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Issue 29, October-December 2012
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 29.2

Flash Fiction

Valerie Lute
Tough Guy

James Claffey
jam jar


Kimberly L. Becker
No Easy Way

Anne Colwell
No Easy Way
by Kimberly L. Becker
followed by Q&A

by Anne Colwell
followed by Q&A

  – for Thomas

When you were three and we lived in the basement and our lives were peeling apart like cheap shoe leather, shredding under the strain of wear, and we couldn’t see that we had no money because of the drinking and we had no time because we pissed it away and we were young and foolish and in love and we loved you like air and I was auditioning for stepmother, a part I wouldn’t know how to play until I was almost done playing it, there was one summer afternoon when the sky darkened and the wind picked up and we watched the leaves shift like the minnows you caught in the creek out back, turning all at once, their iridescent backs flashing to the black sky and the rain started in big drops and we knelt together on the upholstered stool from your grandmother’s house in front of the tiny, dirty window in the living room and we watched the lightning flash and tried to see its bright blade and tried to count how many seconds until the thunder sounded and you said you weren’t afraid and I flashed a bright smile and looked back out of the corner of my eye at your father who was sitting in the easy chair – to see how I was doing, to see if he was loving me – and what I didn’t know, what I couldn’t have known was that all these twenty years between that one and this would be just like that – a bright flash and counting the slow seconds until it comes back.

Anne Colwell, a poet and fiction writer, is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Delaware.  Her first book of poems, Believing Their Shadows, was published by Word Press in 2010. Her second book will be coming out in 2013. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry.


Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: This poem was written for my son, Thomas, right before his wedding. It’s part of a series of poems about the joy and sorrow, the sweetness and regret that swirl around the moment when your child marries and begins his own family.
Tough Guy
by Valerie Lute
followed by Q&A

The day Maricela shaved her head was the same day Carlito had his final meeting with the recruitment officer. The hair fell in black fans across the outdated rose-tiled bathroom between their two rooms. For weeks afterward, he discovered the little feathers in the soap dish, the shower drain, the hinge of the toilet lid. 

“Trying to look like a dude?” he said when he caught her in front of the mirror sweeping stray hairs from her neck. The bathroom door hung open between them.

She turned and stared into him. With her face naked, her eyes seemed larger, her gaze more pointed. “I never felt much like a girl.”

He had expected her to fight back. To tell him to fuck off. Maybe throw a hairbrush at his head. Her direct words, the honesty of her stare, forced his eyes to the carpet. “Well, try telling that to Mom.” He shuffled down the hall.

To her twin brother, it was just a joke. Once, she had overheard Carlito in the school hallway when one of his boys asked if she was a lesbo. “Probably,” he said, “but she could still kick your ass.” Though to Carlito, everything was a joke. Like when he announced he was joining the army. She said she'd never forgive him if he got killed in the desert, and he just laughed and said, “It'll take more than sand to kill a Martinez.” 

Their mother had cried the night Maricela buzzed her hair, and the next day, while Maricela was at school, her mother went into her room and took every t-shirt and pair of jeans she owned. Left were years of Christmas presents—floral skirts and pink blouses, some with the tags still on. Maricela hadn't noticed until the next morning when she woke up late for school. She opened her bedroom door to find her twin brushing his teeth in the hall. “Mom took my clothes,” she said. “Can I borrow something off you?” They had the same frame, boney with spry muscle, though lately he had been growing over her.

He, too, had slept late that morning and was still in his pajamas with his eyes half open. He didn't spit out his toothpaste to question her; he just briefly disappeared into his room and returned with a ball of clothes. She unfolded the mass to find a pair of black pants and a Sixers jersey. “What will I do when you're gone?” she said, but he was already back in the bathroom, running the water. He could be an ally, so long as he didn't have to look at her too closely. 

A month after graduation he'd leave for the processing station and then straight to basic training. He spent his last evenings of high school doing pull-ups on a bar across his closet door. He wouldn't stand being the skinniest guy in his unit. Outside the window, his sister shot hoops in the driveway until dusk. In a couple years, she would probably still be here, going to community college, then coming home at night and savoring their mother's famous humitas. In a couple years, he could be anywhere.

While he worked out, he kept his door locked to keep out their little brother. Otherwise he would come in, whine, and fly paper airplanes at his head. When the knocking started one night, he ignored it as another distraction until a voice said, “Carlito, it's me.”

