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Issue 31, January-March 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 31.2

Flash Fiction

Aaron Burch
State Capitals

Lisa Piazza
Midnight at the Mani-Pedi

State Capitals
by Aaron Burch
followed by Q&A


Terry Kennedy
Man on the Moon

Makalani Bandele
death comes in threes

death comes in threes
by Makalani Bandele
followed by Q&A
Man on the Moon
Terry Kennedy
followed by Q&A

Like the ending flourish of that piece by Shostakovich that she loves but can never recall, first one, seven, then the rest of her guests descend the steps where she sits, her head all vibration, the spin of the party still moving through it. The darkened windows across the street pull her in as she warms to the light of the arching moon, leans forward, tries to hide in the fog of her winter breath—and yes, she is in love with him, and no, he does not know it—and he stares through his window at the moon’s slow ascent, its deep bruises and scars, and the stars pop on, flicker, tease the dark—the streets slowly draining until the hum of the night bus, empty on its route, seems normal, as natural as breathing—and for a moment they are together in this clarity of desire. But this is not that, this is loneliness: the moon taking root in the sky, silence in silence, the stars, and beyond them: ice and darkness—the place where the slow fear of love emanates.

Terry L. Kennedy is the author of the chapbook Until the Clouds Shatter the Light that Plates Our Lives from Jeanne Duval Editions of Atlanta, GA. A new collection, New River Breakdown, is forthcoming from Unicorn Press in 2013. His work appears or is forthcoming in a variety of literary magazines and journals including Cave Wall, from the Fishouse, Oxford American, Southern Review, and Waccamaw. He teaches at UNC Greensboro, where he is the associate director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing and editor of the online journal, storySouth.


Q: What can you tell us about this piece?
A: The genesis of “Man on the Moon” came during a period when I was suffering from really bad insomnia. When it wasn’t too cold or raining, I would talk walks around the College Hill neighborhood. There were these two houses, across the street from each other, and they always had the same lights on–one upstairs and one downstairs. At some point I began to start imagining the lives of the people in those rooms and what types of relationships they might have.

“Ask me any of them,” the kid says to the man, not clarifying, not caring that they haven’t been introduced, just pushing a book, open to a map of the United States, toward the man.

The man looks to the woman. He isn’t sure what the kid means, what he’s supposed to ask. Isn’t sure the protocol here. 

The man is over for dinner. They had a reservation, but something happened—the kid got sick, or the babysitter got sick, or someone in the babysitter’s family? Someone was sick, or maybe the man made that up or misremembered or misheard, but she apologized profusely. This was the back-up plan, this seemed to be a thing that happened—the man was sure he’d seen the scenario in countless movies, but still it caught him by surprise. He’d never pictured himself in those movies. He couldn’t imagine having a kid himself, he’d never before been out with a woman who had a kid. A woman who was also a mother. The man didn’t really think of himself as a man, not in the adult way, not in the men know how to fix things, and build things, and are adults and adults have kids way, despite many of his friends being married and starting to have kids, owning homes, having second children. But here he is, sitting for the dinner she made him, and now here is her son, who she said would likely stay in his room all night, playing video games and being quiet, but who now wants to talk about… his homework. Or is geography only a hobby, something to show off? 

“He’s learning the state capitals,” the woman says. “This is Matthew. Matthew, can you say hi?” 

The kid—Matthew—doesn’t say hi, just continues to stand waiting for the man to “ask him any of them.” The woman smiles at the man, smiles at her son. 

The man looks down at the book, holds it in his hands. It has that feel of a grade school textbook that he hasn’t felt since being Matthew’s age himself. He remembers the feel of his small, 3rd grade chair and desk, all one piece and wrapped around him like a cockpit. He can see Mrs. Butcher standing at the front of the room, writing on the chalkboard; can hear his parents teaching him to use mnemonics to memorize all the state capitals. The man thinks about it, can only remember the capitals of the three west coast states he lived in growing up. He’s lived in numerous states in the decade since but can’t recall for certain any of their capitals, much less the states he’s never been to. South Carolina? Maine? He can name the biggest cities, the college towns, but can’t remember seeing a capital building since grade school field trips. Can that be right? Is all that knowledge only necessary for kids in school and people that go into government? What else has he learned and forgotten?  

