Foliate Oak April 2015

Fiction

Screwdriver
By T. E. Cowell

He had just had another argument with his girlfriend about his drinking. They had been living together about six months now and had the same argument about once a week. She didn’t like his drinking and he didn’t like her getting on his case about his drinking. As usual when she got on his case he left the apartment, left her standing there all twisted up inside.

It was dark outside, the sun down, and cold as ever. A lot of last week’s snowfall had melted away after yesterday’s rainfall, but there were still some mounds of old hardened snow against the curbs and at the edges of parking lots. For the most part the sidewalks were clear again for walking, just some slush here and there, but there were spots he knew he had to watch out for, icy patches invisible to the naked eye that if he wasn’t careful could land him in the hospital.

He had his big brown thrift store coat on and his big warm goofy thrift store Russian Cossack hat, and sweatpants under his go-to thrift store charcoal-gray pants. Also his warm thrift store winter boots, so he was all right, he was warm enough. He’d forgotten his thrift store gloves though inside the apartment in his rush to get away from her. Luckily his big brown coat had deep warm front pockets for his hands.

He stopped at the corner and waited either for the light to turn green or for the cars to stop coming. He knew they weren’t right for each other, knew it couldn’t last. He knew the breakup would be painful, that breakups always were. They might’ve broken up by now already if he wasn’t always leaving her apartment before the argument could turn into something bigger, like a full-blown fight with irrevocable consequences. Plenty of times he almost said something that would’ve ended it. The words “I’ve had it! We’re fucking through!” forever stayed on the tip of his tongue. Part of the reason for this was because he was living with her in her apartment and didn’t want to move back in with his parents. The other part was that he liked her.

He walked two blocks then veered into a cheesy sports bar that drew a younger crowd than most of the other bars in the area. He’d been in this bar before and hadn’t thought much of it but didn’t feel like going to any of the other bars, which were pretty much all workingman’s bars. He didn’t want to see all the sad aging work-tired drunk tradesmen sitting slouched on the barstools, didn’t want to hear them blabbering on about sports or exes or mortgages.

The music in the sports bar was horrible and the lighting too dim and everyone was talking too loudly, just a continuous wave of sound. He found a stool that no one was sitting on or standing too close to and sat down. He took a menu that was on the bar in front of a young woman sitting next to him who had blonde neck-length hair and a slender neck like a giraffe’s. This young woman was talking to another young woman, talking animatedly like pretty much everyone else in the place was. The muscles around her shoulders kept jumping in accord with her arms and hands, which she continually raised up and down as she talked.

He studied the menu, decided life was short and that he’d try a cocktail he’d never tried before, one he’d noticed on the menu on a previous visit. It was a drink named after F. Scott Fitzgerald, a drink that apparently Fitzgerald had been keen on drinking, though who the hell really knew––maybe the menu was just a scam like everything else. He didn’t have much respect for Fitzgerald, had never cared for the guy’s writing, had always thought of him as effeminate and too intellectual, but Fitzgerald had made it as a writer, and if he couldn’t respect the guy for his work then he could respect him for having been a success. He ordered the cocktail when the bartender came his way.

It tasted too fruity, too girly, as he had anticipated. But because it had some gin in it he drank every last drop. Giraffe Neck was looking at him now, for some reason that he couldn’t figure. He could see her looking at him out of his periphery but made a point of not looking back at her.

Giraffe Neck surprised him by saying something to him. He couldn’t understand what though with all the noise around. He looked at Giraffe Neck. “What?” he said, and brought his ear closer to her mouth.

“I said what’s wrong?” he heard. “You look all pensive.”

Giraffe Neck’s vocabulary took him by surprise. He’d assumed everyone in this place except himself was an absolute moron. He looked at Giraffe Neck, leaned closer to her ear and said, “If you had half a brain you’d be pensive too.”

It shut her up, as he’d hoped. A few seconds later Giraffe Neck and her friend got up and walked away.

He’d tried to explain to his girlfriend why he drank but she refused to listen. She thought drinking was bad for him, that it was killing him, and maybe it was, maybe he was as selfish as she often accused him of being. But he didn’t want to stop drinking, not now. Maybe later he would, or at least cut back, but not now, not when he was in the prime of his life. He drank because when he drank ideas often came to him and when he was lucky he was able to write these ideas down and turn them into stories. He drank because drinking seemed to clear his head of some if not all of the bullshit that his head was constantly cluttered with when he was sober. He got in a zone when he drank a certain amount and when he was in this zone he felt great, felt amazing. It cost him in the mornings, of course, the hangovers, but they weren’t that bad most of the time. He felt kind of guilty though after he finally got up to start his day and found his girlfriend gone, already off at work. Every morning after they’d had an argument the night before she’d leave a note for him, something short and sweet and apologetic. He was surprised, really, that she’d stayed with him for as long as she had, that she hadn’t kicked him out of her apartment yet or had her brawny dad do it for her. He was surprised but at the same time he wasn’t. He knew that he had something and that she knew it too. He was still relatively young and had already been published numerous times. It was only a matter of time before he’d be published in the bigger magazines and start gaining some recognition. This he believed and his girlfriend did too. He had something and his girlfriend knew it. To her writing was a big fat beautiful mystery. She had an English degree and enjoyed reading and even tried from time to time to write, but unlike him he didn’t think she would ever know reading and writing as intimately as he did, she’d never hate it and love it and be consumed and transformed by it. His girlfriend thought writers had this mysterious aura about them, and it was this more than anything else that he thought turned her on to him. He was largely a mystery to her and until he was no longer a mystery she would lust for him and share herself and her life and her apartment with him. That was what he thought.

After the cocktail he paid the bartender and left the cheesy sports bar. He walked to a café a block or two away that was still open, paid for a day-old scone and then sat on a worn leather couch in the corner to eat it. As he chewed the scone he stared at students who stared at laptops. After the scone he walked back to the apartment.

He found her already in bed, sleeping or pretending. He didn’t bother her. He slept on the floor in the other room, as he usually did after they’d argued.

In the morning the note was different. It basically said that she’d had enough of him and that she wanted him out of her apartment by the end of the day. He read the note twice, and afterwards immediately started cramming his things into his backpack––clothes, his laptop, a bagel he’d bought the other day.

He left her apartment for the last time and walked to a breakfast spot he knew. He ordered a screwdriver, nothing else, and drank it staring out the window, at the traffic going by on the street, feeling twisted up inside. He didn’t feel hungry enough to eat the bagel. He ordered a second screwdriver, asking the waitress if she could please make this one a little stronger.

T.E. Cowell resides in Washington State.  He has been published in The Milo Review, Storychord, Gravel, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, and elsewhere. 

* * * 


Carpe Diem
By Grove Koger

Karen and Jane had done the planning, and then Karen had made the actual reservations. That meant that Margie didn’t have to do much more than pay some bills online with a credit card and show up at the airport at the right time with a passport and a week’s worth of clothes. Which was why, when she started back to the hotel that afternoon, she didn’t know the name of it, much less which street it was on.

Karen had turned on the television as soon as they had gotten to their suite and squealed with delight to find a channel in English, which was so wrong. Because now that Margie was really here, really in Paris, she wanted to do something Parisian, try out her French. She’d go for a walk, maybe have a coffee, un café.

As soon as Jane had finished sorting through the complimentary toiletries on the counter, Margie brushed her teeth and fluffed her curls and told the others she’d be back in an hour. Took the tiny elevator down to the first floor—no, make that the ground floor, the first floor was one up—and stepped out into the street. La rue.

Well, here she was! An American in Paris! And at just that moment a passing car honked—at her? —and immediately she heard the bouncy sequence of car horns from that Gershwin piece. Yes! Oui!

She wandered a bit, humming to herself, gazing in store windows. Here were bakeries with displays of plump brown loaves and pale lean baguettes, there an agence immobilière (what on earth could that be?), a chocolaterie (mouth-wateringly obvious, that one), a narrow little shop selling gleaming plumbing fixtures, and café after café bustling with a kind of insouciant casualness. Should she? Of course. She chose a spot out of the sun and after a few moments a young man, a boy really, sporting a day’s growth of beard and a kind of abbreviated white apron, strolled over to her table.

“Mademoiselle?”

“Un …” She hesitated, changed her mind. “Un vin.”

“Blanc? Rouge?”

“Blanc.” Of course.

She saw herself sitting at this charming little café in Paris drinking a glass of white wine, un something de vin blanc. She knew how she would describe it when she got home: “There are these charming little sidewalk cafés, you know, simple but so chic. You can while away the afternoon drinking wine and …” She remembered the feel of the little tube between her fingers even before the word came to her: “smoking.” Of course! It had been ages, but … She glanced around. Could you smoke here? Yes, it seemed so, judging by her neighbors. Just then the boy appeared with her tumbler of wine and she raised her finger before he could slip away.

“Mademoiselle?”

“Cigarettes?”

“Oui, mademoiselle, cigarettes. Filtre?”

“Oui.”

“Quatre euros. Four euros.” She realized that he must be getting them from a machine and reached into her purse. How clever they had been to change some bills at the airport! After a few more moments he brought her an ashtray and a blue pack with an odd kind of winged helmet on the front and a book of matches that he fished out of the pocket of his apron. Somehow the wine had disappeared by then and she ordered another.

She drank more slowly now, savoring the moment. Carpe diem, someone was always saying back in college. Seize the day. She would try to work that phrase into conversation when she got home. She watched the passing crowd, lit another cigarette, and was wondering whether she should buy a beret, when

she realized that the shadows had grown quite a bit longer.

It took some time to get the pretty boy’s attention and then pay, but by the time she got that little chore taken care of she had to face up to what she already knew. She had no idea where she was. OK, where she was specifically. Paris, yes, but several, too many, streets radiated from the cafe where she had been sitting so blissfully, and none looked particularly familiar.

Well, actually, they all looked familiar.

She started down one, and here, yes, there was a bakery, but the loaves weren’t arranged in the right way, not at all. She turned back, tried another street.

Here was a display of faucets and spigots and God-knows-what, but coppery, not pewtery the way she remembered. She turned back, tried another.

Here was another agence immobilière, but the photos of—villas, OK, she got it, it was a real estate agency, and a pretty upscale one at that—the photos didn’t look like anything she’d seen recently. She--

She stopped, took that deep breath they’re always talking about--they!—and

a man in a crisp uniform took a few steps toward her and asked, in a reassuringly kind voice, “Mademoiselle?”

She explained, in slow English, what had happened, tried not to sound frantic, and he seemed to understand perfectly.

“Have you your passeport?”

Margie reached for the holder she had worn around her neck, but it was back at the Whatever-Its-Name-Is Hotel, and the passport itself, of course, was at the front desk where she had been required to leave it. Damn!

“Papiers? Réservations?”

She opened her purse, started rummaging through the tissues and mints and such. Had she brought any of the printouts with her?

“Mademoiselle?”

He reached gently into her purse and pulled out a book of matches, turned it over in his fingers, raised his eyebrows, and smiled.

“S'il vous plait, you will come with me.”

There was something seriously nagging at the back of Margie’s mind, but the man—he was surely a gendarme—seemed so confident that she gladly fell into step beside him. Gladly. They passed a bakery that did look vaguely familiar, a bookstore that didn’t, and more cafés. The traffic had gotten busier and the sidewalks more crowded. They came to a corner, trotted across the street as the gendarme held up his hand to the oncoming cars, turned again. She was wondering whether she really could have wandered this way, and knowing the answer perfectly well, when--

“Marguerite! Marguerite!”

The gendarme came to a halt and she nearly ran into him. He turned, handed the matchbook back to her, smiled again, and bowed ever so slightly.

Margie opened her mouth but the man had already disappeared into the crowd.

Stunned, she looked around. She was standing in front of an unremarkable pale stone building that looked neither new nor old. Tables and chairs were clustered beside a doorway leading into a small foyer, and above the door a marquee bore the legend “Hôtel Avenue Colette” in pale blue letters. The matchbook, which she now looked at for the first time, carried the same legend. The matchbook that, in her mind’s eye, she saw the waiter--

She gasped as someone pulled her into a chair. A babble of voices assaulted her, and half a dozen women leaned forward to stare eagerly at her.

“Marguerite! Mon ami! Où avez-vous été? Nous avions peur que vous ayez été perdu!”

“Marguerite, your sweater! Très chic!”

“Vos chaussures!”

The women went on and on and one leaned forward to rest a hand on her knee, but she couldn’t follow any of the words.

“Marguerite!”

She realized that she held a glass of something in her hand, something pale and bubbly, and she drank it.

“I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake. I’m not—”

“Oh non, Marguerite! Nous avions convenu de trois heures, oui?” The woman looked at her watch, a tiny gold thing that must have been terribly expensive. “Yes, trois heures, it is now …”

Her head swirled and she took another drink. By now Karen and Jane must be wondering where she was, would surely start looking.

“You see, I can’t find my hotel!”

At that one of the women leaped up to point at a window over their heads and said, “Ah, il y a une chambre prête pour vous!” The window was open, and she could see a filmy curtain billowing invitingly in the late afternoon breeze. The sky was turning pale.

A waitress appeared with another bottle, popped the cork, filled their glasses, replaced the empty bottle in the bucket. They all took a sip. The bubbly was really quite good, and, well, “Marguerite” was such an attractive name, wasn’t it? Evocative …

Then she realized that one of the women, a blonde her age wearing a black beret, had been staring even more intently than the rest. She stared back boldly for a moment, at which the blonde pulled off the beret, leaned across the table, and snugged it down on her brown curls. The blonde sat back to consider the effect, smiled at last, and they all laughed and raised their glasses.“À Marguerite!”

Grove Koger is the author of a guide to travel literature, When the Going Was Good. He writes for Laguna Beach Art Magazine, is Associate editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal, and has published fiction in Bewildering Stories, Phantasmacore, Lacuna, Two Words For, and Eternal Haunted Summer.

* * * 

Maybe You Are
By  Erin Kuhlmann

You are not the kind of person who would do this.

Your friends have said, “It’s great. You should try it.” Or “You’re always so busy. This is a great way to meet someone.”

You tell them online dating just isn’t for you. You’re fine meeting girls at the bar, promising to call, but never do. You’re a hit-it-and-quit-it type of guy.  But here you are, typing away at your computer screen.

And forget paying for this. You are not going to fork over sixty dollars a month to find the worldwide web’s idea of your “soul mate.” It’s as foolish as people who buy stars. Last time you checked stars were free, too.

The site page opens to welcome you with a virtual shower of red and white hearts, collecting at the bottom of the page like a pile of snow. Mid-screen sits a beaker, half-filled with pink liquid that bubbles and fumes: All it Takes is a Little Bit of Chemistry!

You move the curser to close down the tab, but pause. You may not be the type of person who meets strangers online, but you’re tired of being alone. Tired of always being the friend going stag to weddings. Tired of sitting at the coffee shop or restaurant alone. Tired of always making excuses.

You click the beaker to enter the site. All it takes is four easy steps. The curser floats over the “create a profile” button.

Now or never, you think.

Step 1: Select profile picture. You don’t have many recent photos. You select one from the previous summer, taken at your best friend’s wedding. Your hair was longer, but you figure the women looking at your profile won’t care. They’ll be much more interested in who you are now, rather than what you looked like six months ago.

Step 2: Personal information. The questions feel like you’re filling out a resume, or a patient history.

“Male or Female?” Male.

“Are you currently employed?” Yes.

“Highest level of degree?” Bachelors.

“Do you smoke?” Constantly.

“What is your diet like?” Pizza and beer.

“What is your body type?” Athletic.

“What are you looking for?”

This question makes you pause. “I am looking for . . .” then you hit delete.  You leave the box blank and decide to return to that question later. Something to think about.

        
Step 3: Who are you? Question after question is fired at you. Sometimes you answer with one word, a sentence, maybe a paragraph. Most of the questions are no-brainers. Favorite color, cats or dogs, genre of movies you enjoy watching. Others ask about your stance on religion, politics, and sex.

The questions seem to go on forever, like an overflowing toilet.

Finally, you go back to the blank box. This is the question you get up from the desk for. The type of question that requires a pot of coffee. The type of question you’ve thought about in the bathroom while you washed your hands. That you’ve asked the mirror covered in splattered toothpaste. That you’ve asked your reflection, over and over again, for years.

Back at the desk, second cup of coffee in hand, you try to think of a witty response. The first sounds creepy, and the next like a punch line to a terrible joke. You delete them both. You consult the Internet for an alternative. Hundreds of articles on creating the perfect profile to attract the right potential dates pop up. You read a few and immediately close them.

You are still not the person who online dates.

No, don’t give up. Attempt a different approach. No funky list of qualities will ever land your potential soul mate. One of the articles you skimmed said that’s a fast way to get zero messages and zero dates. Instead you choose a more generic answer. One that won’t set you apart from the thousands of other people on this site, but for now it will suffice.

