Foliate Oak December 2013
 
Fiction

The Assistant
By Denis Bell
 
     He didn’t need an assistant but they sent him one anyway. One morning he looked up from a stack of memories and there she was, a slender young thing with dark eyes and light brown hair wrapped tightly above her head in a bun. All bustle and business. She established herself at the spare desk in his office in no time at all as though she belonged there.

     She looked familiar. He studied her as she worked, trying to figure out when, and where, they’d met before. Perhaps she reminded him of an actress he’d seen in a movie, or a TV personality, or a writer on the cover of one of the mystery novels he devoured so hungrily. Nothing seemed to fit. Eventually he decided she looked like a girl he’d known in college.

     The Assistant proved to be ... unpredictable. He would look up to find her eyes on him, smiling a slow sad smile as though privy to his inner world. He hated the disappointment he saw in those eyes and pretended not to notice it. The next day his coffee girl – sweet and light! By turns shy, bold, sassy, severe, playful, demure, forward, aloof... round and round they went. Nobody could be that flighty. Perhaps it was her way of coming on to him. He'd been alone so long, the idea was stimulating. He thought about it at night, concocted midnight scenarios.

     By day he wondered about her. The way she’d shown up so unexpectedly, how he’d taken her in so readily. Perhaps she has a hidden agenda, he thought jokingly. Corporate spy.

     He made a series of discreet inquiries and came up empty. She was unlisted in the company directory, personnel claimed to have nothing on file for her, none of his colleagues knew anything about her. He played a little game with himself where he pretended she existed only in his mind. A nice irony, he thought, the sort of thing you see in stories by Russian writers.

     He finally decided he had to get to the bottom of the matter, determine her position in the company hierarchy, the source of the strange tension between them. The only viable approach seemed to be the direct one though it was contrary to his nature. He’d talk to her, explain how he’d come to feel about her in the however long they’d worked together, that he wanted to move their relationship beyond the workplace. It had to be done, and soon.

     He’d do it this week, tomorrow even. He rehearsed the speech in his head, over and over.

     We’ve known each other now for...


     A meeting downtown the next day kept him out of the office until just after noon. By the time he arrived she was gone. He assumed she was out sick and waited for a call, but the minutes ticked into hours and none came. Then he noticed the empty desk, found the beginnings of a note crumpled up in the wastebasket. No reason. No forwarding address. Nothing. He banged his head against the wall in an agony of rage.

     He searched for her around town, in supermarkets, bookstores, coffee shops, bars... Posted ads in personal columns, conducted online searches. Tacked flyers up on bulletin boards using a picture that he’d found, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN? Even offered a reward.

     A few dead ends, then zilch. He felt like a man drowning in his own juices. He banged his head a lot.

     "Not too much salt now, sweetie”, she says as he reaches for the shaker, though it’s the first he’s had all day. Just like a wife he mutters under his breath and she giggles, musical laughter like a tinkling of broken glass. Later they’ll play Scrabble together in the lounge – perhaps she’ll let him win for a change. A few of the others will no doubt stare at them and shake their heads and smirk, but what do they know? She’s with him all the time now, his Assistant. At dinner, waiting for him in his room at night, nestled beside him in bed when he wakes up in the morning. The two of them forever young, like Bart Simpson, or a dead classmate, or a song on Prom night. Devil with a Blue Dress. 

Denis Bell is a mathematics professor based in Jacksonville, Florida. He was born in London, England a while back. In addition to writing fiction, his hobbies include listening to music, watching Premier League soccer, and surfing (the web, that is). His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming in Bewildering Stories, Bareback Magazine, The Rusty Nail, Literary Juice, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Calliope, Hirschworth, Enhance Magazine, and EWR.
 
* * *
Will-o'-the Wisp
By Nick Bertelson

I had this girl’s number stored in my phone. The contact name was "Work." I'd been sleeping with her for the better part of a year. But then my wife called the number. I'd left my cellphone at home and she thought, like any sane person, she'd call the mowing company I worked for in order to get hold of me. What she got instead was the spry twenty-one-year-old whom I'd met months prior while mowing the Southern Illinois campus. She was into older men, and though I wasn't quite tens years her senior, I could pass as her father, which is probably why she called me “Daddy.” But this isn't about her problems.

That all got smoothed over. I started doing therapy with Sheila, my wife. This is how they went: we walked in, Sheila cried, the doctor explained how I was bipolar, afterward we went to a fast food joint (Sheila and me), then I went home to take a shower, where I did my crying. Being bipolar means no alcohol, no nicotine, no caffeine, and, of course, no philandering. So I quit them all. I think I was proving a point. I always had to do something odious. Even if it was the right thing, I had to justify it wrongly. So I got on the straight-and-narrow out of spite. And I was a good boy for a long time, a couple months maybe. 

But then I went back. I relapsed. Being a scumbag is inherent to my person. It’s in my blood. In my sex. Always has been. Always will be. Sometimes a guy has to get his eyes screwed out by a twenty-one-year-old and remind himself that there's a difference between banging and making love, between building a life and living in the moment, between home-cooked meals your wife sets out for you and a Hot Pocket some chick nukes in the microwave.

I blame the microwave. It lulled me to sleep. I didn't even hear it go off, didn't even feel her climb back into bed after she'd eaten. I was in snooze-ville. The sex wore me out. It was good sex. Weird, but good. 

I was supposed to be home for dinner by eight, but I awoke in a cold sweat. It was dark out and now she was asleep next to me. I reached over her and stared at the clock.

Eight-fucking-thirty. 

I sent Sheila a text: "stayed late @ work... be home by 9." 

I pulled on my pants, said my goodbyes. 

"When will I see you again?" she asked me.

I didn’t answer. I kissed her and left, buttoning my pants as I walked through the dorm. My mouth had the terrible taste of great sleep, but I had a tin in the car with a few mints and a ring inside that I remembered to slip on while heading home. I took back roads because I knew I could speed without getting pulled over. I hadn’t been driving long when I saw this blinking red light low on the horizon. I thought nothing of it. Air breathed through the dashboard vents, cooling my sweat. I always longed for winter. I hated that hot time of year, hated how my skin stuck to the leather seats, hated unpredictable winds and the storms they carried, hated freon. But what could be done except maybe another vacation to a cooler place where men ice-fished and their wives complained about it?

As the light on the horizon grew larger, its color changed from red to orange. It began winking. Manteno, where I lived, was still a wall of light pollution rising into the night, and beyond that, Chicago's lights erased every star the suburbs didn't. My nose twitched at the smell of smoke. A commercial came on the radio, then another. Soon I let off the gas to lean over the steering wheel and squint through the windshield at a woman running around a flaming mess of a car, its front end smashed against a telephone pole. 

I parked, leaving the motor on, the door open. I heard my shoes in the rocky shoulder. The woman spoke in "ands" and nouns: "Ambulance... baby... God... night." I heard a child screaming in the back seat. Flames followed the curve of the windshield and pointed at the sky. I ripped open the back door and dove across the radiating upholstery. Heat singed my knuckle hair as I undid the baby from its car seat, those soft ribs bending under my grip.

I held the child to my chest and rushed away from the flames toward my own car, where I handed over the baby to its mother, feeling on my skin and in my lungs how wonderfully cold a hot summer night night can be. The woman surprised me. She held our heads together---mine, the baby's, her own. I heard the flames laugh when the wind blew through them, heard the dinging of my open car door, heard the whispering of a prayer, all of it there on the highway where I wasn't supposed to be. 

And then I left. I didn't give my name. I didn't stick around for the cops. It was like any other thing. I stopped, saved a baby from a burning car, and kept going. I don’t know why. I had to get home for dinner I guess. I had to get home to Sheila. 

Back at the house, I found Sheila at the dinner table, her arms crossed. She was pissed. But I had a story, an excuse, a good one. I smelled like smoke for a reason.

“Listen to this,” I said.

I relayed the night's events to Sheila. Frantically, heroically, I told her about the car, the fire, the baby, and her knitted brow unravelled. Pretty soon, she grasped my biceps, put my head to her breast, kissed me. And she prayed as well, just like the woman. She thanked God that I was all right. But even in all her authentic worry, she could not help pulling away from my grip, staring me in the eye and, like any sane person, asking, “What were you doing down there?”

Days later, I sat alone in my hotel room, clipping the article out of the newspaper: “Child’s rescuer still a mystery.” It described me as an angel.
 
Nick Bertelson's other work has appeared or will appear in The Coe Review, The Raleigh Review, Bull Magazine, The New Plains Review, and others.
 
* * *
Caged
By C.W. Bigelow
 
             Sox paraded awkwardly on clumsy feet that looked like cement weights on his spindly legs. His toe nails needed clipping sending off loud clicks on the cement driveway as he loped back and forth from the garage to his cage.

           He gazed at me in stupid wonder as he jumped up on the cage my father built.  It was an eight-foot by eight-foot cement slab surrounded by an eight-foot high chain-link fence.  He had a right to stare at me in stupid wonder.  I was locked in his dog cage.  I was also naked and nine years old.

           The oaks lined the winding dirt road like sentries

           “Guarding us from the unwanted,” Sally joked.

            I was Sally’s guest.  We’d spent more than a few nights at Jake’s Brew House down the block from the office – pondering office politics, whether any of guys in the office were worth any time investment – and most recently whether I thought she should develop an interest in Mark, to which I responded, “I think that boat has sailed.”
           She blushed and looked away surprised she had given such obvious signals.

           That was our first visit to the bar and our friendship grew.

           “That’s the 13th hole.” Sally pointed to a circular pond floating beneath a raised tee box.  And this is the 12th green.”

           The road continued alongside the 12th fairway between additional foreboding oaks.  She knew I had little interest in the golf course but was attempting to keep me calm. She parked the car in front of the Shakespeare house, a replica of his actual residence that served as the club house. More monstrous oaks were spread about a spacious front lawn that opened up to another golf hole.

           A sparse group of people dressed in cocktail attire mingled in the shade as the sun set over the course.  These were the friends I had heard about on our drinking nights, and during these discussions I discovered that one of the friends was someone I knew over twenty years before. He was the reason I was there.

           My black hair hung wet on my shoulders and I was pissed because I had just taken a bath, and as hard as we always tried to keep the cage clean, it was filled with Sox’s black fur, which made me cringe with an image of it drifting through the air into various crevices in my body.

           “Danny!” I yelled, but I knew he wouldn’t answer.  If he thought I needed saving he would definitely do anything in his power to do so - but he was the reason I was in the cage.  Danny is my fraternal twin brother.  He felt very strongly this was the cure.  I told him I didn’t agree, but since Danny came out of our mother two minutes ahead of me, and was taller and stronger, I was often forced to listen.  He was usually more wrong than right.  My mom called it a man thing.  Being a twin to a boy – if you’re a girl – was a weird thing.  Cases like this proved it beyond a doubt. 

           “Danny, I don’t see how this is gonna work.”  I stood at the fence, my fingers curling through the diamond openings.  The metal was cool in the shade of the big Maple in the backyard, though the August temperature showed 86 degrees on the big round thermometer hanging outside the kitchen window across the backyard.

           “You’ll see.  Trust me,” he called from the sidewalk on the other side of the garage.

I knew that’s where he was standing, though I couldn’t see him. He always stood there when he waited for someone.

           “Come on.  How weird is this, really?”

           “It’s not.  You’ll see.”

           If he repeated that again I was going to kill him.  Sox jumped on the fence, his drooling tongue flopping out of his open mouth.   “You have to clip Sox’s toenails,” I yelled, hoping to divert his train of thought, get him thinking about something else, so he’d lose interest in this ploy and release me.  He had the key to the Masterlock on the cage door.

           In hindsight I could have exercised more control of my emotions.  Nine years isn’t a lot of time to grow a thick skin, and if you must know; Gary was my first boyfriend and I didn’t regret feeling that way, just regretted letting Danny see my reaction.

           It wasn’t a pretty sight, I’ll admit to that.  I was normally a tough cookie, a tomboy through and through.  I was faster than Danny.  I could climb trees better than he could, and I was braver than he was, especially when it came to listening to ghost stories.  So when he told me Gary was moving away, I should have bit my tongue and waited to emote until I was in the confines of my bedroom.

           The idea of never seeing him again, going to school and not watching him play kickball at recess was a very disconcerting feeling.  My outburst came out of nowhere - maybe because Gary hadn’t bothered to tell me himself.

            It’s not like we talked to each other that much.  I mean we were only in third grade, but it was pretty cool to have a guy who looked like that, who is that athletic, as a boyfriend.  I mean, it was a bragging rights thing, you know.  The other girls in class couldn’t say Gary was their boyfriend – and now I wouldn’t be able to either.

            The reason I was with Sally, other than the fact we had become close, was because of what I revealed one night at the bar.  It was one of those slow nights when a few of us had survived a bruising day and deserved time just to chill and forget our current issues – mine being saddled with an unobtainable sales target and not making enough progress toward attaining it – Sally’s bemoaning a poor presentation she’d given that day – which really wasn’t as bad as she thought, but the only way I was going to convince her that it wasn’t was to pour a few beers into her.  Glenda who is Sally’s assistant was there for moral support.

           As so often happens when we are down in the dumps we’d go back and try and find some moment in time when – if we could – we would change it or in my case gain some enlightenment on it. Fantasy frolicking, we called it.

           And when Gary’s name slipped out and my recollection that I thought he had moved to the Chicago area Sally suddenly looked at me as if I had grown another head.  “Gary Wood, you say?”

           I nodded, sipping my beer.

           “I know him.”

            I fell back into my seat and smacked my front teeth with the beer bottle.

           A blue jay was perched on a Maple limb above the cage and was confused at my presence.  He kept turning his head, first left, then right as though one side might offer a better view of me, or make more sense.

           I swore to lock the bathroom door from now on, even though Mom and Dad forbade it.  “What if you slip and knock yourself out while taking a bath…and drown,” Mom used as an argument. 

           “But you won’t know, cause there doesn’t have to be a sound, and by the time you figure out I’ve been in there too long and come checking, I’ll be blue in the water.  Too late!” 

            At any rate, the door was locked from that point forward.

           Even though it was a lame trick, Danny pulled it off like a pro – turning the door handle slowly and quietly, and then bursting in ninja-like as I climbed out of the tub. He must have been listening at the door, because woosh!  I was grabbed from behind and was hauled downstairs, through the kitchen, out the back door and across the yard before I realized what was happening.  Even then I couldn’t figure out a good reason. Bathwater from my body dripped all over everything and I don’t know how he held onto my slippery figure.

            The cage door was open and the lock hung in one of the links.  Sox barked at us as we crossed the lawn.  I was too surprised to scream until we were on the lawn, and as much as I wiggled and struggled to get free, I was defenseless.  I was confused but tried to find the humor…until he told me.

           The blue jay flit off, obviously unimpressed by my nudity, and because of it, I looked down at myself, a bit surprised at my paleness – considering it was August and we led a very active outdoor life.  Not that there wasn’t a faint line where my shorts reached, but I wondered at the lack of a tan.  Suddenly I wished I had a mirror out there, because the natural light revealed too much truth.

           “He’s coming!” Danny called.

           Panic set in.  A deep purple blush raced over my paleness and I watched it travel quickly up my legs from my toes.  Reality had set in like a big stink.

           The cage was void of cover.  Dad planned to get Sox a doghouse to place in the corner, but realized it would take up too much room, so he put off that idea and said he was working on another.  I glanced about feverishly, sweat flooding my pores, which of course wasn’t the most attractive look – I mean, if in fact I had to be seen in the nude.

           Earlier, as Danny locked the gate he explained, “You’ll hate him for seeing you naked.”  That was his wonderful, well thought out plan.  “You’ll be happy he moved, so he won’t be able to brag to all your friends about it.”

           My arms rose automatically as if controlled by a marionette.

           “You are out of your mind!”

           He wouldn’t listen. 

           “Makes no sense,” I sighed.  Brothers can be stupid.  But I wasn’t totally upset, because even in the heat of the event, I understood he hated to see me that upset.

           “He’s at the end of the block.”

           And I became suddenly tranquil – the pressure bringing a controlled logic and my escape route became apparent.

           The links dug into my toes like knives, waves of searing pain racing up my legs, and I was soon splayed over the top of the fence with the same oomph feeling of fielding one of Danny’s punches in the gut.  Balancing, bare ass floating in mid-air, I tentatively surveyed the thin grass sprinkled over the sun-baked dirt, took a deep breath then flipped.  Had I more time to think, I would have slithered carefully over, inched down the outside of the fence and saved the painful scrapes on my butt and back – never mind the twisted ankle as I hit the ground in an awkward spread eagle landing, gasping for air as I waited for the breath to come back into my lungs.

           Not only did Sally know Gary, but they had been close friends since the year he moved to her town, the same year he left my town, and the relationship was even cozier because his parents and her parents became friends and both bought summer homes along Lake Michigan and joined the same club.

           And sitting on the front seat in the heat of the summer afternoon I was suddenly nervous.  I wasn’t quite sure what I expected – certainly didn’t know what to expect.

          

           The pain didn’t occur to me until I was hobbling and coughing through the kitchen, each step throbbing as I wondered if my ankle was going to hold up.

           A jolt of adrenaline empowered me up the stairs and back into the bathroom.  It was the only room with a lock – and I quickly turned the bolt, relieved by the sound and quickly sat down on the toilet.  My ankle throbbed.  The scrapes on my back and butt stung.

           I was stuck and sat and waited.  There were no windows, so I had no way to know what was happening.  I had only my bath towel and was afraid Danny would grab me again if I dared leave the room.

           Time crept slowly as I imagined Danny’s reaction when he found the cage empty and I conjured Gary’s responses.  I’m sure he was upset at missing a chance at seeing me naked.  I mean, come on. 

            I was startled by a knock on the door.

           “He’s gone.”

           I didn’t trust my brother.  What if Gary was waiting in the hallway with him?

           “He wasn’t interested.”

           “What?” I cried from my seat on the toilet.  My stomach tightened - a raw feeling. “What do you mean?”

           “Said to say goodbye, though.  He’s leaving this afternoon.”

           I stared into the mirror through tears and wondered, and continued wondering about my reaction, more importantly his reaction, as I climbed back into the tub water, now tepid and cloudier than before.

           “That’s him,” Sally pointed as we climbed from her car. 

           I couldn’t be sure which one in a group milling about under the oaks he was, but as we approached their silhouettes, images of my reflection in my bathroom mirror floated above them and I realized Gary had only been an innocent though important player in my early leap into adulthood that day and without his involvement, I wouldn’t have turned into the person I’d become.

           That wonder that had hung around unanswered since that day so many years ago suddenly disappeared, and I’m finally free of those chain-links.
 
C.W. Bigelow lives in the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in The Scrambler,The View From Here,The Shine Journal, The Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising, Litsnack,Sister Ignition, Full of Crow, FeatherLit, Curbside Splendor, Literary Juice and The Dying Goose.
* * *

Bird Feeder
By Susannah Cecil
 
     “Mama’s checked out, y’all. I don’t know where her mind’s at. She’s just sittin’ there, staring out the window,” door slams.

