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 (find the first issue here!), 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
Love Has No Inertia
by Nancy Ryerson
“I’m a minimalist, so I only have two forks,” you said as you tended to an egg with one of them. It sizzled in olive oil. For our date, you told me it would be easier if we met at your place so you could do the cooking. Your diet condemned most foods. Our future seemed finite, but I had spent years with a man who in the middle of May loved to roast whole turkeys and mash piles of potatoes. You made me feel light.
Over the next few months, I watched as you pruned your life. First your table’s chairs disappeared, and then your pillow. Soon there was a single lonely towel in your bathroom. Your bed went next. You slept on the floor with your arms stiff at your sides, like a vampire that had forsaken its coffin.
But you kept your houseplants. You kissed me among the ferns and I felt like we were camping in a tiny, wild piece of Brooklyn. I could smell the fresh earth.
On the day you got rid of your table, I dropped my tote bag onto your lacquered wood floor. It was heavy with the shampoo I carried back and forth so I wouldn’t burden your bathroom. I got it from a $25 donation to WNYC. I shared that out loud to crack the silence. “You shouldn’t get a thing for giving,” you said without looking at me. “That ruins it.”
When you minimized to one fork soon after, I knew what came next. “Minimalism is about freedom,” you began.
“Save your words,” I said. Well, I’m sure you threw them away.
There was nothing to gather. I picked up my tote and opened the door. You sat on the floor surrounded by greenery and said goodbye just once.
“Newton’s First Law of Motion”
by Victoria Alejandra Garayalde
Two nondescript people of the traditional number of toes and fingers, noses, ears, hearts, and lungs, sat in a parked car in front of the apartment they shared.
A group of boys, young enough still to feel like the world bent itself to them, walked by the car. Death, addiction, illness, failure, war, murder, car crashes, sexually transmitted diseases, heartbreak — those were all things that happened to other people. They felt too big in this world for any of that to happen to them. One of them pointed at the car, another made a pussy joke, and the four of them walked by the car laughing. None of them lowered their voices as they passed a mother and her young son. The mother, with eyes that weren’t really paying attention, watched her son bend down to pick up a rock. The boy was learning about dinosaurs in school and was hoping to find a fossil. The mailman in his truck, passed the mother and her son and moved around the parked car. Seeing the mother, the mailman couldn’t help but think of his youngest daughter and how she was getting married next month. Of all the things in the world to be and feel — the mailman continued down the street feeling like the most inconsequential man in the world.
The sun shone. The planets moved. The moon orbited the Earth. The tree exhaled oxygen. A man in power called another country a dirty word. And these two people inside the parked car said goodbye to the other. Said goodbye to the life they had hoped to have together, to the love they had fostered between them, to the midnight back scratches, the soft hand that draped itself over her waist as she slept, and her snores that kept him awake.