Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


Flash Reprint: Townsend Walker’s “Swan Lake”

Swan Lake

by Townsend Walker


The moun­tain of dirty, crusted snow was turn­ing to slush. Another win­ter morn­ing in Chicago. Pedes­tri­ans hud­dled next to buildings–not to look in shop windows–holiday sales drained every pock­et­book in the city–but to avoid being splashed by careen­ing cars. A bus rum­bled to the stop, five feet from the curb, five feet filled with Arc­tic ice melt. The door opened and a short man in a long, seen-bet­ter-days coat peered out, small blue eyes blink­ing. He moved cat-like to the last step. The peo­ple against the build­ings saw his tur­moil: the near cer­tainty of an ice bath, the slim chance of find­ing safety on the curb. He hes­i­tated; he wasn’t going to do it, they thought. But no. He crouched, rose up on his toes, grace­fully arced in a grand jeté. His feet touched the side­walk and the crowd smiled and cheered, applaud­ing with the muf­fled beat of mit­tens. He bowed deeply. His audi­ence moved on, car­ry­ing that bal­letic move­ment with them, that touch of the­atri­cal sur­prise that soft­ens the soul. 


Note: “Swan Lake” appeared in Sleet Mag­a­zine’s Fall 2010 issue.


What sur­pris­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing stuff can you tell us about the origin, draft­ing, and/or final ver­sion of “Swan Lake” that might inter­est read­ers, writ­ers, stu­dents, and/or pub­lish­ers of flash fic­tion?

This was the first of a series of sto­ries about bus stops. I envi­sioned some­one jump­ing across a slushy pud­dle. It would have to be in a north­ern snowy city dur­ing win­ter. Then I thought about who might make a styl­ish leap across the pud­dle. Barysh­nikov came to mind, the art­ful­ness of his leaps across the stage. That might tie in with his defec­tion and would enable me to describe the move in bal­letic terms. Were I there, I would applaud and carry that grace note through the day, relat­ing it to my col­leagues at work as I thought of it.


tw2.jpgTownsend Walker is a writer liv­ing in San Fran­cisco. Dur­ing a career in finance he wrote books on for­eign exchange, deriv­a­tives, and port­fo­lio man­age­ment. He has pub­lished over sev­enty short sto­ries in lit­er­ary jour­nals and is included in seven antholo­gies. He draws inspi­ra­tion from ceme­ter­ies, for­eign places, vio­lence and strong women. A novella, La Ronde, will be pub­lished by Truth Serum Press in Fall 2015. Awards: first place in the SLO NightWrit­ers con­test, sec­ond place in Our Sto­ries con­test, two nom­i­na­tions for the PEN/O.Henry Award. Four sto­ries were per­formed at the New Short Fic­tion Series in Hol­ly­wood.

Web­site: www.townsendwalker.com.



FF.Net Edi­tor Com­men­tary (Ran­dall Brown) 

In com­press­ing a story to fit the demands of very short fic­tion, writ­ers often choose to leave details of the set­ting on the cut­ting board. Here, Townsend Walker reminds me of the impor­tance of the set­ting. Here, for me, the set­ting is every­thing, that dirty snow turn­ing to some­thing even uglier–slush. It’s a world where pock­ets are being drained, pedes­tri­ans are get­ting splashed, busses rum­ble into the Arc­tic melt. It’s against that cold world that the grand jeté occurs, and it’s because of Townsend’s detailed set­ting that the grand ges­ture mat­ters. So what have I learned today? Think more about set­ting, about cre­at­ing it, so much so that it becomes a main char­ac­ter in the story.

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