by Jonathan Cardew
In the middle of the dartboard was a villain. Ninja Features. That was actually the name I had given him. He was pinned up on the board and taking his comeuppance, via darts. Throwing the darts were the good guys, of course. One was called Mummyface. Mummyface was a kind of squashed dartboard shape himself, with legs coming out of his head and a big-toothed grin and spaced-out eyes. I can visualize these images today, even though the comic book I wrote at nine is long gone. I can visualize Mr. Taylor, my English teacher, with his short-cropped beard and long legs, and I can still feel his enthusiasm for the work I’d done three decades later.
I was enthralled, but mostly I was stoned, during Contemporary Fiction and the Self-Conscious Novel (I was also very self-conscious during the Self-Conscious Novel). Dr. Vic Sage mumbled. He ruminated. He had a beard. Sometimes, he just stared at us in our seminar room, modeled after a Swedish prison. He recommended I do a creative dissertation. We’d read Gulliver’s Travels, Cervantes, AL Kennedy, Arabian Nights. This was the late 90s in Norwich. I was raving a lot. I had my head in music. I put pen to paper badly. I licked Rizla and made spliffs, and wrote even worse. The Sage recommended Vox, a novel in dialogue. It was an erotic telephone conversation, which I devoured in one sitting. Then I wrote the best story I’d ever written. I kept on smoking for years.
A Chance Encounter
I was about to have a baby. Not personally—via my wife. So I jumped head first into an MA at Sheffield Hallam University, as you do. Professor E.A. “Archie” Markham was from Montserrat, a small volcanic island in the Caribbean. He was back from Paris, in emeritus, teaching the short story unit. The English Department was in desperate need of a short story writer. I think they missed me, he said. He was the funniest person I know. And always late. And always equipped with a joke in observation form. One of our readings was ‘Chance Traveller’ by Haruki Murakami, a story about chance encounters* and coincidences. I read and re-read it. I wrote more bad stories. I cradled a baby. I worked a demoralizing job. I followed every word he said in our seminars. I followed every joke to the punch line. He suggested that we write a story about a year when spring didn’t happen, when the flowers didn’t sprout up out of the ground and the leaves didn’t return to the trees. I haven’t written that story yet. He passed away suddenly on his stairwell in Paris in 2008.
*I don’t believe in chance encounters. I would like to thank every teacher for teaching me.
by Jonathan Cardew
|Photo by Matt Richie
We fingered anemones and flicked crabs that summer while our parents screamed and threw things. I was the older, I was in charge, but the rock pools were all different shapes and sizes. Foothold was complicated. My sister bled.
When my mother shushed her, I could feel the scorn. She was blonde; I was brunette. She was outspoken; I was quiet. The ocean sprayed salt against the hulls of boats in the harbour. Jellyfish washed up and died, flecked in sand and seaweed. A storm passed through, snapping masts like toothpicks. I dreamt of a city far from water.
(Originally published in KYSO Flash Issue 5)
Jonathan Cardew’s stories, interviews, and articles appear or are forthcoming in Atticus Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Forge, JMWW, Smokelong Quarterly, and Segue, among others. He holds an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University, and he teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he co-edits The Phoenix Literary and Arts Magazine. He was a finalist in this year’s Best Small Fictions.
“A History Without Suffering” by E.A. Markham
Dr. Victor Sage
An Interview with Jonathan Cardew:
Jonathan Cardew’s Website: