Friday, October 31, 2008

Marcia Stamer


Still

Someone oughta come soon. I can’t stop pacing while I wait. Back to the dining room window to look down the street, then into the front hall to listen again. I haven’t heard anything, either. No sound at all. No sounds of Mom moving around in her bedroom. Nothing. My stomach suddenly rises up like when I start the steep descent of a roller coaster while at the same time I feel a poke of pressure in my head that makes me dizzy for a moment.

I wonder how normal people live. What do normal people do after the porch light goes out on Halloween Night? Do they sigh in their fatigue after serving candy to the little kids who are too much in awe to say “Trick-or-Treat”? Are they mildly disgruntled at the bigger kids who are in such a hurry that they shove their bags and pillowcases forward for their treats, then run on without a thank you? How would I ever know about anything like that?

I did what the counselor told me to do. I called 911 when she threatened. No matter it was herself she threatened with violence, not me. The counselor told me that her threats were the way she manipulated and controlled me. When he said that, I thought about how I could never have figured that out myself.

I can’t believe that I am thinking of all this stuff when I don’t know what she’s doing in that bedroom. But it’s still quiet. I’m afraid to call to her or try to open her door. I’m afraid of what I might see. Still, there’s been no noise.

Sharon Cebula


The Beauties of Albion County

Yep, that’s really me, with Mary Ellen, a long time ago. You never met her; she died too young. We was quite a pair: the Beauties of Albion County. That was before the war, before the sickness, before yer pop was ever born. She had a real spark in her eye those days. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but we was hell-raisers. We ran all over the place, all hours; Nannie could never keep track of us. She’d holler and warn us about Hell. Nothin’ kep’ us home. We ran around with the boys mostly, though once in a while there’d be girls, brave ones or angry, with daddies like old man Jessup who drank too much or tried to touch ‘em. Or brothers who did. We walked the railroad tracks, sometimes all night, sometimes all the way out to Indiana, and we’d ride the B&O back, the express from Chicago. We’d hide and wait ‘til the bulls did their checkin’. Then, just as the wheels started turnin’ and there was steam to cover us, we’d run up and jump in the car. Rainny was usually first, he was fearless and stronger than the other boys. He’d give me a hand up: I was always ready to jump before the other girls, always wanted to go first like the boys. That’s prob’ly why they liked me so much: I was fast like a boy. Mary Ellen waited and helped the weaker ones afore she’d go up. One time she almost didn’t make it, had to run flat out and Rainny almost fell reaching for her pale, thin arms. I think that’s why she married him. Well, that and the baby.

It was awful watching the light go out of those big, beautiful, dark eyes. I never could bring myself to tell her the truth about Rainny and me, not even when I knew he was hittin’ her. Specially not after Johnny ran off. I think he guessed and that’s why he run off. It was such an awful mess. It was just easier to push it away as the years went by; I never really wanted think about it myself. And what good would it have done? How could I look into those scared eyes, my sister’s eyes, already fadin’, already full of loss and pain and hurt her like that? It was just a stupid, dumb mistake. I didn’t even want to, really, but he was a lot bigger’n me an’, well, how could I of stopped him?

We was so close before. And after I jus’ couldn’t really look at her the same. We had no idea how long life is, how long and hard. We took off our shoes and stockins and waited at the edge of the river while the boys skinny dipped.

That’s the only picture I have left of her now. Yesseree, we was the Beauties of Albion County.

Rosie Heindel


THE WOUND

I got eight hours of sleep every night, back then. When I came home, ghosts didn’t follow me. I rarely got a headache. Loneliness didn’t touch me.

I remember that night Paul and I went to the U2 concert, my ultimate favorite band. He waited in line five hours and spent three hundred dollars on the tickets. On our anniversary he made me go on a scavenger hunt through the house to find them. He hid little love notes leading to the sugar canister, where he buried the tickets. I made such a mess getting them out.

We sat, stood— no jumped, hollered, rocked, sang, six rows back from the stage. About halfway through the performance Paul lost his excitement and just stood there stiff as a board. I looked at his pale face and asked him what the matter was. He feigned a smile. ‘Oh, nothing.’ I searched him for a clue. A red stream poured down his shin from a catastrophic jump into the seat in front of us. Pushing through the crowd, I nearly knocked a woman out. She would have punched me had she not noticed the blood oozing from Paul’s leg. After about twenty minutes of searching we finally found a security guard. He offered to get an ambulance, but Paul refused. The guard escorted us to our car.

Thankfully, it only took us ten minutes to drive to the hospital. I thought he would die from hemorrhaging. They got him in with surprising speed. When they cleaned the wound, he only winced once. The rest of the time he cracked jokes with the doctors. He held my hand to comfort me the entire time. We didn’t get home until four in the morning.

The next day we slept in until two, but we made love and laughed and reminisced in bed until dinnertime. After rummaging through empty cupboards, we ordered Chinese takeout. We snickered at Paul’s fortune, which read, ‘troublesome days are at hand, but happier ones are to come.’

Paul didn’t go back to get the wound checked on. He smiled and ruffled my hair when he noticed me eying it one day. ‘It’s barely a scratch,’ he said. He removed the stitches himself. When the wound swelled and turned a greenish tone, I begged him to go to the doctor. Purple, black, grey and green seeped around his lower leg. He found that he could no longer walk the way he used to. One day he passed out and his co-workers took him in to the hospital. By then the doctors couldn’t do anything about the leg.

He refused to see me when I came to visit. No one knows when he left. When the nurse made her night rounds she came upon an empty bed. I still wait for him to come home.

Mike Geiger


The Human Orphanage

when day starts to fade into yellow and god is smiling but hes frowning because thats the only thing he could be doing when he gives up there is no reason why he would other than carelessness and he knows he knows

when i first showed up here i was sad and i still am i dont think ill ever get it

the day starts to fade to orange and everything burns like fall in february and i once made a snowman out of flour

it was june and our father told me and my brothers to play outside in the snow even though it was 80 degrees outside he smelled like whiskey but he just said go play outside in the snow so we went outside and started to play tag but he came out with the punishment stick and said why arent you playing in the snow if i come back out here again then youre gonna get it even worse and i was crying but joey was brave

he went into the garage and got some flour that was sitting there and we made a snowman and our father just looked out and yelled at us that it wasnt good enough

it was the best we could do

i am a good kid ive done what i could to help people ive been good in school nice and paid attention and was always nice to animals whether they were cats or spiders even though i dont like spiders they have a right to walk around just like cats but it doesnt matter how nice i am i try to help people and help people but im not going to anymore because no one wants to help me in return they only want to take like how he took my mom when I was only 5 why would he do that i was only 5 and she was only living her life like a good person

i dont know much but i know that if i ever see him i will show him because it doesnt matter if youre a person or a cat or a spider you have a right to walk around and if you dont think so you shoudnt be in charge and someone has to tell you that because it just isnt right
the day starts to fade to red its very red but for very short

when i first showed up here i was sad and then the warden told me everyone feels this way

i didnt get it then but i get it now

and it goes purple and blue and in a matter of seconds day will stop being day

i cant know exactly when it stops being day but i know it will soon and then

then i will show him

along with everyone else here in the orphanage.