He wasn't sure what she wanted, but Maricela held an edge in her voice. “One second,” he said.  He watched himself in the cheap, plastic-framed mirror on the back of his door. His size grew and shrunk in the distorted glass as he grabbed a shirt from the floor and wiped one sweat-soaked lock of hair from his eyes.

He opened the door, and immediately caught what she threw at him. “Yo,” she said as he discovered the basketball in his hands. “You want to play, tough guy, or you too busy jerking off in here?” She tilted her head back, attempting eye contact. Already her hair had grown enough to bend under its own weight. Her features, which had never looked pretty with longer hair, were feminized by the buzz, the curve of her chin now delicate, like a child's, like the child he grew up with.

He shifted the ball from hand to hand. Outside in the driveway, he'd be forced to look at her. Forced to see what everyone else saw when they looked at his sister. “I'd whoop you 'til your ass is grass,” he said, “like last time.” But his tone came out dismissive, not challenging. Was that even true? He couldn't remember.

She could tell. She always could. Her lips bent downward as she reached for the ball. “You're busy getting ready for basic...I understand.” She eyed the graduation cap, ready on the dresser, then looked back to him.

“Look,” she said, stepping toward the door. “I want to say, good luck with that whole future thing.” As she moved, his mirror caught her. She stopped in the spot where the distortion made her wider than life. A wrinkled t-shirt he recognized as his own sagged around her shoulders. Her turning away, taking her last steps his room reflected back at him.

“Wait.” He stepped to the doorway. A dent in his mirror made his torso look concave, like everything was pulling toward a hole in his chest. She tossed the ball back to him.

Valerie Lute is an MFA student at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Rusty Nail.


Q: What can you tell us about this story?
A: This piece is part of my master's thesis examining family relationships and gender in suburban America.
Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1Learn more...

Dallas Woodburn
My Gray-Area Motherhood

“deep is calling unto deep”

These places where decisions
lean in to see what you will do
These places where you stop to build
 a cairn of what you hope is truth

There is no guardrail here
Blue on blue,
the depths call and echo
The deep pools swirl with promise and menace

You can’t cast lots
there is no easy way
You must forge through, trying this way, brambled and bracken,
and that, burdened by boulders

Far off: a green gap

Kimberly L. Becker is a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers and author of Words Facing East (WordTech Editions, 2011). Her poems appear widely, most recently in Drunken Boat, Future Earth Magazine, and Yellow Medicine Review. Visit her at


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: Despite the title, this is a hopeful poem for me, from the allusion to the Psalm, to the green of the last line. From my second manuscript that has a journey motif, the poem was drafted during the dissolution of my long marriage. I wrote my way through the gap of that decision.
jam jar
by James Claffey
followed by Q&A

Yellow stripes. A curtain. Summer dress. Strawberry blonde. Reminds me of years ago. Thinner. Prettier. Not much older. Been there, seen that, walked the streets. Nice to put context to abstraction. Young. Not so young. A beach, sand, toes, shine of sun, the hills pretty distant, your skin quite pale. 

Fill in the spaces. Once, during high school, you were depressed. It was when your mother lost her mind because her hips were so wide. She ate chocolate fiendishly, even the salty kind you thought she'd leave alone. A dog, you suggested. A Husky, or a Malamute. Force her to exercise.

In the noontime rush the barista is testy, does a little dance, gets a dollar tip. Over halfway through the book. Requirement. Split down the center. Buttons, or would you prefer half-and-half? A long time ago I had a crush on a girl just like you. Her mother didn't approve. Catholic Ireland. Parochial. Provincial. All of the above. 

I wanted you not to fret, not to worry, nor cry. There's boredom in your eyes, still as standing water. In secret we'd invent sins for the priests to forgive in the confessional. We had an old parish priest, a creeping Jesus, loved to hand out decades of the Rosary as penance. Little wonder I stopped going to Mass. He had a brindled beard, salt-and-pepper they call it. Man made me nervous. I never went back.

The Czechs are marvelous. But the South Americans? Have you read them? A world of wonder awaits you. Amazing to be on that path, beginning again, the page blank, the linen soft to the touch. By the window we could talk of sins, and dust-covered books, and the open jar of honey ale we'd swig from before undressing. You know, the Marxist would be insanely jealous? Yes. He might react in a not too pleasant manner. The soft curve of bone where the clavicle dips flashes in front of my eyes, and I knock the jam jar of tea to the ground. 

