For the 300th issue of Recommended Reading, which happens to fall on Valentine’s Day, we opened submissions to your 300-word stories of love and heartbreak. Every day this week, we’ll publish two of our favorites from the nearly 500 submissions we received, along with contributions from three greats of flash fiction, Lydia Davis, Amelia Gray, and Kathy Fish. We think of this special five-part issue as a love letter to the thousands of writers who have submitted to Recommended Reading, and the hundreds of thousands who have read our magazine over the past five and a half years. Thank you for sticking with us, and cheers to 300 more. — Halimah Marcus
Alternate Shakespearean Endings
“Juliet Changes Her Mind”
by Amelia Gray
It was right around the moment all seemed lost and her man lay dead on her lap, the moment the friar had left her to do whatever, when the candles addressed their warmth to her alone, their crackling sound like angel wings, like insects pinched above the flame, the moment her lover’s lips lost their warmth, and the slab felt extremely slablike, cold as the crypt around her, which she had chosen as the best location for this performance but was lately feeling a bit dramatic and — she could admit — a little silly, the candles smoking up the place and dripping wax all over, walls lined with wrapped figures of the proud familial dead, this place being so gross and forbidden even from her most wicked cousins’ most wicked dares that she had never so much as touched its heavy iron door and now here she was camping out, long after dark with a man’s body pinning her, it seemed, to the slab; pushing him off her required setting down his dagger, but at last he slumped aside, and his head when it tipped from the low-set stone bumped on the floor like a fresh summer melon and she saw him then for what he was, a dead boy in his own grave, glory fading with the night, candle wax stuck to the long lashes she had loved until that moment. When she pulled herself up and felt the pins and needles of feeling come back to her legs, she nearly cried out with a keen and sudden sense of everything, of the whole glorious world filled to bursting, wild and ready for her and, stumbling over herself, she made a break for the iron door and the east, where life itself would rise to meet her with the sun.
Psyche in the Dark
by Miranda Schmidt
When he comes at night, he is invisible. She hears his approach in the sound of his footsteps, in the pulse of his breath in the dark. He could be anything.
Some nights, she imagines him human. Some nights she imagines him monster. A man’s head. A snake’s body. A wolf’s teeth. Hooves.
She is not here by force, though she has trouble remembering when it was that she made this particular choice, how it was that she entered into this peculiar marriage. The rules are simple: she cannot see him. She may roam the castle freely but, when he comes to her, she must cast no light.
Her sisters believe she has married a monster. They visit her. They give her advice. Light the lamp, they tell her. See the monster. Kill him. Free yourself.
Sometimes they almost convince her. Sometimes, when they leave, she feels so sure of what she must do. But, as she listens to the deep breaths of her husband’s helpless sleep, she cannot bring herself to cast the light.
In the dark, she lives in possibility. Her husband might be a monster or a god or a man. He may be ugly or beautiful. He may be human or beast. Sometimes she believes it would be possible for her to spend her life in this way, to trust in not knowing, never knowing, the truth of her marriage.
But when the lamp is lit, as she knows, one day, it must be, her marriage, her life, all the nights behind her and all the nights to come, become singular. So, for now, she keeps the lamp beneath the bed, the knife beneath the pillow, and when her husband comes to her, she keeps her eyes closed so she can feel him in the dark.