By G.K. Adams
Oblivious to the laughter and clinking glasses, Alex studied the painting behind the bar – a matador dressed in black and gold, his scarlet cape extended, his back arched, and his sword raised. A señorita in flamenco dress rested on his shoulder.
“What’s wrong with that picture?” he thought. He lifted his mug, drained the last of the Miller draft, then slammed the mug down with a flash of insight. “No bull. There’s no bull. And what’s that woman doing in a bull ring?”
A waitress passed with a tray of sizzling steaks, but Alex noticed neither the sizzle nor the lingering aroma. He waived the empty mug. “Another one, Jimmy.”
The bartender hustled to the tap. Amber liquid gushed and foamed over the icy top.
“Here you go, sir,” said Jimmy.
“Jimmy, why do women always go for the matador?”
“The matador. Why the matador?”
“Uh . . . maybe it’s the tights, sir.” Jimmy wiped his hands on his apron. “Women like to look too, you know.” A call from down the bar sent Jimmy hurrying away.
Tights? Alex thought of his own mid-section – not as slim as it once was. Sondra had been a good cook. Man, that chocolate mousse! And her marinara sauce. . . thick and chunky, oozing onto a mound of pasta. She cooked as good as she nagged, so the marriage had been as hard on his waistline as on his psyche. Didn’t seem like two years since the divorce.
Two seats down from Alex, a young couple huddled over their drinks. The woman laughed from time to time.
Alex nursed his beer. No, not the tights. It’s the action – the flaming cape, the swinging sword, the charging bull, the cheers. “Ole!” he said.
The couple twisted to look at him. The woman snickered, then returned her attention to the man, giving him a playful nudge.
“I’ve always been a man of action,” Alex thought. “Star quarterback in school. . . well, back up quarterback. Almost the same thing. Sondra and I shot the rapids in Boquillas. With the drought the river didn’t have white water. . . but still . . . action. Action is lacking in my life.” Alex set his mug down firmly. “I can fix that.”
It was early yet. The rodeo was in town. Alex wasn’t interested in watching a bunch of guys in tight blue jeans bust broncos, but there was action on the midway and in the livestock barns. Alex slapped money on the bar. “Thanks, Jimmy.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jimmy. He picked up the bills, fanned them out, smiled then waved goodbye.
Alex strode toward the exit, pausing only to open the door for two gray-haired ladies in pantsuits, giggling like teenagers. He gave them a deep bow and walked out behind them.
An hour later, he stood on the midway. “Born To Be Wild” blared from the speakers at the ticket booth behind him. Kids screamed from atop the roller coaster. He ambled toward the show barns. Vendors hawked hot dogs, snow cones and cotton candy. The aroma of roasting peanuts and simmering chili mingled with faint smells of hay and animals from the barns.
Alex spied a dart shoot. “My favorite,” he thought. He plunked down his money and took three darts from the boy attending the booth. They had no points but were weighted nicely. He stepped into an empty slot and fired the first dart straight at the bull’s eye, but he nearly hit the attendant. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said.
“No problem,” said the attendant, moving farther toward the edge of the booth.
The second dart flew over the backboard. Alex focused on his last shot, so much so that he hardly noticed the dark-haired woman in a burgundy sweater who stepped into the slot next to him. On the third try, Alex hit the yellow outer ring and a bell clanged.
“Good going,” said the attendant, handing him a plastic yo-yo.
Alex’s face fell, but he pocketed the toy and pulled himself up. “Now I’m getting the hang of it.” He bought three more darts.
A bell clanged multiple times. He glanced at the woman in burgundy. She had hit a bull’s eye, and lights flashed all around the dartboard.
“Nice job,” said Alex.
“Thanks,” she said. “My dad taught me. He loved these games.” Her face was plain, but her eyes sparkled with midway lights.
The attendant handed her a giant teddy bear and asked, “Want another round?”
She hesitated, teddy bear swallowing her upper body.
“Uh,” Alex said, “would you like me to hold that for you?” Then he added, “Actually, you can have these darts.” He extended his arms to take the bear and hand her the darts.
She paused, laughed then said, “Why not.”
Again, she nailed the bull’s eye on the first throw.
“Wow,” said the attendant.
Alex echoed the sentiment.
The attendant said, “The bear’s our best prize. You can have another bear or something else if you want.”
“I’ll take another bear.” She turned to Alex. “I have two nieces.” She took the second bear. “I think I need to take these to the car.” She reached for the bear Alex held.
“No, no,” he said. “I’ll carry it for you.”
As they walked to the car to deposit the giant bears, Alex couldn’t help but think. His ex had a niece and a nephew, but she would have never given her prize to either of them. In fact, he couldn’t even remember her giving them birthday presents. Did she even send cards?
Alex learned that the woman in burgundy was Melinda. When he complimented her on the sweater, he further learned that her sister-in-law, who was both stylish and thoughtful, had given her the sweater for Christmas. Alex and Melinda returned to the midway and rode the carousel – neither wanted to ride the roller coaster or tilt a whirl – and bought hotdogs. He had chili on his, she did not. He spilled chili on his shirt, she grabbed napkins to sop it up. She didn’t shriek at him or call him clumsy. That was a nice touch. They had cotton candy then checked out the cattle in the show barns. After the cattle, they moved on to lambs, goats, chickens, but Melinda oohed and ahed over the rabbits most of all. Alex stuck his finger into a cage to rub a bunny’s nose, but in a flash the bunny snapped the finger and drew blood. Melinda hurried to find more napkins.
They ended the evening chatting over espressos at Starbucks. A question gnawed at Alex, but he didn’t know how to ask. Finally he blurted out, “Why do women like matadors?”
“Uh. . . I didn’t know . . . I don’t think women even think about matadors . . . except maybe in Spain.”
Now Alex wished he hadn’t asked, but he bumbled on. “I mean, the tights and all.”
Melinda smiled then chuckled. “I suppose they’re sexy. . . . I’ve never seen a real matador. The pictures I’ve seen are more like caricatures. But who am I to say?”
Alex thought, “Caricatures?”
Then he heard Melinda say, “I need to get home. Tomorrow’s a workday.” She reached for her purse. “This was fun.”
Alex panicked. He was no matador – or cowboy either for that matter – but he charged in. “Uh, Melinda, I’d like to see you again.” He fumbled for his cell phone. “Any chance I can have your number?”
“Only if I can have yours.”
They exchanged numbers, then Alex struggled to his feet and stuck out his hand. Melinda smiled, took his hand, leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “I hope I’ll see you soon,” she said.
G. K. Adams and her husband live on the Texas Gulf Coast. Her fiction has appeared in a number of journals, including The Legendary, Linnet’s Wings, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Zest Literary Journal, and Flashquake. Her personal essays have appeared in Texas Gardener and the anthology From the Porch Swing. She has served on the editorial staff of an allied health journal in the District of Columbia and as a technical editor for industry. She taught high school English for five years.
* * *
By Carrie Lynn Barker
The axe is an extension of my arm. Heavy, like the weighted toe of my boot. Prey is far ahead of me now but I hear him trampling through the woods. I can smell the fear on the air, purging from his pores in the sweat of his escape.
Except he won’t escape.
Not this time.
Broken branches litter the path before me where he has fled. The axe head drags
along the ground, leaving a gouge in the dirt beneath the pine needles. I can smell their aroma on the air. It is trail anyone could follow. Though no one is around for hundreds of miles. It’s just he and I.
I taste blood in my mouth from where he hit me. My tongue runs along my upper lip, feeling the swollen and broken skin there. It’s all a power play, his striking me. Even my chasing him through the woods is a power play. A game.
Sometimes he gets away. Sometimes I catch him.
Now he is heading for the bluff and there is nothing beyond the bluff but a hundred foot drop. At the bottom are rocks and certain death. He won’t go over. He’ll wait for me there and we can play.
Two demons whose only pleasure is the pain we give each other.
There is a reason why God put us together on this Earth.
The wind is high and smells of ash. If the forest is burning we wouldn’t know until
it reached us. There is no television, no radio, nothing out here. For good reason. It’s just us and the love we share in the game we play.
Tonight it was my turn to play to the Butcher.
Hence the axe.
My tool of choice.
Smiling through my split lip, I reach the bluff. He stands silhouetted against the full
moon, a black shape on the edge. He is smiling too. I know it though I cannot see it. I lift the axe, place the handle against my right shoulder and approach him.
Now I see his expression. It’s all pleasure but there is fear behind his eyes. I adore it.
“If I fall, will you go with me?” he asks.
“Of course,” I say.
He raises a hand, the missing finger of the right obvious against the pale night sky. I took that finger. As he took the two toes on my left foot. As he scarred my right elbow with a knife blade. As I slit the left side of his throat and stitched it again myself.
As we will damage each other again and again, throughout the entirety of our lives.
Each scar is a simple token of what we do with our fragile selves.
