What happens in a short story when you subvert dramatic expectation? When you pile on moment after unbelievable moment? How do we succinctly summarize a person's whole life experience?
In the brilliant story "3 Flashes", Mitchell Grabois gives us insight into three moments in a life, but we're left to ask the question: are they moments from the life of a single person? The first flash, strange and surreal as it is, introduces us to a rather despicable character who wants nothing more than to read the "vampire novel my nineteen-year-old-girlfriend had given me." Is this man the narrator of the rest of the story? At first blush it might seem so, but perhaps there is a way of reading this fascinating, psychological piece of fiction that binds the three flashes together without drawing persistent characters.
Three people, one moment
Perhaps the most interesting and convincing way to read this literary work is to understand it as three separate people experiencing one moment. Think about it this way: what do the man in the plane crash, the person coming out of his drug-fueled high, and the person experiencing the apocalypse in Spanish all have in common? They're helpless to do anything physical, anything real. Each of them uses his mind to escape the present situation. The man on the plane, for example, knows he's going to die so he imagines his beautiful, young girlfriend in the face of certain tragedy. "Skeletons run from Armageddon," the story tells us in the final flash, and the narrator is fluent only in French. So by this prompt he remembers nostalgic moments in his life: sleeping with his French teacher as a young student. Both of these characters use their minds to project far beyond their current physical state. It is, curiously, only the homeless man, the man who is free from all responsibility, who continues to live. Headed from Santa Monica to Nova Scotia, his use of mind-altering drugs will continue to allow him to escape his petty circumstances. All three men using their minds in different ways to escape the inescapable.
Get to the point
The links that tether these stories together, then, are more about the moment of awakening. Here are the three epiphanies:
Flash 1: Yeah, life on Earth was sweet.
Flash 2: I’ve got to run before my ears turn blue, before my dick falls off, before my descendants turn into Elephant Men.
Flash 3: The drama of the Universe is unfolding in Spanish, and I am fluent only in French.
And it is, in all of these cases, the threat of impending death that causes these moments of realization and discovery. Truly this is a strange story, but if you put in the work to try and understand the ways in which Grabois is connecting these three moments in time, as epiphanies in the face of death, it is imbued with a new meaning. A kind of meaning that vitalizes life in its sublimity: on this hand, life, but never without its other half - death.
About the author
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over twelve-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.