Katherine Schweitzer-Carney


Toxic Relationships

My father did as he saw fit with his daughters. Mom saw it fit to look away. She saw it fit, too, to send me off with a thirty-two year-old pedophile when I was sixteen. Since then, she’s seen it fit to blame me if I call her out on what she did and didn’t do.

I tried to make the best of it. Tried to make him love me. But he screwed the windows shut and took the knob out of the bedroom door. When it was shut, it was shut. He had a hook and latch on the outer side with a combination lock like the one I used to have on my school locker. He didn’t use this all the time though and I enjoyed the company of the dogs. But he broke the Belgian Sheepdog’s back when he got mad at me. Threw it into the wall and killed it. Some time later, when the German Shepherd died, (his favorite dog), he saved its body in an old Pinto out back until the neighbor’s started complaining of a stench. I had to help him bury its blue, bloated body.

I escaped on Tuesday, October twenty-fourth. he forgot to key lock the bolts on the front door. He stalked me for thirteen years.

I usually tell people the stalking is what ended my relationship with Tim even though it isn’t the truth. I mean, how can I possibly explain that clean vacuum lines were expected in the carpet at all times and all the dishes had to be lined up with perfect spacing like soldiers at attention? How can I explain letting Tim pimp me out for his sexual gratification then handing him any monies I made followed by him doing as he saw fit with me as well? Me, taking on my mother’s role of silence about the matter?

I don’t explain the competing stalker I obtained in the form of an alcoholic truck driver after time, either--the one with anger management issues. He was the easiest to escape. All mouth both when he said he loved me and when the other side of his personality cut loose.

So, I took up gardening. Yard work is good for the mind they say. It was true for me once I found the right antihistamine and decongestant combination. Gotta watch the bees, though. I keep an epipen shot just in case.

I told my nineteen year-old cat once that if God decided animals could start talking I’d have to shoot him because he knew too much. The boy just purred and snuggled closer to my chest, pushing his little head backward into my neck. He loves me no matter what kind of mood I’m in and I have cream for the hives and some nose spray to keep me from sneezing. I don’t mind using my inhaler, either. It’s not like he’s going to kill me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bob


Window Man

I never had the trouble with my heart. I had a way about me, what they call a Joe Deliver, on top of it all the time, ready to go. Made me a piece of change doing work no one had the guts for. High rise windows, never thought about it, just climbed on the scaffold, down I went. Had me a wind, meant nothing to me—solid as a rock, working the big squeegee.

Then one day, out of the blue, this sweet little breeze blowing, I don’t know what happened. I’m flying, like a piece of nothing. Don't know what happened, where I was. One minute doing my job, next spread-eagle in the air, not thinking, just this, this thing. Then bang, flat on my back! Shoots through my chest and head and legs, and I’m not breathing. What am I? All I saw: flat gray nothing, and it’s ringing, loud. I remember this bird, a dirty sea gull, flapping through the gray, like to drive you crazy. It went on and on. I remember it, if it was there or not.

But somewhere in my head, where it’s not ringing, I must have seen the scaffold blowing loose up there. I see it clear enough now, one end smashed through a window. I didn’t know who I was for a week, not that I’m complaining. I wouldn’t give a nickel to been awake. I wake up nights screaming. Not calling out or nothing, screaming. I’m there, I’m nothing. I’m floating, I’m flying, and I’m nothing, dirt in the wind. Sometimes, it’s like I died, and this here is a dream. Or I’m a ghost.

Elaine, she sleeps in the living room. She’s a good fellow to stay, I know that, drives me if I need to be driven—otherwise, the bus, like you. One minute, solid as a rock, working the squeegee, next spread-eagle in the air, like something God threw away. I can’t get over that. That’s why I come here, back here: get the head on straight. Get a little something for the head.

I got to get over that, but I’m thinking, maybe that’s not something you get over. Hit the wall before I hit the dirt, that’s what they say—can’t prove it by me. Maybe that saved me. Doc says so. I survived is what he means. Now I’ve got to deal with it—my problem in a nutshell. I don’t feel saved is what I’m saying. You can take that to the bank. See if it pays you any interest.

What I was before this happened: without this. I had none of this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Matthew Meduri


Rope Mending in the 21st Century

Milton the rope mender had no work. It was the twenty first century and repairing rope was a thing of the past. It cost about the same for a man to replace the rope altogether than mend portions of it. He was not as fortunate as some of the other men of his trade who were hired by the government to repair rope, mostly navy based. But like them, it was all he knew. His father was a rope mender, and his father’s father was a rope mender, though both deceased. If he knew his genealogy well enough, he might trace back his ancestors to being rope makers.

Now, for Milton, it was not just a mere job but an art form and a contribution to society. He looked at rope as the final product made up of simple strands that gave it complexity much like quarks give protons or protons give atoms and so on. He was creating and sculpting something durable that would serve mankind for years to come. But given the quality of today and the synthetic materials that were cheaply mass-produced, his work was impractical. He was a tradesman with no trade, and artist with no art form.

Milton had no family. His only obligations were the rent and food. Both were difficult to manage without wages, so he put his nimble mind to work. He had several different grades of rope left to him by his father: thin and black, thick and white, and hemp.

Pull. Cut. Unravel.

His imagination directed his nimble fingers in the task of weaving and twisting the different strands of rope together. Bracelets. He made as many as the night and early morning and his body would allow, finally falling asleep atop a pile of rope ringlets.

When he woke at noon the next day, he put most of the bracelets he made into a large, cardboard box. Struggling to carry the flimsy box, Milton walked to the center of town near the bars and the small stage. He saw the Wiccan women in front of the bar selling her scented oils, charms, and jewelry and continued a little farther so not to intrude upon her territory. If she could sell what she made, so could he.

