Emerald Bolts W.F. Lantry A Magazine for Flash Fiction

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Letter to Susan

Hibiscus and bougainvillea marked every path. Outside town, it was manzanita and mountain laurels, coyotes and rattlesnakes. We mostly gardened within walls and fences, tending tiled ponds and orchids that blossomed in the open ground all year. All they needed was a lathhouse for shade.

I grew up in a city by the sea, just north of a long border, close to a bay named for Saint James and a river that ran dry most of the year. Earthquakes reshaped the landscape on short notice, and occasional hurricanes meant flowers in the desert. None of the buildings lasted very long, they were either shaken by the shifting faults, blown over by cyclonic storms, or they slid down the hillsides in winter, surfing to the bottom of the canyons nearly intact. Homeowners would wave to the curious from their repositioned patios. And still the bougainvillea would bloom.

So what you have heard isn't quite true. She wasn't exactly a young woman in an apple orchard in the spring. Oh, she was beautiful, and her long hair was literally entrancing, but we didn't have many apple orchards around. It was mostly roses and flowering vines. I still have a picture of her, standing in front of the Allamandas in a white dress, at her ease in the clear sunlight.

And then, almost as soon as it began, she was gone. That's how things work there: one minute you're standing in the doorway of your home, and the next the doorway is the only thing left. It makes you question everything: the night, the coastline, the moon setting over the ocean. I didn't have an address for her, but I wrote her a letter.

Lost on the Midsummer Road

Is there anything else, really? Just when we think we've found ourselves, the ground trembles and moves beneath our feet, even the stars, which we'd mapped as certain, transform themselves, we lose ourselves even in the moment of our becoming. Or perhaps we're not what we'd imagined, our experiences reshape us at each moment, and the trick is to let go, to abandon what we'd thought was our essence, and to allow ourselves to be remade.

I was helping a woman move from Altadena to Malibu. Behind me in the pickup's bed were the tools and materials of her studio: air hammers and chisels, blocks of marble and wood rounds ready for carving. I'd never seen the new house, I'd never driven the road, but I had a map. And I had, in mind, her description of the place: a canyon whose throat gave way to the sea, a road curving along the dry riverbed. She'd told me about it with wine on a terrace overlooking the city, the evening haze stretching over the populated valley like a moth-eaten cloak, so worn points of light slipped through.

A sudden breeze came up from the water as I drove, and my map blew out the window. I saw it flying over the cliff edge in my rearview mirror. There was nothing to do but move forward, to try to remember her words and match them to the landscape. Then I heard the coyotes singing from the ridges around me, and remembered they're always out there, and they're always waiting. I went as fast as I dared, hoping only to find the statue she'd left at the road's edge, marking the entrance to her drive.


What we desire is immense, like a mountain valley no-one has ever seen, and so large we could explore it for weeks and still not recognize even its essential elements. The valley's walls are smooth, carved by a glacier, and there are still hints of ice everywhere, blue in our early sun. The aspens are only just now leafing out.

And still so early the smallest springs from melting snow flow into the cracks of the rock, refreezing each night, and the sharp flakes break off when the ice recedes the next morning. Count the birds, notice the small blossoms just budding along the streambanks: gentian, violet crocus, bellflower.

And we can follow this stream along the valley to new discoveries, cataloging them to what we've known before. We do this, don't we, every moment we desire? We imagine in terms of what we've known, but know there is more in the undiscovered than we can imagine. Perhaps that's even what draws us to it, the uncertainty is magnetic.

Her eyes were the blue silk of her dress. The azur of the sea by which she walked, blue as the ice caves I'd explored in the Alps. The undersides of certain exotic swallows flash that same blue over moraine streams. And those streams, higher up the valley, if you stand behind a waterfall, between the rock and the cascade, and look out, through the flow, your entire world will take on a sapphire tone, la vie en bleu.

But no matter how much we desire, we cannot reach out and grasp it. The water flows through our fingers, ice melts precisely because of the warmth of our hands, flowers fade in sunlight, and even birds carry themselves away with a single wingbeat.


- W.F.Lantry (USA)

W.F. Lantry, native of San Diego, received his Maîtrise from L'Université de Nice, and PhD in Creative Writing from University of Houston. His poetry collections are The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012), winner of a 2013 Nautilus Award in Poetry, a chapbook, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011) and a forthcoming collection, The Book of Maps. Recent honors include the Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, CutBank Poetry Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (in Israel), and Potomac Review Prize. His work appears in Atlanta Review, Asian Cha, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Gulf Coast and Aesthetica. He currently works in Washington, DC and is an associate fiction editor at JMWW.

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The front page image is copyright © by Anthony Kitterick, 2012