Views From The Heartland: Sera Hayes

August 30th, 2017


Midwestern Gothic staffer Ben Ratner spoke with photographer Sera Hayes about her creative process, the intersection of photography and literature, and more.

Sera Hayes was born and raised in the Midwest and graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, IL. She’s worked in the publishing and tech industries in Chicago and actively practices photography. Sera is available for freelance photography work and open to collaboration. http://serahayes.format.com/ Contact: serahayes@gmail.com

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Ben Ratner: What is your connection to the Midwest?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and I’ve resided in Chicago for the last nine years. I’ve traveled to many different parts of the country but I’ve always thought of the Midwest region as “home”.

What launched you into the world of photography?

I’ve been interested in and actively practicing photography since high school when I first started experimenting with digital and Polaroid cameras. I’m drawn to film and visual art, but I’m not skilled at drawing or painting. Photography as a medium has always been an accessible and intuitive creative outlet for me. It feels like second nature at this point because it’s been essential to the way I process the world and my experiences for most of my life.

What do you think photography as a medium can add to the literary profile of the Midwest?

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the literary profile of the Midwest, but I can speak from personal experience with Midwestern literature as someone who has roots in the Midwest (and a sense of its insecurities). I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the Midwest in general. It’s a region that sometimes feels overlooked by the rest of the country and the world in terms of interest/desirability. The landscape, though varied, doesn’t appear as dramatic at first glance here as it does in the East, West, Southwest, etc. I think the best writing about the Midwest exposes the subtle beauty in what might have been previously dismissed or overlooked–giving depth to a specific place and the people who live there. Photographs of the Midwest have their own way of telling these stories and can also express this sense of place and symbolism.

If there is a common subject that runs throughout your work, it’s small-town America. What is it about this part of the country that captivates you so?

When I was growing up, my family was a road trip family. I have memories of pulling off of the highway on the way to our destination to visit a diner, a historical marker, or a roadside attraction. I also lived in Galesburg, Illinois for four years in my early 20s and experienced living in a small town in a way that I hadn’t before. Small-town America visually resonates with me, partially because of these life experiences but also because it tends to be an aesthetic, thematic microcosm of bygone American eras. The manufacturing history, pastoral scenes, faded hints of a flawed American Dream through sometimes crumbling infrastructure–cracks in the foundation of capitalism. The kindness, strength, and optimism that can be found in people in spite of disenfranchisement, economic struggle, or personal tragedy. These things clearly aren’t isolated to these areas, but I get a raw sense of that history here and its connection to our present.

I’ve noticed that neon signs are a recurring theme in your photography. Most of the time, however, they are unlit. Can you describe your intention behind this creative choice?

I do have a bit of a vintage neon sign obsession. Re: lit vs. unlit, in all honesty sometimes it’s less of a specific choice and more a matter of the time of day that I’ve encountered something I want to photograph. I’m sometimes traveling by myself when I’m photographing these signs and many of them are in disrepair—they’re attached to old motels, etc. in areas unfamiliar to me in terms of safety. So I usually err on the side of caution (particularly as a woman) when I’m photographing things alone at night. However there are times when I specifically know I want to photograph a particular sign at a certain time. Time of day can completely change the mood in a photograph of a neon sign. If I want to capture a quiet, eerie, mysterious nighttime mood, I make that specific choice. If I want to show the weathered colors/bones of a sign as a signal of time passed, daylight works best for me.

We have a few of your photos here that are new to the MG site. Can you take us through your creative process? How did you come across each moment and why did you feel the need to capture it?

Choosing what I’m going to capture is pretty intuitive for me, so I don’t really have an extensive creative process. I typically have some type of camera with me at all times and I tend to seek out places that I know I’ll find visually interesting. For these moments specifically:


This is a diner in a small town in Illinois I stumbled across. It was meant to be somewhat Vegas-themed but there was also a hodge-podge of random nostalgic Americana/Hollywood imagery—Elvis, Batman, Frank Sinatra, I Love Lucy, etc. I noticed this group of people having breakfast together. I wondered about their stories and how they came together for the meal—perhaps they live in the town, maybe they were just passing through, maybe they’re related. I liked the contrast of this very real human scene with the cartoony, garish nostalgia surrounding them.

