The 53-Word Story Contest with Meg Pokrass is going on hiatus for the summer. We’ll be back in September and better than ever! In the meantime, check out Meg’s book Damn Sure Right (you can get it this month only for 99 cents) and keep coming back to the Press 53 blog for your daily literary fix!
Congratulations to Kevin, whose story “Bathroom Breaks” was chosen by guest judge Kevin Morgan Watson as last week’s winner. Kevin wins the Press 53 publication of his choice, plus a chance at having his story published in Prime Number Magazine. Read the winning story, below.
Miller blinks. Temples throbbing. It takes him several minutes to gather himself, trying to recall last night. He cannot. He shoves away the shower curtain that had been yanked from its rings- his makeshift blanket. He presses his face against the cold tile floor, dreading having to again ask his friends, “What happened?”
We’re halfway through the week, and that means a short break to consider some great poetry. Here’s a poem from Deema K. Shehabi’s collection Thirteen Departures from the Moon.
At the Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem in the afternoon is the bitterness of two
hundred winter-bare olive trees fallen
in the distance. Jerusalem in the soft
afternoon is a woman sitting at the edge of the Mosque
with her dried-up knees tucked beneath her, listening to shipwrecks
of holy words. If you sit beside her under the stone arch
facing the Old City, beneath the lacquered air that hooks
into every crevice of skin, your blood will unleash
with her dreams, the Dome will undulate gold, and her exhausted
scars will gleam across her overly kissed forehead.
She will ask you to come closer, and when you do,
she will lift the sea of her arms from the furls
of her chest and say: this is the dim sky I have
loved ever since I was a child.
In keeping with National Short Story Month, here’s a flash fiction from Sally Houtman, which appears in the latest update to Prime Number Magazine. You can find poetry and creative nonfiction there, too!
That Night in Miri’s Kitchen
As he calculated his figures over and over again, once, twice, then three or four times, as many times as he could, inserting numbers here and there, in between, over and around, adding extras, deleting none, his world turned darker, as if his vision was lessening, dimming, darkening like night, edging closer like wolves around a wounded animal, until he could see no more, just blackness, utter nothingness, not even the page in front of him, or the pencil lead, or even the pencil eraser, in fact not even the pencil itself, he could be writing on the desk for that matter, but he continued to write those numbers, augmenting his spreadsheet, stretching his report, writing, writing, writing, until he felt he’d gone mad, mad from insanity, mad from lack of sleep, mad from pushing the pencil beyond where it ever went before, and he pushed and pushed until his wife turned on the light and said, for the love of God, you’ve got to come to bed.
And so he did, wearing the same pajamas not removed in three days, he lay there blinking until his wife slept the sounds of sleepiness and he crept toward the chocolate, unwrapping the dark pieces and tucking them into the sides of his mouth with the first one under his tongue like medicine to return to the desk with the red emergency flashlight spreading a spray across his pages.
He handwrote, with the hurry-zoom of the chocolate, with the rapid beat of his jiggling knee, with half a cheek on the chair and pajamas pinching his middle. Not pinching like he couldn’t breathe, but pinching in a way he knew he should unpinch and he would feel much better, but that would take time and he had none of that. He wrote page after page after paragraph after line after word after word after word, until the pencil broke with a down-push and he reached for another and stuffed two pieces of cracked chocolate in his mouth to ensure he’d meet the target by morning. Not the morning of daylight, but the morning on the East Coast, the morning that came far before his morning, the morning that would be there before his sun would hit the kitchen and glint off the fruit bowl.
The cat jumped across the page causing the pencil to skid and he flipped the meow to the side, but she sparked an idea that caused him to circle back to page 73 and edit that section he wasn’t really happy with anyway. He underlined and crossed out and zig-zagged across words that were once valuable. A noise behind him interrupted the flow; was it the wife going to the toilet? He gripped the pencil with his go go go hand and flew back to where he was before only to forget where the thought was taking him, so he bounced the opposite knee for inspiration, ground chocolate between his teeth and said, for the love of God, I’ve got to finish this.
