Big Fiction

Thrift

I was a teenage thrift shop fiend.

It always felt a bit like going to the library: Searching through stacks of hmmm, ehhh, no thanks, for that one quirky rarity, that wonder of weird. I loved the creaky floors, the old women at the register, but most of all I loved stumbling on some vintage building supply t-shirt with the caption “Spackle: Helps Fight Cavities.”

When I came across the Big Fiction website, it was like finding a thrift shop treasure. Editor Heather Jacobs publishes very long stories and novellas, just a few per issue, and she does it in gorgeous letterpress. From the website:

big-fiction-logoBig Fiction was created with the goal of providing a beautiful home for long fiction that otherwise would not find a place in traditional literary magazines. We are a new journal for literature at leisure—stories to curl up with for an afternoon (or pack along on your next journey), proudly housed in covers made the old-fashioned way, using foundry type set by hand and printed on a vintage press.

What a thrill when Big Fiction accepted my 12,000-word oddity “A Fortune,” which is a literary mystery story about a termite-infested thrift shop (with a bit of theological wrestling thrown in). I am loving going back and forth with brilliant Heather as she edits “A Fortune.” She sees both the little wonders of weird and the vague hmmm, ehhh patches, and when it comes to the latter, she is so good at nudging the writing (and the writer) to clarity.

The novella is coming out in Big Fiction‘s winter issue; here’s a sneak preview. It’s told from the point of view of Keller, a teenage girl whose mother is sent overseas during the first Gulf War.


 

The Reserves, Mom always said, were like the extra bag of flour in our pantry: just there for backup. She was no great baker, and that flour always expired before we got around to opening it, so I didn’t worry. But in 1990, when I was eight, they sent her unit to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield.  Before she left she told me: “It’s not a war.”

“Will they shoot at you?”

“We’re an engineer company. We just build things.”

“Things like what?”

“Like roads,” she said. “Nothing scary about roads, right?”

Some nights, when my father thought I was sleeping and turned on CNN, I sneaked out into the hallway and watched from around the corner. If I saw the green flare of missiles leaping across the sky, I went back to bed and, eyes closed, walked step by step through our old goodnight routine: first my mother brushing her teeth after her evening cigarette (she would not kiss me with smoke breath); then chasing me to bed; then singing Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” I am as constant as the northern star. I practiced breathing the way the counselor at school had taught me: In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four.

 *     *     *

They say that when your loved one is serving overseas, it’s best not to make any big changes. Don’t even get a new haircut, they say. Let her come back to the home she remembers.

We broke the rules.

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