“Califor—” the man says, but Matthew answers before he can even finish,  


Too easy, the man thinks, but says, “Good job.” He again looks down at the map, makes like he is tilting it away from the kid so he can’t cheat. He tries to find a tricky one, the one that looks least familiar.  

The man imagines sitting with Matthew, the kid teaching him, reminding him how to remember. Learning together the years each state became a state. All the Presidents, in order. Moving on to countries and their capitals. Official languages, largest national exports, wars they’d been in. An entire growing up of learning, and this time the man can pay better attention. He can encourage Matthew to take guitar lessons, and learn alongside him. If he wants to play baseball, or soccer, or basketball, the man can volunteer as a coach, but he should probably dissuade football, it’s too violent. He can start talking about colleges when the kid gets to high school, not to pressure him, but to let him know the world of opportunities that exist. He’ll buy him his first car, and he’ll encourage taking an automotive class so they can work on the car together, too. Do high schools still offer automotive classes? Woodshop? He can buy power tools, a table saw, turn the garage into a workshop and they can learn to build things together. Maybe build an extension on the house, or at least a deck, or some kind of studio in the backyard. Maybe the kid will be an artist, and the man will encourage him to learn how to paint, to write, to become a filmmaker. He’ll prepare him for the world, promote all kinds of learning and discovery. He’ll teach the kid any and everything, learning alongside him, teaching the kid all those things he believes he learned too late in life himself, and learning together everything the man believes he missed out on.  

The man starts to feel a tightness in his chest, a welling in his eyes. The kid is already leaving, moving out, going to college, calling often and coming home to visit, but then doing so less, graduating, moving out of state, far away for graduate school or a job or a woman and visiting less, it’s so hard to find the time, and the money, and he’s starting a family of his own, and the man is proud of the man Matthew has become but misses the kid, and how he would take care of him when sick, and how they used to be able to spend so much time together learning something as simple as state capitals. How did time pass so quickly? The man isn’t ready to say goodbye. 

Aaron Burch is the editor of HOBART: another literary journal and the author of How to Predict the Weather.


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I don’t actually remember the specific inspiration/genesis for this short, other than something (a TV show? Scene in a movie? Something I was reading, either a book or even a submission for Hobart?) reminded me of all that info you learn as a kid, both in books as an interest (the wealth of dinosaur names, for instance) and in school (in this case, state capitals) that you just don’t remember as you get older, until you learn it all again as a parent.

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Stephanie Reese Masson
What an Aunt Knows

Sara Whitestone
Honesty Laid Bare

the drapes thin and light as gauze, caught in a breeze
cause me to look away from the white desert
in her mouth. something, someone approaches.
a little blood trickles from the left nostril, then
a sigh that could be lungs crashing together,
or storm-swollen sea against the pier.

—mother has died singing
how her breasts and hips still remember things
she told herself to forget—

i think i know the song—
try to finish it.


how easily the past can overtake the present
if you are not watchful. and if it does,
you walk backwards through the days
with her fears as your only companion.

—i saw it all from my belly, by turns: a whodunit (and why),
a memory, and something of a ghost story.

he died out of his stomach. the silt had built up,
rock had fallen, no one knew it was cavernous
under there. it was where his emotions, especially the grief,
went to hide. he had no respect for the dead,
but wantonly walked in their way, on the shining path,
instead of close and along the wall leading into the town.
all we have left is the pictures of his stomach.


after that, i was always by the waters
picking up eggs i found lying around from birds and fish.
i put them inside of me, called myself ark
and stowed them in my womb.
i said to them, i have room for all of you.

Makalani Bandele is an Affrilachian Poet and Louisville, KY, native. He is the recipient of the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Award and a fellowship from Cave Canem Foundation. His poems can be read in various online and print journals. Hellfightin’, published by Willow Books in October 2011, is his first full-length volume of poetry


Q:What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I had a vocation as a pastor in two Baptist churches in North Carolina some years ago before I came back to writing. In that time I saw a lot of sickness and death. I performed many, many funerals. There was a saying among churchfolk that I pastored, “death comes in threes.” It related to the strange phenomenon of people dying in sets of threes. A person would pass away, and within a month to six weeks two more people would die, then you might go a year without any deaths in the church, but once somebody died, it seemed without fail two more would die not long after. The poem is simply three vignettes by the same speaker detailing the death of her mother and the attendant grief that drives her brother to his death and her to hers.  

