As the plate-glass façade of the university library disintegrated, Miranda looked up from her essay on symbolism in Germanic folk-tale and thought:
in an explosion
In the blinding flash, as the Japanese history student near the window was vaporised, the relevance of Hiroshima’s thousand suns was lost upon Miranda.
And as the pressure wave ballooned into the building and that creepy astrophysics guy at the next table was reduced to his constituent particles, the analogy of a new universe created by this Big Bang and now expanding exponentially did not cross her mind.
But as the twinkling blast-front neared, and the light fittings above her desk swayed elegantly in unison and exploded, Miranda thought briefly about Snow White motionless in her glass coffin: sleeping yet not sleeping, alive yet not alive, undead. And Cinderella, the Ash Girl, leaving her glass slipper on the steps and running — running ragged — into the night.
Lastly she thought about The Snow Queen in which the wizard’s magic mirror, when dropped to earth, shivers into a million fragments. Distorting, perverting, corrupting. She was Gerda, barefoot in the snow, bent into the howling ice-storm, searching for the transparent palace where Kay sits alone with shards of glass in his eyes and his heart — and now she was Kay — trying to piece together the puzzle of a shattered frozen lake, to form the word Eternity.
This Friday, 22 June 2012, marks National Flash Fiction Day and I'm honoured to be the Guest Editor here this week and bring you this short short story. It's written by my co-editor at Flash Frontier, a journal we launched back in January. Flash is both challenging and inspiring. Capturing the essence of something in such a short space requires a certain skill, and flash fiction -- despite its very trim word limit -- allows both freedom and experimentation.
Sian wrote this story for the Flash Frontier issue themed splinters. I find it a marvellous example of short short fiction -- beautifully written, simple at first glance with layers to unpack.
I asked Sian a few questions to accompany this story (three, to be precise: this is flash, after all). The story speaks for itself, but I always enjoy hearing more from the author, too.
ME: How did
the idea for this story come to you -- this one moment in time, slowed almost to a stopping point?
SW: It started with an image in my mind of shards of glass
suspended in the air slowly twisting and twinkling in a beautiful,
yet sinister, way. I began thinking about explosions and remember
watching slow-motion video of the nuclear tests in the Pacific. When the film
was slowed right down, the individual forces created by the blast could
be identified and separated -- the light, the pressure wave, the
sound. The anatomy of the explosion became visible and I started to think about
a story which examined these different components and presented them as a
series of freeze-frame images.
weaving of fairy tale into reality adds a wonderful element to this piece. Can you
tell us why these particular fairy tales came to you?
SW: I was thinking about materials which splinter, and in
particular about ice and glass, and their relationship to each other. Ice
and glass are recurrent motifs in many fairy tales, and the three
fairy tales mentioned in the story all feature glass: Snow White's glass
coffin, Cinderella's glass slipper. The Snow Queen begins with the breaking of
the broken magician’s mirror, and later snow and ice feature strongly. I'm
interested in how the themes and motifs used in fairy tales relate to our
lives today, and it seemed to me that Miranda's experience in the
explosion was in many ways an infinitely condensed version of
the children's experience in The Snow Queen.
The glass coffin is interesting because it's an example of a
serendipitous moment in writing when everything comes together. In addition to
being made of glass, the coffin introduces the idea of suspended animation
(an idea which crops up in a number of fairy tales including Snow White and
Sleeping Beauty) and is the perfect image for this story as Miranda sees
herself momentarily in suspended animation, caught motionless in the space
between life and death.
ME: In this
very short story, you question in subtle ways the relevance of history, of
science, of time itself -- and whether these are best viewed as a whole or as
fragments. Tell us, do the fragments matter more, or does the whole?
SW: In this case the fragments are important; this story is about
splinters, fragments of lives, things blown apart. What I tried to
say here is that the way we experience life, even a shattering
moment like this one, perhaps especially
a moment like this one, is shaped by our own particular frame of
reference, our context and place in the world. The Japanese history
student experiences the explosion in terms of the bombing of Hiroshima, the
astrophysicist in terms of the Big Bang, and Miranda in terms of the fairy
tales she is studying. We all experience the same event in different ways,
we are individual fragments.
* * *
You can read more about Sian Williams, whose recent accomplishments include being short-listed for the Flash 500 Competition and the Fish Publishing Flash Competition, here. Or you can meet her in Auckland on Friday, 22 June -- National Flash Fiction Day.
Visit the NFFD site and find out about the competition's Short List and also events happening in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Whangarei.
And please do enjoy the poetry and flash posted this week by other members of the Tuesday Poem collective. You can find their posts in the sidebar to the left.