Fiction
No Bull
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?” 

“Sir?”

“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.
 
* * *

Butcher
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.
Not ever.
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.
 
* * *
Downsized!!
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?"

I shrug.

The traffic stops as the light flips to red again and the café patio turns into the starting blocks at the Indy 500 again.

"I suppose."

"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).
 
* * *
The Trick
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.
 
* * *
 
Vice
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.

That's better.

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.

“Paul!”

I breathed deep and approached the stairs.

“Paul.”

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.

* * *
Gallows 
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.

April 25

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.

Misleading crap.

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.

April 26

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.

April 27

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
Characters:

MAN, late sixties to early seventies
BOY, ten
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.  


BOY: Wait.

[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?

BOY: When?

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.

MAN: Bullets?

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.
* * *
Poetry
Voting Rights
Gloria Bennett
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,

alien trees.

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,

going under,

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.

Anna's pregnant.

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

all voices

traffic

an airplane passing overhead

fed each other

flakes of their own sounds

until their satiation

became a perfect silence

passionately still

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

a revelation

a reconciliation

of all my scattered pieces

sadly

the moment of nirvana

was the beginning

of its dissipation

its escape out through

the wretched pores of my existence

eventually

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 ---

     his kin,

           inevitably,

                 his neighbors?

Turtles sunning on a gravel bar,

were there derelicts among the urmen,

     antiheros,

           broken spirits,

                 ironists?

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, 2
010.
* * *

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

Assistant-to-No-One

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

Assistant-to-No-One

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.



Musical lights

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
Was planning
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
“Live fast,
Die young,
Leave a beautiful corpse"
Could there possibly be
A more idiotic catchphrase? Yet there I was
Barely surviving
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
Overflows
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
C’mon everybody
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
Just
One
More
Day 
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
 
Endtables

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.

 

Pearldrop

S’pose
it’s funny
to’ve kep’ mine
all-of
eighty-nine
years, clean ’s
pearls, white ’s
Sund’y
d’vine.

T’ think
he loss’
all ’a
his ’n
hadda have ’em
dentures put in
’n ’en he ’s
alw’ys losin’ ’em
ag’n ’n ag’n
hall ’o ’em
years.

S’pose
it’s funny
to’ve kep’ mine
all-of
eighty-nine
years, ’n ’en
jussa few
days pass
soon ’s I lose
him, Ah’m
here w’this
tooth ’n
m’ hand
anna small
newblack
hole ’n
m’ ol’
head.

 

Spheres

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 

Autumntide

 

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.

 

Lost Spring

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.

 

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Teresa Starr's poems have appeared in dozens of literary magazines including the Journal of the American Medical Association, North American Review, The Sun, and Ploughshares. She and her husband, musician Mark Alexander, currently live in Western Kentucky.
 
* * *
Birth Place
By Phillip Sterling
I was born between the Indian and Banana Rivers in a place where the roots of Strangler Figs sink deep into the soil, thick and snarled as family history. It was there I took my first breaths of sodden Florida air, smelling the sweet, musty scent of blooming jasmine that twined up the latticework of my parents’ wooden house. It was also there, in that place, that I first heard the tender pucker of soft estuary water lapping against the sandy shore of our backyard. Deep within those brackish waters, fat manatees, the color of mother’s milk, frolicked like giant breasts alongside Spotted sea trout fleeing fishermen into the mangrove forests choking the underwater. It was there, too, between those two rivers that I first opened clouded eyes to drooping, waxen leaves outside our windows, salt-encrusted by the saline in the river water so that the leaves sparkled emerald-like beneath the febrile sun. Other sounds were those of my father leaving for work each morning, his eggshell, 1970 Karmann Ghia squealing sharply as he drove down our driveway to the street, off to the Cape, where he was employed as an aerospace engineer. Back then, Cape Canaveral was a place where Man’s dreams proved our God dead because God can’t live where Man breaks through cloud into the vacuum that used to be called Heaven. As my father would make his way down our driveway each morning, his car’s scratchy roar scared the cooked-shrimp-color Spoonbills off the lawn into one pink fan flared open against the sunrise. My father would not return home again until nightfall, when more sounds ate up the air, the insect scream of tiny wings beating into one blurred smudge of noise, whisking the night into a solid. In that heat, night did not bring rest, only restlessness inside my old pine crib, varnished like molasses, my skin blood-sacked by so many mosquitoes. It was also there between those two rivers that I first learned to walk and fall upon spongy grass. Hide inside discarded cardboard boxes. Eat mangoes, red juice dripping down my chin. My mother – how I would love to hear more stories, but she’s gone now, gone away into that vacuum above the clouds, her voice now but an echo of memory and she, mere ash in the ground frozen fast by October. New York, where my mother is buried, is such a different place than Florida.
 
Lara Sterling is a writer living in L.A. She was previously a journalist for Playboy. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines. 
 
* * *
Creative Nonfiction
In Praise of Falling Down
By Edward Doughtery
I had the phone cord stretched until all its little curls were pulled straight so I could be in the hallway of my subterranean college apartment, away from my roommates watching TV in the living room. Her voice was a small bird, so I put all my energy to concentrate on its flight. Then, I understood. The relationship over. Had been, in her mind, for months. And final. Moving in with someone else.

Immediately, the burn of tears. I slid to the floor, to a seated/leaning position. I couldn’t speak. She may have been explaining something, but if so, I still don’t know what. All I knew was I had to get out. The call ended somehow, and I ran up the dank stairs to Allen Street, and I began running south. Away.

I ran and ran, and I’m no runner. I cried and cried, too. I must be a crier.

When I returned to the basement apartment, I called an old high school teacher, who’d become a friend. I pleaded, Let me come visit. It was a week before finals, and New Jersey never sounded so attractive. He gave me the wisest advise I think I’ve ever gotten, words I’ve passed on to others. No, he said. Don’t leave. No matter where I went, he said sagely, I’d carry the pain with me. So, stay there,  let my profs know what’s going on, and do your best to get through it.

You’ll just carry the pain wherever you go.

I’ve never had a harder break up. I did in fact carry the questions, the unending conversations with her (and him!), all over the place and for months. Maybe years.

Yes, years. And I’ve told this story plenty of times.

But the strange thing is that it changed over time. At first, it was a story of my shock and the long struggle to love again. It was a story of falling hard. Later, as I got to know myself better, I realized that I treated her terribly. I was only shocked because I wasn’t paying attention. And she only took this step because she wanted to be happy, and I certainly didn’t do much to help that enterprise. I realized a hard truth about that relationship: I treated her badly for a long time but didn’t have the guts to break up with her. But this way, I could be innocent, the victim, the good guy. My pain confirmed all that. I had the high ground. Pretty elaborate mental gymnastics.