     “Did you shake her? You try and talk to her?”

     “Of course I did. But she just sits. She won’t say nothin’.”

     “Let me go see,” sock feet shuffle down the hall. “Mama? Mama? You feel okay? Can you hear me? Say something, Mama!” sighs. “You’re right, she ain’t all there. She’s never done this before.”

     “No she hadn’t. Maybe when we were at school? But I’ve never seen her like this.”

     “Has somebody called Daddy?” fledgling yowls.

     “Didn’t want to aggravate him, in case she snaps out of it. Then, he’d have come home for nothing.”

     “But she ain’t snappin’ out,”   * snap * snap *   “Mama! Wake up! Hey Mama.”

                                                                                                              * * *          

     The debris throughout the house was ankle deep. Dishes were piled in the kitchen sink with aimless abandon and crested over the counters in concentric circles of plates, forks, knives. Cupboard contents had been heaved onto the counter; vitamin and Bayer bottles strewn across the linoleum. Robitussin oozed down the cabinet facing, collecting in a bloodish pool that had thickened to a cloudy sheen. Red, sticky footprints trailed out of the kitchen and toward the bathroom, where a medicine box and first aid kit had met the same riotous marauding.

     They’d found her in the bedroom, her body set down tenuously on the edge of the bare mattress. Its covers had snarled around her and pulled off the corner, as if she’d stripped them, then lost her nerve. Two hundred fifty thread count coiled up from her knees, spiraled around her ribs and across her shoulders. Her throat lay open to the chill from the lifted window, while the sheets menaced like a brooding python.

     “Does she even have clothes on, or just pajamas?” from the receiver.

     “Just her holey t-shirt and underwear. Her hair is all scraggly too, like she never put it in a hair band when she got out of bed,” reports bantam. “We didn’t wanna call you, but…”

     “Never mind!” panting.  “How long has she been like this?”

     “I don’t know. But I’ve been home since 2:30, so before that.”

     She stared out at the feeder. Birds darting into her line of sight, pinching what they needed, dashing back to their babies. Mission focused, as tethered by obligation and demands as any, yet graceful in their illusion of freedom. Even they, winged ones, can’t escape; creatures with means of whisking to the margins of existence. They can’t get there, really. Always striving, always working.

     “Then find the bottles, Conrad. And count how many!”  receiver yawps .

     She blinked, registering voices through the tunnel that spanned the distance from there to here. His muffled pleading and someone’s counting banked against her consciousness. An abstracted whine of hunger, and muted staccatos of others echoed through corridors of time. She blinked at the jangling timbre of voices calling her name; not her real name, but the one they used. They didn’t know her, or any of the winged creatures. They couldn’t know how bound such ones are, really. How unfair. Sad. Appearing self-possessed, and yet fiercely yoked to the unrelenting roost. Their wings would never ripen without her tending, hunting, feeding, yearning.

     Exhausted. Nestling drops to the ground. The whoop of the Miller kid funnels from the street; the pop of a new bb gun. Another pop. Another fallen, must not yet have its wings. Her lids flutter a last time, then the descent.

     The python tempered its pace, waiting for her to light within reach. Its serpentine fibers move at last, first in slow ripples, then tightening their spiral, gauging her slim resistance. The circular muscles clinch a smooth, quiet grip around her throat. Another pop; another fallen. Her slender bulk surrenders into the restraint of its greedy embrace. Breeze trembles through the curtains, carrying visions of loftiness like tinkling icicles falling from the roofline. She used to perch there, dreaming, waiting for life to unfurl. . .

     Screeching. Echoes of yelping. The name-not-hers siphoning through the tunnel, choking in the space between there and here. Decrescendo now; futile and self-deceiving flight blurred, now obscured. Yellow haze. Quieting. Passages closing. Voices no longer pleading, just softly, softly. Light as a feather. 
 
Besides writing, Susannah Cecil is a counselor, a yoga instructor and a Board Member of Winston-Salem Writers. Her work has appeared in Deep South Magazine & Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She was a Finalist in the 2012 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology Contest. She lives in Clemmons, NC.
 
* * *





 
Revelation 14:12
By Chris Curtis
“I am the vine and you are the branches,” he whispered to his fingernails. Each one was immaculate and painted a different color. 

The bus jerked to a complete stop and Saint Perdus carefully took the sidewalk, as not to damage the fresh flowers that were woven into the frayed laces of his mold-covered boots. His matted hair and crusty jacket were unmoved by the breeze.

He looked around for a while, trying to remember exactly why he’d been sent downtown. Why do I never remember? The Lord had spoken to him just after sunrise this morning and, in all His wisdom, told Saint Perdus that he must be downtown today. Perhaps he’d said more, but Perdus couldn’t remember yet. Not without his holy water. 

It was the same holy water his father drank: Stolichnaya, blue label.

“Never a day should pass when you do not feel this holy water within, burning the evil out of you!” Saint Perdus declared aloud as he uncapped the bottle and swallowed a quarter of its contents. Hadn’t the Lord told me something more?           

A single fly buzzed at his neck, his beard, distracting his thoughts. He walked away from it and it followed. Flies or not, today would be his day.

Saint Perdus had waited, faithfully and without question for months, years maybe, for another sign. Will I see the Woman Clothed with the Sun today as I had in 1992? Will I hear the trumpets sounding again? He wandered the streets for some time, his eyes darting from everything around him to everyone he passed, looking for His beacon.

And behold, there was at last a great sign from Heaven: a neon light.  The sign, Saint Perdus knew, should have read PARK.  Yet, God had willed the P to show no light so that his disciple may see another word. Was it not God who allowed electricity to be? With the ARK glowing above, the saint remembered his purpose. God had sent him here to—another fly, joining the first in its persistent irritation, circled the saint, derailing his memory. He swatted at the pair of them, trying to keep them away long enough to remember. Oblivious to the discomfort of his witnesses, he screamed, “Flies be damned!”

He forced his mind back to the ARK. Did God mean for another flood? With so many sinners, this seemed the most obvious solution. He ran for the building but stopped before he entered.

“Saint Perdus,” he scolded himself, “God in Heaven has prepared for you a safe haven and you have forgotten to bring His animals!” This would be a long process, gathering the animals of the earth. When will the waters rise? Would I even have time? But as he turned, he saw that he’d brought them after all: monkeys of all colors and builds, some lanky, others stout; bears, polar and grizzly; elephants with polished ivory; toy poodles and chocolate Labradors; even dolphins dragging themselves along the cracked, dry pavement to be in the safety of this new ARK. All and more were there, all in pairs. The sight was beautiful. Saint Perdus raised a hand to wipe away a tear.

He led them into the blessed parking structure, toward the top where the floodwater wouldn’t reach. The Lord had made it so the animals caused no harm to the cars or landscape and likewise, the cars passed through them without harm, the drivers unaware of the great many beasts in the busy street. Even the tall giraffes ascended the structure without so much as a scratch on their heads. Atop the ARK, Saint Perdus looked to the blue sky and cried out, “O Lord!  I have brought Your creatures to the safe haven You chose for us! We are safe! The rain may come!”

No rain came. 

The sun continued its assault, burning away the last vapors of cloud. The sky was brighter and more vacant than when the saint had stepped off the bus.

He waited and no rain fell.

The flies buzzed again, this time in his ear. Saint Perdus threw his hands out in rage, slapping and clutching at the insects. There were more now, at least six that he could count. In frustration, he threw the almost empty bottle of holy water to the street below where it shattered beside a delivery truck.

He took a deep breath and turned to calm the animals, who were undoubtedly frightened by his outburst. The saint stood aghast: they were gone. The beasts left no marks, as if they’d never been waiting for God with him. As though they hadn’t been there.

The din of the flies grew in his head. Was the Great Deceiver not also known as the Lord of Flies? He looked back to the spot where his bottle had burst open as the little, winged demons danced about his skull. The wet shards glittered in the sunlight. So did Saint Perdus’ tears.

The day faded and he stood weeping, unsure if he’d been fooled by the Devil or abandoned by God.
Chris Curtis is a writer, musician, artist, and poet. His works include “Possessions,” award-winners “Trouble Follows,” featured in The Wayward Peacemaker, and full-length play For the Trees. He lives in Colorado with his wife and pets.
 
* * *
 
In the tank
By Ray Cline
Rodriguez the dolphin bobbed on the surface of the water. “Hey.” The zoologist tossed a fish and went back to taking notes. Rodriguez ignored it for a minute.

“Hey, you.” He waited at the edge of the pool, staring at the zoologist. “Come here.” The zoologist went to Rodriguez and rubbed his bottlenose. “Yes, yes that’s very nice but I really want to talk about something.” The zoologist blinked dumbly before picking up his pen. Rodriguez snorted like dolphins tend to. He waited a moment for the zoologist to become situated.

“I really just have a question.” The zoologist took more notes. “I mean it’s probably so obvious what I’m going to ask you. It’s all I seem to be able to talk about.” Rodriguez came a little closer to the edge of the pool. “What’s it like to love somebody?” The zoologist glanced up distractedly.

“I mean, I have no real good guess, especially since I don’t really know what it feels like. Is it like a really big fish that you have to try really hard to swallow? Or is it like a hundred tiny fish all slithering down in your belly?” He squealed in delight.

“Is it like fish at all?” The zoologist looked at Rodriguez’s beady eyes. Rodriguez watched the zoologist eagerly. The zoologist hummed sagely and shook his head, writing something.

“What’s it like to be out there? I mean it must be strange, walking around.” He clicked several times and left his mouth open. The zoologist got up and patted the inside of his mouth and placed a fish there.

Rodriguez swallowed the fish. “So what do you think?” The zoologist took some notes. “Ah, ok. I’ll let you think on it for a little bit. You don’t talk much anyway. Not that that’s a bad thing.” Rodriguez paused. “I didn’t mean to insinuate anything. Sorry.” Rodriguez swam in an awkward circle. “I wonder what you’re doing over there. Just sitting there and looking at your little thing, marking on it. I wonder what it is.” He bobbed. “Oh, well!”

The trainer came in and gave some hand signals that Rodriguez followed dutifully. He jumped into the air, shouting:  “No time like the present!” A back flip:  “I love you!” Twisting midair:  “I love fish!” And he landed with a splash, the bubbles fizzing to the surface. The trainer fed him several fish after they were finished practicing.

Rodriguez blew bubbles and sprayed water. He thrashed playfully and swam around his pool. Then he floated for a while, dozing.

The next morning, Rodriguez woke up to find the zoologist checking the water. He swam toward the zoologist and watched. “You must really like water.” The zoologist threw Rodriguez a fish. “Mmm. Thanks.” Rodriguez bobbed there still.

After a second he said, “you know, I was thinking about the question I asked you yesterday. I sort of wonder what it’s like to be you. Out of the water all day, free to explore wherever you please.” Rodriguez sprayed water at the zoologist’s instruments. The zoologist tossed another fish out into the water. Rodriguez swam bit back and forth, ignoring the fish to stay close and watch. “I bet you wonder about what it’s like to be me too, don’t you?” Rodriguez swam in a little circle until the zoologist left. Then he held his breath and went under the surface.

He swam and looked around his pool. There was a broad mirror on one side of the pool where Rodriguez liked to go and look, blowing a small trail of bubbles out of his blowhole and looking at himself. Every time he looked he remembered that he was different from the zoologist, even though he had never seen another dolphin. Rodriguez could tell that the thing in the mirror was himself because of the bubbles. He would feel them trickle out of his blowhole and see them in the mirror. Then he would turn around and watch them go up toward the surface, making tiny noises. So he knew that he was watching himself. “This is me. This is Rodriguez.” He wasn’t sure exactly why he existed or where he came from or what he was supposed to do, but he believed in predestination (a dolphin form of predestination) and that was all fine.

Later, the zoologist was taking notes. Rodriguez observed. “Hi there.” He grinned, and the zoologist seemed to know it was a grin. The zoologist winked and tossed a couple of fish. Rodriguez caught them in his mouth and swallowed them whole enthusiastically. “I’ve been thinking.” He bobbed closer to the edge. “I want to show you what it’s like here. You could come and see yourself blow bubbles in the thing.”

Rodriguez studied the zoologist, looking for an answer. The zoologist glanced up from his notes and put the pad down. He walked over to Rodriguez and smiled, patting his head.

His heart skipped a beat. This was it! “Ok!” Rodriguez took the zoologist by the arm into the tank. He pulled him down to the mirror. He thought about how great it was that the zoologist was going to see himself blow bubbles in the mirror. He stayed in front of the mirror with the zoologist, blowing little streams of bubbles out of his blowhole. The zoologist was also blowing bubbles, just more clumsily. Rodriguez liked watching the bubbles.

Then he felt something coming from the other side of the mirror. It was a thumping feeling, like something was hitting it from the other side. It hurt his head, so he swam closer to examine the mirror. Not seeing anything amiss, he looked around, trying to find the cause of the weird thumping feeling. He tapped the mirror a few times with his nose.

Rodriguez heard something jump into the water. He looked and saw the trainer in the water, paddling toward him. Rodriguez squeaked happily and swam in a circle. The zoologist flopped around. The trainer took the zoologist’s arm from Rodriguez’s mouth. Rodriguez was scared and confused as he watched the trainer swim away with the lifeless zoologist. He surfaced, realizing that something was wrong.

“Oh no! What happened?” He bobbed behind the trainer, swimming closer to the edge of the water. “Is he going to be ok? I didn’t mean to do anything!” Rodriguez was very sorry for what had happened, but he didn’t know what exactly happened or if he made it happen. Nobody was looking at him.

“I’m sorry!” He thrashed, confused and a little sad. “I’m sorry!” He tried to grin, but nobody was looking or listening to him. He floated away, facing the opposite direction. “Oh no!” He suddenly took off quickly, swimming near the edge of the pool. He dove to the bottom, clicking anxiously. “I’m sorry!” He didn’t know what else to do, so he jumped. He knew people liked it when he jumped. He landed in the water with a big splash. The wave sprayed out of the pool and knocked the bucket of fish into the water.

The zoologist sputtered to life, gasping for air. His eyes rolled wildly in his head as they took him away. Rodriguez discretely ate some of the fish after everyone left.    
Ray Cline is from Chicago by way of Indiana. He likes to eat pears and collect seashells.
 
* * *
The Value of Nil
By Vela Damon
“It’s all about perspective.” Devon reached up to pinch the sun between his fingers,
smiled down at Trista. “Right now, I’m a god.”

She looked up at his smile, his hand, returned to picking at the edges of the red patch
on her skirt. Red, blue, yellow, floral, striped--Trista had patches in every color of the
rainbow, every fabric style from the remnant bin at Goodwill, but she picked most often
at the red.

“You’re not a god. You’re a nobody.”

Devon dropped his hand, sank down against the retaining wall beside Trista, nudged his
shoulder to hers. “I’m not a nobody to you.”

“Another nobody’s opinion doesn’t mean anything. Nothing and nothing is still nothing.”

“A negative and a negative make a positive.”

“We’re not negatives. We’re zeroes.”

Devon smiled again, took Trista’s hand, stilled her picking at the red, laced his fingers
through hers. “I love you. That’s bigger than all the numbers there are.”

“Numbers go on forever.”

“Exactly.”

Trista bunched the fabric of her skirt in her free hand, twisted, untwisted, twisted...she
wanted to pull her other hand loose of Devon’s, wanted her heart to stop racing, her
throat to stop closing, her thoughts to stop spinning.

Almost a year since he’d found her in the trash-strewn alley, broken, discarded, red. 

Almost a year that he’d been gentle, thoughtful, green.

She thought of him as green, the color of new grass peeking through ancient dirt, tender
buds sprouting from brittle limbs, life emerging in barren spaces.

But her dirt, her limbs, her spaces fought to remain barren, rooted in the world they
knew, the ecosystem they understood.

Why did he bother?

Devon slid closer to the wall. The white brick was always cold, but felt good against his
back. Solid. Bracing. Real. No one noticed them here, in the no man’s land between the
subdivisions and the Prohibited greenbelt. No one else came here at all, except county
maintenance workers, once enough homeowners complained about the brush serving
as a breeding ground for rats. 

It hadn’t been cleared since he found Trista. Maybe it never would be again. Maybe it
would twist into thickets so dense not even the rats could pass through. Maybe he and
Trista could hide away here forever, counting all the numbers they could count. Maybe
she’d finally believe they could be more than zeroes.

“I saw them today.”

Her voice was quiet, toneless, like it often was when she spoke of them.

“Did they see you?”

Trista shook her head. “I ducked into a doorway. On 38th. They were having lunch. 
Outside. At Perry’s. Laughing. Drinking wine. My mom was flirting with the waiter.”

Devon tightened his grip on her hand. “They’re not gonna show how they really are out
in public.”

“He was with them.”

Devon’s heart dropped. “Who was?”

“You know who. They were all laughing and joking like the happy little family.”

“Maybe it was just for show. Trying to rebuild their reputation.”

“They already have. They’re back at the country club. My mom’s doing the Women’s
League crap. My dad’s talking about trying again for city council.”

“How’d you hear all that?”

“Aunt Gracie. She’ll never forgive them. But she’s the only one.”

“No she’s not. Nobody’d vote for your dad. The rest of it...they’re just taking them back
thinking it’d be more of a scandal not to.”

“Yeah? Funny how Golden Boy’s football scholarship is still on, too.”

Devon brought her hand to his lips, kissed it. “Don’t, Tris. You know that’s from
everything getting pawned off on him still being screwed up from the accident.”

“What I know is that he’s getting away with it, just like he said he would. Who’d believe
me when I’m just trash they took in off the street and he’s their real kid. He was just
putting me back where I belonged."

”He actually said that?”

“Yeah. And I told them. I told everybody. It didn’t matter.”

Devon leaned over, kissed her cheek, lingered. “The hell with them. The hell with
everybody. I’ll take care of you.”

Trista pulled away, pushed up to her feet, glared down at him. “Would you stop? How
the hell can you take care of me when you can barely take care of yourself? And who
the hell said I wanted to be taken care of? What I want is for them to pay. For him to
pay. But that’ll never happen because they’re who they are and I’m who I am and
people like me don’t fucking matter.”

She stalked away, swiping her sleeve across her eyes.

“Then I’ll make them pay,” Devon called after her.

Trista halted, but didn’t turn back. “Yeah? And you’d do that how?”

Devon stepped over, wrapped his arms around her, kissed the nape of her neck.
“However you want.”

She reached back and stroked his hair. “You’d really do that?”

“I’ll do anything that’ll make you happy.”

Trista smiled, envisioning a whole new world of green, all set awash in red.

She took Devon’s hand and raised it to pinch the sun.