I heft the axe, showing him the blade, which glints in the moonlight. I shined it before I left the cabin. It has to be perfect whenever in use. Dusty it is, yes, from dragging it through the dirt, but its blade will sink wherever I place it. Flesh, sand or air doesn’t matter.
It will cleave true.
The wind now brings with it the smell of the salt from the water below. Dimly, I can hear the crashing of the waves on the rocks. His voice is loud above it. “Come get me!”
I rush forward, swinging the axe round. It catches his side, buries beautifully into the skin beneath his shirt. He doubles over the blade as it sweeps cleanly through him. I let go of the handle and the axe goes flying, spinning in the air, shining as it goes. I grab him as he falls, smiling all the while. His blood is warm on my hands and the coppery scent of it is clear.
“Told you that you wouldn’t escape,” I whisper to him as I kiss his lips. I taste his blood on them as it oozes up his throat.
“As if I wanted to,” he groans but there is pleasure in his voice.
Knowing he’d come straight to the bluff, as the game dictates, I rise and find the bag we stashed. I kneel beside him, lift his shirt and examine my handiwork.
“Beautiful,” I say.
“Nice swing,” he responds.
“Thanks.” I kiss him again then gather my tools. I’m an expert by now and he will
recover. He has recovered so many times. I remove a bottle of water and pour it onto
the dirt at my feet. I pack the wound with the dark mud, bind him up then lift him to his feet.
Then I turn him to me and kiss him again, wiping his blood from his chin with my hand as I do so. He tastes like the ocean, like death, like love. When I lick my fingers, I can taste his life.
“What game do we play next?” he asks.
“Don’t you want to be the Butcher?” I say.
“What’s better than an axe?”
I run my fingers along his spine, under his shirt. “Take a guess,” I say.
His lips are firm against mine. Then he takes my wrist in a grip that should not be
so tight and tosses me hard to the ground. My back screams in pain as it hits and the wind is knocked from my lungs. When I left my head, I see him limping away, laughing. “Come and get me, Butcher!” he calls out.
I recover and run after him, grabbing the flung axe as I do so. The game isn’t over. Yet.
* * *
What's Coming Must Come
By Cole Hamer
Musa Badem doesn’t want me to disappoint him so I wear a Burqa now. When Musa opens our Quran he’s always wagging his finger at some random page that says stuff I can’t read because the words look so tiny and so curled like my zentangle doodles, so really, I say gently to Musa, I don’t want to disappoint Mohammed.
My father sprawls himself out in the lounger where Musa should be sitting and expels a motherload of air from his mouth because he has to announce that he’s just sat down.
“How well ya’ know this Moosah Badman, Nora?” he asks. I tell him to “sod off,” then stick up my ring finger and yell that Musa and I are engaged now, so he’d better act right. Dad sticks up his fingers too. Pointer then middle man, he laughs and shakes his head.
“Ok, Odd Job, Mum asked me to fetch you two idiots for dinner. Where’s Moo Moo?” Has he gone and left you for good this time?”
I tell Dad about the private hospital in Antalya, Turkey, where Musa is recuperating. And I tell him about the tragic misfortune, but mostly I tell him about how Musa’s chest caved in when some bugger ran him over on his moped. Dad’s mouth opens like a thin black hole. I want to grab a telephone book and throw it inside, but I also want to cry, so instead I reach out and grab my zentagle book and hug it. Then I reach for my Quran - I’m not sure what else to hold.
Dad is silent. Imagine that.
The police say the man whose moped crossed the divide and ran through Musa Badem was a career criminal, gunning for him, even.
“Ya don’t say?” Dad says. I still want to punch him, but less hard now. I’ve let my zentangle book drop to the floor. Dad gets out of Musa’s lounger and picks it up. He places it on my lap.
“We’ll go get him love. Bring ‘im home. We never leave our boys behind.” Dad puts his arms around me. He’s fat so it’s not so easy and for once I don’t think he’s murdering himself trying to be nice to me. Home. The word is pitch perfect and hangs between us. Dad looks down at me with his “not again eyes,” and holds me tightly. I think about Musa, then about Dad, but mostly I imagine Mohammed on a white horse beside a unicorn, because I think he’d smile if he could see us now.
Cole U. Hamer’s work has been staged, published, and aired on radio in the US and abroad. Recent stories have appeared in or are coming in: Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature, ThickJam and The Pavilion.
* * *
By Allen Hope
The classroom door bursts open and Professor Brennan rushes in. He hurries across the room, slams his briefcase onto his desk, and stands staring at the whiteboard and the words he wrote only yesterday. Writing techniques like, “Brevity is the lifeblood of good writing. Employ your own experiences. Do not be afraid to shock your readers. Start bold, end bold.”
After a moment of silent reflection he turns to the several of us who have enrolled in his summer lecture series: Fiction in the Era of Instant Gratification.
“This minimalist movement has gone too far,” he says. “By now most of you know, or should know, that Hemingway himself promoted brevity. Demanded it, even. As I recall, he once wrote, ‘It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.’ But I doubt today’s writing style is what he had in mind.”
Professor Brennan begins to pace. He jambs his hands in his pockets. Sweat honeycombs his forehead. I look at my notebook and realize the effort I made to open it, in preparation for taking notes, has been wasted. Sitting next to me Jenny from Long Island leans in.
“Did you smell whiskey when Professor Brennan came in?” she says. “I thought I did but I’m not sure.”
“No,” I say. “He does look tired though, like maybe he slept in his car or something.”
“Stop staring at me,” Professor Brennan says to Jenny and me. “I know what you are thinking. Of course my profession is partially responsible for this tragedy. As writing instructors we all understood that every aspect of teaching would become much easier by downsizing from novels to short stories to flash fiction to micro fiction to one-sentence stories. At least with one-sentence stories writers were not so much bound by mandated word limits. There was a certain flexibility granted to this form. Still, we teachers encouraged this transition. Who wouldn't? But the bulk of blame must inevitably fall on the reader, for it is she who determines in which direction the market moves.”
“Why does he look so angry?” Jenny says. “My father drank lots of vodka and that’s how he looked sometimes.”
“Stress, probably,” I say.
Professor Brennan returns to his desk. He unlatches and opens his briefcase.
“My concern for the devolution of fiction reached the breaking point when three-word stories became de rigueur,” he says shuffling through various papers. “And yet I said nothing. I simply followed the pack, a lemming racing toward my own destruction and the destruction of the art form that has provided me a career in teaching. I was a coward. I am a coward. But no more. I am done. As of today I consider myself retired.”
He throws the handful of papers he has removed from his briefcase onto the desk.
“Your two-word stories from last week!” he says.
He closes his briefcase and dashes toward the door. Prior to entering the hallway he pauses, turns, and with a smirk says, “I will leave you with this. A sample of fiction’s final metastasis, the one-word story: Ciao!”
Putting my notebook and pencil away I feel a tap on the shoulder. It’s Jenny.
“Coffee?” she says.
Allen Hope’s fiction and poetry has appeared in Fried Chicken and Coffee, Ghost Town, Gravel Magazine, Snow Monkey, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of Sonoma State University and currently lives in Gallipolis, Ohio with his wife and two daughters.
* * *
Expectations in Tandem
By Chad Lutz
"Nothing new," I said to her over an innocuous cup of coffee.
"What about your job?" she says, stirring the brown liquid with her straw.
I pour a little more into my mug.
The sounds of passing cars pick up as the light changes at a nearby intersection. A couple enjoying the afternoon on a tandem bike passes by our table.
"I guess I did receive a promotion."
She looks at me curiously.
"Well, that's something, isn't it?"
The traffic stops as the light flips to red again and the café patio turns into the starting blocks at the Indy 500 again.
"Are you dating anyone?" Her smile is contagious, like that of SARS.
"Nope," I say smugly, "I haven't found the right woman just yet," and then add, "Or guy, for that matter."
She appears to enjoy my response until my mention of a potential male mate. She grows quiet, smile fades, complexion flustered and concerned. She changes the subject.
"And what about your running? Have you run any races?"
"Yeah," I say shortly, and take a sip from my mug. "I ran Boston this year."
"You ran the Boston Marathon! Are you kidding? That's something! I can't believe you weren't going to say anything about it."
Her drink is suspended in midflight, jaw locked in a bent smile of disbelief.
She bites her lip.
I scratch my head and search the surface of the table for the right reaction.
The couple on the tandem bicycle has returned, only now they're arguing about which direction to go.
"Sorry, I guess. It was pretty cool, ran a good time, spent time with the family." I take another sip and return to my silence with a smile on my face.
She sits there in numbness, eyes actively searching for something. It isn't obvious if she's found it or not by the time I finish my drink. I stand to leave.
"Well, I've got to go. I've got a long day of writing and running ahead of me, and one of my writers sent me an article to publish, so I've got to post that this afternoon."