This is a camera/photography store in downtown Chicago that was founded in 1899. I’ve always loved the sign and the fact that it’s stood the test of time–with modern skyscrapers built just around the corner. I’ve heard that it was frequented by Vivian Maier. I specifically intended to take a photo of the sign itself, since I’ve always admired it, but wanted another level of visual interest in the scene. So this is a case where the “decisive moment” came into play for me, since I waited for multiple people to walk by before deciding to capture a person walking their dog. I wanted it to evoke the street level bustle and activity this camera shop has seen over the years.

Sometimes I choose one specific location and challenge myself to take photos that represent a sense of the place. This is one from a series of photos I took at an old bowling alley in the middle of the day. It was almost completely empty. I captured this moment because I liked the juxtaposition of the “Service Desk” lettering with the pose of the person standing below it. There’s also a hand-written “CASH ONLY” sign on the register juxtaposed with the cell phone being held, offering just a hint of modern technology. I love that back wall because it offers so many signifiers of time and place.

Is there a Midwestern author that speaks to your soul?

Most recently: Peter Orner, Chad Simpson, and Toni Morrison.

What’s next for you?

I look forward to working on personal photography projects and continuing to capture the Midwest.

Contact: serahayes@gmail.com

Contributor Spotlight: Tanya Seale

Tanya Seale author photoTanya Seale’s story “Dissolving Lori” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I was transplanted to the Midwest as a young woman, hoping it would be a stop on the way to somewhere more exciting. I’ve birthed and reared two pretty remarkable human beings, earned two degrees, experienced love, heartache, friendship, betrayal, heartbreak, and great loss here. I’ve also made lifelong friends whose heart and soul are the Midwest. I’ve taken trips, and I’ve come home – what has become home – again. So I suppose I’ve created a life in the Midwest that, for me, has held some pretty exciting moments. These are all wells for my writing – the places, the people, the remembrances. When it’s time to move on from here, I can see myself being nostalgic in many ways, knowing that this stop has served my imagination well.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

When I first moved here, it was the four distinct seasons that made me love the Midwest most. And even still, the wakening in spring each year stuns me; the foliage in fall makes me catch my breath. Plus, we get just enough snow in winter and plenty enough heat in summer. But also, there are great characters born here. Midwesterners are smart, scrappy, traditional salt-of-the-earth. Each year, the river crests and the levee breaks, but not before the sandbags appear.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

We all tell stories about places we’ve been and the people who have shared those places and spaces, whether we’re reenacting a pickle jar disaster scene we saw on aisle 4 at the Shop ’n Save, or attempting to relay the exquisite beauty of an extraordinarily colorful sunset. I grew up in West Texas, and then I grew up again, even more, as mentioned above, in the Midwest. Those two regions smell and taste and look and sound and feel different from one another. They each have their own voices, and their own characteristics, and so naturally, they play a very important role in my storytelling. For writers, our places and spaces should become authentic characters that actively participate in the story.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

My process is as confusingly ethereal as anyone else’s, really. I often experience writer’s block, and I often choose to cook, garden, invest in a new Netflix series, exercise, scrub toilets, anything to avoid the task at hand. But discipline is at least half of the process, isn’t it? If I can’t think of anything else to say, I make myself write about having nothing to say. Usually that gets old after a few minutes. There is never an ideal environment, there is no inspiration. There is only this chair, this laptop, this empty page, and these few moments.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

A piece is finished when I am making it different, not better.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

It’s really hard to choose a favorite. You all know that, right? I read a whole lot of plays (because I also write plays) and I read quite a bit of young adult fiction as well. But I like Chekhov, Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, Jhumpa Lahiri . . .. I could go on. The only book that has ever knocked me off kilter for weeks, though, was Looking for Alaska by John Green. The first time I read it, I was on a road trip home to visit family in Texas. I finished the last pages in the car on the way there, and I could do nothing but weep covertly for hours, staring out the passenger’s side window. I spent the entire trip thinking about how perfect that book is, and how devastated I was that I couldn’t even talk about it, because no one else in my non-writerly, real-life world had read it or would be interested in reading it.

What’s next for you?