You type, “Looking for a woman between 25-30 who enjoys conversations over coffee or dinner.”

You imagine a girl, no woman, with dimples and long hair. She sits across from you in a crowded Starbucks, drinking the most expensive coffee on the menu. She’s sweet, a college graduate, from the south, and likes football as much as you. You take her out on a second then third date. By next Christmas she’s meeting your mom and talking about the future. You like the sound of “forever”. Like wearing a worn tee shirt and sleeping in on Saturdays.

It wouldn’t be so bad, you think, to find all that on the Internet.

You shake your head and light a cigarette. The sweet, dimpled, southern girl in the café isn’t some figment of your imagination. She’s the girl who sits in the cubical across from yours at work. She’s the girl you’ve flirted with in the break room and know her coffee order by heart. The girl who flashed you her new engagement ring three weeks ago. And while you don’t want to admit it, seeing her admire that diamond has finally driven you to this site. It’s never going to happen, and you need to move on.

Step 4: Confirm your profile. This is it. One click and your profile will be seen by hundreds of strangers looking for love on the Internet. You click confirm.

You sit back in your chair and swallow the rest of your coffee. You are the person who online dates. You weren’t expecting a cannon to fire confetti or a marching band to parade around the room, but at the very least you expected there to be some kind of prize for finally signing up for online dating. You debate calling your buddies to tell them the news, but note the clock on the computer reads 2:45 AM.

You refresh the page, as directed, but nothing pops up. Defeated, you head for the bathroom to brush your teeth. When you spit into the sink, that’s when you hear the ding.

You race back to the computer. On the left hand side of the screen is a small pink number on the messages tab. You sit down and lick the toothpaste residue off your teeth. You cannot click the message fast enough. The screen takes a few seconds to load and you sit at the edge of your seat.

The message turns out only to be from the site creator. You don’t even bother reading the congratulatory. You shut down your computer, and sigh.

Tomorrow you’ll have to face her at work, knowing she’s in love, and it’s not with you.

Tomorrow you’ll have to try and find someone else when you know you’ll always wonder what life would be like with her.

You light another cigarette.

You are not the kind of person who should be online dating.

Erin currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a recent graduate of Chatham University’s MFA program. She’s a children’s writer that has one foot in childhood and one in adulthood. Her work has previously been published in The Minor Bird Literary Magazine.

* * * 

Reservations, Darling
By Eugene Murray

Almost a month after he had given up on her, they began going out again when she called him, on Christmas night, and slurred that she thought she may have overdosed on gin and Seconal.  After a frantic drive in his pajamas, never thinking to call for help, he pounded on her apartment door. She opened it, droopy eyed and naked, and then collapsed.  He wrestled her into a robe and brought her to a hospital.  An exam, blood test, and a long talk with a psychiatric intern revealed that she had taken about a third of a bottle of gin, and two Seconal, and that she would be fine in a day or so. 

“Just take her somewhere she can sleep it off,” they told him.

He put her on the couch and found a quilt for her, and slept on the chair across the room.  Logy and sleepy, they stumbled around each other for the rest of the day, and that night they finally slept together.

“Oh, my,” she said to him, only once actually, but several times in his memory, “this is really special.”

And later, spooning, she said, “I’m so sorry I spoiled your Christmas.  It’s just, you know, this is me.  This is just me.”

“Oh, no, no,” he said.  “This is the best Christmas ever.”

“Oh, that is so wonderful to hear.  Maybe we should plan something for New Year’s?”  He just nodded.

Classes were cancelled and his part time job in the mailroom was closed for the holiday, so he had time to make phone calls that afternoon.

“Chez Veronique. Maurice speaking,” the squeaky French accent answered his first call.

“Hello, I’d like to make a reservation, s’il vous plait.  Dinner for two on New Year’s Eve, please.”

“Ah, monsieur, you are too early.  Reservations for next New Year’s will not be taken until the summer.”

“No, I meant for this New Year’s Eve.  This Sunday.”

“A thousand pardons, mon ami.  Chez Veronique has been booked for New Year’s since Thanksgiving.  Je suis desole.  I mean I am very sorry.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize.  Well, how about if I stop down there this afternoon, and provide you with some motivation.  Something green and foldable perhaps?”

“Listen, Jack,” the French accent was gone now, “you can fold up your little five dollar bill and stick it in your ear.  We’re booked, got it?”  He hung up.

When they met, she was a bartender at one of the few clean, well-lit places near where he worked sorting and delivering mail. The first time he saw her, standing behind the bar pulling on a beer tap, he felt like he had swallowed a stone.  He leaned against the wall near the rest room and just watched her move up and down behind the bar, flirting and schmoozing.  She did this tiny flip of her head to move the hair out of her eyes that stayed in his memory for days afterward.  He abandoned the friends he had come with and sat at the bar until his cash ran out.

“This is Trattoria Napoli.  May I help you?”

“Yes, hello, I’d like to make a reservation, please.”

“Oh, yes, sir.  For this evening? And how many?”

“No, I’m hoping for a table for New Year’s Eve.  It’ll just be two.”

“I’m sorry, we are booked for New Year’s.  We stopped taking reservations around Halloween.”

“Ryan’s Steak House.  Will Ryan speaking.”

“Hello, Will.  I’d like to see about a reservation for this Sunday?  Just two people.”

“We have a brunch we should be able to squeeze you into.”

“No, I don’t think a brunch is going to do it.  Any possibility for dinner?  An early dinner maybe?”

“We start serving at four, but we’ve been booked since Labor Day.  Have you tried any of the sushi places?”

He came to her bar about twice a week after that first meeting, and always got that stone-swallow feeling again.  She was cordial to him, but professional, and always busy with other customers.  She still did that hair flip, usually about five times per minute, and he was transfixed by the way her blond hair leaped obediently into place, if momentarily, with each nudge.

They went out once to a movie, and once to an afternoon concert, but that was a month before Christmas.  She was pleasant, but distant, and rolled her eyes a lot. His name was Jim, and twice she called him John.  She seemed to always be looking behind him.

Her desperate phone call on Christmas night was a complete surprise.

“Anita Sushi and Martini Bar.  This Mae, can I help you?”

“I’d like to book a table for New Year’s Eve, please.  Just two people around nine o’clock?”

“Oh, sorry, sorry.  We close New Year Eve.  Whole family go to Times Square watch ball come down.”

“Really?  I don’t think I ever knew anyone who went to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”

“Oh, yes.  Great big fun.  Drink champagne, shiver all night, look for TV camera to scream.  Great big fun.”

“I’m having trouble getting a reservation for New Year’s Eve,” he told her.  “I never realized that places seem to be booked months in advance.  Why don’t we just maybe have something here?  We can set up a nice late dinner, snuggle up for a movie, a chick flick if you want, and then watch the ball drop on TV.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “Yes,” she said, “I used to love to do that, you know, when I was twelve.”

“We can make it fun.  We can decorate the place, cook something exotic, and drink champagne.  You know.  We just need to get creative.  Make it fun.”

“I’m not much of a cook,” she told him.  “Coffee and toast on a good day.  On a not good day, I wouldn’t attempt to even boil water.  I don’t think I would be much help to you in the kitchen making a big meal like that.”

“Katie’s Country Kitchen. ‘We Make Eggs The Way You Like ‘Em’. Can I help you, honey?”

“Are you accepting reservations for New Year’s Eve?  I know it’s late.”

“Well, we’re usually pretty busy for New Year’s, but Mr. Anderson is a fast eater, and we could give you his stool at the counter when he’s done with his usual fried chicken on a waffle special.”

”There’ll be two of us.”

“Two?  Oh, that presents a problem.  I’m not sure I can promise two stools together.  But how about this?  You wait out in the parking lot, and I’ll give you the high sign if something opens up.  How’s that sound?”

“Number 118.  118 is next”

He dropped his ticket with the bright red 118 into the bowl on the counter and said to the butcher, “I’m looking for something special for New Year’s Eve Dinner.  Any suggestions?”

The butcher, about seventeen with an eyebrow ring said, “Turduckhen is very popular these days.”

“Turduckhen?  That’s a new one on me.  What is it?”

“A combination roaster.  It’s chicken stuffed into a duck, and both stuffed into a Turkey.  Comes with regular stuffing too.  Usually for the holidays we make up complete dinner platters, appetizers, a turduckhen, veggies and a pie for desert.”

“That sounds great.  Can I get a turducken dinner for two, please?”

“Oh, sorry.  We stopped taking orders day before yesterday.”

“Oh.  Well, a turkey then?  Can I get a good-sized turkey, maybe a twenty pounder or so?  I’ll do the veggies somehow.”

“Sorry again.  No turkeys left.  Maybe I can interest you in a capon?  It’s kind of like a turkey, but in miniature.  It’s a little bird, not much meat on them, but I’m told very tasty.”

He came back to her apartment with two large grocery bags; three capons, potatoes, carrots, peas, ice cream and an apple pie.  Just to be sure he bought a baster, a roasting pan, some knives, an apron and a couple of oven mitts.  He had rented three Jennifer Aniston movies, she had to like one of them, and spent fifty bucks on two bottles of champagne.

The door was unlocked, but the chain was on and he could only see into the hallway.  In the mirror he saw her, naked again, pressed against the wall by a man.  Apparently he had said something she agreed with because she was shouting, “Yes!  Oh, Yes!” in his ear.

He tried to yell something at them, but nothing came out.  He took his groceries home.

Next day, New Year’s Eve, he left a different bag of supplies at her door; a quart of gin, a bag of ice and two boxes of sleeping pills. 

He added a note, “Sorry these are not prescription strength, but hope they do the trick.”

Eugene Murray was born on the day that Douglas MacArthur invaded Inchon, Korea. He's been a dirty face toddler, a reluctant Catholic school student, an altar boy, a crossing guard, body surfer, Mickey Mantle wannabe, self-absorbed adolescent, job-seeker, and receiver of unemployment benefits before finally finding a crevice he could comfortably shape-shift into. Eugene Murray has a family, nuclear in more ways than one, that he cares for deeply and worries about in the traditional ‘wee small hours of the morning’. They are the star around which his wobbly planet orbits. 
To quote Woody Allen, “My only regret in life is that I wasn’t born someone else.” Maybe next time.

* * * 
The Sun is Warmer Down by the Lake
By Allina Nunley

Sadie felt the heat of the sun on her pale, freckled face. The heat was a refreshing contrast to the cool water around her feet. She loved the lake and the land that surrounded it, dotted with little antique houses. She remembered the people that used to live in those houses. Sadie recalled playing with Blondie & Barbie Cartwright. She made fun of their names; they made fun of her red hair. Mrs. Gilbert, always wore giant sunglasses, the oppressive, boxy kind that are an unfortunate mainstay among the AARP crowd in the Midwest. She never seemed to take them off. You could never be sure if she was staring at you or not. Barbie had often theorized that Mrs. Gilbert didn’t have eyes at all.

Jim Gary claimed deep roots in the community. He said that he was partially descended from local Indians, and that his people had lived by this lake for many hundreds of years. Jim was very attached to this almost certainly fictitious origin story. He had a wooden flute that he liked to play at sunset out by the water. His playing never matched up to the Sounds of the Iroquois cassette that could always be heard wafting from his pickup as he pulled into his driveway. The neighborhood kids never minded though. They spent many summer evenings dancing around Jim Gary and his flute.

It was all very Mayberry-like in Sadie’s head. All of the bad things, the squabbles and pains, had been glossed over. That was the joy of growing up.

Sadie looked down at the lake and sighed. She watched as a little twist of her foot caused the still body of water to awaken from its long slumber. How long had it been since anyone had swum in that lake? A year? Two? It had been at least six since the first papers where signed.

Old Mrs. Gilbert was the first to go. She died one night at the age of eighty-two. The influenza that Karen Samuels had certainly passed on claimed Mrs. Gilbert’s life. Her daughter took over the property. Sadie saw the young woman talking to a man that couldn’t have been from her town. He wore the kind of clothes that people didn’t live in, the stiff kind that you could only stand up in. He had smiled at young Miss Gilbert like a Bible salesman and handed her an envelope. Sadie hadn’t thought that it was important at the time, but it was the beginning of the end. Within a month, Mrs. Gilbert’s rhododendrons and violets were torn from the earth. Her famous roses were dragged to the curb to await garbage day.

Jim Gary was next. Sadie’s mother had told her that the stiff man had pressured Jim into it, but Sadie never believed her. She saw the look of shame on Jim’s face as he cashed a big check at the town bank. That was the last time she saw him.

One day, Blondie and Barbie just didn’t show up to school. This was how it went. Newspapers piled up on lawns and men with hardhats started showing up in their gargantuan machines. Some people held out, determined to have the only house in a field of industry, but not Sadie’s parents. They thought that a move would be good for their little girl, or so they said. Even then Sadie was not naïve enough to think that parents only took large sums of money for their children.

It had been three years since Sadie last dunked her foot in the lake. Her skin had missed the hot sun. The sun up north was never warm enough. Every day she felt a tingling under her skin, a yearning for a place that she could barely remember. This was the place where her mind had been formed, from the depths of the lake. This was the place that she saw in her sleep and in her waking dreams. Even in its lonely state, she preferred the company of the lake to the company of her “home.”

Sadie laid down on the grass, exposing as much of her face and neck to the sun’s rays as she could. It was a beautiful day with a baby blue sky, a cool lake, and the whirring sound of machinery coming from just up the hill.

Allina Nunley is a writer and filmmaker. She is pursuing an M.A. in English at CSULA. She holds a B.F.A. in film from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Allina enjoys writing fiction. She does not enjoy writing bios.

* * *

Pillow Talk and Lenny
By Michael James O'Neill

Pillow Talk 

For years, Jasmine and Jack would always end their days with a quiet chat.
           - That was a good day.
           - Yes, we got a lot done.
           - What’s happening tomorrow?
           - I have a doctor’s appointment after work.
           - I’ll start supper. Any mail?
           - Just bills and some junk E-mail.
Eventually they called it a day and drifted off to peaceful sleep.

After a few years, after quite a few disagreements and a fair dose of suspicion, the tone and content had changed.
           - Did you put out the garbage?
           - Yes, the supper was tasteless. What happened?
           - Is your mother still coming this weekend?
           - She’ll call back to confirm.
           - Who was it that called earlier?
           - It’s the new secretary working late. She had a question.
Exhausted from the day and the late night interrogation, they drifted off, tossing and turning, to anything but peaceful repose.

 Lenny

He had just turned thirty-five. The rage had been building up - the lousy job, the long commute, the women that had dumped him. The last one left with all the furniture. Yeah, she was hot but she took everything, even the coffee machine. Alone, he couldn't afford the condo. He moved back home into his old room.

This day had been a disaster: the boss on his back, the car stalling, gridlock. He charged upstairs. He cursed. He kicked the door. His foot went through the flimsy veneer. He yelled a few more times. Then he was quiet. After a while, he heard her voice.

"Lenny, I've made you a nice supper. Come down and eat. You've had a hard day."
"Thanks, Mother. I'll be right down."


She served him still, out of love or out of fear.

Michael James O’Neill has worked in education as a teacher, as a consultant and as a principal. He has written textbooks and materials for students of English as a second language elementary and high school levels. He lives part of the year in the beautiful Beauce region of Québec, Canada, and the other part in the heart of South America: Cochabamba, Bolivia.

* * * 

The Man in the Rearview Mirror
By Allen M. Price

Have you ever watched your best friend die? Have you ever watched a grown man cry? Some say that life isn’t fair. I say that people just don’t care… I could hear it playing from inside my car as I dragged A.J.’s body into the underbrush along the side of the highway. It was one of his favorite Madonna songs. He played it and sang along to it every Saturday night on the way home from Boston. He loved Madonna, and wanted to live the American life. But life, ah, yes life: life was unkind to A.J., unwilling to give him the American dream, and his American love, Malik.

He, Malik and I were med students. And the only black folks in the program. We were tight for the first two years, until A.J. flunked out at the end of the third. He said the pressure was too much. So to stay in the States he applied to another school and became a pharmacist. Malik and I finished the program, and then started our residencies. But shortly after that Malik got engaged and we hardly saw him. A.J. and I remained friends, and were best friends by the time I took the boards.

We had a certain simpatico, people said, everywhere we went. Even after I found out he was gay, after I heard him turn down this smokin’ hot chick with a bootylicious ass who hit on him one night in a club. Dude, what’re you nuts? I asked him rhetorically. Only to find out the truth when the chick turned to me and said my boy’s a faggot ass nigga. I don’t know why he tried to hide it. Gay, straight, didn’t matter to me. I thought we were there for one another, like brothers. Well, almost. I’m African American. He was Black South African. And now that he’s dead I can verbalize it: quite the looker. A.J.’s shimmering brown eyes, deep black skin, bald head, thick chin beard, and South African accent got him mad attention. But he didn’t see it. He was too busy chasing the American dream to see anything besides making lots of money, buying high end clothes, eating out every night, having sex with straight men and trying to snag one of them for his own. He even stopped practicing his religion. I’ll admit now that gay sex tempted me, but acting on it wasn’t likely: my Catholic upbringing reigns over me like smog over L.A. But the only kind of dirt-filled air we get in this neck of the woods occurs late at night in the form of fog, especially on those long drives home from clubbing all evening in Boston, blanketing miles of trees on both sides of the highway, but doing little to dampen our spirits or stop us from going every Saturday night this summer. Perhaps it should have, tonight, because the fog followed us the whole way there.

