Flash-fiction traps meaning

WILLIAM YEOMAN
Melbourne author and blogger Angela Meyer

Flash or micro-fiction - very, very, VERY short fiction, maybe even tweet-sized - has been around for a while, even if it wasn't called that. Aesop's Fables are prime examples, while some of the prose poems of Baudelaire could arguably be categorised as flash-fiction. But when Polonius asks Hamlet "What do you read my lord," he answers "Words, words, words". Sometimes it's less important to pin down a definition than it is to recognise the vitality of a form. Indeed, one's inability to succeed in the former is proof of the latter.

Nevertheless, one of the form's most vital practitioners, 29-year- old "reader, writer, editor, Melburnian, whisky- drinker, Bowie nut, movie-lover, vintage fan, absurdist (and) aesthete" Angela Meyer is at least willing to come up with some of flash-fiction's qualities.

"It's about capturing the essence of something, of an idea, with words that are going to evoke that same feeling or mood in the reader, so that they will keep thinking about it," she says.

"With a short story I have to wait until there are two or three other elements and then I have some idea of what it's about or where it's going to go, before I even start it. With flash, it's often enough to just have that one thing, to say 'All right, I'm going to try and capture this'. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

In Captives, Meyer's new and first collection of flash-fiction, there is no "sometimes" - it works every time. In The day before the wedding, a man points a gun at his bride-to-be as she runs "out onto the marsh, her long dress wet and heavy between her legs". Meyer's ability here to float the rubber duck of fun in the bath of foreboding is pitch-perfect.

Or take the kidnapper-manque of Green-eyed snake. Meyer describes his thoughts after he reads about the three men who had been keeping three women captive in his street: "He couldn't help it, he began to cry. He should have talked to them, invited them over for a game of cards. They could have become close."

Then there's the creepy, insightful What you notice, where Meyer has Psycho star Anthony Perkins down as "a threat in the 50s, like Marlon Brando and James Dean - feminised men - but even more so because he was so thin and tall, so adolescent".

And hell, why not - here's the last story, A momentary lapse of reason, complete: "Because she was looking up she saw the branch crack and bend, but instead of leaping out of the way she lifted her arm, like Adam to God, and met the branch, which at the same time clipped the powerline. The current burnt blue-white through her muscular tissue and eight people on a passing tram saw a skeleton, reaching."

"I thought of (Captives) as a pillbox of stories," Meyer says. "There are different coloured pills - a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one - and they produce different effects and maybe you can't take too many at once. And they're a little dark and a little strange. But I think they have to be that way to get across those ideas of fear and that we're captives within our own minds. We can't escape ourselves. I hope Captives taps into peoples' fears - but in a good way."

Meyer herself admits to being "a fear-based person" and suffering from anxiety. "A lot of fears I have are completely irrational," she says. "I have to sit in an aisle seat when I'm at an event because I'm scared of being trapped. I lie awake thinking there's going to be a tidal wave. I don't necessarily focus on those specific fears in the stories but I do confront them."