Rift, by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan. Unknown Press, December 2015. 216 pages. $14.00, paper.
Imagine a coffee shop, something independent, unique, not part of a chain, where the air is filled with a rich, dark aroma, where the tinkle of music is subtle, underlining real conversations about real things. Now imagine a solid wooden table, highly polished by hand, scarred by time, yet warm with love. Stitting across from you are two writers you admire, not just for the skilled pieces of written art they create at their computers, but also for their humanity, their generosity, their views on the human condition. Who would those two writers be? How about Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan? What if they were taking turns, telling you stories? What would that be like?
The answer is their collaboration, Rift, two hundred sixteen pages of flash fiction pieces divided into four sections: “Fault,” “Tremor,” “Breach,” and “Cataclysm”—and your reaction would be one of satisfaction and awe.
The concept behind this volume is to balance two talents, each sharing their skills at storytelling, creating a literary conversation, an exploration of life through their eyes.
“Fault” is defined here as “A break in the continuity of a body of rock or of a vein …” and what we receive from Fish includes the story “A Room with Many Small Beds.” This story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl who spends time with her father’s girlfriend, Pearl. Her life has been fractured, and though we don’t know exactly what has happened, we do know that Pearl is the person holding this girl together.
Vaughan counters with “Galloping into the Future.” Told in the first person, we find the narrator in a bar in Gallop, New Mexico, noticing a woman in the rain. There is a thunderstorm, there are patrons with guns, there is melee, and there is a “break” in the norm. The woman steers the narrator to safety on the roof, where the storm has ended. She is holding him together.
This is how it goes throughout the book—offering a satisfying point/counterpoint to the reader. Other standout pieces include Fish’s remarkable, “There is no Albuquerque.” Here’s a snippet:
My kindergarten photograph: I’m wearing thick glasses. The hole in my neck is now only a small indentation. The bumps on my forehead have grown into horns, clearly visible through my bangs, like three raised fists.
The continuity in this young girl’s life is severely impaired by her strange fate, including being thrust onto a distant uncle who calls her “Dinosaur Girl.” Punctuating the story, Fish writes, “Mr. Kenton (the narrator’s boss) appears to love all humanity.” Apparently, so does Kathy Fish.
Another favorite in the “Fault” section is Vaughan’s “Night Life.” His use of the second person in this story is perfect, creating a sense in the readers that they are the main character. The language is stellar in reinforcing this feeling.
Move your head stiffly, feels like you slept on concrete last night. Haven’t done that since you left New York City. Talk about your shitholes. Some girl who thinks she is a woman smiles at you from the corner of the bar. She drinks Corona-with-a-lime-thank-you and her boyfriend is the geeky type who thinks because of her he’s really hip. He’s got a ticket to ride.
Through moments like this, Vaughan shows how this character is alienated, separated from the world as if they’ve been split off from the mainland.
In next segment, “Tremor” (“A relatively minor seismic shaking …”), these two masters of flash fiction continue to show humanity under stress. In “What Lies Ahead,” Vaughan captures an incredible moment of sorrow and loneliness. In her story, “The Blue of Milk,” Kathy plays with structure to give the reader a definite wow feeling at the end.
In “Breach” (“The act or result of breaking…”), Fish provides readers with “The Four-O’Clock Bird.” A young boy, left alone, is approached by two men, and the subtle way the story unfolds is brilliant in how it suggests an act that seems destined to break this child. “Four Stone Cups” from Vaughan is a piece in which chance dictates a different kind of breaking.
Lastly, the section called “Cataclysm” (“A sudden and violent physical action producing changes in the earth’s surface”) includes Vaughan’s stunning piece, “Too Much Oxygen.” The story is told using brass instruments—a tuba and a baritone horn—as symbols of how things change us. In Fish’s “Everything’s Shitty at Price King,” we don’t understand the main character and why she is who she is until a little more than halfway through—but the revelation is nothing short of heartbreaking.
All of these pieces reflect life as seen through the eyes of these two writers, and it’s in the aftermath of this conversation between them that readers will feel their true power.
Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want. She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her published work can be found.