I would never had learned all this had I not fallen so hard. Alcoholics and drug addicts who survive their disease and maintain their sobriety know the value of hitting bottom. No one wants to bottom out, but no one wants to be an addict either. Hitting the awful bottom can be the catalyst for transformation. The Japanese say Fall down seven times, get up eight.

It’s what we do with heartbreak, regret, embarrassments, and other tragedies that make all the difference. So maybe I’m not praising the falling. Anybody can fail. Anyone can be a jerk and suffer a painful break up. Some people wise up, persist, learn from, and become big hearted, not hard hearted. I guess I want to celebrate the art of getting back up.
 
Edward A. Dougherty is the author of Backyard Passages (FootHills Publishing, 2012) as well as four other chapbooks, and of the books Pilgrimage to a Gingko Tree (WordTech, 2008) and Part Darkness, Part Breath (Plain View Press, 2008). After finishing his MFA in Creative Writing in Bowling Green, Ohio, Dougherty taught at BGSU and was poetry editor of the Mid-American Review. In 1993, he and his spouse traveled to Hiroshima to be volunteer directors of the World Friendship Center where they served for two and a half years, witnessing the fiftieth anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They now live and work in Corning, New York, a place defined by the confluence of three rivers and a glass company you may have heard of.
 
* * *

A Tale of Stop (And Not) Frisk
By Eugene Durante
I'm on a Manhattan bound train staring out the window as it leaves Brighton Beach. The train is nearly empty after midnight, and I'm positioned by the door in what would, over years, become my "patrol stance"- standing sideways, facing the length of the car, right elbow resting on my firearm, and left boot heel wedged into the door partition.

I'm on the left side of the train as it lurches northbound picking up passengers either en route to a night shift, or a New York night out. The crisp air rushes in the door at every stop as I embrace the silent effect of the late night/cold weather radio. With exactly one year on the job I haven't yet learned how the best crime fighting efforts are not attributed to police brass or politicians, but rather the cold and rainy tendencies of mother nature.

My assignment to late night train patrol was precipitated earlier that winter by a 'lushworker.' He was cutting open the pockets of sleeping passengers to remove personal items while they slept. The crime was not atypical for the hour or area, and the perpetrator's description from eyewitness accounts was a male black, 18-30 years old, wearing a black jacket, black pants, and armed with a box cutter. My platoon had been briefed numerous times about the robbery pattern, and with rookie ambition we certainly contributed our share of the stop and frisk reports generated that year by the NYPD.

As the train pulled into the Neck Road station I noticed an unusual figure across the way. He furtively moved on the Coney Island platform. His back was towards me, but in just a few seconds I had him locked in my vision. He was a tall black male with braided hair. He wore a full length black jacket and black pants. His hands were in front of him and he was awkwardly walking left to right while facing the wall. I could not tell if he was kicking the wall, marking it with paint, or moving back and forth while urinating. I quickly sprung from my leaning position, and off the train.

Utilizing the advice of veteran train patrol officers, I tactically stepped out of view down a few exit stairs and surveyed the cloaked figure. Fortunately his train had also just left and I knew I had plenty of observation time before I would move in. His behavior persisted, so I crossed over for a closer look. While sneaking up the far staircase on his side, I made a common rookie mistake.

My radio had come screeching alive and I quickly muffled it with my hands. The male froze, then looked around. I was surprised he picked up the noise from the distance, but Neck Road is an eerily silent and creepy place late at night. Prior to renovation the station was a spawning ground for rats and pigeons. Even today there isn't enough revenue to justify staffing the token booth after sunset. 

Broad shouldered, the curious figure turned my way and stood silent as I slowly approached. His hands were at his sides and his fingers were spread apart. He looked about 40 years old from the sporadic gray hair at the base of his braids. I sensed he was no stranger to being stopped by the police.

"How you doing," I casually stated, utilizing a common New York greeting.  

"I'm lost," he said, "I fell asleep on the train."

Getting closer, I noticed his black dress shoes and black suit beneath the trench coat, and I let my guard down a bit.

"Must have been a good sleep," I said, "You’ve drooled on yourself."

He started wiping his outer coat with a handkerchief as he awkwardly looked away and not at the stain as most people would. Then I noticed his walking stick and backpack on the floor next to the garbage pail. 

"I know my home station perfectly," he said, gathering his articles, "but I have no idea where I am now. Thank you very much for being here."

"Just check your belongings, Sir. Unattended items grow legs quickly in Brooklyn. These scummers will steal your walking stick if you didn't pay attention."

He smiled, and with that we broke the ice.

Escorting the gentleman to the other platform, he quickly reminded me of a forgotten lesson from the police academy, let the blind person grab your arm for better guidance. We exchanged names as I led him back to a bench and awaited the next train.

He asked how long I was on the job. I replied, and I then inquired if he was born blind or lost his vision over time.

“I lost my sight in the last decade, but I can still see silhouettes” he said,

“That’s very fortunate,” I encouraged.

“Sometimes I wish I never had vision though,” he said while adjusting his long coat in the seat. “I think I’d have less anxiety overall.”

Not understanding his point, he went on to explain…

“Instead of becoming a man and earning my independence in the world, I have to live with my mother and sister for support. I’m blessed that I still have family, but I always dreamed of moving out of the ghetto after college. It’s sad enough that I’ve changed, but I have witnessed myself become a different person to others. To the outside world I’ve become a “He,” as in, would “He” like a chair or a booth, or would “He” like another cup of coffee… as if I never existed.”

His voice cracked a bit now, “You have no idea what it feels like when I go shopping and I ask the salesman if a shirt is a light or darker tone of black, and he answers me, “Does it really matter?”"

“You know, I used to always date hot women, and now I’m alone. Heck, I don’t even know what the Spice Girls look like!”

Becoming reflective for a moment, the blind man stared toward the darkness saying nothing. Then the rattle of a train in the distance started vibrating the tracks. We boarded the next train together arm in arm to his home station. On our way we discussed our experiences growing up in Brooklyn and how the city was changing. Stepping off the train he softly pushed my arm away. “I got this,” he said, and he breezed up the stairs and out to street level in no time. I offered to walk him home, but he insisted I should not.

“I understand. We both have reputations to protect in these parts,” I joked. We extended a meaningful hand shake and that half-a-hug gesture that men do so well.

“Hey, Durante” he said, ”Thanks again for being there, and more importantly, thank you for treating me like a regular guy.”

I watched him walk away as my rookie radio reverberated off the walk-up buildings along Marlborough Road.

