Sin by Max Garland

It hovered in the glowing tips of my unmarried uncles’ cigarettes. And in the red, rounded tops of lipstick tubes. It smelled, not sweet like lilies of the valley or hyacinths, but more like the insides of purple irises or, stranger, like azaleas or hawthorn blossoms—not bad, but definitely not all that good. It sounded like the sliding of nylon hose when high school girls crossed their legs in church and swung their high-heeled shoes not quite professionally, but in a sort of practiced way. How did it feel? It didn’t feel like the florid waving of Pentecostal preachers on Sunday, nor like the chemical jolt when a copperhead slid under a pile of warped boards near the smoke shed where hams hung. Nor did it resemble the cackling of hens, nor the barn roof peaked like a witch’s hat on Halloween. It wasn’t the way bats swerved over the catalpa branches in the evening, though once when I found one clinging to a rafter in the barn loft, I felt something human, a kind of leathery kinship born of shame and exile. But it was more than that.

It was more like the feeling of barometric pressure on the rise—how the air got crowded when a storm was coming. How it felt when you tried not to think about what you shouldn’t. It was the vast but tightly compressed distance between who you appeared to be and who you suspected you were.

Once, for instance, I lit a field on fire …

Read the rest of the story at Creative Nonfiction and marvel at the masterful description and suspense.
Max Garland is a poet and teaches at the University of Wisconsin. Check out his poetry collections Postal Confessions and Hunger Wide As Heaven.

Read more great flash examples in Sample Stories.

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Categories: sample stories

3 Comments on “Sin by Max Garland”

  1. February 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    The last 6 words pull together the others so well! It’s like the exclamation point at the end of a lengthy sentence, that summed up the rest with perfect precision… It was also like the fog rapidly rising, allowing perfect clarity to come rushing in, as does a flood. Really we’ll done. You caught me somewhat off guard… and I love that!

    • February 3, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Yes, this is a stellar example of the surprising twist that has become a hallmark of great flash stories – I love it too! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


  1. How to craft the twist | FlashMemoirs - December 1, 2013

    […] to create a twist is to withhold a key detail until just the right moment, like Max Garland does in Sin.  Another way is to examine your recollections for the sudden realization or change in […]

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