Finnian Burnett

Storyteller

Here’s a piece I wrote during a workshop with author/teacher Grace Palmer. I submitted it to Flash Fiction Magazine and they picked it up. I had an excellent experience working with the editor assigned to my story for this submission. She offered some great insight into the piece and refused to allow the proofreaders to change something that would have changed the meaning of one of the lines.

Here’s a creative non-fiction piece written years ago when I first met my wife. It was recently rejected from a submission so rather than re-shop it, I decided to publish it here.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

The Affair

We made love like we were already in love. I knew her. I knew her far more deeply than two women who have sparked a friendly connection over the internet should be able to say they knew each other. We had exchanged random messages here and there, and some of the conversations had gotten deep, but ultimately we were strangers.

Trying to describe it later, I knew I sounded like a romance novel. We looked into each other’s eyes and we just knew, I would say, and hearing it come out of my own mouth made me cringe. I’ve never been a fan of romance novels, and I’m not sure I have ever really believed in that all-encompassing romantic love that they write about in books with stupid titles such as The Love of a Lifetime.

Yet there I was, staring into the face of a woman who took my breath away even before she wrapped her arms around me with such exuberance, she nearly knocked me off my feet.

She was smaller than me, tiny really. Slender, short and delicate or at least I assumed until she hugged me and I realized she was a solid little bundle of kinetic energy and wiry muscles. I’m a big woman and she knocked me down and kept me down when we were wrestling, teasing each other, trying to act as if the physical play between us was simply for fun and not a prelude to the sex we both kept pretending we weren’t going to have.

We were married, but not to each other. And though I could give the million reasons why we weren’t happy in our respective marriages, the fact remains that no one likes a cheater. I could explain the long, lonely nights lying in bed next to an unappreciative spouse, or the years of suppressing our own needs for the sake of someone else, or the cold silences, or the way a passionate woman becomes dead inside when there is no one to appreciate it. But it wouldn’t matter. Because we were married and not to each other and that colored every moment between us, from the first time I slipped my arm around her across the back of a movie seat, to the way she leaned her face against mine as if she had finally found a resting place.  When you’re married to someone else, it becomes about the sex. They had an affair follows everything that comes next and the word diminishes the rightness of it. It wasn’t an affair. It was a homecoming, a burst of oxygen into my lungs after years of drowning and when we kissed it wasn’t about the way my body stirred and arched against her or the way the electricity shot between us, raising goosebumps on my long untouched skin. It was about coming home, about finding something you didn’t even know you were missing.

I feel like I prayed for you and you’re here, she told me, and I couldn’t breathe because it was so true it hurt. The universe usually gives us what we ask for but not always when we want it. If she was the answer to my prayers, why hadn’t I made space for her in my life before she showed up?

It was fast, we only had a few days, and we spent most of them heartily calling each other friend, pretending our skin didn’t burn whenever we brushed against each other, and carefully not talking about our spouses. We tried to keep our distance, but I found myself looking for her when I walked into a room and when I spotted her, she was always looking at me.

We were in her bed and we were hugging and cuddling, wrestling, laughing. Talking, always. Pretending we were becoming good friends while my hand rested on her bare stomach. She asked me to spend the night and I had a flash of premonition. I saw us naked and touching and I felt my mouth exploring her body. I saw us riding bikes through a park and walking the dogs. In that flash, for a second, I saw her grey-haired with a cane, staring into the glass at the bakery department of our grocery store and when I touched her hand, she looked up and smiled at me through the lines in her face. I saw it all from our sweating bodies locked together, screaming yes, to the end of our lives when I kissed her for the last time. When I went to my room to get my clothes, I took a breath and thought about not going back. I sat on the edge of my bed and told myself that from this moment on, I couldn’t claim that it had just happened. I knew. I knew what would happen if I went back. And I went back anyway. We were connected by then and she was waiting for me. We went to bed again and I said, I want to kiss you.

It wasn’t immediate. We pulled back and came together and pulled back and then the lights were off, and her mouth was burning against mine and my hands were pressed against her and the rest of it was a blur of love and desire and satisfaction and underneath it all, still, the comfort of coming home.

