Flash Fiction

By Brian Polk


Photo prompt from Josiah Hesse: Smoking Boy with Chicken


The day I moved in with my lover was the day I knew we had to break up. It began as a simple argument and escalated into a complex argument.

“My grandfather couldn’t have been more than four or five in that picture,” I said. “He had a pack-a-day habit and a stare that would make you apologize for being so damn uncool. Together with his hen, Frances the Enforcer, they ran errands for the local crime syndicate throughout the 1920s.”

“None of that matters,” my lover replied. “The picture contrasts with the color values on the walls. It has a darker color value that only complements the floor. What, are you going to put a picture frame on the floor?”

A derisive laugh followed.

“Um,” I said. “I think you’re missing the point. By the age of sixteen, my grandfather was running his own gambling ring. When World War Two came around, the draft board gave him a farm deferment because of all his hens, even though he lived in Denver. He was an urban farmer years before it was cool! The deferment allowed him to rise to the top of the criminal underground. Shortly after my mother was born, he was arrested for racketeering and spent like 20 years in jail. I only met him once, when I was five. He told me to pull his finger and gave me $10.”

My lover was undeterred.

“You’re missing the point! It doesn’t match! And because it doesn’t match, it can’t be in the house! Give it to your mom or something.”

And that was the moment I realized we were doomed as a couple.

Clearly the photograph had sentimental value for me, but because it contrasted with the color scheme—or whatever—it was vetoed from our new residence. Because we signed the lease, I stuck it out for three-and-a-half months. Then, when my lover went on a business trip, I grabbed the six things I was allowed to have and moved in with my single friend that nobody wants to marry.

I’m still here today. The picture of my badass grandpa and his badass hen is on my nightstand. And every morning, I get to look in those eyes and apologize to his spirit for being so damn uncool.



Brian Polk has contributed to The Onion A.V. Club, Westword, and birdy, and began publishing his zine The Yellow Rake in 2004, which has released 30 issues over its existence. In 2014, he co-founded Suspect Press, a quarterly literary publication that celebrated ten issues under his leadership. Since 2009, he has played drums in the band Joy Subtraction, which released its second album Hate Will Keep Us Together on Denver’s Sailor Records. More recently, he started another band, Simulators. Follow him on twitter @brianpolk1234. For more information on Placement of Character, go to brianpolk.org.


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