Welcome to my contribution to Zoe Brooks’ Annual Magical Realism Blog Hop. This is my first time participating, and I’m pretty excited to be taking part.
The more I read about magical realism, the more I see conflicting definitions and disagreement about what is and isn’t part of this genre. Most discussions seem to revolve around novel-length works and there is often reference to the amount of the strange being a relatively small part of the whole. But with short stories and especially with flash fiction, that’s harder to do. So I thought I would talk about, and then present, one of the very first things I did that set out to be magical realism—a piece of flash fiction.
With under 1000 words to play with—and Uneven Bars is actually just under 900–I didn’t want to devote too many to the real side of things. I tried to let Leo and his extraordinarily ordinary life, along with his absolute disinterest in the magic events around him, plump up the real side. I hoped that his characteristics would invoke a certain familiar kind of real world and I would not have to talk about that much. Marcia accepts and embraces the magic and I maintained my “authorial reticence,” that is I offered no explanation for the magical events and tried to create the feeling that none was needed. And finally, the magical elements serve to highlight and act upon the politics of Marcia and Leo’s marriage. While I’m not claiming that makes it part of Latin American magical realism with its political commentary, I’d like to think that this flash and what it says about Marcia and Leo’s little piece of the world, at least offers a small, respectful nod to the Latin American category.
A couple of other things were going on in this flash. I wanted its tone to be similar to a children’s story. And I was exploring one of my favorite themes which is people, particularly women, who undergo important changes as the result of a passive acceptance of what life presents to them. A longer short story of mine, Marta in the Mirror, should be available on Amazon shortly that addresses a similar theme also in a magical realist way. Follow my blog if you think you’d like to know when that is available.
With all that said, here is Uneven Bars, which was published in Prime Number in January 2012. (Check them out at www.primenumbermagazine.com!) I hope you enjoy it.
It happened the year no birds came to Marcia’s feeder.
“It’s odd, Leo,” she said. “Just odd.”
“They’re only birds, Marcia,” Leo said, not looking up from his bottle cap collection. “No telling what they’re thinking.”
Marcia continued emptying, cleaning, and refilling the feeder, as if sufficient bustle and efficiency might right the situation.
“They don’t need me anymore, Leo,” Marcia said, sitting up in bed, back straight as a flagpole. “I’m not needed.”
There was no perceptible change in Leo’s snoring.
Marcia first noticed the diminutive creature flitting around the feeder on a Wednesday morning in June. Wondering what sort of bird it might be, she squinted through binoculars from the kitchen window. Her mouth formed a taut O and her eyebrows danced upward when she realized it was no bird at all, but a miniature girl in a sparkling blue leotard.
Marcia watched the girl twirl and spin around the horizontal bar that held the feeder, lifting her tiny body into handstands, swooping down and around the bar, over and over and over.
Marcia ran to the living room to find Leo with his head under the sink, searching for something. “There’s a tiny girl on the bird feeder, Leo,” she said. “A tiny girl.”
“That’s nice, Marcia,” Leo’s voice echoed from the cabinet belly. “Are we out of big trash bags? Gotta get over to the high school dumpster. There’ll be lots of bottle caps after a big game like yesterday.”
Marcia opened her mouth to speak but changed her mind.
For two weeks, Marcia watched the girl get better and better, twirlier and twirlier. When she tired, the tiny girl would help herself to sunflower seeds from the feeder.
One morning, Marcia placed a fragile porcelain saucer edged in baby blue filigree on the feeder. It held smidgens of foods that Marcia thought healthy for a pocket-sized athlete—bananas, cheese, carrots, nuts, even a chocolate chip. Drinking coffee at the kitchen table from a matching cup, Marcia watched as the tiny girl jumped down from a branch and helped herself from the buffet. Marcia thought she saw a smile when the tiny girl looked toward the window. With that look, for the first time, Marcia realized that the tiny girl was growing.
Marcia went into the living room to find Leo watching a baseball game. “I’m calling her Lena, Leo. I’m calling the tiny girl Lena.”
“That’s nice, Marcia.” Leo turned his head toward her, but his eyes remained on the screen. “Tell me the bird names later, okay?”
Marcia began, “She’s not a…” But she turned away.
Weeks passed and the tiny girl continued to grow. When Marcia placed her laundry rack near the feeder, Lena flew to it and began to twirl on its smooth rounded bars. It wasn’t long before Lena outgrew the rack and Marcia fashioned a bigger bar from a broomstick.
One night, Marcia lay awake thinking about the bars the Olympic gymnasts used on TV. The next day, she phoned and phoned while Lena twirled and twirled, until she found and bought a set of uneven bars.
She went into the living room. “I spent a lot of money on some gym equipment for Lena, Leo,” Marcia said. “It’s for Lena.” Leo wasn’t even in the room. Marcia smiled.
Marcia assembled the bars in the yard, next to the snack table she now used to serve Lena’s meals. Lena was eating more each day, but with all that twirling and leaping, Marcia knew she needed her energy.
When Lena saw the bars, she sprung to them with a squeal, twirling, flipping and doing handstands in new ways, but several times, she slipped and fell. Marcia thought and thought and remembered the TV gymnasts at a big bowl on a pedestal, clapping and poufing special powder onto their hands. She went to town to buy some.
Marcia came home to find Lena sitting on the ground, the corners of her pixie lips downturned, no hint of the usual sparkle in her eyes. When she saw the rosin, she lit up and covered her palms and the bar with the powder. Now Lena began spinning in earnest, but she winced each time she jumped down. That’s when Marcia remembered the bouncy mats and she bought one the very next day. Now, there was nothing to stop Lena from soaring.
It was a Thursday in August when Lena did not come back. Marcia waited four more days, hoping, but she knew.
She walked into the living room. “She’s gone, Leo,” Marcia said. “Lena’s gone.”
Leo did not reply.
Marcia stepped up onto the coffee table. “Answer me, Leo. Answer me right now.”
“Can’t it wait, Marcia?” Leo said. “I’m watching the Olympics. Look at that beer ad, Marcia. Now that would be a great bottle cap to get.”
Marcia took a deep breath. She jumped down from the table, landing solidly on two feet, threw her arms up and back, and thrust her hips forward with a small leap. She turned her body and hopped to the left, then to the right, before she straightened her skirt and walked out of the room. She picked up a small suitcase and walked to her car. Marcia rosined her hands and the steering wheel, held her head high, popped a bright smile at the windshield, and drove away.
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