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.
Townsend 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.
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.