"You're still working with the magazine, I take it?"
"Yup," I say as I gather my belongings, "I'm managing editor now."
She nods, but with a sort of odd confusion about her, and then stops me before I walk away.
"Before you leave," she calls out, "I want to know why you told me nothing was new when I asked."
I turn and smirk and feel the sun on my skin. It's warm, though the air is cool and breezy.
I tell her I'm the same person, no matter what titles or possessions I gain, and, feeling satisfied, walk down the sidewalk against the traffic and wave to the gay couple on the tandem bike as they pass to my left.
Chad W. Lutz was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986 and lives in the neighboring suburb of Stow. An avid athlete, activist, writer and musician, Chad holds a BA in English with a Minor in Writing from Kent State University. He runs and writes (a lot).
* * *
By Kaci Mason
The girl was fortunate to have not yet learned that the adult mind could be a brilliantly fortified prison. She was ignorant of the way that reality could bind someone like shackles; deliciously naïve of the complex maze of cells that kept one from ever finding their way back to where they’d been before. She didn’t know that a prison existed at all, or that there was even space for such cruelty within the world.
She didn’t realize that every child was destined to wander inside one day and choose a cell of their own; that there was no escaping the prison’s drab walls once they were inside of it. It was like a spider web, made of stone and memory instead of silk. And each prisoner supplied his or her own breed of hungry spider.
When the girl was young, she played with her brother in open spaces. Every tree was a castle, each creek or fractured stump an adventure to be claimed. She wore the earth upon her in chains of clover around her neck, grass-stains upon her knees, and pellets of soil between her toes.
Her brother liked to whoop and holler and chase her through the grass, wielding a stick with all the bravery of a sword. He was younger and smaller, fitting snugly into her skinny shadow. And she was the captain of his ship, the one who could read the stars and show him where to go.
One day, not so very different from all the rest, but irreparable all the same, barred gates appeared in their meadow. The girl was frightened. The gates were metal; menacing things, open like starving jaws. They gave her a strange feeling, as if her skin was too tight to contain her young bones.
She thought that she could hear voices calling to her, slipping between the bars like water through nets. Her brother, even more frightened than she, took her hand and tugged her away. They hid in the cramped hollow of a dead tree, and the boy pleaded, “Don’t go back there; it’s a trick. Stay with me.”
The moment he fell asleep, the girl heard their mother calling for her in the distance. Trembling, she poked her head out of the hollow tree, clutching her brother’s stick sword to her chest. Her mother’s voice rode the wind like a tufted dandelion seed, and she couldn’t mark its source.
Mere steps from the safety of their hiding place, the horrid prison rose suddenly in front of the girl once more. She dropped her sword to the dirt. There were roses wrapped around the bars, thorns gripping tight to hold their shape. She did not remember seeing flowers there before. Their perfume cloaked her and drew her closer; a single tentative step that changed everything.
Her mother’s voice came again, from deep within the gates. “Stop this foolishness and come inside. You must grow up, dear.”
When the girl looked back to the hollow tree where her brother slept, it was lost in a swirling fog. She could not even see the few steps that had led her from his side. She did not know how to get back, or what exactly she would be going back to. Suddenly she was eager for something different. Something that promised to be more.
The gate swung shut behind her when she stepped through, and the sound of it latching echoed long after the bars faded behind her.
“That’s it, well done. Not much farther now.” Her mother’s voice was gone as soon as it swept across her ears.
With no guidance, the girl wandered slowly through the courtyard, paved with stone that was cool and hard under her bare feet. An interior door swung open for her, polite because of its expectancy that she would obey.
With nowhere else to go, the girl continued forward. She knew it was expected of her. When an open door appeared in one’s path, it was one’s duty to see where it lead, wasn’t it? She had never before thought of duty. She wasn’t sure of its shapes and colors.
She didn’t know where it was leading.
The girl went through the door and into the prison. She passed through hundreds of hallways. Thousands of cells. People called polite “hellos” to her from behind their cages. Some had put curtains up. Others were pacing. Some congratulated her for making it. Others curled in the corner and wept as she passed by.
At last, she found an empty cell. Though she had never been there, it seemed to reflect her essence, her goals. Duty had pointed to this place exactly, she was sure of it. It was clean and bare. There was a single window. She had the thought that she would need to find drapes for it immediately. It wouldn’t do to leave it exposed to the wild world outside.
The girl went eagerly inside the cell. She closed the door behind her. She broke the chain of clover around her neck and tossed it into one corner. It probably had bugs in it; she didn’t want them crawling on her. She wanted things to be tidy.
The cell became her life; it confined her to the possibilities allowed within. Business was conducted, relationships constructed and altered, lives fortified. It was all a very strict and tidy business. No one’s feet ever got dirty. No swords were needed.
It wasn’t until the girl had become an old woman that she began to see the prison for what it really was. And she began to cry.
She had come willingly. Her mother had told her it was time. But all she felt now was regret. There was a chasm of years stretching behind her, and no bridge to take her back. She had traded the infinite galaxies of youth for the cramped assurances of adulthood. She had closed her mind, walled herself in, made things stable and comfortable. She had lived her life within a voluntary prison. She had committed no crime except conformity.
The old woman threw herself against the bars, rattling them and crying out in terror. She had never checked whether the door was locked, never even cared to know. Not in all her years. But now it was as if the sands of time had patiently scraped away at
its ancient hinges, and the door would not budge an inch to save her.
She was trapped. A fly stuck in a spider’s web. A fate that was even more horrible for such a desperate, sentient fly. The complacent ones barely noticed the web at all.
She resolved to sit by the bars and watch newcomers shuffle by, aimlessly searching for their place in the prison without direction or foresight. She kept up a steady cadence, muttering under her breath. The eager passerby scarcely realized she was speaking at all.
“Don’t stay,” she repeated, over and over again, until death rose up to claim her with gruesome finality. “It’s a trick.”
Kaci Mason lives in Kansas City, where her two cats conspire to obstruct her keyboard when she manages to get quiet writing time. Her poetry has been published most recently in The Storyteller and this is her first short story.
* * *
By Jailyn Mayrant
You're always there for me.
From when I don't need you.
Especially when I don't need you.
But when my world is crumbling beneath me, you’re there. When the rain is relentlessly pouring, drowning me—you’re there. When all of the air is seemingly sucked out of the room and it feels as though I can’t breathe, right or wrong, you are there for me.
Silver and rusted and dull from too much use. I shouldn't want you. I shouldn't need you. You're no good for me.
But I'm hurting. And I'm so lost. And lonely. And afraid. And here you are: my dull, rusty friend.
I ignore the knock at the door and I undress completely, because that is our ritual. If we do this, we're both naked. Me out of my clothing; you out of your protective case.
You don't ask questions. You don’t need to know the whys and the how’s of my pain. You simply know how to make it go away. You give me what I need.
It's always awkward, holding you just the right way. When you kiss me, it can't be too deep. Because then it gets “messy”. And “messy” leads to questions I’m not quite ready to answer.
So I hold you at this uncomfortable angle, place you on my hip, and let you kiss your way up the side of my body. My eyes close, rolling into the back of my head. I can’t control myself. I allow a moan to escape deep from within my throat. A long thin line of bright red blood spurts from my skin. My clit twitches and just like that: you almost make me come.
Greedy, hungry for more, I move you over two inches to the left and let you kiss me again. This time it’s a little bit longer. This time it’s a little bit deeper. The blood flows much more freely this time. It's not nearly as orgasmic as the first cut, but hypnotic all the same.
Yet another knock on the door breaks the trance. I toss you on the counter with arrogance, as if to say, "I don't need you anymore,"—at least, not right now. I’m good now. I snatch a few yards of toilet paper off the roll and lightly tap away at the blood that cascades down my leg.
It feels traitorous. Like I'm doing something wrong by wiping away your bloody kisses.
I dress quickly, wincing in pleasure as my open cuts rub against my snug dress. I touch up my makeup and flush the bloody paper down the toilet. I pick you up, holding you against the light. I press you to my lips, but not too deeply. This isn't that kind of kiss. Still covered with bits of my
flesh and blood, I put you back in your protective casing and slide you into the cup of my bra, right next to my heart.
The knocking has turned into a relentless pounding and then the door is suddenly sprung open by an elderly nun. She shakes her head, silently chastising me for what I know are all of the wrong reasons. She grabs me by the elbow and ushers me from the bathroom. She’s spry for an old lady—strong, too—and pushes me up to the pulpit with ease even though I’m fighting her every step of the way.
I can't help but glance down at the closed mahogany box that holds the body of my father. A father I never really knew. I want to feel something now, but I am numb and cold and empty. My emotions aren't right. I can tell by looking at the wailing mourners sitting in the pews. I dig my hand deep into my hip. I can feel wetness seeping through my black dress. The pain from the vestige of a dull bladed kiss soothes me.
My eyes well with tears.
