Smoking With TJ Rivard

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story March 29, 2015

At one point you mention the “absent him.” Although this character is absent, he’s very much present. Is he a child who has died? Is this the anniversary?

Yes, my original conception of this mysterious other person was that it was a child—an older brother to the narrator—who had run away and had since died, but the family did not know his fate. In an earlier, longer draft, we find out his fate but this story is really about the relationship (or lack of relationship) between the narrator and the mother with the absent character serving as catalyst. So, his presence is not necessary.

I also wondered if the baby Jesus was a stand-in for this missing child. Is this close to your intention, and why does the narrator think he is lying?

Could be. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think that is a valid reading. I think at this point—a few years after the loss—that the narrator really begins to realize that the mother is not focused in anyway on him on the date of the anniversary, and in effect doesn’t need him at all for this. It is the narrator’s recognition (and denial) that he doesn’t have any comfort to offer her. So, it is not so much that the narrator thinks Jesus is lying but hopes that he is.

The couch’s transformation into a living thing was striking. Can you say more about this moment in the story?

On the analytical side, it is a perception that they both share but experience differently. Like all perceptions, it is real to them, which is why I portrayed it through the narrator’s eyes as actually happening. On a personal note, it is what I used to do as a kid. Anytime my mother admonished me about something, I would focus on some object or blemish in the paint or on the woodwork in the room and spin it out into some fantasy, at which point my mother would say, “Are you listening to me?”

What are you reading right now? Do you have any favorite writers of flash fiction?

Right now I am reading W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, which is pretty far away from flash, and I am also reading the short stories of George Saunders. I really like Amy Hempl’s flash fiction, but I will say that I was really impressed with Rachel Lyon’s “Cannibal” that SmokeLong published, and I’m not just saying that because she is a fellow alum.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.