1. hanginggardenstories:

    Betrayal

               

    When King Hardik rescued his love from the clutches of a brutal warlord and brought her home on the back of a red elephant, he had been strong and sure. Doubt had not yet crawled into the creases of his mouth. All he could see were Utpalini’s eyes, as full of diamonds as they’d been the day he’d lost her.

                “You were not harmed?” he asked her many times, as though she’d open up like a river and tell him all her woes.

                “I was not touched by any man,” she replied with a soft smile.

                “And you never gave him your heart?”

                She twisted in the saddle and pressed her palm against his chest. “It’s been with you.”

                He reached down and kissed the top of her head. He had her now, safe in his arms, and he’d never let anything happen to her again.

               

    The city cheered when they rode through the gates. Women tossed colored mukhwas that sprinkled in Utpalini’s hair and dotted the king’s shoulders in candied confetti. Children ran along beside the elephant, singing about Utpalini’s great beauty. She smiled down at them, glad to be back with her people. But amongst all the jubilation and fanfare, a single ball of spit slapped Utpalini on her cheek. She wiped it quickly away, but not before Hardik noticed and furrowed his brows. The songs, the fragrant petals, and the cries of happiness faded like chalk pictures in the rain. At last, they reached the palace, and Hardik ordered the elephant down.

    While the palace prepared for a celebration, Hardik would not let go of Utpalini’s hand. They hid in the recesses of the garden, twisted together like vines until the banquet began.

    “Queen Utpalini, we welcome you home,” the King’s mother, Geeta, said with a bow. She had not been in the streets, and Hardik was grateful she had not seen the spit on his wife’s cheek. Uptalini smiled in return and settled before the banquet table, silent and wide-eyed. “I have been told,” Geeta continued with narrowed eyes, “That you were held separate from the warlord’s court, alone but for the warlord himself?”

                Uptalini frowned. “I was never alone.”

                Geeta tapped her fingers against her lips and nodded. “I see.”

                Hardik was about to say something to defend Utpalini, but the musicians began thumping on their drums just then, and the long line of dancers entered the hall. The women wore saris of gold and red, and the men leaped in the air, chests bare and glistening as they swung around the throng of women. 

                Hardik eyed Uptalini. She watched with a wide smile, but her chin dimpled as it did when she was trying not to cry. At last, the dancers left, the music faded away, and the people were allowed to eat.

                Uptalini did not eat. She stirred her rice and pushed the bowl of paneer away. Geeta clicked her tongue in distaste, and began once more to ask too many questions.

                “Mother, she is home and that is all I care about,” Hardik said.

                “Is it? Do you not worry what the people in this city will think? Do you not wonder what happened in that fortress? How did she manage to survive a whole year unscathed? If not her body, then what did she offer the warlord in exchange for keeping her beauty and health?”

                Uptalini set her hands on her lap before turning to Geeta. “I have returned with a clear conscience. I have done nothing that would cause me to be harshly judged in the eyes of the gods.”

                One of the men to Hardik’s right leaned forward with pursed lips. “Forgive me, King Hardik, but there is much talk about this amongst the people. They wonder, naturally, how you could swallow such a pill as this, taking back a wife who has been living with another man.”

                Hardik felt his body ignite. His wife had been home less than a day, and already they were judging her. “She was not living with another man. She was imprisoned in a madman’s fortress. Forty-three of my soldiers died in battle today while we fought off her captors. My wife stayed true.”

                “So she says,” the man continued. “But how are we to believe the word of a woman gone from us one full year?”

                The mutterings continued until they were as thick as the summer air. Hardik fumed and stared at those who dared to question his trust until he took one glance at Uptalini and saw she’d sunken into herself.

                “It should be enough that I am here, that I am alive, and that I love you,” Uptalini said to him. Then she stood and faced the assembly. “If you do not believe me, then believe your king. He knows my true heart, and he believes in me.”