Smearing traces of my blood across the paper, I neatly unfold my father's eulogy, and begin.
JD Mayrant is a freelance writer from Washington, DC. She has previously been published in Black Heart Magazine, Haunted Waters Press and Cliterature Online Journal.
* * *
Interest On A Life Save
By Ben Orlando
John Houston saved my life.
John Houston found me after I’d been living on the street for nine months, after I sabotaged my marriage to a woman named Melanie, after my two daughters told me they would never speak to me again unless I stopped shooting up.
I didn’t stop.
John Houston found me three months after a lawyer followed me under a bridge to deliver divorce papers.
“This all started,” John said, “because your student made up those lies and ruined your life, right?”
“How do you—“
“She just confessed,” John told me. “Born-again Christian. Said she was angry because you failed her.”
“Great,” I said. “Only took her two years. My friends under the bridge will be delighted to hear it.”
John smiled. “It’s time,” he said, “to return to the living.”
“Sure,” I said. “And who the hell are you?”
“I’m John Houston,” he said. “I’m married to Melanie. Your Melanie,” he added, and for the first time in months, I felt something.
John was a cardiothoracic surgeon. Fifty years old when he married my ex-wife, he had kind eyes, a toothy smile, a slight limp and a mild case of asthma. He tried to persuade me to check into a clinic, and when that didn’t work, John Houston offered me a coffee.
John Houston roofied my coffee.
I woke up strapped to a bed in the Montville Rehab Center.
Still, it worked. I cleaned up, returned to Penn for a PhD in education, thanks to John pulling some strings. Now I teach at Penn. I see or talk to my daughters almost every day, and Melanie’s hatred has regressed to the pity she felt for me before the heroin.
Last week John came down with pneumonia. I thought a visit would be the least I could do.
It was just the two of us in his bedroom, no one else home.
I thanked him again for putting in a good word at Penn. I looked around the room, visualized where everything used to be.
John nodded politely, coughed and wheezed. He sounded like a rusted screen door caught in the wind. He grabbed his inhaler from the nightstand, fumbled it into his mouth.
“Empty,” he wheezed, and motioned frantically with his red, watering eyes toward the dresser.
I stepped across the hardwood floor—used to be carpet--searched, but no inhaler.
“Kitchen,” he whispered. “Kitchen!”
Downstairs I rummaged through the new cupboards and shelves, new plates and bowls.
Finally I saw the inhaler in a drawer full of old photo magnets, Melanie and the girls smiling at me across five years of unimaginable circumstances.
Staring at those magnet faces, I shook the inhaler, gripped it like a child holding on to his favorite blanky.
I breathed deep and approached the stairs.
When I reached the bedroom door I saw he was still pumping his empty inhaler, head down. I stepped to the side, out of view, my back to the wall.
He said, “Paul. Where the hell are you, Paul?”
And then he stopped saying anything.
Eyes closed, I listened to the inhaler clatter across the hardwood.
Listened to his breaths grow shorter, faster, like a dog panting.
Nine months on the street, I’d seen what pneumonia could do to asthmatics. I knew how this would end.
After a few seconds, I walked down the hall, down the stairs, opened the front door, and looked into the eyes of my ex-wife carrying a bag of groceries.
Ben Orlando, editor and writing teacher and has published work in a variety of magazines and journals, including the Bellevue Literary Review.
* * *
By R. Hoyte Raney
There were no trick or treaters that year. Not one.
Lourdes awoke on Halloween morning, drifted down from her bedroom to the first floor and quietly thought of breakfast. After several minutes of deep and oppressive silence she turned on the radio and listened to several more minutes of abrupt and chaotic news reports.
Death. Dismemberment. Carnage.
All they could talk about were the many sightings of the Beast—factual and imagined—from the previous weekend. There were portents, superstitions, and alignments in the heavens that coincided with the now waning full moon. There were veiled threats and suppositions that cast ominous shadows upon her family’s landscape. There were fingers pointed, shouted voices and raised torches just beyond her field of vision.
She finally turned off the radio and let early morning return to what it was, instead of what it would inevitably become. In its place she intuited the spiders and centipedes that lived in the basement and crawlspaces beneath her feet. She pondered how and why they chose their victims.
Her thoughts turned to her Uncle.
Experience told her he wouldn’t spare her bad news. Lobo could never hide what he felt from her. When he was concerned, he paced about as if animals clawed at the door. Anger made the clouds darken and color drain from his face. But when he smiled or laughed, birds would often alight on his shoulders and storms drifted off and bothered others.
Her Aunt, Elmiranda, had thick brown hair that was braided into serpentine vines. Her full lips were arterial red, while her complexion was as white as an October moon. Thin, extreme brows highlighted her wide, green eyes, framed by lashes as black as a bat’s wing.
After a few moments of contemplation Lourdes opened her eleven-year-old doe-brown eyes and thought over the consequences of her decision.
It was remarkably easier than it should have been.
Once dressed she went out the back door, slipped over her neighbor’s fence and planted ragged and fearsome tracks in his muddied yard—like breadcrumbs to the gallows. By the time she had finished, her pale skin was prickled and damp, the sun just shy of risen.
She went back in and prepared for school.
Lourdes waited at the bus stop. None of her friends showed up.
She walked through the halls of her school and listened to the other children, oblivious to her penitence and ruth.
Not a single person talked to her.
She ate her lunch alone.
When school was over she boarded the bus and sat by herself with her school bag upon her lap.
She arrived home, walked up the stairs, stopped on the front porch and looked off toward the horizon. Orange filtered through seasonal clouds like pumpkins burning. Small, black and gray wisps from a passed storm hung in the air, provoking thoughts of rain.
Stepping inside, she saw her Uncle Lobo. He sat on the couch, his face coarse, white and worried. His legs were propped up on the table while he studied the floor in front of the victrola.
He had come home Sunday—after the police had interrogated Lourdes and her Aunt. Once he had finished scrubbing the spot where Elmiranda’s fingernails had melted, he’d sat on the couch. On Monday, all the birds in the city flew away at precisely the same time.
For two hours, the sky was blacker than pitch.
He hadn’t moved since.
Lourdes placed her book bag on the dining room table before going upstairs to her Aunt’s room. When she had finished putting on her Halloween costume, she stood in front of the étagère and studied herself in its mirror until the sun had set and Elmiranda had awakened from the sleep of the Dead.
She went downstairs and watched Lobo before checking the candy by the front door. The basket was filled to overflowing with a variety of chocolate bars, caramelos and glazed nuts
Her Uncle wouldn’t meet her gaze.
Elmiranda offered to go trick or treating with her.
Lourdes decided to go alone.
No one answered any of the doors she rang.
She avoided her neighbor’s house.
She went to bed without taking her costume off.
She couldn’t fall asleep.
She got up walked to the foot of the bed sat down stared at her closet door for an hour walked to the window looked for the moon studied the tracks in her neighbor’s yard went back to bed and fell into restless sleep.
The police didn’t return.
The bandage stayed on Elmiranda’s hand for a month.
Her fingernails never grew back.
The crowd appeared at 11:55 PM, Halloween night.
It burned her neighbor’s house to the ground.
R. Hoyte Raney is a Paramedic Field Chief for the Chicago Fire Department, and the front man for the Chicago based Alt/Americana band "Drama Junkies". His writing has appeared in N.E.I.U’s the Apocalypse, the Chicago Tribune, the Oklahoma Review (Spring, 2013) and will be appearing in Penduline Press and Emerge Literary Journal (Fall, 2013).
* * *
My Daily Dish At Sunshine House
By Mindela Ruby
Charlotte’s trembling hand gripped Monday’s penciled, smudged report about her grandson. It galled her, to no end, that his daycare provider obsessed over consumption and excretion. Rather than safety.
Nathan ate all his beans and rice and made a BM in his diaper. No more diarrhea! We’ll encourage him to try the Big Kid Toilet again next week. Outside, he hid in the Jungle Hut with Chelsea.
Over a hundred of these Sunshine House notes were stashed in Roselle’s top right kitchen drawer. Charlotte had watched her daughter’s eyes brim with tears of joy as she read about Nathan’s developmental accomplishments. Even if mama has to work, these communications reassured, her little darling’s as good as home in the bosom of Tami’s daycare center.
But Roselle was a single mother, the sperm that fertilized her egg “donated by a friend”—which is all she’d told her mother about the conception. Roselle was late in launching career and family, and with the burden of house payments and law school debt resting solely on her, affordable pre-school was a must. It wasn’t Charlotte’s place to question her daughter’s choices. Her offer of monetary assistance got soundly rebuffed.
“Big mistake,” Charlotte said to the foolish slip of lavender paper in her grasp. Security must be priority number one. Not forcing the kiddy potty on babies.
Roselle got bamboozled by Tami’s home-cooked lunches and fleshy helpers with shy smiles. She didn’t see the red flags flapping.
