Mudlark Flash No. 119 (2017)

Spencer Smith

Reading the Same Novel Seven Times

The main character dies on page 342; 
I thought you should know. 
Her name was Monique. 
It didn’t have to end this way. 

On the second reading it is clear 
that if the author just eliminates 
that one scene in Chapter 12, 
things will turn out much better for Monique. 
Of course it will also create additional problems 
for Marcus and Marianne, 
and Chapter 15 won’t make any sense. 
So there’s that. 

On the third reading I determine
it would be much cleaner 
to just prevent Malcolm from ever meeting Monique. 
After all, their relationship never goes anywhere 
and only creates jealousy in Michael, 
and if he doesn’t talk to Misha in Chapter 17—
okay, not so clean. 

On the fourth reading I toy with the idea 
of just removing Michael and Misha altogether, 
so Malcolm won’t have anyone to talk to 
and light the spark that leads to Monique’s death. 
But then it would be necessary to create new roommates
for both Monique and Malcolm, 
and who knows what they would end up doing 
to botch things up. 

On the fifth reading it seems so obvious—
Malcolm just doesn’t say anything 
and that solves the problem. 
But Michael being so nosy, 
he probably will discover the truth anyway 
by reading Malcolm’s diary, so maybe not. 

I am getting desperate by the sixth reading. 
There must be a way to save Monique, 
if I can just find it—
even nothing more than a strategically placed comma, 
causing her to pause long enough 
that the bullet misses. 

On the seventh reading 
there is a sudden whisper of tearing paper 
and I find page 342 crumpled in my hand, 
leaving a sentence dangling at the bottom of page 341 
but with Monique still alive, 
endless possibilities awaiting her, 
and I close the book in satisfaction. 
I love happy endings.


I draw a map of the world, 
charcoal pencil 

casting off flecks of pumice 
from its volcanic passage 

across the blank white. 
One continent is all that is needed—

no islands, no reason to set sail 
to see what can be seen, 

only to discover 
there is nothing to be discovered—

no foreigners, no one to disagree 
with what is obviously right, 

no one who is not the same as I. 
Unity in singularity. Oneness in one. 

I step back 
and the paper rolls itself into a tube. 

Like an explorer, I pick it up 
and gaze through the long tunnel to see 

what lies on the horizon. 
There is a photograph of me on the wall, 

dressed up for an important event, 
alone with my smile.

Spencer Smith is a University of Utah graduate and works in the corporate world to pay the bills that poetry doesn’t pay (i.e., all of them). His poems have appeared in over forty literary journals, including RATTLE, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Main Street Rag, RHINO, and Roanoke Review. 

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