I drove with the windows down. When you go eighty-five to ninety miles an hour, there’s no need for an air conditioner—that is the air conditioner. An endless stretch of trees, dark and silent, ached for a touch of light. Dark. It was dark—inside and out—even though the yellowish full moon shone through the passing clouds. Silent. It was silent—inside and out—even though the car’s speed awakened the creatures of the night.

A.J. was tweaked out. He had skimmed enough OxyContin from the drugstore he worked at for both of us. He didn’t give a shit about his job. After Malik got engaged, he stopped caring. Became depressed. Started taking antidepressants. And mixing them with the Oxys didn’t help matters. They heightened his disillusion.

“Malik has everything,” A.J. repeated the whole drive there.

“Everything is meaningless,” I repeated back. “A chasing after the wind.”

A.J. was in love with Malik: who, he believed, had it all: African and American, finished med school, passed the boards, a resident, and engaged to an African American woman. A.J. wanted Malik as badly as an illegal immigrant working in the States wants to be a citizen. But at the same time A.J. wanted to be him. Wished he and Malik could be one and the same. It was becoming characteristic for A.J. to chase after something he couldn’t have.

When we got to the club, I called my buddy who worked there so we could get in for free. A.J. gave me a dirty look. I tried reading his eyes to see where it was coming from, but it was like looking down a long and dark empty corridor, like the one we walked down to enter the club, bypassing the line. Then we went up the stairs, stood in front of the bar and scoured the room for a bit before A.J. went to get us drinks. I stepped over to the dance floor’s edge, and after waiting long minutes for A.J. to come back I turned to see him at the bar staring at me, like a guy who just saw his girlfriend kissing another guy. But he wasn’t staring at me, he was staring at Malik who was standing near the dance floor next to some half-naked bro—his hand on the back of the guy’s head, their lips inches away from each other’s.

A.J told me on the first drive up to Boston that he had questioned if Malik was really straight. A.J. said he had messed around with more than enough straight guys to know. Then I questioned A.J. about his fascination with straight guys, his ritualistic behavior that consistently left him open to be anyone’s lock and key.

“Straight guys don’t act all prissy,” he said, “I like a man. I don’t give a shit if he’s got a girlfriend.”

“This too is meaningless,” I said, “a chasing after the wind.”

“If I wanna chase after straight guys, what business is it of yours, anyway?”

“It’s my business ’cause I’m the one who always has to pick up the pieces. Next time call your parents if you gonna keep doin’ this shit.”

Well, he went off on me. Telling me that God had punished him the day he called home and told his parents that he flunked out of med school and then told them that he was gay, and they told him that gays were worse than pigs and dogs and should be killed, and to never come back to Johannesburg, because they weren’t his family anymore. It certainly explained why he stayed in the States. But I know better now.

Steam fogged up the windows behind the shirtless bartenders; laser lights shot aimlessly in everyone’s face; smoke machines ejected smoke on to the dance floor; techno music blared from all corners of the room. A pair of baggy Polo jeans accentuated A.J.’s wide behind, and a Dolce & Gabbana embroidered t-shirt hid his stomach rolls while Malik showed off his muscular torso wearing a tank top and well-fitted jeans. A.J. didn’t work out like Malik did, but he had face, an attention-grabbing face that became austere the longer he stood there and stared at Malik—the drinks in his hands, implacable hatred seeping out his eyes.

I could smell disaster in the air. It filled my lungs with each breath I took, and caused me to drift in and out of coherence. I tried to hold tight to the strings of reality because I knew the drip-drip-drip of A.J.’s accusations would cause a flood of problems Malik wouldn’t be able to handle. But the two hits of Oxy that A.J. had given me on the drive up were making my vision blurry and tripping my mind. It wasn’t until I heard A.J. shout you son-of-a-bitch that I came drugged to the surface, and realized that he had thrown both of the drinks in my face. It stunned me, just like the first time we drove by a rest stop on the way to Boston and he told me that he had had sex with straight guys in them before.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said, “and don’t get on me either.”

“The heart of fools is in the house of pleasure,” I said.

“If you quote once more from that goddamn Bible…” he yelled. Then paused and said, “You make me laugh, you know that? You worship a god who strung up his own son to save the very people that He created. But call me a sinner, and tell me that I should be put to death cuz’ I’m attracted to guys, like I had any say in the matter!”

It didn’t matter what I said. I couldn’t stop him. Nor could I stop him from going off on Malik. His voice screeched over the music. Fury, adoration, disbelief barked over every syllable. I closed my eyes, let the darkness consume me and waited for it to end, for everyone to stop gawking. But I waited and waited and waited beyond a point I know now put us in the situation we’re in right now.  
 
What made him think he’d get away with accusing Malik of being gay, confessing his love for Malik in front of everyone? What rules did he play by? What Hollywood movie was he living in? It was his choice to come to this country; use his initials instead of his real name Ayize Jama; chase a career that he’d never be able to attain; a guy that he’d never be able to have; a dream that’s not even real. He didn’t get it: the American dream is an illusion, and there’s a price one pays to create that illusion. It ain’t free. Nothing in this country is free. The white cracker who wrote the Declaration of Independence owned black slaves, and he knew what he was doing when he changed the pursuit of property to happiness. But I know better now.

The trees cry with each swaying branch. Stars wink through the passing clouds. Darkness beckons for the moon’s light to dwindle. Fog blankets the highway I’m speeding down at 92 miles an hour. I look up into my rearview mirror, and all I can see are flashing red lights coming towards me, so I pull off the road. I peer deep into the mirror, and watch the police officer get out of his car, but as he walks towards me, all I can see is a white light undulating around him.

Why do we have to pretend? Some day, I pray it will end. I hope it’s in this life… I sit staring at my face knotting with anguish while the lyrics hit my mind’s walls like never before. I can feel the pain without A.J.’s singing overpowering Madonna’s. Sadness taints my blood and floods the vessels of my body. But the sadness hasn’t anything to do with my murdering A.J., and making it look like a suicide. Nor does it have anything to do with my not telling him that I got a letter in the mail this morning saying that I won’t get my medical license because of the cheat sheet I was caught with while taking the last part of the boards. Or even the fact that I didn’t tell him my fiancée left me months ago when she followed me to a rest stop and saw me getting sucked off by my buddy. It’s seeing the real me behind my charades: a man who hides deep inside, who I have lost the real me behind: Malik.

Allen M. Price earned his M.A. in journalism with a concentration in health from Emerson College.  He was a proofreader for one of Emerson’s literary journals, Redivider. His journalistic work has appeared in Natural Health magazine and Muscle & Fitness. His fiction has been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Pangyrus, a Harvard-based literary magazine, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. He recently spent time working on his novel with Pulitzer Prize winning author, Paul Harding.

* * * 

No Quarter
By Samuel Wilkes


“An absinthe to end our trip?” Leif asked.

“I shouldn’t,” Estelle whispered.

They stepped to the bar anyway. The last one before their hotel. Estelle removed her broken heels. Leif lit a cigarette. Shadows from Jackson Square flashed on the alley cobblestones. Their final New Orleans night slid out from under them.

“We’re about to close,” huffed the pirate bartender.

“Just one absinthe, please. And a water. We’ll be quick,” Leif begged.

The buxom pirate winked, grabbing two glasses. They watched the water drip over the sugar cube as a milky green fog curled in the glass.

“We needed this trip,” Leif said, turning a smile towards his wife, hoping she had recovered from her breakdown at dinner.

One burning ember died in the ashtray, left from a passerby they never saw or heard. Its remaining trail of smoke bowed to the rickety ceiling fan. Leif watched his wife’s blue eyes skip up and down until she responded.

“I’m sorry I ruined our expensive dinner.”

“You didn’t ruin anything,” Leif lied.

“It’s just. It’s just I’m running out of hope. I’m afraid it’s not going to happen for us.”

Again, as at dinner, Leif didn’t know how to respond. Throughout the three years of trying and two miscarriages he had never heard her so defeated.

Then she lifted as if struck with an answer, “How about this? If I’m not pregnant by spring, I say we just move down to the Quarter and live like artists. We can sit in the cafes all day, travel, paint and do whatever the hell we want. Maybe that’s what we were meant to do anyway.”

He knew she was just venting, but he still didn’t know how to respond. He smirked to let her know she was overreacting and grabbed her hand. The two relocated to a table in the courtyard, away from the large pirate, away from the confines of the closet-sized bar and away from the burden of uncertainty. A violinist, sitting on a bucket across the street, tuned up a Brahms piece. Leif sipped on the green-eyed muse. Estelle watched, turning her water, tangled in her thoughts.

“You know Vincent van Gogh and Manet used to drink this,” Leif said, offering a reprieve from her current concerns. “They say it contributed to van Gogh slicing off his own ear.”

She looked up from her glass, one thin eyebrow arched upwards, “Well, I’m glad I declined your drink offer now.”

“Well, you never really know. But just think if he didn’t drink the stuff. We might not be talking about him today. Might not have ever had The Starry Night.”

She smirked a playful smile and loosened in the night air. The two continued dissolving into past centuries, far from the ticks of clocks. Then worked their way to the present, reminiscing on their New Orleans vacation; with the curvy brass aphrodisiacs, the naked yells, her bruised feet, the leering eyes, the crowded stage and the stumbling streets.

Leif recalled his last time in the Quarter. Same alley bar. During his college days with a girl before Estelle. He couldn’t remember her name, just her talk of other people’s money and fake music. He thought of the choices and the blind luck that led to the present; to have Estelle as his wife and to want no other. He wanted to tell her that any child would be lucky to have such a gentle soul as a mother. He wanted to tell her that he’d be willing to keep trying for another three years. That life will work itself out.

“I’m closing up,” the pirate announced, killing the mood. “I can’t have you here anymore.”

The two resigned from the table and continued down the alley towards Royal Street and towards their room. Leif held Estelle’s broken shoes as she tiptoed on the damp pavement. Unknown echoes bounced behind them.

“Is that selfish?” she asked, swaying against his side.

“I don’t think so. She warned us they were about to close. She can’t—”

“No, what I said earlier. About moving down here. About giving up.”

He stopped and peered up into the starless night as if an answer might be found there.

“How about we flip a coin?” he said on an impulse, hating the sound it made.

“Don’t be crass, Leif.”

“If it’s heads, then we go back to trying. Tails we move down here and forget—”

“Leif!”

As the silver coin flipped under the lights, he glanced to find the hope in her eyes. He caught the piece in his hand and quickly covered it.

“Well?” she pleaded, clutching his arm.

“It’s heads!”

“How do you know? You haven’t even looked.”

“What do you want it to be?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

He slowly put the coin in his pocket without looking, giving her ample time to stop him. He then kissed her forehead, holding his lips there for a lifetime, hoping everything he couldn’t say at that moment would be understood. Distant unknown horns began playing a goodnight waltz to the Quarter. Leif gripped Estelle’s hand as they shuffled across the dim sidewalk into the lights of the hotel.

Samuel Wilkes is a writer, attorney, and bedroom musician living Fairhope, Alabama. He has a love-hate relationship with Alabama, but consistently draws inspiration from her. His short fiction has been published in WhiskeyPaper, Crack the Spine, On the Premises and several others.

* * *
Creative Non-Fiction

The Notch
By Sarina Bosco

“I don’t have a lot of time left,” my father says, standing to the side of a gravel trail that used to be a rail road track. He could mean any number of things, saying this: he doesn’t have a lot of time left for this particular walk. He doesn’t have a lot of time left to live. He doesn’t have a lot of time left to do anything leisurely in general. He doesn’t have a lot of time left today, before he has to go home and do yard work.

I’m twenty-three, a new homeowner, and suddenly terrified.

It’s one of those days where the sun is pouring lazily through the trees, where damselflies are lighting on the ferns and water plants around us. My dog, at our feet, sits with his tongue lolling out over his teeth. I look at my father and I’m not sure how to respond. For years I’ve harassed him about the smoking, the overtime at work, the lack of wanderlust.

And it’s the simple way he accepts the truth and speaks it, aloud, on a morning in late June that has brought me to a halt. Until now I’ve been hurrying to live my own life. To get out on trails, cultivate gardens, write, visit different states, meet people who inspire me. I realize that soon I’ll be watching someone who is close to me slip away.

He takes out a bent cigarette and lights it up right there on the path, with rock faces that have shuddered out of the Connecticut earth surrounding us.

I think to myself that I’m too young to lose a parent. I think about a lot of things in quick succession while wrapping the leash around my palm: all of the house-related tasks I don’t know how to do yet, like cutting moulding at angles or putting up the porch railing. How the back of my thighs burn from yesterday’s run. The fact that I don’t have, and haven’t had for a long time, a significant other. Whether or not that makes my father sad. How I want to show him before we leave this place the old planks on the trail from when the train ran through, and the mountain laurel, and the stream where they release salmon. I think about the family plot out in Wethersfield, with the ugly Alberta pines flanking the headstone.

My dog walks over to my father, panting, and nudges between his calves. He bends to rub the dog’s ears and smiles so that the cigarette hangs off of his lips. I watch the smoke dissipate just above his head, filtering the sunlight, rising up among the cliffs and pines.

*****

Eight months after moving into my house I start calling him for recipes. Shrimp scampi, chicken cordon bleu, chicken francaise, zucchini chips, paiche fillets. Afterwards I check the length of the calls – two minutes and forty-seven seconds, one minute and sixteen seconds. My repetitions of “Okay. Okay. How much though? Okay” seem to last much longer than that.

He never does give me exact measurements, just estimates. “I don’t know,” he says, laughter carrying up the end of his words, “whatever you think. Whatever looks like enough.” And even though that is how I’ve always cooked, I suddenly crave more precise instructions. I want a language of teaspoons, cups, ounces, minutes on the timer. Not the inexactitude of “whenever it looks finished,” which is something I’d say to my mother when she asks how long until the muffins or croissants or pies are done.

I’ve always been better at baking things. Barely mixing ingredients together and watching them rise under heat. But my father lives by taste, by the subtleties of texture and red pepper flakes in pasta dishes. The instinct I’ve watched in him has only just started to well up in me, and I call him impulsively to make sure it doesn’t collapse when my mind is away somewhere.

“How long on each side?” I ask desperately, and on the other end, he laughs.

*****

When he came home from work I would put my feet on his and we would dance to the Beatles. To Huey Lewis and the News. To Prince. To whatever was on the radio that night.

*****

We go fishing out near Groton on party boats, paying too much money to catch too little fish. We never win the pot and sometimes we go home empty handed and sunburned.

When the boat begins its choking purr, my father heads to the bow and points to the left, far out ahead of us at a low green building. “Your uncle worked there,” he says. “Painting submarines.” He tells me about the time they flew to Block Island drunk, in my uncle’s plane, and the goats that he owned, and the tarantula that he kept in a shoebox when he was out at basic in Texas. My uncle lived on a boat for a long time and married three women, one of whom was black. They would go out to clubs together. He tells me all of this and more while we barrel out into the ocean, as though the words were landlocked until now.

Back home he’s silent again as he scales and fillets the fish on a tree stump outside. Inside I dig into an old box of photos and find them. My uncle, tall and broad and dark-haired, with my father’s arm around his shoulders. Both of them smiling, cigarette smoke tinting the air around them.

*****

He tends to forget about how his actions will affect others, and the consequences they will bring. Two years before my prom, he cut down the cherry tree in our yard. We all listened to the chainsaw that day and felt the limbs getting lobbed off as if they were our own. There would be no more milky petals raining down at the end of spring. No more mocking bird nests. No more flaking bark and caterpillars making their way, impossibly slow, to the highest branches.

*****

Toward the end of my childhood I cut the top of my knuckle open trying to carve into an apple tree with an army knife. It wasn’t an uncommon hobby for me, but this time, the bark bit back. The knife snapped in on itself from where I held it at an improper angle and crunched down to the bone. I ran to the house screaming and trailing blood.

I remember losing my breath while thinking about stitches and alcohol that would sting and having to survive the car ride to the hospital. And then there was nothing but my hand under the cold water of the faucet, my father’s huge palm around my wrist – his voice somewhere to my right, unfazed by the event. “Put some duct tape on it,” he said. “Maybe a popsicle stick to hold it straight until it heals.”

*****

His father died in February, my birth month. I didn’t cry at the wake and neither did he. The men at the funeral home accidentally shaved off my nonno’s mustache, and so they made a fake one to replace it. It was waxy and the wrong shade of grey.

