I MEET GERONIMO | Charles Bane, Jr.
⇒I’m always excited to see a new venue for great flash fiction, such as the journal in which today’s story appears: Spelk. Many thanks to a F_F reader who alerted me to this great piece, “I Meet Geronimo,” by Charles Bane, Jr.
Here’s something I’ve noticed about good flash fiction: it rarely relies on plot. Character psychology? Sure. A striking image or gesture? Absolutely. But the typical plot structure that’s so important to longer works of fiction is untenable and typically unnecessary when it comes to flash.
To prove my point, here is the plot of “I Meet Geronimo”: The protagonist (as a boy) lives somewhere in the Midwest. He works in the wheat fields. He goes to see Buffalo Bill’s famous Wild West show, where someone has him fetch a pitcher of beer for one of the show’s performers–Geronimo. The kid has a conversation with Geronimo. Geronimo gives him a knife. Then the story’s over.
That little sketch of what takes place in the piece isn’t a spoiler at all, since the story’s resonance doesn’t emanate from a series of largely mundane actions but from effective character-building, rich world-building, and a take-no-prisoners narrative voice and character dialogue. This is a very powerful piece, intricately arranged and well-paced throughout. This piece demonstrates how, unlike a novel or longer story, flash fiction isn’t susceptible to “spoilers.” You read it or you don’t; you experience it or you don’t.
A few notes on Geronimo. For my money, the Apache leader is one of the most tragic figures in American history. Consider: his whole family was killed during a Mexican attack on his tribe’s land; he led retaliatory attacks in the embattled land now known as Texas; he became a prisoner of war; later in life, he became a famous attraction in touring Wild West shows, a sort of novelty act. His is a story of loss, vengeance, and humiliation. You don’t get more tragic than that.
The story ends with 17 words spoken by Geronimo to the narrator/protagonist. Those words are the one piece of the story I won’t spoil here. You’ll have to read it yourself. All I can say is, the maybe-allegorical instructions shared by the American Indian celebrity (“the worst Indian ever,” by reputation) are powerful yet simple, just as any climactic moment should be in a flash fiction piece. If the goal of flash is emotional resonance, the piece is quite a success.