Foliate Oak February 2013
By Marian Brooks
One day Karen, the Bristle Nosed Catfish, lost her taste for trash. Boldly, she swam to the top of the tank where the rest of the gang were enjoying a breakfast of freeze dried blood worms and algae wafers. The first to notice this aberration were the other two catfish, Bruna and Jean. They remained on the bottom, wedging themselves a little deeper into the gravel. Within days, the pecking order in the tank reversed itself completely. Big Al and Alice, the Kissing Gouramis, stopped kissing. Angel Fish, Duma and Dagiel, usually a docile species, began darting around the tank, surfing the glass walls and nipping at the fins of the goldfish. The playful neons grew pale and stalked guppies hiding in the hair grass.
When Anna noticed the Black Mollies swimming sideways, she knew something was amiss. Anna was 12 years old and the aquarium was her responsibility. Anna checked the pH and temperature of the water. She changed the filter. She saw no evidence of parasites. Anna decided to monitor the system for the next few days.
Gradually, the Tiger Barbs emerged from behind the rocks and the mollies righted themselves. The tetras regained their brilliance. Zebra fish, who were hiding in the small treasure chest at the bottom of the tank, ventured back into the light
Bruna and Jean were also watching. Even though they were bottom feeders, they were tired of taking out the rubbish and doing double duty for Karen who was getting very lazy and very fat. They were determined to make a run for the top once a day and help themselves to the dried shrimp appetizers. These little acts of rebellion caused a great deal of stress in the small ecosystem, disrupting the newly acquired tranquility. Once again the Red Tail Sharks were circling frantically or hiding in hollow logs.
Anna decided to quarantine all three catfish. After several days in lockdown, the offenders returned to the community. However, Anna noted that the scavengers had developed a taste for swordtail and no longer seemed to know their place.
Recently retired, Marian has begun writing short fiction. Her work has appeared in Curly Red Stories, One Million Stories, Thick Jam, Linnett's Wings and others.
* * *
The Acceptance Speech
By Chelsey Clammer
The woman sat gnawing at her underwear. We all wondered at what she was thinking, or, better yet, what it tasted like. We did not know how she got the underwear off of her body with no one seeing her do so, though Jess says that she saw the woman scoot her butt around a lot in her chair during dinner. Perhaps she was extracting them then.
We wanted to stare. Nothing was stopping us from staring.
The woman—who no one at this party recognized nor knew how she got here or who she came with—sat at the side of the room on a metal plastic folding chair and continued to chew at her underwear. Her petite teeth were not so much voraciously digging into the white cotton weave, as they were nibbling a bit here and a bit there, steadily pecking at the crotch of the childish-looking Hanes underwear. I remembered when I was a child I used to wear underwear like that. They each had a name of the day of the week printed on the elastic band and across the hip. Monday written in pink. Tuesday in purple. Wednesday was in red. Sometimes I would wear the green Thursdays on what should have been the yellow Sundays just to feel rebellious. I didn't see anything printed on this woman's underwear, though I could see the white tag sticking up in front of her nose. Size six.
After a few long dreadful moments in which the air swelled with the need to do something, Jess leaned over to me and whispered, Do you think she'll eat the elastic?
I had seen my dog eat my underwear once. Something about the smell she must have been after, as she also used to fetch my tampons out of the trash. When I returned home from class, I would find white puffs of cotton, some bits of it stained with red, littering the floor. Then the next day, a green string would come out in her excrement. I never saw bits of my underwear in my dog's shit, but I would wake up to the ripped-up underwear lying next to my bed on the floor, the crotch completely devoured.
I wondered if this woman was trying to get at something. Did she have a craving for that taste? Was she just curious? Was she doing this on a dare? Or was she simply insane?
When I pulled my stare away from her pale, delicate hands and tiny incisors that nibbled away at the underwear, I glanced at the rest of her body. She had on a ridiculous hat that covered most of her dirty blonde hair. The hat was a fedora of sorts, a red feather sticking up from its left side. A pair of matching red silk gloves laid in her lap, her lap that was dressed in a deep purple chiffon skirt. Her breasts, what I could see of them through the cross-section of her skinny, pale forearms and the underwear hanging limply from her grasp, were in a black corset, a tight contraption that pushed her breasts up and in. She wore tennis shoes on her feet. Keds. Little green sneakers with white polka dots and white rubber toes. She looked childish almost, and I wondered briefly if her parents were here. But the woman must have been at least forty years old by the look of the crows feet wrinkles that were starting to spread out from the corners of her brown eyes.
A man across the room rose from one of the round dining tables. He was the man who had recently been up on the stage receiving some award for such-and-such book I hadn't ever heard of. But apparently he was a psychologist and had written something about troubled teens and how to talk with them. The category for my award was up next. But the ceremony paused at the sight of this woman eating her underwear. The host held his microphone limply in his hand, not able to—or perhaps not wanting to—bring the attention back to the front of the stage.
She had not finished eating her underwear, as the rump of it was still untouched. But she soon set the underwear back in her lap, pulled one glove slowly back on her left hand as the award-winning man approached her. He had on a tweed brown suit,and looked like a psychologist with his wire-rimmed glasses and short peppered-gray hair. He strode up to her just as she finished slipping the other red glove over her right hand.
“Can I help you, ma'am?”
What else could he have said?
She looked up at him, her eyes holding a sparkle from the chandelier that hung above her head.
“No, I'm fine. I was just leaving.”
Her purple chiffon skirt rustled as she slowly raised from her seat. She stuffed the half-eaten underwear into the space of her cleavage, and walked out of the room, all eyes trailing behind her. She accidentally left her purse behind. It sat slovenly underneath the metal folding chair, knowing the denouement of the situation had arrived.
“Did you win your award?” You ask this me later on in the night, after I returned home from the awards ceremony. You are trying to penetrate some form of a conversation, trying to incite some other words to come out of my throat, but the only thing filling my mind and, consequently, my mouth is the sight of the woman in the fedora with the red feather and her underwear.
“Did you not hear what I told you? A woman ate her underwear.”
“Yes. I heard you. And I don't know if I believe you or not.”
“I'm telling you she ate her underwear. Ask Jess.”
“Your agent would collude with you on this story, telling you that you should write about it or something.” Of course you were right, because my agent was always pushing me to write another collection of essays about absurd things that stretched the boundaries of nonfiction.
We went to sleep without another word on the matter. I laid next to you in bed, your breasts slightly heaving up and down against my own. A small snore slipped out of your nose. I couldn't sleep. I was worried about the woman's digestive tract, if she would have to go to the hospital tonight in order to have the cotton removed. What if she clogged her stomach? I could not push myself into sleep, as I worried too much of what became of the woman.
I got up and stumbled in the dark to my desk, lighting a candle so as not to disrupt you with the bright living room light. You had to be at work the next morning, and needed all of your rest in order to save your energy for the kindergartners with their endless questions.
The candle blared across my page, my pen casting long shadows across the curious paper as I laid it all out, bared everything I couldn't say to you—the things you didn't believe—onto the page.
The woman sat gnawing at her underwear. She knew everyone was watching her, but she did not care. She had her task, had the urge to do this and so it must be done. She was looking for something, trying to find out the source of her bestiality.
Earlier in the night she had been dropped off at the awards ceremony by her partner. It was her lover who was up for a fiction award, but who didn't want to attend the ceremony as she was too anxious about not winning. She didn't want to show her face if she wasn't going to win.
“Go for me.” The lover said. “If I win, then just pretend to be me and say some words about thanking god and my mother.”
“But you don't even like your mother.”
“Yes, but that's what everyone wants to hear when you accept an award.”
The woman got out of the car, ducking her head so her fedora wouldn't hit the top of the car, and stood up to adjust her corset. She was having a hard time breathing, and couldn't understand why she agreed to wear this outfit to the ceremony. It was her partner's idea. Her partner wanted to look outrageous, wanted something to take away the attention from the fact that she was out in public with her lesbian lover. There had been rumors going around. She didn't want anyone to believe in them. So she told her partner to wear an absurd outfit in order to draw attention to herself and away from this closeted writer who would most likely lose.
Now, the woman sat at the table where her lover's name was. The grand ballroom was full of writer types that she couldn't stand. People with their chests puffed out because they were authors, or poets, or worse, researchers. As she took her place at the round table with her lover's name printed in white on a small black card sitting on top of a white china plate, she could not resist the thoughts that had been stomping around in her head all day.
She had found a pair of underwear that belonged to neither of them stuffed between the cushions of their tattered brown couch. It was the underwear a younger woman might wear, something that proved to her that her lover was dating the eighteen year old again. She thought about their last fight from a few months ago, thought about the screams over how her lover had to really, truly end the affair with the younger woman so that they could move forward with what little bit of love they had left for each other. Her lover promised two months ago that the affair was over with, that the young woman was now a thing of her past.
Now, she sat at the round table with her lover's name staring at her from the placard and the underwear in her purse weighing her down. She hadn't approached her lover about finding the underwear, but stashed them in her purse in order to have some power over the situation. She owned something of the young woman now. She sat, wondering what was so horrible about herself that her lover would choose that silly young woman to go after, again. She sat, wanting to show to the world how she was better than that eighteen year old, that she had some control over the whole affair, because now she knew of it, again.
She sat. She heard the awards being called out. She heard the muffled speeches about thanking god and mother. She sat, then in a moment of applause she raised her body and sashayed over to a metal folding chair on the side of the room to remove herself from the stuffy air of the writers surrounding her at the table. Here, she stripped off each of her red silk gloves and laid them in her lap. Then, she pulled out the underwear hoping no one would notice. Or, hoping everyone would notice. She wanted that, wanted them to know that she was about to devour the secrets of her lover.
She sat. ~
“Sweetie? What the hell are you doing up so late?”
You woke up because of the light flashing into the bedroom, the reflection of the candle flickering off of our mirrored closet doors. I set my pen down.
“Nothing. Just thinking. Just writing.”
“Are you going to be awake in a few hours to drive me to work?”
“Of course,” I said with a yawn.
“You never told me, did you win your award?”
“Yeah, I did actually.”
“What did you say in your acceptance speech?”
“That I was thankful for all of the people in my life, and for the encouragement my mother has always given me.”
“But you hate your mother.”
Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women's Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in THIS, The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Sleet, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor's Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination.
* * *
By Roland Goity
Lorraine was at her weekly dominoes game, for the first time in a long while at Mary’s. Lorraine was concentrating like Houdini before making a move, and was the last to notice when Mary’s granddaughter walked through the door in a print dress cradling a bag of groceries. The girl’s belly ballooned from pregnancy.
“Hi Grams,” the girl said after unloading the groceries in the kitchen. Her hair was raven black, freshly dyed with a lacquered sheen.
“Hi Bethany,” Mary said. “These are my partners in crime…” She gestured at Lorraine, and their friends, Patti and Sue Ellen, also at the table. Before further introduction the thickset girl gave a standoffish pose, twisting an open palm as a token wave. She bounded up the stairs and out of sight with surprising quickness.
“She’s so sweet,” Mary said. “Takes the bus to the market whenever I need something, God bless her.”