Standing in front of the casket greeting relatives I’d never met, we made jokes about priests and the devil.

No one said anything about the gun that had been dismantled all around Nonno’s house – how he had begged for it those last days, how he had shouted for help escaping Mussolini, how my father sat at the edge of his bed at home afterwards quiet for a long time.

*****

Three years into college the cherry tree climbed its way across my skin, up the left side of my ribcage, in ink. He refused to look at me for weeks. I tried to explain to him that those were the roots – the actual roots. Still decaying somewhere near a huge rock in our backyard, but I needed them. I needed to know where and when things began.

*****

What I like about the family plot, or the cemetery in general, is all of the flowering trees. That makes visiting bearable. While Nonna cries and weeds around the headstone my father and I walk around admiring trees we can’t identify. We find abstract gravestones – huge cubes balancing on their corners, intricate geometric designs folding in on themselves – and ignore the angels gesturing dramatically to the earth and whatever is left beneath.

My uncle – the one who drunkenly flew planes - died when I was two. He came back from cancer once, but it got the last laugh in the end by riddling his body and taking him quickly, within months. I imagine that my father was just as silent and solitary at that time as he always has been. When I was younger, I’d ask him carefully if he wanted to go to the cemetery and visit his brother. “No,” he would always say, shuffling around to find his shoes, “he’s not there. Just dirt.”

*****

I stayed with the boy I went to prom with for four years, well into college. In late May of my senior year I put on a long white backless dress and we stood side by side over the stump of the cherry tree, unbalanced on the roots erupting from the ground. Our mothers chatted happily on the lawn while our fathers cracked open Budweisers. Mine left his beer on the porch and went in the house for the old Olympus. The sound of the shutter was louder than anything that day, shattering through the coming dusk. I looked down at my bare feet and remembered that the little white flowers didn’t grow here anymore, too delicate for anything but deep shade.

I got the cherry tree tattoo a week and a half before leaving that boy and driving through two states to go to another college. It wasn’t long before I knew that there was little chance of me ever getting married.

*****

Earlier that day, before I talked him into a walk, I turned the corner of the fence to find him down on one knee in my backyard. He was bracing himself against the earth and breathing hard.

When he stood and realized that I’d seen him, he tried to smile. “What happened?” I asked.

“I wasn’t watching where I was going and lost my balance for a second.” He sauntered off while pulling a pack of Mavricks from his shirt pocket.

It’s strange, the vacuum that erupts in your chest from seeing your father brought low by the simplicity of gravity.

*****

He tends to forget, so I remind him. “Aren’t you lucky –“ I begin.

Lucky I’m pretty. Lucky I was a good student, got scholarships. Lucky I’m not one of those slutty girls. Lucky I’m responsible, that I can take care of my own house, that I can take care of myself. Lucky I’m healthy and don’t borrow money from you.

I list all of this because he forgets sometimes, and because once while he was pumping gas he told me that having kids really just sucks the money and the life out of you. I remind him because I’m trying to apologize for that. Watching him sit with his wrists resting on his knees, his head bent low, inhaling as though trying to catch his breath – I’ve always felt like I was the one to take it from him.

*****

I drive us back to my house from the trail, with my dog in my father’s lap panting happily. He’s covered in a slick of sweat and clearly tired out, but also clearly happy.

"Want something to eat?” I ask, pulling into the driveway. “I have chicken wings, and coleslaw that I made yesterday. I put julienned beets in it.”

“No,” he answers, already digging in his pockets for his keys. “I’ve gotta get home and finish the schedule for work.” He eyes the front of my house where we’ve been pulling out the crippled boxwoods and then looks over at the mound of hostas near the mailbox. “You really should get in there and weed,” he comments, opening his car door. “And you should rake the rest of that dirt over the trench in the backyard. I’ll bring over grass seed sometime this week. I might still have some hay, too, in the shed.” He says all of this while lowering himself into the Toyota and slipping another cigarette from the pack that always appears in his hand. “I’ll call you later this week and let you know when I’m free. Maybe we can bang out the rest of the stump over there.”

“Ok,” I answer. The dog is pulling on the leash, making it bite into my palm. He starts to back out toward the street and I suddenly want to ask him how to make clams casino, even though I don’t eat shellfish. Or maybe orzo, or risotto, or anything that would be trying enough for him to have to spend a while explaining it. I want to copy down every word of every recipe he gives me, or better yet have him write it out. His letters always have an oddly sober flourish to them, beautifully shaped for someone who didn’t speak much less write English until he was almost ten.

He taps the brake before pulling out and drops his chin, waving at me through the windshield. I wave back and feel much smaller than I have in a long time.

In the house, where I have more dishes to do and dinner to give the dog, I find my work schedule. Maybe we can get out again later this week. But even as the thought forms, so does the doubt. There is barely time, as it is, for two minute and forty-seven second phone calls. It could be a week or more before I see him again, and in that space it could happen without me even knowing it. I could be at work the next time he falls to his knees, and it could be something much worse than imbalance. His heart giving out. The tar in his lungs finally catching up to him. A clot in his veins, which have always been bulging and bruised under skin that gets thinner every day.

I stare out across the pines that border my back yard and the unused field beyond, flowering cigar trees breaking across its surface. In my mind I see him on the trail again – how his shoes rest on the gravel. The stains on his shirt, the way the breeze stirs what hair he has left, the wrinkles that form at the corners of his eyes just before he speaks. I see the way the cigarette hangs lightly from his fingers and the glint of the sun on his glasses. I try to burn it there – to put it into some kind of mental photo that I can come back to.

I want to remember when the world tilted, and I saw one person’s end coming long before I’d even started toward my own.

The knowing changes everything.
 
Sarina Bosco is a full-time New Englander, hiker, homeowner and gardener. When she isn't writing, she's probably washing dishes or chasing her dog around.

* * * 

Cruel to be Kind
By Barbara Carter

She struts down a hill in the park in four-inch sandals, towards me and the guys.

“Sit,” I pat a soft grassy spot. She carefully folds her legs under her. From out of her bag she pulls the Spumante, pops the cork, tips the bottle and takes a long swallow. She passes it to me. I drink. The bubbles dance down my throat.

Her first question is, “Where’s Paul?”  So predictable, like a Barbie with a pull string. “Has he been here?”

None of us answer.

“Forget him for a minute, will you?” I say, frustrated that she thinks a few nights sleeping together makes him her boyfriend. She should stop being a fool, but she doesn’t want to listen to me. I motion that I don’t want more wine. I lean over and grab a beer.

“I’ve got to find him,” she says.

Fuck. She doesn’t stop.

I shake my head and say, “Can’t help you.” I turn away and take another drink.

The guys laugh. One says, “Yeah, right.” 

Another one says, “Yeah, like you don’t know where he is.” He stares straight at me. Smirks.

I throw my beer cap and hit him in the shoulder.

She turns to the guys, flicking back her hair. “Do you know where Paul is?”

I blurt. “They’re just being assholes.”

They grin, elbow one another and laugh harder. I bite my lower lip.

She turns back to me, her long mascara lashes not blinking. “Was he here today?”

I stare her in the eyes and shrug.

“Was Paul here?” she says, flicking back her hair again. “Why won’t you tell me? Come on.” she spins to face the guys. “Someone tell me something.”

I jump up, spilling my beer. I swing around. “Do you want to know where he is?”

“Yes.” She stands.

I grab her arm. “Let’s go.” I lead her up the hill, not caring that she can’t walk as easily in her shoes as I can in mine. “I’ll show you,” I say, nearing her car. “Get in and drive.”

I tell her to turn left at the stop sign. Right, then another left. “What the…” she turns, looking at me. She realizes we’re heading to my house.

“Look at the road,” I say. “Keep driving.”

She turns up the music, that annoying Bee Gees disco. I liked their folk ballads better. Maybe she should start listening to their old stuff again, like “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” or “I Started a Joke.” 

She turns up my parents’ driveway and puts the car in park. “What the—” 

“Come on,” I open the door and get out. “Follow me.”

She slams the car door shut behind her.

I lead her up the stairs to a closed bedroom door.

She pauses, waiting for me to explain.

“Go on, open it. See what’s inside.” I give her a push. “Find Paul.”

I step back, turn and walk back down the stairs.

I hear the door creak open, then her scream.

She found exactly what I wanted her to find, my sister and Paul in bed. They’d been at the park earlier in the day and had left shortly before she’d arrived. Maybe now she’ll get  that he’s not her boyfriend.

BARBARA CARTER is an artist and writer.  Lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Has been published in Enhance Magazine, Fictitious magazine, and UNDERSTOREY.  She is married with three grown children, two grandchildren, and another on the way. She writes about her life experiences. 

* * *

Nips and Tucks
By Katacha Diaz

It was a typical, rainy Seattle day in spring 1982.  My husband’s brother and wife were honeymooning in the Pacific Northwest.  This was Tania María’s first trip to the United States, so I was roped into accompanying her to one of the Emerald City’s premier shopping malls.  Truth be told, shopping was one of my least favorite activities.

Rico’s petite and vivacious Brazilian wife was clearly a woman on a mission – a high-end shopping spree for top of the line cosmetics and pricey perfumes, preferably French, she purred seductively in her Portuguese accent.  Walking in 5-inch stilettos like a catwalk fashion model, Tania María gracefully sashays from counter to counter daintily squirting perfume on her wrists. Lusting after newly discovered French scents that are not available back home in Brazil, my sister-in-law lines up a rather impressive collection of perfumes she fancies and selects four to purchase.

“Just bring a case of Chivas,” she said, happily trying on and purchasing a pair of giant Chanel sunglasses, a favorite and must-have item for the women in her social circle, like the Manolo Blahnik sexy stiletto strappy sandals she was wearing on our shopping adventure.  When she spots the Chanel cosmetics counter a few feet away, it was an instant magnet and she makes a beeline for a complimentary makeover.  I follow behind carrying shopping bags entrusted to my care for “safekeeping.”  The cosmetologist expertly applies skin care creams, face make-up, lipstick and mascara, while a sales associate stands by jotting down my sister-in-law’s order and gathering the growing collection of items to be purchased.  After Tania María settles splurge-worthy luxury beauty products bill, I suggest refreshment break at a trendy bistro with outdoor and indoor seating ideal for people watching. 

Earlier my sister-in-law had mentioned something about bringing a case of scotch but didn’t elaborate; I was at a loss and somewhat curious.  “Why scotch?” I asked.  And then, to my surprise, I discovered that Chivas Regal 18-Year Scotch was not only the coveted libation of Brazil’s aristocratic elites and the nouveau riche; it was also used to barter for goods and services, including nips and tucks with her family’s favorite plastic surgeon and a close relative. 

In 1982 I was thirty-six years old and finishing up graduate school at the University of Washington.  Several years earlier I had undergone major surgery, a life-altering event, so I was not a good candidate for cosmetic enhancement surgical procedures involving the end of a scalpel. 

Tania María was also in her mid-30s, and proudly shared that she was a veteran of multiple cosmetic improvement surgeries, including the famed Brazilian butt lift, liposuction, and breast implants.  In Brazil, she explained, taking a sip of her caffé latte, plastic surgery was a status symbol and something to brag about.  It was a woman’s job to look beautiful because Brazilian men like beautiful women, so plastic surgery was part of a woman’s beauty régime to look beautiful.  Nowadays, she said, smiling, many pre-nuptial agreements in her social circle include an extra allowance clause to cover a leading board-certified aesthetic plastic surgeon’s fees for the wife’s periodic nips and tucks. 

My tête-à- tête with Tania María was not only informative, but also confirms that Brazil was still a sexist country.  Obsessive tinkering was part of their culture and a lucrative industry supported by Brazilian women consumers.

Afterwards my sister-in-law and I took the escalator up to the second floor to visit a popular designer shop.  Tania María’s eyes fell on a mannequin dressed in lavish turquoise blue haute couture halter gown with a plunging neckline.

“Très chic!  Why don’t you try it on?”  I suggested.

“Oh, no,” my sister-in-law told me in a whisper, pointing at her breasts.  “My implants are no longer fashionable.  Have you seen the latest models in Vogue and Bazaar?” 

I shook my head.

Tania María smiled,  “Flat chest.”  She was seriously contemplating her fourth cosmetic enhancement procedure – replacing breast implants with trendy smaller ones.  Although I was curious, I did not ask if she’d consulted with my brother-in-law on the breast reduction matter, or if they had a pre-nuptial agreement in place with an allowance for nips and tucks with her family’s plastic surgeon.    

In keeping with the plastic surgery theme, Tania María brings up a family visit to Brazil that in reality was still years away.  She chats enthusiastically and provides a breakdown of cosmetic enhancement procedures her plastic surgeon cousin performs  – face-lifts, liposuction, nose or ears job, Botox, butt implants, and breast implants or lifts.  The nips and tucks deal was all-inclusive – private hospital, post-op medical care, 30-day convalescence stay at a posh country club with daily maid service, personal chef, and masseuse was included.  And a case of Chivas seals the deal!  

There’s a first time for everything.  Nips and tucks with a leading board-certified aesthetic plastic surgeon in a private hospital in Belém, located near the mouth of the Amazon River, was something to ponder.  Convalescing at a posh country club was certainly inviting and the perfect exotic get-away from rainy Seattle days and the rigors of academia.  In my mind’s eye I visualize casual tropical setting with lush gardens and swaying palm trees, the carefree sounds of bossa nova and samba jazz tunes lingering in the air, leisurely siestas in cozy hammock, and tropical mango and passion fruit rum cocktail with a colorful little umbrella propped on the side of an elegant tall glass.

It’s lunchtime.  We make our way to a nearby elegant restaurant that offers fine dining and a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy a pre-lunch cocktail and a leisurely Latin-style lunch with our husbands.  When we entered the restaurant, Rico’s eyes fell on our shopping bags.  “How did it go?” he asked.

“Mission accomplished!”  I said, handing over his new bride’s collection of shopping bags that she’d entrusted to my care.  “Tania María made a wonderful contribution to the local economy!”

Later that afternoon, on the drive back to our student apartment, I asked my husband to stop at the nearest liquor store.  He scratched his head and looked puzzled. 

“I need to place an order for a case of Chivas Regal 18-Year Scotch,” I announced. 

“Are you kidding?” he said.  “We don’t drink scotch.”

“It’s for nips and tucks,” I said, laughing.

Katacha Díaz earned her BA and MPA from University of Washington.  She was a research associate at the University of California, Davis.  Among the many children’s books she has authored are Badger at Sandy Ridge Road for the Smithsonian Institution’s Backyard series, Carolina’s Gift: A Story of Peru and Wild Horse Country for Soundprints.  Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Twisted Vine, Foliate Oak, Guideposts, Turtle, New Moon, Collecting Figures, Dollhouse Miniatures, and more.  She lives in Astoria, Oregon, where she is at work on a short-story collection and memoirs.

* * * 
Boats & Things
By Stephanie Flood

{EXHIBIT A.}

Discovered Old Notes from 2013
*Condition: crumpled, stained and torn out of a small notebook

           #1

It seems that I’ve been fighting this love of mind, choosing rhyme over reason, merely to get closer to the flame. I realize, I don’t want to lie, as a writer. I want to elaborate the truth. Lies come from meaningless debris, which much of the world is polluted by. I want to take real thoughts and set them free.

           #2

Love is in the labor. This writing has been a meditation and I’ve been fighting to sustain the zen. I am more extremely aloof these days, off and on for a while, so adamant at finding my way, knowing my source, knowing who I am, finding love again and never letting it go.

           #3

I’m also not doing very good these days. Sick as ever. Sleepless nights. Cough medicine doesn’t work anymore. Shaky these days. Really shaky.

           #4

There’s someone new in my life. He lives far away and it’s causing a huge depression. Or maybe meeting him is. He’s everything I could ever want and need, has a beautiful mind. He’s also outgoing, sociable. I don’t know why we work, but I feel like it does. I feel alive with him and now that I’m back, I see what’s been lacking, and I don’t know how to fill in that gap. Where can I find laughter?

           #5

A comedy club? I could try to write skits, something bizarre and unfamiliar to my nature. If I don’t do something new, I’m going to blow up. I’ve already decided to start swimming. Just feels like so much of life is scattered. Not contained. Not cohesive.

           #6

Writing is peace. It is my action to peace. It is my will in ink, letters. It’s all about feeling, I guess. There’s a lot that can be done with this action. It can become a medium, a vehicle, a train. I believe I am finding the magic in it after all. The smoke in the wheels I can wear these clothes. I can act this way. But it’s the stupa that matters. The ocean. The life within.

