickets chirp. 

My parents had just arrived and we eat hot dogs around the long backyard table, swatting at mosquitoes that come at us like an infinite army. Mom and Grandma clear the table. Poppy sips a beer in the kitchen, whistling to the radio. Bryan, Kelsey, and Dad sit in front of the scratchy black and white TV. 

I am excited to be left alone. I walk to the side of the cabin where the water heater is surrounded with rotting wood.  I slip into the cobwebbed crevice behind it and sit on the dirt. I hide. I want to see what will happen.

After a few minutes, voices unite around the table. “Where’s Geoff?” one asks. They shout my name. I smile, proud of having found such a good hiding spot for a game no one else is aware is being played. Dusk comes like a thick fog, images in the distance losing clarity. Voices resound from the gravel road—some I don’t recognize—and my smile withers into the stale air behind the water heater as the yells begin to upset me.

There’s now a search party scouring the woods with flashlights. The game is over. In tears, I walk to Poppy in the road. He breathes heavy, scowls, and picks me up like a bag of sand, carrying me over his shoulder. “I have him!” Poppy yells to the others. He takes me to the backyard, pulls down my pants and smacks me with an open hand. 

The door to real danger had been cracked open, perhaps, for the first time in my short life. I couldn’t quite see what was one the other side, but my intuition told me it wasn’t good. Years later I would hear stories about Fairview Lake: a drowning, a bear that had torn through a neighbor’s cabin, and a registered sex offender who was a neighbor down the road. 

The darkness of night wasn’t just an absence of light. There were tangible things of which to be afraid. But fear requires a self-awareness that I didn’t have when I tucked myself behind that water heater. I was just a curious little kid. All these years later, I can still hear those voices yelling my name. I can still smell that murky air. I can still see the murky silhouette of my grandfather in the distance, the banks of the lake out there beyond. 

About the Author:

Geoff Watkinson has contributed to Guernica, storySouth, Brevity [Blog], The Humanist, The San Diego-Tribune, The Virginian-Pilot, and Switchback, among others. His first nonfiction collection, Have Some Faith in Loneliness & Other Essays, is due out in early 2022 (Dreaming Big Publications). He is the founder/managing editor of Green Briar Review ( Read more of his work at, or find him on Twitter: @GeoffWatkinson.

flash nonfiction

Nanami in the Blue Dress by Jessica Mendoza

Nanami in the Blue Dress | Jessica Mendoza

She was my first crush at the age of seven. Nanami in the blue dress, fresh and new and standing at the front of the class, her face white and shining like quartz. Brown freckles splashed across her nose and square cheekbones, her fingers red from fisting into the fabric. Her matching headband sat nobly upon her head, a crown seizing the flickering overhead lights. I couldn’t even look directly at her. 

I kept my gaze askew, staring down at my bumpy plastic pencil case. I felt frumpy, underdressed in my corduroy and light-up sneakers. The teacher declared Nanami the new student, spreading her hands out and demanding we be kind to the little princess in blue. How could I be cruel to her, I thought, when her dark chestnut eyes sparkled like that? When she looked up from under brown lashes and fidgeted in place? When her backpack overflowed with books and books and books, and mine was stuffed the same way? When her dress skirted around her ankles and was so pretty, so pretty I felt unworthy to even look upon her? How could I not be her very best friend?

In the back of my mind, I remembered the old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover. Disney Channel, chapter books, little cartoonish asides on Nickelodeon – they all taught me that looks shouldn’t dictate a friendship. But didn’t she feel the part of my best-friend-to-be? She sat like a reader, torso curved over the desk and empty hands grasping for a story. Her handwriting was so neat and practiced – were those not qualities that dictated a worthy playground partnership?

The sun hung fat overhead when I asked her to be my friend. Nanami sat primly under the tree at recess, legs folded underneath her. She pushed rocks around the dusty earth with a stick alone, all alone, as most outsiders are. 

“Okay,” she said. Her voice was quiet and a little scratchy, as if out of use. I grinned so hard my face burned. I held out a hand and she took it. 