Mary owned no car but, with her downy cheeks and impish eyes, it appeared Bethany wasn’t old enough to drive. Even Lorraine could see that, and with no kids (let alone grandkids) of her own she usually had difficulty deciphering ages. A few months earlier the dominoes group learned Mary’s granddaughter from Missouri was coming to live with her a while, up to a year maybe. Mary had lived alone for years since her husband’s passing and welcomed the company.
Religion was an important part of Mary’s life. In her living room a crucifix was perched beside the German wall clock that ticked loudly. Sashes and rosaries were among the items on top of an old bureau. And the nearby bookcase contained several versions of The Bible, New Testament and Old, alongside popular new books dedicated to the subject of Christianity. It was something Lorraine was noticing especially now, wondering how that fact might have played into Bethany’s move.
When they were done dropping tiles and moving pegs along the cribbage board, Mary invited her friends to sink themselves into a leather armchair or upon her lime-green wraparound couch. She had a bottle of wine she was going to open. Sue Ellen and Patti begged off, saying they needed to get home. But Lorraine agreed to stick around before catching her bus. Mary soon brought out a chilled bottle of Gewürztraminer and half a dozen snack-size rum cakes.
They gorged on the pastries, which proved a perfect complement to the wine. Mary began talking about some flower-arranging project involving paper swans that she was coordinating for a church fundraiser, but Lorraine’s thoughts drifted upstairs. She began to wonder about Bethany. What would become of her when she returned home to Missouri? She imagined the changing dynamics between the girl and her parents and friends. And what about the baby’s father? For a moment Lorraine pictured him like Spencer had been, a shy neighbor boy adorned with a fair share of pimples. He and Bethany were likely just another awkward young couple whose mutual attraction left them in over their heads. The thought brought Lorraine a little smile. However, just as quickly, she realized the man whose progeny it was could have been a slick-haired gym teacher…or a morally corrupt uncle…or a serial rapist! She grabbed her wine glass with a shaky hand and took a lengthy sip.
The rum cakes devoured, the wine bottle empty, Lorraine felt pleasantly intoxicated. She wasn’t much of a drinker—none of her friends were—and she began laughing without reserve at some snide jokes Mary made about a particularly odd neighbor across the street. She glanced at the clock. Already an hour had passed since their game ended. Lorraine stood, a bit abruptly, and said goodbye.
At the bus stop bench Lorraine slumped against a nefarious Caribbean pirate ad decal on the backrest. An Asian woman and boy sat beside her. The boy was fidgety and the woman looked worn out, her face drawn and weary. The youngster tugged at the woman’s coat until she lent an ear and reached in her pocket for a wrapped piece of candy. Lorraine couldn’t tell if the woman was thirty-five or fifty-five, or if that was her son or grandson.
It had been quite an afternoon. And now, with the interaction beside her, Lorraine was stirred once more to reminisce about a more complicated period, now seemingly ages ago, when a young girl’s options weren’t what they are today. When a trip to Mexico over Easter break was needed for what Bethany could have chosen to do at many a reputable clinic nearby. It exhausted Lorraine to remember such details. She was actually beginning to nod off before the sound of airbrakes and the smell of diesel roused her.
Inside the bus Lorraine took one of the long bench seats against the sides that faced perpendicular. The seat across from her was empty. That is until someone slithered through the closing doors, paid the fare, and got seated just as the driver pulled from the curb. It was Bethany. Sweet young Bethany with her round mound like a beacon of neon, even under the fabric of her dress.
Instantly Lorraine turned her head, shut her eyes, feigned napping. And then, for the first time in many years, Lorraine allowed herself to do the math, to calculate how old her son or daughter would be. It amazed her to think nearly fifty now had she chosen to have the child.
The bus ran in rumbling, jerky motions, vibrating the floor below Lorraine’s feet and giving her seat a sort of current. Conversation in the bus turned mostly to white noise, but Lorraine noticed a repeated request in a high-pitched voice.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” Bethany was saying to her as she looked over. The girl’s face looked so pale against her stark black hair. “Didn’t I see you at my Grams today?”
Lorraine glanced to her sides as if it were possible the girl was asking someone else. Finally she said, “Oh yes, yes. I was there.”
“I thought so,” Bethany said.
Lorraine simply smiled. She considered keeping mum before muttering a polite “nice to meet you” whenever she or the girl got up to leave. But she was curious about Bethany. She leaned forward, nearly halfway across the aisle. “I’m Lorraine,” she said.
“Bethany” the girl said, which of course Lorraine already knew. Bethany slapped her hands on her tummy. She played it like a bongo drum. “You want to have a feel? It started kicking last week.”
“Oh no, I don’t think so,” Lorraine said as the bus pulled to a stop.
“You sure?” Bethany said. A tattoo-plastered fellow with a ball cap on backwards passed between them and scooted out the door. “I caught how you stared at it when I first got to Grams…”
“You did?” Lorraine said.
“Well, I just… You see, I never had any children of my own, and here you are, you know, you’re so young…”
Bethany blushed, appearing more little girl than expectant mother. “Well, God decided to bless me,” she said. “It’s not like I’ll be a real mother exactly, since I won’t be raising it.”
“You’ll have time for that one day,” Lorraine said.
“Probably someday,” Bethany said. “But I’ve got years of school ahead of me. And a career I hope. I want to be an artist.”
“An artist? That would be nice.”
“I’m pretty serious with paint and mixed media” the girl said. “I visit the museum of art for inspiration. In fact, I’m going there now.” She fiddled with the purse in her lap before holding out what looked like a ticket. “See? Here’s my museum pass.”
They hit another couple stops. Lorraine’s was next. She pulled the window cord then inched to the edge of her vinyl-cushioned seat.
“So, you want to touch it?” Bethany said, patting her belly.
“I’m about to get off. This is my stop,” Lorraine said.
“Then hurry up. I think I can feel it kicking!”
The high pitch of the bus’s brakes sounded. Lorraine stood and placed her hand at the spot where Bethany pointed.
“A little to the left now,” Bethany said.
The bus door rattled open. Lorraine withdrew her hand, waved with it and turned for the door.
“Did you feel anything?” the girl called out as Lorraine padded down the steps and on to the pavement.
But the doors had closed before Lorraine could answer. Lorraine tried to signal through the window but the bus pulled away too quickly, leaving only a big blast of diesel fumes.
Roland Goity lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he writes in the shadows of planes coming and going from SFO. His stories can be found in Fiction International, The Raleigh Review, Word Riot, Compass Rose, PANK, and more recently in The MacGuffin, Menacing Hedge, Bluestem, and Defenestration."
* * *
Substitute for Love
By Kyle Hemmings
Substitute for Love #2
She doesn’t say she will never love him as in hot sleepless nights by the old train tracks, or her dreaming of some bad boy, brooding, mumbling, cornering women with his sexy animal inarticulateness. With him, there will be no bruised skin over a deep wound. She likes the little man who butters his bread with his left hand, and smiles when she’s withholding an embarrassing answer. Why hurt anyone who gives gifts of saltwater taffy and tiny sculptures of Parisian dance hall girls? She imagines the real ones, limber and strong, not the fragile ceramic imitations, who might have carried Toulouse-Lautrec to his bed, when he was too drunk with love. Most of the little man's questions hint at depth, the ability to not breathe for long periods of time, the risk of losing things.
Sometimes on a sticky star-studded night, he looks up at the sky and remarks that we are surrounded by so much space. Yet what are we to do? When she finally breaks down and tells him about the man who cut her so deep that she bled from bed to bed, that some kinds of love, like his, are too precious, too fragile to be questioned, he tries to hold her and he is off balance. She steadies him. Her embrace is stronger, more encompassing. She listens to his faint heartbeat, feels his spongy bones. Whatever is left is her own space, an enormous room where she dances en pointe and keeps falling, keeps breaking that same tiny bone in her ankle.
Substitute for Love #4
He couldn't have the pale blue-eyed woman he read about all his life, lingering in twilight, the one who spun silky bobcats in the deepest con of the night. Supposedly. So he remodeled himself on his own lies, wore pants a size too small in the crotch, patted his face with liquid wrinkle remover. The next woman he dated was into expensive wines, traveling to The Motherland Calls in Volgograd, paying a therapist in whose presence she referred to herself as "a yellow island of one." Underneath all that make-up, she stated in a soft and flat tone, there was jaundice and waning sun. Feeling the drain of so many fragmented memories, of underground loves never completely silenced, the remodeled man asked her "How do you know if you're in love?" She said that sleeping without that person means finding splinters in your own bed. One night, he reached inside her. He found a hole that he mistook for an island. The next day at work, he kissed the cheek of a cleaning woman. He heard her son had drowned.
Kyle Hemmings has been published in Wigleaf, Storyglossia, Elimae, Match Book, This Zine Will Save Your Life, and elsewhere. . His latest collection of prose/poetry is Void & Sky from Outskirt Press. He lives and writes in New Jersey.
* * *
By Jack Hill
People at the Florin regional transit station stare at me. Some laugh and point. I stand close to the tracks, walking up and down the platform, where people board the trains.
Aluminum cans, paper cups and plates and bags, cigarette butts and boxes, used condoms, RT passes and sheets of newspaper, and plastic anything stick duct taped to my body. The world, shotgun blast plastered and chained to my arms and legs and torso, flutters when the trains pass.
“Hey, man. Why you got all that trash on you?” some guy asks me.
I rotate, my back to the train people are boarding, and look at him through the eye holes in my ski mask.
“You look like a trash mummy,” another guy says, exhaling cigarette smoke.
“A shit mummy,” another guy says, laughing hysterically.
Something hits me in the head and shoulder and rattles against the pavement at my feet. I look down. A beer can rolls away and disappears off the edge of the platform, falling into the gravel.
Another guy laughs and asks, “You trying to get money?”
I shake my head and watch a girl near the water fountains at the other end of the platform change her baby and leave the diaper on the ground. She talks on the phone and pushes the stroller to the soda machine.
I close my eyes and sigh and move closer to the water fountains.
They laugh and shout and holler as I tape the diaper to my chest.
* * *
Monkeys in Trees
By Joe Kapitan
In this story, I sprawl on the top bunk, flashlight in hand, re-reading the Far Side cartoons I’ve taped to the ceiling above my head. Even though I’ve seen it a hundred times, I still laugh at all the limp poultry draped over fences at the Boneless Chicken Ranch. You kick the box spring, right under my butt, and tell me to shut up. You are older and stronger and so opposite the hollow version of you that sleeps shrunken and quiet, tethered to hoses and exhausted from stabbing everywhere, all the time, at an enemy that’s perfected a strategy of exhausting its victims.
You fill maybe half a hospital bed, balled in the middle section, and if I squint to watercolor this scene I swear it could be thirty years ago, when HIV was alien, festering in far-off treetops, a dirty secret passed between equatorial monkeys, while you and I spent our days climbing different trees rooted to a distant side of the world. At night, we descended and climbed the stairs to our bedroom and we told each other endless stories. We asked each other endless pointless questions, like how long could a human live without bones? And why did God make viruses? I’m not sure the questions ever helped; little scraps of riddles left blowing around in our skulls, breeding still more questions. But the stories always helped. The stories wove cradles of numbing, tentacled sleep. So tonight I bring a story.