People passed Milton on the street and only few bought his bracelets. Maybe he charged too much. Seven dollars. Maybe he should say they are earth friendly. A young man with a beard and old clothes asked how much for a bracelet. Five dollars. The man asked for two and Milton said they were earth friendly.

“I have some earth friendly friends, man who would like what you’re selling. Bring yourself and your box to the field next to the old bridge. We’re having a party tonight for the meteor shower. You’ll probably sell them all.” The man said thanks and goodbye.

~
Milton took all the bracelets and placed them in the box. Heavier than he thought. He walked clumsily through town continually shuffling the box to get a firm grip. Cars blared loud music. Yellow. Red. Milton crossed the street. The car did not stop. Little rope ringlets scattered on the street and Milton’s body was flung thirty feet. No one could mend Milton, at least not in the twenty first century.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rosie Heindel


DRIP

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Horne Lake Provincial Park. My name is Bill. I’ll be your guide this afternoon.” He paused, glancing at me. “This is the five hour Extreme Rappel expedition. The next ninety minute family tour meets just outside the visitor center in thirty minutes.” He looked around at the other five spelunkers, but he intended the comment for me. I stood tall and proud and jiggled my harness against my twinky layered behind. He raised his eyebrows and went on to tell us a few safety precautions.

We left for the caves. The air smelled like laundry after sitting damp in the washer for a few days mixed with pennies. Turning my head I revealed with the light on my helmet knotted stalagmites of many sizes staggered all across the floor and roof of the cool damp cave. I could feel the water gathering minerals and pulling them down to elongate the cave sculptures. Drip.

One long twisted one coming up from the floor reminded me of my old decrepit Uncle Earl. The long skinny portion at the top mushroomed just before it ended. It made me think of that strange hat he always used to wear. The beret had a funny point at the end that used to really annoy me. Just thinking about it got me irritated again. I remembered all those jokes that Uncle Earl made just before he died two years ago. Dementia is no excuse for a man to tell his beloved niece that she looked like a high-maintenance poodle mixed with a whale on acid. What’s that supposed to mean anyway? Anger burned.

I pulled out my rock hammer from my harness and smashed the head of the formation off. I stomped on it. Then I felt something warm trickling down my leg. I felt my cheeks get hot as I remembered the doctor’s advice about not allowing myself to get worked up. It’s normal for women my age to have stress related incontinence, but that didn’t ease the embarrassment. No one will notice, I hoped.

When I finished my little rampage, I looked up to see only darkness. Where did the rest of the group go? “Hello?” I shouted. “Can anybody hear me?” I stumbled forward. My heavy body felt stiff and cumbersome. Water droplets fell from the roof and rolled down my helmet. Drip.

I searched. I yelled. I cried. I pleaded. I received no answer, but the sound of water droplets falling methodically down. Drip.

I followed several passages searching, hoping. I had a few close calls. Once I unknowingly stepped onto the edge of an abyss. I lost my footing and nearly went down. I grabbed onto the fat base of a stalagmite just in time. I wished I had a rope to clip my carabineer to. I didn’t know I had so much strength, but when it’s a matter of life or splat, vigor comes out of surprising places.

Who knows how long I wandered; long enough for the flashlight on my helmet to burn out. My eyes would never see light again. I never did get used to the dark. I could feel the twinkies slowly disappearing. Uncle Earl had his revenge. I lifted my head, stuck out my tongue, and allowed the majestic stalagmites to drip their excess to satisfy my thirst. My feet became immobile. My hands grew cold. My body hardened. The minerals built up on my outstretched tongue. Drip.

Katherine Schweitzer-Carney



Cactus Carpenter

Jesus Gonzalez lived quiet in the border village of Cactus Hollow. But then again, the village was quiet and its colors were quiet--a scattering of small homes and businesses of pastel hues nestled amongst dirty white sand and parched foliage.

Jesus had worked as a carpenter there, having learned the trade from his father he told Billy Bob Mullins one day, adding that his name was pronounced “Hay-Zeus” not “Gee-zus”. His mother, Jesus told Billy Bob, “was a saint,” and that Billy Bob should always respect and love his own. That’s likely why the carpenter spent several afternoons making an oak picture frame with detailed carvings for the boy to give his mother.

A few of the townspeople thought Jesus to be a tad mentally disturbed, working with only hand tools and having no electricity running to his home which was the same building as his shop. They brushed off their reservations, though, because many in their village were poor—that and Billy Bob’s mother showed everyone the beautiful craftsmanship of the gift. It was big city art gallery in quality, not small town in a desert.

No one in Cactus Hollow knew much about, or cared as to what the INS was until the day some suit-wearing strangers showed up in their town driving a dark car. They parked outside Sheriff Gomer’s office. “We aint got no detaining facility,” some heard the sheriff tell the pair as they began walking down the road towards the carpenter’s shop. “Aint no need for that sort of stuff here. Aint nobody a problem.”

The INS strangers didn’t listen, but the rest of Cactus Hollow heard and came out into the street from homes and small shops. Dusty men and women in denim and boots along with their sandy –haired children watched as Jesus Gonzalez was awkwardly dragged from his shop in handcuffs.

“I’m Jesus! I’m Jesus!” he hollered.

“We know Mr. Gonzalez,” said one man grasping the carpenter’s elbow

“And, I’m the Virgin Mary,” said the other escort.

The carpenter planted his feet and spat at the head of the second.

“Did you see that, Mamma?” Billy Bob said. Mother and son watched from across the street. The woman didn’t respond, but stood with her eyes glued to the sky over top of Jesus Gonzalez’s shop. Dark clouds were rising.

“Go inside! Away!” the carpenter called out to the scattered townspeople. Strong winds began whipping through the street, turning tumbleweeds into weapons and they listened. The strangers jerked him forward. People ducked in buildings. And the sky opened up like a dropped sack of coins.

“What the…” one of the suited men began to ask turning towards the other. A quarter had imbedded itself deep into his skull. The other fell shortly after, copper and silver coins flecking him with shrapnel.

Coins clinked off tin roofs and pelted windows for eight minutes straight. Two inches of change and two dead men were left in the storm’s wake. Aside from this, the streets of Cactus Hollow were empty and quiet again. Billy Bob scooped up as many coins as he could, putting them in his shirt knotted up like a sack.