I just finished writing a full-length dramedy called Homesick about recent empty-nesters Karen and Rick, whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. In this play, I break the fourth wall and use the audience as a marriage counselor. It’s sort of a nod to Ibsen, but with contemporary subject matter. I will be sending that out for development and/or production opportunities, and I will be cooking, gardening, investing in a new Netflix series, exercising, scrubbing toilets beginning a new project.

Where can we find more information about you?

You can find me at tgseale.com

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Midwest in Photos: Leaving Home

“I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing. I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve.” – Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.

Photo by: Robert Henway

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Interview: Catherine Lacey

Catherine Lacey author photo

Photo credit: Willy Somma.

Midwestern Gothic staffer Kathleen Janeschek talked with author Catherine Lacey about her book The Answers, constructing the ideal relationship, marbles vs. dog shit, and more.

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Kathleen Janeschek: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Catherine Lacey: A rather tenuous one. In the last couple years I’ve been traveling almost constantly, but I moved my home base to Chicago in 2016 because it’s where my partner, Jesse Ball, lives and teaches. However, I quickly whisked him off to Missoula, Montana where I was teaching for a semester. Now we’re back. So, the last year has been a rather midwestern one. We even drove through a blizzard.

KJ: Both of your novels have been set in New York City, but you live in Chicago. What inspires you to write about one city while living in another?

CL: Because book publishing takes so long, I actually wrote all of The Answers while I was living in New York, which was home for nine years. Half of the first one is set in New Zealand, which I wrote because I had been to New Zealand and wished I had never left.

KJ: Your latest novel, The Answers, centers on Mary, a woman who suffers from chronic pain. How did you approach the subject of chronic pain? What kind of research did you do?

CL: Having a body, as vulnerable as anyone’s, is enough research if you pay close enough attention. I’ve never been as ill as Mary is at the book’s opening, but I’ve had some frustrating health problems that gave me a window into what that would be like.

The Answers Catherine Lacey book cover

KJ: Another character of the novel is Kurt Sky who is attempting to create the perfect girlfriend by having a multitude of women each portray different aspects of a relationship. What inspired you to write about someone who viewed relationship in fragments?

CL: When I began writing the novel in 2013 the idea and impossibility of constructing some sort of ideal relationship was on my mind, so it came out in my work. It’s actually not clear to me whether Kurt thinks of all the women he’s hired as a “the perfect girlfriend.” He is, at least, hoping that the experiment will make discoveries that could make a “perfect” relationship possible.

KJ: Do you consider this portrayal a commentary on human connections in modern life?

CL: No.

KJ: Why did you choose to make the middle section of the novel – the part dominated by Kurt’s girlfriend experiment – third person, while keeping the opening and ending sections first person?

CL: I just had this sense that the perspective needed to shift in order for the scope of the book to function as it does now. I fumbled around with other ideas, but this is the one that took.

KJ: The Answers manages to be both an emotional narrative and a big ideas book. How do you balance plot and concepts in your writing?

CL: I honestly do not know. I’ve learned everything by accident. When I write I tend to feel like I am bushwhacking instead of following a path.

KJ: Though definitively literary fiction, The Answers has science fiction vibes. What are some of your science/speculative fiction influences?

CL: I can think of three books that influenced, directly and indirectly, this aspect of The Answers: Helen DeWitt’s Lightening Rods; Kobe Abe’s The Face of Another and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. My knowledge of real science fiction is pretty limited, though.

KJ: How has writing your second novel compared to the first? Do you think you’ve learned anything?

CL: Writing the first one sort of felt like I was wandering around blindfolded, wearing big mittens, trying to pick up marbles off the floor without slipping on them in the process. Writing the second novel…well, honestly it was pretty much the same thing except I realized halfway through it that a third of the marbles I’d picked up were actually little hardened pieces of dog shit and I had to throw them away and find more marbles. In the year and a half since I finished writing The Answers I have been working very differently, so maybe it took two novels to learn something? I don’t know if I can describe what is different now, but something is different and I’m happy about it. I’ll probably unlearn it and have to learn some other way to be.

KJ: What’s next for you?

CL: I’ll probably walk my dog and go to the bookstore. Later it will be time for dinner. The sun will go down, then come up. Then it will be time to sit and think for a while.

