Six Microfictions

Meredith Quartermain






She would


She would fabricate what would come to be unreal but at the same time more real – a creamy morality that would automate. A concoction, a contraption. A buggy for stallions. It would have cosmic friction, a moon magnifier, helium vests. The stallions would gossip over pyramids of gears, and the buggy would have wings. It would write itself in iron ink while the stallions, Bucephalus and Pegasus, recounted wars with Indian kings and chimeras.


How did you get those two-legged things on your back, Bucephalus might ask. Minerva’s golden bridle, Pegasus murmurs, I looked so good in it, excitingly winding around me its magnetic flux of elastic vibrations – until I threw off Bellerophon and kicked in the Helicon which they now call the horse fountain – ah, blushful Hippocrene with beaded bubbles. And you, dear ox-headed friend, with your great eye that conquered Persia, Anatolia, Syria and Phoenicia – Judea, Gaza, Egypt and Mesopotamia, how did they get on your back?


I was afraid of my shadow, Bucephalus neighingly laughs, but Alexander kept me away from its beaters and fly-wheels and flappers and pistons – I said to my shadow, Be gone! vamoose! and stormed the Persians at Granicus – and my shadow decamped – until I found its kingdom on the River Hydaspes – my shadow puffed up 10 times my size, its nose like a tree, ears like battle shields, and long white teeth clawing the cavalry – the stench of my shadow was foul, and my shadow had multiplied – there were 50 shadows – I charged my shadows, biting and kicking everything in my path, like immortal Xanthus at the siege of Troy, but I fell with 4000 foot soldiers – and my shadow reigned.


She would. And she did.



























Notes: Bucephalus was Alexander the Great’s horse. Pegasus was ridden by Bellerophon
to slay the chimera. At the Battle of Hydaspes River (hi da’ spez), Alexander fought Raja Porus, king of Paurava in the Punjab of ancient India. Porus used war elephants. Xanthus was Achilles’ horse.






My Kitchen


In my copper-bottom pans, I stir up little sauces, little reductions. My blender chops, grinds, whips and liquefies. Here you can push my buttons. Make ginger-snap cookies on my sheets.


I love my cupboards full of bowls and plates. I get half-crocked and then completely crocked, serve myself in china, pottery, crystal, or teak, following the newspaper style section. Or, loathing the style section, lay myself in tableware of mismatched plaid and polka-dot. A piece of grandmother Higginsbottom, a patch of uncle Fopsky, a scrap of great-aunt Winderland, clashing salt and pepper sets, sprinkling myself far too liberally in stews and pastries. 


What platters and gravy boats have I not washed in this sink of myself! What pickle dishes, tureens and side plates! Dunking them in the sudsy circuitry of my motherboard.


Would you like to touch my stove – everything’s on the back burner.  My oven’s almost new. I had a bun in it once. A repairman climbed in too. I closed the door, watched him tanning under the oven light. I’m quite excited he said, jumping up and down. He got his foot tangled in my racks and the bun fell out.










You stand – machine gun over your shoulder. Ammo magazine slung across your chest. Leather wrist guards. Leather trousers on your cocked hip. Leather bodice cupping your breasts. We were destined to meet under this red sky with your fighter jet beached near a sea of greeny milk while you pose for the lens constructing your lips. Your hair tumbles down your back. You wear arrows and mascara. How will you escape this picture? Your eyes glowing like blue lasers; if you look my way they’ll stab straight through my ribs. Luckily you’re not looking. You’re glaring at your war, with an egg-sized ruby at your throat. Oh speak at least. Tell me what to do about your highlighter and the languorous lock escaping from your pilot-goggle tiara. What happened to us? Why must I, like a wind-tangled palm tree, burn for you? The nosecone of your jet, its glassy cockpit for Operation Romance, your mission penciling your brows, brushing on your blush. You stand by your craft. I stand by mine. You smoulder, you stalk, you seethe. I refuse to be painted. You parry and thrust, strike propositions. I recoil, like a rifle or a snake. The world’s at your feet, it’s on its knees.







