Side A Flash Fiction: “Another Life” by Darci Schummer

Another Life

In another life, I am married to a Japanese man who was born in Toyko. “Moshi moshi,” he says when he answers the phone. We fell in love because he had a pompadour and wore leather pants, could play a hollow-bodied Gretsch guitar behind his back. At night, his dexterous hands made a song of me. “You can stay home and drink wine and write all day,” he said when he proposed. “Yes, OK,” I answered. He got a job in finance, a haircut. He no longer had use for leather pants or guitar stunts. Now I wear a ring with a diamond so large I turn it around when I walk alone at night. It sits high and cuts into the back of my palm. It gets caught on everything: jackets, sweaters, socks, sleeves. I look for any excuse to take it off. “Where is your ring?” he asks when he doesn’t see it on my hand. We live in a lovely suburban home with plenty of room. “Plenty of room,” he says, rubbing my abdomen. He has no idea that I got an IUD installed weeks after our wedding. During the day, I fold towels, search the internet for tips on cooking dishes with soba noodles and preparing fresh fish. I know what can be eaten raw and what requires heat. He never asks questions or complains about what I do. At dinner he is always satisfied. “Keep eating,” he tells me. “You look so happy when you eat.” But I am never that hungry; after all, I saw how the food was made. We have guests, his colleagues and coworkers, all Japanese. I learn jokes, phrases, basic sentences in the language. I impress our company with a practiced routine showcasing my intellect and humor. My husband acts like everything I say is novel. When anyone asks, “She’s a writer. She’s writing a novel,” he says, his hands making the gesture of a pen moving across paper. I smile and nod. I do not mention my master’s degree or my former life teaching English to speakers of other languages, immigrants and refugees, not expats like my husband and his associates. I have been writing this novel for years; in truth, I’ve been writing it for so long that I don’t know if I’m actually writing it. Besides, at this point, what do I have to write about? At night, my husband smokes a single cigarette, a Lucky Strike. When he falls asleep beside me, his exhalations smell like freshly cut grass. I lie awake. I breathe him in. I imagine another life, as once I had imagined this one.

Mini-interview with Darci Schummer

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

DS: There are so many—it’s hard to choose. But in the last few years, I’ve lost several people, family, friends, mentors. So, this question makes me think of them. My dad liked short stories—Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, O. Henry, F. Scott Fitzgerald—and so we had those big hardcover story collections in the house. I read many short stories from those collections when I was really young, and it had a huge impact on me. I wanted to do what those writers could do in just a few pages. So I started trying. Unfortunately, at first all my protagonists were men, but I got over that soon enough, and I started writing women, too.

I also had great teachers in elementary, middle, and high school who read my stories and poems, took my writing seriously, and encouraged me. One of my high school teachers who passed last year, Charles Russell, was a tireless supporter of my writing. He attended many of my readings and always lifted me up. Without that level of support, I don’t know that I would have kept going.

HFR: What are you reading?

DS: I just finished reading Islands of Decolonial Love by First Nations writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a fascinating collection of stories and songs that comes with its own soundtrack. I just started reading There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, a book of short storiesby Michelle Ross, which I’m really enjoying so far—especially the way she is playing with form. “If My Mother Was the Final Girl” is a great story that explicitly uses the conventions of horror films to depict a troubled mother/daughter relationship. Interspersed with those two books, I’ve been reading poetry by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) and Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong by Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Ojibwe). I try to read like a writer as described by Richard Bausch in his essay “Letter to a Young Writer,” meaning I read widely and quickly and absorb what I can because reading books makes me want to write and hone my craft. It’s the whole thing, after all.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Another Life”?

DS: I am lucky to have an amazing writer’s group with two phenomenal poets. As a fiction writer, I love working with poets because they challenge me to think critically about sound, image, and word choice. During the height of the pandemic, our writer’s group met on Zoom, and this piece began as a writing exercise we did together. It sat in my journal unrevised for quite a while, but then after reading a lot of flash fiction, I wanted to work in that form, so I dug it out and revised it in earnest. It was a really fun piece to work on—one where I just let myself go and didn’t think too much.

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

DS: Probably too many things! I have a novel entitled The Ballad of Two Sisters coming out in 2023 from Unsolicited Press, so I’m revising that. I have a new short story manuscript, Keystone Species, that I’m currently submitting. I am also entrenched in two works-in-progress: a poetry chapbook about losing one of my best friends entitled The Book of Orion and a novel about a Jehovah’s Witness family falling apart called The Kingdom Melody. And there are always random stories and poems asking to be written. One of my friends and I both teach college full-time, and we scheme about how we can retire early and just write, but we both have quite a few years to go.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

DS: One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is rejection. I am the faculty editor of a regional literary and arts journal, The Thunderbird Review, which comes out of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College where I teach. We do not have the volume of submissions that many other journals have, and we run one submission period per year that only lasts a month and a half or so. However, we still get plenty of submissions, and this semester the students and I spent six weeks working through them. We made the extra effort to send a bit of feedback to most of the people we rejected. Oftentimes, it was only a line, one small comment, paired with encouragement. While I know giving even a line of feedback isn’t realistic for many journals, I do know that as a writer, those little comments go a long way. I got one from The Forge Literary Magazine a couple years ago. I took the feedback, got the piece published in a different venue, and it ended up getting nominated for a Pushcart. The extra few minutes it takes to transfer something thought or something said in a discussion to a submission response can be really meaningful. I want people to learn and grow as writers, and literary journals can facilitate growth if they’re willing to. I’d like to add here that I’m hopelessly a teacher, even if I fantasize about retiring before I’m anywhere near retirement age.

Darci Schummer is the author of the story collection Six Months in the Midwest (Unsolicited Press) and the forthcoming novel The Ballad of Two Sisters (Unsolicited Press). Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Folio, Jet Fuel Review, Atticus Review, MAYDAY, and Matchbook, among other places. She teaches writing at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College where she also serves as faculty editor of The Thunderbird Review.

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