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Catherine Lacey is the author of the The Answers and Nobody is Ever Missing. She was a 2016 Whiting Award winner, was a finalist for the NYPL’s Young Lions Fiction Award and has earned fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Omi International Arts Center, the University of Montana. In 2017 she was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. Her work has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and French. Her first short story collection, Certain American States, will be published in 2018.

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Summer 2017 issue is here!

Just in time for the tail end of summer, we’re thrilled to announce that the Midwestern Gothic Summer 2017 issue is here!

With a beautiful cover illustration by Teagan White, we are hopelessly in love with how this issue turned out.

The Summer 2017 issue is available in paperback ($12) and eBook formats ($3.99), including Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF. Pick up a copy

The Summer 2017 issue contains fiction from: Phyllis Beckman, Nick Caccamo, Linnea Guerin, Robert Hinderliter, Kyle Impini, Harris Lahti, Natalie Teal McAllister, Devin O’Shea, Tanya Seale, Kali VanBaale, Michelle Webster Hein, Erika T. Wurth, and Alyssa Zaczek.

And poetry from: Kelli Bartelotti, Milton Bates, Jacquelyn Bengfort, Holly Brown, Annah Browning, Anders Carlson-Wee, Rob Cook, Yahya Frederickson, Ron Gibson, Jr., Hannah Kroonblawd, Douglas Luman, Beth Marzoni, Nicole Mason, Jen Rouse, Anthony Sutton, Heather Swan, Michael Walsh, and John Yohe.

And nonfiction from: Whit Arnold, Michael Fischer, David Franke, Caitlin Hill, RaeNosa Hudnell, and Natalie Tomlin.

Plus photography from: David McCleery, Dallas Crow, Tom Darin Liskey, and Michelle Pretorius.

Shop for the Midwestern Gothic Summer 2017 issue

Or subscribe and save up to 33%

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Contributor Spotlight: Harris Lahti

Harris Lahti author photoHarris Lahti’s story “Highways of Damage” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I have family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My girlfriend, out near Willmar. We visit frequently. More indirectly, my great grandfather moved there from Finland as a homesteader. Like him, my grandfather worked in the lumber trade. And my father attended graduate school at the U. So Minnesota has always been a place of intrigue for me.

The initial draft of “Highways” actually took place between upstate New York and Philadelphia. Like Minnesota, as opposed to contrary belief, upstate New York has its fair share of cornfields and cow pastures. But they’re miniature in comparison. And when I was writing the piece, I was lucky enough to attend a wedding in rural Minnesota, and experience its vast expanses of farmland and uncapped skies. Those visuals really helped break the story wide open by deepening the main character Roy’s loneliness.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

The vast spaces. I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, and I’m used to my horizons terminating quickly into swells of green. So to see those never-ending Minnesotan skies is a refreshing experience. All those stars! It doesn’t get any better.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

My writing is definitely local. I think all good writing is. Aside from “Highways,” I generally set my stories in two places: Albany and the surrounding Adirondack area. All my free time in Albany was spent skateboarding and partying, so whenever I write about Albany a manic vibration always creeps into the piece. The Adirondacks, where I grew up, not so much. Those pieces more gravitate toward loneliness and nostalgia. What I’m getting at: placing a character in either environment will conjure its own headspace based on my own experiences, with its own specific voice. Or at least this is how it occurs to me in retrospect. Who can really say.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I’m not sure if I believe in writers block. If you’re having trouble writing, in my opinion, you’re probably just not interested enough in what you’re writing about. This happens to everyone, of course. When I’m not interested, a lot of times I’ll re-write the story from scratch while swapping the POV or tense. This allows for the piece to catch the light in different ways, so to speak. Sometimes this helps move things along. Other times, not so much. At that point, it’s just a matter of believing in the piece, sticking with it, straining it through the colander of my brain until I can get at the pure thing.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

If I like the piece, I won’t let it go until it’s published. Aside from that, I have idea. Basically, when I reach my wits end. Or a teacher tells me it’s time to send it out. I can be neurotic about language, wanting everything to be perfect, but unfortunately my idea of this changes daily. Luckily, I have some amazing teachers who aren’t afraid to shoot me straight.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

Right now, Fleur Jaeggy. She’s a Swiss writer whose work I’ve seen described as Champagne Gothic. MG should do an interview with her! I read her collection, Last Vanities, over and over. And I just got through I am the Brother of XX. It’s haunting stuff. Unlike anything I’ve ever read. The writing is fragmented and bizarre things will pass you by in a single breath, almost without notice. Then, later on, you’ll be staring into the refrigerator and ask yourself: So the twin brothers slept together in that story, didn’t they? Or, that woman hanged herself, huh? I like that feeling– when a story’s strangeness catches up with you. For me, that’s the gold standard.

