In Rift, stories by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, published in 2015 by Unknown Press, lovers of flash fiction have a new Must Read, a new entry to the list of flash fiction classics that show the power and depth possible in stories compressed into a page or two.
Even the one-word, four-letter title conveys more than the sum of its parts. As a noun, rift means a break in something. A crack. A split. A flaw. A breach. A fracture. A cavity. An opening. A serious division in friendly relations.
The book Rift contains four escalating sections: Fault, Tremor, Breach, and Cataclysm. Each section has around eighteen stories that alternate between writers.
The table of contents is the only place
that associates the titles with the author. While you read, you can play a game of Guess the Author and it’s possible that your success rate will be closer to a great baseball hitter than a great student. The anonymity somehow highlights the strength of each writer. The darkness somehow sheds light.
I picture the editor of this collection, Bud Smith (also an excellent writer) as a conductor who knew the voice of Kathy Fish and the voice of Robert Vaughan, but needed to know what they sounded like together. What if? Bud at the podium works his right-hand slightly, a little more from Fish. He brings his left-hand in now, raising the Vaughan. A satisfied but disciplined look on our conductor’s face. The trust in discovery on the face of our writers. Yes, this can work. This is music. Bud’s right hand raises the upper range, Fish now at full strength. His left hand catches up quickly; it will not be left behind, Vaughan now in full stride. The artists start to sweat. The audience waits for their silent signal that it’s time to release the tension of their appreciation. No longer a What If—this is collaboration.
“Mr. Kenton appears to love all of humanity. It is his only flaw.” (p. 32)
A possible theme of the Fault section is that the rifts you don’t know about can be the most dangerous ones.
“Over the tops of the buildings, the moon rises. I am alone and Dusseldorf is empty. I stand in the middle of the street with my arms raised, calling my husband’s name. And it keeps coming back to me, over and over, like a verse.” (p. 22)
A possible theme of the Fault section is that loneliness is inevitable. The most you can hope for is someone to share it with. Some of Fish’s characters try and fail. Some of Vaughan’s characters won’t even try. They long to be alone.
“He sees a fancy motorboat toting a teenaged skier. His mouth waters. Tomorrow, he thinks, I’m going to get up early and go fishing. All by myself.” (p.24)
One of the best forms of collaboration happens between writer and reader. The writer says: My loneliness is this way. The reader says: So is mine!
“I like temp jobs. But there’s something repulsive about getting close to people—office parties, cakes for babies about to be delivered—I’m not cut out for the long haul.” (p. 51)
The writer says: I deal with my loneliness this way. The reader says: So do I!
“We bend and straighten our legs, rocking the swing slow, watching a squirrel eat the ear of corn my dad’s nailed to the tree. For some reason I imagine my dad’s heart nailed there too. Given a supply of oxygen, the human heart can run on its own source of electricity and will continue to beat outside of the body. But not, I suppose, with a nail driven through it.” (p.92)
A possible theme of the Tremor section is that the idea tremors are an oddity is an illusion. They are exactly what is supposed to happen.
A possible theme of the Tremor section is that Mother Nature has the hammer pulled back, her finger on the trigger. The only thing left for her to do is aim. Stand still.
“The ceiling fan whirled, manic, creaking way too fast. For a moment I pondered what might happen if it came off its hinges, randomly beheading the various other occupants of the waiting room. Might be fun.” (p. 73)
A possible theme of the Breach section is that there is beauty in the quiet spaces between the ugliness of the breakable or the broken.
“She no longer recognizes herself. Even her voice has changed. She moves, walks, and talks exactly like her grandmother did. She feels lumpy, angry, deranged.” (p. 111)
“He had scrawled, Why are you ignoring us? In his barely legible handwriting I mistook for, Why are you boring us?” (p. 114)
A possible theme of the Breach section is that there is relief in realizing your potential regardless if that potential is to be good or bad.
“It was the kind of wet snow that wanted melting right away, the kind that preceded the sudden, glad appearance of spring. You only had to wait a little longer. She pressed her ear to the dog’s warm side and listened.” (p. 156)
“But to me, sea urchins are the spiny punk rockers of the sea. They latch on to tiny rocks and shells or seaweed or coral. They decorate themselves with all manner of stuff, and for a while, they look like something else entirely. Benny said that’s how they keep themselves safe.” (p. 141)
A possible theme of the Cataclysm section is simultaneously horrifying and reassuring: no matter how bad it gets, you still are alive. This is still yours.
“And this stilted house is a farce, waiting for the ocean to claim us both, plummeted onto glaciers that no longer exist. Sea creatures, barnacles, cannot wait to make their home inside our former abode.” (p.173)
“The best parts of him begin to come loose and fly away. This is what happens when the earth spins too fast. Eventually even the core disintegrates.” (p. 180)
“You smile, already drenched in acid raid. Dancing. Arms akimbo, you blanch toward the road, a whirling dervish.” (p. 209)
“This is you now, beautiful and vibrating, your arms akimbo, looking like all you want is to break free, achieve forward momentum, catch me, before the world splits apart.” (p. 211)
A possible theme of the Cataclysm section is that you are actually not alone.
If you keep a Must Read and Read and Read Again list, Rift will fit in there too.
If writing is the loneliest art form, then maybe collaboration is the antidote. I think of the 80’s Reese’s commercials, Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter. Or Johnny Cash paying tribute to a new generation of musicians by covering songs like Rusty Cage so well that you can trick your mind into believing the kids are the one doing the remakes. Or crying for the late Prince’s guitar mastery while he paid tribute to the late George Harrison and his masterpiece While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I think of Van Gogh’s despair in the empty Yellow House with his collection of twelve chairs, all seats open for art disciples that never came. I think of the Portis lyric, my loneliness won’t leave me alone, and I believe collaboration has to be the antidote.