On piercing the heart (from an essay on short story writing)
A love for anything that makes the banal more interesting and a fascination for the not-quite-tangible extends to all art forms: the unease created by an off-beat or a flat note in music, the layers of colour beneath the surface of a painting. In photography (especially old family snapshots) it is the fleeting, haunting detail (sometimes blurred or near the corner of the frame) that has the ability to ‘pierce’ the heart – what Roland Barthes defined as the ‘punctum’ of an image, and which connects so easily to V S Pritchett’s notion of ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing’ that he famously used to define the territory of the short story.
From Battleships (a short story)
Elizabeth is with the women in the back, scrunched between the itch and torment of their autumn tweeds and talk of sleepless nights
‘Doctor McPherson says I’ve worst case of it,’ says Nana Boyd, throwing up her pointy nose. Elizabeth’s mother looks out at the drizzle and draws her handbag to her chest.
In the front passenger seat, Robert clenches the family umbrella like a musket between his knees. He leans across to tune the radio and as Elizabeth inspects his long and sprouting legs and the yellow-headed spots on the back of his neck, she cannot remember the last time they played I-Spy or Red Car on this journey home from church. She cannot remember the last time they played any game for that matter. They pass the hospital at Battlefield Rest where on brighter days the patients come like ghosts to the windows to wave at the Sunday traffic, making Elizabeth think of phlegm and needles and snapped bones. But today at least the windows are just empty black squares, so she need not look away.
From Flesh & Bones (a short story)
‘Nada. Niente,’ said my father, tapping a finger at the side of his head. ‘Just like your mother. You don’t know a thing.’ And already he was giving me that short square smile of his, baring his little white teeth as if to say he was only kidding.
I could have told him I knew plenty. That I’d read the whole of War and Peace and could spell words like rhythm and Presbyterian; that I made perfect omelettes and knew how to talk backwards, and that when I was stoned I could read people’s minds.
‘So how is she, the old bitch?’ he asked.
I didn’t intend answering that one but he persisted, fixing his eyes on mine like he needed the answer right away.
‘Fine,’ I said.
As it happened, my mother was in the Asturias Mountains with a Crystal Healer named Miguel la Galaxia and I was home alone with Evelina, the new lodger from Bratislava, who was filling the fridge with noodles and smoked sausage and had parked her cello in the hallway.
From Martha at the Pond (a short story)
The morning’s rain has burnt away and mosquitoes sip the air. The pink children have gathered again at the edge of the pond to fish for yabbies with their buckets and string. The water that laps at Martha’s knees is limp and specked with gold, and later she will remember the squelch and swill of mud-dust rising up between her toes.
On the other side, under the petticoat of rasping leaves brown children are laughing, calling to each other among the splintered boughs; their movements bend and quiver across the surface of the water. A girl hops out into the light. She is heading for Martha. Not not looking but smiling she lowers herself into the pond, her blue shorts darkening as she lets the wetness creep towards her waist and budding chest. Scooping up handfuls of water, she smiles and the droplets fly across the air like diamonds, catching and sparkling on her hair.
The pink children have stopped to stare and their mothers are calling for them to come away. Martha turns to check if her own mother is watching too, but she is tucked inside a shady clump of bush, her nose deep in a book.
Stella’s short fiction and non-fiction has appeared on the pages of the Mechanics Institute Review Online and her short story, New Materiality was published in MIR’s 2016 Anthology. Her piece, Cherub, was included in To Her Naked Eye, a collection of new women’s prose by Pyramid Press. Her poetry has appeared in the Southbank Review, the Blue Nib Literary Review and at the RELAPSE Collective’s London exhibition in 2016. A podcast of her story Flesh & Bones is available at Theotherstories.org and her short memoir piece ‘A Bit Funny in the Head’ appears on Day 50 of 100voicesfor100years.com. Stella is also a contributor and reviewer for MIROnline and manages its literary events page.