When we left, when we said goodbye, it felt as if the rest of the world had become other, like everything that existed outside of us was unreal. I wanted only to be in her arms, to smell her, taste her, live inside her. I felt exposed, raw. My skin hurt. It felt like a weight had settled into the pit of my stomach. Getting out of bed in the morning felt like fighting gravity.

When we next spoke, when I heard her voice, I could breathe again. I told her I was most sad that I hadn’t given her anything, that I hadn’t given her a gift, a trinket, something of mine that she could hold on to and remember how it felt. It hurt that I hadn’t given her anything. And she said, you’ve given me everything.

I’ve been having so much fun with 100 word stories lately. I posted this one on Facebook the other day so I thought I’d share it here, too.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

My Office Window

My neighbor runs to take out the garbage in droopy white underwear. The wind sends a plastic grocery bag dancing into the street. He pounces and catches it, bending over to pick up an errant piece of trash. Fabric shifts, flesh appears. Clearly visible pubic hair blows in the breeze. There’s an invisible line on his thermometer that determines if he’ll put clothing on before taking out the trash. From my desk, I watch him drag the cans while I listen to the weather forecast, hoping for a cold front, a snowstorm, anything. Dear God, please let winter stick around.

I had to write a brief dramatic screenplay in one of my creative writing classes. I fretted so much over the formatting, I thought I’d never get it done. While I understand the idea of having creative types write outside of their comfort zone, I don’t know that this helped me craft better novels. Still, it was fun to do something new and interesting–and ultimately, I guess I have to admit I enjoyed the process.

Cast:

Michael Emley 40-year-old writer, moderately successful. He is leaving his wife of 15 years and taking only what he can fit in one large suitcase. Michael is good looking, but not model handsome. He’s just a regular guy who needs to leave and is dealing with the emotions that come from that.

Sandy Emley 38-year-old woman. Trying to help her husband pack the accumulation of a 15-year marriage into one suitcase. She knows he has to leave, so she is resigned, but sad, as well. Sandy is pretty, but visibly sad. And mostly, she is really exhausted.

Scene: The Emley living room. There are already clothes and books and notebooks and the general props of life piled all over the chairs in the living room. There is a large suitcase laying on the floor with the lid open. Michael is sitting on the floor, going through records. Sandy is standing by the bookshelf, sorting books. 70’s soft rock is playing softly in the background. (Such as Wildflower by David Foster, Sad Eyes by Robert John, etc.) The song playing as the scene opens is “Heard it in a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band.

Sandy turns around to look at Michael just as he lifts a record and holds it up to her.

Michael: Cream. This was mine way before we met. I remember smoking pot to this album in my dorm room with Ben and Jackson back in the day.

Sandy: Fine, take Cream. All of the Eric Clapton solo albums are mine. Except anything after “Money and Cigarettes.” That was his last good album.

Michael: [Looking pained] That was a good one. [Shakes his head.] It’s fine, though. All of those are available on MP3 now. You can have all the albums. I can’t be carrying around a record player, anyway. I’ll stick with my Ipod.

Sandy: [Holding up a round piece of plastic] Do you remember what this is?

Michael: [Laughing.] Yeah, the insert to put into a 45 so it would play on the record player. I can’t believe we still have one.

Sandy: [Turns back to bookshelf] What about “Sirens of Titan?” You bought this.

Michael: [Looks at Sandy’s back, stiff and unyielding across the room.] I have it on my Kindle.

Sandy: [Softly, and sadly.] I remember when you said you would never buy a Kindle.

Michael: [Looking at the floor] I guess I changed.

There is silence for a few moments as they both sort through their respective piles. “Fool if you Think it’s Over” starts playing.

Michael: [singing softly] Fool if you think it’s over… got to say goodbye…

Sandy: Chris Rea.

Michael: That’s it! Remember dancing to this at what’s his name’s party… [trails off as he realizes Sandy is crying, though she still has her back to him.]

Sandy: [Clears throat.] Fahrenheit 451 is mine.

Michael: I thought we had two copies of that.

