BANG! authors are showcased individually here online for a month. Each author installment is made up of three pieces in any combination: poetry shorts (20 lines) or fiction or nonfiction (500 words each) for a month. All work on must be previously unpublished. Submission period runs all year round. BANG! pieces are not published in The New Guard. Work should be very short: flash-short. Pieces on BANG! are meant to serve as a kind of calling card for the author. :: Our next installment will be posted in the new year on January 5, 2017. ::
Our January BANG! author is Shubha Venugopal. Shubha is a BANG! invited writer.
Shubha Venugopal holds an MFA in fiction and a PhD in literature. She was a winner in The Masters Review 2016 annual fiction competition, and was a finalist of AWP's 2016 WC&C Scholarship Competition. She has been selected for AWP’s Writer-to-Writer mentorship program, and for Tin House Summer Workshop’s mentorship program. Her work has appeared in The Masters Review Volume 5, Potomac Review, Kartika Review, Post Road Magazine, Storyglossia, Word Riot, Mslexia and in many other journals. Her stories appeared in the anthology, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and in the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize anthology. She won the 2008 Ellen Meloy Literature for Social Change Award, and has placed in competitions given by Glimmer Train and The Atlantic Monthly. She was also shortlisted for the 2016 Fish International Publishing poetry contest. Her stories were performed by actors of the New Short Fiction Series, and Word Theatre also performed her stories in their event, "Motherhood: An Evening of Stories," which benefited Maternal Fetal Care International. She currently teaches at the California State University, Northridge.
Three short stories
BY SHUbha venugopal
Our Bed Is This Way
There is a presence in absence, a claustrophobia in open expanses.
Snow drifts require balance; misplaced weight will shatter the crust, exposing hidden caverns. White envelops these mountains, masks fathoms of blue below. A blue so deep and cold, it enters the bones and stagnates the soul.
His footsteps are there, imprinted with the inevitability of divinity—each step, a God stamp. That is the way he walks—with precision and force, knowing I am bound to follow. The pattern trailing in his wake: lines of x and o, repeated across the silhouettes of his soles. A boot-print promising hugs and kisses from a boot not ashamed to lie.
I can see him in the distance, past vast tundra of ice, sharp as a hallucination. His shape: a slender stalagmite. Puffs of his breath mist and dissipate. Space gapes between us. I try to breathe, drawing in nothing; my lungs rebel, refusing air this treacherous, this alpine and fragile.
We are ringed by serrated circles of peaks. Together—though apart—he and I cover miles of rigid terrain, unyielding and frozen, death waiting, expectant, in every angle of stone, every flake of frost. Here, he is free. Yet I am smothered by a sky full of wideness.
Our bed is this way—an expanse of blue sheets veiled by a blanket of white that stretches as if a snowfield, dividing. I reach out; he cannot be touched.
He stands; the mattress barely trembles beneath me. When he moves, what I feel: a draft of cold air. He is shaving, a slant of morning light from the window shivers in strands of his hair. Outside, the sky is slate. Froth flicks from his chin, and there, in a glint of blade. In the mirror, reflected: steadiness of hand as it travels the dips and rises, the familiar planes of his face. His hand, with its tapering fingers. Fingers that brushed my neck, years before, when they lowered the zipper at the back of my dress. The low, slow buzz of the zipper. The shock of the coming apart, and then, the coming together. A vapor of heat released from my skin.
He finishes shaving, gets dressed. The door opens, closes. He is gone. Walls high and stark as impenetrable cliffs surround me. I am boxed in this blank square of fear. In his absence: unseen but not intangible—an echo, an ache, a wisp of shadow. A presence. An absence.
Mountain and Wife
Boulder fields strewn at the mountain’s base, like his will, cannot be budged: not one boulder, not one inch. To push against him is futile. A mere wife exerts no force upon boulders ten times her size.
His dominance appeared gradually, scattered outcroppings of rock. In the beginning: sunny grasslands, a blooming, beckoning lushness. Evergreens, long-lasting as the love he promised. The life that burst forth upon him branched out, shooting upwards like the sequoias. The air around him felt clean and fresh, ripe with the scent of adventure. Above him: a cloudless sky, the illusion of calm. A sky blue with possibility.
A wisp of cloud materialized over his peak. Danger was not apparent—no harm in a wisp. He was a pleasant afternoon, a little breezy.
His terrain steepened. The higher I climbed, the thinner the air. He made breathing difficult. The scenery shifted—a rock here and there, his needs hardening into absolutes, stone rigid.