In this story, I sprawled on the top bunk, flashlight in hand, re-reading the Far Side cartoons I’d taped to the ceiling above my head. Even though I’d seen it a hundred times, I still laughed at all the limp poultry draped over fences at the Boneless Chicken Ranch. You kicked the box spring, right under my butt, and told me to shut up. You were older and you got dibs on the bottom bunk, granting you permanent access to my unprotected side. You were in sixth grade. I would have been in fourth, both of us still waist-deep in our uniform days at Mary Queen of Angels.
“Mikey,” you called from below. I was silent. I smelled a put-down coming.
“Mikey, I want a cookie. Go get me one. Don’t you want one?”
“The party,” I said. “I’m not going down there.”
“I’ll go too,” you said. You always knew what I needed to hear.
We crouched, peering through the white spindles of the banister. We had a full view of the living room, and the dining room beyond, where Mom and Dad’s cocktail party was in high gear. A wall of sound emanated from below---cackles of laughter, the cicada hum of conversations, cocktail glasses clanging in toasts. On the other side of the knot of partygoers stood the dining room table, full of food: tiny weenies in barbecue sauce, spinach dip, five kinds of crackers, six types of cubed cheese, assorted finger sandwiches, and the biggest dessert stack ever, made of alternating layers of chocolate chip cookies and fudge brownies. Getting there, though, would not be easy.
Dad’s boss, Mr. Downing, was sitting in Dad’s favorite chair. He had a Chinette plate full of food perched on his prodigious gut, and Mom kept stopping by with more food while Dad made sure Downing had a drink in each hand. They were treating Downing like he was the King of Monroe County or something. We looked at each other in disbelief. Surely this wasn’t the same Downing that Dad called (at various times) Lard Ass, Dumb Shit, Peckerhead or Jerk-Off? What about the game we played at dinner: Downing’s So (Blank)? We would start around the table, and everyone would try to top the others. Remember? If Dad said Downing’s So Fat He Has to Put Postage on Toilet Paper to Wipe His Ass, then you’d say Downing’s So Stupid He Thinks the Sears Tower Sells Lawnmowers. And yet, there was Dad, grinning at him. There was Mom, laughing at his pathetic jokes.
We both crept down the steps and wedged through the crowd, talking to no one. We grabbed a few empty plates to throw away, to make it look like we had a purpose for being there. Halfway to the dining room table, Downing stuck out a thick leg. “Lester,” he called to Dad, “please tell me that your children know better than to interfere with an office event?” Dad, shocked, said nothing. Downing, drunk, wasn’t through. “Lester, your children should apologize to us for interrupting the party.”
The room fell silent. Dad set his drink on an end table. “Mr. Downing,” I said, and stopped. I swallowed hard. I gathered up my fists. “Mr. Downing, you are so fat that you can take a leak in a different time zone.” Someone gasped. You smiled, and seemed taller all of a sudden. You said, “That’s nothing, Downing’s so stupid that he doesn’t realize everybody hates him and they just pretend to like him so they keep getting their pay checks.”
Mom caught us by the pajama collars and dragged us toward the stairs. People started for the door. Downing glared at Dad. Dad took the half-finished drink from Downing’s hand.
“You know, Downing,” Dad said, “it’s true. The boys are right. You are everything they said. All of it.”
Did you just smile in one dark corner of your face? Someday I will choose to believe you did. Or I might decide it was shadow, tremor, my fleshed-out wishing. Can you remember that night? How we burned with the realization that we already held everything we’d ever need?
Anyhow, I hope you liked the story. It’s all I’ve got. That, and the truth.
You don’t have much time left.
And chickens must have their bones, and monkeys fall from trees, and chairs are never really ours to begin with.
Joe Kapitan frequents northern Ohio, passing himself off as an architect. His short fiction has been published online and in print. He was invited to a war once, but kept to the edges.
* * *
Robbing a Bank
By Logan Larson
At this point, Billy didn’t care about the alarm signaling in the local bank. He had already smashed through the doors and unlocked the mammoth sized safe where all the money was stored. He planned on obtaining as much as he could fit in his larger than life sack he purchased at the dollar store a week ago. He had furthermore bought a ski mask and a crowbar but forgot the mask at his house so he resorted to using a paper bag he found on the street. He just had to punch two holes in it so he could see.
The only real reason he planned on robbing the bank on this otherwise normal Sunday night, was so he could help his Grandma pay for her new house. She bought the house with hardly any money thinking she could luckily win the lottery or something. But by the time the original owners realized the problem, they had already started hauling everything away, ready to move into the house they planned on buying once they got the money from his Grandma. In two days, the deadline for the money came and Billy really didn’t want to bring this problem to court.
Billy just felt so bad for his poor old Grandma that he assured her he’d get her some money before time ran out. Of course he didn't tell her how he’d actually get the money. That would make her even more upset.
He also willed to do it because he had done it once before to get into college and the cops never found him. So he figured he should burglarize the same bank he did last time. He already knew all the lock combinations. He just had to get in and out quick.
And now he sat here, halfway done stuffing his sack full of hundred dollar bills all the way to the limit. The price tag desired at least 250,000 dollars. But that also included the little money his grandma did have so he knew he’d have enough.
Once he stuffed the sack to the limit, Billy shut the safe, relocked it, and left. He didn’t have a real set plan once he exited the bank. He figured the cops would be after him so he thought he'd just outrun them. And after he slipped out of the money room, his expectations proved correct. Four cops ran into the fairly large building starting their search for any missing things. There was a front desk directly across from him where one of the cops was searching. Two others were back in the offices searching thoroughly. On the far side there was another cop creeping slowly towards him. He was youthful and looked a bit nervous. He decided he’d take the route on the far side to the door. It turns out he took the right path because when the cop glanced up to see him, he just sat there in fright. He let out a small squeal as Billy’s crowbar came across his head.
But as faint as the scream was, it alerted the nearest cop just enough so that he could signal to his fellow cops to chase after the thief out the door. Billy just scrambled wildly around the streets for a while until the cops spotted him with the bright headlights from their cars. They had him surrounded.
He backed up to the building behind him when an idea caught his mind. As the cops got out of their cars and slowly started to creep towards him ready at any moment to pull their pistols and shoot, he glanced past them towards the big lake where two canoes sat docked on the public beach. He let the cops get closer to him as he waited for his moment. Once they stepped into close enough range for Billy to react, he quickly flung the concealed crowbar at the middle cop. The officer hit the ground instantly.
He then made a dash for the lake as the remaining two cops tore after him shooting wildly and missing until they ran out of bullets. Billy ran as fast as he possibly could. He hadn’t run this fast since his high school days when he ran track. He didn’t know he was capable of still running like this. Suddenly, Billy felt a pull at the back of his leg and it started to hurt badly. He got a bad feeling that he might have pulled his hamstring. But there was no way he was going to let this get him caught and he pushed himself through the pain.
When he got to the lake, Billy hastily untied both canoes from the dock. He got in one of them and pushed the other one out as far as he could. He started to propel himself forward with the paddle.
Meanwhile, the cops disputed over who should go into the other canoe and pursue the thief. The older of the two ended up taking charge by pushing his fellow officer into the lake and jumping in to swim after the wandering canoe.
Once he got in, he started paddling furiously after his target. Being a strong police officer gave him the advantage so he started to gain on his enemy.
Billy also sensed this and needed a plan to send the last cop off course. He had already lost his crowbar and he could feel the fatigue flooding through him. He had to think quickly. His remaining supplies consisted of the long paddle and a glow stick that he found on the seat when he got in. He set it in the cup holder for now as he thought up his plan.
Billy started to slow down so he could let the cop get in closer range for his plan to work. Once he got closer, the cop reached for his pistol and fired.
It was out of bullets. This split second gave Billy time to make his move. He lobbed the glow stick into the air, just to the right of the cop. Once he had all attention diverted to the glow stick, he swung the paddle in a high arc down on the top of the last police officer’s head. He slowly fell backwards into the canoe with a thud.
With a huge sigh of relief Billy paddled back to shore when that searing pain came back to him reminding him of his injured leg. He gave himself a mental note not to do too much moving around once he got back home to his warm bed. After a good sleep he would pick up his grandma and take her to her new home.
Logan Larson Is an eighth grade student from Roosevelt Middle School. This is the first time he's ever submitted his work for publication. He's in advanced ILA, and is currently working on writing other short stories. In his free time, he likes to play baseball, basketball, and football.
* * *
The Rose is a Thorn
By Lydia Matheny
I’m really much taller than I ever wanted to be. That’s the problem.
I hover near a rack of clothing that bears around twenty dresses varying in color from pastel pinks to faded yellows. The dresses would barely reach my thighs, and my legs aren’t the sort of legs other people want to see. They’re too thick and muscular and difficult to shave.
The first time I tried shaving my legs, the results were messy and embarrassing. Patches of untouched dark hair and lines of raw skin remained, and it all grew back in a few days anyway.
My mom walks out from behind a rack of fluffy-looking lavender dresses and approaches me. “Try to find something to do,” she says. “I’ll look for something for your sister over there.” She wanders away.
I see a mannequin dressed in a mild sea-blue color – a floor-length, mermaid silhouetted gown. The bottom sparkles with sequins, and a lopsided green bow trimmed with glinting rhinestones is tied around the waist. I find the dress on a nearby rack, and, after checking over my shoulder, I hide myself behind a corner and hold it in front of me. It would fit perfectly if I only had the shape to fill it out a little more.
I can see it though. I walk into the prom wearing this dress, and I have a guy on my arm – it wouldn’t matter who. I dance and drink punch and I’m just as lovely as a blue mermaid spinning in the sea.
“Did you find one?” my mom says behind me, and I jump a little.
I turn and hand the dress to her. She lowers her eyebrows as she raises it to the light to examine it. My sister half-runs to my mother to see. I know it won’t look good on her already. She’s too short and thick-waisted.
“That one’s pretty,” my sister says as she brushes the fabric with her fingertips.
“You better try it on,” my mom says. “It isn’t too see-through, but I don’t know if I want you wearing anything this tight.”
My mom tucks a wavy wisp of chocolate brown hair behind her ear and sighs as my sister disappears into the dressing room. “Thanks for coming along with us, Nathaniel.”
“It’s no problem, Mom.”
“I know it must be boring for you in this sort of place.”
“It’s not that –” I say.
She doesn’t look at me – she examines the price tag on one of the short, yellow dresses. “Oh, what is it then?”
It’s that I’m too tall – I’m always too tall, and all I can see are blue mermaids.
Lydia Matheny is an English Education major at Southeast Missouri State University. Her previously published works include "Spider's Cradle" in the magazine Halfway Down the Stairs and "Starvation Index" in the magazine Eskimo Pie.
* * *
Rush Hour in the Park
By Peter McMillan
*archive currently unavailable
Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. In 2012, he published his first book, Flash! Fiction.
* * *
Fare Thee Well
By Brandon Meyers
It was the day of the digging.
Dell stooped low, lifted free a spade full of moist earth, and heaved it atop the pile. The exposed dirt was dark with the wet of recent rains and it filled the air with the pungency of decay. Dell planted the blade of the shovel, took a leaden breath, and hefted it again with a grunt.