Dustin Grella: A Meditation


This morning I walked past a church with a sign out front that read, “Prayers for Peace.” Stretching the entire length of the church was a wrought iron fence with long thin yellow ribbons draped across. They looked like ties on a clearance rack.

I noticed that some of the ribbons had nametags attached. As I walked down the sidewalk I thought the ribbons must be for donors or sponsors or patrons of the church. It was one of those beautiful old stone churches on Fifth Avenue.

The front of the church was long and the ribbons were many and bright yellow and dancing in the December wind, so they easily kept my attention. I read another nametag. This one was of a soldier; the third, also of a soldier. That was when I realized that these must all be names of soldiers; soldiers who had died in Iraq. Thus the yellow ribbons; thus the prayers for peace. I stopped. I started searching for PFC Devin J. Grella.

There were thousands of ribbons. I wasn’t going to be able to just randomly find his, but then I saw that they were in a sort of ad hoc alphabetical order Greka, Gonzalez, and after a long while, Grella.

A heavy cold wind blew through me, tossing the ribbons high off of the fence. I cried. I don’t think of him that often anymore, even though it has only been three years. Even though someone in Iraq was just killed yesterday, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s friend. I miss him. I wish I could say I think of him more than I do.

I wiped the tears from my face and started walking back down Fifth Avenue, crossing through Madison Square Park. I thought immediately of the sound byte on the laptop when his clothes and personal belongings were returned. I thought about that sound file, guns firing in the background, his innocent twenty-one year old voice, oddly more mature since he’d left for Iraq, three months ago. An IED would be detonated beneath his diesel tanker days later, killing him instantly.

I can remember when our family got the laptop out of his personal effects. We were in the funeral home, closed casket wrapped tightly with a flag on the other side of the room. We all huddled around the monitor, as if we were looking into a crystal ball that could deliver a message from beyond the grave. There they were, pictures of Devin and his friends, videos of soldiers in a sporting boxing match, and a sound file of him delivering a tanker of fuel across a Persian desert. We listened to it over and over. We cried. We wanted to know, to be a part of, experience what his life (a life that we all knew so well before he’d left for Iraq) was like those last few months.

We knew that he was somewhere, but it wasn’t until we heard the machine gun fire in the background that we realized he had been off in a very foreign place. Maybe before that we didn’t want to know. Maybe we were in denial. It definitely made it easier to sleep at night.

At that moment, gathered around, listening to his voice, I tried to imagine Devin as something I’d never considered him, a soldier. I knew him as a little brother, an athlete and a sports fanatic, a musician, slightly girl crazed and able to spend hours gaming, but never as a soldier.

He’d only been there three months, hardly enough time to write back home. He’d only been in the army for six months, and honestly, I’d never really spoken to him about it. It wasn’t how I identified him. But here, at the funeral were hundreds of men, dressed in uniforms, straightening collars, and saying what a brave solider my brother was. And there I was, keeping my mouth shut, for fear of dishonoring him.

Tara Kaloz


One Week Later

Ten fingers. Ten toes. I wondered how many would have to be amputated after tonight. I cleared away enough snow to reach the concrete floor of the balcony. Thank God for the shovel. I had to keep as low as possible to block both the wind and any possible eyes that would still be up and looking out windows at three o’clock in the morning. Indiglo can’t keep a body warm, that much is true. I tried sitting on the shovel but was afraid of what the sharp metal edge might do to certain sensitive parts. Forget the fingers, forget the toes. I had to keep warm if only to save any potential progeny.

Once in a while, I would tap on the glass and try the door. I didn’t want to yell. Neighbors might wake up. She might turn on the light. Like hell I was getting in anytime soon. I felt like a bad dog, minus the fur and, therefore, in a shittier position.

The snow of the day was turning to sleet and vagrant bits of ice stinging at my face. My taps were less interspersed and more desperate. Had she actually fallen asleep? I hadn’t heard any movement from inside for a while and figured she was calling the police or writing a note or something along those lines of dramatic. Irrational as she often was, tonight she had some justification.

Exactly where had I been last Tuesday? I thought she hadn’t noticed, had swallowed my lame Wednesday morning lies. Maybe I thought she was stupid, though I knew otherwise. Particularly when just minutes ago I was being stripped naked and pushed against the wall, I thought she had forgiven me.

Where was I? Well, okay, so I wasn’t on one of those late-night sting operations that seem to happen only in movies and crime thrillers. I wasn’t on the corner of Fifth and Vine, but in between Holly and Mona. How often do these opportunities present themselves save for dreams? “It’s not like we’re married for God’s sake” were my last words.

I now know different definitions for blue balls and woman’s scorn. When more and more of you starts to go numb, you don’t care about the screaming, don’t care about the light shining on your full moon, don’t care about the neighbors in bathrobes on their front porch yelling at you to shut up, again, like some bad dog.

“Elizabeth! Lizbeth. Lih-beh.” My tongue was forming icicles, I swear.

Panting now, gasping, coughing out staccato clouds of the remaining heat in my lungs.

~
When I woke up I was under the blankets, still naked, but I could feel my toes, my fingers. Veins everywhere surged the fresh, hot blood through my body, letting me know I was still alive.

Her silhouette was in the doorway. I could tell she was only halfway satisfied. More would come another day, probably much in the same way it had tonight. They never forget, not goddamn elephants, not jealous live-in whores.

“Some negotiator you are,” she said. “I would’ve let you in sooner. All you had to say was sorry.
What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Mike Geiger



Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed

Keystone wandered through the door smiling like any twenty-five year old that had one hour previous been in the process of ending his relationship of four years upon a tie-formal dinner on the edge of the end of the world. Olive had said that it was time to move on. He had said that there wasn’t anything to move on to, and she replied that if they were all going to die, she didn’t want it to be with him.
.
He situated himself before his piano. He looked up to wave to the audience, then cracked his knuckles.
.
Perched on the piano bench to one side of him was a half-drunk bottle of wine. To the other side was a plate of peppers. He was allergic to peppers- they caused him to have a violent outbreak of rash. And hours after, his airways would begin to constrict. He took in a mouthful anyway.
.
Humanity was going to end tomorrow. It was a bad joke: an asteroid was about to slam itself into the third planet like some kind of angry arpeggio. It left one asking, where the hell were all the engineers? The missile-launchers? The astrologists, the pessimists... did not anyone have a telescope? But it was too late for these questions now. No matter what anyone did, the world would crash.
.
"This will be in fortissimo,” Keystone announced. “Because you people love noise. Can’t get enough of it. Make it loud, right? No, make it louder. Noise, noise, noise.” He slammed his fingers violent-down on the keys each time he said “noise.”
.
He loosened his tie from his neck and his collar swung free. “I call it, ‘All the Fish in the Sea Could Not Even Manage, a Movement in However Many Parts It Takes.’”
.
With a stony face staring straight ahead, his fingers began to race into keys, and a deep, discordant harmony filled the room like a flowery black shrapnel.
.
Midway through his fantasia, he looked out into his audience again, and now noticed Olive among the faces. It was at this point that he realized: no one was going to remember this. No one could even see it! The whole world out there was so busy running in panic that they were missing it, all of it. And even in a million days, it would never happen again.
.
This made him sad. But it was a beautiful sad. It made every note that much more fragile; that much more lonesome and needed in its own world. And meanwhile, the peppers had begun to cause a rash. But the peppers tasted good and thanks to the wine all he could feel was a sort of red liberation.
.
“It’s the notes you don’t,” he said without saying.
.
Instead of fortissimo, the piece came in pianissimo. The bright white keys came off softer and softer until not even he could feel them. He might have been proud, but he did not smile and neither did he frown. It was important that it was only music now.
.
He and Olive were lying side by side on a grassy campus hill a few years back. They remained, looking up at the fluffed sky with vacant mouths, until Olive spoke:
.
“What do you think it’ll be like we die?”
.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t want to think about that.”
.
“I mean,” she said, disregarding his reply as if he had never said it, “How do you think it’ll feel? Do you think it’ll hurt? Or do you think... maybe God gives us a break?”
.
“I don’t know,” he repeated, sighing. “All I know is that I don’t want to be awake when it happens.”
.
She giggled, eyeing a particular cloud from the hill. He closed his eyes.
.
It hadn’t really sunk in yet that he was now, for all intensive purposes, dead to his once-lover. It was better this way.
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He picked up his bottle of wine.
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“And for my next piece, I give you this one called ‘A Fish with Suntan in All Keys Minor.’” He slammed the keys with an immovable quietness and resumed.

Marcia Stamer


Song of the Dayshift Manager

Trainees! Trust all transactions only to me. Trace my train of thought as I transfer to you the trivial tricks of the true art of trafficking French fries and tremendous sandwiches that the traitorous tyrant who owns this travesty thinks are made-to-order. Transcend your trashy selves and the tripe of your invented travails. It will not be traumatic with me as your talented trainer. Troglodytes!

These simpletons couldn’t slug their somniferous selves out of a secured paper sack. Simpering sops! They slink around here in their sappy suits, one similar to the next. How can I sustain my sanguine self and advance my sagacious search for my sincere assignment in this insufferable swamp? These swine are supposed to secure skill in their supremely simple situations from a superior intellect such as myself? Absurd! My significance is supreme.

Observe as the broad bunch of brutes broods as they behold the blue broth out the bedecked breach in the opening of the building’s barricade! They have no bull’s eye attention or basic business sense at all. Why do I try to build up their befuddled brains? It’s of no benefit to me. How boorish! Am I to believe that they are only busting their humps because I brandish the brawn? This betrays the brilliance of my edifying briefings! But I have no broker to browbeat these brutes. Buffoons!

We must pull off perfection! We provide the paramount in fine dining picks. No pink petit fours here! Simply the preeminent in expediently produced sandwiches and fried potatoes known to patrons anywhere. Super-size that repast, pronto! I am prominent in my profession here. I am purely the epitome of perfection and prowess. Perhaps the proletarians in this province will one day appreciate my propensity for genius and promote me. Night shift person in power is my purpose. Prodigious prize, as is only prudent.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Katherine Schweitzer-Carney


Stifling Commitments

John was none too happy when he finally made it back to his apartment, yet regretful just the same for flying off the handle at Kara when she mentioned moving in together. At twenty-eight, John had never dated someone he considered attaching himself to. Kara was the first. Her body stunned and she was intelligent to boot. Still, the reality of sharing his life on a fulltime basis with anyone other than his golden retriever felt stifling.

Buddy greeted his owner at the door with a wagging tail and the cord from John’s plasma TV dangling from its mouth. Colored wires poked through its end from where the dog had chewed it free. “Damnit, you stupid dog,” he screamed. The dog pranced around him, its head and tail low. “What the fuck did you do?” He reconsidered his opinion about sharing his life with a dog.

John threw his cell phone and keys on the counter and inspected the damage. Not good, but manageable he convinced himself. He’d call Kara’s brother later and see what could be done to help him out. Maybe he could get him to talk some sense into his sister, as well.

The sun streaming through the window beside his television dulled then faded into the dark clouds of a cold front the radio weather report had promised was heading their way. “Come on,” John said. He grabbed a leash from a peg near the door. “We’re going to have to make this a quick because I’m not walking your stupid ass through the park in a thunderstorm.”

The dog wagged and slobbered, its pink tongue dangling loose out the side of its mouth as he trotted along the sidewalk toward the end of the block, a veteran at these daily trips to the park, though usually it was John and Kara walking with him. The dog didn’t seem to miss the lady’s presence as much as he missed the Frisbee John threw from a bench nearby. Kara kept a collapsible bowl and bottled water handy. The dog would miss this later.

“Sorry, dog. No Frisbee today,” John said to the wondering eyes of his companion staring up at him. “It’s going to rain,” he reasoned. “Look.” John pointed through a line of tall oaks along the asphalt path. It was darker than before. “Now go play,” he said unhooking the leash and coiling it up in his pocket.

The dog dashed, barking at a flock of pigeons roosting on the back of bench, the one John and Kara always occupied. It was at the quiet end of the park, far enough from the playground and skateboard ramps so as to keep Buddy from thinking he were a kid too.

The dog made chase of a squirrel and then another when the first escaped up a tree. He took chase after pigeons picking through trash, shifting from can to can heaped high. John took note of the bird poop covered bench that was his and opted for a seat at a picnic table chained to a tree. He would call Kara and at least apologize, he decided. Maybe explain to her how he just wasn’t ready to be tied down—or maybe not. Women are sensitive when guys say they aren’t ready. He had learned this from a girl he knew in college. “You guys always say that when you don’t want to be responsible,” she had said.

