The Pick 2013

He, She

Akis Papantonis

HE IS LEFT-HANDED. SHE IS NOT. He always quotes famous people. She always speaks with innuendos. He runs five miles every morning. She drives to work. He will not have a meal without dessert. All she has is dessert. He only listens to Scriabin. She will not turn the telly off. His parents died when he was six. She visits hers every other weekend. He talks to her about everything: the weather, the novel he cannot finish, his aching joints, his phobias—acquired or inherited. She won’t reveal a thing to him: neither her ex-husband’s name, nor her resentment of his cooking, her increasingly worse hearing, her love for 80’s pop music. When he’s serving her dinner, he does so with a sense of guilt-ornamented gratitude. When she’s ironing his shirts, she does so under the spell of inescapable habit. He agreed to this marriage without knowing how convenient it would prove to be. She proposed it while dreaming of a green card. He couldn’t have imagined that he’d regret undressing and slipping into her bed that night. She couldn’t have imagined that she wasn’t just returning a favor when she spread her legs that same night. If he were to die first he’d leave her his unfinished manuscript and the car, which she uses anyway. If she were to die first she’d leave him a letter she hasn’t yet written. On the coffee table lies a photo album with pictures of the two of them in Croatia. They’re both wearing straw hats.

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The year 2013 denotes the moving out of the Vestal Review office from NY to Boston after the Marathon bombing. The location changed, but the name stayed. The word “Vestal” is about freshness and novelty. Stories picked for this issue were no less. My pick of the year from the Winter 2013 issue is He, She, by Akis Papantonis. In flash, I rarely encounter pieces written in the third omniscient point of view; most pieces use a first-person narrator in present tense. The piece felt like a whirlwind of revelations of what it is like to realize that love is not what it seems. The constant shift between He and She, what each one expected and their disappointment, created the conflict/crisis right from the very first sentence all the way to the end. When picking up a story from a slush pile, the first thing an editor looks for is the title, and then that very first line. The first line here, starting with “HE IS LEFT-HANDED. SHE IS NOT,” written in all caps and providing a negative statement, was a sure eye-grabber. A slick, smart trick to at least spark the reader’s interest. The alternating shift of point of view between what “He” thought and hoped and what “She” expected created momentum, strong voice and indeed a fast pace. If you were a guy reading this, you’d relate to the “He” and if you were a woman, you’d  relate to the “She”–or perhaps vice versa. Stories about strained marital status or relationships have been overdone to the point that, when I come across one, I just roll my eyes. So keep your stories interesting and focus on that first line.

Riham Adly

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