Sandy: We did, but Chris spilled a cup of grape juice on one of them. We never replaced it because…[pause]

Michael: Because we didn’t think we would ever need a second copy.



Sandy shuffles through books again.



Sandy: Do you want “Raise High the Roof Beam?”



Michael: I bought that for you.

They’re both silent again, listening to the music as “Give me Love” by George Harrison starts playing.

Michael:I guess there’s no reason to go through the albums. You can do whatever you want with them.

Sandy: Fine. Do you want your collector’s edition of Lord of the Rings?

Michael: [Looks at suitcase] Yeah. I want that.

Sandy walks over to the suitcase and gently places the boxed set in among the clothes, toothbrush and electric razor. She stands for a minute, looking down at the suitcase.

Michael returns the albums to the shelf and stretches his back, groaning a bit as his back pops.

Michael: I’m getting too old to sit like that.

Sandy says nothing, she is still staring into the suitcase.

Michael: Babe?

Sandy bends down, picks something up out of the suitcase and turns half towards him, rage and sadness in her eyes.

Sandy: [Clearly enunciating] You cannot take this. [Holds up a small, obviously well-loved worn stuffed bear.]

Michael: [Speaking softly and carefully] Sandy, you have all the other toys, the photos, everything. I have one picture and this. I want to take it.

Sandy: It was his favorite. You are not taking it.

Michael: [Angrily] I bought it for him!

Sandy: [Turning suddenly to face him full on, furious] You killed him! You killed him! You killed my baby! You will not take his bear!

Michael: I know, I know I did. It was an accident, Sandy. It was an accident!

Michael walks two steps towards Sandy, arms held out as if to embrace her. He looks sorrowfully at her face for a few moments, then moves towards to suitcase, closes it and picks it up. “Magnet and Steel” comes on.

Sandy: [Dead pan, looking at the wall.] Walter Egan.

Michael: You used to love this song.

Sandy: [Quietly, with sadness but no venom.] I used to love you.

Michael hefts the suitcase and walks towards the door. Turning back once, he looks at Sandy, tears starting to fill his eyes.

Michael: [Whispering] I loved him, too. Believe what you want, but I loved him, too.

Walks out. As the door closes behind him, Sandy collapses into a chair, sobbing.

Curtain Falls.

Y’all. I have to admit when I started following Anna Burke on Patreon, it was because I think she’s a great person, I love her novels, and I wanted to support her because I knew she had lost income during COVID. I’m super busy so I knew I wouldn’t get much out of the content of the Patreon and really just did it to be a nice person who supports other writers when I can.

And that would have been fine if that was all it was. But then a thing happened. I got sucked into the weird and wonderful world that is Anna’s Patreon page. It might have started with a short story here and there. Or perhaps it was the anti-inspirational-quote memes.

An example:

But after that, she busted out exclusive stories only for patrons – retellings of fairy tales. Snow White, Peter Pan. All the most incredible stories made queer and amazing. Then she added video chats with other greats in the WLW writing world like Rey Spangler and Kris Bryant.

She gave us cover reveals and “blooper reels” of her writing, pre-editing. And y’all, I upped my monthly payment to get into the next tier up because I wanted more.

Through this dumpster fire of a year, through as busy as I am with school, teaching, and everything else, through losing my beloved senior dog, through struggling through this long, long, long winter’s depression, I have to say that Anna’s Patreon page has been an absolute balm.

May be an image of 1 person and snake

And then she upped the ante! Today, my wife and I went to the post and the paper copy of a book Anna made JUST FOR PATRONS was in my mailbox. As you can tell, I was super excited.

Front and back covers of Anna’s book for subscribers

Here’s a copy of the cover since I managed to snap a backward picture in selfie mode and was too lazy to turn the camera around and try to do it the other way.

Needless to say, I’ve gone from being a supporter of Anna’s page to a rapid fan of Anna’s page.

So, whether you’re looking to support an incredible person who volunteers a lot of time to emerging writers both on her own and through the Golden Crown Literary Society or you’re looking for high-quality content and stories, art, content you won’t get anywhere else, I highly recommend you follow Anna Burke. And don’t forget to wave at me while you’re there.

Click here to start the good times rolling.