A Dinner Party


Here’s a Roman host, bon vivant, forgetting to introduce the poet who’s the wife of the MP to the psychologist who’s the husband of the editor, in scarves and coats, at the front door, holding bags of wine that may or may not have been expensive. The Etruscan hostess leans toward the modish art historian and the professor of 20th-century literature. The Greek poet shifts her drapery and demurs to the Persian psychologist. Coats and gloves are off, hung in closets, over the newel post, on chairs or even floors.  “I take exception to this museum, I find it balky and protestable, whoever runs it, let’s be against them” – the poet carries a vase on her head or Athena’s crested helmet – “I’d rather not be wearing these snakes; they’re tickling my breasts.” “Oh what a fine snakelace” – the MP reaches to grasp it in his fingers: “it was my wedding gift to her,” he announces. “Here’s to the museum” – the professor, adroitly adjusts his panther-skin and his crown of vines, then raises a bunching cascade of grapes. “Cups cups cups, for everyone – where would I be without my pine-cone!” “And where would I be without my face that launches a thousand puppy dogs,” Art History demands, passing the bucket of ice to Psyche’s Logistics Man who’s just now extending his wings and flexing his bow.  The arrow flies – “I’m only performing myself today; I have no sympathy for anyone who chooses to live in a museum.”  “You must do something to your palate,” beams the rosy-cheeked host into the tangled intimations and gestures of his guests. Plates fly over knives and forks with servings too large, too small, too meaty, too veggie, too white, too red, too blue. What story are they broiling in? More salad? More sex? More slices? More sycophants?  Oh, yes please, they’re delicious, what a good cook you are, may I have the recipe? The hostess gazes fondly at her dessert dishes, each one an infant Hermes about to steal a lot of cattle. “I’m so glad I brought my diadem and scepter” – the Overseer of Publishing slips a pomegranate to the Forth-Holding Chatterer. “And I my Trojan Horse” intones the Mistress of Things Deemed Fine. At last they all find coats and hats. The hostess waves goodbye in her multi-braided head – “And do, oh do bring your imaginary guests next time too.” 







The Law Librarian


She was new to the firm. Taking over from Miss Spinks who had died, and it was her job to stop the books disappearing into the TV lounge, the board rooms, the associate’s offices, the photocopy rooms, and worst of all into the lairs of the partners.  Once a month you will please audit the library and retrieve all missing books, the managing partner and the chief accountant said to her, in their dark blue suits and crisp silk ties (she was in straight black skirt, white blouse, sensible pumps). In the evening when the partners were out wining and dining, she set off with her wire trolley to collect the missing books.  In ancient Greece, she’d have had to clean the stables of 3000 cattle or collect golden fleece from a herd of sun-crazed, furious sheep.  Stockwell, Q.C. said the name plate.  She unlocked the door with a master key. Here she might’ve had to fight three-headed dogs or a stygian sleep.  But no, there they were – the missing Criminal Law by Fraudster and Equity Law by H.R. Oil.  And here was another – how surprising to find it among Stockwell’s hunting trophies and gun racks: A History of the Common Law by Joan Miró.  She fingered its amazing maps of figures and lines.  Began writing a note to Stockwell: Bravo! Bravo for choosing such a book . . . . There was a sound in the passage.  She stepped out to the patio on the roof of the 10th storey, then climbed the rose trellis to the patio above.  The man in that suite was talking on his cell-phone: No I don’t want the property without the tenants, you keep bringing this up and I keep telling you . . . . The librarian slid open his patio door, his vast apartments seemed endless, each room opening to another grander arrangement of couches, vases, fireplaces, gold, glass, silver, bronze, oak.  At last she found the entrance, with its double teak doors, which was for her an exit.  And she made her way with the trolley of books back to the library. 







Flying Saucers


It was the same as every other day. Toy trucks looped back and forth on tiny tracks beside boxes of flying saucers and rows of rubber helicopters lined up on their launch pad. Espresso machines puffed and hissed; operators banged steamed grounds into trash bins. Toilets flushed. Cash registers opened and shut – a field of automobiles waiting for ferries.


Passengers in thick clumps rifled magazines, shuffled hangers on racks, talked on phones, as they stared into space. Adding to the din was the flying-saucer man, buzzing his upside-down bowl over the heads of ice-cream and chip eaters. His little black box sent radio waves to his saucer, circling it round his cart, landing it on the launch pad. If Martians came to earth, he thought, they could shoot off in fleets in my saucers, and scoop ice cream and Mars Bars, they could play frisbee with people’s hats.


He zoomed up the saucer again over the pop machines, over the head of someone in tight high-heeled boots and miniskirt, someone commanding her phone and marshaling her handbag and packages so they marched smartly along with her.  Above her head he hovered his machine – a hat helicopter, a motorized halo. He thought, I wish my halo would dissolve your boots and packages and fly us to an empty ocean beach, we would collect driftwood shaped like kingfishers, we would become driftwood ourselves, we would become the lovers of kingfishers, and the kingfishers would call over the waves till their lovers stepped out of the air as gods. 


Just then the commanding person stepped out from under the halo and ordered coffee Americano.








Notes: In the halcyon days of winter solstice the seas are calm and according to myth the kingfisher (halcyon) nests on the water. Alcyone threw herself into the sea when her husband Cyex drowned. She was transformed to a bird and carried to her husband by Aeolus, the wind. “The Gods their shapes to winter-birds translate,” writes Ovid.