                Then Geeta, who had been quietly watching the discussion, set down her tea with a heavy clink of enameled brass. She stood up to join Uptalini. “I am afraid, my daughter, that the people need more than the trust of a besotted king. They demand proof of your innocence.”

                Uptalini opened her mouth and shut it once more.

                “How could she possibly prove any such thing?” Hardik asked.

                The man beside him cleared his throat and waited for silence. “There is a way that will both prove her chastity as well as purify her soul should be not be innocent.”

                When he explained what it was Uptalini must do, Hardik’s stomach swirled in nausea. He believed her, so she would come to no harm. But they were asking much of her.

    The sun had set when the crowd gathered, their faces lit by the reddish glow of charcoal and ember. The burning coals reflected the blood-lust in the eyes of all but Hardik and Uptalini.

                The servants removed her slippers and guided her to the start of the flaming path, where Hardik stood with a vice around his heart.

                “I wish you did not have to do this,” he said. He knew he sounded weak, but the people had forced his hand. There was nothing he could do. The people had demanded that Uptalini walk barefoot on the path of burning coals. If she was indeed chaste, the gods would save her. If she was not, then she’d erupt in flames. All she had to do was walk with a pure mind, and everything would be perfect again. Hardik reached out and squeezed her arm for reassurance.

                Uptalini wiped a tear, forced a smile, and lifted her chin. “Then tell them you will not force me to walk across these coals.”

                Hardik’s breath caught in his throat. Why was she not willing to walk? Was she trying to prevent herself from catching fire?

                No, of course not. She would never have lied to him. Nevertheless, he had to prove to the unbelievers that she was loyal.

                “I don’t think there’s anything I can do to make them believe you,” he said.

                She nodded and took a step. Her bare toes reached forward and came to rest on a bright orange clump of coals. When there was no scream, no backward jump, no flash of fire, Hardik began to breath again. She had been telling him the truth.

                Uptalini took another step, and she was out on the burning path. Quickly but surely, she walked ten more steps until she came to rest on the soft, green grass.

                The crowd was frozen in silent awe, but Uptalini did not give them a moment to cry out in relief and support. She turned on her heels and faced her husband.

                “I walked across those coals not to prove my words, but to show that I could not longer trust you.”

                Hardik blinked. What did she mean? Of course she could trust him. He loved her.

                Uptalini walked back to the edge of the coals. “It does not matter any more that I was chaste, or that I returned home with my self intact. It does not matter because you have pulled me apart with this one small strip of fire.”

                Then she dove into the coals, and this time, she was not saved by the gods.

                Hardik jumped into the fire and pulled her out, then dragged her to the lotus pond. Quickly, he crawled into the water with her in his arms and stayed there until he fell asleep on his feet.

               

    The pond’s surface was elastic, so he could not push through it. As soft as it was, it stung his skin and the shock of it swept up his nerves to the place where she stayed in his memory, always defiant, always broken.

                He had doused her with water, but he had been too late.

    .

    .

    .

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    (This story was based on the tale of Sita.) 

     
  2.  
  3. vicemag:

    Introducing the 2014 Fiction Issue

    This summer’s fiction issue is themed around movies—”Hollywood,” Clancy Martin says. We shared an intuition that a lot of the most interesting writing being done today is being done for movies and TV. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we watch a lot of movies. So we made a long list of our favorite movies and looked up the writers who worked on them, and we harassed them and their agents and their publicists for months. We started with a really long pitch letter, but we learned that in LA it’s proper etiquette to write three-word-long emails. We tried to romance them by inviting them to dinner at the Chateau Marmont. An interesting thing about the writers in this issue—David MametMichel GondryLouis MellisAlec SokolowJohn RomanoMerrill MarkoeKevin McEnroe—is that none of them gave a damn about what we could pay. In fact not one of them even brought it up. So maybe one lesson of this issue is, if you want to be a writer and not have to scramble for every dollar, the old maxim holds true: Go to LA. 

