SmokeLong Quarterly

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Happy, Happy, Happy

Story by Amy Stuber (Read author interview) September 16, 2019

Art by Paul Bilger

It’s not what Jane should be doing, but it’s what she is doing. Standing on the periphery of the children’s subsection of the cemetery. Emoji mylars on plastic sticks and stuffed bears made sad by weather. Jane is there with a man who built a sitar for her husband (a fucking sitar!). The man’s jeans are around his ankles, as are hers, and she sees the “Hope is the thing with feathers” tattoo on his thigh, which makes her hate herself for having chosen him.

Hope was never a thing with feathers. Guilt is the thing with feathers. It flaps around and eats your grass seed. She would say that out loud to the man if she thought he would get it, but no one gets the things that she says. It’s not that they are complex or funny or even interesting. It’s just that she has always been the person at weddings who cannot or maybe just will not dance when “Dancing Queen” comes on and everyone else is dancing.

That morning, her mother called her. Her mother had cancer, slow-growing, but still. “Listen to what I just read,” her mother said: “‘Time isn’t linear; it’s a spiral that winds around itself.’”

Jane knew. Your twelve-year-old self could, for example, come face to face with your 50-year-old self. “Still?” your young self might say to your old self. “Still,” the old self would reply.

“Anyway, blah, blah blah, it’s the journey not the destination,” her mother said, and they both laughed because that was the stupidest fucking saying. I mean, sure, the journey, etc., but still, the destination always lurked and was pretty irrevocably integral.

In the cemetery, the man pushes her into tree bark in a way she likes, and she feels it for a second: abandon. She doesn’t think of her son in his school rooms or her husband in his studio or her mother driving back from her doctor’s appointment. The spring wind takes the branches.


Jane’s mother is in her car outside Winstead’s eating a single with everything without pausing between bites the way her ex-husband used to tell her to do. Jesus, put the fork down, Suzie, let’s have a conversation. Fuck him, she thought. At least her second husband let her shovel things in without comment because he was thinking about tennis or something and didn’t care if steak juice was dribbling down her chin.

She’s a few days away from starting her second round of chemo, and she’s 79, and she just doesn’t know. She turns on the Hair soundtrack and plays “Aquarius” while she eats. She was in a community theater production of Hair once, and she remembers every word.

She’ll go home full of hamburger and mow the front lawn on the riding mower, and that will be good. Young couples will pass her with their dogs and yell over to her things like, “Good for you for doing that yourself,” as if she should instead be trawled around on a gurney all the time.

Good for you, she says to herself pre-emptively, while eating the second hamburger and singing as loud as she can. Good for you.


Jane’s son left school early and without telling anyone. His house was only a few blocks from the school, and 7th grade was a ruse anyway. Geography and algebra and science fair projects that no one would need at 27 or 50 or 73. No one wrote checks anymore anyway, so no one could make the claim that math was essential to personal finances, which his grandmother had tried to pull on him at one point. I have my phone calculator at all times, he’d said to her, and she had no good come back, so instead they ate chocolate pie and played Uno. Somehow, his grandmother could never remember the rules, but they played anyway.

He’s a few houses from home when a hawk about twenty feet ahead of him swoops down and connects with a live squirrel and carries it away in its talons, and he feels for a second like he’s seen actual magic. He wants to tell someone, but there’s no one to tell, so he texts his mom: “remind me to tell you the dope thing I saw.”

When he gets home, he gets his iPad and a plastic container of powdered sugar donuts and settles onto the couch in the den that used to be full of his Legos but now has an Xbox and a couch that turns into a bed and pictures from his childhood that embarrass him when his friends come over but that his mom refuses to take down.

Without telling his mom, he’s signed in using her Apple ID, so he can see all her texts: “Where?” one from his mom says and nothing else, and then there’s the reply: “The usual place.” And then his mom: “Oh we have a usual place now?” And then the reply, “Apparently, yes. We do.”

There is something weird and beautiful about reading her words when she doesn’t know. It’s like being on the inside of an animal that’s walking while it’s walking, and he can see all the muscles moving and all the hidden parts of everything that everyone has kept from him and told him he’s not allowed to see but now he’s in there, and it’s all there for him.

He lowers the blinds in the den and squints until he sees the shapes where all the giant Lego sets used to be: The Death Star, The Battle of Helm’s Deep, Palpatine’s Arrest, that ridiculous Ninjago temple. Negative space now, just space really.

He eats six mini donuts and looks at his recommendeds on YouTube. His mom would say “you should get outside, get out of the house.” Instead, he hunkers down, keeps checking her texts but nothing comes, watches “Genius Solutions to Life’s Everyday Problems,” half his face a powdered sugar beard, and he is happy. Happy, happy, happy.

About the Author

Amy Stuber’s fiction has appeared in Witness, The Idaho Review, The Common, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She’s served as Print Editor and Assistant Flash Editor for Split Lip Magazine, and her work recently appeared on the Wigleaf Top 50. Find her on Twitter @amy_stuber_ and online at www.amystuber.com.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Five

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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.