Master Plotto Week Nine Winner: Andrew Stancek

Masie Cochran

A record number of entries last week, with over 20 states and seven countries represented. And while we wholeheartedly thank South Korea for their first ever entry, the top prize this week goes to Bratislava born Andrew Stancek, whose tale of starvation reminded us of The Byrds You Don’t Miss Your Water, and should not be consumed on an empty stomach.

To refresh, last week’s Plotto prompt was: A is unable to find a job and support his wife, B.  A and his wife, B, find themselves face to face with starvation.

Smell of Water

Alexei cannot lift his feet anymore. He’s shuffled from door to door for fifty-one days, handed out three-hundred and forty-seven resumes, been shown the door a hundred and eighty-three times. He believes keeping track is therapeutic.

Five hundred and sixteen days since he last sang in public.

Four hundred and sixteen days since the birthday celebration, the fireworks, the explosion that punctured his ear drums and seared his face.

Forty-three days for the insurance to be exhausted and his release from the hospital.

Three hundred and nine days since Natasha last smiled.

His face is what scares them off. If the insurance had paid for skin grafts, someone might have offered him a crumb but Alexei stopped doing ‘if only’ a long time ago.

He thinks a list of all the opera houses where he sang will be a good memory exercise. If he concentrates, he might be able to put a number on the length of the ovations. He used to count steps but it’s too easy to lose track and he lost faith. No point in doing it if it’s not going to be accurate.

He can’t sing anymore. He can’t hear. He can’t do physical labor. He can’t be seen in public. Savings, gone. Friends, like leaves off a tree.

Their birdcage used to be full of squawks and whistles but the only time the perches swing now is when Natasha bumps it while dusting, and the newspapers at the bottom are always clean. Soup lasts the longest. Still one box of birdseed in the yawning cupboards. He’s glad the cat died of old age before they had to. He’s sure it would have been stringy.

The city was once home for flocks of pigeons but he hasn’t seen one in months. The parks are filled with searchers. Some still have homes; most sleep on the benches. One hears stories of screams in the night, of human bones being buried.

He used to miss the wine. In the old days he toured the Loire valley more than once, tasting. Now the memory is faint, a smell more than a taste. His smell has become more acute since he lost the hearing.

He smells water, moves towards it through an oddly familiar part of town. His head is light and resounds with the flapping of wings. Exhilarated, he watches a flock of geese flying low over a bridge, chattering, urging him on. He’s light and weightless. He hops on the bridge, spreads his wings and joins their formation.

Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland.  His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, THIS Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Chronicles, Thunderclap Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review and Pure Slush.