    But back to movies. Here’s what we like about movies: They have stories. They are entertaining. The dialogue is simple. We were watching Searching for Bobby Fisher last night at the hotel in Chennai. William H. Macy says, “It’s just a game.” He’s the father of a seven-year-old chess player talking to another father, and we know that what he means is, “I’d like to rip your head off and s**t down your throat.” Similarly, just a few nights ago we were watching The Shining, and the actor who plays the manager of the Overlook Hotel describes the murders to Jack Nicholson during the job interview. He says, “I can’t believe it happened here, but it did,” and all three of the men in the room somehow already understand that it’s going to happen again. Because of the genius of actors and directors, there’s so much you can do—as a writer—with a line of dialogue that you just can’t do in other forms of writing. But all this is covered in an interview with Robert McKee—Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) makes McKee work through his theories, and Tony Camin, possibly stoned, asks McKee the tough questions, e.g., “Wasn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit the third in the trilogy ofChinatown?” There are also a few pages of Nabokov’s screenplay version of Lolita with notes in his hand, masterfully introduced by Blake Bailey, and a story by Thomas Gebremedhin that evokes Santa Monica like no other fiction we’ve read (and ought to be a movie).

    Anyway, we asked Steph Gillies and Debbie Smith to art-direct again, and again they knocked it out of the park, with work by Richard Phillips, Martin Parr, and others. We also have some work by traditional (i.e., non-movie), LA-based writers about LA, and a story about Lindsay Lohan by James Franco, and fiction by Emily McLaughlin and Benjamin Nugent.

    Pick up a free copy of our fiction issue anywhere VICE is distributed, but those go quickly, so subscribe to make sure you get a copy every month. You can do that here. If you’ve got yourself an iPad, download our free app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras. 

     
  4. theparisreview:

    “In August the beggars started coming around. My mom calls them unfortunates; my dad calls them bums. They don’t have anywhere to live; they don’t get government rations. They came wandering from I don’t know where. First they came around asking for work, a night in the garage. Now they ask for food, scraps, even a glass of water. Now there’s nothing left, and still they come by. All they seem to want is the human interaction. A little attention, some eye contact, conversation. Even when you yell at them, they seem to like it.”

    Judy Budnitz, from “Dog Days”
    Photography Credit Gabrielle Lurie.

     

  5. "

    'Many of your stories are about women. How do you feel about being called a feminist writer?'


    ‘Naturally my stories are about women—I’m a woman. I don’t know what the term is for men who write mostly about men.’

    "
    — Happy birthday, Alice Munro. (via thelifeguardlibrarian)

    (Source: The Atlantic, via thelifeguardlibrarian)

     

  6. literarymothers:

    image

    An Open Letter to Alice Munro

    Dear Alice,

    It seems impossible that you don’t know me. What I mean is that I know your work so well—intimate, is the only way I can describe my relationship to your stories—that I feel like I know you. I consider you a kindred spirit…

    (via vintageanchorbooks)

     
  7. 29pco:

    Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading: "Three Sisters" by  Maria Takolander

    Download the app to read. 

     
  8. andotherstoriespublishing:

    Short Story Recommendations for #shortstorysunday! 

    Given that May is Short Story Month (www.shortstorymonth.com and @ShortStoryMonth), we asked a couple of our authors for their top short story recommendations.

    First up, Nowhere People author Paulo Scott recommended fellow Brazilian Amilcar Bettega Barbosa’s “Os lados do ciruclo” (“The Sides of the Circle”) - and for non-Portuguese speakers, you can read one of short stories here, translated into English by Brian Gould. 

    Next, our debut British author Niyati Keni (subscribe here to receive an advance copy of her forthcoming novel Esperanza Street) recommended not one but three individual stories that made a particular impression on her: “The Man Who Shouted Teresa” by Italo Calvino, “Dodie’s Gift” by Vanessa Gebbie from Salt Publishing, and “The Necessary Strength” by David Constantine from Comma Press (who, by the way, are doing absolutely stellar work with short fiction, especially in translation). 

