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PO Box 30314,
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Issue 7, April-June 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 7.3

Flash Fiction

Ann Stewart
The Packer

Erin Ganaway

Gary Glass
The Plumber's Tale

Before I pack my duffle bag, the one with the Minocqua High Mighty Lion on it in shiny gold, his mane like cartoon sunbeams around his head, frozen in a roar like Dick Cheney’s rictus grin, I take out my gym clothes. They smell of teenage crotches and chlorine. So much for that. Swiftly, quietly, the way cheetahs creep along in the Serengeti plain, so their prey doesn’t notice a thing, I fill the bag with underwear and socks. 

I pack my parents’ wedding picture, and the picture of me with Jeremy, locked together. It’s summertime in that picture, like it is in the one of me and my cousin, covered in mud from puddles outside Aunt Gertie’s house, because we just didn’t give a shit. I’ve since crawled out of that mud, like some primordial soup. I’ve evolved. I’ve left behind Australopithecus and Homo Erectus and become my own species. I leave that photo on the dresser. I pack Boo Boo, my Teddy, though, because I’ve only gone so far. 

I pack the pills that I have stolen from Gertie. Tomorrow, she may notice that they are gone before she notices I am gone. Because she will get up limping, lurching, groaning from bed, pain clinging to her back like a baby monkey. Or she will have a list of chores she must do fast, items she must gather. And she has different pills that help her with each of these problems, though they can’t cure her of me. The way I track salt from the icy sidewalks through the house. The way I leave fingerprints on the pickle jar and get crumbs in the butter. The way bits of plaque get on the bathroom mirror when I floss. When she sees that her supply is depleted, she will suspect me instantly. My name will reverberate through the house like a siren. Her roar of inhuman rage will shake the walls, but not me, because I will be on the road south. Away from under this rolling blanket of cloud that keeps the Midwest just above freezing, like the comforter I throw off in the night when I am hot and sweaty from nightmares about being chased. 

I pack my knife. The one my father left me. I don’t pack my mother’s wedding ring because I am wearing it—always. I pack my comics. I pack The Things They Carried. I just like that book. I step softly into the bathroom and pack deodorant and tampons. My toothbrush. I am happy to see the flecks on the mirror. The crusty soap scum and the hair that will no longer be my problem, and the problem that I will no longer be.

I pack the little crystal ball with a tiny starfish trapped inside that my mother bought me when we went to Florida. At age eight, I thought it was so cool. To hold a thing and not touch it. I pack the bullet casing from my father’s funeral salute. Aunt Gertie will stomp back and forth, snapping the belt. When she sees that the starfish, and the shell, and the Teddy bear are gone, she will begin to sweat beads on her fuzzy upper lip. She will sit on the sofa and wait until nightfall for me to come home, the sleet silver and swirling outside, until gray turns to black. But I will have shed this awful skin. Burst out of this spore. Left the grungy loathsome piles of snow like God’s shit and followed the jackknifing bodies of birds toward the sun.

I’m thankful for too-long nights. I’m thankful for April. I close the zipper slowly, and though it seals the duffle shut, it sounds like tearing open. Like a Caesarian. It’s a sound of birth. Of freedom. Like the first mutant alien calling itself Human, who plodded ostracized from his heavy-browed former clan (or was dropped from the heavens) somewhere in Tanzania, and cooled off in the shadow of Kilimanjaro as he made his journey away. 

Ann Stewart is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing with a specialty in fiction at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where she also teaches creative writing and introductory literature. She is the newly appointed editor-in-chief at UWM’s literary journal, cream city review, and has published both fiction and poetry in Ellipsis, Untamed Ink, At Length.


Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: “The Packer” was inspired by the words “plaque,” “zipper,” and “Kilimanjaro.” 

The Packer
by Ann Stewart
followed by Q&A


William Aarnes

Kathleen Hellen
Moon in the Water

M. A. Schaffner
Jubal Early's Raid Reduced to Powerpoint

For our third anniversary I give him two black candles the shape of tears and clear glass holders for them. In the card I write they are unconditional love candles: the color representing the shade of my heart, the glass representing the purity of his love for me. When he opens my gift he smiles, and when he reads my card his eyelids turn red. 

