At the time, my stories, reverberating with the influences of Chekhov, Faulkner, Munro and other luminaries, were only taking me down a death spiral. But Mirko, a hooligan in Bratislava in the sixties, was different. He shook me, called me by name and said, “Come, let’s do a little slumming. We’ll have a blast.”
In that flash story he is thrown out of home by his mother and handed over to a father only marginally more responsible than he is. Mirko pushes all the buttons. He came, he told, he departed. Almost thirty of his misadventures have since been shared with readers. I’ve moved to other narrators, to other tales. But Mirko’s in-your-face attitude, his eagerness to rush in regardless of consequences, was a breakthrough. I continue to wrestle with long stories and a whale of a novel while finding the challenges and possibilities of flash liberating.
Frequently, as I sit at my computer in southwestern Ontario, I suddenly inhale the sweet cherry aroma of bublanina in my grandmother’s kitchen, my mouth fills with the tang of bryndzove halusky, and I am transported to Bratislava, my magic kingdom. I am again at my grandfather’s side as his magician hands turn empty boxes of chocolates full; we ramble through the woods and return with a basketful of fragrant summer cep mushrooms, hands sticky with the juice of berries, both crowned with a wreath woven of field flowers. I am again beaten in dark passageways by groups of jeering hoodlums; my palms throb after an encounter with the bullying Comrade Houskova’s idea of appropriate classroom punishment. My father and I make our Easter sibacka rounds, greeted by neighbors with chocolates for the youngster and a glass of something to take the morning stiffness out for him, culminating in full-voiced singing of folk songs. From those kernels, stories grow.
I dream of my father, his early escapades with me, his dark moods, his absences, his betrayals, his death. In my eulogy at his funeral I shared the story of how he, a non-swimmer, rescued me when a sudden undertow grabbed my raft, and I only cried in terror. As a three year-old I accompanied my parents, still married, to Rosutec Mountain in the Tatras, where I scrambled up a bank, fell, looked back, to see a cow low in my face. My father yelled, “Hybaj, kravisko”, (Get away, huge cow), and that of course became a family tale, and another of my stories. My darker memories of him culminate in my stories of sons cutting down the rope around father necks.
Andrew Stancek entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House online, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Vestal Press, Pure Slush, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Camroc Press Review, among others. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.