    You can read the Calvino story here, translated by Tim Parks. 

    French readers can enjoy Scadi Kaiser’s translation of “The Necessary Strength” here, hosted by www.theshortstory.eu @shortstoryEU 

    More great online short story resources include the tumblr blog shortstoryroll, @shortstopsUK (shortstops.info) and @fictionwritersreview, who recently posted Charles Blackstone’s great essay, What I Talk About When I Talk About The Short Story. 

    Finally, if you’ll permit a brief blowing of our own trumpet, we’re proud to publish great fiction whatever the form, with short story collections forming an important part of both our backlist and upcoming titles

    First out was Clemens Meyer’s All The Lights, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (read a story from the collection here), followed by Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka (shortlisted for 2012 BBC International Short Story Award). 

    Next year we’ll be bringing you SJ Naude’s The Alphabet of Birds, translated from Afrikaans by the author, and Don’t Try This At Home from Angela Readman, whose 2013 Costa Short Story Award-winning entry can be read here

    Long live the short story! 

    Long live the short story indeed!

     
  9. rachorme:

    I made the three short stories, that I illustrated, into a book! The stories are “What Happened In Arizona” by Annie Atkins, “My Brother Gary” by Sabrina Orah Mark and “It’s Nice When Someone Is Excited to Hear From You” by Brian Baise. My last ever project for my degree!

     
  10. mastersreview:

    Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors

    Kim:

    Flash fiction is one of my favorite forms and I think it’s because in spite of how short the story is, an entire world unfolds. On an emotional level, I’ve felt just as much impact by flash as I have entire novels. I remember one in particular, a story by Neil Gaiman (who I mention here proudly as he is a writer who spans so many genres) titled, “Nicholas Was…” This piece is only 100 words but I remember being so moved by the power and imagination behind it. I understood so much in such a short space. This got me thinking about how flash is actually quite broad, as humorous as it may sound for fiction that is so short. To some, it is any piece under 300 words and to others it can be much longer, 1000 words or more. At The Masters Review, we don’t have a strict word count, but we do have a strong history of publishing what I would consider flash fiction. When do you think a story stops being flash? And do you have any favorites that really pushed you to explore/appreciate this genre?

    Sadye:

    I agree that flash fiction holds a particular intensity. The best flash stories are complete, concentrated worlds that point to complexities outside of themselves. Broadly, I tend to think of flash as a story of 1,000 words or fewer. And there are all these subsets, like nano fiction, which is 300 words or less, or hint fiction, which is 25 words or less. As you say: I know flash when I see it. The writer who first sparked my interest in the genre is Lydia Davis, which is interesting because her work is not, as far as I know, overtly marketed as “flash” fiction. Her story “The Cedar Trees,” a fable-like tale about the women of a town turning into trees, has a strange cadence that has never quite left me. A new favorite writer of mine is Ashley Farmer, whose stories all communicate a feeling, a particular state of mind, with that economy of language that makes flash so powerful.

    These examples illustrate what I love most about flash fiction: its extreme variety in terms of form. Every piece of flash invents a new form for itself; it decides how it will take you from point A to point B, and then it fulfills that promise. Of course, this can be true of all kinds of fiction, but I see a lot more variety in these very short stories. In flash, you can easily have a story that is all questions (like Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning The Bodyguard,” which actually inspired your “Concerning the Housewife”), that is made up of (surreal) dialogue (like “How The Water Feels to The Fishes,” by Dave Eggers), or that is a meditation on a single, cooked fish (“The Fish,” Lydia Davis). It’s so interesting how flash can often focus on a single fictional element: it is all plot, all setting, all interiority — but, more often than not, it tells a full story. Do you feel that, in looking at submissions and in your own writing, there is a certain freedom that comes with this shorter form? Are there any flash stories in particular whose forms have surprised you?

    Read the rest of the discussion at The Masters Review!