by Stephen Delaney
Two wrapped presents under a long-dead tree. The one to her holds the past. The one to him holds a future—a gift he won’t open, won’t take.
Micro-fiction: a form that excites and scares me.
“Excites” because as stories shrink, they change—growing dimmer, less grounded, their gestures emblematic and sweeping. Small enough and we enter their world halfway, as if opening a door to a darkened room. Eyes adjusting, we can make out form and substance, but it’s through our active thoughts—like lightning, say, illuminating the room through a window—that we enliven and broaden that world.
Half-knowledge likewise spurs my writing. A misheard comment, a passing sight—often suggesting some pivotal life challenge—resonates emotionally before I know its context. Shakily a story line emerges, seeking out the energy of the conflicted and unstable.
But with stories this small, how much of the original experience is transferred from author to reader? Will readers’ minds, shaped by their own lives and reading habits, retrace a narrative stitched by such gossamer thread? And with traditional signs removed, possible story lines can multiply—some welcome, enriching the experience; others diminishing or deadening it.
In effect, then, micro-stories widen the gulf between author and reader. Yet it’s this open space, this invitation through blanks in the text on the page, that draws us to read and write them.
Stephen Delaney is a fiction writer, book reviewer, and translator. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in, among other places, Euphony, Crazyhorse, Nanoism, Per Contra, Corium, and The Believer. His website is www.stephen-delaney.com.