He had been digging for almost thirty minutes, but still the hole was not deep. Not deep enough, he knew. His body was covered in sweat, and the light breeze which made the overhead leaves dance brought gooseflesh to the skin of his arms. Summer was ending, and therefore the weather was no longer comfortably warm.
Dell paused, stood fully upright so that his entire torso protruded from the hole.
The entire town had turned out for the event. Such a thing was customary. There were nearly two-hundred of them: men, women, and the young ones. They were all in attendance. And all of them Dell knew well. He could see the Leighmans, dressed all in black, standing nearest to him at the crowd’s perimeter. Their family had brought animals to be butchered by Dell’s for more than three generations. And beside them, Dell saw the widow Laura, also dressed in shades of midnight pitch. Her lacy veil did not conceal the tears she wiped away every few seconds. There were others. All of them, really. And every face began to blur into the next, melting into a sea of sorrow as hot tears streamed down Dell’s own red cheeks.
Dell dragged a shirtsleeve across his face and gulped hard. The air was silent, save for his own heavy breathing and the sound of the rustling leaves. He did not want to, but could not keep himself from looking at the thing. It demanded his attention, a fishhook pulling at his heart. He stared down at the long pine box. It was the first time he had done so since picking up the shovel. A black dread filled his chest and for a moment Dell thought he would be sick. And he would have been, but he had not eaten in days. The guilt bore a hole in him, one far vaster and more deadly than the one he’d made in the ground.
Even through the layer of carefully nailed wood, Dell could see her lovely face staring back up at him. He imagined her smile, remembered how her kisses always tasted of sweet nectar after they had returned from a day picking grapes for wine. He saw her hair, that curtain of rich chocolate, and recalled the way it framed her high, lovely cheekbones. She was perfection, his one and only. She was his life.
Dell collapsed then. Half of him leaned against the edge of the partially dug grave. The other half lay splayed across the top of his wife’s simple coffin.
“I’m so sorry, Ana,” he wheezed between sobs. “I’m so sorry that I couldn’t have seen it coming.”
After a moment, a hand nudged Dell’s shoulder. He raised his head to see Father Medson looking down at him. Without saying a word, the holy man made a solemn gesture toward the hole.
Dell sniffled and nodded slowly. He rubbed the pinewood casket once more, softly, and returned to his work.
He dug. He strained and lifted until his hands were raw. White blisters had appeared, even on his toughened palms, and had torn open to expose burning skin beneath. Finally, he knew it was done. When he stood upright, only the very top of his head poked out the top of the plot. He gave the pain in his battered hands no consideration, because he knew what happened next. He knew that he would have to say farewell, that he and Ana would be parted forever, each doomed to their own paths.
The town Sherriff, Paul Twine, appeared at the foot of the grave. His bulky frame blocked out the sun and washed Dell in shadow.
“Come on up, son,” Twine said. “Let’s get done what needs to get done so this woman can rest in peace.”
Dell’s throat had choked up tight, so he simply nodded at the Sherriff and began to climb. When he emerged, the townsfolk were closer. They were within ten feet of him. He could see the Andersens, Chip and Nona, watching him with pained eyes. Their son Pete, probably almost ten now, dropped his eyes to his muddy shoes when Dell looked at him.
“Thank you all for coming,” Dell managed. His eyes were running freely now and he made no attempt to stanch their flow.
“Come now, son,” the preacher said quietly, “you know it is custom.”
Dell turned and half-stumbled into a kneel at the side of the casket.
He ran a hand across its surface, pretending in his mind that he could stroke his lover’s face again. Bloody smears stained the wooden lid. He wanted so badly to feel her soft hands upon his cheeks and hear her tell him that she loved him, and only him, forever and always. But he knew that she could not do that. She hadn’t.
“Please forgive me, Ana,” he said. “I miss you so bad.”
And then the Sherriff cleared his throat. “Alright, Dell. It’s time.”
Dell began to shake uncontrollably, quivering as he regarded Twine. “B-but, I’m not done yet. I haven’t said goodbye. Can’t a man at least say goodbye?”
The Sherriff hoisted Dell to his feet. He could hardly stay upright, but somehow managed to stand there beside the gaping earthen mouth. His nerves were the only thing keeping in place.
“You already said goodbye, Dell.” Twine drew his pistol and let it rest at his side. “You got your last request. The talking’s all done, now. Nobody here wants to hear it. Least of all, that poor dead girl.”
“I love you,” Dell said, stammering at his wife. “I always did.”
Sherriff Twine took aim, thumbed back the hammer of his revolver. The crowd stood silent. And when the sound of thunder exploded through the trees, birds scattered.
Dell toppled, lifeless, into the empty pit.
After a long moment, two young men with shovels began filling in the hole again. And the gathered mass of townsfolk dispersed, carrying Ana’s coffin with them.
Brandon Meyers lives and writes in colorful Colorado. He is co-author of the novels The Missing Link, Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas, and the forthcoming The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson. He also co-writes the web-comic A Beer for the Shower.
* * *
By Cynthia Walder
Chairs, heavy TVs predating flat screens, and even the occasional snooker table that would take five people to disassemble and move are all right. But boxes, I hate boxes. Six years on this job made me dislike wardrobe boxes most of all. They were like bloody upright coffins. I brought the last wardrobe box to the master bedroom upstairs. Mrs. Baker thanked me but the look that she gave, however lacking in consonants and vowels, told only of disgust. She seemed to have a problem with my tattoos, ponytail, and piercings, as though the removal company I worked for also planned to move in with her and we'd see each other everyday. I knew she thought that I was up to no good just because I looked a certain way.
The Bakers appeared young to me but all their years seemed to be peppered with stuff. Opening the door of the van was like letting loose of contents that wouldn't be exhausted. Box after box after box – and perhaps Mrs. Baker's disgust was reasonable, even at the rate we were going she might have to see me everyday till the work was done. God how I hated them. I threw the boxes marked "fragile" into a corner when I knew that nobody was watching. My back ached and I wanted to eat my lunch just to get hold of that cold drink in my satchel because they didn't offer us any.
Nobody else wanted to empty the wardrobe boxes; not Mrs. Baker who owned most of the contents, not Mr. Baker whose mind didn't seem to be in this 'moving houses' affair, not Max the leader of our team who was showing off again by directing everyone and chatting up the couple with his removal company experience. I could tell he was just stalling for time and trying as much as possible to excuse himself from helping lift the heavier furniture. He was always on at me, shouting my name into my ear "Peter!!!" If I stopped working even only for a second, "Peter do this," and "Peter do that," he'd say.
Mrs. Baker had so many clothes but her hangers were of the disposable kind, the kind you get when you have your clothes back from the dry cleaners, made of wire and knotted into a sharp edge just below the hook. I managed to cut my palm with one of the knots. It bled and I wiped it on one of Mrs. Baker's jumpers. What kind of people spend so much on stuff without buying a proper hanger?
I was angry as I filled up the upstairs oak wardrobe with the dresses. It wasn't my job to arrange her fucking clothes for her. Hundreds of dresses made of cotton, satin, silk, viscose... I had to admit they were pretty but I couldn't find any remembrance from this outing. At one point I got attracted to an embellished brocade dress with puffed sleeves. The sleeves puffed more as I moved closer to touch the dress, as though it were crying out, take me, take me. I threw the dress up on top of the oak wardrobe to separate it from the others.
The last one I put in the wardrobe was a nude lace v-neck evening dress. I thought, now this is more like it. I let it off the hanger and put it inside the wardrobe box again, this time on the floor in the corner where it wouldn't be noticed. Max shouted from downstairs to ask what was keeping me, trying to impress again at my expense. He asked if all the wardrobe boxes were now ready to be brought back into the van. I called yes and he told me to hurry. If you would hurry yourself, I wanted to yell back but I stopped myself. I would get the dress later at the depot, once everybody had gone.
I threw the hanger of the lace dress under the bed. Poor Mrs. Baker would probably wonder what it was doing there. I could already picture her asking my boss about her missing lace dress, if she would notice that it was missing at all. She would probably think it was the man with tattoos and ponytail and piercings who took it, the one who had unpacked her wardrobe for he seemed strange and that she wouldn't be surprised if he would be found out soon with a box of lace dresses stashed somewhere. She would probably realize it was missing at one in the morning, for she seemed to be the type who would think of dresses at one in the morning, and scream to absent-minded, clueless Mr. Baker, "That removal company robbed us of one lace dress!" She would imagine me wearing that dress at night and she would suspect I'd wear it clubbing. and no one would guess it didn't even belong to me and I wouldn't have any nose rings and I would wear my hair down, and I would be a box with my lid shut and maybe people wouldn't look at me at a certain way because I would look the same as everyone. I would fit in it, yes, I would fit in.
Catherine Batac Walder's writing appears in Fine Books and Collections, M-Brane SF, The Big Jewel and more. Born and raised in the Philippines, she moved across Norway, Finland and Portugal for a European MPhil. scholarship. She worked as a research group administrator at the Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, until her first child was born. You can learn more about Catherine here.
* * *
By Jon Eptsein
“Can we make one more stop?” Kelly says.
It’s my understanding that, after an hour at Costco, one is expected to do nothing more than unload the car and take a nap.
“Sure,” I say, knowing any protest will be futile. “Where to?” I ask.
“I need some hangers from Bed & Bath,” she says.
You gotta be kidding me, we got hangers up the wazoo, I think. “Okay,” I say.
We’re coming down Canoga Avenue. The car loaded to capacity with TP, paper towels, and kitchen products purchased in bulk. I pull into the parking lot at Victory.
Pre-Super-Bowl-Sunday business is brisk. Cars and people everywhere. Petco, Pier One, Bed Bath & Beyond, and BevMo!; parking, schlepping, and shopping.
I would have loved to have shopped at a place called BevMo! when I was drinking. A name so user-friendly. As efficient as stamping “Standard” on a man’s urinal.
I’m about to pull into a spot near the exit, and Kelly says, “Oh, up there, honey,” pointing like a weather vane. “By the front door,” she says, “that black Escalade’s about to leave.”
I cringe. I hate holding up cars behind me while waiting for a spot with my signal blinking. I’m scarred by my father’s vehicular impatience. Taught early that impeding parking-lot flow is a sin worse than getting a “C” on a report card. “Okay,” I say and creep closer to the oversized SUV backing out.
I park and say, “Do you mind if I wait here?”
“Sure, baby,” she says in a tone acknowledging my husbandly duties thus far tallied. “I shouldn’t be long,” she says.
“Don’t worry about me,” I say. “I’m going to put the seat back and close my eyes.”
Kelly leaves. I lower the windows, recline the seat, and cover my face with a newspaper.
It’s a warm Saturday afternoon in Canoga Park and the sun rays coming in the car feel good. What could be a better time to rest while most are scurrying about getting ready for the big game?
But I can’t settle. I’m being bombarded by loud rap music. Where is that coming from, I wonder and strain up to look. I see in my rearview a faded, red Ford Explorer with numerous white cut-out family decals on the tinted rear window and small arms dangling out the sides. The entire affair is vibrating.
The thumping base line and angry lyrics will make it impossible to get any shuteye. I become more concerned about the young children being held hostage inside.
So be it, I think and raise my seat back up. I watch the foot traffic moving to and fro through the large automatic glass doors at the BevMo! entrance.
