Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Category: flash fiction

Love Letters–of a sort

Will You Ossuary Me?

 Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Lady Liberty Lit

I used to skate when I was a kid, and over the winter, I wrote a piece about skating and resistance, which Gayle Brandeis has been kind enough to publish at the new Lady Liberty Lit. Thanks, Gayle!

P.S. Gayle’s first novel ‘The Book of Dead Birds’ thrilled me. If you too are pelican-crazy, and want to understand more about the mother/child bond, and just admire great stylists, you should read it.

Lady Liberty Lit

Rubber Soul

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Just because of my article on Rumpus on Saturday past about my harrowing descent into heart disease (Infarct, I Did) this flash fiction I wrote about a different encounter with cardiology. The truth is that in trying to find an image of rubber food, I plugged in “healthy rubber food” and found nothing. There is only rubber junk food, which should tell the dietician something, don’t you think?

rubber soul: the dietician

jane eaton hamilton

so what are your concerns she says and i say i want information for my ankylosing spondylitis and she says but let’s talk about lowering your triglycerides i say my triglycerides aren’t elevated she says the things i show you will get them back in range and i say but i am really interested in the list of foods i should avoid with ankylosing spondylitis and she says also we will also work on a plan to get your blood sugar more stable and i say my blood sugar is within range and she says let’s talk about how to even those numbers out because obviously your body is having trouble converting your sugars triglycerides and sugars are our concerns today and i say but what i’m consulting you for is ankylosing spondylitis and then she says what time to do go to bed what time do you get up why do you stay up so late have you heard about sleep hygiene do you watch tv in bed do you read in bed reading in bed is particularly bad because your eyes move back and forth and i almost laugh because reading in bed is what writers do and sometimes we write too with pens or even laptops so i say just consider it as me working the afternoon shift she says only sleep that you get before midnight counts and the window should be open you don’t want to add rotten sleep hygiene to your woes i say heaven forfend she says the only thing you can do in bed is sleep i say am i allowed to have sex because although it’s often unhygienic what we do we do do most of it in bed considering our older bodies i’m sure you can understand her lips collapse together and she pretends i didn’t say this she says only the sleep you get before 10 p.m. counts i say does sleep know what time it is what if i have sex at 2 does that orgasm not count it makes me sleepy she ignores me and says what time do you rise do you ingest food when you get up what do you eat and brings out plastic bowls red orange and blue so i can choose the amount of my yogurt and asks me to estimate the size of my apple which makes me giddy why am I giddy i say jiminy crickets doesn’t that depend on the size of the apple the store sells we move along through the day’s food when we get to dinner i say could we just discuss the hit list for the ankylosing spondylitis now and she bends to her bookcase and plunks a rubber mound of individuated white rice kernels a blob of sliced melded carrots a blop of cooked spinach and pasta with discrete strands along with a chunk of salmon on a plastic segmented plate more food than i would eat in three meals like portions in nashville she says you should eat more vegetables all of the stacked vegetables quiver like we are having a slight earthquake 4.4 say or the aftershock of a 5.7 i think of japan where there is rubber food in restaurant windows cultures are wiggle-rubbing like tectonic plates and i try hard i try really hard i try excessively hard sucking in my lips wiping emotion from my eyes not to react so as not to be labelled a bad patient but it is hard to answer questions with rubber food shaking not inches from your face i want to tell her that once my daughter had a boyfriend in japan who made prosthetic ears and i kept one by my canadian telephone and i was keen to collect more body parts i got rubber lips and one eyeball i ask her if she imagines that eventually i got a whole face (i didn’t because the kids broke up) but she says do you eat fish do you eat beef do you eat chicken do you eat fried foods salt breading do you drink alcohol pop coffee water what do you take in your coffee how much of it do you take she is going to find something wrong with my diet if she prys enough she is getting more insistent more charged up more i can see the roots of her hair bleaching in front of me she plunks down a glass of rubber milk which cannot slosh and a glass of rubber orange juice the food off-gasses in a way that makes me swoon with nausea i think you don’t put rubber food in front of a writer she says because we are gonna write about it i will give you a print out of your weight loss goals and the changes you need to make so that your triglycerides and blood sugars come down try it for a month then make an appointment to see me again and i say if i come back will you be able to prepare the list of foods that aggravate ankylosing spondylitis and then there is a silence and into it i say may i please have some rubber food to take home so i can compare portions but she just gives me a quarter of an elastic laugh i say is there a website i can order rubber food when she leaves the room for the print out i slip the rice just the rice into my gym bag