Nanami was a girl, and I was too, so we did all the things two best friends who were girls did. We had sleepovers, we went trick or treating together, our moms took us to the park and the playgrounds. She opened her lunch and traded sticky peanut butter sandwiches for thick slices of pear and salty crackers. Nanami yanked a scrunchie from her hair, freeing her glossy bun, and wrapped my braids in its satin. I could sit there for hours and listen to her talk about her stout little guinea pig and her annoying little brother and the prettiest orange butterfly she’d ever seen. For years we burrowed into each other, plucking pieces of our identities and melting them together. These were the things childhood friends did. 

But for me, Nanami stood uniquely beautiful in my mind. Unlike the other friends I had in my childhood, I wreathed her in gold and lace within my memories. Her headbands were a nimbus under the playground sun, and her laughter resounded with mine like a harmony.

Nanami in the blue dress. As we got older and more aware of the differences between us, things shifted. She spoke to her mother on the day of the presidential election and came back a little more distant. My brown hand in her white palm seemed a plague to her. She turned away while I spoke of all the new things I was learning about my heritage, my roots, my culture. The blackness that her family shielded from her and ignored in me. The entitlement her mother – white and prickly and the worst cook I’d ever had the displeasure of meeting – had over mine.

Nanami in the blue dress, there, in my memory. Before I knew what it meant to love a female friend that way. Before I entered middle school and splashed cold water onto my face, desperate to get rid of the budding and blooming. Before we passed in the halls like strangers, went to the same college, nodded coldly when we saw each other in lecture halls. Before I kissed a girl and fell in love and finally settled into who I was born to be, shedding the fear and confusion that I’d have rather forgotten. Before I forgot. Before I forget.

Nanami in the blue dress. The first clue, the first hint. That sapphic nimbus around her head – the memory-preserved saint of first crushes.

About the Author:

Jessica Mendoza is a young up-and-coming writer born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She holds a B.A. in Screenwriting and is looking towards getting her M.F.A. in Creative Writing. As a professional writing tutor, avid reader, lover of small animals, and serious movie musical nerd, she spends her days talking about her various interests and story ideas to anyone who will listen. Jessica spends most of her time feverishly editing essays and raving about the semicolon’s usefulness to her students, who kindly humor her fits of punctuation passion.

flash nonfiction

Unravel by Caitlin Matheis

Unravel | Caitlin Matheis

Blue–navy, royal, sky. If we were speaking in general terms, I would tell people that this is my favorite color because I love all the different shades that make blue, blue. Purple–plum, violet, a bright orchid color. His favorite. But he likes the bolder shades. I tend to favor the shyer, more muted, shades like lavender.

I pick up the spools, unwind the different colored strings, trying to make them even in length for the friendship bracelet I am about to create.

I cut seven strings. I group the blue shades together, then the purple. I take each pile, lie them in my palm to try and make them one. I run my hand over them. Smooth them together.

They meet. Sometimes they say hi.

I fold the strings in half, so that each end meets and a bend forms in the middle. I put the bend over a finger, pinch it below so it forms a loop. I twist the loop, point it downward, pull the strings left hanging through the loop to form a knot to make the loop permanent. Connected.


I arrange the strings and we start to weave. In and out, end, repeat.

Each movement brings them closer together, makes their paths cross purposefully. Starting the bracelet is exciting, optimistic–this was a good idea.

If we are being specific, my favorite color is periwinkle because it’s the color where blue and purple work together to form one, where the line between blue and purple blurs. I watch as the bracelet forms, the shades of purple starting to melt into blue.

The bracelet is a gradient. Purple turns to periwinkle turns to blue turns to periwinkle turns to purple. Blue and purple are still their own but they are one.

Stop. A knot. Take a needle to work through it, undo it.

The string tangles, more knots form.

Undo, redo, it’s okay.

Sometimes I wonder if forgiveness only gets harder. Or if it only feels harder because it feels like I am the only one working to fix it. Even though he says he wants to.

But I pick apart the knots. Because I care. The bracelet is no longer perfect, but nothing ever really is.