Nathan didn’t eat any veggie macaroni, but he drank some soy milk. He grunted and screwed up his face. We checked and found nothing visibly wrong. Sandi thinks it’s food allergies. He fell asleep cranky but woke from his nap and asked for a cookie.
Charlotte was aghast. Further preoccupation with digestion, yet what did Sandi know about children’s health? She had no medical or Early Childhood Development training. “Sandi” wasn’t even her real name, and “Suzi” wasn’t the other girl’s. Tami made those names up. Her minimum wage workers spoke broken English and lumbered about like overfed sloths. Illegal aliens from Honduras and Chechnya, Charlotte surmised, plucked from society’s margins for low overhead childcare service.
Roselle was deposing an insurance fraud witness in Fresno, three hours away, when a frantic Tami telephoned her. Charlotte was able to leave the design showroom and rush to the daycare in Roselle’s place. Police were on-scene when she parked, the squad car attracting neighbors’ curiosity. A detective dusted the gate latch for fingerprints. Mothers showed up with stricken faces and clung to their offspring, selfishly grateful the kidnapping victim was someone else’s.
The female officer took statements from staff and toddlers. During the incident Suzi was washing lunch dishes and saw nothing. Tami claimed to be in the bathroom. Her irritable bowel syndrome was an impediment to maintaining adequate vigilance—didn’t Roselle see? According to three-year-old Paolo, a “bad man” took “Nay” out of the yard. As for Sandi, she was bent over, gathering spilled blocks, and observed only the back of a male fleeing through the gate with Nathan over his shoulder. She tried giving chase, but the assailant quickly escaped from sight.
Irresponsible! And devastating. Worse, Charlotte’s gut told her Tami was hiding something. But where was her proof?
Charlotte opened the Parent Box and collected the latest reports about Nathan. His sweatshirt still hung on its hook. She clutched it to her face, wishing the drier sheet fragrance would conjure the little boy’s essence.
The male cop instructed her to wait at Roselle’s house. While the “mother of the missing child was in transit” someone had to be on hand in case a call from the abductor went to the home. The officer took the sweatshirt from Charlotte, to bag for DNA evidence. Letting the garment go made her feel helpless.
Now she stared at Roselle’s wall-mounted phone, willing it to ring. She should have demanded a wire tap to trace extortion attempts. She should have insisted the FBI Child Abduction Unit be brought on the case. For the world to be set aright, Roselle needed to return home and declare these measures taken. Or better yet, declare Nathan recovered.
For Greggie’s birthday the kids ate carrot cake, and Suzi led the Happy Birthday song. When Paulo asked to share the Crocodile Rocker, Nathan bit his arm. During his time-out, Nathan tore a page out of the How Do You Wear It book.
Nathan normally wasn’t a cross child. He must have been sick. Charlotte suspected neglect.
And this morning--did loose poop run down Nathan’s pant legs again? Did someone inflict excess punishment? Hurt him? A complicit relative of one of the babysitters could have whisked him away.
Or maybe Nathan got kidnapped by Roselle’s mysterious sperm donor. Oh, Roselle. Weren’t you taught to know better?
Whatever the story--random stranger, shifty immigrant, entitled sperm donor--Charlotte felt like she alone bore the brunt of the pain. She folded the last “My Daily Dish at Sunshine House” dispatch over and over, until it was a tiny ball in her hot hand. The tighter she squeezed, the more pressure built inside her chest. She itched to assign fault, unyoke her fury at Tami, the police, someone! But when Roselle came through that door, broken by desperation and guilt, she would rely on her mother’s strength and judgment. Charlotte used every ounce of psychic energy to push the furious urges down.
The telephone at last screamed to life. A development, a demand, deliverance from the agony of waiting.
Charlotte was not to find out. The trills of the phone penetrated her chest like shocks of electricity. Her heart spasmed, burned, choked to a stop. Everything went quiet. Her silver-blonde head hit the bull-nose edge of the tiled counter as she dropped, and Roselle’s house went unutterably blacker.
Mindela Ruby is a teacher, writer, and culinary explorer. Her fiction has appeared in print, online and in mp3 format in journals including Arcadia, The Binnacle, FRiGG, Melusine, Literary Mama, Jersey Devil Press, and BoundOff. She has written a novel, MOSH IT UP.
* * *
My Word (Play)
By John Vanderslice
MAN, late sixties to early seventies
CAPTAIN JENSEN, airline pilot, early fifties
MRS. JENSEN, his wife, mid-forties
DAVY CAMPBELL, off-duty policemen, early thirties
ERICA DENT, his girlfriend, early-to-mid twenties
BRITTANY CAMPBELL, Davy’s daughter, eleven
TWIN MAN, identical as possible in age and appearance to MAN
As the play opens, a spotlight or two illuminates a small section of center stage. We see there a galley kitchen in a small riverside cottage. It is not only a functional but a comfortable space, perfect for two recently retired people: a new stainless steel sink; new, black appliances—dishwasher, stove, refrigerator; new wooden cabinets stained a rich honey brown, with pebbly textured cabinet pulls that pick up the earthen feel of the doors without merely repeating the same color. The countertops are of a marbled black stone variety, with veins of white and silver light the gleaming, polished surface, throwing glints of light and working against monotone. The dishwasher and sink sit on the left side—as viewed by the audience—of the kitchen. The backside of the kitchen contains most of the counter space; while on the right side of the kitchen sits the stove and refrigerator. Track lighting is apparent above each of the three sides of the kitchen, although only the row of lights on the stove/refrigerator side of the kitchen are on. At the front of the kitchen, thus visible to the audience, on the sink and dishwasher side, are three plastic trash cans. One, is designated, via Sharpie-scrawled message, as “Trash.” The second is designated for “Plastic.” The third, closest to the audience and most visible, is designated for “Glass.” Approximately, two yards to the right—as viewed by the audience—of this kitchen is a freestanding door. It is in a doorframe but unconnected to any wall. This represents the front door of the cottage.
A MAN stands in front of the refrigerator with the door open, soberly examining its contents. There is a fixed look on the man’s face. He does not study the refrigerator’s contents because he is wondering what to bring out of it. He knows what he wants. He simply is deciding whether to grab what he wants. MAN, obviously retirement aged and condition, is dressed in ratty white shorts, faintly painted splattered and a plaid, short sleeved, button shirt that at the moment is entirely unbuttoned. On his feet are a pair of worn, faint gray boat shoes with a holes on each at the front toe point. He wears no socks. On his left wrist is a black Casio watch, a lower end variety found in almost any box or drug store. It could not have cost more than $20 and is presently flecked with the same slight paint splotches as his shorts.
MAN’S head is shaved close to the skull but not completely, his own form of a crewcut, not at all like the military’s but almost as short. The hair is mostly gray but evidence slightly darker patches. His skull evidences a mysterious bloody purple patch that suggests a former injury or may simply be a birthmark revealed by the crewcut. MAN’s chest hair is all gray and his skin is spotted in places in the manner of an elderly man. However, the face, while weathered is not actually that wrinkled. It is a craggy face, but a naturally craggy one, reddened perhaps and perhaps unshaven, but energized by a natural force of will and irrepressible intelligence. There should be about this man an air of contained impatience and a desire at all times to avoid boredom. This is not to say the man fidgets, because he does not. His movements, when he moves, are more of the erratic rather than the hyperactive type. He should give the impression of someone who is constantly thinking and who occasionally, suddenly, perhaps when those around him are least ready for it, turns his thoughts into action.
For the moment, MAN closes the refrigerator door. He turns toward the cabinets above the back counter and opens them. He reaches in and pulls out a water glass. He turns to the sink, fills the glass with water, sips, puts the glass down disaffectedly. He reels and looks across to the digital clock readout on the microwave. He checks this time against the watch on his wrist. He rubs his right hand at length across his stubbly chin, obviously thinking. He returns to the refrigerator, opens it, and reaches in.
At this moment, a second and narrow spotlight comes on, illuminating a thin circle of space just past edge of the nimbus of light created by the first spot, closer by a couple feet to the front of the stage. Inside this new, narrow circle of light is BOY. His appearance should feel as sudden as possible; literally as if the boy has only that instant materialized inside the scene. If this proves too difficult an effect to pull off, BOY could simply enter through the front door. BOY should be dressed as any ten-year-old from the late nineties might be: sneakers and black jeans and a t-shirt. He should not look conspicuous in any way, except for the fact that he holds in one hand a spiral notebook such as college students use to take notes and in the other hand a ballpoint pen. He stares at MAN as MAN reaches into the refrigerator. Almost instantaneous with his appearance, BOY begins speaking.
[MAN rears back and almost closes the refrigerator door. He sees BOY. MAN looks at him momentarily through narrowed eyes. He seems unsurprised by the sudden appearance of this boy, though it should be apparent that he did not know of BOY’S presence in the room until the boy spoke. After the few seconds of faceoff, MAN starts again to open the refrigerator door.]