What an Aunt Knows
by Stephanie Reese Masson
followed by Q&A
It’s hard to find a good stick. It can’t be too short or curved. It can’t be too thick or too thin. It has to be one solid twiggy piece. You can’t poke a dead squirrel with just anything. 

He’s only three, but even he knows some of this. 
I play stick inspector as he runs around the yard trying to find just the right one. Not the one with branches growing from the sides, not that curved piece of crape myrtle bark posing as a stick. A crape myrtle branch, though, is a different story. It has the right heft and is straight as can be. I approve it instantly. 

The dead squirrel in the middle of the road was treat enough, but a poke with the stick took it to a whole new level. 

A look at the fresh carcass was the reward for a backyard haircut that he had tried hard to avoid. 
“It’s not even a big deal,” I said, when he first began to squirm beneath the old white sheet serving as a smock. “It’s not really anything at all.” 

Then as he scrunched his eyes and tensed before his grandmother’s scissors even touched his neck, I pulled out the big guns.  

“Do you want to see a dead squirrel in the road,” I asked quietly. 

That got his attention. I knew it would. I had to add a message to the grotesque.  

“He probably tried to cross without looking. He didn’t know not to play in the road.” 

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said, the haircut almost forgotten. 

I smiled a little because it worked. I drew out the fun by telling him he could find the stick. 

You don’t throw a good stick away once the squirrel poking ends. A good stick serves many purposes. Its next job is to poke its way into crawfish holes. He calls it “fishing for crawfish.”  

We walk slowly around the lawn looking for the gray chimneys that signal a fresh mound. The lawn is large and has several areas that stay damp, good crawfish habitat. 

Nothing but a nice straight stick will do the job of probing deep into the holes. Sometimes you can touch the water, but if the hole curves, you only hit the side. 

When nothing comes up the hole, it doesn’t stop the fun. New holes pop up in the lawn every day. You never know when the stick might come in handy. 

It also feels good in the hand. The right stick could swish slowly as you walk around, or make a whistling sound if stroked quickly from side to side. If you hold it just right and swing it really fast, you can slice the tops off Dallisgrass growing above the shorter lawn grasses. I demonstrate and he watches. I never get the stick back after this. He practices over and over. Swish, swish. 

Before long it’s almost dark. We’ve spent the whole evening with the stick. Sometimes a good stick trumps TV, technology, and toys. 

A stick can become so much more than a stick. An aunt like me knows this.

Stephanie Reese Masson’s nonfiction has appeared in Word Catalyst Magazine and The Battered Suitcase. She has authored academic articles for the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching and Louisiana English Journal. She also writes newspaper columns on health and wellness. She received her B.A. in journalism and M.A. in English from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. After 14 years in the newspaper industry, she is now an instructor of English and Mass Communication at NSU.


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: What surprised me the most about this and other recent stories is how they flow from some unconscious place. I think about things I experience and turn them over in my mind, constructing beginnings until something feels right. When the first sentence or sentences congeal, I feel ready to write, and often don’t stop until I have all the details down. I have no idea why sometimes the stories are there and at other times not. I am also surprised by the depth of feeling and connection I have with my nephew and how often he becomes the catalyst for my strongest works.

I write to overcome. I write to become. I write for those who will come.

Since “a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country,” a passionate, articulate writer should not expect full acceptance of (or even always interest in) her work.

Through that freedom of not worrying about what others close to us think, writers are then able to make connections with strangers, those we may never even meet.

I write so that I can bring those strangers, those whose names I will never know, “food, and medicine, and kinship.” 

I do this by writing my truth—the truth that I have experienced—because there is no “true to what really happened.”

If I don’t remember this—if, out of fear of others’ anger, I pull back—if I don’t “spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time,” I am no longer being honest with myself or with anyone else. 

That honesty—the act of being true to myself—is what makes my writing authentic. 
It is what my readers—those strangers somewhere out there—are hungry for.

I write to feed others because, I, too, have been fed. I, too, have found kinship. 

Although he never even knew my name, a memoirist once unclothed me through his “pain and longing and adoring”—his “bare branches against the stars.” 

Writing is nakedness shared with strangers.

Every day I have two choices:
to run to safety, to cover myself, to hide and to fear 
or to stand in the uncertainty of faith, to open myself, to trust and to live.

