Literature 12-8-2008

miniStories: “Sylvia Rocks the House” by Beth Mayer

This week's flash fiction, "Sylvia Rocks the House" by Beth Mayer, is a wry little tale about the persistent shackles of modern womanhood, selected as a miniStories winner by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl.

Beth Mayer


Sylvia Rocks the House

Sometimes Sylvia likes to remember the smell of carnations from her Junior Prom. She works days as a pricer in a warehouse. She puts prices on things that come in and drinks Diet Coke when there is nothing to price.

         She also remembers the wooden seat under her ass during the three quarters she spent at Norfolk Tech. Her dentist had told her once that she would make a good dental hygienist, and she found that she liked the sound of the metal scraping teeth, the steaming mirror. She quit when Jack decided they were packing up and leaving Nebraska to come to Chicago. Jack needed an audience who would appreciate his take on traditional heavy metal music.

         Sylvia had meant to start up again, to send away for some information from Dupage Technical College. Before they left, she had stopped into Norfolk Tech’s guidance office and asked about schools near Chicago.
          “Where’s that, kiddo?” the lady had said.
          “Chicago,” Sylvia lifted her head.
          “That wall there has some folders. Brochures and things. It’s supposed to be alphabetical.”
         As her instructor was graphing the evolution of Fluoride use, Sylvia positioned herself behind a tall girl in front, opened her Mead notebook, and skimmed the brochure: Convenient Location! Most Credits Transfer! An Investment in Your Tomorrow!

         After class, Sylvia found herself in the basement women’s bathroom. She burned the pamphlet over a cement trash-bin, waited to see that there was no apparent fire hazard, and proceeded to her final class at Norfolk Tech.

         Now she was unpacking groceries on the green counter in their new apartment. She frequently whispered the names of the places she wanted to go: Tennessee, Jamaica, Juneau, Tallahassee, Kentucky. The sound was as important as what the locale was rumored to offer. San Francisco, Cincinnati, Pennsylvania, Nicaragua. The oranges she took from the bag had looked better at the store. Budapest, Bermuda, Beirut.
         Sylvia watched as some ants skated across a grease spot on last Tuesday’s grocery bag. She smelled fish from “The Fresh Fish Shoppe” below their apartment. She guessed it was cod.
         Between Tennessee and Beirut, Sylvia found a thought, small and gray: she wasn’t so sure. Sylvia wasn’t so sure about the cod. This apartment. The move to Chicago. She wasn’t so sure about these oranges, the price of wooden toilet seats, or Jack.
         Removing foil and cat food, she resumed her mantra, backwards for luck: Beirut, Bermuda, Budapest, and the phone rang sympathetically.
          “Jack’s Band,” she said, into the receiver.
          “Good job, baby!” It was just like they had practiced.
         Sylvia was going to say something normal, like “When are you coming home?” or “I bought oranges.” A line of ants approached the edge of the counter and she was frightened for their tiny black lives. No words came, but Sylvia heard something beautiful leaving her lips. Almost exactly like a high E-sharp on Jack’s electric guitar, it took less than a measure before she recognized the pitch.


About the author: Beth Mayer’s work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Sun Magazine, The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies, and elsewhere. Her flash fiction and poetry have been past selections for miniStories and What Light: This Week’s Poem, the literary series sponsored by Beth holds an MFA from Hamline University where her collection of short stories was a semifinalist for the Outstanding Thesis Award in fiction. Beth regularly creates and performs new fiction inspired by visual art with TalkingImageConnection, and currently teaches writing at Metropolitan State University.