The flashlight blinked twice, the light turned yellowish, it weakened, it diluted. The figures. The report. The word count. Five hundred words to go. He went back to the beginning and sprinkled adverbs lovingly, quietly, generously, adverbally until he only needed 350. He added buts and therefores and thens. He raced through with liberal adjectives, magnificent, enlarged, contentious. He summarized and quoted and connected and segued as much as he could until the flashlight flickered and petered, leaving him in the darkness again, not the darkness of an empty heart, but the darkness of an empty wallet.
Finishing the page, with 27 words to go and the clear sound of his wife sneezing from the bedroom, he let himself squeeze the final sentence, not like a man squashing a full balloon, but like a man forcing breath from already emptied lungs. He heaved down the last word, placed it on the paper he couldn’t see, adjusted the pinching waistband and called back the cat. Not the command of get over here this very second, but the command of, I’ve lost my mind, don’t leave me now.
This week’s guest judge is Kevin Morgan Watson! Kevin Morgan Watson is founder of Press 53 and serves as Editor in Chief with a special focus onShortStories and Poetry. As a publisher, he has worked with writers ranging from first-time published authors to winners of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. As a writer, his short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including the 2002 TallGrass Writers Guild/Outrider Press anthology Take Two—They’re Small, where his short story “Sunny Side Up” won first prize.
Kevin’s prompt: Write a 53-word story about waking up.
Guidelines and Information
-53 words—no more, no less—titles are not included in the word count.
-1 submission per person.
-Limit one prize per entrant per month.
-e-mail your submission directly to email@example.com by 5 PM Tuesday, May 21st Eastern Standard Time.
-Each quarter, Prime Number Magazine, Press 53’s online literary journal, comes out with a new issue. All winning 53-word stories will be put into consideration for publication in the journal, with editor Clifford Garstang choosing one winner.
-The 53-Word Story App is now available for download in the Android App Store (it’s called 53Words)! For those with other smart devices, check out the web app (developed by Daniel Krawiec) at 53wordstory.com.
Congratulations to Allison, whose story “Posh” was chosen by guest judge Steve Hellyard Swartz as last week’s winner. She wins the Press 53 publication of her choice, plus a chance at getting her story published in Prime Number Magazine. Read the winning story, below.
She carried in a picture of Victoria Beckham’s bob and left looking like a mushroom. When the slayer turned her towards the mirror, all she could see was the raw cremini salad that she made the night before.
“Are you adding a tip?” the cashier asked, stylist beside her, both waiting.
This week’s poem comes from Alfred Corn, taken from his latest collection, Tables, a Silver Concho Poetry Series selection. Happy Wednesday!
Brodsky at the Caffé Dante
A Village den, not far from Morton Street,
Where you’d hosted a party just the week
Before, your birthday cake a replica
Of A Part of Speech’s jacket. A practical
Joke? It wasn’t your most recent book,
Which blunt reviews had sort of trounced. But luck
’S a weathervane, and that year mine, too, had
Gone south, or sour, as I could tell you’d heard.
Strange: your large-scale forehead (the temple sported
A windswept curl Romantically borrowed
From Pushkin or Chateaubriand) was unlined,
Free of the trenches that gulags make or, exile.
Instead, it beamed a dynamic melancholy
Over our topics—none of them dire, really.
Thoughts about Ovid’s Tristia; and Dante’s tomb
In Ravenna; Byron, Walcott, Mandelshtam.
I asked if you linked the San Marco Lion
To the address on St. Marks Place, where Auden
Had lived for decades. Just to hear his name
Buoyed a smile… In fact, the piece of cake
They’d cut you featured the King of Cats’ brown sugar
Wing. Pistoning lifts from that small figure,
Were counterparts to espressos we would drink—
Its caffeine still buzzing, I like to think.
The latest update to Prime Number Magazine, Prime Decimals 37.2, is now live! Read a flash fiction piece by Craig Fishbane below, and find the rest of the update, including more short fiction, poems, and creative nonfiction essays, here!
The Day’s New Words