Flash Fiction: A Three-Step Manual for Living by Michael Blackburn

1. If you place a single drop of vinegar (use a latex eye dropper, preferably with a military blue bulb, but this is merely personal preference) onto an ant, the resulting co-mixture with the ant’s formic acid will cause an explosion, an infinitesimally small pop, like an infant child’s eardrum pricked with a hot needle. You will see: First, two to five (never all, never none) of the ant’s legs fly off from its thorax and abdomen. Simultaneously, and two, you will see the right eye collapse in on itself and then, subsequently, expand to the size of, approximately, half an English pea sanded down by three quarters. Finally, the ant’s body will fall up, toward your magnifying glass, and then drop and stagger forward 0.002 millimeters. Wait five to ten minutes. Then observe: Nearby ants will surge toward the broken body only to fall away like an angry but indecisive crowd of mothers until you leave. Do not attempt to measure how long the ants will do this. They will surge and fall and lunge longer than you can maintain interest, no matter your scientific will. Instead, you will retreat into your air-conditioned garden shed, at which time you will observe through preplaced recording equipment that the ants return en masse upon your absence and carry the dead ant’s legs off, no doubt to use as timber in their tunnels (though I have not verified this[1]) while leaving the dead body to dry out beneath the sun or until a passing bird mistakes it for a live ant and inserts it into its feathers to consume parasites.

Do this often enough and you will not only scare away the remaining ants from your property but your lawn will be pockmarked by innumerable tiny craters only you will know are there, a small and personal moonscape for your enjoyment when all seems against you. In all likelihood, however, you will need to combine this with 2.

2. The whisky should be cheap because you drink heavily but consider yourself practical. Small doses throughout the day, which allow you to say to yourself, this is not much, this is not too much. Upon pouring the whisky into your glass, preferably machine cut into diamond-like surfaces, place the whisky bottle back into its place with the utmost care. Too much jostling can disturb the spirits therein. Now, lean against the kitchen counter near your sink, taking care not to let your hands brush against dampness, and stare out through the grey mesh of the window screen at the 1987 green Ford truck in your neighbor’s driveway. See how the truck’s wheels remind you of the circumference of your glass, and of your own eyes which always roll before drinking and seem to find no purchase. Note how the sunlight, a sharp edge off the truck’s right-hand side-mirror, slashes across space, through the window, the light itself slashed by the window screen, into your left cheek, your chin, your eye squinting in reflex. Likely this will all remind you, vaguely, of your father, who is dead and, even dead, a bastard. If not, let it remind you of someone else, but don’t think too deeply lest you feel too much and the moment cascade on you, a dangerous thing. Now, look down into the sink. Sigh until your lungs are emptied. You are now ready to consume the whisky. Sip it. Even though it’s cheap and you’re thirsty, always sip. Given enough time and patience you will effectively forget yourself until the process must be repeated, at which point, repeat it.

3. By running your fingertip along the edge of a coworkers ear (NB: first obtain consent by inquiring in a loud and clear voice: May I touch your ear?), workplace hostility can be reduced by up to and including 100%. This is not due to intimacy resulting from familiarity but is instead the result of the ear’s unknown potential as a repository for the physical-sense transference of positive energy. Ancient Anglo-Saxons knew this and it is why they are frequently portrayed in manuscript illuminations as touching, with great concentration and gentleness, the ears of one another. Look at the famous illustration accompanying the Gospel of Mark recently unearthed outside of Stamford, England (the so-called Tesswick Manuscript, after the gardener who discovered the Gospel in her bell pepper bed). In the illumination, we see a bearded and otherwise fearsome warrior touching the smooth ear-edge of his compatriot in arms. What became of these brave warriors is, of course, unknown, but you may be assured that whatever their fate was, they received it with greater peace and fortitude because of this small action.

Unfortunately, rubbing one’s own ears, while tactually pleasing, results in no diminishment of personal hostility and self-loathing; rather, it can increase the emotions of anger and grief. You will of course give into the temptation to stroke your ear despite this forewarnment. When this occurs, immediately see instruction 2.

[1] Please contact the author if you do.

Michael Blackburn studies English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Five on the Fifth, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and Coffin Bell.

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