Right now, he was a god.
Vela Damon has lived in eleven different states and is currently setting up camp in Texas with two humans, two dogs and one unsociable cat. Her work has appeared in 101 Words, The Subterranean Quarterly, Short-Story.me and several other publications. Visit her Here.
* * *
 
Missed Connections Not Appearing in Craig's List
By George Dila
 
At Auditorium

I couldn't stop watching you at Auditorium, the little girl with golden hair. I was in love with you. You always sat three rows up from me, a little to the left, because that's the way our classes filed into Auditorium. Did you turn to look at me once? Smile? I learned your name was Linda. There was a song on the radio, “Linda”, and I sang it in my head at night, in my bed, thinking about you. I drove past our school yesterday. It is a ruin. The neighborhood is a ruin. But there is a party store across the street with bars on the windows and signs that say Cigarettes and Liquor and Lotto. Meet me there. I still love you, even after 65 years, if you are still the little girl with golden hair I couldn't stop watching at Auditorium.

At the Lipstick Counter

I saw you in a story. The author wrote, “A young woman stood at the counter, looking at lipsticks.” You were the young woman, but that was all the attention you received. The author didn't mention that you barely noticed the lipstick in your hand, your mind elsewhere, and that there was longing in your eyes. But how could he know? To him, you were a mere literary device. The author wrote, “Nearby, a man stared intently into a showcase of designer perfumes.” I was the man, but that was all the attention I received. The author didn't mention I wasn't really looking at perfumes; that I had paused there because I saw you and was smitten, and wanted to remain near you, within your blue aura. Neither did the author mention that I am an author, as well. But how could he know? To him, I was only an extra on the stage. I am desperate to meet you. Unless something more is written, you will remain at that lipstick counter forever, and I will remain forever at the perfume showcase. So I will write the story myself. We will be the main characters. Your name will be Dahlia. Mine will be Raymond. We will meet at the lipstick counter. But our relationship will end tragically. A writer must do what he must do.

In Sneakers

I saw you in sneakers. You were choosing a red wine at Whole Foods. I wanted to help, our fingertips  touching as I handed you a Malbec from Spain. I saw you in Birkenstocks, wearing a faded Che Guevara T-shirt, head-to-head with an old goat with a ponytail. How could you? I saw you in high, black leather boots, crossing a busy Manhattan street with determination. I hoped you'd be careful. I saw you in stiletto heels, dancing the rumba with a swivel-hipped Latin lover who took you for granted. I didn't like him. I saw you in sensible heels, interviewing for a temp filing job at American Family Insurance. I was surprised to see you in Madison. I saw you in fuzzy pink slippers, stirring a yellow mug of tea with a brown cinnamon stick. I craved seeing your smile. I saw you in saddle oxfords, at the malt shop with that football player. In penny loafers and knee socks, walking across the quad with a frat boy also in penny loafers. I saw you in ballet slippers, reading Kahlil Gibran at the Barnes and Noble. “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms.”  I nearly swooned. I saw you in Joan Crawford fuck-me shoes, sipping a Cosmo in the Shadow Bar at Caesar's Palace. I was on a losing streak. I saw you in flip-flops at the K-Mart. In Earth shoes, carrying a sign that said “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER”. I saw you in hiking boots, drinking water from a canteen, then wiping your brow with a blue bandana. I would have given anything to drink from that same canteen, to touch that bandana to my lips. I have always loved you. Won't you come to me now, running, barefoot.
 
George Dila's short story collection, "Nothing More to Tell" was published by Mayapple Press in 2011. His stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications.
 
* * *
Oblivious
By Margaret Eaton
Professor Madison often talked to herself inside her book lined office. Every year I dumb it down and every year it’s not enough is something she often said on a Monday and sometimes on a Tuesday. One Wednesday she said it while slipping a kidney shaped pillow between her back and the insult she referred to as the college’s idea of a proper chair. As she settled into the insult she heard a timid knock on her door, then a timid voice.

        “Can I talk to you about my grade?”

        Professor Madison’s eyes lifted from her desk and landed on a pinkish 19-year boy with a pudding face.

        “Yes Alec, come in, I was just talking about you.”

        Buoyed, Alex approached. 
Margaret Eaton’s stories have appeared in Opium, Matchbook, The Collagist, Pif Magazine, Barrelhouse, and Apt. She was a finalist for Southwest Review's 2013 Fiction Prize.
 
* * *
 
Mary Ren's Disease
By Theresa Senato Edwards
 
The night was smooth, silent, and the snow clung to each tree branch—infants clutching mothers’ fingers.  The moon, almost full, lit my path towards something that pulled me closer, deeper into an overwhelming white.  As I ran farther away from the warmth of my parents’ home, cutting through frozen, leafless trees, I hurried closer to an uncertainty: a fear or hope— not sure which and terrified of my relentless concern.  I heard sounds coming from the small valley just over the hill that I began to climb.  When I reached the top, my apprehension forced me to stop frozen in my breath, realizing a terrible accident sprawled along the road below. 

I heard a child crying.  I loved children, yet I had become so afraid to go near them, anyone, even Laura, my little sister, who meant everything to me.  Against the telephone pole, a large, black mass of machinery lay crushed and matted like a mangled cat that had lost its last battle.  I saw a woman, lifeless, lying in the brush near a clearing in the woods a few yards away from the car.  I imagined her pain when her body ripped through the car window, shattering glass all over the hood.  As I approached the blinding horror of her blood, the child’s crying directed me towards the car.  Oh God—the blood all around the scene seeped through each crack in the road, sucking any chance of life out of a woman who was probably driving home to a wonderful man, a wonderful life.  It sucked every chance I might have had to forget my own tragedy. I heard the child again. . . . I had to save her.

A cloud pressed on the moon, slowly shadowing the snow-cushioned bloody trail of fate.  The child’s door was crushed, but I could still hear the echoes of her sorrow as I went to her side.  She cried in her car seat, “Momma? Momma?”

Her tears: young desperate moans for comfort.  A flash of despair hung in the scene.  Then, I heard a man singing a lullaby that made her warm, gentle eyes close momentarily, shadowing her dreams:


You are my little joy
That can be coy 
My little Natalie


It must be her daddy interrupting.  Yet, his mystery brought more sorrow as his wife—sleeping ruin in the brush of snow—left as death carried her away. 

“No, come back,” I cried, remembering how Laura cried for me when I left. 

A blanket clothed the little girl’s grief, cupped eyes reddened by the bloody cut in her forehead.  I moved closer to her, smelling fear and feces.  Her mother’s eyes stared dead at me, begging me to save her little joy.  Me, the freak, to save her legacy.  Me, who ran away from softness and my own jubilee.  Little toddler cried again, and her crying loudly shook me from my trance as I captured her from the wreck.  Her eyes on me to cry right through my nervousness, my disease: what makes me think bad thoughts that scare me away from Laura. 

What a little beauty as I carried Natalie and car seat just beyond her mother’s accident.   She looked at me, into my eyes her stare grabbed hold of my heart.  Oh God!  Her blood on me.  I blinked to stop the thoughts of helpless infants cast away to die unfair deaths, putting car seat down to quickly wipe my hands on the worn blackness of my coat.  I told myself to snap out of it, to hold, protect the child.  I reached for her and took her from her lifesaver.  She moaned, inhaling jagged breaths between each moan; and when I held her in my arms she softly sighed, “Momma.” 

I deflected my obsession to think bad thoughts, promising to kill myself before I’d do anything to hurt her or any child.  I silently repeated this pledge, quickly passing her mother’s limp shell.  I called 911 and waited for the child’s rescue as I curled up against the telephone pole near the harsh, bitter remains of the crash. 

Against the night, baby slept in my arms as the paramedics approached.  Hearing them, she flinched yet remained asleep.  I ran to her car seat and gently placed her in it so as not to wake her, leaving her many feet away from any death remaining near her mother’s car.  I hid at the edge of the road and watched the ambulance’s lights reflect off the snow before returning to my desperate, lonely course that only led me farther away from the ones I loved.

As I turned towards the woods, however, I felt the mother’s blood anchor me, and I heard the man again—his frightening melody somehow captured little girl as she slept:


My little Natalie
You are so dear
Don’t you worry
Daddy’s near


I thought of how near I had been to my own little one as I let her slip out of my life, out of my body, out of my future.  Out the window like the mother in the accident, thrown helplessly into death or the deadly space that judges the soul.  I wondered about the soul, the soul of embryos.  If there was such a thing.  Laura wanted to know all about embryos and souls, but I couldn’t tell her.  I couldn’t bear to think of either.  I repeated my vow that I had silently recited many times since:


Dear God, I’d never do anything bad to hurt anyone, so help me God, Amen. 
Never do anything bad to hurt anyone, so help me God, Amen.


That somehow helped me sort it all out, retrace my steps, slowly try to go back to my family…as if I had lost and found my own life, as if I had heard my own daddy lullaby through night.


Note From Author-"Inspired by a passage from James Joyce's Ulysses."
Theresa Senato Edwards has three published books of poetry and two published short stories. Her poem "Painting Czeslawa Kwoka" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and excerpts from Edwards’ verse novel in progress, "wing bones," are in the latest issue of Gargoyle Magazine. She blogs sometimes at TACSE creations.
 
* * *
Creative NonfictionBrilla by Hector Durate, Jr.All I Have by Christine KellySand by Susan Wolbarst
Pigeons
By Nicholas Efstathiou

Michael walked beside his grandfather as they made their way down Myrtle Street towards the falls. Cool autumn air rushed through the wide alleys between the mill buildings. The late afternoon sun sank towards the horizon as Michael adjusted his hand within the safety of his grandfather's. His grandfather set a slow pace and Michael jumped a little as he walked. His grandfather smiled down at him, humming a refrain from Mass.

"God has been good to us, Michael," his grandfather said. They left the asphalt of Myrtle Street for the well trodden dirt path that ran along the canal's bank towards the waterfalls. The water moved sluggishly in the canal, dirty from mill run-off and heavy with windblown leaves and branches. The path led them to a small park, a handful of benches around a large bird bath. Dozens of pigeons moved in and around the bath, their feathers bright, the birds fat. His grandfather led him to a bench with its back to the west and they sat down in the warm rays of the sun.

From his long coat Michael's grandfather took out a small, brown paper bag. He unrolled the top and held the bag open for Michael. Michael reached in and took a handful of stale breadcrumbs. His grandfather did the same, calling gently to the birds as he tossed a few crumbs onto the beaten ground in front of the bench. A few of the pigeons noticed, coming close to peck at the bread. Michael did the same and more birds followed the first.

"I did not know how America was going to be, Michael. I had heard many things," he looked at Michael, "and you cannot believe all of those things."

Michael threw the last of his bread crumbs and looked at his grandfather.

His grandfather smiled down at him. "More?" he asked, holding out the bag.

Michael shook his head. "No thank you, Papu."

His grandfather nodded. He took another handful for himself, throwing the crumbs closer to the bench, the birds drawing nearer.

"I miss Greece, Michael," his grandfather said softly.

"Why did you leave?"

"Hmm? Why did I leave?" he smiled then sighed. "I left because I had to, Michael." His smile faded and he cast another handful of bread upon the ground. "You know, Michael, that I fought in many wars?"

"No, Papu."

"No? No, I don't suppose I speak of it. But you are getting older."

The pigeons drew closer, following the bread crumbs to where they lay around his grandfather's heavy working shoes.

"When I was young, Michael, I grew quickly. I was this tall when I was fourteen, and I would hunt Turks in the mountains and in Armenia. I have scars in many places.  I killed many men, Michael. Many men. Some Turks. Some Greeks. All deserved their deaths." He cast out more crumbs, some landing on his shoes. The pigeons ate greedily, twenty or thirty gathered around them, wings fluttering and the birds cooing. More bread crumbs followed, some landing on his grandfather's pants.

Michael watched the birds flutter effortlessly up to his grandfather's lap, the bread disappearing quickly.

"For years I killed men, Michael. I butchered them in villages, in their beds, at their dining tables. I slew them at prayer and in the sanctity of their mosques." His grandfather laughed. "I burned their buildings down around their corpses. Then the wars came, Michael. 1912. 1913. I fought Turks there as well. When the wars ended I joined the French Foreign Legion, and killed muslims in Africa." His grandfather paused, giving the pigeons on his lap more bread. "But with the coming of the Great War, and the tales of the starving Armenians, I returned to Greece. I found my old friends, my dear friend Nicholas Stefanos led us, and we gathered our arms to us again. We went into Armenia to see what, if anything, we could do, Michael." His grandfather handed the bag of bread to him. Michael took it, scattering the crumbs upon the bench and his grandfather's legs.

Wings flapped and his grandfather's hands stole unobtrusively among the pigeons. The large hands closed around a bird, a broad thumb snapping the neck before it could call out in surprise. The flock continued its feast, ignorant of its comrade's fate. Michael's grandfather slid the limp bird into his coat and Michael replenished the crumbs rapidly vanishing from his grandfather's lap and the bench.

"Armenia was terrible, Michael. We followed a trail of death. Armenians butchered, villages burned. The path was not cold, the corpses fresh. The Turks enjoyed themselves longer and longer at each stop. They did not know that we followed. Did not know that we hunted them." His grandfather reached out, took and killed another pigeon, sliding it into his coat with the first.

"We found the Turks after two days of hell. The village they were in was small, and they had piled the bodies of the Armenian men in the center of the village. We could hear them in the houses, raping the women and children. They had even stacked their weapons outside, for they were soldiers, and would stay the night once they finished." His grandfather looked down the path for a long minute. "House by house we took them, the noise of the taking hidden by their own evil. We bound them, two hundred and fifty one of them, Michael. Bound them by their hands and brought them weeping to the village's stream."

Another bird died in his grandfather's hands. "I was twenty-six, Michael. Taller by a head than all others, even the Turks who we took that day. I had killed many more men than my friends. Survived more wounds and more fights. It fell to me to serve as the left hand of God, to deliver His judgment. My friends guarded the Turks. The Armenian women and children brought us coffee and food, and all watched. All watched, Michael, as I drowned the Turks. I stood hip deep in the stream and held each beneath the water. I served the will of God and did not feel the chill of the water, nor did my arms ache as the Turks fought for their lives. From the evening to the dawn I killed them. I did not stop. Brought to me alive and begging, dragged away dead. My friends beat those who struggled, shot some in the belly until all knew that drowning was the only death we would grant them. Some we let the women castrate, but mostly the women watched.

"They all watched me, Michael. The living and those I was to kill." He smiled at Michael, and Michael smiled back, dipping his hand into the bag again.

His grandfather killed another pigeon. "Two more, Michael, and we shall have enough for the soup."

Michael nodded and waited for the killing.
 
Nicholas Efstathiou is a freelance writer, husband, and father surviving as a trashman in New England. 
 
* * *
 
Encumbrance
By Falconhead
The first time I remember finding it, I thought perhaps I was still sleeping. I was about five, or six, or even seven years old, for I had yet to develop the ability to recall events on any countable mental or emotional timetable, and only knew each day from moment to moment.  

I pulled at it hoping it would dislodge itself, but it only seemed to lodge further in. 

I held a mirror to it, thinking I could see it, but my human eyes could not see that side of my head. I forgot about it soon after breakfast, but felt a slight twinge where it laid when someone spoke, or made a sound too harsh for my little skull.

I left it there, trying to think of it as a little secret I might keep from others, until, that is, I believe I felt it move one night, further into my ear. 

Then I knew I might be doomed.

The next morning I woke with my finger already checking to see that it was still there, and it was. I tried to scratch it out, the film of sleep still on me, but that only irritated the canal that leads to the brain. 

I rose with concern. I tried knocking it out by using my hand or hitting my head against the wall, but it held steadfast in the ear’s tiny passageway, perhaps inching in slightly further.

Outside my room, I thought ignoring it might make it go away, but in trying to ignore it, I found myself thinking of it more often.

When I did forget about it, its tickling that part of my inner ear brought my attention back to it, even in the presence of others, or especially so.

I grew embarrassed by it, knowing I was the only one who knew it was there. My secret had become self-consuming.

I thought I was to blame for it being there, so I kept myself hidden. I lied prone under beds, folded up in closets, or shrunken in the large shadows that went about running the household, or the outside world.

One day, at about the age of ten, fearing it would fall too far into the irretrievable pit of my inner head, I used a pair of tweezers and, after some rather fleshy pieces of me were removed, I extracted it from the conch that is my ear, and beheld it for the first time. What a horror it was to lay my eyes upon it at last! What a shock it was to see the little cotton-like sac gleaming in my palm as conspiratorially as a stolen pearl.

At first glance I thought it was the tip end of a cotton swab, until I saw it move, and knew that it was an egg—an arachnid’s egg.

I flushed it away almost compulsively, and was glad to be rid of it. I laid in bed that night, my ear now swollen with pain from the extraction process, almost more disturbed at the memory of it, than of the thing itself. Whether I had dreamt of a large hungry spider removing an annoying limbsy morsel from one of its orifices, I
cannot be certain, only that the dream seemed familiar to me, as though it had taken my whole life to have.

The next morning my left ear still throbbed, but what did that matter knowing I had removed curse from my head, and could go about the 4th Grade as normally as all the other ten year olds.

Only, staring into the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I turned to see the right ear was stuffed with the egg as obviously and as heinously as though the spider-mother had angered that I removed her egg, and thus placed a slightly larger one in me as a kind of remonstrance against the slaying of her many unborn children. 
 
Only no mother spider was to be found. So no sooner had I found this new one, I removed it and flushed it away too. Each egg I found I destroyed just as quickly as the last, but the eggs seemed to reappear only in other parts of my room, my hair, my person.

Was it the same egg? I wondered as I inspected every open pocket on my body for the mother who so repeatedly left her young where she pleased.

By the time I was twelve I had invented new ways of ridding the egg after I removed it, and found I held onto the fear that it would hatch too delightfully. Until, that is, one morning I found that it did hatch in the night. 
 
Surprised that I had not crushed it in my sleep, I looked down at it on my pillow, and noticed that there was only one spider-baby despite all the spider-mother’s efforts, and though, sympathetic as I was, I feared the others had already gone loose. But I found none.

This one offspring was blackish, and had two pincers, eight legs and what looked like an hourglass on the back of its abdomen, and I wondered if it looked like its mother, if it was poisonous, and if I smashed it, if I would be cast into Hell for its demise. 

Once I decided I would not go to spider-hell, I crushed it with a book or a shoe or whatever was nearest, almost sad to see it go after so many years of playing out that game of seek and destroy with it. But before I could feel too guilty, I found it a few days later in another room in the house that was my body. 
 
As I grew, I came to recognize the glint of the web the spider-baby had left behind, and it seemed to grow at the same pace as I did. Eventually I became accustomed to seeing it, though it always tried to keep itself concealed from me hiding and ducking or scuttling away into some dark corner or crevice, and I only caught brief
glimpses of its hairy little face, spindly legs, its eyes.

I found its webs more often than I found the hour-glassed spinner, and they became a constant in and around my life: my birthday cakes—covered in thin, hardly
visible webs, my gifts—ribboned in webs, my clothes, my windows, my family—all glisting in webs.  
 
My secret followed me to school. It peeped out from behind my homeroom teacher’s ears when she addressed me. It crawled out from the lunch ladies’ hair net, and once, it came in a flash from one eyelid to the other on the face of the school’s Principle who, having been sent to his office after my Science teacher found me in class after hours, tried explaining the dangers of fitting my skinny limbs and body inot the trantula aquarium.

