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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Taking Notes

Story by Kerry Cullen (Read author interview) June 18, 2018

Art by Marcelo Leal

I wrote down every word the doctor said. I noted his throat-clearings with an asterisk, his pauses with ellipses; one interjection with an m-dash. When he ran his hands through his curly hair, I drew a series of spirals cascading down the margins. For good measure, I sketched some of his expressions: a grimace for “possible epilepsy”, a shrug for “inconclusive results”, and so on. He changed the bandage on your head, so I cut a square of fabric where a spider leg of hair was blood-glued to the gauze, and taped it in.

When he left we watched three episodes of an okay TV show on my iPad and I logged your laughs: two guffaws, fourteen chuckles, one ephemeral mix between a smirk and a sigh. When you yawned, you squeezed my hand and I expressed the pressure by tracing the outline of my fist over the page. You won’t remember any of this later. I hardly remember this morning: only that on the train ride, when I googled “mom hospital what do i do” the message boards recommended taking notes.

When you fell asleep, I roamed the fluorescent hallways, taking Polaroids of every nurse on duty to tuck in between the pages. I stepped out into the parking lot and took a graphite rubbing of the tire tread of the ambulance that brought you here while I slept. I spoke candidly with the stars about my sharpening view of passing time. I recorded their glum shine with a hole punch borrowed from an empty desk. I went back in your room with a bag of chips from the vending machine. You were still asleep, your mouth a dark gap. I salted your sheets while I read back over our day, making retrospective clarifications. I am keeping you safe.

About the Author

Kerry Cullen’s fiction has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, One Teen Story, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, and more. She is an editorial assistant at Henry Holt & Co and a reader for One Story magazine. She earned her MFA at Columbia University, and she is currently writing a novel about queer teens and Christian rock.

About the Artist

Marcelo Leal is a photographer in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction
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SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Next Date to Join: January 1!

On September 1, SmokeLong launched a workshop environment/community christened SmokeLong Fitness. This asynchronous community workshop is happening right now on our dedicated workshop site. If you choose to join us, you will work in a small group of around 10-12 participants to give and receive feedback. Each Monday, you will receive a new writing task (one writing task each week) designed by the senior editor team of SmokeLong. The core workshop is asynchronous, so you can take part from anywhere at anytime. We are excited about creating a supportive, consistent and structured environment for flash writers to work on their craft in a community.