Looking back, I recognize how poignant the compliment was. Although I do not remember his name, a heartfelt compliment was a rare experience prior to September 11th. As police officers, we’re conditioned to think our careers are defined by newsworthy events, but too often we overlook the touching moments that help us become better cops and better human beings.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Eugene Durante is a Police Officer for the NYPD. He is a keen observer of the off-beat and a world class smarty-pants. A New York archetype, “Gino” is well known for not stroking others and not getting stroked in the process.
* * *
Water Wall
By Vanessa Raney
Sitting up, your eyes still blurry, you feel the shock of water on your first leg out. As you slide your other foot down, you notice the wobbling of your bed. You look around half-heartedly, the sky not yet broken which means no light, only shadows and the off-kilter feeling of a dream.

You notice now the soft lapping of the water, how that stand with your school things slightly shifts, the way your bookcases seem to slant – Your books! Suddenly you're rushing to the door, sloggishly, with wet slopping sounds, to face knowing the water isn't only in your room.

“Mommy!” you choke, your hands against the walls.

You worry about what’s in the water, snakes maybe. Still you go, stopping at the living room door, your head poked in. Why the sun reached an arm through here you don’t know, a little dizzy from what you can see: a line of stain across the wall from where the water was, surreal with water bouncing underneath from all the furniture it meets.

Then you remember mom. Turning your head right, a little behind your shoulder, you stare at the door, listening closely for any sound that tells you she’s awake. Reaching for the handle, you hesitate, your eyes wet, but with a breath you enter the darker space which is crowded with boxes and a shape on the bed that’s thin, almost the same as a blanket.

Your hand trembles as you reach, grabbing her shoulder and, with firmer voice, “Mommy, wake up.”

“Huh?” she answers, “What is it? Did the alarm go off?”

“You have to get up. There’s water on the floor.”

“What?” she snaps, jerking right and sitting up.

She looks at the alarm clock, it’s black. Getting up, her face changes and she charges out, opening the back and front doors before she notices you again.

“There’s nothing we can do now but wait for the water to leave. I know it’s scary, but we must be strong. If you need to pee, remember not to flush or turn on any lights.”

Everything is light now. Squeamish with the water on your legs, thoughts of bacteria having floated in, you see the bag of bags on your bicycle bar, decide to make some shoes to get you through but, when they fail to stay while you walk around in them, you take them off and sit on a chair.

Your mom makes peanut butter sandwiches, some of the only things left out. You look past her to the wall of water by the gate behind the carport. The source you know: the bayou beneath the roll of green field. What unsettles you is seeing the water like this, its body long and stretched across with no seeming end. You fear it more than the water inside, your body shaking.

Shifting your body you set your elbows on the table and cross your fingers to your chin. You feel a perverse calm, ignoring the plate she sets in front of you.

You have a sudden sense of things to come. You see it clearly, that wall of water pushing in to every door and swallowing whole all time and place, an absence of the human race. Oh, how you wait there, listening for the whoosh of silence, and death.

Like a child you pull your legs up, feet on the chair, huddling with your head between your arms. Soon you feel her hand on your back, open one eye to meet her two. With a squeeze and a scratch she leaves, you stand and go outside, this time with no jitters in your stomach as you watch that water wall.
 
Vanessa Raney is an American living in Croatia, and working on a novel. Her poems, fiction, nonfiction and scholarly writings have previously appeared in various, though mostly online, publications.
 
* * *
Birth Place
By Lara Sterling
*archive currently unavailable
Lara Sterling is a writer living in L.A. She was previously a journalist for Playboy. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines. 
 
* * *
An Open Letter to Paul Giamatti
By Leah Zibulsky
Dear Mr. Giamatti,

It seems there’s been a terrible misunderstanding, and I would very much like you to know that that thing in the diner the morning of February 17, 2013, had nothing at all to do with you.        

See, on the way over, there were these kids behind us, and they were making those last two blocks more endless than the unrelenting cold. They were loud and young, and we were tired and feeling old. For the past 24 hours, we’d been marveling at how everyone in our vicinity was significantly under 30. I know that’s what you get anywhere south of 14th Street these days, but I didn’t think the phenomenon would follow us back to Brooklyn.

And I didn’t think the kids would follow us into Clark’s Restaurant, but they did, and too close behind. No regard for personal space. That’s a pet peeve of mine, you know (except that you wouldn’t know that). If I’d stopped walking, they’d have stepped on my heels and not apologized—another pet peeve. I could feel hot breath in my hair, and it was not cool.

The place was crowded with pancakes and clanking dishes and speeding waiters. The host asked us how many. We were two. The kids were five. A minute later: “Five!” the man yelled, motioning to them. “Five!” he yelled again, because they weren’t paying attention, rankling me further. They eked by one at a time, passing us in slow motion, which is my default perception when it’s barely 11 after I’ve been up till 4, with my caffeine consumption at a cruel zero. My friend wondered aloud why they got seated before we did, since we were creakier and therefore more deserving, of course knowing it was a simple matter of luck and availability. We wouldn’t be waiting long, certainly. The man showed us his index finger to prove it.

And I said to my friend, “I know,” to validate her dismay. Then, attempting humor or lame logic, I added, “We just had to get the annoying kids out of the way first.”

Please know that I am a fan of your work. I drink fucking Merlot and smile at the memory of your Technicolor freak-out. You were a perfect Harvey Pekar. I meant to see Barney’s Version. We are neighbors, and I enjoy knowing that.

It’s true I don’t like young people much. I told my parents in the kitchen when I was 14 that I wasn’t having children, and they are respectfully disappointed in my stick-to-it-iveness. But I’m not an openly rude person, although if I think what I have to say is worth hearing, I don’t whisper. At the bar just the night before, for instance, I told Eddie—who’d been drunkenly hovering over me at the table and who later introduced himself apologetically—that if he needed me to stand up to let him out, all he had to do was ask. It worked out fine. He made it to the bathroom in time. We even wished each other a nice night. So I would never do what you think I did.

Your back was to me, so I didn’t know it was you, although I did notice that initial sideways glance (sorry, but that’s exactly what it was). Maybe you thought that when you stood up and glared at me, and I said “oh” in recognition, I’d have immediately sputtered an apology. But I don’t think you’re a “Don’t you know who I am?” kind of guy. It took me a couple of beats to figure out what happened as you and your son zipped up your jackets and walked out into the windchill. When you got to the door, held it open for the boy, turned around, and shot eye daggers at me over the heads of other waiting patrons, my suspicions were confirmed. The bright-white bulbs of the marquee in my head blinked “Death by Embarrassment” and, as if to add a little color, my cheeks flooded with the rosy repercussions.

Because I realized: You must’ve thought I said, “We just have to get the annoying kid out of the way first.”

You probably think I’m a total asshole. I get it. And I feel lousy about that, but please trust me when I tell you there was indeed an “s” tacked onto the end of that noun. Your son was so well behaved, I’d barely registered his existence. I applaud your terrific parenting.

I’m glad we cleared this up. So, I guess I’ll see you around. But if I do, I’ll probably look down. 

