Thank you to all who entered the Fall 2020 flash fiction contest, which was created and judged by Makena Onjerika ’10, winner of the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing and founder of the Nairobi Fiction Writing Workshop. We are delighted to publish the winning work of flash fiction and the two runners-up. The next contest—the first of three tied to the 2021 Amherst College Bicentennial—will appear in the spring.

An illustration of two people on loaves of bread with a lightning bolt between them

First Place


By Katie Choi ’07

I was in the bread aisle when I realized I no longer loved my husband. Pushing my cart past the shelves neatly lined with sourdough, challah, rye. Get the kind with the seeds, he said. He always wanted the kind with the seeds. Virtuous. Full of nutrients that got stuck in his teeth as he chewed too loudly and groused about his day.

I craved grilled cheese on white bread. The enveloping stillness of melted American and a tender crumb.

It wasn’t always this way with me. I once craved the softness of his mouth, the shape it took around my name. I reached for him in the night like a scuba diver searching with the beam of a flashlight. Oh, there you are. And there I was, too.

Years passed as I paced those aisles. Bashful kisses, a white dress, a house in the good part of town. A flash of lightning turned into a season of hailstorms, and then, finally, silence like a heavy blanket.

Paper or plastic? the cashier asked.

I walked out, a loaf of seeded rye under my arm.

Second Place

The Wooden Doll

By Jim Hamilton ’78

It came to me out of the sky, dropped 20,000 feet among the pieces of a doomed American bomber whose crew lay twisted and lifeless in our farmyard. The roof of our house on fire. The barn aflame. My parents and the neighbors helping to rescue our livestock. And one unfamiliar face: a Luftwaffe pilot in boots and flight suit leaning down to hand me a wooden doll he’d found in the wreckage of the plane he had just shot down.

A small airport lay adjacent to our fields, and he had landed there and rushed toward the flames, pulling a pig out of the burning pen, carrying furniture out of the house, and then, after the firemen arrived, pausing to examine the carnage. That’s when he saw it, sitting unharmed between the pilot and co-pilot’s seats in what remained of the cockpit. As I was the only girl in the vicinity, it’s not surprising that he chose me. I accepted his gift without question. I was in shock. The anger came later. The doll’s name, which I did not learn until I had grandchildren of my own, was Maisie.

Third Place

Boys Don’t Sing

By David Litrico ’77

I am the great Zazu.
Greg, get down from the table.
I’m the Great Zazu.
Wearing the dining room curtain?
My cape so I can sing and fly.
Are you drunk?
Sober as a rock.
Get down before you fall.
Remember Moore Dorm... senior year. The Third-Floor Players.
Your drinking buddies. Twenty years... where did the time go?
Sang and danced like geeks.
Like clowns.
You thought it was fun. You laughed. I loved the way you laughed. That’s why I fell in love with you. The laughter. Where has it gone?
When this COVID thing is done, I’ll start laughing. Prisoners in this apartment for six months. Go play on the balcony. I’ve a ton of work. Office sent me another list of student transfers... hate this online...
At least you have a job.
And you have college flashbacks. Where are your buddies now?
Nick died in a crash two years ago. Don’t you remember?
Forgot.... What about Jeff and Tony?
Tony moved in with his parents in Grosse Pointe... Lou has stomach cancer. I’m the only one left to sing.
My father told my brother boys don’t sing.
All I have.
And me?
Start laughing again... please.

Illustration by Barbara Ott