 
                             We paint
                       Spaces we want
                              to Visit

 
{EXHIBIT B.}

Discovered Most Current Notes from 2015
*Condition: neatly bound in a cute, little notebook with vines, flowers and bird motifs on it

February 9th

           On the Amtrak train
           from Flagstaff to Los Angeles
           late at night:
                       “Yeah, did you all here any screaming over here?”
                       Asks an attendant
                       “No,” We all say together

2:00 a.m.
           The train hits
           something
           We’re stopped for a couple hours
           Inside the Bathroom
           on the lower level--
           “Ja Rule”
           is scratched on the front door
           Someone knocks on each bathroom door--
           “Yes, someone’s in here!” I yell

6:30 a.m
           A women on a loudspeaker saying the San Andreas Fault
           is close by
           Screaming children
           A drugged out girl asking for dope or pills

4:00 p.m./ Los Angeles Amtrak Station
           Older, well-off white woman wearing a black hat
           and sporty tennis shoes
           Middle-aged brunette woman with a walking
           disability and a cane
           Old Asian man wearing a white jacket
           and boyish sneakers

           Track 11/ about to board the train to Santa Barbara
                       Being rudely interrogated by a harsh policeman
           wearing a badge as a necklace
                       His minion asks me if I have anything embarrassing in my suitcase
                       “Just my underwear,”
                                   I say really loudly

           Observation Cart
                       “Sini valley, I think that’s the name of the place,” says
                       a woman behind me
                       A wall in front of apartments with vines covering
                       an unused doorway, passing
                       Los Angeles Ave

                       NOTES

                                   Writing nonfiction is brutal game. You sacrifice
                       living it to document it.

                                   Everything is a hyper-reality

                       THE PLACE IN-BETWEEN

                                   I write on a train to Santa Barbara. There is everything I’m not
                       describing as we head to the oceanside. I wonder what else to write
                                   about. There are religious fanatics killing people in the
                       name of God in the Middle East. There are police officers harassing
                                   minorities boarding the Amtrak trains in L.A. There is both ugly
                       and beautiful scenery passing me by, as I sit in the observation
                                   cart. There are so many people out there, with jobs, families,
                       classes, as realities evolve in multitudes of shapes and forms.
                                   There is a musician playing a guitar.

February 10th

7:00 a.m.
           Huge king sized bed
           Haash’ke makes a snorting noise and wakes up suddenly
           Continental breakfast
           Heat on

           THOUGHTS

                       I want to make a living.
           Sometimes I wonder if I
           should
                       find a mentor.

10:00 a.m.
           Cue tips littered randomly on the sidewalk
           Plate tectonics moving the land
           Butterfly on a piece of wood at an intersection--
           makes me stop and wait
           Smooth rock nestled on the ocean sand
           Dragonflies
           Walked to the Santa Barbara zoo
           Picked up a brochure on the way about a trolley
           Passed an Asian woman and her family feeding a chipmunk--
           her eldest daughter records on an iPhone
           Haash’ke explores the sea life capsized on the beach

6:00 p.m.
           Haash’ke gives corn powder and prayers to the ocean at sunset

February 11th

           Sometimes the worlds we build are full
of illusions. Especially love. People are never as
           perfect as you want them to be. I wonder, why
is it so hard to get close to anyone these days?
           Why is it so hard to get close to one’s own
self? I now believe that I have to choose
           something to do with my life.

           I feel a set of drama clicking in with me and
Haash’ke. It feels like it’s all revealed this
           morning; maybe I asked for the perspective
last night, maybe I finally wanted to poke
           the holes of this paper lantern and see the source
of our burning engines. If it’s love, it should
           find a way, it should lead us to the right place,
no matter if we stay together or not.

           What people make is art in all shapes and forms.
Maybe that word, “illusion,” is better termed as
           “art.” But the heart of it, lies within the painter.
And each story belongs to the writer.

           We are wheels turning the engines on,
bringing the train forward.

           We go through tunnels, under sea life, graveyards
and industry, and open pastures, and rivers.

           We think, the things people do, the people
we’re with, the place we are “now” is real,
           but it isn’t, because it all changes. The nouns.
The verbs. What doesn’t change is the element
           of change.

           Falling in love is like falling into
the biggest illusion of all.

           I’m coming up for air and I feel delirious, exhausted,
startled.

           A little sad.

           Last night deteriorates and I accept
it all the way I accepted that
           accusatory cop at the Amtrak station.
It all leads us to growth if we let
           the opposite in.

           It just may be, the truth to our human existence
lives in poetry, beauty, ugliness, pain, but
           not confusion. Not in writing “what is,” but by making
impressions in these transitions.

ROOM SERVCE

           Knock Knock.
                       I think I left my card in your room.
           Knock Knock.
                       I think I left my socks on your nightstand.
           Knock Knock.
                       I think I left my kidneys in the fridge.
                       It’s a long story.
           Knock Knock.
                       I think I left a purple vase. It’s about
                       five inches tall. There it is!
                       Sorry about that.

 10:23 a.m.
           Asked an attendant at the Amtrak station about
new security procedures--explained the incident
           in L.A., he doesn’t know anything about that. They
don’t do anything like that here. L.A. could be
           different. Suggested I talk to
customer service.

11:00 a.m.
           Back at the sea. Sitting on the sand,
as Haash’ke plays in the water with red boxers on.
           I see him and my heart gushes, and
the mystery happens all over again. I feel a new
           dawn approaching in me, and it
may be that the ocean has awakened a part of
           myself that needed this.
Revival. Release. A sucking in. A holding.
           A mesmerizing dilemma.

           I feel the warmth of the sun
blanket my legs, arms, face. It makes my
           skin gently burn and turn
browner. “It isn’t what we ever
           think,” I write. “It’s more, always
more than we could ever hold
           in our minds.”

           On a whale-watching boat
           oil rigs
           a couple of dolphin fins
           the Channel Islands in the distance
           Tecate beer
           A whale guide I can’t use because I’m too seasick
           Rocking everywhere
           Whale blowing water out of their blow holes

 11:00 p.m.
           Thai restaurant at night
           electronic music
           sex

 February 12th

           Anxiety attack @ 2:00 a.m. last night
           Charmed on a digital television in our hotel room
           Divination from The Book of Change
           Collecting sea shells
           Amtrak Pacific Liner--membership idea
           Haash’ke wants to get a haircut

           IDEAS FOR HAASH’KE

                       Go to college for a degree in biology,
           horticulture, Native American restoration or conservation
                       subjects, live near the Channel islands,
           although this may take a period of waiting.

           IDEAS FOR ME

                       Get my profile up and started for writing freelance.
           I’d like to try memoirs, biographies, historical
                       pieces. Have thoughts on travel, have thoughts
           on finding a mentor, have thoughts on
Southern California. Should I try
           multimedia? $50 a piece? Freelance
ideas regarding he past? Abandoned mansions? A timeline
           of events? There’s Jerome. Can’t get
inspired in Arizona. So, where else? Shipwrecks? Need to seek
           out new material.

           A hyper Amtrak attendant on the loudspeaker--
           it’s her last time working for them

 February 13th

           Back in Flagstaff
           Haash’ke goes to work and says, “see you later,” as I walk to Natural Grocers
           “See you,” I say, unsure of myself
           PBS documentary about a sloth named Velcro
           Laundry all day
           Funeral procession on the road to the Police Department
           Fingerprinting for substitute teaching
           Two months of waiting
           Created Writer’s Profile on Elance.com
           Finished Personal Website

February 14th

           Edited a photo of boats at the harbor in Santa Barbara
           Boats & Things complete

{ THE END }

Stephanie Flood is a Filipino-American writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. She has a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Bachelor's in Journalism from Northern Arizona University. She has essays, fiction, and video published in local magazines, newspapers, travel blogs, offbeat publications, and small journals. 

* * * 
On Line Dating in the Golden Years
By Nancy Smiler Levinson

At seventy-five, I am not so old that I should accept living the rest of
my years confined to a narrow world of widowhood.  While I’m no Mrs.
America, neither am I toothless, face-lifted, or Rubenesque (only sporting
a muffin-top mid-section which can be tamed by squeezing into a Spanx).

I can sit comfortably with a snowy-topped, slightly stooped date,
over a tuna melt in a delicatessen booth and converse on numerous
topics – politics, literature, art, theater. . . medicare, trustworthy auto
mechanics in town. . . as well as ask thoughtful questions, yet not ones
requiring TMI  (too-much-information) answers:

   Would you be comfortable talking about your wife?
   When and how did you recognize your interest in: civil engineering?
   teaching folk music?  competitive Scrabble? exploring caves?
   collecting miniature ceramics? learning Pashtu? decorating cakes?
   Do your Siberian Husky and angora cat get on with each other?
   How long do you leave your turkey in the oven?

So, a few months ago I steeled myself and bravely put myself out there.  
Without a playbook on septuagenarian dating, I did it. I went online. 
A dating site.  A hoot, if you will.

Friends warned caution.  Yes, I am of sound mind enough knowing
never to give out my social, bank or credit card information to anyone.
No money lending either. Not under any circumstance. Ever!
No leaving my purse unattended, and no mention of my mother’s
maiden or first pet’s name.  

Admittedly, I felt uncomfortable at the thought of kissing a strange
man.  I began in the direction of expecting to simply meet an honorable
interesting, fun, humorous, in-fair-shape companion, or what is known
in the golden years as an “activity partner.”  Oh, and preferably a
widower who also had a happy marriage and knew the anguish of
lost love, the life spun upside-down, and then the human need
to live it forward. 

One by one the wizards behind the site’s curtain offered that I
“find [my] magic” with Phunnyguy, SparkyD, Victor4107226,
MensaMan, Naturelover, Caretodance, RUlonelytoo, Dragonslayer. . .
widowed and divorced men behind those user names, marketing
themselves as sincere, sunny, big-hearted, love to laff,
highly-educated or not. . .and at varying ages. Caution was required
here, too.  Ages can be true or false; photos dated, careers enhanced.

Then, how to consider men who “wink” or “favor” me, when
aged 35, 42, 51. . . a young saxophonist in Shrevesport, Louisana
“willing to relocate;” a 49-year-old in Pittsburgh seeking a “slim, attractive,
redhead between 37 and 80?”  Joke? Desperately lonely?  Perverse?  Very
perverse?  OMG.

Shapes and sizes across the board fluctuated from “trim ‘n athletic,”
to “a few extra pounds,” with several additionally boasting “excellent health,”
(lest a woman fear caretaking at this stage in life), while a handful
candidly revealed prostate surgery, hip replacement, or trying to
quit smoking. 

Interests?  Bridge, fine dining, motor home travel, beach walking,
golf, fly fishing, museums, movies (old and new) music (listening and playing),
antique shopping, swap meets. . . and an occasional individual wishing
that some woman would believe that he water-skiis, sails, climbs
rocks, plays tennis, and works out five days a week.  One said he’d
forgive a woman if she is “not a rocket scientist as long as she is intelligent.”
Another put-it-out-there-elder admitted being “thirsty to love.”

An 88-year-old man, having read on my profile that I am a writer,
wasted not a moment of his ticking time, emailed that his deceased wife
had been a poet and proposed that I “relocate” to his home
where I would be provided a writing room of my own.  (You know,
like Virginia Woolf wanted.)

Another wrote that he still mourned his wife and desired
merely a compassionate woman for nightly phone (not pillow) talk.

Yet another, a retiree with whom I spoke seemed smart and
politically liberal enough for me. posted his history as having been
a public health professor, a thoracic surgeon, dean of a medical
school, and founder of a women’s clinic in Ethiopia. What!
Not just red flags, but an entire parade full!  After spending
an inordinate amount of time piecing together his real name,
googling and making far-off phone calls, as anticipated, each and every
contention indeed was a disconnect. 

To be sure, I broke the ice first with a few women-seekers.
A Parisian (born), photographed appropriately in beret, with dimpled,
beguiling smile, and a come-hither look in his twinkling eyes,
entitled his response to my query about corresponding: 

    “Life is a great Art, the supreme art is to live it.” 

Then, “Thank you, Madame, for your  kind comments and most
specifically about your interest in the crown of my favorite books  list.
I wonder if could find the glue that ties most of them together,
the theme that unites.  The only one seemingly outside the realm
is ‘The Little Prince.’” 

He signed off by copying and sending two Paul Eluard poems,
“And A Smile” and “Good Justice.”

Despite no mention of meeting Madame for café au lait,
I printed the poems for myself because they are beautiful
and touching, then sighed, Au revoir, Monsieur, you arrogant bastard.

Another man, age 72, a retired executive, replied, “I can’t wrap
my head around dating an older woman.”  (That’s the thanks I got for
being age-honest).

I met Al for coffee in a public place, public being protectively important,
along with a friend being apprised of the place and time.  I’d searched him first,
reassuring myself that as professed, he indeed had written and published
several biographies, including one on a Supreme Court Justice.  Not bad.
But he was inches shorter than the short height he’d claimed, and despite my
recognizing Mickey Rooney with multiple wives and Tina Fey inches taller
than her husband,  I couldn’t find a mature-enough comfort zone
to accept such a height difference for me.

While sipping cappuccino foam, Al dived right into relating his
lifestyle —a first marriage ending in divorce, a second that
became an open marriage until it exploded, and a third wife dying and
leaving him a widower.  Wait. There’s more to this checkered scallywag.
Since her passing he’d had three serious relationships but they, too,
had dissolved.

True or not, I thought only OMG what stuff goes on, what stories
people have to tell, what lives human beings live!

After briefly sharing the short story of my long union, my husband’s
protracted illness, and my struggle caregiving, we talked a bit about
history and biographies, however, he didn’t appear particularly
interested in the books I’d written for young adults 
(one each on Columbus and Magellan).  Nor did he offer to buy 
a Starbucks croissant or cakepop for me to enjoy with my tall decaf cap. 

A handshake departure and a nice to meet you clinched a strong
mutual non-interest.  Not a match.

I met MartinT for coffee   Was his online photo photoshopped?
Now, don’t rebuke me. I am not judgmental.  I don’t seek gorgeous
or even good looking. This man simply was not appealing.
He was unattractive from top to midriff (above the table line),
revealing a saucer-sized stain on an ill-fitting houndstooth 
jacket.  Hair was combed down over protruding ears.

At some point he complimented me, gee I’m a good listener,
of course, unaware, that I could barely force myself to talk at all. 
Mostly, I nodded, a live bobblehead.

It’s hurtful to label anyone a loser.  The word itself disheartens
me. Sadly, though, I realized that essentially he’d been rejected his
entire life.  On his profile he’d checked his status:  divorced.
I learned outright without a blink that he’d been in a marriage
of thirty-some years, but his wife had never really loved him.

I felt like crying for MartinT, especially when he spoke of next time
showing me some of his paintings rendered in a community art class. 
With sincere pity for someone else, rather than my ongoing self-pity
at missing my husband, I responded that I’m sure his paintings must be
lovely, but I wasn’t comfortable, not ready for a relationship,
only relearning how to date.  Crestfallen, he shuffled to the parking lot
and drove off.   I wept (inside) for the poor misbegotten thing.

Well, I’d put myself out there, and with hope fading, I decided
to step up my adventure, maybe go a little wild, and I answered
a message from Cowboyhank.  Pictured in a ten-gallon hat
and with a horse.  Posted: age 78, six-two, one-eighty pounds, blue eyes
(it’s a category, but does anyone care about eye color? ), and lives
on a ranch a couple hours from L.A.

This could be a true hoot!  And what a kick it would be to crow about
dating a dude!

Cautiously, not giving out my phone number or real email address,
I called from my cel phone, so he’d not catch my home caller ID.
He was living on his family-owned ranch, then up for sale.
Meanwhile, he was involved creating a software program having
something to do with agriculture, not a word of which I understood.

A week later he emailed through the online connection
that he was coming to the city on Saturday and why don’t we meet
for coffee mid-day. (Not Starbucks) With that arrangement confirmed
we exchanged real names, which then gave me the gunshot to google.

Wide-eyed at my computer screen, I gasped.  There appeared
a document,  “Review Department of the State Bar Court. 
Public Matter Designated for Publication.”

Cowboyhankpanky  had been an attorney practicing law many
years in the past. The document exposed the story of how he had been
disbarred after misappropriating clients’ funds. Many clients. Big funds.  
On another matter, he had even been incarcerated, although he didn’t
serve his full 180-day sentence.

Seemed that he long had a money-management problem and
all these decades later was likely looking to manage mine. 
With my heart forgetting to beat, I said to myself, “Well, little lady,
you surely did get yourself roped in.”  Regaining a pulse,
I struck the keyboard with force.  Coffee meet cancelled.  Not
comfortable.  Not ready.

A friend wondered why I hadn’t told him the truth, that he
had been found out, that I had the goods on him, that he ought to be
reported to the site.  Ever cautious and prudent, I screamed Never!
He could find and lasso me, then bludgeon me to death.
So— my nearly wild ride with a cowboy/dude/jailbird rode
right off the dusty trail before the sun set.

At this moment, sitting alone in a museum café with a paper pad
and pen (no, I don’t have an iPad or laptop) I’m thinking that
writing, or the art thereof, actually is my closest, my best companion.

