Literary Hook: Flash fiction: A surprise party with an added surprise

February 3, 2010

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

Flash fiction is fun. The writer gets a prompt to incorporate into a one-page piece of fiction and a set time to work on it, usually 15 minutes. Flash fiction forces the writer to be more creative and “to think out of the box.” There is no time for planning characters or developing plot. The writer just jumps in and writes.

I use this technique with my students at The Clearing, a folk school in Door County, Wisconsin. We read the flash fiction out loud and usually marvel at the surprising, innovative results.

Here is a piece of flash fiction from Cleo Johnson, of Rockford, who has attended The Clearing for two years and who is also a member of Tuesday Writers. Cleo is a retired teacher whose children live around the country. Cleo’s sense of adventure led her to travel to Provence with Womanspace last year.

The prompt for this piece of flash fiction was “Not that it matters.”

The Surprise Party

The party was tonight. Ada was a little behind and not ready to entertain the five friends and their spouses whom she had invited to the surprise birthday party for her husband, Mark, that night. She wanted to make it special since it was a landmark birthday, his 30th. Also, they had not been doing too well on communication in their six-year marriage. She was trying to make amends for her part in their communication failures while she showed their friends that they were still happy, still in sync with the group, still in love with each other.

She rushed to the grocery store. A quick cruise around the store, and she had gathered all the veggie tray veggies, brats for the grill and noodle salad found in the deli. Scooping up the already-made birthday cake and paper ware for serving, she headed for the checkout counter and made it to the car in 15 minutes.

Second stop was at the Party Store. Here, she got kazoos for noise, hats for decorations and streamers for the table and ceiling. She carted everything home and decorated the house. It was 5:45 when the doorbell rang and the first couple arrived. By 6:00, all had arrived, donned hats and picked up their kazoos. Mark arrived at his usual time at 6:30.

SURPRISE!!! Guests smiled, slapped Mark on the back, and sang their rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The evening was a success, and the last guest left at midnight. As the door closed, Mark looked at Ada and said: “I want a divorce. I have fallen in love with someone else.”

She was devastated. She was shocked. She was speechless. She turned slowly around looking at the remains of her lovely party and said to herself: “Everything went as I planned. The house was beautifully decorated, the food was delicious, and everyone had a good time. Not that it matters.”

Christine Swanberg has published about 300 poems in 70 journals and anthologies.

From the Feb. 3-9, 2010 issue

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