This story begins the collection. I think “apostrophe” is the Greek name for this address to someone, the “you” of Painter’s piece. I love the way the narrator’s analysis of the handwriting reveals the narrator, and this certain listing of insights into letters ends with a hypothetical: “If I am still affected by your hand, I’ll come.” The narrator reminds us twice of the passage of time—“even after all these years” & “in spite of the way we parted years ago”—and thus her recognition of the handwriting belies that ending conditional statement, for yes, she’s affected in many ways. It is oddly still there.
What particularly interests me as both a reader of lots of published and unpublished flash and a writer of the form is how Painter takes something I’ve seen before in different forms in very short fiction (a note in the mail/email) and gives it a freshness and originality that makes it glisten. Each story has that sense to me, of coming across something the tiniest bit familiar made new, like the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens….
If a flash writer can get me weepy over a cheating boyfriend’s cross-country trip with an Italian ham, well, that I’d say is quite an accomplishment. “Then I let it all drop,” the narrator tells us, “and offer up the ham in both hands, cradling it as if it might have been our child.” Painter’s ability to imbue objects with emotional meaning works its wonder as the narrator heads west with the ham that, somewhere in Indiana, gets strapped into a seat belt. At the end, with the ham caught in the undertow of that far-off ocean, it’s more than the ham that’s gone missing. Not only do I intellectually grasp the significance of the missing ham, but I feel it, too. It has something to do with Painter’s connection of the ham to an infant and something to do with the narrator who stops to sing a duet of “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby though he knows it will mean nothing to Gilda.
I also particularly like this listing of things—those CDs, weights, a vintage Polaroid—that later become “The Ham under the silver arch of St. Louis; the Ham at the Grand Canyon; the Ham in Las Vegas.” The CD explains the Bing Crosby song and the vintage Polaroid explains the pictures, but what of those weights? It makes me think this story that offers a ham up in both hands, straps it into a car and then washes it out to sea is something about those weights, our own perhaps, set against an undertow that would have us gone missing too.
I learned to write flash fiction from Pamela Painter’s own fiction & her (with Anne Bernays) handbook What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, and I continue to see her influence in my own work, especially in that desire continually to surprise the reader word after word, sentence after sentence, scene after scene, story after story. Painter rarely (if ever) relies on gimmicks for the surprise or twist, but instead reveals humanity in expected places and continually presses us close, as Ron Carlson says, to the “emotional thrum of…fiction’s beating heart.”
For further reading, check out FlashFiction.Net’s suggested readings of flash fiction and prose poetry collections, anthologies, and craft books, by clicking here.