Sincerely,

Leah Zibulsky
Leah Zibulsky is writing a collection of essays about her dating life. She lives and copyedits for money in New York City.
* * *
Tales from the Crypt​

Sloan's Girl
By Molly Giles
Until the day of the faculty farewell, Mavis Trout was a beautiful woman. Even that day, mid-May of her 65th year, heads turned as she strode out of the auditorium and crossed the campus to the Composition Center. Her silver hair swung in a sleek pageboy and her hips swiveled like a girl’s. With the help of two plastic surgeons, both of whom had propositioned her, she had retained the crazed kitten’s face she’d been born with: small, sharply boned and freckled, with a bip of a nose and round, slightly crossed blue eyes that popped with intelligence and hostility. Her waist had thickened, her voice had thinned, and her mind had started to wander, but her mind had always wandered, that was its job, that was what made her such a good teacher. Who wanted a mind that stayed at home? Who wanted anything that stayed at home? 

“Not I,” said Mavis Trout, stalking up the stairs to her office. She ignored the girl waiting outside in the hall, plunged her key into the lock, kicked the door open, sank into the revolving chair behind her desk and turned toward the window, exposing a length of milky crinkled thigh beneath her slit black skirt. 

The girl, Jenny Sanchez, hesitated. She had been to the farewell and had seen Dr. Trout drop the plaque at the Dean’s feet. But her paper was finished, and it was late, and she needed it to get a grade. She took a deep breath, hunched her backpack off her 2. shoulders, and entered.

“Welcome,” Mavis said without turning around. “You have the great honor of being the last student I will ever see.” 

Jenny eased her backpack onto the weird fur couch Dr. Trout kept in the corner and unzipped it to look for her paper. “Thank you,” she said. She shuffled through folders and textbooks, panicked. Where was her paper? What if she’d forgotten it this morning in her rush to get out of the apartment? What if it was still on the kitchen table? Or on the bus? 

“Forced retirement,” Mavis continued. “What a concept. Perfectly legal. Perfectly evil. Goodbye. Goodluck. And now get the hell out of here.”

Jenny looked up, but Dr. Trout was not talking to her and when she looked down she saw her paper. It was stained where she’d spilled her coffee and wrinkled where the baby had grabbed it. She’d had trouble with the printer at the computer lab and some of the sentences were spaced on a slant. She smoothed the paper flat between both hands, the way her grandmother patted out tortillas. She was worried because Dr. Trout often gave students grades she’d made up: M for Messy or IBS for Illiterate Bull Shit. You had to petition Administration to get those grades changed before you could pass. 

“So now what?” Mavis asked. “What should I do now with the rest of my life?” 

Jenny shook her head, relieved, and offered the paper. 

“I’m talking to you, dear. What should I do?” 

Jenny dropped her eyes. Her paper was titled ESSAY NUMBER FOUR. The assignment had been to write an oral history from people you knew. She had interviewed Emilio and two of his brothers about being laid off at the garage. “Spend time with your family?” she suggested. Her voice came out squeaky. It was not the low calm voice she planned to use when she graduated and found work as a drug and alcohol counselor. “You will have time to be with your family,” she said more firmly. 

“I have no family.” 

“You have a husband,” Jenny said, confused. “I saw him at the faculty farewell.” 

“Oh,” Mavis slid her silver bracelets up and down her thin arms. “Sloane.” 

“The writer.” 

“The literary biographer,” Mavis corrected her. “The gossip. The spy. The ancient betrayer.”

Jenny frowned, uncertain. The old man had sat erect staring eagerly at Dr. Trout throughout the ceremony as if he was a deaf mute and she was his signer. Maybe he really was a deaf mute. One of Jenny’s sister’s boys had been born that way. But no, Dr. Trout had been the silent one. She had sat on the podium like a queen, her eyes the exact blue of the ribbon the Dean had draped over her neck and she had not said a word, not even when she dropped the plaque and walked out. Only the old man had broken the silence. “Isn’t she wonderful?” he had cried, to no one, his voice high as a bird’s. “Isn’t she marvelous?” 

“It looked like he loved you a lot,” Jenny said boldly. “How would you like to be stuck with someone who ‘loved you a lot’?” Mavis asked. “Day in and day out.” 

Jenny, thinking of the baby left at daycare, shrugged and fixed her eyes on the photographs on the wall. They showed Dr. Trout in a low cut black dress standing with a series of strange looking men: a short curly headed man in sunglasses, a tall hunch-shouldered man in a tweed jacket, a fat dark eyed boy in fur. The men looked the same in every picture, proud and wet-lipped, and Dr. Trout looked the same too, sort of sexy and mad as hell. Jenny shivered.

Mavis followed her eyes. “Poet. Novelist. Playwright. Sloane’s famous subjects. Of course half of them are dead now. Most of them were dead before. This one,” she tapped the man in the sunglasses, “couldn’t keep it up and this one never came. Sloane loved hearing things like that. Of course Sloane has been impotent for years. Thank God.” 

Jenny nodded and held her paper out 

“So without this career,” Mavis said, “if that’s what it is, if teaching composition to incompetents for thirty years can be called a career, I am without resource. There is nothing else I can do. All I’ve ever known is the difference between lie and lay and lying and getting laid .” She laughed, then her voice rose. “So you see my predicament. I’ll be forced to look at Sloane, listen to Sloane, live with Sloane. Which is exactly what he’s always wanted. Last night he said, and he didn’t even care when I screamed, ‘This is going to be like a second honeymoon.’ Christ. Wasn’t the first one bad enough? Do you know how long we’ve been married?” 

Jenny opened her mouth, closed it. 

“Forty-two years,” Mavis said. “Do you know why we got married? Because I thought he could help me. Do you know why we stayed married? Because he could not. You of course do not understand that.” 

“No,” Jenny agreed. 

“Nor should you have to. It goes beyond the complexities of Comp 102.” 

Jenny nodded and glanced at her wristwatch. She had to catch the bus, get the baby, and meet Emilio at the courthouse in an hour. She looked up, startled to see Dr. Trout’s popped eyes fixed on her navel. She reached to tug her tee shirt down. 

“Where did you get that tattoo,” Mavis asked. “What is it? A spider?” 

“Sunflower,” Jenny said. 

“Well give me your stupid little paper.” Mavis took it, scrawled a huge A on top and handed it back. 

“You’re not even going to read it?” 

“You were the only student who came to the faculty farewell,” Mavis explained. 

“I thought we had to.” 

“You did? Well. That was a waste of your day wasn’t it? Tell me,” Mavis swiveled away toward the window again. “Have I taught you anything?” 

“No,” Jenny said, furious. 

Mavis laughed. “I didn’t think so. Well. Goodbye, dear. Good luck. Now get out.” 