BOY [louder]: Wait.
[MAN, thoroughly unaffected by BOY’S plea, lets the door swing open wide. He reaches inside with his left hand, while looking directly at BOY.]
MAN: I’m going to take this now.
[BOY reacts slightly, as if stung. Then he recovers, holds his head strictly in place.]
BOY: All right, but if you do that, I will remember it twenty-five years from now, and in a white-blonde classroom littered with molded plastic desks and ten tired students I will write it down to be exposed and thought about. [He shows the notebook and pen.]
MAN [knowing half-smile]: But you’ve done that already, haven’t you?
MAN: In at least a half-dozen short stories; and in that novel you left inside two blue notebooks years ago; and in that self-pitying essay you tried to publish.
BOY [expressionless, hesitates, then speaks]: I’m ten years old. I don’t know what an essay is.
[From the refrigerator, MAN pulls a large, dark beer bottle, the glass of the bottle a smoky brown. MAN shuts the refrigerator door emphatically and sees a bottle opener clinging there by a magnet.]
MAN: You’ll know what an essay is soon enough.
BOY: No thanks to you.
MAN: Every thanks to me.
BOY: That means the same thing.
MAN: Listen to you. [He turns, set the bottle on a narrow wedge of counter top beside the dishwasher. He pops off the bottle cap, and lets it fall to the counter, where it skitters.]
BOY: If you drink that, you’ll want to drink another.
MAN: Of course.
BOY: And it’s only twelve o’clock.
MAN: It’s Saturday.
BOY: What difference does that make?
MAN: Every difference. [He tilts the bottle back, takes a few deep draughts, as if dearly needing that relief. When he brings the bottle down, his eyes are watery—perhaps even pained—yet his whole aspect is merrier.]
BOY: Now you’ll want another.
MAN: Eventually, sure.
BOY: By three, at which point you will already be recognizably affected, you will decide you are bored with beer and switch to gin. Small sips, of course. Manageable tastes. That’s what you’ll tell yourself. And maybe they will be—but how religiously pursued. By seven you will not be able to walk to the liquor cabinet without lurching from hip to hip, wall to wall. By eight-thirty, you will feel thoroughly overheated and eager for the delicious air of the Wicomico, the springtime bloom of the wind along the river bank, the subtle burn of the rising moon.
MAN [decidedly less cheery]: How do you know? You’re in Philadelphia with your mother.
BOY: You can take me at my word.
MAN [studying BOY’S face]: Maybe I can. [Pause.] But I can’t help myself. I’m sorry. [Lifts the bottle, takes another swallow.]
BOY: By nine you will be so far gone you won’t see where your feet land, where the grass stops and the retaining wall begins. The sky will have thoroughly darkened, and the neighbors to your right and left will have no idea that you are wandering, drunk, in your backyard.
MAN: Jensen will see me. He’s always spooking around, keeping one eye out--
[BOY motions suddenly to stage left, where in a new spot—perhaps violet toned or even bluish, to suggest the middle of the night--we see a small but cozy hotel room. Simultaneous with his motion the boy begins to speak. As soon as he does so, the man in the hotel bed, turns inward so that his face no longer points to the ceiling but toward MAN and BOY. ]
BOY: Captain Jensen won’t even be here. He’s in a hotel room in Vienna, four hours from waking and preparing for the long flight back across the Atlantic.
[The two stare at CAPTAIN JENSEN, the boy neutrally, the man more miserably, as if trying to figure a way to pull JENSEN across the water at once. Seconds of tense silence pass. Then JENSEN rolls back the other way and the spell is broken. The spot on JENSEN goes out. The BOY motions to upper stage right, where in a clear white spot MRS. JENSEN appears, sitting in an ordinary living room chair, a bowl on her lap, staring at the tv in front of her. The tv is decidedly too loud, its noise dominating the stage for hard moments. What we hear is the following clip from the 1987 film Three Amigos! :
ACTOR 1: I have put many beautiful piñatas in the storeroom, each of them filled with little surprises.
ACTOR 2: Many piñatas?
ACTOR 1: Oh yes, many!
ACTOR 2: Would you say that I have a plethora of piñatas?
ACTOR 1: A what?
ACTOR 2: A plethora.
ACTOR 1 [after great hesitation]: Oh yes, you have a plethora.
ACTOR 1: Jeffe, what is a plethora?
[As MRS. JENSEN watches, and we listen, the intended hilarity of the clip comes across as tinny and pathetic. MRS. JENSEN is patently bored. She lifts a forkful of pasta from the bowl and begins to chew desultorily. She lowers the fork, looks to her right, and sighs. Instantaneous with the sigh, the sound from the television cuts off and BOY begins speaking.]
BOY: Mary Ann Jensen will be here, but inside, watching American Movie Classics, a bowl of microwaveable pasta in her lap and thinking of her husband’s return. She’ll look forward to not eating alone for another string of days.
MAN [shrugging]: That sounds about right.
BOY [more forcefully]: So she won’t see you. [The spotlight on MRS. JENSEN goes out.]
[There is just enough time for us to see the man absorb this news when ERICA DENT in a mane of cluttered brown hair and offended strut starts across the front of the stage from the audiences left to the audience’s right. She is followed closely by DAVY CAMPBELL, tanned and crewcut—a stocky, but not exactly overweight man, older than her by almost a decade. As determined as ERICA is to be offended, DAVY is determined to defend himself.]
DAVY: It’s the fucking law, Erica. I’m a policeman. I don’t get to not follow the law.
ERICA [stops mid-stage to face him]: Oh, yeah. Like you’ve never broken the law in your whole life.
DAVY: Not since I’ve been a cop!
ERICA: Cops don’t break laws? How stupid do you think I am?
DAVY: I can’t deny her a legal right. It’s in the contract.
ERICA: That’s not the law. That’s just what you signed.
DAVY [laughs]: And so it’s le-gal! [He stretches out the word.]
ERICA [impatient with the skirmishing, wanting to get to the point]: I’m tired of her being around here so much, occupying Brittany—and you—all the time. She’s constantly giving me those poison eyes.
[As soon as ERICA says “Brittany,” loud television sounds can be heard. Not the sounds of American Movie Classics and not from MRS. JENSEN’s side of the stage. Instead, the sounds are voices of actors in the late 90s tv show Angel. When we first hear the show, one character, played by an actor with a British voice, is accusing a female character of wearing a pushup bra. The petty conversation is interrupted by a more subdued Angel and then by a client who comes for Angel’s help.]
DAVY: I can’t help what kind of eyes she gives you; she’s my ex-wife!
ERICA: I don’t like it. It hurts me.
[CAMPBELL spins away from her, hands on his hand, mouth open, trying to fathom what to say now. The sounds from Angel blare even louder—uncomfortably loud—across the stage.]
BOY: Davy Campbell, meanwhile, will be inside too, arguing with his girlfriend about his ex-wife’s visiting privileges while trying to ignore the screech coming from his daughter’s television upstairs. [As soon as BOY says “daughter,” a spot comes on stage left. On that side of the stage, on a platform suggesting the second floor of a house, eleven year old BRITTANY CAMPBELL sits on a conspicuously overadorned, overpillowed bed, drinking a Diet Pepsi and stares with complete fixation at the television which sits on top of her bureau. We are allowed just a couple seconds more to absorb the invading noise from Angel before MAN says his next line. In fact, the tv noise is so loud he shouts it.]
MAN [with a broad grin]: That’s the Campbells!
[As soon as he says this, the television noise evaporates, the spot goes out on BRITTANY, and DAVY and ERICA run off stage. The BOY allows a few seconds for the audience to feel the new silence and the emptiness before he says his next lines.]
BOY: In one of your more ill-advised lurches, your right foot will land in a hole just behind the retaining wall. [Here the BOY motions to stage right. At the back of the stage, as BOY speaks, an actor dressed identically to MAN (we’ll call him TWIN MAN), and aided only by as many props as necessary, acts out the death BOY describes. It is, of course, necessary, for the audience to view this action as if they are sitting in the river. That is, when TWIN MAN falls over the retaining wall, he should fall toward the audience so that the audience can see him hang from his broken leg.] Your body will tip and fall over, even as your foot remains stuck, thus cracking your leg and simultaneously causing you to hit your head on a stone at the center of the wall. [MAN blinks at him, blank-faced.] The impact will render you unconscious. While you hang there, dangling by a broken leg, the tide will come in, covering the upper half of your body.
[MAN sets his beer down forcefully on the counter. As soon as we hear the smack of beer bottle on counter, the light goes out on the pantomimed death. It disappears.]
MAN: You don’t think I know this?
BOY: No. I don’t think you do.
[MAN, clearly more agitated now, steps out of the kitchen proper for the first time. He paces as he talks.]