Then I sigh.  Is remaining online worth it?  If I do, I’d have to
meet my match soon. Time is ticking.  Even as I write, I am aging.

But, then, I review my brave escapade so far, cringe and think:
if only I could be introduced personally to a gentleman or meet one
in the library or inadvertently bump shopping carts with one at
Trader Joe’s, I’d be rid of this sad, demoralizing quest.

Meanwhile, I haven’t shut down my membership yet. (You know
what Emily Dickenson said about hope.) 

Nancy is author of MOMENTS OF DAWN: A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family; Affliction & Affirmation. Her prose poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Poetica; Touch: Vine Leaves; Blood and Thunder; and Third Wednesday. Stories have been published in Confrontation and Phantasmagoria. She lives in Los Angeles.

* * *

The Hammock
By Kate Tagai

The hammock swings weightless in the evening breeze. As you walk from the car to the front door after work you notice it and think, “I’ll come back out with a book for a few minutes. That will relax me after this stressful day.” You walk into the house and change out of your fitted white oxford shirt that pulls across the shoulders and short polyester skirt that almost looks like real wool, but that you found in the bargain bin at the Goodwill.  As you come downstairs your eye catches the pile of dishes from last night, so you fill the sink and begin to wash them.  As you scrub at the stiffened bits of food, your stomach growls.  You glance at the clock, startled when it tells you it is six o’clock already.  You reach into the crisper for the carrots and snap peas and begin cooking supper.  You decide that after dinner you’ll go relax in the hammock.

Once dinner is done and the dishes stacked beside the sink, unrinsed, you remember you have to pay a few bills and that they really need to be in the mail tomorrow. You aren’t sure where you left the checkbook.  You eventually find it under months of unfiled papers and once you notice them, you have to file them. When you finally lay your head on the pillow you think, “Tomorrow I’ll enjoy the hammock. I really need to relax.”

When you sleep, you dream of childhood summers when entire Tuesdays were spent reading adventure fiction in the hammock, until the rough cotton knots imbedded themselves so deeply in your skin that you resembled the soft moldy orange hanging in its red netting bag.

But when you wake to the shrill alarm at 6 a.m the memory dream is forgotten.  You get up and prepare for another day, choosing another professional outfit, checking papers in
your briefcase, barely stopping to register the crisp blue sky outside the windows.

In the spring you had dusted the spider webs from the hammock and checked the cotton for rot. You had oiled the frame joints where they rusted in the cold dampness of winter. As you scrubbed and painted the few rusty spots you thought of all the lazy summer hours, after work, you would spend relaxing.

All summer on your way to and from the car you’ve noticed the hammock strung on the posts under the shade trees by the pond.  Perfect, you always think, wishing the day would speed by so you can come home and insert yourself into that tranquil scene.  Each time you cut the grass, you climb down from the mower to shift the hammock this way and that to keep the lawn neat and tidy.  It is a hassle, that shifting dance you do with the hammock, but worth it.

One August afternoon, as you pass from the car to the front door, you detour to finally sit on the hammock.  The bird feeder hangs in a birch tree near your head and the birds, unused to the intrusion, flap in irritation.  They land in the branches. You peer up wondering if it will rain viscous white shit. The squirrel runs up the trunk of the birch, across the branches and halfway down the cherry tree on the other side.  He chatters like your morning alarm but he has no snooze button. He runs across the branches, chattering. The hammock is his territory. You are an intruder.  A dragonfly buzzes low over your head and lands in a spot of sun near your feet.  Its white abdomen pulses and it twists its eyes in different directions. You didn’t know they could do that. He takes off after another dragonfly dancing over the pond.  With your eyes closed the dragonflies’ sound like the wasps that beat themselves against your windows and fly angrily around the kitchen looking for someone to blame.  The squirrel is still chattering, a bird flaps its wings very close to your head and the dragonfly lands on your toe. You jump at the sharp points of feet and the hard insect feel of it.  

“This isn’t relaxing,” you think as you collect your briefcase and jacket and head inside.  The next morning on the way to work you think how tranquil it looks with the early morning mist rising over the water.  The squirrel's distress, the birds flapping, the needle like feet of the dragonfly are a faded memory. 

After the first light snowfall melts you unclasp the chains of the hammock and dismantle
the metal support. There is sadness in putting it away and removing the last sign of
summer.  A sluggish colony of earwigs tumbles out.   You wash off the bird droppings and hang the hammock against the shed wall, propping the stand beside it to wait out the
winter months. You think, “It is so nice to have a hammock.”  

Kate Tagai received her MFA in creative non fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes essays in the margins of the day, lives near the ocean, and spends as much time on islands as possible.

* * * 
Poetry

A Poem for Us
By Jevin Lee Albuquerque

Snow blinding eyes, far above ground
staring down to earth, searching for
fox prints, patterned in snow

Outfoxed, winter’s cold touch, yours
beneath sheets, sweet-sweaty-paws
committed, ravaged, wounded

Against God’s willing
to love, night after night, entwined
tendrils of the heart, hissing

Poetic feast, Christ-missed, family
hound-missed in heart shaped rhythm
our pure-honey-mead

Yellowstone hymns in Grizzly’s breath
danger is ours, the hound
who crossed rivers without looking back

Tangled is memory, hearts
in the chatter of rocks, creeks, bodies
getting over, again and again

Skinned lovers, spirit, blood,
guts out there, exposed
in the mountains, deep
in the mountains, a set of fox prints
Angel’s feet, on the horizon, sun

* * *

Three Poems
By Jyothsnaphanija

An Edged Space

My village has peninsulas at the end of the streets, anklets paleness inside, twittering feet, kalankari fabrics outside the porches,
Buzz of sewing machines, paddy fields, jasmine buds, cow milk, turmeric mornings,
Grassy lanes, spring birds, their songs, their language,
Paraffin lights, grinding stone tunes, cot threads,
Pealed lemons, pickled mangoes, wet clothes, steel vessels, coconut slice, soaked rice, buttered chilies kept under the afternoon sun,
Slowed time and classic TV stands.

My village has a space with two ends, telephonic towers, vine, dust, intoxicating sugar,
Instant insurance schemes, refrigerated fish,
Reusable words, their contexts, their spellings,
Petrol cabins, one -stop -stalls,
Police whistles, feeding schools, beauty kits, crappy passwords, smiling  clicks, hourglass wall posts,
An uploadable landscape that tolerates the revisions.


Give Me Some More Time

Dear mum,
You fixed my wedding date, I still didn’t enter it in my diary. Give me some more time
I need to write those lyric stories,
Musings on my everyday expeditions of the world.
My diary is getting completed.
Buy me a new diary,
I need to fill it with my new poems. Give me some more time
I want to walk around the world, want to take our home as much as I can
before being someone in other’s home.

Give me some more time
I want to tell all my secrets with you, before I forget them.
I want to be read and watched,
Talked about in celebrations,
Gifted, teased, photo my spirits,
Dream of my convocations, spend my first salary, take my brothers for a new picnic.

I want to open grandfather’s gift wrapper curiously in my next birthday, give me some more time.
Let me learn eating new recipes,
Recite grandmother’s tales,
Sing her songs in rain dance,
Imitate the birds,
Lazy till afternoon.

I know, you are tired of illogical questions, tired of pity gazes, tired of ailing elders, but give me some more time.
I want to write your name on my consignments.
Give me some more time, I want to dry the flowers, using the water for earthen lights.

Give me some more time, before me
I will be healthy as an Olympic stage.

Mirrors

When I was young enough to properly count,
Had handful of mirrors where fingers  wince with the wait
sudoriferous palms curve tendrils for coronae.
One of them  was clever enough to sketch my ears.
The other resembles a dry  soap that slips between wet palms.
Plays with my eyes, Hyde and seek,
Kaleidoscope of light and dark
Tunnels when trains move through
The spaces  that connect stations
Scattering some food to the wind,
Songs for the windowpane.
Earlier I found them in my mother’s kitchen.
Somewhere hiding
the cylindrical blocks
Flesh at the walls of the pickle jars
Tiling her hands and feet
When she burns the ends of white school ribbons
Jagged onions, garlic peel,
Decoctions, shells, feed the roses
Her bangles draw circles in
the circles of those embroidery frames.

Now they prance
In the leaves of ancient   notebooks
Acetonic threads
Play  the record backwards
Puffed by the wild dust of the sharpeners
Ready to paint my hands as squirrels
To tuck on a wide oily parchment
Some words to reuse,
the ice,
That spills from the greasy frames.

Jyothsnaphanija is a PhD research scholar in English literature at EFL University, Hyderabad, India. Her poetry has appeared in IthacaLit, Melusine, The Nervous Breakdown, East Coast Literary Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Northeast Review, Coldnoon, The Thumbprint Magazine and others. Her short stories have appeared in eFiction India, Thickjam, research articles in Subalternspeak, eDhvani, Wizcraft, Barnolipi and in several books.

* * *

Two Poems
By James Grabill

As Climate Change Speeds Up Time

Further scientific findings overflow into shelters and refugee camps in future world capitols.

Gun boats smoke into port. Rations parachute into public attention, as crowd-control tanks with sonic black-out cannons and industrial high-pressure nozzles roll across the steel bridge in light-scrambling armor—preparing for what?

Down the street, the farmers’ market sets up under summer canopies, where a mother strums an autoharp for the present that passes.

A working tire turns a small generator powering a motor for the uphill climb. Suddenly, the next generation of everything-at-once technology takes over, as if how did anyone get by before? The clipboard’s replaced by cranial implants. Pharmaceutical support’s individually designed.

In the meantime, the naked eye of the sun stays open 24 hours, 360 degrees around. But what can you see with a thermonuclear retina?

Science extends the senses, reporting where in the world and who in the world we are. When day ends, it’s Earth that turns away, plunging inhabitants into liquid dark.

Through the Hubble, other suns have revealed a profound otherness capable perhaps of terrifying some, but not kids who’ve had little doubt about life in space.


From the John Birch Water Department

     Since March, Detroit's water department shut off service to homes nearly 26,000 times. Within two days, 85          percent of the delinqencies received a partial payment.

     "How high is your water bill?" asked a U.N. investigator.

     "Our water bill is over $4,000," said a Detroit resident.

     This United Nations Human Rights team has spent the last three days trying to figure out why the shutoffs are      necessary.  — Michelle Miller, CBS News

So your water seems to have been shut off. What can you do? Well, you can’t have what isn’t yours. We will of course give you the air you seem so fond of breathing, but for a drinkable flow piped to your tap, you must understand the amount of work so many have put into purification and delivery requires your recognition in the form of monetary reimbursement.

Of course, unpriced water can be located, in bodies of water such as lakes or rivers that carry medicine, microbiology, chemistry, and erosion off the slopes of what have you. But for drinking, you’d probably want to locate a public foundation such as those provided when this city council’s sense of water economics predated present-day understandings inspired by Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman.

If you must have water now, you may avail yourself of convenience store amenities for purchase of a popular brand for yourself at a cost of slightly more or less than a dollar. Hang onto your cap, and it could be possible to refill the bottle once you’ve come across a fountain. You can always try a hospital or a university building where trespassing will probably go unnoticed. Or you could try a bathroom somewhere, if you can get in.

Certainly water is a necessity, and it can be for you too. If you were only motivated enough to locate suitable employment, you could schedule a shower for yourself before or after work and experience feeling refreshed. You can take pride when refilling your bottles or fulfilling monthly obligations by expediting encumbrance or permitting our algorithmic statutory statement automation.

Should this come to pass, a monthly supply of water will arrive by pipe in fully drinkable condition thanks to the many specialists involved, to whom we owe wages upon which they and their families depend. May you not hesitate to contact your list of suitable employers. For more information, we refer you to the enclosed brochure targeting your community.

James Grabill’s poems have appeared in numerous periodicals such as The Oxonian Review (UK), Stand (UK), Magma (UK), Toronto Quarterly (CAN), Harvard Review (US), Terrain (US), Seneca Review (US), Urthona (UK), kayak (US), Plumwood Mountain (AUS), Caliban (US), Spittoon (US), Weber: The Contemporary West (US), The Common Review (US), and Buddhist Poetry Review (US). His books include Poem Rising Out of the Earth (Lynx House Press 1994, Oregon Book Award in Poetry 1995) and An Indigo Scent after the Rain (Lynx House Press 2003). Wordcraft of Oregon has published Book One of his environmental prose poems, Sea-Level Nerve, with Book Two scheduled for 2015. A long-time Oregon resident, he teaches 'systems thinking' relative to sustainability.

* * * 

Wifely Admissions, Even after all these Years
By Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas

There are nights my worries try to escape
like little souls climbing from the dead. I feel
your arms outspread in my dreams, your face
teased by the hint of midnight’s zeal. 

There are nights I listen for a thousand
birds to land on leaves as if that whoosh
could soothe a man to sleeping while troubled

with a whisper of desire, the way a child looks
of innocence and guilt after anything forbidden
they deem worth doing, after anything worth
doing they deem forbidden. “Do you love me?”

I ask. “I love us," you say. I am on the verge
of breathing one prayer upon another
as if a litany of psalms has spilled from the moon’s
curve into midair and slipped through an open window.

There are nights I’m lost to the touch of skin
the way a hint of cognac seduces the senses
even the tongue full from the exhaustion of love.

I sense your body curving to mine, collapsing
around me, every part of you pulling me inside
out, unveiling that which I’ve never unveiled
as if you could save me from all terrors I’ve yet to share.

There are nights I’m drunk with rain, a girl
spinning towards the storm and you appear
like the safe haven I have yet to name; a place unfound.

Yet some terrors are not for sharing. They sound
needy. Unmindful of the constant that is you, dazed
by my fear of losing that which I cannot  bear to lose.

There are nights I am thumbing through pages
of my mother’s book as though a message was left
or folded in the crook, beyond the turning
or somewhere outside the universe.

Stay here forever, say the lights in the room
stay here until we are only a flicker of what once
was, an apparition holding onto the vision of us.

There are nights I have forgotten the pleasures
of living. I have forgotten the splendor of lavender
at surmise. I want to tell you how beautiful you are
I try to remember you have my father’s eyes.

Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas is a seven-time Pushcart nominee and four time nominated Best of the Net nominee. She has authored several chapbooks along with her latest full-length collection of poems: Hasty Notes in No Particular Order newly released from Aldrich Press. She is the 2012 winner of the Red Ochre Press Chapbook competition for her manuscript Before I Go to Sleep and according to family lore she is a direct descendent of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

* * *

the homeless has no voice
By Chinedu Ichu

a 14" tv glued to the kitchen counter
moves reassured towards heavy set of coated feet,
a frozen heart leaps out the jawbone of a cookie jar,
in shock and disbelief,
a baby car is parked defenseless
behind the enemy line
its bald tires stuck in an icy slush,
a young woman and her brood,
dead from asphyxiation trying to stay warm,a few weary details
but no names, there will never be anyway,
hands folded over marching gowns,
little street soldiers finally at peace
life must go on.

Chinedu Ichu is an African of Nigerian decent, armed with an undying passion for written/spoken words.

* * *
new jacket and navajo weaver
By j.lewis

new jacket   
      (for Julie)

tightly she holds
the merry-go-round
shivers as it bumps and grinds
now fast now slow
her arms ache as she counts
another circle done
and frowns to think
she has traveled so far
just to come back home

she stands and is silent
eyes closed in focused reflection
reliving the ride
the high and low tide
shipwrecks
safe harbors
deserts and gardens
feels them all again
as if they were only a moment away
weighs the good and bad
in optimistic balances
then smiles

in a puddle-mirror
she stops to study
the image of the child she was
in the woman she is
pleased to see how well she fits
the jacket of this newest year


navajo weaver

her loom is handmade
sheep hand-raised
wool hand-sheared
hand-cleaned
hand-carded

plants for dyes
she handpicked with her cousin
when the color of the evening sky
behind the starkness of spider-woman rock
hung hazy muted lavender
like russian thistle blossoms
dried and steeped for hours
the water waiting only the yarn
of what would be for her
another labor of need
need to pay a bill
feed a family
grandchildren too young
to be of any help
children gone here and there
some to work
some to drink
one to california

the pattern grows
row by row
mind to hand to thread
it was a full winter ago
this thread was spun
when the snow was too deep
for even their horse to challenge
the snows had caught them unprepared
and except for emergency food 
and hay helicoptered in
they would have grown very thin
but would not have complained
would not have dared offend
the earth, the gods, the elements
by seeming ungrateful for life
however harsh
she never draws her patterns
simply conceives them
and weaves them into something 
she hopes will please the trader
she pauses thinking ahead
how they will bargain politely
(she taught him the art)
and she will feel she has won
if she takes home an extra bag of flour
the twenty-five-pound bluebird brand
and cash enough for gasoline
doesn't worry past that or wonder 
who will own her latest work
and will they understand the "ch'iindi" trail
the purposeful imperfect line 
woven in to let her spirit out

today she wonders only
why the child in california
is so silent    

j.lewis is an internationally published poet, musician, and nurse practitioner. His poetry and music reflect the difficulty and joy of human interactions, often drawing inspiration from his decades of experience in healthcare. He is frequently on a kayak, exploring and photographing the waterways near his home in California.