Dangerous?" I asked.
"Yes." he said
“But,” I said.
“Yes, “ he asked.
“—sometimes Mother and Father sleep in the same bed.” I said.

The Principle paused, scratching his ear where the spider had been.

“How is that the same thing?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.

All my interlocutors seemed to have no knowledge of the spider’s appearance. Or if anyone saw or felt the insect crawling out of his or her shirt collar, or his or her nose, they did not let on. And so I said nothing. Only looked on when I saw it poke its head out of Jimmy So-and-so’s sandwich before he bit into it. Only smiled when I saw the bug’s eyes staring at me from Samantha So-and-so’s tongue while she and her cronies made fun of me, told others I had imaginary friends, then left tarantula legs in my books, in my lunch, over my stale in the Boy’s Restroom. For she was cruelest to me that year, so it gave me pleasure when, visible only in the briefest moments, like when she laughed or said something that required her sharp mouth to open wider, I saw the spider still on her tongue, staring out at me, in collusion.

Eventually, though, my school antics got back to the household, and I was sent to see a shrink.

Shrink sat,cross-legged, drawing pictures while I sat there and denied the existence of any such invention, any such insect, any such secret, but even then, when I looked up from the large mauve seat to see his reaction, I saw the spider crawling out from his jacket pocket.

In my twenties, I sensed the spider’s presence even when I could not see it. In my bed and in my dreams, binding its fine violin strings over every inch of my life. 

In my thirties, fearing others would see its cobwebs, I avoided people as much I could. I stayed indoors, and watched the thing surreptitiously play hide and seek 
whenever I turned to my left or my right, only to be left ripping its flimsy webs from across my furniture, my dinner; my pets. 
 
I lived simply, eating surprisingly little, and speaking in as quiet a voice as I could lest it heard me and would come out to taunt me. After years of solitude I found it too
spoke in as small a voice as mine, and only I heard it.

Then one day, when I had grown old, I looked into the mirror, and found that my face had changed. It had grown dark, and my skin had grown pilose. I saw from the
reflection behind my head every inch of my life had now been covered in webs, having long given up removing them. Webs over webs so that the objects the webs covered couldn’t be seen any longer. 
 
I turned around as though  for the first time, and had I not known it, I would have believed myself to be in the spider’s egg I had found so many years ago. Only the egg was now in the ear of the some larger, greater being, and it was I in that someone’s ear. 
 
When not slaying Dragons, Falconhead uses Dragon-blood to write poetry, short stories and plays. His work has appeared in Whistling Fire, and Two Hawks Quarterly, Adanna, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, and is forthcoming in Glasschord, and in Reverse Culture Shock Anthology.
* * *
 
I Married a Werewolf
By Gloria Garfunkel
You would think after thirty years of marriage I would know everything there is to know about my husband, especially given that I am a particularly insightful person. However, I tend to be a very heavy sleeper and things can transpire during the night without my knowledge, like the time a tree was hit by lightning and crashed into our roof.

So, imagine my surprise when our new neighbor, Donna, asked me why my husband, Carl, dressed up in a wolf costume and stood on the back porch howling every full moon. She said her children loved it but their teacher complained they'd be falling asleep at their desks the next day and could he maybe howl more softly? My husband denied it and, of course, who am I going to believe? Still, the next full moon, I loaded up on caffeine, feigned sleep, and sure enough, there he was, only it wasn't a costume. Well, that explained the frequent dog hairs in our bed when we didn't own a dog.

Anyway, I was mortified. Who else besides our neighbor knew about this all these years and why hadn't they said anything? Was our whole friendship network a pack of werewolves? That possibility suddenly gave the excruciatingly dull cocktail parties I'd endured for decades an intriguing twist.

But think about it: thirty years with someone you think you know thoroughly and then this? It really makes you wonder what else you don't know.
Gloria Garfunkel is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University. She has done psychotherapy for thirty years and has published nearly forty stories recently, mostly flash fiction and memoir. She posts stories on her blog Querulous Squirrel Microfiction Daily.
* * *
Daily Agenda for an Unpaid Intern
By Joseph Haeger
 
9:54 am: I arrive six minutes early. It's so I can take the stairs. The newspapers' office is on the fourth floor. It's my exercise for the day. Even after two and a half months my legs still feel like rubber when I get to the top.

9:57 am: Maureen, the receptionist, says hello when I come in. I try to say good morning, but I'm out of breath from the stairs. I don't think she's ever heard me speak, but still greets me everyday. I hope Amy is reading this.

9:58 am: I sit down at the interns' desk and unpack my laptop. I try to regain composure, but the deep inhales are noticeably distracting the real writers around me. I assume my body will eventually acclimate to the physical strain of the stairs. Amy said I needed to better myself—physically and mentally. It's the reason I applied for the internship, no matter the lack of pay.

9:59 am: I notice Ethan isn't here. Point: me.

10:20 am: I successfully make it twenty minutes without checking Facebook. Instead, I alternate between a blank word document and the NPR website. I don't actually read anything. It's my personal routine for getting ready for the day.

10:21 am: I check my Facebook. No new notifications. I leave a status update, “How about that weather?”

10:22 am: I refresh my Facebook page.

10:24 am: After I refresh the page a few times, the music editor comes out of her office. She asks if I saw Ethan's new blog post. I tell her no, even though I read it last night. Seven times. She says I should check it out because it's freaking hilarious. I silently agree, even though I wish I hated it. She goes back into his office without inquiring where Ethan is. He's half an hour late, I want to say. But no one likes a tattle-tale, according to Amy. Point: Ethan.

10:25 am: It's the first time during the new day that I think, I hate Ethan.

10:26 am: I wonder if anyone asks Ethan if he read my blog post from the day before. Probably not. I need to blog more.

10:28 am: I go back to staring at the NPR home page.

10:41 am: Ethan walks in and sits next to me. He hands me a CD I was asking about earlier in the week. He's trying to grow a mustache. Doesn't he know he's not even old enough to drink? What a hipster. Thinking about how young he is reminds me that I'm old enough to be divorced.

10:46 am: I refresh my Facebook page. No new notifications.

10:53 am: Ethan goes into the music editor's office without knocking. They're called manners, idiot, I think to myself. What an immature kid. I giggle. I try to do it quietly, but the news editor glares at me.

10:54 am: I hate Ethan.

11:19 am: He's still in her office. They're laughing every few minutes. I can tell she's laughing to be polite. I've actually made her laugh. She just thinks he's a dumb little kid. I'm the one with a college degree. I realize I haven't changed my computer screen. It's been on the blank word document for twenty minutes. I type a quick sentence to fool any of the real writers around me, just in case they walk by. There may be more than horse meat in Britain's beef. That'll buy me some time.

11:28 am: Ethan taps me on the shoulder and asks if I want to go to lunch. I tell him it's going to be a working lunch for me. I hear them say that on TV. He says, next time, and leaves. I can't believe he's already going to lunch. He's probably going to get mac 'n' cheese. Hipster.

11:30 am: I hate Ethan.

11:31 am: Everyone goes to lunch. Now I don't have to feel guilty about refreshing my Facebook page.

11:35 am: I refresh my Facebook page. No new notifications.

11:37 am: I try to go to Amy's profile, but she blocked me.

11:38 am: I refresh my Facebook page. No new notifications.

11:39 am: I eat my granola bar. I have to force myself to eat less. Amy said overeating was a vice.

11:42 am: Refresh. No notifications.

11:43 am: Refresh. No notifications.

11:45 am: Refresh. John Anderson likes my status. I leave my only comment of the day, “I know, right?”

12:07 pm: Luke, the Arts & Culture editor, asks if I can send over the movie review that is due today. I tell him, no problem, just give me a minute to format it.

12:11 pm: I watch the movie's trailer twice on Youtube, hoping to get enough sense to write a four hundred word review. It's for the new Francis Ford Coppola movie. I have no idea what it's about. Another attempt at lo-fi independence. I'll just segue into talking about Vincent Gallo.

12:15 pm: Ethan finally comes back. He sits down next to me and we both type for an hour.

1:20 pm: Luke calls out from his office. He wants to know if I sent the review. Of course, I yell, I guess it didn't go through. I give the movie a four out of five and send it.

1:25 pm: Ethan packs his bag. He tells me to have a good day. I want to say, if you worked a full day, maybe I would. The music editor tells him she just got his email. Article looks great, she says.

1:26 pm: I hate Ethan.

1:35 pm: I get an email back from Luke. Did you even watch the movie? I guess the phrase, “gotta love the smell of Gallo's charisma in the morning” didn't mask my ignorance very well. I look at the clock. 1:35 is a reasonable time for an intern to cut out early. Ethan does it all the time and everyone loves him. I put my laptop in my bag without turning it off. Any problems can be dealt with tomorrow. Interns usually just need to work four hours. How hard is that, Ethan?

1:37 am: I take the stairs one by one. I want to tone my leg muscles for Amy. She used to call me chicken legs. I don't really know what that means.
Joseph Haeger graduated from Eastern Washington University with a BA in Creative Writing, focusing on fiction under Samuel Ligon. He currently works as a projectionist in Spokane, WA. He has had work published in Zygote in My Coffee, Apropos Literary Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, and Rock & Sling. He has also had a one-act play produced at Gonzaga University. He is a contributor to the alt-weekly the Inlander newspaper.
 
* * *
Two Stories
By Caitlin Jennings
Changing Tides

They were just waiting to be destroyed. So you decide to guard them against your rambunctious younger cousins and unsteady grandparents. A responsibility that doesn't belong to you, that isn't foisted upon you, but that someone must hold nonetheless. 

You move your ironically themed penguin beach chair strategically next to the creation. As you push your pedicured (French) toes into the sand, adjust the two-piece your mom finally let you wear—under a cover-up—and try to focus on the glossy magazine featuring perfect celebrities, you can’t stop looking up at them. Why would their creator take such care in making them just to leave them, for hours now, to fend for themselves against the world? So proud, so perfect, yet so exposed to peril. 

The abandoned sand towers stretch to the sky, with glorious, decorative bricks and windows stenciled into their sides. This was your first clue that the anonymous artist clearly had some experience pulling masterpieces out of the shore. The rest of the structure is no less a work of art. The towers share an intricate drawbridge and lead a ringed fortress. The circle of protection guards a beautiful castle. Thatched roofs on tiny houses dot the flat floor around the palace.  

You have heard about sand castle competitions, with pictures of beaming artists kneeling next to their accomplishments. But this accomplishment has been here since you came out this morning. Alone. Belonging to no one, vulnerable to all. 

Threats seem to abound. Sticky-faced children, fresh from a treat at the boardwalk ice cream parlor, prance and dance around the perfectly executed sand in awe as their parents simply say things like, “Now be careful,” or “Don’t touch.” They compliment you as though you had made it. You thank them, because you don’t think the irresponsible creator deserves any credit. 

When children become distracted by seashells, seagulls pounce, letting their big wings spread with no thought to the castle, until you yell them away. And then there is the old man. You see him stumble a bit, awkwardly trying to carry too many beach bags, flip flops, umbrellas, and chairs. Right as he is three feet away, someone calls his name. As he turns in one direction, the umbrella swings the other way, toward the small flag on the top of the south tour. “Grampa!” you yell urgently, just in time, making him swing in reverse, thereby saving the flag. “Oh, sorry love, didn't see that there,” he smiles. You breathe an exasperated “It’s ok,” and then take a long sip of Diet Coke before pretending to go back to your magazine. 

But you can’t focus. You stare at the water, considering your rescues, and realize it is all pointless.  Even if you save the castle from the next sticky kid or nosy seagull, the building’s fate is set, set in stone. The water seeps toward you. There are only hours till the tide will swallow it.  

You set down your glossy, get up from your ridiculous penguin chair, and confront the two towers. First, oh so carefully, you place your left foot into the immaculate drawbridge, allowing the perfect sand to fumble and tickle your sole. With the drawbridge down, you stomp over the rest of the castle, getting moist sand all over your legs, squishing the tiny houses, the imaginary people, the magnificent palace. Satisfied after complete destruction, you walk to the ocean, angrily aware of the equally impermanent footprints you mark on the earth.  Entering the water, the ocean glides across the tops of your feet, then your ankles and shins, until you are up to your knees.  The deeper you go, the better it feels. You stop, letting the waves crash across your thighs, drenching your cover-up, as the water flushes around you. You feel clean. Almost…perfect?

“Hey, why did you do that?” you hear your cousin say behind you.  You turn to see his face, a tinge angry, but mostly confused.  

“I…” you hear your voice stammer. “I don’t know.”  You stare at him for a moment, then back to the ruins—fleshy sand in lumps next to your chair—and back at him. “Want to help me make another?” 

You know whatever you make will be far less superior, but his face brightens anyway. “Cool, I’ll go get some tools!” He spins on the ball of his right foot and dashes toward a basket of shovels, molds, and buckets, leaving sprays of glorious water in his wake. But then he stops, twists back around, and, in as serious a tone an 8-year-old can own, says, “But when we’re done, we both get to mash it. Okay?”

You feel fire in your chest at his complete lack of understanding of what it means to make a sand castle, but then a crisp wave hits you squarely, washing forward from you to the shore. You feel clean. Free. 

And you say, “Deal.”

 
Straight Up With a Twist

I am sure you understand the importance of a familiar atmosphere and a set routine. I, for one, would be lost without my Sunday trips to the shooting range and weekly knot-tying class. There are only so many knots that can resist the average squirmy citizen, you know. 

But enough about me. Our main character, Edward Smith, has his own routine, one that involves a nightly drink at Jack’s Saloon. “Saloon” is a bit misleading as Jack’s is actually a fine establishment nestled among the capricious streets of downtown Washington, DC.

In any matter, Edward journeys to the bar at six o’clock every evening. And every evening he has a Beefeater martini, extra dry, straight up, with a twist, rocks on the side. He cannot remember the last time he needed to state his order. The bartender knows. 

Edward drinks to ease his mad mind. He drinks to forget about the congressmen and the bills and the interns. Oh those interns. But mostly he drinks to forget about that night, last October. He drinks to forget about the splash and that murky plea for help. 

He doesn’t talk while he is at Jack’s Saloon. He keeps his mouth occupied with the gin. When he leaves, he is filled with the nutrition he needs to make his way home. To fall asleep. To face it all again tomorrow. 

It is disturbing when one’s routine is broken. I remember a dreary afternoon when my knot-tying class was cancelled. I was so bored I could have hung myself. 

But back to Edward. Last week, after he climbed atop his regular stool, the bartender placed a white Russian in front of him. It seemed almost luminous, directly under the light.  

“What is this?” Edward asked. His voice stirred the other laconic customers curled around the bar.

“Your regular, sir,” the bartender said, eyebrow cocked as he wiped the counter. Edward knew not to press further.  

He sipped it. He tried to enjoy the different taste. But there was something metallic about it.  And there was a clinking sound that simply could not have been generated by an ice cube.  

As the drink drained, he came to understand. An idle bullet resided at the bottom of the glass. 

Now Edward may not be what most would call a good man. But he would be called a good employee—-especially in our nation’s capital. He has never shied away from nefarious assignments. Namely, he helped dispose of a body using a boat. And by helping dispose of a body, I mean that Edward shot a live man on a boat and pushed the still murmuring body into the water. 

And the formerly live man was not just any live (now dead) man. He had connections, connections of the Russian mafia persuasion. 

So you can begin to comprehend why a bullet in a white Russian might be a tad startling to Edward. He persevered nonetheless. Hopeful that things would return to normal, he spent a week at Jack’s drowning his fears in cream and vodka. But staring at the clicking of a fresh bullet at the bottom of a glass can take a toll on a man. The white Russians--well, white Russians with a twist, but I kid--were poor substitutes for his usual martini. When you mess with a man’s routine, you mess with his fragile mind.

Tonight, Edward resists the urge to have his feet move down that familiar sidewalk. He does not pass the familiar street sign that is just a smidge crooked and the familiar homeless man who proclaims wisdom with black markers and cardboard—-yes, the world will eventually reach its demise. (When it does, I hope a brandy is nearby.) 

Instead, Edward enters the unfamiliar liquor store. He escorts the Beef-eater gin home before he rummages for those olives he knows are in the back of his refrigerator. He wipes clean the one martini glass he owns along with the martini maker, a gift. 

But what is this? When he pours the liquid it does not flow with the delicious clarity he expects. It is white. And there is a clink, a now familiar clink.
Why yes, a bullet has traveled to the center of the drink. It settles. It rests. 

His mouth hangs open and his heart beats faster. Until a thought scratches inside his cranium. 

This is good news. 

He is not a hunted man. He is simply an insane one. 

He smiles as he toasts to himself and downs the drink. The bullet is shockingly easy to swallow.  

Caitlin Jennings has a master's degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her story “A New Life™ at 30” was shortlisted in the 2012 Writers & Artist Short Story Competition. Her writing has also appeared (or is forthcoming) in The Binnacle, Crunchable, Jersey Devil Press, Northern Virginia Magazine, On Tap, and Piker Press. 
* * * 
Toy Houses
By Erica Kaufman
 
My mother kept the dollhouse in the divorce. My father had built it, in his woodshop in the basement, crafting the tiny staircases with delicate detail, making miniature faces out of stubby beige blobs.

He’d wanted it, the dollhouse, to stay where it was, for me to play with when I came to visit. I liked the way that he often hid surprises in there, some new piece of furniture that he’d created, like a tiny piano in the sitting room, or a stack of books for the little girl doll’s nightstand. It made it feel like they were real, the little wooden family, and that they were, in their daily lives, adding to their home just like real people did.

As for my mother, she collected lamps. Similar to the dollhouse, it seemed everyday I came home to a new lamp. They stood there, on the fireplace mantel (tiny lamps, with miniature shades), on the end tables (stained glass lamps, antiques), even cluttering up the kitchen table (lamps that looked like candles, with their glass flames) to the point where we had to start eating dinner on the living room couch.

“Pack it up,” my mother said to the movers, pointing to the dollhouse. “But be careful. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece.”

The way she said it, said “one-of-a-kind,” convinced me that, even after everything that had happened, she still loved my father.

But what did I know?

I was only eight, after all.

I had already packed up the interior of the dollhouse, as my mother packed up our lives, unstitched us from the world we had with my father. I wrapped the little dishes and the little furniture and the little people in tissue paper before I packed them, assuring them that this was not a coffin—I would see them soon. I left behind the little girl doll, fashioned in my likeness, with her painted green eyes and black yarn hair. I sat her on the windowsill so that she could watch for when we came back, so that she could tell my father that we had come home.

My mother fought about that dollhouse. I didn’t understand why—it was my dollhouse. Shouldn’t I get to decide where it lived? Maybe it was because we were leaving the house, not my father. We had to make a new home, not my father.

“I’ll build you another one,” my father had said when he lost the fight. “So that you can have one to play with here.”

He used to say that nothing made him happier than to see me play with my dollhouse—he said, love, maybe I can’t give you everything you’ll ever want, but whatever I can give you, whatever my hands can create for you, you’ll have.