Jenny grabbed her backpack and slammed out the door. Mavis heard her army boots drum down the hallway. Then, feeling like an actress, the way she had felt all her life in fact, she began to pack her books as she imagined an actress playing a professor packing her books for the last time would pack them. Showily, one by one, she picked up Sloane’s biographies, put on her reading glasses, and read the titles out loud in a mocking singsong: MIDDLE YEARS OF A MIDDLEWEIGHT, NAKED NARCISSUS, FIRST PERSON SINGULAR. She did not need to open the books to read the dedications: “To My Girl, Without Whom” etcetera. Pimp, she thought, as she’d always thought, the word plump and easy in her mind. 

She turned and walked to the window. She could jump. She could throw the chair, the photos, and all the books out. But what good would that do. They were all replaceable. She herself was replaceable. No, she’d do what she’d meant to do. She’d give F’s to everyone but the Sanchez girl and then she’d do what she’d never thought of before: she’d go to a tattoo parlor and get herself covered in spiders and come home and walk into Sloane’s bedroom as recklessly and wearily as she’d ever walked into the rooms of the others he’d sent her to, and she’d take off her clothes and pivot naked in front of him until he wept. Then she’d pack her suitcase and leave. It was time to retire.
 
* * *
 
Scarecrow
By Howie Good

How’s it look? I ask,
slipping my arms into the sleeves

of the scarecrow’s battered coat.
Good, she says,

but I already know the truth,
and by portentous coincidence,

the sky has just turned the same
disquieting shade of gray

as various diseases of the mind.
I hold my arms out like so

and assume the somber expression,
including opalescent eyes,

of someone remembering something
he wished he didn’t,

children overtaken on the road
by claw-footed shadows,

regardless of ancient promises
and the shrill little cries of the sun.
* * *
Benevolence
By Tony Hoagland
 
When my father dies and comes back as a dog,
I already know what his favorite sound will be:
the soft, almost inaudible gasp
as the rubber lips of the refrigerator door
unstick, followed by that arctic

exhalation of cold air;
then the cracking of the ice-cube tray above the sink
and the quiet ching the cubes make
when dropped into a glass.

Unable to pronounce the name of his favorite drink, or to express
his preference for single malt,
he will utter one sharp bark
and point the wet black arrow of his nose
imperatively up
at the bottle on the shelf,

then seat himself before me,
trembling, expectant, water pouring
down the long pink dangle of his tongue
as the memory of pleasure from his former life
shakes him like a tail.

What I’ll remember as I tower over him,
holding a dripping, whiskey-flavored cube
above his open mouth,
relishing the power rushing through my veins
the way it rushed through his,

what I’ll remember as I stand there
is the hundred clever tricks
I taught myself to please him,
and for how long I mistakenly believed
that it was love he held concealed in his closed hand.
 
* * *
Long Story Short
By Laurence Klavan
Rick thought if she told him the story again, he would kill her. It was an irrational decision, since she was near death, and if he merely practiced patience, the event would  occur without his committing a crime. But the anecdote—which she had repeated heedlessly for the third time today? fourth?—was as inciting an offense to him as infidelity might be to a married man.

“It was at a restaurant in Paris forty years ago,” his mother said, as if sharing a delicious secret. “Jean Calot was suddenly seated at the table beside your father and myself. I’d always loved him in the movies—‘jolie laide,’ ugly beautiful, I called him,” as if she had made up the movie star’s generally accepted nick name and needed to—once again—translate the common foreign phrase. “He had a little dog with him, which appalled your father—it seemed so unclean and against the restaurant’s rules, unusual for France. But I took that dog—a Pekinese, I think it was—hid it on my lap for the entire meal, and fed it scraps. Jean Calot whispered thanks to me at the end. ‘Merci, Mademoiselle,’ he said. ‘Mademoiselle!' And I was over forty!”

And clearly married—and borderline humiliating her husband, Rick’s father, by flirting with the film star. But that wasn’t really what infuriated Rick about the story: it was his mother’s obvious delight in all its shallow details: the fancy restaurant, the trip to France, the pure-bred pedigreed dog: they reflected what she relished in the world, what she respected, even worse.

Rick knew that his mother’s considerable wealth would come to him once she died: he was her only relation and now her kind-of companion (though he only came over once a day to spell an exasperated paid housekeeper before another could arrive). In recent years, he had refused loans or gifts of money from her, but he was no longer so—completely—self-righteous, because he was no longer so successfully self-employed. He also knew that the old woman suffered from dementia, a kind in a mild early stage and losing the race to ruin her to the cancer more quickly killing her. He knew all this: he wasn’t proud of his emotions. (Nor was he proud of his life: he was an unmarried freelance business “consultant” in his forties, wasting time others would have used to achieve much and love others.)

Still, the fact that his mother clung to this particular story like a shipwreck survivor does a last piece of wood in the water—that this was what was keeping her afloat, that its (what was the word politicians always used?) values were still accessible in her brain long after most others had been washed away—repelled him. If this was what she prized—and if she lived more in movie fantasies than in life—what did it say about him? His fists primed to pummel her only relaxed when the last words of the tale rolled out of his mother’s mouth—and they were always the same; she was as practiced and perfect in her part as a Broadway star in a long-running play: “’Mademoiselle!’ And I was over forty!”

Rick exhaled and rose, hearing the knock that was obviously the night nurse‘s.

An option beside matricide, of course, had always been available to him, but it had seemed too creepy and even cruel. Now, with his mother lingering longer in life than he had anticipated, it was imperative that he stop the story and if the best he could do was simply change it to another, so be it.

He’d always heard rumors and heresay about the service, but now trolled the internet for actual information, which he found. He was tipped off to a storefront on 23rd and 3rd that had once played host to a hockshop, in the days when people still sold only things and not ideas. It had no official web site or phone number; it wasn’t actually illegal but unsavory enough to have to be discreet about itself; some court would rule on it eventually. Until then, it was hidden in the back of the small shoe repair store, one so inexpensive and old-fashioned that it—ironically enough—attracted beat cops as clientele. They either suspected nothing or used the clandestine business themselves, the way they did whorehouses, providing “protection.”

When he arrived, Rick had a peculiar sense of having been there before, but he dismissed it as déjà vu or a wistful regret he hadn’t shown up sooner. The paunchy and sixty-something shoe repair man put out a “Closed” sign and took him into the back when he said what his need was. The man closed the door of a cluttered storage space. Half hidden by boxes of shoes was a cabinet that looked not unlike an old “card catalogue” used before libraries went completely to computers. (Maybe he’d even bought one at auction, Rick thought.) A crude scrawl on an index card taped to the front said, simply, “Anecdotes.”

“Buying or selling?” the man asked, getting right down to work. He had the kind of accent one didn’t hear much any more.

Rick was caught off-guard by the lack of formalities but quickly recovered.

“I—buying."

“Category?”

“Well…’Edifying,’ I guess. Is that a category?”