“Quit picking at the trash, you stupid dog,” John said. He walked across a path towards a distant can. The animal barked as he rummaged through fast food wrappers and newspapers spilling over its top. “We gotta get going before the lightening gets here. “Come on, boy,” he called, hoping the dog would listen and bound back his direction. Instead, the dog whined and ignored him, pawing at the can.

As John struggled to catch the loop on Buddy’s collar, he heard a squeak. Then, a black bag threatening to fall wiggled. The dog whimpered. “What stupid fucker leaves a bag of puppies in the trash,” John said, yanking it out and setting it on the ground at his feet. He untied the square knot sealing it shut and exposed a ragged bath towel with blue flowers on a crème-colored background. Blood stains were interspersed. His hands jittered in contradiction to the slow motion scene unfolding. The pigeons had returned to the bench where Kara wasn’t sitting, but where he wished she was. Some roosted and a few strutted across its seat.

“Damn,” he said, folding back the damp towel to a newborn squeaking through bluish lips. “Jesus.” The child’s body was filmy and its fists were clenched, flopping up and down on the umbilical cord and afterbirth stacked on its belly. The dog sniffed first then backed away, whining and barking in agitation over John’s discovery. It was a girl and the rain was getting closer.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sharon Cebula: Two Stories


The Lesson

Dale made her way up to the attic while Emma-Jean, who was supposed to be watching her, was elbow-deep in ironing down the hall. The attic was Dale’s favorite place in the great big old house, filled with treasures and hiding spots and creepy shadows. At almost five years old, Dale felt she was quite old enough to explore on her own; but it was only when she could escape Mama’s watchful eye that she was truly free to root around among Grandma’s many memories in the attic.
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Today, Dale discovered some old clothes hanging from a low rod suspended between rafters under the eaves in the far end of the attic. She ran her hands along wool jackets, silk dresses and soft furs. Halloween was fast approaching, and Dale was finally big enough to go trick-or-treating with her older cousins. She wanted an especially good costume.
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As she pushed apart two garments to get a better look at the fur, a flash of white fell to the floor. Dale picked up the pale cloth for inspection. It was coneshaped, actually pointy at the narrow end, only open at the bottom, about three feet long. A hat maybe, or a bag? As Dale turned the cloth over she discovered two holes had been neatly cut about a third of the way down from the conical point. A ghost costume! And just exactly her size! How perfect! Dale slipped the cone of fabric over her head, right over her cotton dress, and found that it just skimmed the floor with the eye holes in just the right places for her to see. Pity there were no arm holes. Maybe Mama could make some before trick-or-treat night.
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She wanted to hurry downstairs to show Grandma and Mama her find but she couldn’t grasp the railing, as there were no armholes in her costume, so she scooted down the stairs, one at a time, on her bum. Just as she reached the bottom step, before she could run to the kitchen or call out, she heard a shriek and a crash. Mama had come out to the hall and dropped a plate of cookies and screamed when she saw her little girl in the Klan hat. Grandma came rushing out from the kitchen. Before Dale could say a word, Grandma snatched the white hat off her, took hold of her arm and dragged her out to the back yard. She strode directly to the barbecue pit at the end of the long yard, not saying a word, Dale stumbling along in her tight grip. She was too scared and confused to cry.
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Grandma threw the white material onto the barbecue grill and fished in her apron pocket for a box of matches. She lit one and held it to the cloth. As the fabric curled and blackened into red and orange flames, Grandma stood back to watch with Dale. She was quiet until the flames had fully engulfed the hateful garment. Without turning from the fire, she spoke.
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“The only thing you need to know about those people is this: When your mother and I were starving, they brought us food.”
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The flames dying now, Grandma turned to walk back to the house, leaving dale there to puzzle over her words.

Crazy Dream

I ride on the night wind, a gust of light and air rushing me in. I shrug off the cold, breathe in the smoke, exhale my other life. The lights cast color on romance under the current. The opening act still spins. The night just barely begins. All the Usuals are here tonight, all the inhabitants of my world, all the creatures in my crazy dream. Crazy, man; crazy. I spy my bartender, her skin still tender but her eyes made of glass. She sets up the medication, brown liquid in my glass. I survey my domain, my home away from home, if I had a home at all. Standing nearest the stage, to absorb the rage of music in a trance, to escape her cage, the redhead sways and lip-syncs, in matching crimson lipstick. In the booths at the back, slapping buddies on the back, stacking beer cans like a trophy: fuckin’ frat boys.That old wino down the bar tries his line on more young girls. Never know when it’ll work. He’s more than just another jerk: saw him take a sax once and really make it work. That was the good old days, before my life was in this haze of crazy, jumpin’ nights. I need more juice to keep up this pace. Can’t just observe the human race. Gotta go, gotta get! Gotta whop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lap-bamboom! She swings my way and swims through the smoke, through the colored lights and dizzying heights of heartache long remembered. I’m blinded by her lips, their memory trips me into smiling despite in spite of myself. A solar eclipse as she rotates her hips and throws me a dagger of hello. I turn my back, take a different tack, and ask the happy wino for the time. Band’s gonna start soon, blinding us from a hidden moon, reminding us the tune’s the thing. Let her ring, baby; let her sing.

Dave Materna


Cutpurse

The cutpurse ran through the streets with a purse in his hand, dodging and bending into the side alleyway as the cops ran past in the drizzle. When they came back he was up over the fence and gone like that.

The full moon came as the rain moved out and he waited by the dumpster and counted as high as he could before he got up to go home. It was bad this time, but it was his birthday. And mother had a cake. He ran as hard as he could in the full-moon night and waited under the window.

The purse had a quarter in it and a cat’s pooper-scooper, and a rock—a piece of cement that maybe he’d keep this time. He put the quarter behind his ear and left the purse outside while he went in to find his cake, candles burning, setting on the big table, all 29 candles lit at once and Grandma Eva started singing “Happy birthday.” Uncle Bill waved a little American flag.

A glass of Clammotto had his name on it. He gave the scooper to Grandma Eva and kept the concrete rock in his back pocket as a reminder.

Tara Kaloz


Thank You, Uncle Henry

It began with a notebook – once unwrinkled, untouched by human hands, factory-made by machines with no input, nothing to store on the lines they’ve inked, the pages they’ve spiral-bound into order. I cannot say I was grateful at first – my uncle had thrown the water-stained relic my way when he came to visit that July.

