Flash Fiction at Accenti Festival Considers Italy in the World

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The inaugural Accenti Magazine International Festival of the Arts, held at the University of Calabria in June/July 2023, asked participants to answer a question: What does being Italian mean in the world today? 

Click here to read Part II

Organizers Licia Canton and Domenic Cusmano, of Accenti, worked with University of Calabria associate professor Mirko Casagranda to suggest an answer that guided the festival’s dozens of exhibits, research papers, readings, panels and performances. As festival goers learned, under a warm Calabrian sun, to be Italian (or a hyphenated one, whose ancestors immigrated decades ago) is to not only speak, read, write and translate the language, but also to be guided by the role that customs, values and family play in keeping heritage alive – no matter where in the world we happen to land. 

For my short talk at the festival, I explained how these three things – customs, values and family – make for very nice prompts to generate flash fiction, a form I’ve published in over the years. At the festival, I read a flash fiction piece about my paternal Uncle Joe. He could stand on his ear. Then I looked out over the audience. “Now it’s your turn,” I said. And for the next eight minutes, we wrote flash fiction of our own. 

As you’re about to read, the Accenti festival prompted writers to think about our Italian values (inventing new uses for old things); our customs (churchgoing that cements social ties); and, of course, our families (sleeping with the covers over your head isn’t so inexplicable after all.) 

Molte grazie! These stories are for you. 


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by Rosanne Pagano 

A custom I’ve never understood is the one where the aunts and uncles gathered around the kitchen table and stayed up late drinking coffee after coffee and talking about (absent) relatives whom everyone agreed they could not stand.

What I remember, having eavesdropped from my bedroom, is that they usually talked about large, loud Aunt Em. She is long gone. My bedroom is long gone. But all these years later, I can still see Aunt Em, mouth open, hand-reaching for another slice of cake. Em talked a lot. So did the ones who talked about her.

Of all the aunts (between them, my parents had 12 siblings), Aunt Em gave the best presents. On one of my birthdays, early in my marriage, she sent a set of flannel sheets, indestructible as tundra, with a pattern of little red and blue quilts, sweetly floating like magic carpets on a bright white background.

But, oh, how the relatives would talk about Em! And, oh, how I tried to write about her. I’m trying still.

Rosanne Pagano, a second-generation Italian-American, teaches writing at Alaska Pacific University.


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Street View
by Lianne Moyes

She lay on the couch on the bottom floor of the 70-meter apartment, immobilized by the heat. As it turned out, the hottest July for years. But she was finally here. Centro storico. 

The bells of the church on the piazza at the top of the vicolo started to ring. One. Two. Three. She didn’t always hear them but when she did, she counted them, sounding out the day. 

Through the window a sea of tile roofs. Terracotta. She could lie here on the couch and see terracotta outside and terracotta inside. Thick rectangular tiles, cool on the feet when she padded around the apartment. 

The shutters on all of the other houses were closed or just ajar. It was the middle of the afternoon, after the midday meal and before the reopening of shops. A space in the day. Very occasionally, she heard the voice of a neighbour, sometimes Spanish, sometimes Italian, sometimes Sinhala, sometimes the English of Newcastle. 

The shutters of the apartment should really be closed against the sun. But she could not close out the view of a town that was not hers but that she had walked for weeks, months, pandemic years. When the only access to this place was the map on the computer screen and the incomplete set of streets, she could wander on Street View. 

Again and again she had stopped at the bottom of this vicolo. From the vantage of her desk in Canada, she had been unable to make the turn and see its sequence of steps, not so much stairs as gradations, each one ample enough to serve a doorway and hold pots of plants propped against the incline by shards of tile. She had been unable to negotiate its worn uneven surface, its patches of green algae, its cigarette butts, stray flyers and dog droppings. She had been unable to look up and, above it all, see the lines of laundry pegged beneath windows, catching the breeze and the light of the sky.

Professor of English Studies at the Université de Montréal, Lianne Moyes specialises in Canadian and Anglo-Quebec literatures.


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For Restoration
by Jennifer Houle 

Well, I’ve ruined it. But aren’t ruins beautiful? Don’t they have their majesty? What, after all, is the difference between this cracked and chipped garden goddess and the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum? Scientists have recently declared that space-time is akin to a choppy sea. Everything is stardust.

I want to sand this goddess down, fix her up, but I worry about lead paint. Poisonous particles peppering her hair, specks among our measureless multeity but much too close to home. I can’t even say for sure she is a goddess. She looks Venusian alright, but maybe she’s a mortal beauty in a peachy pink drape of a dress? Maybe she is Psyche? Venus did not go easy on Psyche.

She used to stand on a pedestal in my Grandma Rose’s apartment, which was overflowing with crucifixes, candles, Virgin Marys, my father’s football trophies, framed mementos, porcelain figurines – in ornate contrast to the Laffin Heads and Laurel and Hardy busts in my Grandpa’s “bar” room. His space was a blue-carpeted emporium, with a sign over the door that read something about “adults only,” eagles soaring alongside. We still always went in, right into my father’s childhood bedroom, now full of naughty ice cube trays, novelties, and those folksy, freaky heads all over the wall, ready to cackle at a yank. The real reason we went in: the miniature one-armed bandit. So very many dimes were gleefully spent and reclaimed as the clowns observed with their tongues out, signature gap-teeth worse than mine. Mine were more like Madonna’s or Lauren Hutton’s. That is what I was told and told. I had them bonded at age 18 and sometimes still miss that space.

She came to me after Grandma passed. She came, along with the Laurel and Hardy statues and a pearly ring. She came to me, having always been an indoor goddess, and I put her in the garden. I wanted her to reign. Laurel and Hardy went into the garage and there they are still, undamaged, dusty, chuckling at the disorder they belong to.

She blistered and peeled after just one rain. I lifted her up and the base fractured. What I want to do, have to do, is buy some plaster of Paris and patch her up, repaint her. She could use a sanding, a smoothing, but I don’t want to think about what toxins may be lurking in her skin. Or mine, for that matter. Replicas of the goddess – they’ve been cast and coloured with cheap materials to turn a profit going back to the dawn of profits.

I don’t judge her origins, any more than I would want mine judged. I just want to restore her. Because for all of the sports trophies, all of the dimes, all of the eagles, and donkeys and gilt-edges, she is at the centre. Like the morning star, she rises before the Sun, more Vestal than Venusian now, the fire that illuminates the stardust that composes me.

Jennifer Houle is the author of two award-winning poetry collections. The Back Channels (2016) won the J.M. Abraham East Coast Literary Award for best collection of poetry and Virga (2019) received the Fiddlehead Poetry Prize from the New Brunswick Book Awards. Her first children’s book was published in 2022. She lives in Hanwell, New Brunswick.


© Accenti Photo Archive

I Cover My Ears
by Kenneth Robbins

When I was a kid, I could not sleep at night without my coverlet pulled tightly over my ears. I did not understand this compulsion, one that continues to this day.

At a family reunion several years ago, I had a chance to follow behind Fuzz, my favourite uncle (real name Horace), the family prankster who seemed to always have something fun percolating.

I watched and listened as Fuzz accosted a five-year-old cousin, teasing him, warning, “Kiddo, tonight, after you’ve gone to sleep, I’m sneaking into your bedroom and … CUTTING YOUR EARS OFF!”

There, I had it. The root of my protected ears! Fuzz is dead, but still, I cover my ears.

Kenneth Robbins is author of A Wake for Josephine and Iron Mountain.

Read the next series of Flash Fiction stories from the 2023 Accenti Magazine International Festival of the Arts in the Winter 2024 issue of Accenti Online.

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