I couldn’t imagine that he could make another one—not one with so many intricacies and details as my dollhouse.

But I left the little girl, just in case.

My father never carved lamps for the dollhouse. I wondered if it was because he didn’t want to look at any more lamps. I wondered how my dolls felt, in their darkness.

My mother remarried, a man who owned a cat that scratched my dollhouse, long claw marks in the side of the house, as if some terrible monster had tried to attack. I told my father. He looked surprised.

“I didn’t think you even played with your dollhouse anymore,” he said. And I knew that I was too old then to play with my dolls, but I wasn’t too old to love the dollhouse, was I? Too old to look in and marvel at their lives, at the way that little wooden pieces seem to strategically move, like chess pieces.

I wondered then, after the incident with my cat-stepbrother if my father ever found the little girl doll that I had left on the windowsill. She disappeared one day, I guess. When I came over to spend the weekend, she no longer sat there, her little jointed wooden legs hanging over the sill. But I didn’t ask and he didn’t offer up the information. He never remarried and he never made me a second dollhouse.

“Do you want to donate that to the children’s hospital?” my mother asked, before I left for college. “It might be nice.”

It surprised me that, after fighting so hard to keep the dollhouse in the divorce, she was willing to give it up. I dated a guy in college who studied psychology and he speculated that the fight hadn’t been about the dollhouse at all, but rather about me.

I broke up with him. I don’t like being analyzed.

I didn’t give the dollhouse away. I told my mother that if she was sick of seeing it in my bedroom, I could bring it over to my father’s. He had filled his house with custom furniture, crowding the upstairs rooms with ornate armchairs, sleek bookcases, elegant vanities. People came over often, as if the house was a showroom, pointing and saying, yes, yes, I’ll take one of those.

I took it with me when I moved out for good, after college. When I go back to visit my mother, she shuts the door to my old room, says that it’s too messy, that she hasn’t had the chance to clean up. I peak in. It’s crowded with lamps. It’s piled high to the ceiling with lamps. A layer of glass, a tangle of wires. It looks like she’s just been throwing the lamps in my old room, with reckless abandon.

My father got a big job, furnishing the house of a celebrity who wanted custom pieces. He smiled a lot. He seemed happy. He said that he wanted me to have a baby so that he could spoil a grandchild.

I always wondered what my stepfather thought of the lamps. They seemed to amuse him, their accumulation into a rapidly crowding house. I often found him, just after dusk, standing in the living room and flicking them on and off, on and off.

“Isn’t it remarkable,” he’d say, flicking on and off, on and off, “electricity?”

In a way, I suppose it was. The girl next door has a dollhouse; I saw it when I went over to have tea with her mother. It’s extravagant, but plastic, with a pulley elevator to the second floor, and real, working lights. Even a piano that plays a little tune when you press it. I wondered, where was the imagination in that? What about the whistling that my father used to do when I pretended to have the daddy doll play the wooden piano? The little Swan Lake tunes he remembered from his sister, the ballerina.

My mother, in her old age, took up smoking in the dark. She sits there—I’ve seen her do it—in the dining room, lamps off, ashes falling on her lap.

When my father was in the hospital, dying, he confided in me that he’d seen the little girl doll after all. He’d looked at it often, kept it in his nightstand. He’d understood why I’d left it. And just before he’d died he’d handed it to me, unearthed from the pocket of the worn robe that the doctors had been reluctant, for some reason, to let him wear, and told me to go home.
 
Erica L. Kaufman lives in Providence, Rhode Island in an old, tilted red house with her needy cat and her less-needy husband. Originally from New Hampshire, she earned her BFA from Emerson College in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and her MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University.
 
* * *
 
Caprice
By John McMahon
She closed the portfolio which outlined her surgery schedule with each procedure mocked up as a digitized image of what her body would look like after. It was no last minute hesitation, only a savoring of what was to come. These were the final steps of her journey and the first of her metamorphosis. She was to become Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich Grozny.

The need to become the 16th century Tsar had swollen in her for many years. Planted as a seedling one day when she was caught by the pull of an actor’s mocking stare from a film poster dating from 1947, Ivan the Terrible, hung over the actors head in Cyrillic styled English. What singled him out from all of histories atrocities to be saddled with a title so condemning, she wondered buying a ticket.

That film led to books, and books to museums, museums to pilgrimages; Moscow, Novgorad, Astana, Kursk. She learned Russian and studied the vast output of his writing. The difficult sounds she made while reading the obsolete words felt true in

her mouth. She studied maps of his campaigns against the Tartars with racing blood. She ordered models of his architectural commissions and understood perfectly blinding the men who designed them. She spent most of her money and free time learning everything there was to know about the despot, but feeding the thing inside her didn’t satiate the compulsion; it nourished it.

She adjusted the red tonsure cap over her stringy, shoulder length hair just as the Tsar wore his in the portrait by Victor Vasentsov, towering and gaunt, the ideal of her future self. Dressing and grooming in his style had eased a certain amount of the wanting but for years she knew she could never be complete until she inhabited his dimensions.

Psychiatrists and health counselors had to be seen before any surgeon in America would consider taking on the 243 operations required to complete the transformation. Had she always felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body? Did she have a history of relationships with women? They couldn’t understand it was nothing to do with sex, being feminine or masculine. It was specific; she needed to be everything that Ivan the Terrible was.

Pounding the desk of Metropolitan Cosmetics head surgeon after being denied permission she vowed. ‘I’ll rip your tongue from its root and fill your skull with burning embers.’ In perfect Vasilyevich fashion.

She searched abroad and easily found surgeons in every part of the world willing to take on the full scale restructuring of her 5’4” frame and mold it to the severe lines of Russia’s most notorious leader. She selected Dr. Slobodeniak initially based on his clinics reputation, and was confirmed in her decision when during the interview he knew about Ivan. They discussed the gross mistranslation of the title ‘Grozny’, how it should be translated as awesome, or formidable not terrible.

The doctor flew her to his clinic on Isla Margarita in Venezuela at his own expense. Weary at performing nose jobs and filling out bikinis he was excited about the challenge; therefore he would charge her nothing. The surgeries, her stay at the clinic, all expenses for a year were on him. They signed a contract. Afterward, equally for a year; she would appear in public exclusively at his request. They would become famous together.

In his private office Dr. Slobodeniak found his patient standing rigid before a large painting.

‘Senorita?’ 


‘Who is he?’

‘You must know. That is the great Simon Bolivar. He liberated South America from Spanish rule.’

The name was irrelevant; the eyes of the lean, majestic figure spoke directly to her core.

‘I’ve been mistaken.’ She told the doctor. 
John McMahon is a part time antique exporter, some time educator and full time writer. He has been living on the banks of the River Kwai in Thailand for ten years.
* * *
The Lake
By Tim Miller
We’d planned it for year. It was after we saw the lake. We took a week off and got lost and ended up at the lake. We had time to talk, and time to think. We could stop. We sat by the lake and could sleep. Could wake. Could open our eyes and dream, with no before or after. A day of that, and we knew we were ready. That whiteness. The gold chains came in the mail today, The welcome gift, they’d said. We had nothing to sign. Only these chains, to be welcomed when we left.

The old place has been empty for more than a week. It’s already our old place. Empty but for the bed, and what we’re wearing today. We finished the food last night. We were happy we both decided to keep our boots here. It snowed like hell last night. We’re buttoning our coats now, and can’t do it fast enough. This is the last time we’ll see the place. The last time we’ll walk out the door and take the trash from the kitchen as we go.

Outside, the drifts are up to the windows of parked cars. The black man across the street is stunning. He stands in the middle of the unplowed road. He is a dark stone in a bed of white. Good luck, he calls to us. He does not realize what he says. The TV suggests people stay home from work, and that is what he means. But we won’t be coming back here.

Our feet are already wet. The snow has nowhere to go but down our boots. Every annoyance is nostalgic already. No ploughs have come to any of our roads. Buses are stopped at angles further ahead. Pedestrians wander in the street like children on a playground. The cold is terrible, but no one is running. Today is slow, and that is enough. Cars are buried on either side of us. Humped in silence. Certainly along the sidewalk are many gifts—dog droppings, garbage, pumpkins from October blown and rolled about, toys—that won’t see the sun for weeks. That we won’t see, ever. The white cat in the window we always pass is there too. White on white, she squints and smiles on the sill. It is her world. We’ve taken off our gloves. Numb hands are warm hands. All things we do together.

The main road is barely one lane, from four. It’s taken a half hour to get here. Cars are double-parked beside mounds of white, and from every direction snowblowers are heard from one block, two blocks, three away. We pass the building for the last time where I once saw its wall of ivy wave and sway in a spring wind. Rippling like water, flowing like the lake. Nearly there. Now it’s heavy and crusted. An old man slouched in his huge white coat. We’ll be free of all of this, in only a moment.

The subway steps are still too snowy to be slippery. Too few people have even tried to make it to the trains to melt enough of it away. So few of the usually hundreds of rushed or cautious feet. Down below, in the corner at the foot of the steps, like a man in white standing with his arms open, or a bird in beautiful wingspan, is a drift that came down the steps. It settled in the middle of the night, and spread. It whitens the drab station’s black-greys and pale-yellowsand dulled-silvers. Everyone who passes it smiles to see it there. So unexpected, a jewel in the drab. 

Finally on the platform are actual puddles. Puddles left by those with melting coats and bags and boots. Melting hats and beards. Melting ring fingers. Those we recognize from our usual commute probably don’t notice that we are without bags at all. If they searched our coats it might surprise them not to find a wallet. Not a phone. Not a pen. Not one used tissue, not even on me. If they noticed such things, they would find it strange that once on the train we aren’t listening to music. That I’m not reading and underlining. That neither of us slept, as we went. These were all things we used to do. All past things. All things that would have made today’s morning—slow, and with everyone soggy—easier to deal with. Music or sleep or words. All past. A sigh at what we used to do. We didn’t even talk. At least aloud. Instead we touched foreheads. We ran our fingers up the others’ arm, and smile for the future. Or the chink of the chain around our wrists.

We emerge from underground into daylight on the bridge overlooking the river and the city getting nearer. Everyone gasps, even we do. No one has ever seen snow like this. It has started up again. The city, its buildings, have disappeared. The water below a nothing. Outside is only whiteness. The brief glimpses of the bridge seem the shadows of some dark shape far above us. Nothing is solid. Nothing is seen. The wind is furious but we can’t hear it. The the movement of the snow and the movement of the train but the silence of both gives stillness to everyone, and it’s only now we see the lights have gone out in the train. It is still fully lit, with falling white—

And everyone jumps as a window blows open, at the far end of the train, and the couple sitting there holler and jump to the other side. Its windows blow open too. We breathe, and down toward us the windows all blow open and let in the wind, and let out everyone’s alarm, and as we clasp hands we realize it’s happening much sooner than expected, and we know there will be no last day, and in a moment we are swept up and our arms burn and become white with feathers and our necks burn and extend and become white with feathers, and our mouths become hard and dark, our feet dark and webbed, and the chain links us as we assume ourselves out in the air, white as swans are, deep in the storm and white with it, the lake getting closer now. 
Tim Miller's work has appeared online and in print in Parabola, Mungbeing, and The Burning Bush. Other notes from history and mythology are frequently posted at wordandsilence.com. His narrative poem "To the House of the Sun" will be published by S4N Books in 2015.
* * *
The Runaway
By Lee Morgan
 
   “You put that money back and I won’t tell. Hear me,
Jessica? I said, if, . . . .”       
          “I heard you,” Jessica said, frowning at Brenda, feeling
the heat rising in her neck and checks. She knew that she had
colored and hated it. Unlike Brenda, who had chestnut colored
hair, brown eyes and a healthy looking complexion, Jessica had
red hair and a complexion which revealed her every emotion to
the world.
          "I could be gone from here tonight and you'd have all our
riches to yourself. Then you’d get to say what you always say, 
that ‘she's always been difficult’."  
          Jessica turned her gaze from her sister to the open window.
Everything exciting to Jessica was out there and calling to her.
          "You got that look again, Jess, maybe you just need a     
boyfriend."
          "Brenda, you like it here, this, this, . . . . no life.
Work’n in a feed store six days a week and you just accept it.
No friends or excitement. No nothin’. And no, I don’t need a
boyfriend. It might be okay for you, big sister, ‘cause you
don't seem to want nothin’ for yourself. This family business
was Dad’s idea, not ours. You’re almost seventeen; don’t you
have hopes or ideas?”
          Jessica watched as Brenda inserted fresh carbon paper into the 
counter sales receipt book and aligned it with the box of 
pencils she had just sharpened.
          “We live next door to a feed and seed store,” continued
Jessica, “with a dirt road at our front door and a river at our
back. The only travel’n we’ve done is from the front door of our
house to the front door of this store. We ain’t been nowhere but
this store, Brenda.”
          The back of the store’s interior was dark and windowless, 
except for a square ten inch light in the center of the rear 
door. After sunrise each morning, the door was opened to let in 
sunlight and any ventilation which was usually meager. When 
Brenda and Jessica were younger and the door was closed, they 
would play the game of trying to catch dust mites floating in 
the shaft of light streaming in through its window.
          The persistent drone of a vehicle moving slowly somewhere
off in the distance could be heard through the open front door
and windows. Probably a truck, thought Jessica.
          In Malone, an unincorporated town in Arkansas, only four 
of seventy-eight families had cars and one family still used 
mules. Malone was primarily a farming community. Trucks were far 
more practical and numerous.
          Jessica looked down at the open cash register, then at her
fist still holding the cash. With resignation, she replaced the
crumpled dollar bills and closed the drawer.
          Jessica came from behind the counter, walked over to the
the screen door and peered out. She stood silhouetted against 
the brightly sunlit fields across the road listening to the
birds, cicadas and the steady sound of the truck engine which
was somewhat closer now.
          “You think that could be Dad and Mom?” questioned
Brenda, who was now standing at Jessica’s shoulder.
          “Nah, they said they’d be gone two nights so I guess it’ll 
be late tomorrow mornin’, like Dad said. I can’t think of any
reason for them to rush back.”
          “Well, I can think of a reason,” said Brenda. “Mr. Prescott
brought a handbill to Dad which said, a new grist-mill company
was comin’ to Polk. They operate a steam engine that can crack
corn and roll barley to order. They make cornmeal, graham flour
and sell the same stuff we sell. The handbill is on Dad’s desk.
I read it after they left. Dad told Mom that he had to sell the
business and go to work for them.”
          “Why does he have to sell?” asked Jessica.
          “‘Cause Polk is only nine miles away and Dad told Mom that
he couldn’t match their prices. He would lose his customers to
them and he would be stuck with all this unsold stuff. This is 1920,
Jessica, modern times and big business.”   
          Jessica contemplated a moth on the outside corner of the
screen door. You are free to leave and go anywhere you want, how
lucky you are, she thought. A breeze nudged a paper wrapper in
the road and played on the vegetation across the road. The sound
of the truck had stopped. Brenda turned to speak to her sister
but saw her staring thought-fully into the open field.
          “Take care, Jess,” said Brenda, as she stepped around   
Jessica. Pushing open the screen door, she walked into the
sunlight and let the door slam shut behind her. At the house she
pulled open the screen door and reached in just far enough to
get something. She took a step back allowing that door to slam
shut, too.
          Brenda headed back toward the store carrying a sweater    
and suitcase which Jessica had never seen before. Then Jessica 
noticed that Brenda was wearing a dress for the first time ever. 
          Jessica stepped outside to meet her sister, but Brenda 
continued past her toward a truck parked just beyond the store. 
Jessica was sure that this was the one she’d heard earlier. 
Brenda opened the passenger door and put in her belongings. 
Leaving the truck door open, she walked back to Jessica.
          Standing before her little sister, she gazed into her eyes,
then hugged her. Turning away, Brenda walked back to the truck,
whose engine started as she closed the door. Without delay or a
wave, the occupants drove away.
          Jessica watched the truck recede into the dust and
disappear around the bend in the road. She stepped back to a
bench beneath a window of the shop and sat down. She sat
transfixed, not knowing how long.
          The movement of a butterfly landing on the old hitching
post near her brought her back to the moment. Jessica watched as
it slowly opened and closed its wings. It flew off and up from
the post only to return again, flapping its wings. Once again it
flew from the post, but this time to within inches of Jessica’s
face and then away.
          Her eyes followed the butterfly until, . . . . . 
          Jessica ran back into the store and over to the register. She rang a “NO
SALE”. The drawer opened. The cash was gone.
 
Lee Morgan is a retired IBM employee who did technical writing. He is now free to pursue his passion to write fiction. 
 
* * *
 
Saxon Drive
By Kay Poiro
     You can tell a lot about a person by the quality and frequency of their mail. Mrs. Harris at 186 Saxon gets Cat Fancy and circulars from the insurance companies that advertise on television. I’ve seen Mr. Pibbles before, so the Cat Fancy isn’t a surprise. I also know her husband is dying. How come? Because I know insurance companies. Where there’s the promise of death, they circle, every now and then swooping down to test the meat with their greedy little beaks. Mr. Keene at 184 Saxon gets unmarked cardboard boxes four times a month, usually on Mondays. Unmarked boxes are either catheters or dirty toys. Mr. Keene is in his seventies, so I figured it was catheters. Then again, it could’ve been toys. He might not pee so good, but he’s still a man.

     Saxon Drive is my route. The houses on my route are the good houses. Tiny yards. Wood fences. American flags. My friend J.B. calls it “Stepford Drive”, but J.B.’s just jealous. He delivers south of Saxon where he has to carry pepper spray and drive a special van instead of the open buggy. I walk Saxon Drive. Everybody waves at me, too. On the days when it’s hot enough to wear shorts, Mrs. Harris waits for me with a cold juice box. “Booker, darling,” she’d say. She has a weird accent like Frasier from the T.V. “Booker, take a juice.” After I thank her, she waits for me to stick in the straw. After the first sip, she goes back inside.

     155 Saxon received mostly Piggly Wiggly flyers and scam refinance offers addressed to Kat Jacobs. Kat was an uncommon name so I figured it was short for Kathleen or Katherine. Katherine Jacobs was my favorite name. She did get regular Roamans catalogs, so I figured she was somewhere between size fourteen and thirty. Not that it mattered. Even though I’ve never had a girlfriend or been on a date, I knew what I liked. Kathy Bates or that black lady from The View. Roamans women. Like J.B. always says, “Bone is for the dog. Meat is for the man.”

     If Katherine had a car, I never saw it. Sometimes I’d catch a tiny blue sports car parked in 155 Saxon’s driveway. It was a foreign job- so teeny that it looked like a toy. I half expected to see a humungous silver key sticking out the back. Once, I saw a man come out of the house. He threw open the front door and stumbled out onto the sidewalk. His clothes were rumpled like he’d slept in them. Before he jumped in his toy car, he yelled something and stuck up his middle finger at the house. Was he Katherine Jacobs’ son? Maybe. Or maybe he was her lover. I didn’t know but I knew that nobody in the pre- oatmeal hours deserved the finger. Especially not my Katherine.