But what if—in all my honesty laid bare—my truth never nourishes others? 
I will write. 
Even if nothing is ever even published? 
Yes, I will write.

I was eight years old, forming my first fable about why a robin’s breast is red when I understood—understood that “I’ve just got to write. I can’t help it. . . . There are those who must lift their eyes to the hills—they can’t breathe properly in the valleys.”

Forty years later, I am still climbing. I am still writing.

Because I am writing for myself. Finding ways to breathe.

How can I make sense of the past, unless I build some structure into its telling, unless I infuse meaning into its chaos, unless I turn its torture into wisdom and its burning into passion? 

How can I be fully alive in the present? How can I welcome the future with faith instead of falling away in fear?

I open my eyes at 6:30 a.m., and look out the window at those bare branches against a dawning sky, hoping, again, that beauty will give me courage because 
I am afraid.
I close my eyes, trying to sink back down into the fog of my dreams because 
I am afraid.
But my writing won’t let me rest. It rises with the daylight, hardening to full clarity.
By 7 a.m., I force myself to throw back the covers, exposing myself to the cold.
You only have to write a few lines, to bare your truth for only a few moments.
It is 10:30 a.m. I have forgotten even to eat breakfast in the exhilaration that comes with creation.
I am naked, but I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because there is “ecstasy in paying attention . . . where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation . . . an outward, visible sign of inward, invisible grace.”

And so I pay attention. To what I want to overcome. To what I want to become. To what I want to share with others who will come.

And while I am crafting those truths that I see, I feel that invisible grace breathing into me.

Works Cited

“A prophet is not without honor” 
Matthew 15:7, New King James Version of the Bible

“food, and medicine, and kinship” and “true to what really happened” 
Lockhart, Zelda. “Freedom and Power: A Talk with Zelda Lockhart.” North Carolina Literary Review 21 (2012): 209. Print.

“spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time”
Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. Print.

“pain and longing and adoring” and “bare branches against the stars”
VanAuken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy. New York: Bantam Books, 1979. Print.

“I’ve just got to write. I can’t help it. . . . “
Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. New York: Bantam Books, 1993. Print.

“ecstasy in paying attention . . .”
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.

Sara Whitestone is a writer, photographer, and teacher. In exchange for instruction in English, her international students introduce her to the mysteries of the world. Whitestone’s creative nonfiction, articles, interviews, prose-poetry, and photo and travel essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Piedmont Virginian, Literary Traveler, Summerset Review, The Winchester Life, North Carolina Literary Review, BootsnAll, Wilderness House Literary Review, and many others. Whitestone discovers writing through travel, and her current work-in-progress is a literary thriller set in Europe that is inspired by true events.


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: I wrote this essay all in one long day, alternating between excruciation and exhilaration—between the words on my laptop and the mountain views from my deck. I was surprised at how much I needed to breathe deeply, to let fear rise, so that I could feel all the emotions—the fullness of what I wanted to create. 

When I showed the final version to a writing colleague, he said, “In this piece, you have a very interesting combination of rawness and craft. I think that is maybe one of the keys to your writing style and voice: the nerves are scraped bare, with a very elegant scalpel.” 

And isn’t this exactly what writers do each day? We take our pens as if they were scalpels and scrape until we hit a nerve. Then, and only then, are we satisfied with the honesty of the work.

Honesty Laid Bare
(A Lyric Essay on Writing)
by Sara Whitestone
followed by Q&A
Midnight at the Mani-Pedi
by Lisa Piazza
followed by Q&A

At the Midnight Mani-Pedi they keep the lights dim. This way you can slide your shoes off, ease into an open spa chair, and close your eyes while the hot water and chemical bubbles soak your soles clean. The flashing neon sign outside turns the lady red/now blue as she shuffles over. She is older than your mother. She has worked a full day and then some, but she still smiles as she puts down her plastic supply bin and asks your name. Wants to know which color? She holds out four pinks, none just right. You like the pearly ones best. A little sheen. But tonight you’ll have to live with “Pink Me Up!” You don’t even have enough cash to leave a decent tip. 

At the Midnight Mani-Pedi they let you stay as long as you like. This way you ride out the hours till Greg leaves for his 4 a.m. shift at the bakery. You can’t sleep in the same room with him anymore. His breath—textured bursts of weighted air—leaves no space for your own. 