MAN: What do you care, anyway? When did you ever? While I drown you get to be entertained by your mother’s conspicuously well-heeled relatives. They’ll plow you with taffy and ice cream sandwiches. They’ll buy you comic books and licorice. They’ll take you the country club. They’ll take you to the zoo.
BOY: I already went to the zoo. That was earlier. We just got back.
MAN: That’s not what you said in your essay. You said your father died while you looked into the haunted face of a chimpanzee.
BOY: Poetic license. Besides, I haven’t written it yet. I might change my mind. I might say I was watching Happy Days.
MAN: You won’t.
BOY: I might.
MAN: You won’t.
BOY: I could. I haven’t written it yet. I don’t even know what poetic license means.
[MAN moves back to the kitchen, more or less in exactly his former location, picks up his bottle, and drinks again. Then he drinks more, as if in a race against himself. Finally, he lowers the bottle and burps.]
MAN: Oh, you’ll learn that. You’ll learn that pretty damn well.
BOY [slightly stung]: Maybe.
[MAN laughs: a ragged but still jovial noise. He shakes his head once, fast.]
BOY: The point I’m trying to make though is this: Do you want to end up twenty-five years from now as a figment in the memory of my imagination, guzzling beer on the pages of my notebook [shows it] while ten tired students bend heads over their own notebooks, inventing stories just as improbable? [Pauses.] Or would you rather remain who you are, in the flesh? [BOY gives MAN plenty of time to answer, but MAN doesn’t.] I won’t even ask if you want to leave Mom a widow, if you’ve actually thought about what that means. The other question is pressing enough.
[MAN takes a few steps toward the front of the kitchen and tosses the bottle into trash can designated for glass recyclables. Then he returns to the refrigerator and grabs another bottle of beer.]
MAN: The question you never seem to ask yourself is whether I ever cared if I remained in the flesh at all.
BOY: True, but that’s more or less what I’m asking now.
MAN: What do you think?
BOY: I don’t think you ever came to a decision. But I think you knew perfectly well what you were and were not capable of. I think you let mom go off to Philadelphia without you because the thought of limiting your intake for three days was unbearable.
MAN: Got that right. [Defiantly, he pops off the cap of this second bottle. He drinks.]
BOY: And I think maybe you figured you’d just play the odds. Drink as much as you want and let what happens happen. There was no knowing which day—or night—would be the one. After all, you dodged plenty of bullets already.
BOY: How many times did I hear you fall down the stairs at the other house? A couple of times you had a gash in your head in the morning. You look mystified and abashed—no idea how you’d injured yourself.
MAN: But you were older then weren’t you?
BOY [hesitates]: Yes.
MAN: So you aren’t ten when this happens.
BOY: Actually, no.
MAN: But your mother is in Philadelphia.
BOY: Yes. By herself.
MAN: How old are you now?
BOY: It doesn’t matter.
MAN: Old enough to know what “abashed” means.
[BOY, stung, drifts downstage. MAN waits for BOY to reply. When he sees BOY won’t, he takes a full, hearty swig. When he brings the bottle down he stares at it with thoughtful affection. Then he glances at BOY.]
MAN: So I didn’t actually try to kill myself?
BOY [not looking at him]: No, I don’t think so.
MAN: Good. That would be unsightly.
BOY [turning to face MAN]: Yes, but what I write in that classroom with those tired students will be as gruesome as any suicide. I hope you realize that. And it will be about you.
MAN: You’ve done it before.
BOY: No, I haven’t.
MAN: In the short story—the one about Massachusetts.
BOY: You won’t die in that one.
MAN: Or the other, the family at the beach.
BOY: In that one you’ll die when a ladder falls.
MAN [with a confused look]: Oh. Oh, well. [MAN half-smiles, an embarrassed looked that comes out as helplessness. He moves deeper into the kitchen. He leans with his back against the counter, lifts the bottle, and enjoys several unbroken swallows.]
BOY [regretfully]: I’m going to have to write about it. In twenty-five years or so.
MAN: I understand.
MAN: And it will have to be set here. And you will have to take that walk. And your foot will slip into that hole.
MAN [shrugs, refuses to look at BOY]: Sure.
BOY [after long pause]: Or you can just put the beer away.
[MAN does look at him now, but neutrally, steadily. Whatever embarrassment he may have felt has passed away.]
MAN: Thank you. I think I’ve got it figured out. [He closes his eyes, leans his head back, and presses more fully into the counter. For the first time, his manner suggests inebriation: the bare beginnings of it.]
BOY: I better go. Mom’s probably wondering where I am.
MAN: Yes. [Opens his eyes slowly; stands straighter.] You don’t want to be here, anyway. I mean later.
[BOY nods, then moves to the front door.]
MAN: Tell your mother that what you saw was like a car crash, an accident. Just a stupid, thoughtless mistake. Nobody involved was trying to hurt anybody.
BOY [after a pause]: Sure. I’ll tell her that. But it will have to wait about twenty-five years.
[MAN thinks about it, nods.]
MAN: I don’t have much choice, do I?”
[BOY doesn’t answer, only holds the man’s gaze for several seconds. When MAN drops his head, BOY turns and opens the door. He leaves. By the time MAN raises his head, BOY has left. MAN takes a swig of beer. All lights go down.]
John Vanderslice's fiction, poetry, and nonfiction has appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies, including Versal, Seattle Review, South Carolina Review, 1966, Sou'wester, Laurel Review, and Exquisite Corpse.
* * *
I waited in the hallway
with my father while
my mother entered the
school cafeteria to exercise
her right to vote.
From our crowded corner,
I caught a glimpse of her
as she disappeared
behind the thin gray curtain.
My father explained why
it was all done in secret:
it was nobody’s business
who she voted for.
But I knew better—she
didn’t want anyone to see
the tiny slip of paper she
would be pulling from her
pocket—the one that spelled
out all the names he had
instructed her to vote for.
Gloria Ludlam Bennett writes poetry and prose and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in various literary journals and reviews. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at the University of North Georgia. She also serves as President, Board of Directors, for the Georgia Writers Association.
* * *
Poems by John Grey
DANGEROUS DAYS INDEED
The lost child is found.
The mother's on TV
struggling to stifle tears
as she thanks all fifty searchers.
I can remember
wandering from the playground
as a little boy,
into streets of strange houses,
I never felt the once
that I shouldn't be there.
At the beach,
parents nervously watch their brood,
fearful of a surprise
undertow at ocean's edge,
a small helpless body pulled
into deep dark water.
Yet I remember tumbling
in tricky waves,
nose full of salt and eyes of sand.
I momentarily erased myself
from adult protection.
Then I resurfaced on my own,
not for the last time.
THAT MOMMA'S BOY
Anna blames it all on David's mother
even though he's forty,
fifteen years out of the family home.
It's why other women
just make him angry, frustrated, disappointed.
According to him, she was perfection.
These harridans, these painted tarts,
aren't worth a thread
of her brown., woolen stockings.
Anna's been married to him
for five long years
and the constant comparisons
put her own nagging to shame.
"Why don't you go back
and live with her,"
has burst out of her mouth
more than once.
It wouldn't surprise her
if he took her up on it.
The old woman would
wait on him hand and foot,
showing him around her friends
like a balding, paunchy trophy.
She'd constantly belittle Anna.
He would nod in agreement
while he downed a plate
of syrup-smothered pancakes.
She worries that she'll end up
like her mother-in-law,
spend a pointless lifetime
trying to shove that poor thing
back in her womb.
Especially with David around
and always eager to remind her
how good he had it in there.
WHEN BLISS STRIKES BACK
it was a place
awkward with sense of self
but bristling with.
art and magic and reincarnation
and floating hemispheres of being
an airplane passing overhead
fed each other
flakes of their own sounds
until their satiation
became a perfect silence
I reached out and touched
my surroundings in different ways
without one single drop
of wasted energy
I slowed the present
spread it like a net
over all of time
it was a joy
of all my scattered pieces
the moment of nirvana
was the beginning
of its dissipation
its escape out through
the wretched pores of my existence
I was left barren
and coarse and empty
the moment claimed me
forever moved on.
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Sanskrit and the science fiction anthology, “Futuredaze” with work upcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, New Orphic Review and Nerve Cowboy.
* * *
Poetry by Oliver Rice
ANTHROPOLOGY HAD BEEN WAITING FOREVER
The jungles deep with shadow,
what did the first man inherit from protomen ---
Turtles sunning on a gravel bar,
were there derelicts among the urmen,
Was that before or after music was discovered,
laughter had a name,
certain words acquired a secret weight,
the first girl lifted her arms in dance?
Osprey nesting high in the trees,
when first were barbarians at a gate,
was a permissive society condemned,
a dailiness of the years observed,
a man overcome by his heritage?
The sedge growing purple at dusk,
who first conceptualized mediocrity,
recognized the persistence of vulgarity,
grew alarmed at his yearnings,
identified a platitude?