A tall, blond, athletic-looking man with two small children in tow catches my eye. He’s the type that got all the girls in high school. Probably played varsity ball. A starter, no doubt, whose moved on in his years. He’s cut like a Greek God, is wearing a thin tank top, baseball cap turned backward, has a thick handlebar mustache, and chiseled jaw.
Probably a craftsman, I think.
A chubby stock clerk dressed in his red BevMo! polo shirt is bringing up the rear with a keg of beer on a dolly. The silver drum is labeled “Anchor Steam.”
Boy, I used to love that brew, I remember. I’ve purchased countless four-packs back in the day but never knew it was sold in a keg. Not that that would have mattered. I would still have run out sooner than expected, nor would have appreciated its freshness.
“Over there at the end,” the man says to the clerk, pointing in the distance. His two blond kids are fascinated by the large silver barrel balancing on the green dolly. “It’s the large white pickup at the end with the ladders,” the man says.
Then a delicate flower exits through the sliding doors. She’s Asian. I imagine her fragile but decisive. She appears well-put-together with skin that resembles custard-colored porcelain. She’s clutching a narrow brown paper bag to her chest. I presume it’s an expensive bottle of wine by the way she grips it.
I imagined her sipping the fine vintage from a cut-crystal glass held in her long fingers with manicured French nails. The thought reminds me of the iridescent humming bird extracting pollen from the trumpet flower vine in our front yard earlier in the morning when I went to get the paper.
She clicks her key thingamajig in the hand clutching the bottle neck. The horn in the dated Honda parked next to me chirps.
The petite woman is less than ten feet away. A closer look at her face and I can see her life has not been so easy and she’s older than I guessed. Although still rather fragile, I suspect she’s sustained more than one beating throughout her life.
I’m saddened. It becomes apparent her lineage is less than that of a dynasty, and she’s likely the daughter of oppressed, working-class factory parents.
She opens her car door and our eyes meet. I feel a kinship to the path she’s walked and to the relief she’ll receive from the fermented or distilled liquid contained in the bottle pressed to her chest.
The rap music continues, and Kelly returns with a fifty-count box of fancy hangers, and gets in the car. “Hi, baby,” she says.
I start the car and ask, “Home?”
Jon Epstien is a contributor to The Judean and a member of The Los Angeles Poets and Writers Collective. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Forge, the Pierce College Voices Collective, Out On The Stoop, Poetic Diversity, and Poetry Superhighway. After a failed education, and fourteen years of dead end jobs and drug related crime, Epstein found sobriety. Today, he shares a life with his wife Kelly of 25 years in San Fernando Valley, California, and remains sober and active in a Twelve Step program, twenty six years and counting.
* * *
By Grant Flint
"It is immoral not to tell."
"We will arrive on Tuesday," the letter says.
My first cousin, Susy, and her older sister, Willa, will be here at noon tomorrow. I did something to Susy when she was ten and I was thirteen.
"We hope to visit with you awhile," Susy says.
Secrets, so many I can't talk about. Can't deal with.
My dead son, my worst secret. A wound each day. Nineteen years ago. Everything stopped nineteen years ago. Sleep walking now, the walking dead since then.
Secrets. Even if I could, I wouldn't share them. Limits even for grave robbers. Secrets which must lie silent.
Luke's terrible suitcase in the closet. Blood red. Beneath six heavy boxes. Yet, when I, the father die, they will find it, my children will. Luke's brothers, sister.
Unless I destroy it, it will be there. They will open it. I will be dead, they will be grieving, then they will open that suitcase. Will smell him. His clothes. Which I never washed. The sweet, sweat smell of my son who, like me, hated to bathe. Unlike me, did not bathe, did not wash his long, oily hair, wore the same clothes for days, lay on a mattress on the floor in my room near me, the two dogs lying there with him.
His secrets in the suitcase. Our secrets now, since his death. His and mine. No one else in the universe knows them. So bad, so awful, so terrible, I hardly remember what they are.
Broke the locked chest, savagely. Found the journals, the hit list, the horror.
Hidden away now nineteen years later. Nineteen years last April. He killed her on April Fool’s Day, later jumped from the 36th floor of the hotel on Easter Sunday at sunrise, next to the church with the cross on top. Secrets.
Susy will be here tomorrow. Have to clean up the place. Think of something to serve them. Get my soul in order.
I suppose she went to a therapist somewhere through the years. Who told her I was a rotten bastard, and though it wasn't rape, it was psychic rape, so call it rape.
"Call it rape," she probably said. As though it had happened to her, the therapist.
What I did, I guess, was more like fiddle around with her private parts two or three times a day. During those three weeks she stayed with us, her mom in the hospital.
Mostly hugging and kissing. Which she seemed to like. I can wish she'd told the therapist, "All that love. I never got that again. From anybody, guess I never will."
Wish she remembered it like that. Through the okay though rocky marriage and her five children. Maybe she never told anyone until she told the therapist -- 20 years after it happened. Maybe the secret was warmer, better, more interesting before she told it.
Like a loss, after she told it. Like something she couldn't get back. Like she had stolen something from herself -- the secret.
The secret of how I came to her cot on those hot summer days, and she pretended to be asleep, and I pretended to take a nap with her -- would always eventually snuggle up tight next to her and softly kiss her hair and neck and say I loved her. Over and over.
And touched her, and she told a therapist, I think, that she loved that, but the therapist was very, very angry, and told her she was re-doing the past, changing it around.
Last saw her fourteen –- no, now 15, years ago. At my step-father's funeral. Back their 1500 miles away for the funeral.
"And I stared at you the whole time," she could be telling herself as she journeys to my home now. Stared at my sad, haunted face. Stared at me all through the meal in the church basement, ignoring the cold cuts and other funeral food.
I returned the look four times during that hour, not smiling. Looked at her as I had so long ago, my eyes perhaps not changed at all. Sad. And afraid and guilty and angry, but tender, too, like someone who eats love like cake and never gets enough, never will.
My eyes questioning her, as though I would quickly apologize, if necessary, though I had forgotten nothing, remembered it as clearly as she did, had thought about it every day of my life, just as she had. As though I had only committed one sin in my entire life, but was steadfastly damned, eternally damned, used to it. Patient with it.
"If the world had permitted it," she maybe says to herself, "I would have left my husband and children that day, and you and I would have gone somewhere, found a refuge somewhere, out of the rain, the cold.
"You could have pretended to lie down to rest," she could say, "to take a nap. To hide your sad, sad eyes. I would have pretended to take a little nap with you. I would have snuggled tight up against you, kissed your graying hair, your neck, would have whispered as though you couldn't hear. ‘I love you, love you, love you.'
"And in the gentlest way," she could say, "I would have unbuttoned the top button of your pants, slowly unzipped your fly, would have slowly, gently, reached inside, through the opening of the front of your shorts. Would have reached inside with warm, trembling fingers, gently touched your private part, cupped it in my hand, gently, gently, and then, when at last you opened your eyes, those sad eyes of so long ago, at that first moment of how it was, exactly as it was when I was ten, I would have ripped your thing off your filthy body! Your scream of anguish, the ultimate apology would reach straight through the rainy streets of the little town. All the way to the church. Waking your step-daddy in his casket.
"Rape. Rape, indeed. A gentle word.”
Desperate memories, secrets. And now Susy is returning. Tuesday. On the visit will Susy and Willa find a way, subtly, subtly as a dream
will they really say nothing at all? -- subtly, only a hint, a half question --? Do I remember, they will ask gently, breath held, eyes on me – do I --remember that summer when Susy was ten when she stayed with my mom and me, stayed for three weeks, do I remember?
And, if they ask, will I hardly hear the question, not flinch, acknowledge nothing, will I be charming as can be, innocent, bland, unknowing, say, "Oh? Maybe. Let me think. Three weeks? Let’s see now -- let me think back. Three weeks –-”
But I remember everything. Clearly. Not shallowly. Not as in a shallow "story." No trick endings. Remember it all, clearly.
Strangely, remember it clearer every day. Maybe not every day, but every week. Can't shake it that I must do something, what should I do? Should I ask for forgiveness? How many people know? Did she tell her mother?
Would I make it worse now -- Susy and Willa -- by saying out loud that it happened? What good would it do? The confession only for myself, really?
What? -- I expect her to let me off? Her saying, "Forget it, we were just kids, it meant nothing, just a kid thing, it didn't screw up my life even five percent! Let it go, forget it, why are you embarrassing me by even bringing it up?"
Is that what she would say? If I called her on the phone now? What if her husband were listening? Her children? Why stir things up? It was probably nothing. I can live with it.
They came, were here yesterday. They were here. I went to meet them, they were old women, fat around their middles, gray-haired, fattened, ballooned, kind-faced, Willa with the same gap-toothed smile she had at twelve in the moonlight on the farm and she wanted, I wanted, to do something, in the haymow or corncrib, somewhere, and little Susy was Grandma's darling, the second Shirley Temple --
I hugged them, dear first cousins, as though from another race, another continent, Midwest plump and old, how could they be so old? I felt the conspiracy. Between Susy, myself, Willa, Susy's whole family, the whole world, everyone, silently conspiring: we won't tell, but you did it, it wasn't horrible but very, very bad, no one remembers but you, but everyone silently remembers.
Susy, the younger, seemed older than Willa, spiritually. Carried herself well. No, her hair isn't gray, it is pleasantly dyed blond or strawberry. Their faces are unlined. Plump and Midwest-unlined.
They looked at my wonderful photo album for an hour. There we were, young, the Depression years, happy farm-faced kids. The parents gaunt-faced, worried.
"Do you remember that time I stayed with you and your mother?" Susy asked. "While my mom was in the hospital?"
"Oh. Let's see. Oh yeah, I remember. Two weeks, wasn't it?"
"Three weeks," she said.
The talk went on. After a while Willa brought up the same subject. I looked at them coolly, neither innocent nor guilty, my sins paid for over many years of remembering.
And then finally they were leaving. The goodbyes. The promised letters. The hugs, the semi-kisses. Two heavy, worn women. Willa was innocent after six children and nine grandchildren. Susy was not. A nice person. I liked her. But she is perhaps flawed. Flawed a bit. Nothing to do with me.
If Susy and I were alone for many hours someplace someday, it would come up, I'm sure. Then I would know. This way is even better, the way it is. But sad, a little, at certain times. Like a mild, but chilling breeze.
Grant Flint has appeared in Story Quarterly, The Nation, The King’s English, Poetry, Weber, Amelia, Slow Trains, Common Ties, and 37 other print and online journals. He was memoir winner in the 2007 "Soul Making Literary Contest," and appeared in the 2007 "Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition Collection". He was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize.
* * *
Folding Hot Laundry
By Conor Kelley
FOR MY FRIEND ED
It had been one of those winter days in Seattle when the sun doesn’t get up but people are forced to anyway.
When I was younger, these winter months were always the hardest. But two years of Midwestern winters at college had made me appreciate what cold really was. Here there was no windburn, were no ice advisories, were no snow plows. The winters over there made you feel like you were standing on the edge of the Earth, in a place not meant for humans. Here you could live if you didn’t miss the sun too much.