Mom was cutting various fruits for a colorful afternoon snack. There were raspberries, blueberries, strawberries – even lychees, those exotic white puffs of flavor.

My uncle was looking over her shoulder. “I like the whole red, white, and blue theme you got goin’ on there, Kim. Fourth of July was two weeks ago, you know.”

“Do you have to nit-pick everything?” She grumbled as she wiped her sticky hands in a towel, before directing her aim at me.

“Joey, since you’re not doing anything, would you mind grabbing that cantaloupe out of the fridge for me?”

I love when they think you’re not occupied, when you most certainly are. Fact was: I had been leafing through the dirty pages of the notebook, getting layers unstuck and ready to read.

Uncle Henry had moved to the cabinets around the sink and was creaking the old wood on its rust-covered hinges. He spat on his fingers a couple times and rubbed the rust away, but the piercing squeak remained, just the same.

My mother continued to chop, but I could tell by the pacing of the knife that the noises were starting to bother her. “Joey, go get the pliers from the garage for your uncle. Your dad should be in there. He knows where to look.”

I had the cantaloupe from the fridge shoved under my arm and was halfway to my mom when I got the new directions. I decided to turn back and get the pliers from the garage and get both tasks out of the way so I could get back to that notebook.

When I opened the door to the garage, sure enough, my dad was in there, facing away from me. He didn’t hear me come in, even when I shut the door behind me and had taken a few steps in his direction.

He had an old pair of field glasses and was looking out one of the side windows. I figured he had found an interesting variety of cardinal to study, but when the hell did my dad give one shit about birds. His hands held the glasses up to his eyes in an angle, moving only slightly to adjust the focus. His view was pointed towards the neighbors’ house, the Davidsons’.

The cantaloupe began to slip, so I readjusted it under my arm. “Hey, Dad.”

I must’ve startled him because he dropped the field glasses. When they hit the cement, one of the large, round lenses broke and fell out of its place. “Son of a bitch, Joey. What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He didn’t say much after that, he just kicked the field glasses out of his way and stormed off to the door. Before he slipped away, I asked about the pliers and he mumbled some words, one of which sounded like “toolbox.”

I set the cantaloupe on the floor by my feet and moved to pick up the broken field glasses. Careful not to touch the jagged fragments of the lens, I held the glasses to my eyes and pointed them in the direction my dad had. I only had half the view, but they still worked well enough. I focused in and out, adjusting for clarity. My dad had been watching one of the Davidsons’ windows. I saw the door to a shower stall and a sliver of a mirror. Then, I saw a body, naked, as it walked into my view: the developed figure, with its areas of dark in contrast to the pale pink of the flesh. I remembered the time I walked in on my mom as she was coming out of the shower when I was younger. I had always tried to suppress that image, but here was another to bring it back. The only difference was that it wasn’t my mom, it was Mrs. Davidson.

I never found the pliers, never even looked. I did find the hammer, though.

When I walked into the kitchen, my hands were empty. Some cantaloupe pieces and juice were splattered on my face, shirt, and shoes.

Uncle Henry said, “Hey, Joey. Where’s those pliers?”

My mom said, “Joey, where’s the cantaloupe?”

Later on, after lunch, I had to clean up the mess in the garage.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bob


Rebirth of Wonder

Friends and neighbors, he said, the artist at the window in a ratty bathrobe! Holding, in the one hand: a chunk of petrified wood he's had since kidhood. Smooth. Rough in spots. Brown so rich and slick it drives him crazy. Never seen the inside, but it's there: the heft.

And in the other? Glass of Pinot Noir. The evening rain. The yellow leaves, driven off the sycamore out front: an early end to Autumn. Winter nipping at Her ass. His too. Long as it's red wine how can he be alcoholic? One glass deserves another, and rain keeps coming.

No reason to do anything. Thank God for rain.

His own last duchess in that armpit he calls a studio: half finished. Or a quarter. Likes it that way, within bounds. Still, in dreams she comes to him, searching, waiting, yearning, etcetera, as in a poem by Ferlinghetti: FOR REBIRTH OF WONDER! A woman, he recalls, began it all.

Kiss the surface one more time: cool to the lips. How far has he worn it down? Eyes closed to where the rain should be and one yellow sycamore. She's there, BEFORE HIM NOW! What pisses him the most? He hasn't given up.

A nap, a pot of coffee. Get her in his sights again. Keep her there until she kills him.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dave Materna


Station’s Wagon


After three weeks of hell it was over. Larry’s lover threw him out of the really nice house trailer with just the clothes on his back and one inflated air mattress. The mattress was the cat’s favorite place and the air slowly oozed out through the claw pricks as Larry headed to the pull-off spot down by the river. At least he was wearing his nice cut-offs. The pull-off spot was the only place he’d really ever gone these last few weeks aside from the trailer, where they mostly watched the Game Show Network and fought. Although one time they went and bought beer and cigarettes.

Two miles on a dirt road on foot with no shoes and an air mattress under your arm was one long row to hoe but Larry managed to stumble through. The tears from the break-up stung his thighs when he sat and rested every so often. Larry was a little heavy and underdressed, and the night had a nip of autumn in it so Larry got up and trudged on, barefoot on the gravel road to the river.

The night was so black that Larry missed the little turn-off and wandered on for a hundred yards before he realized he’d missed it. When he found it back again, he tried to feel his way to the fire pit. That’s when he bumped into a 1978 Buick Lafont station wagon. Larry dropped the air mattress. Truth be told, he’d been thinking as he was walking and he was thinking about taking that air mattress down the river, leaks and all, just to see how far he could get away. He wiped his nose with his hand and quit sniffling and lit his lighter. Yep, a Lafont. But a station wagon! No one ever left their cars down here. And there was a load of empty beer bottles strewn about. There were always empties everywhere at the pull-off. Larry kicked a few from beneath the tires of the car.

He looked at the river. It was swift and cold tonight. He looked at his deflating mattress and the cold river as right then the car’s radio burst on. Larry got into the Buick quite excited and laughed at the feel of keys in the ignition. This was his chance, as the engine vroomed and he got ready to peel out. But the car’s headlights shown on the tree right in front and a rope, tied from the tree to the car.

That’s how they lock their car? Tie it up like a horse? Larry got out and went to the front to look at the rope. It was knotted with a very expensive-looking knot and very taut against the car’s weight. So Larry lit his lighter and burned through the rope and when it did the Buick station wagon let loose and slid abruptly into the river.