Was that before a man first concluded
that only reason can correct reason’s errors,
or after he woke to a fatuous day,
feared for all men?
AND A PRODIGY OF THE VIOLIN
Miscellaneous persons ---
Galileo, Johnny Appleseed, Ghandi,
an enemy of the people exercising free speech ---
persons wander the keeps ---
John D Rockefeller, Socrates, Adonis,
the movie star who climbed Kilimanjaro ---
the keeps of Woodrow’s head ---
Genghis Khan, Proust, the Venus de Milo,
a pioneer woman who died on the Oregon Trail.
Oliver Rice’s poems appear widely in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad. Creekwalker released an interview with him in January, 2010. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, is published by Cyberwit and is available on Amazon. His online chapbook, Afterthoughts,
Siestas, and his recording of his Institute for Higher Study appeared in Mudlark in December, 2010.
* * *
Poetry by Larry Rogers
A Swell Place to Be
She would explore his body for hours
while he lay there watching old movies
on Channel 22 or just stared at
cracks in the ceiling. She did not
take his disinterest personally; what
she was doing was more scientific
than sexual, anyway. It Happened One Night
was his favorite movie. He liked
the little wooden bus carrying Gable
and Colbert that seemed to crawl
all night up the Eastern Seaboard.
There was romance on that bus; passengers
danced and sang. As she examined
and re-examined his pale, rather ordinary body,
he thought about that night on that bus.
Gee, it must have been a swell place to be.
Hiding in the Spotlight
He both hated attention
and desperately needed it.
Hid from the world behind
the very rocks he later
hurled at the world to
announce his location.
He told me every spring
the same robin would return
to his yard and perch
on his shoulder while
he smoothed its feathers.
I didn’t believe him
until I saw it happen.
After that I believed
everything he told me
including his claim that
he invented a cure for
stagefright that he called
Hiding in the Spotlight.
Isn’t that physically
impossible? I asked.
I do it mentally, he said.
When the bird didn’t come back
one year he wrote a song
called Robin’s Last Spring
and performed it for a thousand
adoring fans in Fort Smith,
overcoming his shyness by
hiding in the spotlight.
The Marlboro Man
I wasn’t surprised the man
who called himself
turned out to be just
another timid old fool.
We all want to be
somebody we can’t be.
I want to be The Marlboro Man
climbing on board with
everything I own in a saddlebag
when a bus stops at 2 AM
in the middle of the Mojave;
a sleepy beauty whispering a warm hello
when I plop down beside her.
I wasn’t surprised
turned out to be
subservient to all.
Sometimes I call myself
The Marlboro Man,
and I’m a security guard
waiting for something
to happen that never does
on the screen in my shack.
I call the 60 watt bulbs
in my tiny apartment that
I keep burning with tips
made covering Dylan tunes.
Larry Rogers is a poet and singer/songwriter. He lives in Fort Smith, AR, with his wife and several cats. His poems have appeared in New York Quarterly, the South Carolina Review, Rattle, and the Denver Post.
* * *
I Want To Live
By David Rutter
The only plan
I ever made
For life after 30
Not to make it there
I’ve lived every minute
Of my life
On the razor’s edge
Without a care
If I lived or died
Leave a beautiful corpse"
Could there possibly be
A more idiotic catchphrase? Yet there I was
Day to day
On this dictum
Now, afraid and alone
At 2:00 in the morning
With my heart beating
To the tempo
Of a speed metal song
With the darkness
Calling to me
Pulling me down
As my blood
Turns to ice
And my life
Flashes before my eyes
My panicked brain
With the faces of my mother and father and brother and sisters and the woman I’ve loved and wanted to love and couldn’t love and tried to love and hurt and was hurt by and cheated on and was cheated by and the children I’ve had and the ones I could have had and the friends I’ve made and kept and the ones who’ve betrayed me and the ones I’ve betrayed and the ones who’ve fallen away and disappeared and the ones I need to talk to just one more time and the things I’ve done and those I’ve yet to do and the ones I was supposed to do and the ones I would do, God I promise, if I could just live through this night, I swear to you, I will do, I will do, I will do.
The same four words
Are forced from my lips
Again and again and again
Till they become a song
The anthem of my soul
The song for the ages
Simple but perfect in it’s simplicity
The only song I’ve ever known
Put your hands in the air
Sing it with me now
I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to live
David Rutter is a Los Angeles based writer of poetry, fiction and theatre. This year his work has been published in Haggard & Halloo, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Subliminal Interiors, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Clean Sheets, Leaves of Ink, Eskimo Pie, Eunoia Review, The Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles and most recently, the Los Angeles Times. He is not writing a screenplay.
* * *
Poetry by Adam Schrum
Something about this house
without any bustle, without any
light, without sounds. The silence so
loud, like a ghost yelling (Quiet!),
there’s a vacuum pulling on the
ears, pulling on the body entire
(Get out of this house. It’s empty
now. And you don’t belong here).
But I do belong here. And the house
is full. Chandelier, the dimmer switch
down. Stairs leading to the basement,
more floating up to the bedroom floor, or
quarters, as the ol’ fella used to call it from
his reclining chair. Endtables everywhere.
I never knew people with so many.
Ends don’t need tables and never did.
Under the yard, (Get out) there’s an
(of this house) oil tank – they still had
oil heating! And that tank (It’s empty
now) is mostly full, and surely leaking,
as old as it is, and will (And you don’t)
need dug up, if we’re to (belong here)
sell the place. Furniture, Salvation Army
pickup. Carpet cleaners. Get a kid
to mow the grass, (Quiet!) and put all
these noisy endtables out with the trash.
to’ve kep’ mine
years, clean ’s
pearls, white ’s
hadda have ’em
dentures put in
’n ’en he ’s
alw’ys losin’ ’em
ag’n ’n ag’n
hall ’o ’em
to’ve kep’ mine
years, ’n ’en
soon ’s I lose
When you are blind you can sense
fields of being, you can sense
spheres outside your own false sleep
Know when folks enter the bar
Intuit their proportions,
statures, fatness, desires
You can sense distance, because
you know where the air bends then
flees where folks occupy space
You can perceive their approach,
whiff their hygiene and gender,
mood, intent of your new peers
When you are blind you can hear
everything, everything, yes
you hear every goddam thing
You know where the mice are in
the walls and in the corner
breathing behind bookcases
You hear rapid heart lub-dubs,
glue traps baited breath waiting –
– You know the sound, the middle
finger is being raised, with
grimacing, and mocking shock
But mostly you know the sound
of strangers cringing, sorry,
how rude some people can be,
the sound of pity for you
when you’d prefer attraction
You can hear distance, because
you know where the sound waves bounce
off of people and things as
they recede, now bored, and so
therefore, you can hear distance
Adam Schrum spends his time thinking in Rochester, Minnesota. His poetry has appeared in Fox Cry Review.
* * *
Poems by Teresa Starr
The bird that hovers in a calico’s breath
chatters yesterday’s shadows away from behind the window glass.
From our bed, we hear a ticking, like the sound of snow on leaves.
Autumn wakes within us a clouded heartbeat,
enamoring us with her markings before she melts into flight:
brighter than cotton dusting the ground in patches,
her coat is so pure white, all of its colors ring out.
It began with the cries of the peepers’ songs,
floating high above a vernal pond,
sounding somehow more distant than before,
only to be silenced by a harsh wind
blowing open the door to a heartless season,
not unearthed until then,
when memories clung, wing-like, to air
thick with freshly budding trees after they’d fallen,
beneath a siege of machinery that uprooted woodlands
and set the last remnants of wildlife aflight,
like so many pieces of forgotten litter.
Remembering with Eyes Closed
On a night walk through our old neighborhood with my sister,
where street lamps dimly buzz on every corner,
she tells me, while breathing heavily after just a few brisk steps,
that, when everyone in the house we grew up in slept,
she’d sneak out through a door in the kitchen
to ride her bike, alone, around the empty parking lot at school,
past the priests asleep in their rectory and the nuns in their convent,
and come home well before the white-gloved guard
appeared at her crosswalk the next morning.
Being older than me, my sister lags behind,
so I say we can turn around if she feels tired,
but, changing topics, she begins to inform me
who no longer lives in the gravely silent houses,
and how the one that was ours stands for sale
with a light left burning in its basement.
Lost in the sound of our footsteps echoing on the sidewalk,
I think I hear her say she always knew
she’d be a teacher and have two children
before leading me back through a shortcut she recalls from school.
Rounding a corner, I see the dismal building where our father, an aged widower,
rests between bouts with irrationality and cancer.
Slowing our steps, it suddenly doesn’t seem to matter all that much
what secrets we now share, what still lies buried, or what we’ve left behind.
As we enter his apartment, haunted by the pull of past cigarettes and melancholy,
we stumble back into time, awaking to the same hard light of the present.