 

 

Spun Sugar

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Being with her was like dipping my brain in spun sugar. She was anything delicious along the red bumpy taste buds of my tongue, melting savory, melting sweet, explosions of colour along the neural pathways of my waxy brain. Think of penny candies from childhood: Wagon Wheels, BB Bats, Jelly Babies, Lick ‘Em Aid, Jujubes, Red Hots, Jawbreakers. She was my candy shop, and I stood before her with dirty fingernails, sweating palms, scabbed knees, clenched pennies, short, the top of my scruffy head barely even with the counter, vibrating with excitement.

Chemical soup, hormonal stew, a body that was hungry for her beautiful world.

I couldn’t just eat my fill, feel sated and then not go back for more because I didn’t have a bad tummy ache, I didn’t regret it, I didn’t gain weight, I didn’t have sugar shock or brain freeze.

The melting, sticky, goo-gawing emotion that causes dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin to jig-jag into your body, warm, wet and frothing, is supposed to be temporary, and then the relationship devolves or evolves into more reasonable, adult, companionable territory. But they weren’t temporary.

All those years, her arms were open. I ran into them like a dancer from across a wide stage, launching myself spread-hearted into the air, believing she would catch me.

 

The Litter I See Project

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I’m delighted to be included in Carin Makuz’s ‘The Litter I See’ Project to support literacy and Frontier College. Carin sent me my little bit of litter to spin from. My piece ‘The Problem of the Fry’ is up today. It’s a flash fiction about Vancouver’s work to reclaim city streams for spawning salmon.

About the project

 

 

The Commitment

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photograph: Jane Eaton Hamilton, clematis, 2015

The following flash fiction was published in Ocho, and nominated for a Pushcart:

It is lightly spitting. Lisa says she is unreliable, and that she sleeps with her exes whenever they contact her, both women, her favourites, and men, even though she is scarcely interested in them, even when she doesn’t particularly want to, and that in her professional life and in her friendships she is extremely reliable, and that she depends on her own reliability in these areas to bring her satisfaction and pleasure and self-esteem, and that her unreliability in love affairs causes her to be ashamed of herself, but she laughs as she says this, as if underneath her shame she is proud, proud to be ashamed, but then she sobers, ashamed to be proud, and Karen says that if this bothers her, she must change, the way that if smoking bothers her, she must quit, or at least understand that not quitting means increasing symptoms of COPD when already she is coughing badly. Karen understands that she is not impartial; she has a stake in this; she cannot stand the smoke, and she has wondered if it would be possible or advisable to love Lisa. Lisa wishes she already were those things, a non-smoker and a reliable lover, but she does not want to go through the process of becoming them. She would feel trapped if she were reliable, she says; she would take no risks at all and her life would shrivel like a man’s testicles. After all, she does tell her lovers that she is unreliable, and this single fact should get her off the hook, she thinks. Perhaps, however, she does not mention this soon enough, or in the right manner, because her lovers become hurt, and then refuse to see her at all. And she does not want to quit smoking at all—she has tried and it is not within the realm of the possible. Lisa and Karen are lovers; they have had sex once, and so Karen thinks Lisa is giving her a warning. She is not certain why she slept with Lisa, other than that she was there, and asked, and it had been a while. During the sex, she kept stopping them, saying, I would have liked to have considered this before I did it. I would like to know whether I want to be here, or I am just here by default, the trains stopped running, you needed to stay over. We should stop, go to sleep. But then they wouldn’t stop, they would start again, and so on throughout the night which was not mitigated by alcohol or drugs. She thinks she slept with Lisa in the way that Lisa sleeps with her ex-male lovers. Here is a chocolate. Eat the chocolate. Here is a woman. During this description of Lisa’s love life, which is now in some sense also Karen’s love life, it continues to rain. After Lisa has finished talking, and fallen silent, it is still raining, but a little harder, and they hurry towards cover.

