by Joseph Cusumano
Randy felt that the best flash fiction writers could write with the density of poets, sometimes limiting themselves to a single, brief paragraph. They were the true masters. How else could they pour so much meaning into so few words? So Randy began to direct his reading to the most succinct stories in flash fiction collections. His interest in this type of literature was entirely appropriate considering the extremely short attention span with which he struggled, his medication notwithstanding.
One afternoon at the neighborhood library, he came upon the Hope Diamond of flash fiction. It consisted of only two sentences, brief ones at that. Randy couldn’t discern how the two sentences were related, but maybe that was because the work had a density greater than a diamond. He tried reversing the order of the sentences to glean its inner truth. This helped not at all, and Randy began to despair of even approaching the base camp of this towering literary achievement.
The next day, in preparation for a highly productive writing session of his own, he washed down a double dose of his medicine with his morning coffee. He’d read some advice in a monthly journal for aspiring writers that one must remove all distractions and sit down to write at the same time and in the same place each day, but Randy realized that this was the easy part. Anybody could do this much, especially if they were unemployed, as he was. How was he to stand out from the crowd of writers who had so much talent and so many published works? Re-reading the two sentence work he’d come across yesterday was no help. It was so mysterious that Randy wondered if even its author might still be probing its deeper levels of meaning. Then he began to wonder what percentage of readers of this literary masterpiece actually understood it. But from a small recess of his mind came a warning not to pursue this path of inquiry, so he re-focused himself on how he might emulate it. About this time, a drug induced confidence blossomed within, fuelling an outrageous idea. Instead of emulating the wondrous piece of literature that lay in front of him on the kitchen table, why not leapfrog it by writing a brilliant piece of flash fiction composed of only one word! This would place him in a lofty vanguard of artists.
When he finished congratulating himself on this insight, a practical problem became apparent. Which word? There were so many! Didn’t the English language contain more words than any language in human history? Maybe he would be better off writing his one word opus in another language, like Urdu. His many future fans could use the internet to translate his masterpiece back into English. But this was not really a solution. Which English word would the translation software select? Worse, what if the software selected more than one word as its translation? All his clever subtlety could be lost in a single line of coding. What did software engineers know of great literature? Besides, what did he know of Urdu?
More to the point, how could he distil his thirty-seven years of life into a single word that would reveal his unique nature and essence?
Randy sought inspiration by reviewing the most creative ideas of his life. The first to pop into his mind was the innovative small business he’d conceptualized, Stiffs on Wheels. Amazed by how much money people were willing to spend on funerals, he came up with the idea of a mobile mortuary. A large truck could serve multiple tasks, starting with picking up the deceased at the hospital or nursing home. Preparation of the body for viewing would also take place in the trailer of the truck. But the really clever part was a new and convenient service: driving the deceased to the homes of the friends and family who would view the carefully prepared body inside the trailer. This would spare everyone the need to get all dressed up and drive through traffic to a conventional funeral home. It would spare the deceased’s immediate family the time-consuming process of speaking with all the distant relatives and friends. And it was more dignified than having family and friends pull up to a drive through window as some morticians had done.
His other brilliant idea for a small business involved making and selling a truly innovative product: gluten-free toilet paper. It would be marketed to those who suffered contact dermatitis when using conventional brands. Inexplicably, the small business incubator in town had turned down both ideas, and he couldn’t get funding from banks or wealthy individuals either.
For a while, he toyed with the idea of searching for a number instead of a word. What about the number 1, symbolizing the underlying oneness or unity of all creation? With a single Zen-like stroke of the keyboard, he’d be creating an entirely new literary genre. If his fans clamored for a sequel, he would give them the number 2.
Setting numbers aside for a while, Randy turned to meditation, fasting, and high colonics to purify himself and clear his mind. Although he was unable to give up his cigarettes, he was rewarded with an insight. By its own nature, his one word fiction would be even more compact than he had originally envisioned. He wouldn’t need both a title and a body of composition. Having both would be redundant and silly.
And one blessed evening, that for which he searched was delivered unto him. The literary Holy Grail.
In retrospect, it had been obvious, even inevitable. Randy simply asked himself what the single most important thing in all of creation had to be. The title/body of his magnum opus?
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Joseph Cusumano is a physician residing in St. Louis. In addition to articles for medical journals, he has had works of fiction accepted for publication.