Rate This Story: Attitude En Pointe

 

by Christina Murphy

I am in the living room listening to music, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Pathétique, when the cat walks by with a ceramic ballerina in his mouth. The ballerina is wearing a gold fleur-de-lis costume with black slippers painted on her feet. She is posed in an attitude en pointe, standing upon one foot with the other foot held high to her side. Her arms are lifted gracefully above her head, and in one hand she holds a miniature flower.

“Where did you get that?” I ask him.

When he tosses his head to the side, I know I am to follow him, and I do, walking into the study where there is an obvious hole in the floor.

I get down, peer in, and am reluctant to put my hand in the hole, so the cat pushes me aside and brings out a music box.

It is a beautiful box, delicately carved, with a black satin lining and a tiny mirror in front of which the ballerina dances. Before I can attach the ballerina to the music box, the cat picks her up in his mouth, carries her to the mahogany table by the window, and softly puts her down. A slight breeze comes through the window, lifts the curtain gently, and lets moonlight fall upon the ballerina’s lovely features.

The cat picks up the ballerina in his mouth, waits for me to open the music box, and lays her down in a fold of soft velvet in front of the mirror.

“Have you seen her dance before?” I ask him.

He nods.

“In another life?”

He purrs.

I open the curtain fully so that moonlight fills the room. In its soft glow, the ballerina’s costume is a river of gold.

The cat positions the ballerina in the music box so that the delicate flower in her hand is reflected in the mirror. A small beam of the loveliest blue light moves from the flower onto the cat. For a moment, the cat disappears and then returns ballerina-size. He is wearing a white tuxedo, and he is smiling.

“You look quite grand,” I say, as he watches me attach the ballerina and turn the music box key. The cat steps into place, his paw gently around the ballerina. The music is ethereal. I can imagine it playing at the creation of the universe. The cat and the ballerina dance, and the blue light fills with stars.

I would like to be with them but I leave, closing the study door behind me. It is their magic alone to share, and someday I will find a magic of my own.

 

 

Christina Murphy’s stories have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, including A cappella Zoo, PANK, Word Riot, and The Last Word: A Collection of Fiction. Her fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the winner of the 2011 Andre Dubus Award for Short Fiction.

Rate This Story: how a story fails

by Lance Manion

I thought you might find it interesting to take a little peek behind the curtain and see how things work in the mind of a professional writer. Just remember not to attempt any of the following techniques on your own. I am a veteran of the writing process and even then I sometimes require the assistance of a spotter.

After reading any of my books the first thing most people ask me is “Is there anything that you don’t print?”

A writer with thinner skin might take offense at such a pointed question but as I mentioned before, I am a veteran of this game. Haters are gonna hate.

But to answer the query anyway, yes. There are certain stories that just aren’t going to make it to the finished line.

To give you an example, and the peek that I promised earlier, I was working on a story about a moth earlier today. The general idea was originally going to be that this moth had been given the task of flying into a person’s mouth. After a quick bit of research into moths I felt comfortable coming up with a pretext of why it had been given this mission in the first place and the next step was to do a bit of research on kamikazes. Once I had a decent handle on the culture behind these suicidal aviators it seemed like a pretty simple task to knit the two together in a jocular fashion and end up with a pretty cozy thousand words sure to delight and entertain.

In fact, initially I felt it might be the story that suddenly caught fire on the internet and made me an overnight writing sensation. I was giving the moth some real depth while still being able to throw in some poignant commentary about the courage and stupidity required to sacrifice one’s own life for the greater good. All of it presented with the snarky wit that I would be known for if I was known. Before it was even done I saw myself receiving any number of literary accolades. Of course, I usually feel this way about each of the 400+ stories I’ve had published so I never really give these feelings much credence.

The important thing to note is that as I started to jot it down there didn’t seem to be any dark clouds on that particular horizon.

Then another cook entered the kitchen.

I started to think about the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star by shooting a torpedo from his X-wing fighter into the tiny exhaust system. In my head I simultaneously imaged a Japanese Luke flying into the mouth of an unwary picnic attendee and a hachimaki -wearing moth bullseying womprats on Tatooine.

Cracks began to appear in the fragile framework holding the premise together.

With only three hundred words to go did I have time to include other Star Wars characters in my story?

Would readers understand how these three moving parts could come together?

While the two chef wrestled with the recipe another entered the kitchen through the back door.

Literally. You’ll understand in a minute.

I suddenly imagined the picnic taking place at a nudist camp. Instead of the moth being tasked to fly into an open mouth its merry band of moth friends, including a butterfly it wanted to bang that would end up being its sister, talked it into trying to enter from the other end and abruptly the Death Star became a man’s hairy anus.

I closed my eyes as the story began to crumble under its own weight. Even the anus started to disintegrate in my head like an old mine collapsing in a B movie. Let me tell you, it was not pretty.

I even thought about telling the story backwards.

Please don’t try to bring all these elements together and finish the story in your own head. I tried and it can’t be done, you’ll just hurt yourself. I appreciate that a moth named Skywalker following the Bushido code and flying out of the ass of a human seems like comedy gold but you’ll just have to trust me on this. No can do.

There’s no shame in tapping out. Sometimes a professional writer just has to understand his limitations and walk away with his dignity intact. Even kamikazes came back from missions once in awhile.

 

 

Lance Manion is the author of five humorous short story collections; Merciful Flush, Results May Vary, The Ball Washer, Homo sayswhaticus, and his latest The Trembling Fist. Lance blogs daily on his website www.lancemanion.com and frequently contributes to many online fiction sites.