     Katherine and Booker. That’s me- Booker. I used to hate that name. Before the greasy cool dude on 21 Jump Street, the only other Booker on TV was the janitor on “Good Times”. Or maybe it was Bookman. But sixth graders don’t care. Bookman was fat and so was I. Homeroom was up two flights of stairs, so first bell would always catch me in the hall. After Mrs. Robles gave me a talking to, she’d let me in. As I walked to my seat, Jimmy Finn would fake-whisper, “Booger Bookman’s late again. What’s keeping you, your friends or your fat?”


     I didn’t have many friends, but my fat wasn’t gonna make me late this time. This time, I had a plan. It was Friday and I was feeling lucky. I’d march up to Katherine’s door and ring the bell. When she answered, I’d hand her the catalogs and say something smart about “door to door service.” She would laugh and try to tip me and I would tell her that postmen don’t take tips. That’s when she would put her hands on her hips and joke, “Well, I have to pay you somehow.” And that’s when it would get good.

     That morning, I combed my hair extra nice. I’d run out of Dippity Do, but lucky for me, J.B. let me borrow his hair stuff. It was called Royal Crown and it came in a red cardboard can with silver lid. He called it “grease”, but when I put my fingers in, it felt more like cold bacon fat. But it smelled sweet and since I’d also run out of my favorite soap, I counted that as lucky, too.

     My lucky streak continued when I found Saxon Drive deserted that morning. Even Ms. Harris with her juice box and funny accent were absent. At 155, the wind-up car was gone. Yesterday’s mail was still on the mat. I walked to her door- head up, shoulders back. J.B. always says confidence is key. If Mrs. Harris were watching, she’d just think I was offering a friendly reminder for my customer to take in her mail. I knocked on the door. No answer. All the curtains on the windows were drawn. My hand touched the doorknob. If Mrs. Harris were watching now, she’d probably call the police. But I’d come too far. I’d borrowed Royal Crown and pressed my good uniform. Booger Bookman wouldn’t be late again. No sir. Booger Bookman would be right on time.

**
     The heavy curtains made the house dark, so I had to feel my way through the entrance. Duran Duran was playing from the back of the house. I don’t know which one; I’m not a fan. If Katherine Jacobs liked 80s music, she must be younger me. My school years were more Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. Then again, we could be the same age, but she likes all music. Either way, it would be fine. Maybe we would even catch a Duran Duran concert someday. I heard they’re still touring. Strong relationships are built on compromise. All these thoughts were tripping over each other when my foot hit something. As soon as I looked, I wish I hadn’t.

     She was face down, arms and legs twisted. I knelt down and touched the back of my hand to her cheek. Her face was still warm. It was also a mess. But even through the blood and the purple, twisted nose, she was an angel. My angel. I used my thumb and index finger to stretch open one of her eyes. Just above the whites was a half moon of green. At that moment, I became aware of two things. Number one, that stupid Duran Duran song was on repeat. Number two, her air conditioning was broken. Sweat bubbles popped up on my nose and at my hairline. Suddenly, J.B.’s hair grease didn’t smell comforting anymore. It smelled like it was making fun of me. “Booger Booker,” it sneered. “Late again.”

     But I wasn’t late. I was the very first to see Katherine Jacobs lying dead in her kitchen. I don’t think she had a heart attack. She was a Roamans woman, but certainly not what J.B. called “heart disease thick”. Whatever had stolen her had done before I got there. My finger traced the outline of her full bottom lip. It was still pink and moist. My own lips closed as I bent closer. Nothing open-mouthed or dirty, but a kiss just the same. As I leaned down to kiss her again, something caught my eye. It was her phone. It was blinking with an unread message. Now that I was Katherine’s protector, I could read it, right?

     Srry about last night. Idk what got n2 me. U got time today?

     It was Mr. Tiny Blue Car. Suddenly, I forgot about the kiss. My fingers flew.

     Sure. Dinner at my house?

     But I wanted to be sure, so I said:

     Ur driving the blue car, right?

     Yikes. I should’ve kept it simple. Anybody with half a brain would see through that. When the phone buzzed again with my answer, I had to smile. He didn’t have half a brain, after all.

     Then I kissed her again. A final goodbye to my favorite customer. I put the phone in my pocket and left boldly through the front door. The street was bright, quiet, and deserted. was halfway to Mr. Keene’s when Mrs. Harris appeared on her front porch. She smiled and waved. I smiled back. And why shouldn’t I? It was Friday and, for the first time ever, Booker had a date.
Kay Poiro is a former arts and entertainment columnist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Her recent fiction can be found online here and here. She is also a screenwriter and internationally produced playwright whose plays have been performed across the U.S. and around the world.
 
* * *
 
(R.I.P) R.F.B
By Emery Thanathiti
“I’d like to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy lives to come here today in respect of my mother, Lilly Chen.

Eh em. Uhm… for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kira Bliss Johnson. Unfortunately, I’ve been uh working overseas for the last few years so I’ve rarely had the chance to be around… To be honest, I did not find out about Lil-I mean my mother’s death until yesterday.

But this speech isn’t about me. I might be bad at speeches and I might not have had the time to prepare an eloquent goodbye, but I am still her daughter. I know her best.

Lilly Chen... was a lot of things. She was intelligent. She was kindhearted. She was a reliable wife to my father and loving mother to me and my sister.

Her one goal in life was to set up a tutoring school for children of all ages. Middle school is tough, high school is tough, and hell, even college is tough. She wanted to help your kids to get through our school years with ease. She wanted to help us get the top grades, get into the top colleges in the world, and eventually find the best paying job before going on to become successful adults.

I remember when I was around nine years old, my mother and I took a trip to Italy. There she decided to pursue the study of religion while teaching English to the Fathers and Sisters of the church. They were so grateful for her help that they asked her to stay longer and so she did. She stayed in Italy for six months, not to travel or to shop, but to teach and learn.

We, her family, couldn’t be any prouder of her.

However, as much as she will be missed, I know she would not want this. I know she would not want anyone crying over her. She’d rather see you all smile and laugh as you reminiscence the great memories of her.

So let’s grant her this last wish, shall we? Let’s give her a big smile as we send her off. That way… that way she will be buried with the image of our happy smiles… forever.”

Hello, Lilly, it’s been four years since I’ve last seen you. Did you know I’ve changed my name from Kira Lee to Kira Bliss Johnson?

Yeah, mother, you remember the Johnsons? They took me in after you left me in a foreign country with only twenty dollars in my pocket. I had no family, no friends, and no place to stay. How could you? You told me there is no such thing as true friends. You said I’d never have anyone except for you. And yet, you left me to rot. And the Johnsons fed me, raised me. Loved me.

But I’m not here to talk about me. I’m here to talk about you, to remind you of all your sins. Yes, I will always remember everything you did to me. I can assure you, you’ll never rest in peace. Karma isn’t forgiving.

Lilly Chen. You were so stuck-up. You were so self-centered. You only married my father so that you could be that ‘strong, independent, rich man’s wife.’ But you weren’t that at all, and to relieve your stress from your house-wife job, you’d hit me until I was sprawled on the ground then continue to kick me until I threw up a little. My salvation came when you disowned me except you’d take it out on my five year old sister and seventy year old grandma instead.

There was this façade you enjoyed putting up in front of people. You’d act like you were kind and intelligent. You’d offer to tutor their children for close to no money. Then 6 months later you’d double their tuition, and then you did that again the 4 months after that, and then the 2 months after that. Eventually, when it became too much for them, you’d encourage the children to blame their parents for being poor.

I remember when we went to Italy. You stole my aunt’s college tuition to travel there. You kept a your “I’m a good person” image, you told people you were there to help them, and so you started teaching the Fathers and Sisters. But it’s obvious, you know, that you were giving the priests handjobs behind those closed doors. Daddy was never the same when he found out about what you did. The sisters must have known too and that’s why they started treating us like we were the Devils. 

You abused and hurt us all. We’re all so much better off without you around.

I told grandma a long time ago that you were better off dead. Thank God, Death finally came for you. Thank God, we can finally smile in relief.

Can you see us? We’re sending you off with big smile. We’re all wearing big fat lies as we as send you off with tears. Truth is we’re so fucking relieved. Truth is they’re tears of joy. We have never been happier.

Rest Forever, Bitch.
Emery Thanathiti is currently a junior at Iowa State University, her major is English with an emphasis on creative writing and Linguistics. She was born in Bangkok, Thailand to a Thai father and a Chinese mother, because of that her first language was "pigeon English." She has been reading and writing since she was little and has, in recent years, decided that she shall write seriously in order to inspire other non-native English speakers to not be afraid in pursuing the study of English or a career as an author. 
* * *
Poetry

Planet Earth
By Harvey Baine
 
Your muddy breaths  
                                                            triple the blood we rest
                                                            in boxes under an arch
                                                            of frozen light tangled 
                                                            up in your mother’s 
                                                            waterfall legs long,
                                                            smooth and boney feet.

                                                            Your forearms trammeling, 
                                                            drenched and cold
                                                           as God has been sleeting
                                                            in our faces for days.

                                                            So cold we lay under old pelts
                                                            with sours and sweets.
                                                            Your hand fits my fist
                                                            we’ll be offline for hours.

                                                            Dig my Baby good cool,
                                                            death must come to all--
                                                            drunks spilling out of saloons, 
                                                            still hearts falling 
                                                            like leaves in the yard. 
                                                            But there is in your lovely smell,
                                                            your base and silver singing.
 
Harvey J. Baine holds a B.A. in English from University of North Florida, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from American University. As his thesis, he published a collection of short stories entitled Cat Histories. He has published poetry in numerous journals. Some of these are: Skidrow Penthouse, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Slipstream, Big Muddy, Café Review, REAL, Forge. 
 
* * *
 
Poems by Mark D. Bennion
 
Considering Personal Advice

There are tics I can’t let go of,
dishes that still ring the table
years after the feast. I used
to tell myself, Move on and Get over it.
Don’t use the past as a hitching post.
But some days the post may be
the only thing I see, your sweatshirt

tied to it like a banner, its sturdiness
in the wind akin to your stance
in the backyard, often
it’s the column holding up
the family portico,
and the it is a singular
for too many scrawling emotions,

too many times in which a muscle’s
detached from bone. I’m still not sure
what I must climb or hurdle over
as if a one-hundred meter race might help me
know what it really means. But moving
will continue and on will sweep
the borders of time and place,

the breezeway between past and present
until sense unhinges from senselessness
and your life becomes the paradoxical tide,
the changing gravitational pull
of roiling and calm, splendor and awe,
rolling in and out to sea.

Questions

Mid-morning is vortex
with ambulances and cars looping the house,
EMT’s preparing to file reports
via their two-way radios
while the children are detained
for the spell and heave of questions:
          How many are in your family?
          What did you have for dinner last night?
          What time did you go to bed?
The officers release the youngest ones
after the fretwork.
          Where were you at 7:00 am?
          When did you come home?
The oldest goes numb
at the slight suggestion of accusation.
And yet the queries continue,
          Why did your parents go out of town?
to weave through the neighborhood,
          What if we’d left the following week?
in and out of Saturday morning yard work,
          What if we’d stayed at a hotel close by?
off the whiffle ball bat
          How does a runny nose lead to death?
to the girl passing by that afternoon,
          What do I say to those who ask?
around the oak tree
          Am I a bad parent?
and fence lines of home
          Who can claim to know how I feel?
then on to the next address
          How do I scale this wall of disbelief?
and neighborhood, bathing the currant bushes
          How deep does the grief go down?
and grass, circling each subsequent chimney
          How would he look now?
for months and years
          How many are in your family?
like the great white shark
who must swim even when he sleeps.

Purpose

It happened four days after my birthday. Stories worth retelling are like that—always in line with 
a holiday or celebration, like a straight putt for par. I’ve often wondered, “Why wasn’t I taken 
the night you were?” We shared the same spaghetti, tossed the Wisconsin dirt in our hair, 
avoided pulp from the pitcher of orange juice, slept less than eight feet apart. You left. I stayed. 
My spleen was only a few centimeters larger than yours. I suspect you already met your resolve. 
I suspect it had something to do with my birthday. Some reason popping out of balloons, part of 
the gloss on new ties. You could let go of your purpose. At 40, mine’s still emerging, like a golf 
ball in its descent from the evening sky.
 
Mark D. Bennion's poems have appeared in Aethlon, The Comstock Review, Irreantum, RHINO, and other journals. Later this year his second collection of poems, Forsythia, will be published by Aldrich Press. For the past 13 years he's taught writing and literature courses at BYU–Idaho.
 
* * * 
Milk Carton
By Lindsey Cira
I watched our love 
expire like the date
on my milk carton 

Three sips remain 
but I was too lazy
to throw you out 

I made myself believe 
there was enough left
to keep you on the shelf
for one more glass
 
Opening the ice box
door and watching you
spoil 

One day I couldn't handle 
the smell so I poured

you down the sink. 
 
As a senior at The University of Northern Colorado, Lindsey Cira is studying English with an emphasis in secondary education. With plans to become a high school English teacher, Cira is looking forward to implement her love for poetry into the classroom. After taking an introductory to poetry course on a whim freshman year, writing and reading poetry has become a necessary part of Cira's everyday life.
 
* * *

Conversion Service
By Jim Davis
Sliced sliver of fingernail from the thumb while dicing
peppers and red onion – since the truck flipped, they flew

computer-car-parts from in New Jersey – outside Hoboken
there is a similar ditch in which cars flip as they are driven

drunk. Swerving for a skunk, heavy with stink and child-
ish indifference, he said the worst part was the tick ripped

from his ankle, too drunk to feel the spiral
break in his clavicle, trickle of spill from his orbital

guard. Woke in a field of broken doors, clover, dry
prairie grasses. Beer cap popped on the edge of the wine

rack. Copper screws, titanium pins, he said, better than
they were before, new-fangled parts, he said, have clipped

his work legs. His thumb bleeding slightly, proud of himself
and the money he’ll save on an electronic magazine

subscription. Viles of cardamom, sage, garlic-salt like a skyline.
Vintage pornography stacked in a box beside full sleeves

of English Muffins. There ain’t no way to keep a good man
sober, he said, swigging from a bottle of beer and belching.

With his unslung arm he clears papers from the tray table, sets
a place. Above the blue flame, a hearty stew boils over.


Daphne’s Effect on a Cosmopolitan Personality Exam

Chains bending like steel bending like an orange peel’s
expectorant mist, the difference between satchel-hasp
and bridle, master lock. And fit. Into the darkness
like a thin gloved hand into the neighbor’s window,
conjugating fear and excitement: wha? Shiver: like this.

Blister. The sun will diffuse the darkness. Better now
than ever. Score your belongings with capital letters,
ladybugs trapped behind the dull glass fixture-cover:
Icarus beetle, we forgive you. Cut your prescience with
whatever’s most unavailable, uninterested. The fist
of moon is only stubborn so long as you’ll allow. If

massacre is the only means to maximize acreage, then
every king who’s ever beheaded is on to something.
A silver platter. Wicker catapult basket. Let us raise
a glass to sovereignty! Let’s be our own creative selves
and hope that will last us. There’s something to be said
of the licentious nard, that Himalayan plant used as salve,

the one Garcia Lorca mentioned sipping Colombian Roast
in the coffee shop on North and Paulina. Dawn was breaking. 
Boxers or briefs is a standard question: boxer-briefs. I do not
find it difficult to cleanly fill in ovals, though I erase and begin
again, frequently. I let the poem stand, should there be one
to stand for. The bones of Mongolian dinosaurs are slightly radio-

active. The pigeons are coming back slowly, forgiving the winter
in each piece of bread released by thawing snowbanks. We will
all have a unique geochemical signature. It’s tragic. It is exactly
what you’d expect. It’s a mountain lion whimpering over the lost
black dress curled like a self-portrait in the middle of the street.
So when the flurries begin, when Mike Royko calls Dan Rather

a pompous ass I have to agree. I have no idea who I am
supposed to align with, I am only desperately trying to stay
in line: the ideas of time-space are within me; I am afraid.
Please have the patience to go on reading. Please forget
the evenings we shared behind the softball field. I have
ordered coffee. Please call my name when it’s ready.
Jim Davis is a graduate of Knox College and an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Jim lives, writes, and paints in Chicago, where he reads for TriQuarterly and edits North Chicago Review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Seneca Review, Adirondack Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and Contemporary American Voices, in addition to winning multiple contests, prizes, Editor's Choice awards, and a recent nomination for Best of the Net Anthology. His book, Assumption (Unbound Content, 2013) will soon be followed by book two, Earthmover (Unbound Content). 
 
* * *

Poems by J.K Durick
Off Ramp
Panhandling the off ramp pays pretty well,
you can tell. It seems like catching folks at this
end of their day as they make their way works
its magic on their money and their mood.

Perhaps, it’s guilt or generosity or just curiosity
that moves them to see shabby grown men run
from car to car, hands held out, bills flapping 
or folded, the occasional coffee or burger bag
changing hands, the spoils paid out, scurried
after, the lame one can walk fast enough, the blind
can see quite well, could make change if he had to.

Their signs, set aside, would speak their volumes
to the ground or guard rail: I’m an unemployed
homeless veteran, I have an inoperable brain tumor,
three sick children, and no way home. I’m hungry.
Anything will help. And, for some reason, they all
say, “God Bless,” as if divinely sent to bestow
His blessings on these minor transactions.

And, the cars keep coming to this stop, the light
phases them through slowly, the stray dollar bill
or two comes out in turn, weighs down the world,
this measure, this divide between haves and have-nots. 

Intersections
They pause us on our way, a time to decide.
Some with stop signs, some with lights, and
There are others out there in the middle of
Nowhere, unmarked, mysterious, momentous.

We can turn left, hang a right, or keep on going,
Could even turn around and head back.

Sometimes it’s daunting to decide, and
Sometimes it’s amusing, but it’s always
Necessary; we can’t linger too long –
Intersections are never destinations.

And there’s always the guy behind us who
Keeps honking, hurrying the inevitable.

We can roll forward slowly, test our choice,
Imagine each, play out in our minds how one
Thing leads to another, how one choice can
Change everything, bring unfortunate outcomes.

And the guy behind us gestures wildly, as if he
Were able to change everything to fit his day.

Intersections hesitate us; delay our day in a way,
Give us a power over destiny, a perspective
Worth treasuring, worth measuring, the power
To sit still and control things just briefly.

And the guy behind us is behind us and must
Wait. We will eventually decide and move on.

Dream Poem
I saw my mother in a dream last night. She was standing just
inside the family room, over by the radio, near the kitchen door.

Actually, at first she was my grandmother, but when I stood 
up from the couch and started toward her she turned into
my mother. She was dressed in her winter coat and that hat
she thought was so stylish and everyone hated. Her posture, 
just the way she always held her hands together in front of her,
it was her.

Now, that may not seem like much really, but I have never seen
either of my parents before, like this, in a dream. I once ran down
a hallway in a dream trying to catch up to my father, but I didn’t
catch up and he soon disappeared in the crowd of strangers; my
dreams are usually filled with strangers, with people I don’t know
or care to know.

