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Flash Reprint: Monica Hileman’s “Retirement”


by Mon­ica Hile­man

The sound of the ocean drew him onto the bal­cony. The air and open­ness sur­round him. All his years in the city, he’s amazed each day he wakes and finds him­self here. As far as he can see: shades of blue, feath­ery clouds. Out by the pier, patches of glare glit­ter like a fleet of bro­ken mir­rors.


In a choice cur­rent of air, the gulls flap and swoop. He watches how their wings shift, just slightly, as they hover close against the sky, then out again over the water, dip­ping and coast­ing. He smiles to hear these grace­ful crea­tures make such ungodly sounds.


Directly below, a pale gel rolls over the sur­face, dis­solves, another rolls in. Up and down the beach, the waves loll and curl, softly break­ing into tufts of foam that float and dis­ap­pear. Under the shal­low ebb, the rip­pled sand looks like alli­ga­tor skin.


A man in blue trunks wades slowly out, shield­ing his eyes as he scans the hori­zon. Out where his knees dis­ap­pear he turns this way and that, walk­ing in ten­ta­tive half-cir­cles, his head bent, his hands hang­ing down by his sides as if he’d lost some­thing. Or as if he him­self were lost in all that surg­ing water. If it would just stop, he’d remem­ber what he’s doing there.


A girl and her lit­tle brother, all legs and arms, dash into the surf. They jump up to meet the crest­ing wave, scream­ing delight to be drenched in it. The next rush of water they hurl into hold­ing hands, swing­ing their arms up as it crashes around them.


The boy catches a slap of spray in the face, shakes his head and breaks free, run­ning back towards shore. His sis­ter howls and fol­lows behind him. In the shal­lows, they dou­ble over laugh­ing. They run back out once they’ve caught their breath.


The man on the bal­cony set­tles into his chair. He might sit there all day, lulled by the unfail­ing sound of the ebb and flow, like his own breath, in and out.


This is his home now. It stretches forever. That line out there where it meets the sky–that’s not the end.



Note: First pub­lished by Con­cho River in 2002 (v. 16, no. 2.)


Author’s Note

There is a story, one I’m embar­rassed to tell. I had sent it to a friend who taught at a cer­tain uni­ver­sity and he passed it along to their review. The edi­tor of the review called me say­ing they wanted to pub­lish it. I was so sur­prised. I should have said yes, but–get this–I had sent it to The New Yorker and was wait­ing to hear from them. At the time the mag­a­zine was pretty quick (at least with me) giv­ing a response. This time it took a while and when they finally said no thanks, the review had a new edi­tor and my oppor­tu­nity had passed. Lesson to be learned: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.


Hileman.jpgMon­ica Hile­man grew up in the Mid­west, lived in the Paci­fic North­west and set­tled in New Eng­land. Two years in Greens­boro, North Car­olina yielded an MFA from UNC-G. A one-time final­ists for the Bake­less Prize, her sto­ries have appeared in jour­nals such as George­town Review, The Baf­fler, the Chicago Tribune’s Print­ers Row Jour­nal and South Dakota Review, her non­fic­tion in The Boston Globe. Two oth­ers sto­ries are avail­able online at The Austin Review Spot­light and Fly­way: Jour­nal of Envi­ron­ment and Writ­ing.


FF.Net Edi­tor Com­men­tary (Ran­dall Brown) 

This flash focuses on “the observer,” the out­sider who isn’t nec­es­sar­ily involved in the action, but is drawn to it, inex­plic­a­bly, as Nick was drawn to Gatsby. Maybe some of us weren’t meant for action–but instead to watch, to write it down. Flash might be the per­fect con­tainer for such moments, such char­ac­ters.

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