What’s next for you?

I’m floating around a few short stories, editing a few more. I have a novel-in-stories I’m working on. All exciting things. I’m an associate editor at Juked, a reader for FENCE, and I’m about to enter my final year at Sarah Lawrence College, which has been a really amazing experience so far. I hope it never ends.

Where can we find more information about you?

I have a couple stories available online at Juked and Bull: Men’s fiction. Aside from that, I’m sad to say there’s not much else on the internet. More to come, hopefully. Thanks for this opportunity!

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Midwest in Photos: Store Window, Greenup, IL

“Because it is the Midwest, no one really glitters because no one has to, it’s more of a dull shine, like frequently used silverware.” – Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love.

Photo by: Joanna Key

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Interview: Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso author photoMidwestern Gothic staffer Meghan Chou talked with author Sarah Manguso about her book 300 Arguments, indulging a writing habit, finishing pieces, and more.

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Meghan Chou: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Sarah Manguso: I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the nineties — my first westward traversal of the Mississippi!

MC: 300 Arguments reads like essays constructed in the form of poems with each line a parable, life lesson, or provoking thought. How did you develop this genre-blurring format?

SM: After working relatively fruitlessly on a different book, I found myself turning away from it in order to write very short pieces of prose — very short, but complete in themselves. They provided an antidote to the frustrating, enduring incompleteness of the other book, and they eventually became a different book.

300 Arguments book cover

MC: A review on NPR called 300 Arguments a “poem of quarrels,” where each line seems to fight the line before and after in an existential battle. What reaction did you hope to provoke in your readers? Did you want to start an internal “quarrel?”

SM: My definition of the word argument isn’t limited to quarrel but includes a more varied grab-bag drawn from the word’s archaic meanings: subject, theme, sign, mark, token, proof, hint, plot, declaration, evidence, burden, complaint, accusation, denouncement, betrayal. I wasn’t interested in either starting or avoiding an internal quarrel. I just wanted to finish something. Or 300 somethings.

MC: You once said to “think of [300 Arguments] as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” Why did you want to include only the most memorable lines?

SM: I didn’t start out wanting anything, really — I was just indulging a habit that eventually became a book. That argument you quote above was written relatively late in the project, after it was nearly done.

MC: Various authors have equated deleting lines and phrases to “kill[ing] your darlings.” For 300 Arguments, what was your editing process in order to build such a condensed book?

SM: I’ve seen this line attributed to various folks, but it’s Arthur Quiller-Couch: “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

AQC instructs us to strike out our prideful flourishes, the artifacts of self-love, the passages in which we’re listening to ourselves write—to leave room for the writing itself.

I don’t think 300 Arguments even has darlings, by that definition—the sections are too short. On the other hand, maybe the entire book is just one darling after another.

MC: Which aphorism argument in 300 Arguments is your favorite?

SM: Every time I’m obliged to read from it I find that my tastes have changed, but I’m usually partial to the shortest ones.

MC: 300 Arguments addresses a wide range of key questions of the human condition from love to death and beyond. Is there a central message or evolution of ideas you want to convey?

SM: No, there is no single, central argument.

MC: What’s next for you?

SM: It’s back to work on the other book — for now, at least.

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Sarah Manguso is the author of seven books including Ongoingness, The Guardians, and The Two Kinds of Decay. She lives in California.

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Flash Fiction Round 3 Runner-up: “Stilwell Jr. High School, 1919” by E.B. Schnepp

Flash Fiction contest 2017 MG logo
 

During the summer of 2017 we continued our annual Flash Fiction Contest series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 3 submissions responded to our photo prompt with the following criteria: here.