Photograph

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fragment: Vincent Van Gogh; photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015 Norton Simon Museum

 

Photograph

My wife painted a fresco on one wall of our living room and now my wife needs surgery on her hands. Those two things are not related. Her nerves were not damaged by plaster and pigment work; her problem, the doctor says, is intrinsic, a degenerative disorder that robs her of tactile sense and causes her pain.

My wife’s name is Mary. You have probably seen her signature on canvasses but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter. I wish no one did; I wish my wife had never sold a painting, not one painting.

There are words I wish I had never heard, too: chartreuse, I wish I had never heard the word chartreuse. Turquoise is another one. That word turquoise goes right inside me; that world turquoise is a bad word. Vermilion. Is there any other word in the English language that goes to work on a man the way vermilion does?

The world is filled with unpredictability. Things wait around corners; words lie in wait around corners. Once I was a boy and I lived with a mother and a father and all that waited around corners for me was love; I wasn’t surprised for the first time until I was eleven and came around one corner too many and there was my mother and there was a stranger and kissing.

I am a man who appreciates a good kiss. I like a good kiss as well as the next man. What man wouldn’t appreciate a kiss? An excellent kiss can make a man overlook corners and words like chartreuse. This is just the way of things. In this world a wife and a kiss and a sunset make a fellow stop. They make a fellow stop in his tracks just outside some doorway and they make his eyelids widen.

Let us say the sunset seen through the window was chartreuse.

Let us say my wife Mary was kissing someone else.

Let us say her damaged hands were against the breasts of an artist named Diane.

This is the truth.

The truth is two women were kissing and Diane’s shirt was undone and her breasts were bare. My wife’s hands fit Diane’s breasts perfectly; I saw how well they fit. They fit so well an artist could have drawn the four as parts of one body.

One of Diane’s paintings is of a vermilion figure poised on the edge of a globe, bending over. My wife Mary’s fresco is turquoise.

This is just how it happens, a man turns one corner too many in his life and then it happens, that kiss, and he doesn’t know how to act or what to say or how to impart one color, the one he saw, black. He hits his chest with the flat of his hand over and over, he does that.

Here is a photograph: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a sculpture: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a story: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a sunset and a fresco. Here is a painting by a woman named Diane. Here I am. Here is my wife, Diane.

In the photograph I age and age. Soon I am fifty. Soon I am eighty-four. Soon I am a hundred and two. I am lucky to be so old, such a very old man with a thin windpipe.

Ocho again

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detail: La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, Degas, Norton Simon Museum

I am lucky to be included in the spring issue of Ocho, edited by Wendy C Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir, with my flash fiction called “The Commitment.”  I join a talented group:

Charlie Bondhus, Nathan Wade Carter, D Dragonetti, Myriam Gurba, Megan Milks,

Rick Sindt, John Pluecker, and Jai Arun Ravine.
I noted “The Commitment” was written in Paris while my apartment walls were covered foor to ceiling with my art pieces.  It forms part of my flash fiction collection “Soon I Will Be Dead.”

Ocho

 

Where is Their Real Mother?

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painting detail: JEH pastel, 2013

This odd little flash fiction piece appeared in Litro Magazine, UK, yesterday.

Litro Magazine

Pushcart Prize nomination

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Some days are funner than others.  This one, say, where I got a Pushcart nomination and also I get to hold my new book in my hands for the first time.

Thank you, Ocho.  Thank you, Caitlin Press.

Ocho Pushcart Nominations

Endings, Oblong Magazine

Here is a piece from Oblong:

Endings

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