An introductory note on the story “Four Points and a Necklace” by Sharon Houk
For me, the genre of flash fiction is a delicious combination of poetry and storytelling. In China, this type of miniature story is called “smoke long,” meaning you can read it in the same amount of time it takes to smoke a cigarette. You can’t waste time. Every word counts. It reaches beyond itself.
“Four Points and a Necklace” was inspired by an x-ray. I was told to get dressed after four injections were fluoroscopically guided into my neck vertebrae, but instead I snapped a photo of the image remaining on the monitor. My neck: with four points and a necklace. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a picture, a phrase, a hat. Frankly, I have about five lifetimes of inspiration already backlogged. I’m never at a loss when I need a catalyst for writing.
The thing that tips inspiration into an actual piece of writing is some problem. I never write just to write. I write to solve problems. I write to understand something that is, for me, just beyond language. I mix fiction and experience and comedy and I don’t stop until I’ve said, “That’s it!” That was the thing. That thing. And sometimes other people find it entertaining, too, and all in the time it takes them to smoke a cigarette.
Sharon Houk is Adjunct Faculty in the department of Math & Computer Science.
Four Points and a Necklace
“What patron saint?”
Steven Levine wanted to know the patron saint on the medal dangling at my neckline. Above the black lace bra. Over my collar bones. Between the scars that looped tight around each breast.
He didn’t know I had conquered breast cancer. He didn’t know he had to be careful with my neck vertebrae. He didn’t know I once had captured an Eastern Bluebird that had drunkenly fallen down the chimney and flopped and bolted around the house leaving bits of ash on a wall, a chair, the rug. I caught it in a hat. Step one: wait for the bird to pause. Step two: toss a soft summer hat over its tired body. Step three: as a surgeon might handle a tumor with grace and conviction, envelop the bird. Out we go. I laid the hat on the grass as soft as if the bird were glass. Step four: forget about the bird. It will only go away after you forget about it.
“What patron saint is it?” he repeated. He touched his chest.
It’s the patron saint of none of your business, I wanted to say.
The patron saint of internet dating and dinner at my place too soon and I don’t know your middle name or favorite color or how you like your coffee made.
I queried, “Have you ever been to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore?”
A blank stare. I thought not. It’s the patron saint of people who don’t know what the Seminary Co-op Bookstore is.
At least he wore jeans. At least he still had his jeans on. But he had his socks off. You should never look at a man’s toes unless you are already in love with him. Many a budding romance was ruined because the woman saw the man’s toes too soon.
He didn’t know that. He didn’t know that I like graph paper. He didn’t know how I like my tea. I like the top edge of the hot water to land on a line equidistant between two-thirds and three-fourths of the way up the side of the cup. Never sugar. Honey if I’m sick. Milk if it’s a full moon, very late and I’m feeling Irish.
I buttoned up my shirt. “It’s the patron saint of Eastern Bluebirds.”