Later we eat tender steaks at a table covered in white linens, served by a waiter who points to his bowtie as he describes the type of pasta served with tonight’s special. We finish with cake that tastes of our wedding, chocolate ganache accented with a fresh wedge of mandarin orange. I eat the orange. We make love in a fancy hotel room, and check out by midnight. The room is dirty, we complain. Not what I would expect from something in this price range, I say, smoothing my tousled hair with one hand. The concierge apologizes, refunds our money in full. 

When we are home I make two cups of hot tea and he lets the dog out. I take off my red skirt, now ruffled from our outing, and pull on warm flannel pajamas. He hangs his suit in the closet. I let the dog back in and he turns out the lights. We settle into bed with our tea.

Two days later he slams a door in my face. I scream from the hall. He opens the door and heads for the stairs, and as I try to push by I trip and slide feet first for the foyer. He grabs for my shirt, and I continue sliding down as my clothes slide up. When I reach the landing he is already there to block me. Let me out, I scream, and when he guards the door I sink to the hardwood floor in a fetal position. It is the only thing I know to do. And it is then I mention divorce. 

Screams start afresh, and I prowl the living room for my most important belongings. My wallet, my laptop, the book I started reading the night before. I do not bother with extra clothes or a coat or a toothbrush. He sits on the couch watching me. Come and talk, he says, just talk for a minute. His voice is steady now, softer. I continue circling the room like a bird of prey; I will not descend. Instead I go to the dining room to fetch one of the black candles. I light it, set it in front of him. It is easier to manage than me, I say. Then I walk out the door.

The candle is no longer burning when I get back. It now looks more like an egg with a crew cut than a teardrop. He is in the basement, but I find a letter where he sat. The letter says that he loves me, that he does not understand how a door slammed shut can turn into talk of divorce, that all married couples argue. I look up from the letter, toward the black candle perched on clear glass. Standing over it and peering down from above, I notice white wax puddled around the wick. How cheap, I think, that the candle is not black all the way through. How foolish I was to buy it.       

Erin Ganaway holds a Master of Fine Arts from Hollins University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, New York Quarterly, Sea Stories, and elsewhere. She currently divides her time between Atlanta and Cape Cod.


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I love when simple objects, such as a pair of black candles, ignite my imagination. I was dismayed when I lit the candles and discovered the interiors were white, but then I liked the irony of the contrast of colors. I immediately set to work on the metaphor of the candles and the protagonist’s heart, her perception of her love versus an underlying purity.

by Erin Ganaway
followed by Q&A

The Plumber's Tale
by Gary Glass
followed by Q&A
There I was standing in this Ivy Leaguer's kitchen with the garbage disposal leaking out on the floor and him yammering on about how he knows all the best bistros in Paris but hasn't got the first clue what a guy like me likes to eat for lunch or whether I prefer imported or domestic beer or whether I'd ever been to a polo match, and I just stand there and let him idle his mouth because I'm thinking every minute that leak goes on leaking is another fifty bucks damage to the wine cellar or the billiard table or the Gutenberg fucking bible or whatever the hell it is in the basement under his kitchen sink.

Gary Glass is a writer, photographer, programmer, and the proprietor of, an online community for readers and writers. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: "The Plumber's Tale" was inspired by an essay in The American Scholar by William Deresiewicz, "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education," in which Deresiewicz laments that his Ivy League education has not prepared him for the challenge of making small talk with his plumber.

Jubal Early's Raid Reduced to Powerpoint
M.A. Schaffner
followed by Q&A

Real fighting closed in on the bureaucrats
of civil war Washington. The real trick
for preventing rust at the time involved
using sebum-based gun oils, such as whale, 

ideally Sperm. Tinted spectacles helped
protect clerks’ eyes from the sun’s reflection
off bayonets and swords. Linen dusters
proved just the thing to protect office clothes

from the blacking used on accoutrements.
And how can one say whether hand-drawn forms
proved much inferior to systems templates?
At least the user had to think and care

exactly which rows and columns went where.
Of course we can’t say now; it’s like asking
if we needed to trade the wilderness
for indoor plumbing and additional hours

of life in front of screens, or “a good hand”
for agile thumbs, or the just society
for the new release. Each generation
seeks its own shallows, even while the smoke

rises from the suburbs and windows shake
as ordnance wagons block the bureaux’ doors.

