A Miniature Contest of Very Brief Writing
During Spring term 2012, eleven undergraduate students in Professor
Barrie Jean Borich's course LITERARY MAGAZINES and INDEPENDENT PRESSES created this online literary publication called DIMINUTIVE PRESENCE.
The journal then hosted a writing contest called THE 2012 MINIATURE CONTEST OF VERY BRIEF WRITING, open to undergraduate student writers currently enrolled in any Twin Cities area college or university. The editorial board read and voted on over 80 submissions, and chose the following three winners.
Michael Varano, flash nonfiction
Two Dogs Fighting
There was dust in the sunlight and footprints in the dirt and everyone knew already what was about to happen. We formed a circle in the road and the pair within barked at each other. The one with glass in his eye blew blood out his nose and a man bigger than my father had to keep him from swinging. No one had to hold back the other one. He was younger and I could see ribs beneath taut, purpled skin. He sneered and laughed through his full set of teeth, waving for the stranger to come get him. Whiskey stink wafted from his mouth and scrunched my nose. I was nearly twelve that day and already people figured I was getting into spirits, or worse, fights. But no one noticed me. I looked around at all the grownups and realized we could have stopped them, the boys out for blood, if we had wanted to.
Dad shuffled out from the bar with a bundle and everyone stepped aside. He told me never to look at him during the fights, no matter what, and when he ignored me. I felt a jump of pride. I mistook the feeling for maturity. When dad reached the circle and opened up the newspaper the skinny one came over first. The noise started to settle and while he leered my dad snapped a handcuff over his left wrist. After that, the big one jerked away from the guy holding him back, stomped up to my dad, and repeated the process. They said it was more honorable like that. Only one link held the cuffs together, runny-red chips of rust flaking away with the slightest twitch. I thought it strange how gently their trapped hands rested against each other, while my father took out the knives.
Mom had used them for cooking – before dad’s restaurant became just a bar. Mom used to cut up vegetables, fire-seared, and let me feed scraps to the strays and children. We didn’t have vegetables anymore, and the knives were dull and chipped near the middle. They still cut though, and no one seemed more aware of their terrible violence than the crowd. Their eyes shined with the same light-on-steel as the knives. Above my ear I heard the wet smack of lips and my stomach shriveled. It felt like humidity that raw afternoon, but I would later come to recognize something predatory in the undercurrents of the crowd. Whatever it means to be a man, we certainly saw the insides that day.
Once my dad had cleared the circle it was as though the sun had flared and left all of us blind. Reality ensued with a scream. The one with one eye jerked his knife in the other’s chest but even when only part of the blade came back out he kept on stabbing. The scrawny one threw himself backward and the other one’s shoulder popped as he fell down with him. The big guy dropped his knife or maybe landed on it and now he was kicking and biting the other trapped arm, but it hardly mattered. The scrawny one had the knife and as he tore and ripped into his rival the crowd howled, repeating the same jeers that preceded the duel. The victor, teeth-a-shine, took up a terrible darkness in his shark-shimmer eyes. Someone next to me hooted: “Gut the fucker like a fish!” I turned violently and looked for my father but couldn’t find him. “Cut his fucking balls off!” A woman, the baker, snarled. I started to cry.
With the loser good and dead, the cacophony hushed down and in murmurs the crowd began returning to their homes, their shops, the bar. The blood leaked out of the happy winner in casual heartbeats, but when he tried to escape he found himself still chained to his victim – too weak to carry the dead weight. He screamed for my dad, for the key, but my father was already scooping me up, carrying me away. From his shoulder I watched the thug shriek over my own tears, which my father tried to soothe. He kept saying, “Shh, shh, child. You mustn’t go near them. At times like this, they’re just like wild dogs.” It was all he ever said to me about the fights.
Mike Varano is a recent graduate from Macalester College who spends his newfound free time searching for whatever sustenance he can find.