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places, including The New Orleans Review, Elimae, Necessary Fiction, Connotation Press, and Word Riot. His website is at


Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I’m getting ready to take my 9-month-old daughter home to Ireland to meet her family there, and in the process of travel arrangements I found myself recalling some moments of the year I left home to come to America.
My Gray-Area Motherhood
by Dallas Woodburn
followed by Q&A
It’s a blustery day in April and I’m walking across a strip mall parking lot toward Chuck E. Cheese. I’ve got my purse over one shoulder, a diaper bag over the other, and Jude’s small hand in my own. Jude is a three-year-old boy with strawberry blond hair, his father’s round nose, and perceptive blue eyes. He is my sort-of son.

Before Jude came into my life, I didn’t think motherhood had much gray area; you either were a mother or you weren’t. I wasn’t a mother and didn’t plan on becoming one soon. I was acutely single. Accidental pregnancy isn’t an option when you aren’t having sex.

Then I met Mike. I was immediately drawn to his warmth, humor and kindness. On our first date, I learned he was a divorced father who gets custody of his son every other weekend. Mike suspects that Jude actually lives with his grandmother instead of his mother, but there is no way to prove anything to the courts. For now, the custody arrangement is fixed: Mike gets Jude every other weekend.  

Before long, I was in the passenger seat whenever Mike made the two-hour drive to pick up his son, who began to feel more and more like my son, too. Lately I’ve been asking myself, when is it that you become a mother?

Was it the first time I saw Jude, when he reached out his hand to say hello to me, wrapping two of my fingers in his small fist, and I felt like I would do anything in the world to keep him safe?

Was it when I changed his diaper for the first time? Gave him a bath? Held him on my chest and rocked him to sleep?

Was it when I said milk instead of soda, sliced apples instead of potato chips, fresh air instead of TV, even though he whined? Was it when I made him apologize for saying a mean word on the playground? When I put him in time-out for misbehaving, my heart breaking as he sat sad-faced and alone on the rarely-used couch in the living room, for what felt like the longest two minutes of my life? 

Was it when Mike and I kissed and hugged him goodbye and I felt my eyes brim with tears? When Jude said, “Wait!” and ran toward me, diaper bunching around his chubby toddler legs, and planted a wet kiss on my lips?

Was it when I’d been a part of his life for six months? A year? Two years?

Was it when Mike proposed to me? Or would it be when we get married?

Was it when Jude said, “I love you” and as I said, “I love you too, sweetheart” all the clichés about love burst open in my chest as truth? When he said, “Mama,” and I turned to him without thinking twice?

Maybe this is the day, Jude’s small hand in mine as he skips his way toward Chuck E. Cheese, Mike holding the door open for us. Inside, a worker stamps each of our hands with a number in invisible ink, and then unclips the velvet rope for us to enter the play area. Jude is agog at the flashing lights, squealing children, canned music leaping out at us from every direction. He grips my hand tighter. We spend most of the next hour feeding tokens into a miniature train that speeds around a small light-up town—the only game Jude seems interested in. 

After cashing in Mike’s skee-ball ticket winnings for a rainbow lollypop, the three of us head for the exit. Before we can leave, the worker shines a penlight on our hands to check our numbers.

“It’s a match,” he says, unclipping the rope to let us leave. Jude reaches up his arms and I hoist him onto my hip. The three of us walk out the doors and into the windy sunshine: a father, a mother, a son, a family. 

Dallas Woodburn’s fiction and essays have appeared in The Nashville Review, Monkeybicycle, flashquake, Family Circle, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. Her plays have been produced in New York City and Los Angeles. Her short story collection Woman, Running Late, in a Dress was a finalist in the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and her work has been nominated multiple times for a Pushcart Prize. She currently serves as Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review and teaches undergraduate creative writing courses at Purdue University. Learn more about her nonprofit youth literacy organization “Write On!” at


Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: I have a quote from Barbara Kingsolver taped above my writing desk: “There is no perfect time to write. There’s only now.” For me, often the first fifteen minutes of writing are the hardest. Kingsolver’s words push me forward when I am feeling sluggish or blocked. Just get some words out—any words—and see where they take you. To be a writer, you must write, even in the most imperfect times. Especially in the most imperfect times.

Actually, I think the best writing advice I’ve ever received comes from the late, great Ray Bradbury. I got to meet him a few years ago at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, where he told me: “Write with passion! Write with love!” I can think of no better way to write—or to live your life—than by those words.