“Sorry,” the man said, flatly and with a touch of impatience. “The closest I can get to that is probably ‘Inspirational.’”

“Religious, you mean? No, that wouldn’t be right.”

“Well, there’s two sub-cats: Inspirational slash Religious and Inspirational slash Secular.”

Rick felt he wasn’t being given time to think (or to reconsider?). Maybe it was better this way. “The second one.”

“Okay. Good.” Then the man said, as if to himself, “That’s Lot Number 25.”

Rick waited for him to approach the cabinet and offer up some choices, but that wasn’t the way it worked. First he was asked for whom he was buying—presumably people bought for themselves as well as others—and then with gruff tact what “the situation” was. Rick explained compassionately yet directly, and the man nodded once, immediately understanding (there were only so many reasons to replace the expression of experiences) and, after calculating silently, said, “Two days.”

“But—don’t I—get to hear—“

“We choose for you. That’s our service. That’s what you’re paying us for.”

The last line was Rick’s blunt cue to cough it up, cash only, and he did. There was no handshake—Rick awkwardly offered one before withdrawing—just a receipt stamped “Bought” and pulled from a pad not unlike a policeman’s ticket book. Maybe the man had gotten it from one of those friendly cops. (And who would want more than a cop to have other anecdotes than his own painful ones, Rick wondered?)

“Thanks,” he said, but it was unnecessary. Still stupidly trying to ingratiate himself, he bought some shoelaces on the way out.

Two days later, the little envelope arrived. It contained a packet filled with solution and a sort of syringe. A tiny booklet of directions—in English and in Chinese—was the only other item. Dutifully following the instructions—and looking at the surprisingly elegant, cross-hatched illustrations—he performed the procedure. (He had stayed after the night nurse arrived and, while she read a magazine in the living room, entered his mother’s dark bedroom. As the old woman slept, he gently rolled the nightgown sleeve up her scrawny arm, and the vein was easily found and pierced beneath her wafery skin.) The booklet said to give it twelve hours to work, not so much for the new story to take hold but for the old to be subsumed: it was like coloring your hair, Rick thought, remembering concealing the gray in his own, though took longer.

The next day, he heard with trepidation his mother twice begin the usual story—“It was at a restaurant in Paris”—and each time get no further than the first line (the second time, no further than “restaurant”). Finally, on the third try, he heard her say:

“I was on a crowded subway about twenty years ago. It was in February, around Valentine’s Day. A girl in her twenties came on and sat down next to me. She had a half-flat balloon decorated with hearts tied around her wrist. She had obviously come from an office party and was very drunk and not used to being so. As soon as the car took off, she got a distressed look on her face. Then she vomited all over the floor. People scrambled into each other running to avoid her and it. But I unfolded a page of the newspaper I was reading and carefully laid it down upon the sick. Then I put my arm around the ill—and clearly mortified—girl, and rode with her like that until her stop.”

Afterwards, his mother’s face had the same self-satisfied expression she always wore after the Paris tale (as her voice had been just as smug during the telling). It was as if she had been dubbed by someone else’s voice in a foreign film or had her lines changed and censored for a TV showing: her essential performance was still the same.

Yet it didn’t matter, not to Rick. As he heard her story—and heard it again and again, for his mother’s memory hadn’t been improved nor her repetitiveness decreased, only the specifics of what she said replaced—he was moved. He was more than moved: he found himself feeling something he hadn’t felt for his mother in years, not since the days when he was young, his father still alive, and her acquisitiveness and shallowness not so intractably in place, when she could still surprise him with a sudden show of warmth and kindness. He felt love.

It was a lucky and last-minute love. As he helped her into bed that night, he sensed her slip beneath the silk sheets with finality: hers was like a body poured from a ship under the waves. She disappeared inside their liquid flutter and, before she fell asleep, she died.

In the days ahead, as he cleaned out her apartment, Rick could not stop his tears. Inevitably now, when he thought of his mother, he thought of the one event—his mother and the sick girl on the subway—the one that was easiest to entertain, that had been worth every penny to place inside her.

He inherited her money. He paid his considerable credit card debt with it and bought an apartment, an actual investment as opposed to his current worthless rental. As a tribute to his mother, the first thing he ordered for the place was a box set of “The Classic Films of Jean Calot,” called “Ugly/Beautiful.”

His attachment to her grew; her selflessness soon made him feel unworthy of the legacy she had left him. It made him wait to unpack, as if he did not deserve to put his things in a home that she had made possible for him to own. The closed boxes, brought in by professional packers and movers, became symbols of his inadequacies—his laziness, selfishness, and hostility, some of which had been directed at his mother—all the flaws he had to hide.

At last, if only to get a glass to fill with obliterating wine, he opened up a box. He pulled out a long-stemmed flute and hastily tore away the newspaper in which it was wrapped. As he was casting aside the yellowing page—from his home, he assumed, and sports, he noticed—he saw its date.

It was, strangely, from around the time of his mother’s inspiring story, twenty years before. He saw that a corner of it was encrusted with a dot of dried-up liquid-solid mix.

Rick sat on the floor, though a chair and couch were available: he didn’t even think to have that wine. It had been he who had placed the paper on the subway floor and saved a page as keepsake, he who had helped the sickened stranger.

He scrambled open another box, and then another, until he found his folder of meticulously kept bills and receipts. In the middle was a familiar looking, shabby ticket from the shoe store, dated from two years before, and stamped “Sold.”

He had dealt the anecdote when he was strapped for funds—when he was poor and yet still principled enough to turn down his mother’s cash. The selling—a reverse procedure, an incision and withdrawal performed under vaguely unsanitary conditions in the store’s back room—was meant to take away his memory not only of the incident but its removal. This was why the shoe store had seemed familiar. It had been a faulty process, and left him with a shard of knowledge.

Had the shoe repair man remembered his face and returned the story to him? Was that what he had really been “paying us for?" And how many other such incidents of charity had he hocked?

Rick didn’t know. He only knew that it was his own good will he should have been celebrating. Whether he inherited her wealth or not, he was as far away from his mother as the living were from the dead. With new tears—the “cry for happy” kind he’d heard so much about—he began to unpack for real, to fill the empty space with the things of himself, those of a man who could show love to others and so was worthy of receiving it.

It took several weeks until the rooms were fully furnished. In that time, he took two steps to truly right his life: made inquiries about starting a foundation for the poor with his inheritance and asked out a bright, attractive woman who worked in the city agency he had approached.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a date,” said this Sandra, who was a saucy type. “I’m rusty. I’ll have to remember all my charming anecdotes.”

“I’m looking forward,” Rick said, “to hearing them.”

He was to meet her for dinner that night. It was his first date in months, as well, too many months for him to count: he felt nervous and excited.

To calm himself, in the half hour before he left, he surfed TV. Then he saw something sitting beside the set: the unopened box of Jean Calot’s old films.

