AGNES VOJTA: The manuscripts I keep

Flash Fiction by Agnes Vojta

Paperweights and Nonlinearity

Air bubbles trapped in the glass paperweight shimmer silvery. Patterns like ink drops dispersing in water waft through the glass. The light, refracted by the different layers, shimmers them in shades of green. In the center a dark circle, like a kernel of wisdom.

I do not need it to weigh down papers. My papers are ordered, filed away. I just like looking at it, like moving the smooth shape in my hand like a worry stone.

I have put the grief into a basket and hid it in the attic. It is time to get it out, open the lid, and let the vapor rise and fill the air like the smoke of last night’s incense that still lingers.

I untangle the knots of the necklace I found in my jewelry box. With the tips of my fingers, I wiggle the gold links, work from the ends towards the middle, solve the riddle, resurrect the chain to its linear form. I am addicted to order.

There is order in chaos. The patterns inside the paperweight only appear random. They formed during cooling, a process governed by nonlinear dynamics. Nonlinearity leads to complex structures that are as varied as living things. My linear brain can work out that math.

Swans and Pelicans

An armada of white, the swans sail on the Elbe river. They congregate near the shore where the children throw pieces of bread. The swans tolerate the geese and ducks, not too proud to accept the offering. Their angel wings unfold and fold again, slowly.

They are here every year. I have been absent. Forgot the password. Homesickness constricts my throat, an incurable ailment. I am here and far away at the same time. You cannot scrub yourself clean of the past.

On the Lake of the Ozarks, the pelicans gather to rest on their migration, to replenish with the abundant fish. They perch on narrow logs that rest on the sediment in the shallows, preen their plumage with their great beaks, unconcerned by my kayak.

Their nine feet wingspan is imposing. I watch a squadron fly overhead, their white bodies gleaming in the sun, an undulating ribbon waved by the wind, swinging higher and higher, out of sight.

A lone feather drifts, I pick it up, stow it in my pocket for safekeeping, close the zipper. They are here, on schedule, as always in November. Nothing else is normal this year.

Alaskans in the Basement

When I was sixteen, I moved from the closet-sized room on the second floor into the basement. I relished having a space away from the rest of the family. The window looked out on the patio; I could see the fountain and the old rhododendron bushes. The kitchen balcony protruded over the flagstones, provided cover for the bench in front of my window. I could go out of my room, through the space with the big coal furnace, and leave the house through my own door.

Bookshelves were built into the recesses in the brick walls, crammed with books and records. I had found a wooden crate, put a piece of plywood over it, made a low table. My friends and I sat on old sofa cushions on the floor. I had my father’s wooden desk, loved working there. On the desk and on shelves under the window, I kept potted plants that I grew from cuttings. On a board on the floor, I had a metal pot and an immersion heater; I brewed tea in a little grey teapot I still have. I kept sugar in a bowl my friend had given me. I still use it as a sugar dish. It reminds me of her. She died at age 32, the first friend I lost to death.

When I moved out, my father took over the room as his study. After dinner, he would retreat into the basement to write or play chess. Once he retired, he spent most of his days down there, emerged only for meals. For twenty years, he wrote and rewrote his book, a fictionalized memoir that recounted the time when our country crumbled, the Wall fell, and we got a new order. That we embraced. But not the conqueror mentality of the third-rate West German bureaucrats who felt called to bring us civilization and salvation. This, we could not stand. My father was subjected to much of this when he fought valiantly to lead his institute through the storm and save jobs.

He never got over the humiliations. For twenty years he edited, sent his manuscript to publishers who no longer understood that time. He prefaced the book with the proverb “There will always be Alaskans who tell the inhabitants of the Congo how to behave in the times of the greatest heat.” That summed it up.

As I am cleaning out his study, I sift through versions and versions of his stories. I throw away piles of old chess game transcripts and business trip itineraries from the 90s. The manuscripts I keep.

Agnes Vojta grew up in Germany and now lives in Rolla, Missouri where she teaches physics at Missouri S&T and hikes the Ozarks. She is the author of Porous Land and The Eden of Perhaps, and her third collection A Coracle for Dreams came out in the spring of 2022 from Spartan Press. Her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines. Her website is

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner Photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

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