The chemotherapy made Grandpa tired. In his seat at the head of the table, he ate slowly and was quiet most of the night. Mostly, he kept his hooked nose in the air, trying to follow the conversation. When I was younger, he carried these dinner table conversations. In recent years, though, he began talking less and when he did, he sometimes forgot which jokes and stories he had already told. When it was just us two, though, he always had new dirty jokes, stories from the Navy, and stories about the fights he had as a kid. He saved those for me.
When he finished his meal, I picked up my plate and walked to the head of the table.
“Can I take that from you, Grandpa?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, Conor. And couldja get me another glass of ice wutter?” he said. His New Jersey accent stayed with him, even though he had lived in Seattle for more than fifty years.
“Thank you, sir,” he said and patted me on the back.
I carried our plates into the kitchen.
“He’s a charming son-of-a-gun, idn’t he?” he remarked to my parents. He bragged about me constantly, which I found embarrassing when I was younger. The older I got, though, the more I liked it, and the more I bragged about him, too.
“Could you grab the ice cream from the freezer, honey?” my mom asked from the dinner table.
“Yeah, momma,” I replied.
“Spoons and bowls, too?”
I brought the carton of chocolate ice cream, four bowls, and four spoons to the dinner table. I dished out the ice cream for him and my parents. My older brother had finished his dinner early, and had gone downstairs to his room, not wanting dessert. Usually, I didn’t have dessert either, but I would have to go back to school soon and didn’t know if I would see him again. Of course, I thought that way each time I had left the last couple years, but the latest prognosis from his doctor hadn’t been good.
“Let me tell you a story,” Grandpa said after a shaking bite of his ice cream. Instinctively, I set my spoon down. Grandpa was 88 years old now, my last grandparent, but still magnetic. People that met him once remembered him years later.
With a trembling, spotted hand, Grandpa brushed some of his gray hair off his forehead. He still had quite a bit of it for his age. “I once knew a woman long ago,” he began, “when I worked at the laundry service down in South Seattle. I was just out of the Navy. She was an Indian woman named Naomi. Well, you see, Conor, this older woman Naomi, she lived on the reservation. She wasn’t much to look at. Rode the bus for an hour each morning and an hour back home each night.
“I just drove the laundry truck. But she had to fold the laundry when it came out of the dryers. Tough life. Just a real tough life. Now, you’d expect her to become a mean woman. Just a real pain in the ass. But she was always pleasant, always talkative—and you know how much I like to talk—so we got along well. She used to tell me about her family, and you wouldn’t believe the things they would do to her. Her husband knocked her around, her kids left the house as soon as they turned 18; she didn’t have much to be happy about. But there she was, every morning: ‘Hey, Ed, good morning! How are ya, Ed?’ ‘And I’d say, ‘oh, can’t complain, can’t complain.’ Then we’d get to work.
“Anyway, one day she comes into work, you know. Just beaming. Happier’n usual. And she says to me, (Grandpa’s eyes lit up) ‘Ed, I have great news to tell you.’
“‘Yeah?’ I says.
“She said: ‘I got a phone call last night. There might be oil on some land I own on the reservation. They’re going to pay me to dig for it.’
“And I said, ‘That’s grrreat!’ I was real happy for her. She’s in great spirits all day, humming to herself, you know. In 90 degree heat, folding hot laundry, smiling her head off!
“Now a week or two goes by, and she’s still pretty chipper. Until one morning, it’s getting close to the end of the summer, and she’s nowhere to be found. And I’m thinking she doesn’t seem like the type to not show up. Then it dawns on me, (here Grandpa put one of his long fingers in the air) the oil! And sure enough, the telephone rings down by the trucks.
“And I pick it up, you know, and it’s Naomi! And she says, ‘Ed, you better tell the boss to find somebody to fold that damn laundry, cuz I’m done. And I start laughing, and she’s laughing, and I ask her, ‘what are you gonna do now?’
“She says, ‘Ed, you know what I’m gonna do? I’m going to Hawaii. I’m gonna be far enough away so my family can’t reach me, but close enough in case I ever miss folding hot laundry.’
“And I never heard from her again.”
My grandpa smiled. The room was silent. He reached down and scratched the head of our dog Griffey, who had been sitting by his chair, watching him throughout the entire story. “Oh, you’re a good doggy,” he said, and patted his head firmly, a bit carelessly, with one of his bruised, spotted hands. Griffey looked up at him and smiled the way Golden Retrievers do.
I did see him again. As luck would have it, or something like luck, I blew out my shoulder that spring and came back to Seattle to have surgery. Once my shoulder healed, I did yard work at Grandpa’s house almost every day—weeding, pulling up tree stumps, trimming hedges and tree branches, things like that. He found chores for us to do and we worked side-by-side until he got too tired.
Grandpa’s stomach swelled up that summer, not enough to make him look fat, but enough to make him look out of proportion. One day, he called me up and told me to come over; he had a present for me. When I got there, he was in the living room, sitting on the couch (the davenport, he called it), with a big green garbage bag sitting in front of him on the floor. The bag was labeled UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON MEDICAL CENTER. He told me the bag was full of clothes that didn’t fit him anymore. I told him I’d see if they fit later, and took the bag back home with me.
The day before I drove cross-country back to school, I stopped by his house to say goodbye. “Good luck this year, Conor,” he told me as he hugged me, firmer than I expected. “You’re gonna be great. I love you.”
“I love you too, Grandpa,” I said, holding onto him tight. He smelled like sawdust, like he did when I was younger. His stubble grazed the side of my neck. There were a couple gray patches on his chin that he had missed that morning. I turned to leave. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“I like that,” he said, hunched over his cane with a big smile. “I’ll see you later.”
A little more than a month later, I got into my car after a fall baseball practice to find my phone beeping. I had a missed call from my mom. A text message awaited me, as well: “Grandpa not doing well. Call ASAP to talk to him.”
I took a deep breath and dialed. The phone rang four times before my mom picked it up. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said, almost whispering.
“I’m gonna put you on speakerphone,” she said quickly. Then, after a moment she yelled, “Go ahead, Conor!”
“Hey Grandpa!” I said after a moment, trying to sound normal.
There was no response; I only heard the shuffling of the cell phone being moved.
“Dad. Dad. It’s Conor. Conor’s on the phone,” I heard my mom say.
I heard more shuffling, with something that sounded like a mumble. I hoped it was Grandpa clearing his throat, preparing to greet me with his usual lighthearted insults. I had gotten into a lot of trouble as a teenager, which gave him plenty of ammunition. He liked to tell me, “Ya know, Conor, for the life ‘a me I don’t know how you made it this long, but I’m glad you’re still around.” I’d reply by saying things like, “I was just thinking the same thing about you, ya old bastard.”
He loved that.
“Tell him about school,” my mom said into the phone.
I cleared my throat. “School’s going great, Grandpa. Baseball’s going well and my classes are pretty interesting.”
“Grrreat,” I thought I could hear him say. “That’s great, Conor.”
But the phone was silent.
“I miss you, though,” I said.
“How are the girls over there?” I expected him to ask next.
The other end of the line was still silent.
“Okay, we’re gonna let you go, Conor,” my mom said.
A pang hit my chest and my throat felt thick. My stomach lurched. “I love you grandpa. I love you grandpa!” I said loudly.
The phone went silent, and the call ended. I slumped over my steering wheel and cried. It had been years since I’d cried, really cried, and the tears that I had been saving for a worthwhile occasion flowed out of me, hot and sharp and quick.
The day I flew back to Seattle was the most somber homecoming of my life. I spent my layover in O’Hare Airport at a small bar by my gate.
That night, I mindlessly watched TV at my parents’ house until very late, or rather very early in the morning. Even Griffey, who had been beside himself when I came home, had been asleep for hours with his head on my lap.
“Ready to go to bed, pup?” I asked him as I turned off the TV. He lifted his head and sleepily looked at me. We walked upstairs together.
Griffey and I squeezed onto my childhood twin-sized bed that night, and I slept late into the morning, long after Griffey had jumped off, until my body couldn’t sleep any longer.
We buried Grandpa in a grave next to his wife, who I remember almost entirely through old photographs and stories I’ve been told. It rained all day, and I had never cried harder than when I threw a handful of dirt into his open grave. This was not dignified, single-tear-rolling-down-the-cheek crying. This was ugly-faced crying. This was gasping-for-breath crying.
Afterwards, those who were at the funeral returned to my parents’ house for the reception. The rain dried up as we drove over and the sun broke through a bit, which everybody else thought was a sign of something or other.
Liquor bottles covered our dinner table. Most of the afternoon, I sat outside on the deck Grandpa and my dad built when I was young. People came out to commiserate with me, and when I was tired of talking, I would just look down until they left. At one point, my dad joined me with a couple glasses of bourbon. We were very somber. I’m sure we looked dignified in our suits with our drinks.
“He liked you, you know,” my dad said. “I mean, really liked you. Of course, he loved you, but he really liked you, too. He was genuinely interested in you and cherished his time with you.”
“I really liked him, too,” I said. “He was one of my best friends.”
“Mine, too,” my dad said, patting me on the shoulder. My dad and I had been close for some time now, but it felt awkward to talk about losing the same person, but not nearly the same friend.
That night, as our relatives were leaving, my uncle Jim hugged me. He was now the oldest member of Grandpa’s side of our family. As I let go, he pulled me close again.
“You’re in charge now,” he said earnestly in my ear.
“What?” I said. “No. You are.”
“I’m old,” he said. He gestured to the rest of the room. “We’re old.”
I glanced around the room. We shook hands firmly and he left.
That year, when I graduated from college and returned to Seattle, I moved back in with my parents while I looked for a job and an apartment. I overhauled my room, buying new posters, cleaning out junk I didn’t need, and re-organizing my furniture. Through all the change, a big green garbage bag full of old jeans, belts, and sweaters sat in my closet untouched.
After a couple weeks, it was time. I carefully tied up the bag and carried it over my shoulder down the stairs. As I walked toward the front door, I passed our dinner table. The chair at the head of the table could use a dusting.
His bag of clothes sat in the passenger seat next to me as we drove to our destination. They smelled like him, like that old people smell mixed with sawdust. I drove slowly. When I got to the donation center, I was given a tax receipt in exchange for the bag. Estimated value, it said. As I drove away, I wondered if anybody could fit those clothes.
Conor Kelley was born in Seattle, WA, and played college baseball as an undergraduate while earning his BA in English literature from the University of Dubuque. His work has appeared in various publications in both the United States and Ireland. He is a staff writer for the fantasy sports site DobberSports.com. This spring, he will be published in Slow Trains literary journal and The Tenth Muse literary magazine. Conor is currently seeking representation for his first full-length work, a baseball instructional book.
* * *
Poetry by Holly Day
the old birch tree sends its long, twitching limbs through the damp earth, moist dirt,
pushes aside crumbling concrete, old bones, metal boxes
containing forgotten treasure, the skeletons of much-loved pets
searches with tiny roots for other trees, crawls around fence posts, investigates
the neighbors’ yards, taps out
its own tree-version of Morse code against buried boulders, the foundations
of houses, against the limestone bedrock, says, are you there?
am I alone? busies itself with poking into drainage pipes,
wrapping around telephone cables, waits for an answer, waits for
another tree to find it.
