Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award). Here, we discuss her flash piece in Issue 1, “The Wake.”

This is a really personal, beautiful piece. The pills, the lady who died, they all seem so real. Did you have someone in mind when you wrote this?

I’m really glad you asked that. The person is real, my best friend from undergrad, Muriel Avellaneda. This piece is one of the cornerstones of my collection of flash prose about losing her, Pictures from the Center of the Universe (Paper Nautilus Press, 2014 Vella Prize Winner). This was one of the first pieces I wrote & at the time, it was just a way for me to work through some of the emotions of losing someone you love to suicide. So yes, she was (is) real, as is her absence. That part is accurate.

There’s some great language in this flash: “the bipolar colors,” “the anxious shapes,” describing both the appearance of the pills and what they were meant to treat. Every word seems so deliberately chosen. You’re a poet too — are you very particular with your word choices? Or do you just let the music of the language take you over?

I firmly believe that everyone who writes prose has something they can take away from studying poetry. Flash fiction allows a poet to tell a bigger story than the structure of a poem generally allows, & it also lets a flash writer have more freedom to be poetic than fiction generally allows. I personally am a big fan of how the publication Cease, Cows describes this kind of work: “proems”, because that’s what they feel like to write (at least, that’s what they feel like to me.) The descriptions/functions were intentionally written to mirror each other, especially here, since the last year of Muriel’s life was such a mystery to everyone who loved her—all that we really knew for sure were the labels on the pill bottles, what they were supposed to do, what they failed to do, & what she wouldn’t let them do.

This line, “The worst of the storm is always on the other side of stillness” is my favorite. It’s so powerful and evocative. Did you always have this image of a storm and false calm in mind for this piece?

That line actually came from a memory that I mined to place in the piece—when I was in high school, I lived in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit. During the eye of the storm, I went out into the yard with my father. I couldn’t believe that the storm wasn’t over; everything was still, but you knew something was wrong because there were no birds chirping or any other of the sounds of nature that you usually hear. It was eerily quiet. Then we went back in & the eye passed & the storm came back in force, more powerful & terrifying than it had been when it started to make landfall. More destructive, violent. When I think of how bipolar disorder plays out, especially in people with suicidal ideation, it’s like that. The quiet just means that whatever is on its way is worse—the storm hasn’t passed. It hasn’t even gotten started.

The “she” and “we” of this piece are never identified. I think of them as a mother and her children. Was that your intent? More importantly, does it matter?

I don’t think the decision to leave these people unnamed was conscious on my part; though while I was working on my MFA a number of mentors & peers commented on that being something I do in a lot of my work. Looking back, I think that as I was myself grieving when I wrote this, & I wasn’t even sure anyone besides me & possibly Muriel’s family might read this, that there wasn’t a need to identify the “she” or the “we” of it. This many years later, I think that the open-endedness works because it could be anyone grieving—just about anyone can insert themselves into this piece & feel like it’s theirs, or like I wrote it for them. Because without knowing that was what I was doing, I think that’s exactly what I did. And I honestly believe that’s something Muriel would have wanted, too. For her life to have had some impact that stays, even if she herself couldn’t.

At the end, the medicine cabinet is opened to reveal the bottles are already empty. The reader is told “we already knew” this would be the case. Here is where the storm returns, the winds pick up. Were the narrators still hoping, you think, even though they knew otherwise, for some pills to be left behind?

I think anyone who’s ever moved through this kind of loss understands this hopeful resignation—you know what the answer is, but you just can’t stop yourself from asking the question anyway. Even this many years later, I will find myself daydreaming that it’s all been a prank, that it’s not real, that somewhere out there she’s still alive, even though I know what I’ll fin when I open the medicine cabinet.

That last image is such a powerful one, the silhouette riding a pony into the surf, calling back to the tales of ponies too tough to die you mentioned earlier. Those ponies made it back safely, but at the end, this one disappears beneath the undertow. Do you think, though, there is still some hope? Even though the woman has died?

Banker ponies are something that I find fascinating—they were literally too tough to die. But toughness doesn’t always equate to survival. Sometimes it just means dictating your own terms. Not every Mustang that leapt into the surf from a shipwreck made it—but they still jumped because if they didn’t, drowning was a certainty. The act of jumping is really what mattered more, because it meant that they didn’t resign themselves to their fate. And because of that, I do think there’s hope. Suicide isn’t an act of weakness or resignation. It’s a desperate gesture that some people take, hoping that they’ll survive & have the strength to swim ashore, & not everyone can push past the undertow. Here, I think the hope is not necessarily on the part of the “she” in the story—the hope is for the “we”. It’s the hope that we can make something meaningful out of the most terrible kind of loss, that we will be stronger the next time we see a sinking ship, & the hope that somewhere, she has finally found her freedom.

“The Wake” is such a great title for this piece, with its multiple meanings: a vigil after a death, the opposite of sleep, disturbed water. Was this always the title?

I honestly can’t remember — I’m pretty sure that it was always called The Wake, intended with all three meanings, though mostly on the obvious, the wake held after a funeral. The secondary meaning was always the wake, as in disturbed water, since hurricanes & Banker ponies are the motifs threading the work together, & the smallest amount was meant to hint back to the cyclical insomnia that tends to plague people with bipolar disorder, causing them to “spin” and then “spiral.”

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.