It seemed amusing and appropriate to pop one in. He chose the best-known of the actor’s many hits, a film considered classic that he was convinced he’d never seen: “La Derniere Histoire,” made forty years before.

The black-and-white print was pristine. Even though Rick had neglected to turn on the subtitles, the story started simply. In Paris, a young and handsome, mug-faced Calot was commuting home from his laborer’s job. When he boarded a train, the good-natured hero saw a pretty girl seated opposite him. She wore a balloon on her wrist and a pleasant but queasy expression. As she suddenly and unsteadily rose, her face grew grim and her eyes wide. Rick saw the newspaper folded beneath Calot’s arm. He rushed to hit the stop but hit the pause instead and, before it could occur, froze the incident forever.

Rick sank to his knees and covered his face, to escape the truth. The newspaper had belonged to the movers; its stain was food from some forgotten meal. He had never behaved—never cared enough about another person to behave—in such a way. He had been touched and inspired by an incident from someone else’s mind, sold a story from a story, lived in other people’s glossy dreams. And if he had marketed other such instances, they had been similarly purloined.

He was a creature from his mother’s lap, the little dog that she fed scraps. It was the story, the only story, of his life.

NOTE: Anecdote currently available. Ask for Lot #731. Categories: Family/Values; Funny/Sad; Ugly/Beautiful.
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Anchored
By Kirsty Logan
1.
The weight of the people pushed her into the ground, anchored in the earth, keeping them steady. She shouldered them all without touching an inch of skin, her strength as invisible as an undertow.

She did not need to touch them to help them. She was no mother, no healer, no saint. She was just a woman in a room with her eyes shadowed behind a slit the size of a bird’s wing. But she did not see birds’ wings. She did not see sky, she did not see grass or snow or stars. She saw a wall, and an occasional eye, and the cold plain plates they pushed into her. She saw her own dirtying hands, her own thinning skin. She saw the earth of her grave.
Through the wall, the people saw her. They saw as a thing that was ancient and pristine, curious and everyday. They saw the shapes and shadows of her form through the dense bricks. They saw the world in that bird’s-wing glimpse of her eyes.
The men sought her out for answers, and to look. She was the ultimate dream: the silent virgin, the hidden beauty. In the soft dark of their beds, each of their wives had the face of an anchoress. They wanted her, and they did not.
The women sought her out for wisdom, for the secrets of faith and eternity. They saw that she did not have to bother with the scars of children and the stitching together of families.  With all that time to think, she must have all the wisdom in the world. The women wanted to be her, and they did not. They wanted protection and quiet like she had, but not like that, not like her.
It was cold the day of her enclosure. The grave had been dug for her, spread open in the corner of the anchorage. The fresh earth smelled sweet and musky, flesh-like. She might have thought it smelled like sex, but instead she thought of the orchard behind her mother’s house, the smell after it had rained. Her mother was a hundred miles away now, in another tiny town, scraping her knuckles on someone else’s washing, watching for someone else’s children.
The taper the anchoress carried lit her chin and cheeks, the curve of her mouth; her cheekbones made shadows of her eyes. The bishop stood impassive by the half-finished wall as the anchoress walked towards him. He kept his gaze on his folded hands as she lay down on the funeral bier. It was hard under her back, and she pressed her spine flat on to the wood. The men piled the bricks slowly, slowly, then faster so that she would be covered, so that they would not have to see the woman or the taper burning down to nothing or the dark yawn of the open grave. The anchoress closed her eyes and waited for grace.

2.

The plaque in front of me says that the Anchoress was eighteen when the men bricked her up in that squalid little hole. The tour guide is wittering on in hushed French, making out that she was some heroine of the people, when it’s pretty damn clear to me that she was a sacrificial victim. If the world hadn’t been so awful, if women had had more choices, if she had had any sort of choice at all, then it wouldn’t have seemed so attractive to hide away. I mean, what else was she going to do? Marry some sweaty farmhand and pop out a dozen of his spawn without any anesthetic or child benefits or Calpol? Screw that. If I’d been living then I’d have got myself walled up in a church too.

James still has his head stuck in the guidebook. ‘Babes, what do you reckon about looking at the Modern Art Museum next?’

I push the guidebook down. His eyes follow it. I pull his chin so he’s looking in my eyes. ‘Why are you obsessing over what you’re going to see next when you’re not even looking at what’s in front of you?’

James glances at the faded brick walls and the electric lamps fitted up to flicker like candlelight. ‘I already read about it in the guidebook. It’s some pretty sick shit. She’s probably explaining it right now.’ He nods at the guide, who is still shushing on in French, which neither of us understands.

‘I’m impressed that you’re so upset by the mistreatment of women in the Middle Ages.’

‘Yeah, okay. I guess.’ James flips through the guidebook. ‘But I meant this. Listen.’ He recites in a stuttering monotone, the way children read aloud. ‘Sometimes the anchoress’ grave would be made ready at the time of her enclosure and kept open as a memento mori. She was bidden not just to meditate on her own mortality by staring into the empty grave but, with her bare hands, to scrape up some earth from the grave every day. When she died the anchoress was buried in the anchorage grave.’ He looks up at me triumphantly. ‘What did I tell you? Sick shit.’
The anchoress is in there. She’s been in there since she was eighteen years old, and six hundred years later she’s still there. What’s left of her.
‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘sick shit.’ I can’t keep the tremor out of my voice, but James doesn’t seem to notice. His head is back in the guidebook, probably trying to find another piece of history he can recite to gross me out. History isn’t real to him, this girl isn’t real.
But she is real. Or she was. Now she’s just a pile of dust in an old convent in a sleepy town that we only stopped in because we didn’t want to keep driving so soon after lunch.
I step right up to the wall, and I put my eyes to that letterbox-sized gap in the bricks, and I look into the blackness of that tiny little room. And I see her.
 
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A Cure for ED
By Derek Rempfer
I had anticipated four-hour erections, almost looked forward to them to tell you the truth.  I expected cottonmouth, abdominal pain, dizziness, and temporary loss of hearing.  I was even prepared for a sudden drop in blood-pressure and to temporarily see a blue-tinted world.  But I didn’t get any of those documented potential side-effects of HERectivaction.  What I experienced instead was utterly unforeseen, but diabolically deliberate.

I first saw the advertisement for HERectivaction in one of those internet pop-up ads while searching for the score of the previous night’s Cubs game.  But when I clicked on the link to jump to the Scores page, I was instead presented with a small cigar-shaped ad that appeared in the middle of the screen.  It said “Click HER” on it, which sparked all kinds of sexual and grammatical curiosities.  When I did “Click HER,” that cigar shaped window slowly rose upward like a rocket being prepared for launch.  At the same time, it was elongating until the “HER” eventually stretched out to read “HERectivaction.”  I’d seen all I needed to see and placed my order right then and there.