I walk between the towers stretching high
above this old, dead world
spiders spinning meteor streaks
connecting the stars.
There is nothing left alive here
just faded photos of happy faces
taped to doors, frayed edges flapping
in the dusty wind.
I walk between the endless spires
of bombed-out hotels and burnt youth centers
sapphire shards of ionized glass
grows like grass
in sidewalk cracks.
a small child’s doll sits in a driveway
legs plastic puddles, part of the pavement
I pull the string hanging from its back
just to hear a voice.
There is nothing left alive here
just empty windows of mausoleums
guarding their precious inhabitants:
still-life shadows burnt in stucco
before the blast.
the last tree
at the end of the world
a human face
mouth open in a frozen scream
only withered leaves
and bleached bones
This Thing Has Set In, and These are Her Words
she says she wants me to drive her
far, far away, out past the tall gray concrete
city buildings, past the picturesque farms with shiny
silver grain silos and peaceful black-and-white cattle
munching on bright green grass, past the tumbled-down
beat-up mobile-home park guarded by junkyard dogs
and bearded men leaning on their long steel-barreled rifles
cowboy hats tipped forward just far enough that you can’t see
their eyes, past the foothills of the cloud-colored mountains
and up and up and up because
somewhere in that collection of snow-capped peaks is
a valley filled with curly ferns and thorn-tipped rosebushes
and climbing twining vines, a tiny green place that she’s only
seen in dreams but she knows it’s there and when
we get there I am to let her out of the car and then
go straight back home, I am to leave her to spend
the few shorts days or hours or she has left sitting on the banks
of the empty pond we will find there, watching her reflection fade
to an emaciated skeleton in a torn red dress.
Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who teaches needlepoint classes in the Minneapolis school district. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Worcester Review, Broken Pencil, and Slipstream, and she is a recent recipient of the Sam Ragan Poetry Prize from Barton College. Her book publications include Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, Notenlesen für Dummies Das Pocketbuch, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and German. Her novel, “The Trouble With Clare,” is due out from Hydra Publications in 2013.
* * *
Poetry by Kevin Hogg
Salty sweat trickling down the forehead,
a sunburned face smiles at the remnants of the sun
peeking between the treetops
A warm breeze brings welcome relief
from the mid-August humidity
Station wagon parked beside
the silent back road,
he examines the browning weeds
hoping for a sign of movement
A gentle rustle
A hint of scarlet
An experienced pounce
Smiling with teeth
white only in contrast to the dying twilight,
the hunter gazes at his trapped prey
Pinchers rendered useless,
the crawdad cowers between powerful fingers
A careful toss through the missing back window
It scurries around its new surroundings
awaiting two dozen more soon to join
The search resumes
Your love is like a lampshade
At least, that's the conclusion I've reached
I know that may sound strange
But let me explain
I guess what I really need you to know
Is that I just don't get you
It was that rose you gave me
A nice gesture, perhaps
But it was yellow
A color for friendship
Like a pat on the back
After eight months?
I say that I want to be with you
You change the subject
I tell you that I want a future
You pretend you didn't hear
And yet I cling to you
Like a pebble in my shoe
Aching, irritating, agonizing
But at least I feel something
Or like that time I moved
My green desk lamp went missing
But the lampshade showed up
Not much good anymore
It was something to hold on to
Just like your love
Kevin Hogg is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and Chicago Cubs fan. He was a winner in the 2005 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest and has published poetry with inner art journal and Mouse Tales Press. His favorite things include raccoons, the Smithsonian Institution, and George Orwell novels. His future goals include riding a gondola in Venice, completing a marathon, and learning to throw a boomerang.
* * *
Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Part II
By Bryce Journey
The amateur violin player
puts bow to instrument and from that instrument comes
a primal-terrible screech.
The sound is a water buffalo
in the jaws of a crocodile and from those jaws comes
gore in quarter and half notes.
Deep within the jungle of woodwinds and strings the sound
struggling to escape and from that struggle comes
the deadly end.
Bryce Journey teaches composition at Iowa Western Community College. He recently finished an MA in English with focuses in Creative Nonfiction and American Literature. His creative work has been represented for sale in Hollywood and his poetry, creative nonfiction, and short fiction has appeared in thirteen different literary magazines. His comedy won him a film credit in Mike Nelson (of MST3K fame) and crew’s RiffTrax Live: Reefer Madness project. When he’s not entertaining his three-year-old son, Luke Ender, he likes watching bad movies with his wife, Laura, satiating his passion for board gaming, and increasing his skills as an amateur yo-yo enthusiast.
* * *
Poetry by Martin Kiel
What I Know to Be True
On Tuesday, June seventeenth, two thousand
and twelve, at one o’clock in the afternoon
my teacup was almost empty.
I knew this to be true: the cup was lighter;
to drink it needed to be tilted
almost horizontally; its heat was gone
and with it, most of its aroma;
its taste, instead of just a pinch
of ginger, and a drop of lemon juice
in a vat of water, was condensed
thickened, or so it seemed, such that
the ginger burned the tongue
and the lemon pursed and smacked
the lips; each sip grew closer to becoming
a tea nectar, its effect lingering
longer, and those last sips seemed more
precious than the first.
from the merest
slipping away delicate
losing itself , its identity
to a lace veil
thinning out from a curtain
glow of the ember
from the low yellow
Smoke wafting up
An enlarging spiral of enlarging stars
that sweeps down
into a alluvial plain
shielding within a cavity
Outside, the star tips point
like rhino horns; inside
a wet glistening of virginal
whiteness lines a marble
mausoleum which folds
inside itself, and is lost.
An empty house, once occupied
by a gastropod, a fluctuant formless
mass of flesh, a walking stomach.
How, without fingers or mind
could this living globule construct
such a house of fractal symmetry
with walls paneled in lucent white?
Since retirement, Marty Kiel has revisited his interest in literature, particularly poetry, and has participated actively in poetry writer’s workshops and local writer’s groups. He also enjoys painting, wood and stone carving, astronomy, and camping with his family in their small motor-home.
* * *
Poetry by Robert S. King
Developing a Photograph of God
You are sure the Hadron Collider will prove
in pictures that there is only one God particle.
You go by the Book, a scholar of shalt nots
and shalts. The top of your class,
you’ve grown to the tallest height allowed
and feel blessed to wed a girl named Faith.
You practice everything you preach
to little brothers looking up
and save the sinning mouths of debate class.
You obey the school dress code that narrows
your vision to a deeper understanding
as you pray inside the iron gate that holds all truth,
as you stroll bright halls whose bulbs are never changed.
It’s a riddle that some dinosaur fossils have feathers,
but you’d like to lecture Darwin
that you’ve never seen birds laying raptor eggs.
So far you’ve taught Moses, your parrot,
a large vocabulary from the Old Testament.
That the bird knows Jesus! must be a miracle.
If more than one God particle appears in the picture,
which one will you obey?
With lab assistants named Google and Yahoo,
you search for a photograph of God,
some say to prove a negative.
You magnify microscopic galaxies
to find a theory of everything,
to prove the theory of your soul
is merely quantum energy and dying light.
Still it’s a riddle how quarks appear from nowhere,
though all God’s children are bound by physical law.
Still it’s a riddle how atoms disappear
but reappear when thought or sought.
If more than one God particle is caught on film,
which one will you observe?
I take a walk to the edge of my world.
Curious tonight, I wander too far
from the guarded parking deck.
The smell of something new lingers
on my tailored suit. I meet for the first
time a perfume of alley rats,
the curious mixed tea
of animal and human urine,
the moans of human waste.
I meet a boy who seems a man
who has never set foot on swept streets.
His race is dirt, his color streaked.
A scavenger with wild eyes, he stands barely
above the mouth of the alley trash can,
his torn sleeves flapping dusty flags,
his fingers probing for treasure in a haystack
where lurk mostly needles and bloody rags.
He pauses to scan me whose tie is tight.
My cologne clashes with his sense of smell,
I who found the fortune to live another day.
He asks where I found my shoes,
so shiny you can see yourself--
really lucky they have laces too.
Are the soles worn out?
he wonders aloud.
Robert S. King's poems have appeared in hundreds of journals. He has published three chapbooks (When Stars Fall Down as Snow, Garland Press 1976; Dream of the Electric Eel, Wolfsong Publications 1982; and The Traveller’s Tale, Whistle Press 1998). His full‐length collections are The Hunted River and The Gravedigger’s Roots, both from Shared Roads Press, 2009).
* * *
*archive currently unavailable
Brandon Meyers lives and writes in colorful Colorado. He is co-author of the novels The Missing Link, Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas, and the forthcoming The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson. He also co-writes the web-comic A Beer for the Shower.
* * *
Excerpt from the Book of Momentary Angels
By Tracie Morell
Holding on to little pieces of memory
until she could construct
the perfect image. Feeling
the volumes of night, hands
on shoulders. Nameless men touching
different parts of the story
for her to reconstruct later.
Meditations on a Statue at Faesulae
Frozen by what she can’t articulate,
she’s replaced by an effigy. Mouth-bound
Angrerona, her finger at her lips
for silence. Language is
no longer adequate. All of this
defies translation. Words can’t
contain what’s ancient & eludes meaning.
The fear & anguish men believe
she drives off, she suckles.
In a Breath
Your lips and mine defy language.
Breath containing emotion like aromas of home
navigating decades to release weather.
Imagine phenomenon. Lips think of
places. Hands and faces always need
a gaze’s quiver to cradle
our still sleeping bodies. Gently,
fingers react to touch. Kisses
waken draping legs at dawn, tracing
outlines in the sounds of pleasuring
skin. Kneel, with hips,
kissing. Climb the skin’s terrain
with mapping tongues.
explode, breathing one breath.
The art of breathing
is acceptance of evaporating
of asphyxiation by angels.
Just a Terrible Angel
How dare you
come in here offering
then giving nothing
but silence. Don’t look
for the sound of my breath.
I’m holding it
just in case
Tracie Morell is just a poet on a mission to engage a meaningful discourse about the treachery of beauty, and she’s eager to talk to anyone who is willing to discuss how terrible angels are.
* * *
Poetry by Suzanne O'Connell
I am from rogue waves.
From Coppertone and ripe plums.
From the black asphalt of a tennis court.
Splinters, sweat, and the smell of egg sandwiches.
I am from the pepper trees and the Meyer lemon,
whose fruit is sold for 5 cents a glass
by my sister and me.
I am from the Sunday comics and the Catholic pews,
the red hair, one curly, one straight, of Ruth and Bill.
I am from the heavy hand and the lightweight heart.
From the Look At Me and the Because I Said So.
I am from Stanford Street in Santa Monica,
the golden land where the alcohol flowed.
Appetizers, barbecue, and martinis.
I am from my selected family of friends,
John Coltrane, chili dogs, and driving around.
And The Catcher In The Rye, who caught me before I went over the cliff.
I am from the Air Force Colonel and the nitwit.
He who served with McArthur in the South Pacific.
She who had a big chest and threw great parties.
And a little girl who made friends with the strays and got ringworm.
I am from the photos pasted into the black album.
Black-and-white pictures of a little girl wearing a dress matching her mother’s.