But last night my mother stood there and looked at me, looked as if
she were about to say something --  I remember that facial expression
so well – she was going to tell me something important, something
that made her a bit nervous to say.

For some reason at that moment I decided to call to my wife. I knew
my voice would sound funny – but I called out anyway, and Donna
shook my shoulder a bit, and my mother disappeared, and I was
back in my bed. I lay awake for a while. I was actually frightened, but
I’m not sure why.

In the morning when I told her about my dream my wife said she didn’t
remember shaking my shoulder – but anyway  I woke up and I never got 
to hear what she wants to say to me.
 
J.K. Durick is a writing teacher at the Community College of Vermont and an online writing tutor. His recent poems have appeared in Write Room, Bitterzoet, Third Wednesday, and Up the River.
 
* * * 

Poems by Katrina Greco
St. Sebastian Considers a Self-Portrait

I opened her mouth. I measured out sins in stones and caught souls like arrows. I made her see. I had a sword, and I cried out to kings from the doorway. But this, this is salvation. Death and then death again. Limbs bound to limbs. Something broken by the club of the old gods. Everything that spills out onto the ground, everything that stains the straight stones of culture. This is deliverance. Would you like to know what I remember? I remember the tree, scarred and sullen. I remember my thighs, soldier’s legs. I remember the cobblestones of Rome. Swollen wrists. Broken skull. 78 stones. Catacombs. What else should I recall? Doesn’t the light shine from the bloodiest corners of heaven? Redemption is a smile with sharp teeth. Grace is a blade with no grip.

Pessimistic Honeybee

After awhile, every
flower smells the same,
like every worker

who came before
and every worker
that comes after,

and like our own two wings.
What is the value of loyalty?
Of keeping busy?

It can be measured
in wax and dust,
in stolen sugar.

A work ethic defined
by monarchy and
the waggle dance.

A life defined
from cell to sting
A single cell to occupy.

And there are mites
on the children
and drones with

bad wings.
When the colony
collapses, who

will be surprised
except the queen
and the keeper?
Katrina Greco is a writer and teacher living in Oakland, California. Her writing has been published in Caught in the Carousel, The Fiddleback, and Hot Metal Bridge. She is fond of sass and stitchery.
 
* * *

Poems by Bradley Hamlin
Shooting Ghosts

I don’t
remember
ever feeling totally sane

or fitting in
not even as
a kid with six-shooters
hanging from my hips

they all 
wanted to be the same
with their 
fucking chocolate cake
and football

too much thunder
not enough thunder
the wrong color thunder

typing alcohol
and drinking words

all those goddamn ghosts
keep waving their dirty sheets
at me …  

it is not
a sane world, they insist
but it is, however, a world
a crazy neon painted
bikini plus kisses world

okay, mothers, I am in it.

The Ski Bum

Skiing …
Northern California slopes
the snow falling
gently
fresh
clean
the wind bites your ears
skid to a stop
drinking cold whiskey
from a kidney-shaped
soft flask
letting that
liquid chill the skeleton inside
and sliding down the rest
of the mountain
wondering
in all this beauty
the snow-covered Christmas trees
the bunnies bopping along
the sweet curves of female skiers
twisting right and left
in all this beauty
wondering
why the best things
in our lives
are the crazy ways
we’ve invented how to play
to forget
to distract ourselves
while
the cold-blooded politicians
plot to take it all away.
 
Bradley Mason Hamlin is an American writer, veteran of the United States Navy, and alumni of the University of California, where poet Gary Snyder dubbed Hamlin “The Road Warrior of Poetry!” Hamlin was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, Nicky Christine, and their children, and their wild cats. He is the editor of Zero Percent Magazine and his latest book of poems, California Blonde, is available from Black Shark Press.
 
* * *
Role Reversal
By Jacqueline Jules
You used to be the one to argue with me.

Mom! Stop thinking I’ll end up

like that kid in Maryland last year.

Most teenagers get home safe from prom.

After 9/11, you convinced me to fly again.

Four planes crashed that morning, Mom.

Out of thousands. Think of the odds.

Once, I admired the way

you ate sushi without my fear of parasites,

rode in a hot-air balloon, learned to scuba dive.

But now the voice I hear from your lips

sounds like mine before

we’d heard of drugs named

Avastin and Oxaliplatin.

Don’t get your hopes up, Mom.

You wave off my Lance Armstrong stories

shove away books titled,

Beating the Odds or You Can Win!

And my tears

over having taught you too well

drip from a thick plastic bag

down to the port

surgically implanted

beneath the left clavicle

of a man we both love. 
Jacqueline Jules is a poet, teacher, and author of two dozen children's books including Zapato Power and Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Christian Science Monitor, Imitation Fruit, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Inkwell, Potomac Review, and Pirene's Fountain. 
* * *
 
Santa Cruz
By Jennifer Lagier
A barefoot freak parade meanders

from beachfront to Capitola

where it is perpetually 1970.

Hippie girls, braless under tie-dyed tee shirts,

emerge from psychedelic VW busses,

crowd the boardwalk, ankle bells tinkling,

exuding patchouli.

Reggae music and the smell of dope

permeate every corner.

Blonde surfer boys suck down ganja,

wax their boards, impress tattooed groupies.

I see my past self, a skinny chick

in flip flops, dangling earrings,

ass-length hair, signature tank top.

Former Students for a Democratic Society,

hang with LSD pioneers at the Saturn Café.

We sip chai or herbal tea, a graying

collection of once- radical drop-outs

washed ashore from the turbulent 60’s.

We’ve replaced acid and hash with

Prilosec, Celebrex, Prozac,

don’t share mattresses or tantric sex

with each other’s lovers.

These days, we gather and bitch

like every generation before us,

describe the enlightened utopia

of health, happiness and harmony

we could create and inhabit,

if we weren’t on fixed incomes

and so damned exhausted.
Jennifer Lagier is a retired college librarian/instructor, member of the Italian American Writers Association, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Rockford Writers Guild and helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings.
 
* * *

First Reading - Impressions
By Regan Markley

I wonder how you stand so still,
a shifting audience and your mouth full of words
scribed while I breathed deep.
Those nights I sat with you, unable to pull
my eyes from your pages.

Now, your voice fills bitter, treble
pipes from your throat, loops

back to the table you crouched under as a child, writing
swift reprisal from the deep-belted voice if you did not sing
for company. You strained for high notes, to not
be seen like the lace beneath women's skirts.
The smoky voice you loved, invaded
our bed, kept my hand entwined with yours,
tucked me in close to the length of your spine.
But here, I spy on those who whisper while you read.

Our eyes meet over strange heads, yours drop quickly
to your text. Mine to your hands
clamped to the podium's grainy veneer. Words roll
clean from your teeth. I remember
cradling those hands, keeping them safe from leering
eyes or sleep-ripping calls.

Later, over Teriyaki, our fingers wrap round
amber bottles. Slick glances wind through cracks
in our dissection of the man who hit on you,
my nerves that streaked over the waiting
silence as you thumbed through your latest book,
you hadn't decided what to read and I was anxious -
this my first reading of you. You drive us
home, tracing yellow lines as you had my breast last night.

I watch your hand palm the wheel, stretching delicate,
reach for the other, examine it in mine. This one,
honeysuckle smooth, slashes men
cleanly, lays waste to tall trees, holds cigarettes,
sends longing down wires.
Regan Markley lives in Oklahoma City with her two dogs and very weird cat. She is an editor for the New Plains Review and will either finish her Master’s thesis or lose her ever-loving-mind. Dealer’s choice.
* * *
Poems by Devin Murphy
A Child’s understanding of fire

As a small
child she saw
a neighborhood
fire swell out
of one roof and
swallow a dozen
homes—the flame,
a giant trapped
creature striving
upwards, miserable
and frantic. In the
aftermath, blackened
support beams spilled
into the charred streets
and smoldered to ash.
She did not understand
where the flame had gone,
so imagined it drifting 
off in an endless,
hungry
free-float

Justification for grades given to my senior level Appreciation of Literature class

Eli was killed by riding in front of a controlled avalanche in Breckenridge over spring break.
          No grade administered
Jeremy was expelled for sticking a shotgun outside his dorm window and shooting migratory geese.
          There is no grade column for this.
Melissa is missing, she never showed up, and no one has ever heard a word from her.
          F.
Ted is mostly drunk in class and I fear it is due to excessive appreciation of the tragedy found within the reading list
          B+.
Denise is having a wild affair with me and has been given reprieve from coming to class.
          A.
Jean knows about Denise and I and stopped showing up to class as well.
          A.
Laura is a brilliant, ugly girl who I want to protect so she will pursue something else with her talents.
          C-.
James is an obnoxious idiot who must fail.
          Fail.
Tate came to my office and told me such a compelling story of family tragedy that kept him away that we wept.
          Incomplete. 
Breanne has articulated her opinions perfectly without being a suck up.
          A.
Juan I am certain speaks no English and should have never been allowed in this class. His school life will be hard.
          A.
Lewis has never said a word in class, has never taken his eyes off of me and terrifies me.
          A.
Theresa scowled when she talked and quickly figured out I was a fraud and I hate her dearly.
          B-.
John told the class a story involving a burning newspaper and what he called the dance of the flaming asshole.
          A. 
Andy arrived early every week bearing the true heart of everything we read in the pages of his notebook.
          A.
Devin Murphy's recent work appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, Shenandoah and The Shoutheast Review as well as over forty other literary journals and anthologies. Devin has also been a winner of The Atlantic Monthly’s 2009 and 2010 Student Writing Contests, and holds and MFA from Colorado State University, a Creative Writing PhD from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Bradley University. 
 
* * *
 
Poems by Kevin Murphy
Aubade
Rain percolates through the window screen. Slow
pool on the sill. Naked morning lingers in 
dampened air. A river slinks down the drywall.
   Quicker pelts on glass

that gently rouse him – shift toward what they are 
from what he heard them as just briefly before
torn from scene to softening blackness. His thoughts
    begin to clothe things. 
 
Parting Is
so often

insignificant, not real 
sweet or

sorrowful as such, just

goodbye lacking 
finality, even

when it is. 
 
Originally from Pennsylvania, Kevin Murphy received his BA in English from the University of Alabama and his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Idaho. He resides in Asheville, NC. His only constants across these four states have been his writing and his still working, original Nintendo.
* * *
Poems by L Wayne Russell
Ode to an Oak Tree

Underneath the tall majestic oak,
shrouded in her cloak n dagger shade,
caressed by Spanish moss hair,
sad melancholy descending downward,
upon the tainted canvass of earth below.


You seem to weep over the loss of yet 
another friend, sad yet; somehow
accustomed you have grown into your
role of "lamenting sister" that is mourning
the passing of your brethren.


Your arms wield such power, strong in  stature, 
yet seem willowy and vulnerable to the naked
eyes of a passing poet.


Universal Equations
 
Nights underneath Spanish skies,
weeping blue fathomed death chants,
drinking beer and sangria via a parched
mouth, feeling like an unsolved Dionysian Mystery.

The copper moon slithers into the foreground of our
own impending fatality. Frail innocents of the earth,
she has been plucked like a daisy grown over a vile cesspit,
murdered at this; the grim hour of dawn.

We laughed like the mad shaman of an unknown
tribe, born from the myths and legends of the phosphorous
stars. Stars that are now enshrouded within their own mystery, 
they to have gone before us, they have taken the wise ones,
to cohabitant the silken cradle of humanity.
Wayne hails from Tampa, Florida and has been doing creative writing since he was five years old. Wayne has been published in various zines over the years, including The Cannon's Mouth Quarterly, The Rolling Thunder Press, and Poets Espresso. His first flash fiction story “Breaking Point”, has recently been published at Staxtes.com Greek Literary Review via their “English Wednesdays” Internet zine.
 
* * *
Poems by Laide Salako
WE ARE NOT BLACK

Our world is cover in darkness

Yet it is broad daylight.

No, it is not that eclipse of the sun

It is the eclipse of our dark mind.

It is the eclipse of our gloomy politics and economy,

The incandescence overshadowed by the bushel of civilised prejudice, complex and greed.

We are not black because our skin is dark,

Someone must have thought us dark and called us black!

God nor Science calls us black

We are black because we were painted black.

We are black because the devil is black.

The mistake we made was to accept the epithet, and admit the connotation.

For God is not white because good is white,

White is superior to black so God has to be white.

White chalk is good on blackboard,

So is charcoal on whiteboard.

But the whiteboard is a product of modern invention

Hence, white is superior to black

Not by precedence but by preference.

he who invented the word, 'black'

did not create the dark world.

It is the myopia of our mind eye.

Adam and Eve enjoyed the bliss of naked ignorance.

The serpent and the fruit cured their innocent blindness

Who says white, pure and black, bad?

The rest is history.

White and black are colours,

Both colours have their use.

White can be bad and black can be good

It is all a matter of the use, colours are innocent.

But mixture of white and black is equal to...?

For if black is bad and if white is good,

If dark is evil and white is godly,

Shall we remove the colour black from among the colours of the world?


SOLACE (HAVEN) IN THE GRAVEYARD

Having wandered about the street,

Having wondered about the ironies of life,

Having been robbed by life…

But after giving the grave a changing tombs-style makeover,

This former construction worker said he feels at home;

'It is dry and it is warm. I have some lamps and my personal possessions.

It isn't a palace but it is more comfortable than the street.'

Mr Stojanovic, who has never had a regular job,

Lost his home in the town after running up debts.                                                    

He moved into the grave after dossing down in the streets for months

And now spends his time foraging in the out-of-use cemetery for food.

'Whenever I want to crawl out,

I first check if there's someone around,

Otherwise I could scare a person to death.

People are very kind to me; they sometimes bring me food or clothes.

Sometimes I have to get my food from rubbish bins

But it can be very nutritious. It's amazing what people throw away."

It doesn't frighten me to sleep in a grave.

The dead are dead. I'm more frightened of being hungry.’
 
 
Laide Salako is a graduate of English and currently working as an instructor in a high school.
 
* * *
Karla says, “I hate this city”
By Elizabeth Spencer

I just want
a wife and baby.
If I made a lot of money,
I could find a girl real fast.

Your cat is still fat,
fatter than before.
I don’t care what the scale says.
When he was my cat
he was thin.

I want your kid to call me
Godfather.
I don’t have to be the actual
godfather,
it’s the name I like.
I’m trying to build 
street cred in California.

She said we should stop
hanging out,
that she shouldn’t keep the book
even though
it was her new favorite.
I said keep it,
I wanted you to have it.

Everyone who loves me lives
in Philadelphia
but I won’t move back.
Elizabeth Helen Spencer is a graduate of Temple University’s MFA program, where she served as Assistant Fiction Editor for the first issue of TINGE Magazine. She co-hosts the Palabras Reading Series in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from C4: Chamber Four Lit Mag, Friends Journal, Ragazine, and Almost 5Q. 
 
* * *
 
Poems by John Stocks
On the Pilgrim’s Way

Some nights when the air is soft
When the frailest bird song has stilled
To a sweet scented, timeless tenderness
Then, a tentative faith creeps in.

Earlier a sharp and magisterial light
Fixed upon some slant of brickwork
On a half-ruined gable end
Had caught my attention.

As we watched skimming swallows
Trace the delineated contours
Of a deserted village
It was as if time had left our pilgrimage

It was transitory but I felt weightless
As if we were boundless
Locked like stars
In an ever present continuum
With the constellations
Orion, Pegasus,
The hunter and the hunted
Burning with a new intensity-
Carrying the torch of infinity


Worksop

I am invisible-dead to this town
After thirty four years
Why should you recognise me?

I lived here once and felt no strangeness
Was born and bred, raised
Found empathy and disillusion
On theses streets, splayed my dreams
Broke my heart on a foolish kiss
Took my punches, drank to excess
Opened my heart to what was promised.

Now a draw myself inwards-fade
To a dot in your distance
Absorbing your cold indifference.

I am the Polish guy, sitting on the steps
Of your town hall, mumbling his regrets
Like him I am not what you made me-
For I am what I think I am
And nothing more.
John Stocks is a UK based poet who has had work published in magazines worldwide. He has been widely anthologised.
* * *
Creative Nonfiction
Brilla
By Hector Durate, Jr.
 
Bruce Lee delivers a roundhouse kick to the side of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s head when Dad walks into the living room and Mom immediately senses something’s up. “What’s wrong?” she asks.

He dry swallows and says he almost passed out at the grocery store. Standing in line at the deli counter, he suddenly broke into a cold sweat but felt so hot, he ducked out of line and stood in front of the beer cooler until he calmed down. “I had a pain this morning,” he points to his right ear, “But now it’s down here,” he places his palm over the left side of his chest, like pledging the flag.

“Breathe in deep,” Mom says.

He does.

“Still?”

“Yeah.”

“We gotta go to the urgent care.” Mom says this as she clips on her wrist watch, the last step in the ritual that is her getting set to go work at the Neurology Department of Miami Children’s Hospital. It doesn’t matter she’s a nurse and has seen something like this or worse practically every day of her working life, the ease with which she addresses and observes him irks me. She should be more worried.   

Dad shakes his head and raises the palm from his chest and into the air. “No, you go to work, I’ll be fine. It’s probably just gas or some weird movement I might have made.”

“You look pale,” she says, then turns to me, “Junior, doesn’t he look pale?”

He did. Dad rarely gets sick but when he does the first thing to go before his temperature rockets is the color from his face. “You do.”

“Junior, can you take me?”

Dad’s always been resilient and quiet, almost emotionless. I’ve only seen him cry a couple of times in thirty years: the day after my older sister announced she was eloping with the boyfriend we all disapproved of, and when my aunt, his oldest sister Carmen, passed away. Aside from that, the man had the emotional range of a Cyberdyne Systems T-101. So, when he gives in so easily to a hospital visit, I know he’s definitely not well.

In the car, he breathes in and presses the area around his heart with his fingers. “What if I’m having a heart attack?”

Taking my cue from his Latino maleness, I immediately get defensive when an uncomfortable subject comes up. “Why would you say that?”

“Because, Junior, this has never happened to me before. Chest pains?”

There’s silence as I refuse to engage this conversation and mentally try to find a way out.

“If it was my heart, I think I’d be dead by now,” he says.

“We’re gonna get to the hospital and you’re going to see everything’s fine.” It’s bullshit; I’m worried as hell because he’s speaking so cryptically that my mind can’t help but offshoot to the worst possible scenario it can conjure.

I park outside the Baptist Health Urgent Care in Doral as palm trees sway in the breeze and I wish we were walking toward the sandy grounds of anywhere in Miami Beach. Meanwhile, Dad works on spraying a bit of Binaca in his mouth and sprucing his hair with the cheap plastic comb he carries in his pocket, for moments like this where he might have do a quick once over of his appearance. I fill out the forms for him, afraid any kind of mental exertion might trigger something worse, but he eventually gets impatient with the ping pong of questions and finishes them himself. Not many people are ailing this weekend so within twenty minutes, the blood pressure cuff compresses his arm and sends back a normal reading, but the attending nurse does say his EKG reads abnormal. “We’re going to give you five children’s chewable aspirin and nitroglycerin. I want you to wait a few minutes and tell me if your chest starts to feel better.”