#


I took my first dose on a Saturday and the symptoms began to present within hours.  It started as I was flipping through the channels, searching for something to watch that required a ball, bikinis, or, ideally, both.  I came across a show called Women Who Overcome, which sounded like a dirty movie I had seen once so I put the remote in standby mode – still in hand, but resting on the armrest of my lazy boy.  Turns out, though, this version of Women Who Overcome wasn’t the least bit obscene.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It was a show about women who had accomplished great things despite all the obstacles standing in their way.  I wouldn’t normally watch a show like this – unless, of course, the overcomer was, like, superhot – but something about the woman being profiled appealed to me.  She was a young African-American woman from the south side of Chicago named Fonya who had raised her twin brothers after their mother had died.  She worked three jobs to put the boys through college, and after they graduated and got jobs, they did the same for her.  The show ended with a fade-to-black shot of the three siblings in a tearful embrace. 

I sniffed, dabbed at the corners of my eyes with a tissue, picked up the phone and called my sister.  “Michelle, it’s Ed.  Remember that time when you…”

I know it probably sounded like a Bud Light commercial to her, but I actually meant it.

#


Things got even stranger the next day. 

Alice spent the afternoon shopping and when she got home, I brought the groceries inside the house for her.

“I’ll get these,” I said.  “You just go rest for a couple minutes.  I know how exhausting shopping can be.  Especially on a Sunday.  Madhouse.”

She gave me a queer look and a peck on the cheek, but then went into the living room and sat down. 

A little while later, as I put the last bag on the kitchen counter, I heard her call from the living room, “Ed, honey, did you…did you vacuum the living room?”

“Don’t be silly,” I replied.  “I vacuumed the whole house.”

She came into the kitchen.  “You did what?  You vacuumed the whole house?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because it needed it.”

“Well, yes, but, it’s just that…well, you’ve never done that before.”

“Not a big deal, Alice.  I also mopped the kitchen floor and dusted.”

“You du-”

“I know.  Weird, right?  I just, I don’t know.  I just got to thinking how much work you do around here and I decided I could do more to help out.  No big deal.”

Now, Alice has never really been one to initiate the romance, but something overcame her in that moment.  She moved into me, pressed her body tightly against mine, and gave me a warm wet kiss.  Then she grabbed my hand and said, “Come here, Mr. Clean.  I’ve got something in the bedroom that I want to show you.”

I was completely caught off guard by her aggression.  I mean, it was the middle of the day, the kids could be home any minute, and after all that cleaning I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive.  Besides, the bedroom was in disarray and I wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy myself.
She sensed my hesitation.

“Ed?  What’s wrong?  Aren’t you coming?”

“Honey, I’m just so tired.”

“Are you serious?”

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way, Alice.  All that cleaning has me feeling exhausted and, I don’t know, not so fresh.”

“Not so fre-,” she trailed off.

“Yeah, I really need a shower,” I said.  And then, after seeing the dejected look on her face I added, “Well, maybe I could just lay there with you.  Would that be okay – if we just laid there together?”

“You mean you want to…cuddle?”

“Sure, Honey.  Let’s cuddle.”

#

After two weeks on HERectivaction, I finally caught on.  It had been two weeks of talking about my feelings, asking for directions, and giving Alice the remote.   Hell, I even found myself thinking about voting Democrat in the upcoming election.  But then one morning I found myself in the fetal position on the bedroom floor crying because my mother-in-law’s cat had died and I realized that something was horribly wrong with me.  I decided to do a little research on HERectivaction. 

Turns out that the woman who had created HERectivaction was a former Army Ranger.  A woman who at the age of 32 enrolled at Northwestern University after divorcing her third husband who -- like the first two -- had cheated on her.  She majored in Chemistry and eventually went on to graduate school where she pursued her dream of finding a female-friendly treatment for erectile dysfunction – or at least her definition of erectile dysfunction.  Her sincere passion to find a cure for ED eventually resulted in HERectivaction.

I stopped taking HERectivaction immediately and switched to one of the ED treatments I had seen advertised during Monday Night Football.  I put a rush on the order and by the following Monday’s game I was back to my old self -- manly, horny, and at odds with my wife.  With TV remote in hand and my buddy Woodrow back in town, I was confident I had made the right decision.

“Hey, Alice,” I yelled into the kitchen.  “Beer me!”
 
* * *
Artwork
Art by David Jones
*archive currently unavailable 
David Jones holds an MA in dance from Mills College. He began his studies at the University of Oregon where he performed with the Ballet Company. In the Bay Area, his mentors were Gwen Lewis and Ed Mock. He has been influenced by such noted jazz specialists as Gus Giordano and Joe Tremaine. He has worked with the Village People, Taj Mahal, Luciano Pavarotti, and Harold Nicholas of the famed Nicholas Brothers. He also worked with the cast of the Las Vegas spectacular "Jubilee", and performed with the San Francisco Opera’s productions of “Lost in the Stars” and “Aida”, which was televised live in Europe.. He has been a guest instructor for both the Dance Masters of America and the National Association of Dance Artists, and is a professor of Dance at the College of Marin. He has been published.
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Art by Jenean McBrearty
 
 
 
 
Jenean McBrearty's photography inspires and expresses her writing aesthetic: look below the surface. She is a graduate of San Diego State University, and a former community college instructor who taught Political Science and Sociology. 
 
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Flowers of Anderson, Indiana 
By Junior Mclean
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Junior Mclean is a Bronx native, for a time he lived in Anderson, Indiana and back, he is currently a freelance digital artist and graphic designer since 1996 and a digital cover “2D/3D” artist for Gaming, Fantasy, Sci-Fi; and fractals which have been used for public exhibitions and more. Learn more here.
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Photography by Brigita Orel
Brigita Orel has had her stories and poems published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Cantaraville, Autumn Sky Poetry, and other 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. Her blog can be found here.
 
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Rapid Eye Movement
Samy Sfoggia 
 
 
 
 
 
Samy Sfoggia is an undergraduate Photography student. She shoots with film cameras and primarily with black and white negative film scanned and digitally altered (assemblies, color inversion, drawings on the tablet). Her work is influenced by movies (David Lynch) and literature (Franz Kafka). She tries to represent the subconscious mind by creating fantastic imagery and by juxtaposing elements that seem to contradict each other. Her pictures are like frames of an unconscious deliberately incoherent and illogical. She tries to create the nightmare aesthetics.
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The Way I Am and Getting Dark
By Stephen Otrowski
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8vnfx-rOpk 
htttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ4iuaqSsPI
Stephen Ostrowski is a widely-published fiction writer, poet, playwright and, more recently, songwriter.
 
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Photography by Louis Staeble
Louis Staeble has most recently had photographs appear in the Ohio Environmental Council's 5th Annual Photo contest.
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