M. A. Schaffner has poetry recently published or forthcoming in Stand (UK), the Beloit Poetry Journal, The Hollins Critic, Dalhousie Review (CA), and Markings (Scotland).  Other work includes the collection, The Good Opinion of Squirrels (Word Works, 1997); the novel, War Boys (Welcome Rain, 2002); and the memoir, Good-Bye to All This (PBGC, 2009).  The Swinging Urinal, a novel in which real fighting closes in on the bureaucrats of Civil War Washington, has recently begun making the rounds.


Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: Drawing its inspiration from an actual historical incident in which an unprepared Federal government had to rely in part on hastily armed civil servants to defend the capital, “Jubal Early’s Raid Reduced to Powerpoint” riffs on the eternal unreality of technological progress.

William Aarnes
Followed by Q&A

We find ourselves alive
and accept life

as our parents live it,
the move from the cramped apartment

to the privacies of a home,
our own rooms, our father’s lawn

our mother’s flowerbeds,
their patience with the prayers

at daycare, the summer vacation
on which the dog gets lost

and found, the strawberry sherbet
always in the freezer, soldiers grinning

at children on the TV news.
some talk of spending less,

the friendly neighbors
often scathing to each other,

the dinging of the appliances,
the sitter explaining our parents

have gone to say a last goodbye,
the inherited piano no one plays,

the tune of wishing
it were otherwise, the slipknot 

of the bedtime story,
the good night’s sleep.

William Aarnes teaches English at Furman University. He has two collections of poems—Learning to Dance (1991) and Predicaments (2001)—both published by Ninety-Six Press. His poems have appeared in places like Poetry, The Tipton Poetry Journal, and ant-poetry. He has work forthcoming in Ascent and Curbside Quotidian.


Q: What was the genesis of this poem?
A: “Prelude” started with the worried recognition of the opening two lines, much of the rest of the poem occurring to me or the next couple of days as evidence, the “slipknot” notion coming to me a few days later. Wordsworth’s The Prelude of course provided me with the title.

Moon in the Water
Kathleen Hellen
followed by Q&A

The crossing is a splintered track of absent thunder, 
blackened ties over gravel white as moonlight to the 
edge of pebbled things. To the brink. 
Bare feet running through the prickle of the thistle-
weed, the pale grass screaming. 

I cuff my jeans. The river lurks in babble, 
in waves against hard places. 

A tug 
is tugging. It pulls as white as moonlight.
Signal-lights ripple into waves reaching higher 
to the bone inside the knees. 

The barge is a mountain moving shadows. 
A long slow coming. 

I see in waking: A rat-face fat as grandma’s, laughing in debris. 
The belly in a beer can. The plastic bag that weeps.
The drift-

wood to the tide becomes surrender. 
The moon floats closer. 
The moon throws out its buoy.
It saves me.

Kathleen Hellen’s work has appeared most recently in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Cave Wall, Cimarron Review, The Dos Passos Review, Harpur Palate, Pank, Subtropics, Swink, Witness, among others; and on WYPR’s The Signal. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still, and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the state of Maryland and Baltimore City. Her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra was published in December 2010 by Finishing Line Press. 


Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: There’s a place inside your head you sometimes go when you are small and all the world might seem in chaos. A quiet place, safe, where you can leave the grown-ups to their bickering and mighty woes. You can leave a house of trouble. For me, that place was by the river.  On summer nights through moonlit fields, the rails of the B&O shimmering, I’d run there. I’d sit on the rust-colored rocks and listen, hushed, waiting for the bellow of the barge around the bend. The distant echo. The sidelights blinked: red on the port, green on the starboard, like joy, sorrow; love and hate—like all the things I didn’t understand. The wake rising, I’d wade out to the waves. I’d feel baptized in the moon over the water.