* * * 
1000
By  Luke Normsy

The first snowfall of significance
I was doing the driveway
and the neighbors came out:

man, wife, child.

They did all the standard things
sledding, snowballs, a
half-assed snowman made of
chunks from the plow.

The wife photographed
all of it with her
telephone.

After 10-15 minutes 
they went back inside.

Later those photos
will be on Facebook,
evidence of memories
that didn’t
not happen.

Then the plow came again
and undid all my
work, without my having
photographed any of it.

You will just have to take me
at my word.

Luke Normsy is a mid-level bureaucrat by day and a very-minor poet and photographer by night.  He lives in the same meaningless void as everyone else, but tries to be cheery about it.  His work has or will appear in Dirty Chai, Gravel, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Crab Fat, and Hypertrophic.  Masochists and other interested parties can dig his work on Google+. 

* * *

Enter Rumor, Painted Full of Tongues
By Joe Mills

My daughter tells me Miley Cyrus is pregnant,
but she and her friends can’t agree if the father
is Jay-Z or Eminem.  It might not matter anyway
because Sarah thinks she’ll get a divortion.
I explain that it’s pronounced abortion,
and she asks how it’s done.  Is it just a shot? 
Because that’s what Trish has said.  Her cousin
has a friend who got one.  She said she got a shot,
and the baby just went away which is weird,
my daughter says, because she’s also heard
that you can get a shot to get pregnant. 
That’s what Grace’s step-mom did.  She got shot
in the leg, but you also can get shot in the butt,
and, you can even get two or three shots
if you want to have twins or triplets,
and there doesn’t even need to be a father
although she thinks Grace does have a dad
because she’s never heard anyone say she doesn’t
and that’s the kind of thing people talk about,
but what’s kind of scary, my daughter says
is that she knows drugs also mess a baby up,
not in a two-headed way or anything,
but in a six fingers, not born normal way,
and Miley Cyrus definitely does drugs,
more than Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber
who have been in rehab together, maybe
that’s even where they met.  No one knows
if it’s a boy or girl or if it has a name yet,
but, she tells me, we’ll probably find out soon
maybe tomorrow; it will be on Instagram
or the news and people will tell her at school
and she’ll let me know as soon as they do.

Rereading Shakespeare’s work last year, Joe found himself writing down stage directions that struck him as particularly evocative. Then poems started coming. A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he has published five collections of poetry, most recently This Miraculous Turning. 

* * * 

I Won't Write a Heartbreak Poem for You
By Ucheoma Onwutuebe 

I won't write a heartbreak poem for you.

I won't write a heartbreak poem for you
Because I am too proud to pickle your memories to preservation
and I cannot...
I cannot afford to immortalise you
In the sublime wordings of my poetry.

For I know how cocky you get sometimes.
Suppose the poems appears in papers,
You would buy a copy for all your friends and brag,
"Look what creativity I inspired".

I won't write a heartbreak poem for you
Because massaging egos is one of my least favourite sports.
I often wonder what pride he feels,
The boy who inspired Adele's "Someone like you"‎,
That his abandonment ‎of her
created a song gone platinum. 

What if I wrote a heartbreak poem for you
And it goes viral?
Your cocky self would clip it off papers,
Attach it to your C.V for your next job hunt.

The board could offer you prompt employment 
Since they are always looking people
Who inspire creativity in others. 
And you think I want to grant you such favours?

I won't write a heartbreak‎ poem for you
I won't deign to do that
And now I will stop this poem here
For it is beginning to sound
Like a heartbreak poem for you. 

Ucheoma Onwutuebe is a Nigerian writer.  Her works have appeared in Thought Catalogue, Lip Magazine Australia, Kalahari Review, Sentinel Nigeria, Y!Naija, Africanwriter.com, BellaNaija and BrittlePaper.

* * *

Pinpricks
By Steph Post

And sometimes even breathing

     Can be crushing.

Look up.

  A thousand tiny stars burning down.

     A thousand upon a thousand, in the cupped space

  Between my palms.

    And still it is too heavy.

         And still it is too much.

Because every star could be a person

  And every person is someone I could

            Love, if only.

 

But I hate eating and parking lots and novels

       Written in first person.

I love orange juice cartons, square

          Like a little house, the roof pinched between my

  Fingers, swinging at my side.

   But I’m sure that’s not enough.

 

Will it ever be enough?

 

When the weight of the stars and the people, with

    Their words, glances, shrugged shoulders, silence

  Retweets, echoes, parties, spiraling into families, into  

      Clusters of eyes, inside looking out

                     Pushes me down, I think of the fish.

 

  With their mouths open, gasping

        In a bar, on a show, on a channel.

               Everyone else is laughing.

  Bowed heads, fingers on wrists, conversations, connections

       Holding their beers like the fish

         Can breathe.

And I am running out into

          The night, haunted

              By the gasping of the fish.

     And the smiles of the fishermen. On the show. In the place.

           And the human race, tumbling around me,

                       Falling in and out of love.

                  In and

                          Out of love.

 

And sometimes I think, I could

               Fall too.

Sometimes, I think

          If I were a star and you were a star and

                 You and you and you, but

I love foxes and dust and documentaries about caves.

   I love that moment when the light changes

        And the world shimmers and the curtain

  Lifts and there is no sky bearing down. I think,

             You might know the one.

     I think

           That I am breathing. I think,

     One day.

All the stars will be gone.

Steph Post is the author of the debut novel A Tree Born Crooked. She currently lives, writes and teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida.

* * *

she travels in a Vogue bubble
By Carol Shillibeer

what little skin is left to her
does not hide the cool
blue of her bone, knobbed
where floating has been forbidden

even now, under the gauzy lace
her skirt pinks sideways
into the unknown, in metallic lust
her spindled
scarves flirt with tarnished
gleam, a treasure-weight
of Mardi Gras beads and gold
shoes hungry for action

her walker clacks its teeth
tick an out-of-time clock

After a wildly productive life as an alchemist, Carol Shillibeer retired to read tarot, stalk Hierocholoë odorata in the lands west of the Pacific cordillera, and consider the implications of post-human materialism. 

* * *

They Don't Know You
By Matthew Sradeja 

They don’t know you
They don’t know the pattern
Of your breath
They have stolen from you
Stolen the breath from your lungs
Stolen the fire from your guts
They don’t know you
They may be aliens
May even breathe like lobsters
May have stolen more than we can imagine
May have crept right into your chest
And stolen your breath
Lobster like claws scrapping
At your ribs poking your heart
Punctured your lungs
And skittered off with your breath
I think there is something wrong with that

Matthew Sradeja grew up on the East side of Toledo on the right side of the tracks, but the wrong side of the river. He has worked in the Automotive industry and the glass industry in a variety of occupations. He started going to poetry readings in 1999 and has been in a few print and on-line zines. Some of his poems can be found at Full of Crow, red fez, rusty truck, spirit caller, and a few other spots. He believes there is energy in poetry and is learning how to use it, wisely.

* * *

Rainbow Trout
By Scott T. Starbuck

The problem with beauty
is men want to see you naked
up close,
hold you in their hands,
take you home,
eat you whole,
so you become
nothing more
than part of them.

Scott T. Starbuck suggests three activist poetry books at 3 Good Books   for those interested in writing eco or activist poems.  Thomas Rain Crowe wrote about his latest book forthcoming from Fomite Press, “Industrial Oz may just be the most cogent and sustained collection of quality eco-activist poetry ever written in this culture, this country." Starbuck was a 2014 Friends of William Stafford Scholar at the "Speak Truth to Power" FOR Seabeck Conference, a 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, and a writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. 

* * * 
What Was Whispered In The West
By William Walters

Who will remember
Where we were
When tomorrow’s wind
Whistles and howls--
Whisks us miles from memories,
Wheatfields, rangelands, home?
Why, we’ll be tumbleweeds
Which roll on away
While our roots remain here,
Whether hearts wander or stay.

Wm. Walters grew up near Liberal, Kansas (How's that for an oxymoronic placename?) and now lives near Rockford, Illinois, where he's been a professor of English and linguistics at Rock Valley College for the past twenty-five years. He has published poems in Chiron Review and other literary magazines in the US and the UK.

* * * 

Diorama of Ignorance, Sweet Lorraine, and The Darkest Wettest Winter on Record
By Gina Williams

Diorama of Ignorance

How to write about Africa:
he says you start by
washing the elephant

You never use quote marks.
Each morning a bitter
swallow.

Desire is a yellow leaf, is
a silk-webbed larval case
caught in thin breezes,
cornered.

How to write about Mexico:
she says you begin
with chocolate and votives

Commas should be dashed.
Each day a violent
struggle.

Passion is a pink bloom, is
a cicada raking midnight
trapped by the sea,
lost.

How to write about Russia:
they say you begin
with bullets and grandmothers

Apostrophes must go.
Each generation a lost
cause.

Hope is a crushed seed, is
a golden-feathered songbird
blown off course,
silent.

How to write about America:
she says you begin with
toy guns and lost boys

Sentences must be avoided.
Each dream a terrible
curse.

Freedom is a falling sky, is
is the last wolf
searching for a mate,
hopeless.

In the bush, on the street,
ordinary love escapes us,
the poetry of things
hidden by grief.
 
Sweet Lorraine

She never said goodbye.
Now the sink is stacked with dishes.
All the clocks in the house are set
to a different time. Even the rooster
has stopped crowing.
The babies won’t stop crying.

In the bathroom, Mom’s stockings
hang from the shower rod, still damp,
as if they have soaked up all
the sadness of the world
and are dripping it slowly
down our drain. I try not to
smell them, but can’t stop, push
one toe to my nose, then run outside.

Now that I’m grown and they’re gone,
I can only imagine what dad was thinking
when he drove her to the sanitarium
where they shaved her soft
red hair, taped electrodes to her scalp,
tried to zap the demons and despair from her brain.

“I have no mind left to do anything at all.
Is this what they call grief?” I can hear
his tired voice repeating, a scratched up,
smashed up record. “All the music,
even the sweetest melodies,
have turned against me.”

How many times did he send her
away before they finally said,
“We have no cure for that.”

Never trust a happy song.
That was such a long, long time ago.

 
The darkest, wettest winter on record

This morning the weather man said that we have had forty-nine days of rain in the last fifty-seven days. When the squirrels chased my tires like dogs back in September, I already knew we were in for something. Winter is like a drinking contest. Who will be the last man standing? At times like these the only hope is to pick fleas and pretend we are Russians, bundled in piles of fur and drinking vodka by candlelight, selling secrets to the Nigerians, and digging holes beneath the snow, just to keep warm. We’ll have beans and caviar again for supper. We have just enough money left for milk chocolate. The coffee is getting cold. On the news a stranded calf is being blown by the force of rotor blades across the ice to the lakeshore. We sit on the couch and cry. It’s too wet outside and cold, and we have to keep the squirrels in the house to keep the fleas off. I will find them eating the crumbs in my kitchen. It is cold and damp in the ringlets of my favorite wig. By midnight, we will have sixty days of rain to mourn and the vodka will be gone. Where is my fur muff? Where will we go from here? Let’s plant the beans, fry catfish for dinner, listen to the branches, tuck in the worm ball of children, kiss the weather man goodnight, and sleep it off until a later time, hope that we wake in spring.

Gina Williams' poetry, essays, and visual art have been featured by or are forthcoming most recently in Carve, The Sun, Fugue, Palooka, Boiler Journal, Black Box Gallery, and Great Weather for Media, among others.

* * * 

I Am Standing, He is Sitting
By Glen Wilson

I know the rat a tat tat of the singer now
and I am comfortable with its regular song.

My hands have leaned and learned how threads
can lace up the seams of any dress, how garments

measured right can fit bespoke limbs through
narrow gaps, how quiet fabric can rest on skin.

Sunlight flicks the haberdashery walls,  coaxing
out the colour of the plastic shrouded apparel.

They queue up with their wounds, content to wait with their missing buttons, frayed ends spilling out,

weeping for they knew I would heal them soon,
for I am the needle armed tailor of Lourdes.

An old man shuffles unto a bench across the street,
I recognise him, even after all these years.

His wide nose now red and bulbous, the sharp mouth
barbed up to one side possibly by a stroke.

I see myself in the clothes I arrived in back then,
they were all I wore or didn’t, we moved on the grey

shopfloor, the exits with iron bunting, machines
lined up with only serial numbers to tell them apart.

He patrolled that patch of our world, beady eyes on the apparatus, checking the harmony of the stitching and us.

I fold up the piece I am altering and set it on the table,
traffic held back at a red light, I walk across the road.

‘Do you remember me’, he smiled then memory reeled, all the raised hands of the past fall in different weight,

He slouches down further, fumbling for his cane
his left hand a tremor,  my right hand so still.

Glen Wilson lives in Portadown, Co Armagh with his wife Rhonda and children Sian and Cain. He works as a Civil Servant in Belfast in Statistics and Research. His work has been published in Black Mountain Review, Iota, A New Ulster and The Interpreters House. In 2014, he won the Poetry Space competition and was shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. In 2007, He was short listed for the Strokestown Poetry Festival’s Satire Prize. He is currently working on his first collection of poetry.

* * *

I Only Pray For Them When They're Gone
By Anna Ter-Yegishyan

Imagine this:
Sitting side by side on our new taupe leather couch
(The color that falls on your face when the sun sets)
The fan on my left, blowing soft air
Your splintered fingers on my hem
With the rouge tips
The weather outside, unheard of.
Sterilizing me like a furnace

I’m finally brave enough to look outside the blinds
But I can’t feel my legs.

In front of me, a bouquet of candles
Our blood trickling like steps on a staircase
Your temper, beating graciously like rocks chucked in a stream
How you grab me, tranquil, hard, fully
I need two bodies, I think
To understand this
Compensate it, use it, feel it. 

Imagine this:
You’re drinking coffee
Without milk
You’re massaging your knuckles
While I’m squeezing oranges
You come up behind me
Like a wave, too expansive, unexplored
Too tall for my liking.

I find it appealing
Strange
Like fig-sized fists
Your mouth’s cutthroat graze on my neck

I am just the neighbor’s lawn
The children’s merciless excuse for laughter
The vulnerable sign on a storefront that shakes when the wind truncates
I barely have a backbone
Since you mowed me
Straight edged, poised, refined
Since you kneaded me
Until I had the face of a sculpture,
The one you admired.

More often than not
I pray for what I’ve already lost
That which is futile
That needs no hope
That merits no salvation

By the bed
I’m stooped to my knees,
I say your name
Half whispered
The way knights would pray to gods.

Anna Ter-Yegishyan lives in Los Angeles, California and currently studies English at Glendale Community College. Her work has been self-published in her college magazine, Into Dust, and her poetry and short story have received Honorable Mentions from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When she’s not piecing her thoughts into words, she enjoys reading and spending time with her family and friends.

* * * 
Flash

Out of the Ballpark
By Christopher Duggan

Babe Ruth’s clone is a CPA in Rochester, Minn. I know because my dad grew up as his brother. Not his real brother. I mean, the government cloned him in the ‘50s a few years after the real Babe Ruth died. Don’t ask me how they did it. I bet he had to give blood or something once and they kept it is what I’m thinking.

So the idea was that Ruth was the greatest baseball player ever and he didn’t even take it serious. They thought if you had the Babe without the reform school, the drinking, the smoking, and all the women, you’d have the greatest, greatest baseball player ever. So, they implanted their Babe Ruth embryo in my grandmother. Why my grandmother? How they hell do I know? My granddad worked for the Army; I bet that had something to do with it.

To me, he was just Uncle Herman--thick black hair, big, quiet--didn’t look nothing like my dad, who’s thin and muscular, face like a rock. When I was a kid, Herman was already too old to play baseball. None of us would have ever known, but after grandma died we were all over at the house except for Uncle Herman. Someone says it was a shame he couldn’t make it into town for the visitation. All of a sudden, Gramps looks up from his ham sandwich and potato salad and starts bawling.

“Herman ain’t mine,” he says. Then, he just tells us the whole God damned story.

“We were supposed to get him playing baseball,” Gramps says. “That’s what kids did then, but Herman never wanted to. He was more interested in figuring out the kids’ batting averages than he was in playing ball.”

My dad was a great ballplayer, though, the best that ever played at Westlake High School. All that work they did trying to get Uncle Herman to play ball really got my dad going. When he hit the ball on Saturday, it didn’t come down until Tuesday. He even got drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds, but he never made it to the majors. Turns out he couldn’t hit a curve ball. My mom still talks about when he called her up crying and said he was giving up. She was pregnant with me, and he wanted to be with us. He sells beer to grocery stores now.

