Flash Fiction Contest 1st Place: “Agora é Sempre” by Tanya Perkins

November 15, 2021

The prose miniature challenges a writer to conceptualize how a story’s living essence can be conveyed quickly within language’s abstract sense of time and space. This is a feat that “Agore e’ Sempre” excels at. The story’s effect isn’t one of minimalism, but maximalism. A mere thousand words encompasses oceans complete with their currents, riptides, rogue waves, and roiling plastic. And the oceans connect continents. The “character” that the narrative revolves around is a pair of flipflops—i.e.“children of eternity”— and there’s a supporting cast of at least a dozen characters whose lives and deaths intersect.  The story announces the wit and whimsy it will sustain, in a modulated first a sentence that flows for a paragraph.  An appreciation of this original, vividly imagined story could deservedly go on for several times the length of the piece itself. — Guest Judge Stuart Dybek


Gabriella Mendigez’s best wedding gift was a pair of black plastic flip-flops, the straps handbeaded by Marcella Adivino, her mother’s best friend, which Gabriella unwrapped on June 16 in the crystal ballroom of the legendary Sunset Islands Ritz Carlton on Lake Avenue, just a few miles from the condo on Biscayne Boulevard where she and her new wife, golf pro Carla Cosanatti, would live for the next several years, until that cool May morning, exactly one month short of their eleventh wedding anniversary, when Carla would be caught in one of Miami Beach’s infamous riptides and reappear, bluely entangled, some miles up the coast, just north of West Palm, where Marcella Adivino had first gathered the flipflops as part of the endless debris studding Florida’s shoreline.

But these flip-flops! Forgotten by Otto Krabhaufer on a beach in south Thailand, they were sucked into the North Equatorial current, which carried them across the Indian Ocean to where the warm Agulhas surged along the clouded banks of Mozambique, past idling hammerheads and freckled seastars, until finally they were lodged in the clefts of a half-submerged shoal. On that shiny morning, Isaac Attonobe was to join an uncle on his small fishing boat but instead was conscripted by pirates as a look-out, since he was young—just fourteen—and his sight keen. You can see him there, leaning against the stern, scanning the horizon with binoculars, his mother’s anger uppermost in his mind, that and fear of what the men might do if he did not find them a cargo ship. When the engine stalled, they drifted close to the shoal and Isaac noticed the left flipflop, glistening like an eel, so when the boat scraped the rocks, he reached out his skinny arm, grabbed it, exultant, then even more so when he spied the other. Thus, Isaac procured shoes for his mother, who would perhaps relent when he returned at day’s end, if not with fish, then with footwear.

And so it was—Isaac’s mother wore the flipflops with great dignity until a rogue wave snatched them off her feet as she dug for clams, as if it had been decided that nothing for her would be permanent, not her small crop of maize, skinnied by heat, nor her husband, lost to Nigeria’s oil fields, nor even her lunch of pao, stolen by imps as she searched the wavelets for her lost shoes, a futile business since the flipflops had already merged with a slurry of bottles, drift nets, plastic bags, tuftless brushes and other detritus, everything tugged into the cold, strong Benguela stream that zoomed down, around the Cape and then north up the rib of Africa, where the gentle South Equatorial slowed the waters into incandescence, darkened by sea ferns that caught the plastic and glass like jewels in mermaids’ hair. This was where the sea shrimp thrived and with them came the leafy-finned sea dragons, then the bass, who loved them, then the seals and dolphins and rock tuna, in whose wake the flipflops cartwheeled until the leftie was swallowed by a nurse shark, leaving the right alone and useless, until finally scooped up by a Brazilian seiner, illegally fishing in Angolan waters.

A week later, the shark was caught by a Finnish sports fisherman who, after having his picture taken with the twelve-foot trophy, handed it off to his Angolan guides, who gutted and freed the left flip-flop from the fish’s belly, Jonah-like, slimy but unharmed, only to be abandoned there, on the beach, amidst beer cans, countless plastic scraps and a dented hand mirror, the glass long gone. A half-mile away, the right flip-flop was plucked from a mass of wriggling fish and tossed back into the sea, where it was skimmed up thirty minutes later by Melanie Ntango, a photographer collecting images of ocean debris. Her boyfriend, a scientist with Greenpeace, was also collecting material further down on the beach and planned on surprising her with a particularly dynamic arrangement topped by a single black flip-flop he’d found some distance from the water line.

You’d be forgiven for expecting a happy ending for the perfect pair. After the photo shoot, Melanie took to wearing the flip-flops around her studio in Lobito; her boyfriend proposed marriage; and the National Angolan Gallery agreed to show her new collection, Agora é Sempre: Um Legado de Plástico, but currents are always on the move, fracturing into colder streams, wrenching away what they once delivered. On her honeymoon in Gabon, she traded her flip-flops for a dune grass bracelet made by a young boy who, in turn, sold the flip-flops on the streets of Libreville that same night to Ako Dimba, an unemployed professor of film studies. A few days later, as Ako napped on the beach, two teenagers stole his watch, cellphone and, yes, the flip-flops, flinging them far out to sea just for the hell of it.

Again the flip-flops were picked up by the current, none the worse, since they were truly children of eternity. Now they rocked benignly along the top edge of South America, tugged west by the Equatorial current until merging into the north-flowing Gulf Stream, before beaching, at last, on the flat, prosperous sands of south Florida, where Marcella Adivino, visiting from Nicaragua, spied them and cut them free from their Sargassum nest, releasing not just the resilience and fortitude and doom of Otto Krabhaufer, Isaac Attonobe and his mother, the restless nurse shark, the always-hungry Angolan fishing guides, Melanie Ntango and her valiant scientist boyfriend, but their patterns of loss and finding and loss again, now immanent in the plastic itself, waiting for the next wearer, who would be Gabriella Mendigez, now pulled into this same confluence so that, eleven years later, she would wake alone at four a.m. on a cool May morning, slip on the flipflops and walk out onto the balcony, where the pounded air met the sea, knowing that something was very wrong indeed.

Originally from Canada, Tanya Perkins lives in Richmond, IN where she teaches writing at Indiana University East. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including
Tupelo Quarterly, The Woven Tale Press, Fiction Southeast, The Raleigh Review, Big Muddy  and others. Her chapbook, People are Naturally Attracted to You, was published by WTAW Press in 2018.



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