Soon came the patches of ice, coldness glittering. The snows of his displeasure deepened. Trails narrowed, turning treacherous and indistinct: some leading to heart-stopping vistas, others to the dead ends of cliffs. In seeking the path to keep him happy, I lost myself.
The contrast was exciting: grass, ice, rock, sky—wild and unpredictable. A beauty, unforgiving and stark. A challenge. He demanded exploration of each untamed angle. Now he was sunlight, now shadow.
Green blades of hope grew sparse, replaced with frigid slabs. His silhouette turned jagged. Fissures cracked the granite. No softness here; he was pointed and sharp, moods frosting into vast glaciers. His words: the thunder of glacier hitting water.
Clouds thickened and darkened, obscuring my clarity of vision. Winds picked up, bending the tops of trees, whipping a frenzy into the grasses. His rage howled and blustered in gales. Grizzlies stood erect, claws extended, teeth bared, ready to slash and shred. Storms gathered force, the electricity of emotions zigzagging in flashes, burning, blackening whatever they struck. Accusations avalanched, tumbling downward, rapid and deadly, burying my resistance.
Later, destruction complete, he heralded in a clear horizon. Sunbeams leaped and danced, sparkling in each crystal. On his slopes: powdery pillows of snow. A mountain incomparably lovely, enticing. Until the next storm.
Climb me, he said. Keep climbing. Don’t stop.
winter at zion
Skies pressed, gray and leaden, onto the peaks of Zion, flattening mountains. The air hung heavy with cold. My husband strode ahead, weighty boots leaving indentations in the snow. I stepped into them to trail him. His nylon pants flapped in the wind, revealing the contours of long, skinny legs. White vapors of breath curled from his mouth. He kept a steady, rhythmical pace as the path twisted, steep switchbacks coiling in impossible contortions. I fell behind. He shouted, urging me to hurry, the words whipping out of his mouth: we needed to reach the peak and descend before dark.
“We’ve just begun,” he called, though we’d been walking forty minutes. “Too soon to be tired.”
The trail sloped sharply. He squared his shoulders, long arms swinging with loose ease at his sides. I pressed my hands into my arched, aching back, straining against the angle that he ascended with the agility of a mountain lion.
At the first lookout, while I panted, hands on knees, he peeled off his gloves, setting them on his backpack, and took out his camera and wide-angle lens. Brushing snow from a flat boulder, he scrambled up to snap photos: white sky, snow-clad red rocks, glints of ice on the river where we’d started, a thousand feet below.
“Not much farther,” he said, rubbing a stub of Chap-stick against his cracked lips.
I pointed to a sign, partially obscured by a snowdrift, which warned hikers to avoid the Angels Landing trail in icy conditions. “Maybe we should turn back?”
“I know what I’m doing,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”
When the trail turned vertical, he sped ahead, jaw set, mouth in a thin line. I stumbled behind.
Two hikers, both six feet tall and strapping, called a greeting when they passed us coming down. “I wouldn’t do that last section,” one man said. “Trail’s too icy.”
I paused; my husband didn’t stop.
The final stretch narrowed to an upright ridge strewn with slick rocks: vertebrae of the mountain’s backbone. Sheer drops plunged 1,500 feet on either side. With a gloved and confident hand, he clasped the chains lining the path; icicles broke off. He pulled himself up the chain, hand-over-hand.
“Come on,” he said. “View’s amazing at the top. Wait until you see it.”
Then, he slipped, his feet sliding from under him, dangling, for a moment, over the precipice with nothing but air below them. I screamed. Hanging onto the chain with both hands, he heaved himself back onto solid ground, breathing fast.
“Let’s keep going,” he said. “Just a little slip. Nothing happened.”
He didn’t look back to see my body trembling. I clutched the chain with shaking hands, inching forward, nauseous, dizzy from height. At the trail’s end, he dropped his backpack with a thump and gave me a broad smile, his arm sweeping in a semi-circle.
Clouds choked spires of rock beneath us: a landscape slowly suffocating.
Flash Fiction © Shubha Venugopal, 2017. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Alexandra Oliver, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Quenton Baker, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Julio Duggan, Scarlett S. Diaz, Erica Vega, Amy M. Alvarez, Jonathan Segol, Lissa Kiernan, Roger Bonair-Agard, James Kimbrell, Bridget Boland, E.G. Cunningham, Melissa Goode, Mark Wagstaff, Carla Stern, Sarah Glass, Jennifer Amell, Zakia R. Khwaja, Julie Poitras Santos, Lyall Harris and Amy Nash.