Herman went to school on a scholarship. He was smart like none of us ever were. Them government boys just shrugged their shoulders; wasn’t anything more they could do. These days, he sits in an office, crunches numbers, swats flies, and he’s happy to be doing it. People come up to him all the time and tell him he looks exactly like Babe Ruth.  Makes me laugh. He barely knows who the hell they’re talking about. 

Christopher is a public relations professional from St. Charles, Mo., and has an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. His work has been published in Stymie Magazine and the Fast Forward Press anthology Flash 101: Surviving the Fiction Apocalypse. One of his stories was also selected for adaptation in Stories on Stage in Denver.

* * * 

[Everyday Magic]
By Jen Ferguson

It’s the way the sky seems darker here. It’s the way that you can’t remember seeing a sky this dark in forever, even if, when you think about it, the sky has always been this dark, this heavy with its internal structure of velvet. It’s the way you doubt your eyes because this darkness here is beyond what you can imagine knowing.

It’s the way the sugar-pop song on the radio can breed inside your blood vessels and make you feel multiple. It’s the way that song, outside the realm of the car’s heavy metal structure, never replicates that feeling in you. It’s the way everything, even music, is a matter of location.

It’s the way, looking at your dog that something squeezes inside you. It’s the way that dog used to escape through the small crack between the door as it tried to meet with the frame anytime you dropped your guard. It’s the way he no longer tries to run away.

It’s the way that in any absence of more than 48 hours, you can pick up the woodsy smell of where the logs of your house used to root. It’s the way you count rings at night to fall asleep. It’s the way that while gypsum plaster is fire resistant its smell is flat.

Jenny Ferguson is a Canadian studying for her PhD at the University of South Dakota. Her first novel Border Markers is forthcoming from NeWest Press.

* * * 

Private School
By Merran Jones

This is how you do it:
Have perfect hair—side parting with a sweep across the front.
Use enough makeup to look cultured but not so much the teachers—horsey, unplucked women with marbled voices—complain.


Never have pimples or enlarged pores.
Wear your ties loose and your self-doubt looser.
Grow a nice pair beneath a bulky uniform. And if you can’t succeed, use padding. No one knows the difference. 


Eat sushi or yogurt or tabouli for lunch. Walk along the river with the other girls. Your conversations about Butler & Wilson earrings, the holiday house in Nice, Daddy’s latest thoroughbred, should tumble from your mouths like leaping salmon, fighting for precedence.


When a girl called Sara or Hermione or Isabella says she’s summering in San Francisco, say: “We’re going to French Polynesia.” (Five star accommodation, naturally.)


Scratch the initials of a boy named Harry Smith or Thomas Wood into the desk. When the girls in the dorm ask who he is, shake your head, giggle, hug your pillow to your chest. Intrigue is better, since no school boy is really fit to be with. Ah, the boys … with their improbable stubble, nervous adam’s apples, and chilly legs.


A girl called Sandra falls pregnant. Hug and sigh and make sympathetic sounds as you wait with her outside the nurse’s office. Once she’s inside, tut and roll eyes and say it was Dylan Powell—you know, the one with the overbite and lardy midriff. High-school is a bitch. 


At the end of year party, throw your arms around each other with Shakespearean melodrama, vowing eternal friendship.


Move to Oxford for university and never stay in touch.


Ten years later, the social gymnastics continue. This time in an office with a moderate salary and a pair of statement heels. 

Merran is an Australian physiotherapist and new mum who has been writing since 2013. Her work has appeared in: The Legendary; Alfie Dog Fiction; Writer's Forum; Seizure Online; Tincture Literary Journal; Darker Times Collection Volume Two; One Page Literary Magazine; was commended for the KSP Speculative Fiction Award 2014; and has been nominated for the Write Well Award 2014. 

* * *

The Gentle Intrigues of a Piano Heart
By Christina Murphy

Not that the road did not turn or bend by ordinary standards, but he knew the curves as stars aligned with the universe that spoke in the language of--well, his language, which was known to echo, at times, and to fade, like the wind, into canyons at other times.

If you find the words like notes on a piano, then so be it, he would say, speaking to those who passed by near the subway station he loved for its animated lights of mostly blue and gold. Somewhere high above in a panoply of lights he could see Mickey Mouse smiling, inviting people to partake of entertainment. He liked the ​PARTAKE! that flashed and twinkled and reminded him of eating a meal--one that he would like to share with Mickey Mouse, but he never could catch Mickey's eye as Mickey smiled above in the vast night of neon that held many people in the crowds spellbound.

The subways filled, the subways emptied, the subways filled again. This was his time to become the road that was a piano. He pulled his heart into a circle in his chest, feeling the absence created by a simple closed curve—the perfect zero of eccentricity. The circle of his heart contained the music, the rhythms that were louder than the night, more majestic than the vast neon lights, more commanding than Mickey shouting PARTAKE!

And as Mickey frolicked above, playing catch with a group of brindled puppies, that is when his heart split into a road—one with a thousand exit ramps and no entrances. Something loud, something hollow, and something like the subway entrance but with no passengers boarding. No passengers at all—just the lights flashing in the clouds above. The chords of music frozen in time. And even Mickey melting into a river of colors so much like a canyon at sunrise as the subway trains rattled through the empty spaces known only to the wind.

Christina Murphy’s stories appear in a range of journals and anthologies, including A cappella Zoo, PANK, Word Riot, LITnIMAGE, and The Last Word: A Collection of Fiction. Her fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the winner of the 2011 Andre Dubus Award for Short Fiction. 

* * *

Michael James O'Neill
*archive currently unavailable

* * * 

 
Dollar Store
By Carl Palmer
                                         
“Think! Hurry! Concentrate! Something’s got to be here that will save me! Where? What? Ineed to act now!”
 
It couldn’t have been but 15 or 20 minutes ago when I left my motel over by those
apartments down the street. I’d been driving most straight through on I-5, up from Travis Air Force Base in California on my way to Whidbey Island in Washington. I needed to stop and the motel sign at 84th ended me here on South Tacoma Way. It looked like a quiet place, a few apartment complexes with a small strip mall on the corner. I got myself a room, downed the last couple of beers from my cooler and crashed hard around 4 or 4:30 this afternoon.        
 
I woke up needing to find myself a cigarette something bad. It was just getting dark, 8PM or so and I could see a light at the corner store, a green neon sign, Dollar Store.
          
Just out the door I view some kids playing monster or something. They have on makeup, fake blood and acting like zombies or vampires or ghosts or whatever. Then I observe more, not just kids, but grownups all dressed up like the kids, acting like they’re killing each other and sucking their victim’s blood with those silly, yet real looking fangs. I start walking just a bit faster, avoiding contact, above all, not wanting to get involved. 

“What is this, some kind of movie shoot, a play or production of sorts? Halloween? What’s today’s date? That must be it, Halloween!” 

I begin walking even faster, hurrying toward the green Dollar Store sign. I hear screams then, too, as I sprint into the store where I see more of the same. I watch a woman frantically grabbing a silver-tone crucifix from the cellophane packets hanging on the “All for One Dollar” jewelry board. She’s holding it toward her attackers, as the cross turns black and melts into her hand rather than having any effect on the would be Dracula vampire.

“Is this real?  Can this all be happening? Think! Concentrate! What can I do?” 

Next I watch the remains of that man in the aisle over there, once dead, now rising. I saw him killed as he was smashing the “Only One Dollar” 8X10 genuine walnut looking plastic picture frame to obtain a wooden stake for a thrust to the heart.

“I’m blanked out! What’ll work? Where’s the answer? What can I do?  Help me!” 


Now they’re coming towards me. “Focus! Hurry! There must be something in here that’ll work!”


“Yes! That’ll save me! The spice section!”    
           
Reduced Special - 3 for One Dollar, Garlic Salt

“That’s it! Now I recall! Garlic will ward them off! Yes! I’m redeemed!  No!! Not this! Artificial Flavoring!” 
              
My last thought…Dollar Store probably doesn’t even sell cigarettes.

Carl "Papa" Palmer, retired Army, retired FAA, now just plain retired, lives in University Place, WA.  
He has seven chapbooks and a contest winning poem riding buses somewhere in Seattle. 
Carl is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee. MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever


* * * 

Cardboard Matryoshka
By David Spicer

I stopped shopping in stores years ago. I order everything from socks to refrigerators by mail. Last month I bought a clothes dryer from a new store downtown. When the box arrived a few days later, I lugged it into the living room. It seemed light, so I took an exacto knife and split the box down the middle. Inside was another box and then another inside of that one and then another box inside that box. Befuddled, I put each box back inside its larger box until the largest box was sealed again. I drove to the new store and told the clerk, a millennial playing a video game on his phone, my problem, and he breezily replied, Oh, that happens sometimes. A practical joker works in shipping. Just fill out this form and I’ll take care of it.

A few days later, I received another light box, and the same events occurred as the previous time. This happened again and again before I grew frustrated and felt diminished and smaller within myself like the cardboard matryoshkas. Tell me, the kid asked, did you open the last box? No, I answered, but a dryer isn’t in the smallest box. Well, maybe we’ll be both surprised, he replied. He reopened every box and told me to open the last box the size of a small bowl. Inside, a plastic hand gave us the finger. This is definitely Monroe’s work. We fired him three days ago. Tell you what: pick out a high-end dryer, and we’ll deliver it tomorrow. I chose a candy apple red model, and the next day it sat in my utility room. I opened the round glass door and a dozen enameled, painted matryoshkas of various styles rolled around. I took them out of the dryer with a card that read in a Cyrillic script, Courtesy of Monroe. The store soon went broke. The machine worked like a dream.

David Spicer has recently had poems published in Yellow Mama, Bop Dead City, Riverbabble, The Naugatuck River Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of one full-length collection, Everybody Has a Story, and four chapbooks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and two Maine Coons.

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A Somber Cold
By  Michael Verderber

Hands buried in pockets. Mouths stifled in scarves, the lemmings around Mark marched
their pallid walk. A sense of dread, inevitable.  The silence lingered like his doubt.

Mark questioned his motivation. Was it now or never? Better now than forever? The
envelope carried the weight of a thousand apologies, but this burden could not tip the scales in Ashley’s favor. The words wrapped in the off  white envelope would tell of Mark’s cowardice.

They say death is the coward’s way out.  Mark’s letter embodied a far weaker coward.  A
car horn rocked his senses, reminding him of his awkward presence in the middle of the sidewalk. He squeezed the envelope again, feeling the folds and the creases of his fear. Of his impending absence.

It had to be written because he could never say it. Ashley was six months along and Mark was six minutes away from leaving her. He took a step towards her mailbox. He had his plan, he had an apartment picked out. One bedroom, of course. A snowflake danced merrily down his forehead. It reminded him of last year and Ashley’s parents. He’d be running from them, too. 

“Why are you staring at the building?” Ashley’s voice bounced into his left ear. 

He stuttered incoherently.“What’s that?” she eyed the envelope.“Oh, uh, some bills,” the weight lifted his arm, catapulting the envelope into a nearby trashcan.

“You ready to eat?” she pushed with charm. “C’mon, future daddy, I gotta feed this kid. She remained blissfully unaware as the door closed behind them, leaving his secret
outside in the cold.

Michael Verderber is a Texas playwright who specializes in writing plays and disjointed poetry.  He has two books - [nonspace]: theatre off the stage (Fountainhead Press) and Twas the FLOP Before Xmas (Sarah Book P) and has been published by VAO Press, The Thing Itself Journal, and The Newer York Press. His play Libertad was staged in New York City in July 2014 and he is the recent winner of Playwright’s Express’s "Best Comedy" for his play "GPS" (tie for first) in LA. 

* * *

White Wall
By Emily Walling

I’m trying to find the joy of the snowstorm, but I’m just sick of it. The snowflakes are so big the birds can ride them. I’m trying to look back to the woods, and all I see is a white wall. The birds are tweeting in retreat. The wind blows up the street like a train and howls around the corner. The snow is horizontal. I’m looking for the red-winged blackbirds.

Emily Walling graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and creative writing minor. She works as a grant writer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her work has been published in Prairie Margins, Assonance Literary Magazine, and upcoming in Peaches Lit Mag.

* * * 

The Actress
By Kirby Wright

ANGEL JUST HIT 42. It feels like a crash. She’s been acting thirty years and fears the 
bloom is off the rose. The A-movie offers have dried up like a riverbed in a decade-long 
drought. She still gets B-movie pitches from green pea directors and fledgling producers, 
but these roles are mostly mothers-gone-wild and cougars on the prowl. She checks out 
the pre-movie posters: most suggest porn, with models hinting ménage à trios action and 
she-devil lust. She knows B-movies are traps. Few get funding and the ones that do 
usually flop. 

Her husband drives out to the morning country and snaps Angel posing in minis, cowgirl 
hats, black fishnet stockings, and stiletto boots. Dilapidated barns and ramshackle 
shanties melt in the prairie backgrounds. She wants to portray the seductress in a 
deconstructing land, a contrast she prays makes her fresh and alluring. There are A-movie 
directors hunting down femme fatales. A whip cracks. Angel plays dominatrix while 
lusting red carpets, her husband crying in the shadows at dusk.

Kirby Wright was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at San Diego. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.

* * * 

Master of Ceremonies
By Elizabeth Zerkel

Les is a modern day Gatsby, making a reputation as the man who hosts ridiculously themed parties. Instead of a lavish mansion and never ending yard, Les lives in a modest city house with a small front porch. Yet his home transforms to the place to be seen during the weekends.

These themes go beyond the typical “black tie gala” or “murder mystery dinner” that have worked their way through the party scene for ages. Instead, Les insists on swanky hobo parties, pie cook-offs, and nights celebrating famous villains. The more obscure of a costume, the more satisfied he is. Those who refuse to partake are told, “get the hell out.” So no one ever shows up not dressed accordingly. If the guests refuse to play, Les will not open the door.

Les’s brain flutters with ideas for the next theme, a more complicated costume, a better drink to create with whiskey. Utterly oblivious to his friends’ frustration, nothing is ever simple. He lives for the complexity, the challenge, the delirium.

His ability to distract his brain wholly depends on these soirees. If Les stops creating this playlist of music, perfectly crafted to accompany the newest speak-easy theme, She slithers through the cracks of the mental walls he constructs. She is the reason he works so hard to forget. She transforms loneliness into a plague.

Whiskey over ice, a sugar cube, a dash of bitters, and an orange peel. This Old Fashioned is the perfect pair for his three-piece suit and fedora. He catches a glance of himself in the mirror as he walks to the living room and smiles a tinge. He feels most alive when in costume. Les takes a swig of his drink and turns the front porch light on, waiting for his guests to join the spectacle.

It will be another night of playing dress up and make-believe and maybe tonight will finally be enough.

Elizabeth Zerkel received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lindenwood University, where she worked as managing editor of the Lindenwood Review for issues two and three. She enjoys spending her free time hiking, cycling, and finding new adventures.

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Art

pump and morning lake
By Jeffrey S. Callico

Jeffrey S. Callico sometimes feels like a dead samurai. His writing has appeared in FRiGG, Origami Condom, The Legendary, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Prose-Poem Project, Postcard Shorts, Blink Ink and elsewhere. His chapbooks include Early Trouble, Ceilings, Rough Travel, and most recently People = Bus.

















 
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Artwork by Barbara Carter

Artist. Writer. Lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Published artwork on book covers by: Oberon Press, Atlantis Women’s Studies Journal, Inside Room Magazine, and online magazines Red Rose Review, Cactus Heart, and Understorey Married. Three grown children. Two grandchildren, another on the way.












 
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Transportals #1
By Vince Darcangelo

Vince Darcangelo has been, at various times (and sometimes all at once), a journalist, author, photographer and telephone tarot    card reader. His photography and digital art has appeared in National Public Radio, Revolt Daily, Gravel Literary Magazine, Bete Noire and in various media outlets. He lives in Colorado.







 
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Photographs by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and photographer. She sews, gardens, and reads when she can.

















 
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Outward by Dave Petraglia

Dave Petraglia's work has appeared in Agave, Apeiron Review, Cactus Heart, Crack the Spine, Dark Matter, eFiction India, Far Enough East, Gambling the Aisle, Gravel, Jersey Devil Press, Loco, Marathon Literary Review, Mud Season Review, Necessary Fiction, Olivetree Review, Petrichor Review, Prick of the Spindle, Stoneboat, Storyacious, Thought Catalog, theNewerYork, Utter Magazine, Up the Staircase, and Vine Leaves. He's a writer and photographer and lives in Florida.  You can keep up with Dave here. 












 
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Kaleidobrandscope
By Fabio Sassi

Fabio Sassi makes photos and acrylics using tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. Often he puts a quirky twist to his subjects or employs an unusual perspective that gives a new angle of view. Fabio lives and works in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed here.








 
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