[Editors’ note: We’re proud to present our first miCRo feature. Every Wednesday we’ll spotlight a short piece that packs a punch—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid works. Chosen by our assistant and associate editors, miCRo features will be taut, timely, and thought provoking. See more information about how to submit in our submission guidelines.]
Assistant Editor Molly Reid: Laura Maylene Walter’s “Break Apart” proves that small stories don’t have to limit themselves to small subjects. In this piece, Walter tackles nothing less than the birth of a new personal universe, combining the particular and the transcendent in the way of the best flash fiction. With stunning lyricism (“the slanted rainstorms of asteroids”!), she invokes the ways we set ourselves up both individually and collectively for the endless cycle of pain and renewal, “to be destroyed, to be reborn in order to break anew.” We’re thrilled to have this piece as our first miCRo story!
To hear Laura Maylene Walter reading her story, you can click below:
by Laura Maylene Walter
I gave birth to the universe in a public bathroom in the warehouse district. It emerged from between my legs as I tried to pee, a black balloon filling with air slow and steady and without a sound. When it reached the size of an orange, I leaned down and grabbed it. That was when its galaxies started to form. I saw them, little sparks of suns and lightless moons, the slanted rainstorms of asteroids. The universe grew in my hands to the size of a bowling ball but twice as heavy. It turned hard like glass and blacker than black, squid ink shooting across an oil slick. I struggled to hold on to it as I stood and zipped my pants. By then I could tell it had stopped growing. My universe had a limit.
I stumbled out of the bathroom and into the street, the universe clutched against my shirt like a prize. It was Saturday, a shopping day, everyone weighed down by bags. No one looked at me. I was already a little in love with my universe, so I heaved it up for a closer look. Yes, there were the stars: thousands of them, arranged in constellations, the planets making their orbits.
I leaned closer and gravity took hold, yanking me in until my nose pressed against the orb. It smelled like stale air, like a blink. For a second I thought I might disappear, get sucked in or lost, and so I opened my hands and let the universe drop. By the time I realized what I’d done, it was too late. My universe was far too heavy to catch. It contained too much matter.
The universe landed on the sidewalk and cracked open like an egg. Passersby stepped over it without even looking down. A black substance oozed from the broken universe, thick as tree sap. Some got on my shoe. I waited for something more to emerge. At first there was nothing, but then there was everything: More black stuff, flowing in viscous strands down the sidewalk. Then stars poured from the orb, hovering like houseflies before spiraling off toward the sky. Tiny bolts of lightning popped out too, plus static and vibration and a piercing, painful hum.
And the broken glass from the orb of my universe—it broke again, then again, on and on. Each piece shattered into smaller, sharper bits, which in turn cracked apart once more. It was relentless, this ability to break into infinity. At first I denied it. I believed there had to be more to the universe than this, that I’d find meaning in the broken parts, and yet all I experienced was loss. I alone bore witness as my universe collapsed around me, as it careened toward nothingness, as my whole world ended—as I gave myself over to be destroyed, to be reborn in order to break anew.
Laura Maylene Walter is the author of the story collection Living Arrangements (BkMk Press, 2011), and her writing has appeared in The Sun, Kenyon Review, Poets & Writers, Chicago Tribune, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She teaches writing in Cleveland, is editor-in-chief of Gordon Square Review, and blogs for the Kenyon Review.