The woman next to you is snoring. She is heavy around the middle with blond-gray hair pulled back in a loose bun. She inhales deeply and exhales in long, peaceful streams. It makes you happy in a sleepy way. She reminds you of your second grade teacher. The one you invited over without telling your mom. That was at the little place in the hills, where your mom had a friend who raised goats and traded rent for taking over the goat-care, expecting goat cheese, goat milk, goat yogurt out of the deal. Your mom got pretty good. She lived in a small section at the bottom of the house. One room, really, but there was a side area with a loft bed for your weeks with her. 

The woman next to you is in baggy black pants and a fuzzy sweatshirt—too sloppy to be Mrs. Fahy, who showed up to your mom’s in a long corduroy skirt and tight turquoise sweater that matched the sea in her eyes. You saw her from below, holding firmly to the steep railing as she climbed the thirty-two wooden steps down to the first landing in her tall brown boots. You loved the sound of the soft leather folding. Here she still looked elegant. You waved and she smiled and your mom—in garden clogs and jeans—looked up from one of her projects. 

“So these are the goats!” Mrs. Fahy said. She asked your mother if she needed help with the meal. You knew there was nothing cooking, but your mother said “Sure,” and led her into the small studio. She was good at going with the flow. Somehow food appeared on the table and you sat down between Mrs. Fahy and your mother who talked together fine. After dinner you told Mrs. Fahy about the Switch Witch who had taken all of your Halloween candy but forgotten to leave you a gift in return. For three nights now she had left you little notes—not exactly apologies, but close. You were hoping for one of those expensive dolls your friends had. They came with outfits and accessories and each one had a story and a pet to go along with it. “Maybe tonight,” you said and Mrs. Fahy smiled. 
When the cat walked in through the open window, Mrs. Fahy blurted: “You’ve got to be kidding!” It was only Ruffles, but to Mrs. Fahy, it was a British Blue, the kind of cat her parents raised to show. They had over twelve ribbons. “Best breed in the world,” Mrs. Fahy said. “But they need attention. Care.” Ruffles had belonged to a neighbor at your mom’s last place. When they moved, they had to leave Ruffles with her. Typical of your mother to turn a show cat into a raggedy outdoor mouser. She used to say: “All animals need fresh air and foraging; kids, too,” so you spent hours exploring the hillside property, following Ruffles or wandering on your own. 

By May, when the cat disappeared, your mother was looking for a new place to live. She was tired of mud. The sour stench of goats. Your mother said it must have been the coyotes. “Can’t you hear them howling at night? The laws of nature are mysterious,” she said. When you told Mrs. Fahy she put her head down and cried. You cried, too. “Something like that was bound to happen,” she said.  

At the Midnight Mani-Pedi they let you haul out the old stories. Spread the facts around or jumble the deck to make a new version. Bookend the moment with an opening scene—a resolute image on the fade-out. This way you can ignore Greg’s latest digs. That’s how you picture it now: him with a big shovel hollowing you out. You like to come here in the hours just after. That is the softest time. When sound slows to a silence. Seconds, minutes, hours squish and merge so that you are in all places/no place at once. Light shifts to prism pieces, then flattened edges—one dimension fading fast. 

The Midnight Mani-Pedi is here to fix you up! 

Clean feet, polished toes. A little “Pink Me Up” goes a long way.  

Let it be Mrs. Fahy beside you. Let her invite you over. Her house is the bright yellow one around the corner with the low palm trees and colorful grasses. All times of the year that garden looks good. She has a pot of minestrone on the stove. She wants to teach you how to draw perspective. Which lines form walls, which angles open windows. She wants to braid your hair. She wants you to sit by the fire and read through her pile of Vanity Fairs. After these thirteen years, she has rescued Ruffles. The cat is waiting, asleep on the couch. You will send a note to your mother in Ireland tomorrow. 

This is the way it should go.  

Don’t you know the Midnight Mani-Pedi loves you? Says so right there in flashing neon. Loves you on and off all night. You have learned to time your blinks so the love is always lit.  

Lisa Piazza runs writing workshops for children and teens in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Fraglit, LiteraryMama, Rivets and  Switchback. Her first story for young adults (published in YARN this past Fall) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: “Midnight at the Mani-Pedi” comes from a fantasy of wishing an all-night salon existed so that after my young daughters fall asleep at night, I could slip into a waiting pedicure chair and rest my feet awhile. If you know of any such places, let me know.