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Round 3 runner-up: “Stilwell Jr. High School, 1919” by E.B. Schnepp
 

Milo talked about sliding through the air duct, but I only had an eye for the chain link fences, the fountains that kicked on by themselves, caution tape pasted over every entrance to the tunnels. Rita, stopping the elevator to write our names on its sliding lock-down panel,
                                                                                                       did you know time everywhere stops when you pause the elevator? That’s why they have to tear down the school, because nowhere should have that kind of power, because kids come here to study before math exams, because it’s more camera free than the small stairs’ corner landing, because—don’t lie to me—even you are starting to get ideas the grownups don’t want you to know you have.

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E.B. Schnepp is a poet hailing from rural Mid-Michigan who currently finds herself stranded in the flatlands of Ohio. Her work can also be found in Hypertrophic Lit, Maudlin House, and Crab Fat, among others.

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Flash Fiction Round 3 Winner: “This City Will Make Gypsies of Us All” by Dan Mancilla

Flash Fiction contest 2017 MG logo
 

During the summer of 2017 we continued our annual Flash Fiction Contest series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 3 submissions responded to our photo prompt with the following criteria: here.

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Round 3 winner: “This City Will Make Gypsies of Us All” by Dan Mancilla
 

Stosh Duda carved the gypsy girl’s initials into his desk on Thursday. Friday the school’s doors were padlocked, desks heaped on the lawn. The gypsies vanished.

Could’ve been a con, Halloween mischief, but it was only the first of October. Maybe a gypsy curse, their parting shot at us. Had we treated them so bad? Hadn’t the school opened its doors to them? They weren’t loved but weren’t run off. That’s the best anyone can hope for here.

This city will make gypsies of us all. Uncle, cousin, teacher, neighbor. Sister Mary Magdalene, who’s not a nun and not always a whore, lambed it because of delinquent parking tickets on that rusted-out van where she slept but never turned tricks. Angelo Pulaski did nine months in Gary after he couldn’t square things with Lefty Schurs over some bad luck at the dog track. He came home July 5th, the day after Lefty caught his own bad luck: a seeing-eye .38 slug. Just some jerk across the alley popping off patriotic rounds.

First of the month eviction notices Black Hawk-style. Apartments turned inside-out, fishkill rotting in the sun. Bitsy Mendez in her housecoat shouting, “Look what them sons-a-bitches done!” while corner boys buzzard-circle, swoop in, fly away. Just looking for now, giving Bitsy a chance to haul off her shit before they do. Neighborly courtesy because hard times are just times in Black Hawk. Could be them next.

It could happen, our city’s unofficial motto. The Tomahawks could crawl out of the cellar. Sweep Joliet, knock off Muskegon, make a run at 4th place. LaSalle could add another shift if someone with clout raised hell about that mooncrater foundation developers abandoned years ago, convince them to build something there with good LaSalle steel. The black-haired beauty, the gypsy girl in 3rd period Geometry, could be making eyes at Stosh Duda and not the quarterback behind him.

It could happen, so the corner boys just circle Bitsy Mendez for now estimating values of old bras, broken recliners, picture albums of long dead strangers.

Stosh couldn’t imagine there’d been rent on the school, where time was spent like a LaSalle millworker spent his paycheck Friday nights, the way Stosh’s dad used to piss away beer money, grocery money, rent money setting up rounds for the house, big man at the tavern.

What debts had Stosh incurred, what calamities set in motion when he carved the gypsy girl’s initials into his desk? In Black Hawk it’s easier to see the beginning of things and harder to see their ends. She told him winter would come early, begged him to leave with her, promised herself to him if he did. Promised to read his fortune, stroke his lifeline. But she didn’t reveal this future to him. So now Stosh holds vigil atop those desks reading their brail of carved graffiti, gnawing at their petrified chewing gum, searching for her name, hunting for her taste, yearning for her return, praying: it could happen, it could happen.

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Dan Mancilla, Ph.D. is Professor of General Education at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dan’s the author of the short story collection All the Proud Fathers (Dock Street Press) and the novella The Deathmask of El Gaucho (Passages North/Little Presque Books). His fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, The Chicago Tribune, Monkeybicycle, The Saturday Evening Post, and River Styx, among other journals. You can read more about Dan and his work at danmancilla.com

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