An ancient book with vaults and chambers
where my family tree once grew.
I am from the faces in the album I no longer recognize.
I am from the golden land where the alcohol flowed,
a place I have yet to go.
From the black-eyed Susans growing in the garden.
From pepper trees and Meyer lemon,
from the memories of children swimming in the ocean
then eating ripe plums and egg sandwiches on the hot sand.
Pizza Herb Garden
All that remains of her are the herbs.
It began as her gift to me for my birthday. A grow-your-own pizza herb kit
for my kitchen window.
An egg carton, a bag of soil, cellophane packets of seeds, and Popsicle sticks
the basil, scallions, oregano, and tomatoes.
One teaspoon of powdery earth into each cardboard womb,
the seeds barely visible to the eye,
a Popsicle stick with my writing on it stuck in each moist cup.
Creating life in the tiny cups was like embryonic surgery.
I watered by drops every morning like I was feeding a nest of baby birds.
When the herbs overgrew the carton, and the water drops would no longer saturate,
I transplanted them, like IVF, into their own dirt home outside.
Where they could stretch out.
Where the sun could shine directly on them.
Where they flourished.
The scallions are now a foot high.
The oregano a green mound.
The tomatoes are leggy and bragging.
The basil leafy and pungent.
She has been transplanted too.
She left an oar and some bags of T-shirts behind in the garage.
But all that remains of the living her are these herbs on my pizza.
I sprinkle them on now because it’s the best I can do,
savoring every fragment.
Her herbal equivalent.
Her green counterpart.
Her living replacement.
Rhythm and Blues
Every Sunday afternoon I locked the bathroom door, turned up the volume knob on the green
plastic radio that sat on the bathroom counter, and submerged myself in warm bath water. Only
my nose stuck out above the water line. My hair floated out in an auburn fan around my head as
the warm water rippled over the surface of my body. I was listening to the Flamingos sing “I
Only Have Eyes For You” on The Johnny Otis Show. From under the water I couldn’t hear the
exact words of the song, but I could feel the thundering in my body and the pulsing of my inner
ears as the bass and the drums vibrated and wrote sonnets on my skin.
The bottom of the tub was scratchy with sand. Sand had washed out of various cavities after my
day at the beach. My shoulders and knees were sunburned. There was a white area of skin where
my one-piece bathing suit had hidden me from the hot beach sun. Otherwise, I was a dark gypsybrown.
You might want to know what I was thinking about
on those submerged Sunday afternoons.
I was thinking of escape, though I didn’t have a destination in mind.
Escape from the infirmary, with its smell of sickness and its
annoying expectorant sounds.
I was thinking of escape to the over there.
I was thinking of boys, though I didn’t have enough information to be specific.
I was thinking of
of the whole earthness of possibilities that I couldn’t picture.
I was thinking of the way the water felt on my body.
Of silvery skins slipping
And the moon waxing
on the over there horizon.
Does a magnolia bud know it will become a flower?
Can it sense the nectar brewing under its sap of skin?
Is it possible to know something before you know it?
Submerged in the warm water
I thought of doors opening onto a sunny porch.
Of welcome mats being placed on stone.
Of latches and locks opening.
Of lenses clicking.
Of one note being bowed on a cello string.
Of the word aperture.
Of crickets on a summer night
Of the over there
and of the here-and-now.
Most of all, I was thinking of rhythm and blues,
how it made me feel so alive.
“Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright.
But I only have eyes for you.
I only have eyes for you, dear.”
A Troubled Mind
There’s a sniper on the roof
and I’m wearing my bull’s-eye shirt.
I have coal in my pockets.
I have turpentine in my mouth.
And I have a troubled mind.
There’s a sniper on the roof
and he’s got my number.
I’m wearing my metal headgear.
I’m imagining the song of the mourning doves.
And I have a troubled mind.
There’s a sniper on the roof
and I’m waving a white flag.
I didn’t invite him here.
I’m not packed for the trip.
My documents are not in order.
I have not made amends.
I have not said my good-byes.
No wonder I have a troubled mind.
Suzanne O'Connell volunteers with the American Red Cross and was presented with the Candlelight Award as the District Mental Health Volunteer of the Year. She has assisted in recovery during fifty-six disasters, including floods, fires, building collapses, train derailments, and the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
* * *
By Brigita Orel
It took me longer than nine months
to calculate whether you’re worth more than
the occasional glass of wine I’ll have
to skip. And still, I’m afraid of the ties
that pull at my skin,
of my body becoming a stranger.
I try to envision the future
skulking in the vague shadows
under your tiny translucent eyelashes
that have the misfortune of being short like mine.
It’s going to be all right.
But what if I fail to teach you how to say no
and to laugh to get through the day?
What if I hand on all my bad habits?
The fears? My God, the fears.
These things are instinctual,
women know how to be mothers.
But not every child is a good child.
Whose fault is that?
There was no Star of Beit Lehem, just two blue lines
and the whispers of fear
like water hitting a hot stove.
like a branding iron on my hijacked body.
The nightmares of bleeding and cramps.
Not because I’m afraid to lose you,
but because of the guilt. Of that dark part of me
that hopes I will.
For I fear you coming into my life
because you being here
will be a constant threat of you leaving
(only the scars and flabby skin behind).
(That’s how you keep me in check,
a manipulator already in the womb.)
I do not want to know you for fear of a time
when I will not know you anymore.
I hate you for not giving
me the chance to remain indifferent.
I hate you and then
I love you some more although I know
that from now on it will hurt right down to my core.
Brigita Orel has had her stories and poems published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Cantaraville, Autumn Sky Poetry, Islet, and other print and online magazines and collections. In 2010, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She studied writing at Swinburne, Australia, and she lives and creates in Slovenia. Discover more at Brigita's blog.
* * *
By Chad Curtis Rose
Stainless steel jail stool pivots 90 degrees
Or is it 89…oh yeah! Protractor confiscated strip search short succinct swivel
Standing, looking out barred windows taller than a chocolate-cream painted cement floor
above colonized dust tumble needs, lofty pubic hair, tired shoes
microscopic phone book remnants
Outside traffic, silent from here, mentally 33,000 feet
Cars swerve, steer, missing schizophrenic wheel chair pedestrians
Late for work, competing with bee drones in withdrawal
rabid sheep stealing corporate Friday’s car slots
reeling aft intoxication
breath short and stalled
ruing that morning’s chaotic alarm clock
captivating photogenic madness in the civil dawn
Six degrees late racing for the day’s Great American toil dream
“Gonna be rough! So, get back home! Soon!”
Outdoors, utter lunacy and serenity flee oncoming traffic
Telegraphed accident, cellular slumber, rush-minute magic
Stimuli flashing back
acid-test station changing of the guard
blue-bristled wiry fingertips cigarette-stained hands
manipulate shift knobs with lime green digits racing by in plastic black veneers
Alabaster smoke clouds plume from slivered windows
into oblivion and fractious FM radio waves
Gossiping urban seagulls circle the expressway
searching the arrival’s possessions in street agony
Below me is a universal viewing pod between my bare cold toes
Perched over tacit circular swirls whipped into this frenzied steel stool podium
stage, platform, scaffold, a watchtower…
axle grease-gunned swivel into today’s star lead-role peering through the bars,
I’m the sightseer, tight-rope walker, speaker-of-the-house-of-cards, a towering librarian back into sections of nonfiction.
Chad Curtis Rose has been writing poetry for 26 years, and is currently working on compiling a collection of his works to present in book form. He is also nearing completion on his memoirs of enduring the trials and tribulations of Bipolar Disorder.
* * *
Poetry by Melissa Wilson
On a Southern Night
And on a Southern night,
When the cloudless sky
Gives birth to a million stars,
And the humid air clings to you
Like a jealous lover,
And the crickets are deafening
With their beautiful serenade,
I long to be nowhere else on earth
But here with you.
Head bowed gracefully,
Anxious hands quieted by prayer.
The Sacrifices of her son weighing on her mind,
She gives in to the anguish that threatens to stop
The very beating of her heart.
Heavy with grief, she silently weeps.
Peace comes slowly,
Seeping in around the edges
Pushing its way to the center,
Waiting patiently to be discovered there.
Anguish abated briefly,
Soul awash in divine release,
Her heart is momentarily
Relieved of its ever-present burden.
Melissa Wilson is an instructor in the Education Department at UAM. She loves to write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
* * *
At Fat Albert's, Sellwood
By Kirby Wright
Happy birthday, Dadio. I’m playing counter boy in memory of you at this greasy spoon. I squeak on my vinyl stool and toy with a paper napkin. I try folding it into an angel. You’d tell me to act my age. My counter mates? A model-thin blonde in a Reed College sweatshirt and a bald man thumbing The Oregonian. The stink of fried eggs makes me nauseous. The waitress slides over a menu—she’s doubling as the cook. I contemplate specials as steam fogs my cup.
Moments of indecision always summon you. “Learn to be decisive,” you barked. I was your thorn, a chronic pain infected by the disgust of never making you proud. “Worthless,” you mumbled one New Year’s Eve. I learned defeat in our closed-door sessions, when screams and I’m-sorry-Daddy’s joined the beat of the belt. I touched my wall and felt sorrow moving in waves through the redwood.
I vow to quit remembering. Memories send me beyond blue, into the indigo sky before twilight. Dadio, you carried hate into the hospital bed, where I spoon-fed you vanilla pudding and rubbed your feet under the sheets. Cold feet, I thought, icy heart. A nurse checked your pulse. “No more flowers,” you scolded when my Christmas antheriums arrived. I swore you’d never die but, if you did, I’d lug you like an overstuffed suitcase into the future.
A coffee refill comes—steam rises like a ghost. The blonde leaves and I crumple the angel napkin. The bald man retreats to the restroom. I feel as if I’m not human at all but a cold-blooded creature propped on a stool. The truth? Dadio, I’ve been shaped by you, folded by a lifetime of disappointment into a wrinkled toad.
Kirby Wright was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at San Diego. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Wright has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and is a past recipient of the Ann Fields Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Award, the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, and Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowships in Poetry and The Novel. He was the 2011 Artist in Residence at Milkwood International, Czech Republic.
* * *
Artwork by Gary Higgins
Gary Higgins is a photographer-artist from Alexander, Arkansas. He began taking photographs at the age of 14, using a film camera handed down by his brother. He seldom poses his subjects, allowing the image to form naturally. He then adds his own distinctiveness to achieve the final version.
Watching the River Flow, Silent Mission Bells, Nature at Play, Nature's Hands, Lava Ash & Cinder, Moment Through History
By Pete Madzelan
Pete Madzelan resides in New Mexico with his wife and cat, Manny. Currently has fiction in The Dying Goose. Photography in San Pedro River Review, Catcus Heart, convergence: journal of poetry and art, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal; and forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Pachinko, and BRICKrhetoric. Has had fiction and poetry published in literary journals, including Cigale Literary Magazine, Bellowing Ark, Wind; essays in a variety of publications including the Santa Fe Reporter and Minor League News.
Crew, Hatch, Hull, Mate
By Steve Wing
Steve Wing lives in Florida under shifting skies. His photography and writing have appeared in Foliate Oak, BluePrint Review, Qarrtsiluni, and other on line journals.