I continue to weave. It looks like a mess. I can’t see where things went wrong, but the last few rows are messy. I pick up the needle, try to unravel it so I can fix it again, but can’t find where things went wrong. Maybe it was a mistake from earlier in the bracelet–spots I’d thought we’d fixed but had only appeared as if they had been. The strings are scarred, fractured, bent from constant reworking. Reminders of how they used to be so close, so connected.

This is not as easy as it once seemed to be. I have to stop. I am frustrated, stressed. The string is frayed–weaker–from constant reworking. There is no hope of finishing the bracelet, of it becoming wearable, beautiful. I won’t be able to do this right and continuing to fight the strings will make them snap. And we are breaking up but we don’t want the strings themselves to break.

How much can I care about someone who doesn’t want to be cared about or someone who doesn’t want to care in return? Does it count if I do? But then, if you genuinely care about someone, can you ever really stop?

We leave the ends of the bracelet loose; we had only just begun weaving it. Loose ends. Only smooth where they hadn’t been woven. Unsure, but hopeful. Potentially dangerous.

Because it’ll end up being okay or I’ll have to throw it away.

I leave the bracelet, rolled up in the cupholder of the front seat of my car, where we had sat many evenings, talking. Right underneath where his palm would meet mine and our fingers would intertwine.

Months later, he would tell me he thought it was stupid that my favorite color was periwinkle. Stupid, he said, because it isn’t even real.

About the Author:

Caitlin Matheis is currently an M.A. candidate in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she studies American Literature and Digital Humanities. Her current research focuses on the influence of archives, public libraries, and librarianship on women’s writing of the Harlem Renaissance. At UNL, she also serves as a writing instructor and as a research assistant at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

flash nonfiction

The Code by Laurie Guerin

The Code | Laurie Guerin

You forced yourself to go to this party. You figured external noise would be a welcome respite from the internal dialogue that has played on repeat since the night you found out your husband had been cheating. I mean, you knew he had a rich fantasy life. You knew he objectified women- always had. You were one of them early on, back when being objectified seemed a worthy goal.  There had been more to the marriage, of course, but the bottom line is you gave your heart to a man whose heart belonged to longing. 

The hosts are good friends. The party is outside in their garden. There are tables of food and open bottles of wine. There are fairy lights strung through trees. There’s a fountain with carp. When they rise to the surface of the water their mouths look like empty eye sockets opening and closing. You read somewhere that all goldfish have what it takes to become carp, but they only grow as large as their environment allows. You wonder if these were once aspirational goldfish. You remember when goldfish were ten cents each. You could buy them at the pet store and take them home in a little plastic bag. You bought a dollar’s worth, filled mason jars with fresh water and divvied the fish up into two families. You set the jars side-by-side so the fish could watch their neighbors. Every day at school you imagined returning home to tiny, finned babies, the mason jars and the fish multiplying into an empire. 

One of the guests at the party throws a penny into the fountain. You overhear him telling his date to make a wish.  Glasses chime, delicate as a chorus of seashells, and someone proposes a toast. You climb up on the wide, tiled rim of the fountain. From this vantage point you check out the penny thrower. His hair is parted on the side, like a pastor’s, comb tracks line up nice and even. You’re pretty sure that whoever throws the penny is the one who should make the wish. You wouldn’t want to be with a guy who changed the rules just like that and threw the penny for you. A woman in a yellow sundress holds her glass high and says the usual things about the night being lovely and the hosts being generous. You reach into your pocket and pull out a coin. You close your eyes, taking your time to think of a wish. You remember when you were a kid and thought you’d cracked the magic code when you made all your wishes for more wishes.  In this moment you realize the code must have cracked you because your life has been a series of endless wishes.  Upon realizing this, a person with initiative would make a wish to stop wishing and start doing. You are not that person. You wish to be happier than you are now.  You throw the coin, open your eyes and watch as sightless mouths rise to the surface of the water and blink.

About the Author:

Laurie Guerin is a spoken word artist who has performed her original  works on stage throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. She has co produced  two live storytelling series, Word Up and Tell Me More in Santa Cruz,  California. A student of Roxan McDonald’s, she has also studied with Danusha Lameris, Ellen Bass and most recently Pam Houston. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama and more recently in Prometheus Dreaming and she is  currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction essays.