Nitroglycerin and aspirin, I knew it was his heart. Dad reaches sixty in less than a year and he’s chewing children’s aspirin? It can’t be his heart. After a few minutes, the nurse comes back and asks if it’s better. He relaxes his posture some and says, “Yes, it’s much better.”

“On a scale of one to ten, how much would you say the pain was when you came in?”

“Seven.”

“And what would you put it at now?”

His tilts his palm like a scale, “I’d say a three.”

“Three? Okay,” she takes the chart and walks off, pulling the curtain shut behind her.

Dad’s got wires hooked up to his chest, stomach, and feet, all routing to a machine that beeps: a metronome helping me keep time between now and whenever the bad news I’m anticipating is verbalized. The curtains are a bright blue with what look like some type of cute elephant or lion dancing around; is this really what’s supposed to take my mind off the fact . . . The doctor swings the curtain open like Zorro, smiles, (practiced, I suspected), and tells my Dad they have to transfer him to Baptist Emergency in an ambulance. He says urgent care facilities don’t have the equipment to properly monitor whether or not he is indeed having or has had a heart attack. So, to err on the side of caution, he’s sending him to Baptist for a chest X-ray and enzyme test.

“You think it’s his heart?” I’ve imagined myself saying this before—in relation to either parent—but fuck me if it doesn’t come easier than two plus two.

He curls his mouth. “Well, I mean if he says the pill relieved the pain and his EKG readings, I definitely want to send him to the hospital, just to make sure everything is okay. We’ll have an ambulance on the way, they’ll take you straight to emergency where they can take a better look. Please sign these forms consenting it’s okay.”

“Please make sure they go easy on me,” Dad tells the doctor in his broken English. Now, keep in mind, all the conversations I’ve had with my parents in this story and throughout most of life have been in Spanish, Dad’s preferred language. He can handle himself very well with English and uses it consistently at work, but if given the choice, it’s Spanish. So when he appeals for sympathy, to the obviously American doctor, in English, it’s because he’s extremely worried. That’s his go-to: verbalizing his anxiety. I inherited Mom’s method: going white as a sheet and saying nothing, prepping as to what the afterlife will be like.

The doctor laughs and says, “Everything’s going to be fine.”

You better not be lying, white coat, I think.

“Call your Mom and tell her, but not that she has to come here; I don’t want her missing work for this. You take your car, go home, get my phone charger, and meet me at the hospital.”

“I’m not leaving you alone.” I see the nurse, “Excuse me, can I ride with my Dad?”

“Of course,” she replies.

"Llevate el carro¸” Dad says, matter-of-factly.

“If you want to take your car, you can’t follow the ambulance,” The nurse says.

“No?” I ask. A pointless question, knowing I’m going to have to go home anyway.

“I mean, you can follow the ambulance but you won’t be able to run the lights with it or anything.”

“It makes perfect sense.”

“Ve a la casa y llevame el cargador,” he says.

I call Mom from the car and tell her what’s going on. She says to come to the house and we’ll ride to the hospital together. She got the night off but tells me not to let Dad know. He calls a minute later, and tells me not to forget the charger. I tell him I’ve yet to get home but that I’ll be at the hospital as soon as possible. The ride’s a blur; I just want to get to him. He’s alone, without any of us, what if something happens? I’m almost thirty one and have experienced plenty rites of passage, but one; the one I never want to pass.

When I get home, Mom’s taking off her watch, dressed much more casually, clipping hoops to her ears. “Let’s go. He says to take the charger.”

“He called?”

She nods her head. “Told me not to take the night off, so let’s go.”

On the way to Baptist, I relay in better detail everything the doctor said.

“I knew something was wrong with him when he came home so flushed and for him to just leave the store like that, without getting what he went for? He must be scared,” Mom says.

“Actually, he looks better.”

She eyes the speedometer, “Go a little faster.” Mom’s never encouraged me to go faster, but rather constantly nags about slowing down and not tailing the car in front.  “Nos estamos poniendo viejo,” she says.

“Lo se.” Fucking hell if I don’t know we’re all getting older.

At the hospital, we walk right in and through triage. Almost every patient checked in has a silver head of hair resting atop their heads, but in Room 51, Dad’s is salt and pepper, fluffy and curled back, the result of years of careful blow drying and combing after every shower. The nurse sticks EKG sensors to his feet when he catches sight of Mom, smiles wide, and asks why I made her miss work. I ask about the ride over.

“Oh, man, they made a big deal over nothing. They turned the siren on.”

“How do you feel?” Mom says with a smile.

“Better, but it still hurts when I breathe.” He points at me with his eyes, “You bring the charger?”

I dig into my side pocket. “Yes, Jesus why is it so important?”

“Plug it in,” he says, pointing to the wall, “In case your sister calls.”

“She already called me,” Mom says, “She’s on her way.”

“No, the kids have school tomorrow, she doesn’t have to come all the way out here,” smiling the whole time.

“How do you feel?” I ask again, noticing the renewed color to his face.

“Maybe I just need to release one big fart,” he says.

Later, the nurse comes back in and says they’re giving him an enzyme test, which through blood work helps determine if he’s had a heart attack. He’s watching the news, surprised at the crazy rain lashing South Beach.

“That’s where I want to be,” the nurse sighs.

“Only sunnier,” I say.

“Not even.”

She gets a laugh from us as she fills the fourth tube full of blood.

Dad smiles while telling us how the ambulance made racket all across the Palmetto and how he’d never managed to get inside an emergency room so quick. When the nurse comes back in with the enzyme strips to run the test, he announces he’s hungry.

“Hector,” Mom protests.

“I’m hungry,” he says.

“Well, we can’t give you anything until after the tests but I’ll be sure to let the assistants know so you maybe get it sooner.” When the nurse leaves, he leans over and repeats the fart joke. I laugh, not caring he’s rehashing old material.

My sister arrives and kisses us all. My seventeen-year-old niece/goddaughter hugs Dad a bit more melodramatically than necessary and I remember the high school ego I must face the following morning, convincing myself this merits missing a day of work but Dad will be pissed if he finds out I called out over this.  

He’s always made a big deal about first impressions, appearance being everything. So when I was a kid it was all about wearing ironed button down shirts tucked into starched pants and shiny shoes. That way, when people met me they saw a decent young man, rather than a vagrant. With this, came Dad’s attempt to push gold on me. He’s always got his thin gold necklace on, from which dangles a simple gold crucifix and lucky gold money bag with $100 etched into the back. I constantly tease him that it looks like a boxing glove.  My teenage years gave way to rebellion against Dad’s ethos of appearance; we clashed many times when I went to church in baggy corduroys and short sleeve, plaid button downs, tucked out. Eventually, he accepted the fact I inherited Mom’s taste in dress: first thing ironed is first thing slapped on. I’ve never liked gold, not because of Dad, it just never struck me as something aesthetically appealing to wear. None of this matters when Dad tells me to unclip his necklace, and wear it until he gets out of radiography. “Para que no se pierda.”

I forget to remind him about it when the doctor comes in and tells him he’s good to go. That what he has is acute pericarditis; a virus has caused the tissue around his heart to swell, creating discomfort and episodes of fatigue. The bottle of antibiotics and bed rest for the next three days should do it. I also don’t mention it when he smiles at me, says that if I’m going to McDonald’s to please get him a Filet O’ Fish because he’s starved. The necklace goes unnoticed until three days later when I get home from work and he’s on the couch engrossed in hour three of an A-Team marathon.

“How do you feel?” I ask, kissing his forehead.

“Much better,” he says, feeling around his neck. “Hey, do you have my necklace?”

“Yeah,” I unclip it from my neck.

He puts it on and sets the charms at the middle of his chest.

I walk to my room and reach for my own necklace: the silver one I wore constantly up until three nights ago; it holds La Virgen de Guadalupe and a lucky dolphin.  

Part of me wishes Dad hadn’t remembered the necklace, but is thankful he did, because the day will come when I’ll wear it again—permanently.  The other part of me— the guy sporting a rumpled, plaid, short-sleeved shirt over baggy corduroy pants—hopes that day never comes. 
 
Hector Duarte Jr. is working on his graduate degree at Florida International University's MFA program. He is a high school English/ELL teacher.
* * *

All I Have
By Christine Kelly
 
One Easter my grandmother gave me a giant pink egg decorated with blue spun sugar.  When I think of it now, I want to vomit.  I was ten and it was almost as big as my head.  I was already pudgy – the only granddaughter of Italians from the old country.  Nonnie fed you because she loved you.  Food equaled love.  I was very loved and I ate it up.  I was a stupid fat kid.  That’s why the kids at school called me a cow.  And a dog.  Because I ate that giant egg and I liked it even though it made me sick.  Even though I felt regret as soon as I swallowed a bite.

A couple of months ago my doctor sent me to the dietitian in her clinic because I was gaining the weight back.  And now I have to sit in an office and talk to someone about food and dieting and I hate it.  I hate it because ice cream makes the pain in my chest numb and she doesn’t want me eating sugar.  Or carbs.  Or eggs or tomatoes or gluten or oats or legumes or fruit. 

My life is so out of control.  I can’t control my feelings or my yearnings or my desires.  I can’t control my family – my father who is dead and my mother who is mentally ill and talks to people who don’t exist.  I can’t control the lack of relationship I have with my sisters and although I’ve always blamed my mother I have no one to blame but myself.  I can’t control my guilt.  All I have is the control of what I put in my mouth and how much I exercise and I don’t like someone telling me what to eat and how much to work out.  She’s taking away all I have.

A few years ago I ducked back into the dark comfort of my eating disorder.  I’d eat then work out.  Then eat and work out.  Then pass out in the hallway.  My husband ignored it for a long time because he knows acknowledging it only feeds the beast.  He also knows he can’t make me eat.  And I know he can’t commit me because I know the law.  It’s on my side.  I’m not a danger to myself or others.  Not yet, and I know how to skate that line.

I try really hard to be good.  I try to follow my dietitian’s diet but when I don’t lose weight she sits back in her chair, crosses her arms, and says things like, “Are you afraid to be thin?”  “No,” I say, looking at my lap.  I’m not afraid of being thin.  But I’m afraid of everything else.  I’m afraid I’m too old to lose the weight.  I’m afraid I’ll lose weight only to gain it back again.  I’m afraid that I’ll get thin, but look in the mirror and see only ugly, like all the other times.  I’m afraid of failure.  I’m afraid of myself.

I think it’s my fault that I’m fat.  I think maybe if I had worked out more in my twenties, or if I hadn’t starved myself in my teens, or if I hadn’t had that bowl of ice cream the other day that maybe I’d be thin.  I think that if I hadn’t been such a bad person…  If I hadn’t been so consumed by selfishness and addiction in my twenties I wouldn’t be paying the price now. 

And now I live with regret.  Regret over eating a giant sugar egg twenty-eight years ago.  Regret over the dessert I shared with my girlfriends at dinner tonight.  I can’t log that dessert on my food log.   I just can’t.  I don’t want to hear, “Are you afraid of being thin?”  Instead I’ll work out twice as long tonight and keep it a secret because I am ashamed.  I’m ashamed that I was out of control and control is all I have.
 
Christine Kelly is a professional photographer and writer from northern California. She lives with her husband and three cats and considers her therapist her best friend.
* * *
Sand
By Susan Wolbarst
     Many years ago, visiting the gift shop at the Japanese Garden in Portland, my son wanted a miniature Zen garden.  It was a box of sand with a few pebbles and a tiny, but remarkably elegant, wooden rake.  It was pricey, and I resisted, thinking of the sand spilling all over our hotel room, our car, and – if any survived long enough to make it home – disappearing into the carpet in his bedroom.  He pouted.  I caved.  I know it was the rake that got him.  He was ecstatic for about an hour.

     Years later, when he was in the army, overseas, I would sometimes find myself in his room.  I would drift in like a sleepwalker and stand there, looking at the posters on the wall of John Cleese representing the Ministry of Silly Walks, of the ways to say “shit happens” according to one’s religious or political beliefs, of various airplanes flying, of The Matrix.  I would think about my son as my eyes wandered among his possessions, trying to decode what could have led him to a military path, trying to imagine what he might be doing at that moment, 10 hours ahead of me, wondering when, and even if, I would see him again.

     On one of these pilgrimages to his room, I happened on the Zen sandbox, sitting on a bright yellow table he had been given as a small child, now piled with cufflinks, change, scraps of paper, and all kinds of detritus he had dumped there.  Remarkably, it appeared that most of the sand had survived.   I picked up the box and lifted the weightless rake.  I sat on his bed and began combing its tiny tines through the powdery sand.  I learned how empowering it was to tidy up such a small space.  What control!  I raked slowly, and when the sand was perfectly lined with tiny rows of rake trails, I arranged the pebbles.  Then I took them out and started over, aiming for a more perfect perfection.   More raking, rearranging.  Then again.  Again.  I was in his room, with the sand and the rake and the pebbles, for a long time. 

     I wondered if my son was sleeping at that moment, if some sand underneath his sleeping bag was making him a soft bed.  As I thought about him sleeping, half a world away, temporarily escaping whatever lurked nearby, the small rectangle of sand in my lap was dented by dark impressions as warm, out-of-scale drops sprinkled the tiny garden.  How unusual to experience rainfall in the desert this time of year! 
 
Susan Wolbarst is a writer living in Davis, CA. Her poetry, essays and articles have been published in a variety of places, including The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine, Naugatuck River Review, Poetry Now, PC magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee and others.
* * *
Tales From the Crypt
 
Stupid Bird
By Thom Didato
*archive currently unavailable
* * *
 
The Letter
By Leland Thoburn
 
Dear Debbie:

I hope you don’t mind me starting this letter like that. Maybe I should have said Dear Ms. Farmer. I tried, but I just can’t think of you that way, and I can’t call you Honeypumpkin no longer, so I settled on Debbie. I ain’t so used to writing letters but, what with you leaving and all, this is about the only way I know to say what needs saying.

Your note about moving to New York City and taking up with that dancer got me to thinking. I’m happy for you and Gustav. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true. Only a fool stands in the way of fate. If he does, fate’s going to win. Always. And I ain’t no fool.

So I decided it’s for the best. Here’s how I figured it. We had lots of good times, we did. But the happier you are, the more it hurts when you’re not happy any more. I know I’m not saying it right. I never was able to pick out words the way I can pick out a pig.

I got an idea how to explain it. You know how married couples get to nagging at each other, criticizing every little thing, how they get tired of each other? Even my cousin Beaumont. You remember Beaumont? Course you do – you and Beaumont was real good friends there for a spell. Anyway he and Betty Lou just ain’t happy no more like they used to be. I can’t imagine us ever getting into such a state, but I guess it could have happened. Just about kills me to think of it. Now I don’t have to worry about that no more.

It sure would have broke my heart to watch you grow old. Remember last summer how we danced at the Metropole until 3 AM? You know in another thirty years we couldn’t even dream of staying out late like that, dancing all night, watching the moon set over the fields. Watching the sun rise from the back of my truck. That was the pig’s knuckles, huh?

That was when Charlie got so drunk he didn’t recall you was my girl and he tried to get the last dance. Remember? I had to teach him a lesson. I hated to do it, him being my best friend. But he was just drunk out of his mind, that’s all. Didn’t know right from wrong. He told me later you was winking at him, but I don’t put no stock in that. The state he was in he would have thought old Hattie Simpson was Jessica Simpson. Come to think of it a lot of guys had that problem where you was concerned. Seems there was always some fellow trying to cut time with you when I wasn’t looking. But you being the prettiest girl in the county, I guess that was only natural. Besides, it made me proud when I wasn’t too busy fighting them off. I guess I won’t have to do that any more.

I won’t have to write no more letters either. Like I did when you was in college and I was in Iraq. I know you was too busy to write back, what with your studies and all. You always was the brighter of us. Seems the Lord made me out for farming, and not much else. Well, maybe fighting. Not even Jack Nabors could roughhouse better than me. Remember the time I had to fight him when I caught him trying to make time with you behind those hay bales on your sixteenth birthday? Three years older than me, and I still got the better of him.

I got to thinking of how much sleep I’ll be saving, too. I mean, it won’t be me who’s pacing about, reading magazines waiting to see if it’s a boy or a girl, like we talked about so much. Or twins like Billy Ray and his wife had. I won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to change diapers or fill bottles or walk around with one of our little guys on my shoulder. You know how my shoulder gives me trouble ever since Iraq.

And it won’t be me who worries about you every time you goes away all sudden like to visit friends, like in September when you was gone for a few days after we went to see that rock and roll band in town. There was talk you’d run off with one of those musicians, but that was just mean talk, like happens in a small town sometimes. I can understand why you’d want to get away from it when you got the chance.

Now I won’t ever have to feel guilty about forgetting our anniversary, or your birthday, or how much you really don’t like pink. Then there’s all the money I’ll save on flowers – and you’ll save on power tools.

I also got to thinking about all those arguments we won’t ever have to have over whether it was your boy or my girl who did this or that, who broke a window or stayed out too late, like your folks did after we come back late from the prom. And there’s all those arguments we’re not going to have about mirrors and sinks and small bathrooms; about razors, toothbrushes, and all that kind of stuff that seems to get important when nothing else is any more.

So you see, it’s probably for the best in the long run. That’s how I figured it out.

So now I won’t have to wonder ever again if I said something wrong, or if I acted like a dumb farm boy when I should have done something slick.

And it won’t ever be me who sits around and grows tired of you.

And I won’t ever have to stay awake, alone at night, missing the sound of your breathing and praying to God that he’d taken me first, if he was to take you before me.

I hear New York’s a wild place. Don’t stay out too late.

Your friend (I can still say that, can’t I?),

Drew
 
* * *
That's What You Get
By David Rushing
Lying here—old, sick, and dying--
my mind casts back to when I was a child suffering from the flu
and my father carried me to bed, tucked me in, fed me chips of ice,
and never left my side until the fever, at last, had broken.

Then, years later, when the illness came again,
my once-wife gave me water and aspirin
and held my hand through the dark night
until once more I was well.

And yet years after that, when it came again,
my once-girlfriend sat by my side,
put cold cloths on my head and stroked my hair
until I was yet again well and strong and brave.

But now I lie alone—old, sick, and dying--
in a one-room boarding house with no one by my side
because that’s what you get when you’ve spent a life like mine
caring more for oneself than anybody else.
* * *
Artwork
 
 
Art by Joshua Duncan
Joshua Duncan, Memphis College of Art BFA 2011 illustration, is an independent New Orleans based artist. Duncan's paintings and drawings pull from the human experience and seek to connect the viewer with moments of the eternal.
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Colleen Purcell
Colleen Purcell is a photographer living in Chile. Her photos have appeared in Off The Coast, The Meadowland Review, Subliminal Interiors, Ken Again, Anderbo and a few other publications.
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