Larry could only watch as his vengeance-escape-car floated and bobbed in the current just a few feet away and began to sink. Two faces pressed against the wagon’s back window, open mouthed—not screaming really, more like surprised at being so suddenly awake and sober all in one fell swoop, as the car was swept out of sight.

Sharon Cebula


God’s Plan for Jack

Jack lived his whole life in Akron. He watched it grow up out of orchards, farmland and woods into a tangle of crossroads and industry. He saw the first rubber factory go up, the first phone lines, the first department store downtown. He remembers when the town’s first fire truck was pulled by horses. It came to his Aunt Ida’s house in North Hill when Jack was just five and he burned her house down.

He’d been playing on the braided rug in the living room, trying to build a little boat from some kindling. It was cold, long after Christmas, snowing a little outside the frosty windows of Aunt Ida’s wood frame house. Cold inside, too, even with the little potbelly stove simmering away. You could tell it was simmering from the teapot on top, wrapped in a tea cosy Ida had knitted herself, steam wafting from its spout. Ida continuously warned Jack not to touch that potbelly stove.

“You’ll burn yourself!” was her mantra.

Jack was so cold, though. He could understand why Aunt Ida was so concerned about him burning himself. She became very upset when Uncle George had near cut his foot off chopping wood last fall. Jack would feel really bad if she had to get that upset again. So he thought pretty hard and figured it out.

He stretched up as tall as he could, all the way up on his tippy-toes, reached his hand up as long as he could make it, keeping his balance, careful not to lean forward and singe his wool sweater, and he snatched the cosy off the teapot. He made only a brief exhale of relief and easily twisted the handle to open the door. Glorious heat spread out on his face and chest. He literally glowed with happiness.

Jack settled back down on the braided rug to resume his boat building. He was so proud of helping himself and not bothering his aunt. The popping of the fire reminded him of the time Aunt Ida had popped corn for him to eat. It was warm and salty and comforting. He didn’t notice the embers jumping out of the stove until one landed on his little boat and started to smolder.

That’s when Ida came running out of the kitchen and scooped him up off the rug. She went running out into the snow and they watched the house burn together. Jack cried a little but Aunt Ida rubbed his back and thanked God that they were both safe.

When the fire truck finally came, Jack was mesmerized by the pair of burly draft horses. Sweaty despite the cold, their breath snorting clouds of steam into the air, they seemed uninterested in the commotion, safe inside their blinders.

Aunt Ida didn’t yell, didn’t hit Jack, didn’t say one unkind word. She just thanked God over and over that they both escaped with their lives. She was strong in her faith and believed that everything had a place in God’s plan. She lived with Jack’s family the rest of her life.

Years later, when Jack got the baseball scholarship to that big university on the east coast, Ida was too frail even to get out of her chair and hug the young man.

“Don’t burn the place down,” she said.

Faith Wally


The Others

Jacob set off on the murky beach after his 10 minute stretch, his thoughts like an empty hourglass, the sky slowly changing before his eyes: plum, violet, crimson, indigo. His feet crushed the soft, wet sand beneath his body, the sand running out around the edges, leaving footprints the way the flesh indents the skin, temporary. Jacob felt blue sea breakers wanting to grab the soles of his shoes, but he jogged out of reach, as he had every morning. Over the last two weeks this had been a small joy, this little game of jog-as-close-as-you-can, but today the waves felt menacing rather than playful, and so he stayed a few feet away. Jacob would have felt foolish, had he felt anything at all.

Jacob had jogged at Cocoa beach every morning, 6am sharp, since he had flown down to say good-bye to his dying father two weeks ago. He peppered his run with a few long leg stretches against the wooden peer, against the thick September heat, and looked out across the empty coastline this morning. The breakers rushed unseen in a dim roar, sending drifts of cool spray onto Jacob’s face. He pictured his kindly father, still asleep, pain meds working their soothing magic for another hour or so. He pictured his grieving, drunken step-mother Jean, under the cool air conditioner, under the flower petal comforter. He winced as the plum sky sank into an equally plum ocean, indistinguishable from the drafty chasm that stood between his grief and his routine. He felt pain in his calves, a little sore, he thought, but that was good. Jacob had always relished his morning jogs, he had, in fact, never missed a day in fifteen years.

He ran up the coast for a mile before he saw anything other than gulls and sand and rushes of water dimly lit. He liked the smells and sounds of early dawn, the solitude, the glorious nothing. Approaching him from ahead were a group of men, about his father’s age. As they neared, Jacob noticed their matching gray sweaters and took them for one of those Florida beach walking groups. His dad had come here to walk, Jacob remembered, before he got sick. Jacob stopped to breathe in the salty air, bent over to check his blood pressure, his t-shirt hanging limply from his neck. The cool ocean air was a relief. His muscles felt sore as he watched the orange ball at the horizon peeking up from the crimson sea. The line separating the sky from the ocean had dawned in distinction. Jacob felt the day descending.

The walking group neared. They were fat and skinny and tall and short as they swung their arms like marionettes. He could see visors and pedometers and ancient skin. Another twenty years, Jacob thought, panting. He could here their chattering to one another as they came nearer, particularly the two who stopped to sip their bottled waters under the lone palm tree.

“Oh, Marty and the kids are coming up next weekend, and boy has Martha packed the refrigerator. You’d think a heard of buffalo were coming to dinner! But it sure will be nice to see Katie and Frank, hmm mmm.”

“You know, I heard on the news, well, what was it last week? I think it was last week…”

Jacob smiled at the two men under the palm, and then saddened. He felt a pang in his left calf, and jogged in place to stretch out the cramp. The rest of the Florida walkers had carried on down the beach. Jacob checked his watch, deciding it was time to head back toward his rental car, when the short one under the palm called out over the breaks, “Say, young man, have you got the time?” Jacob checked his watch again as he strolled over, not wanting to stop his legs.

“Quarter till seven.” Jacob tried to add smile. It came out ok he felt.

“Oooh. I better get back, Phil” he said to his friend. “Lawyers coming over this mornin, some last minute things to go over in my will.”

“Oh yes, I got mine all tied up now. Me and Donna are just waiting for the end,” the tall one said, smiling, his eyes like two sparkling sapphires in the sand. “I just know I can do it though. You know, take it all in when I die. I’ve been practicing for years, how to expand my soul and all that.”

“Yeyus, yeyus. Me and Angela too. They say the trick is to go with it, to take in the radiant abyss, the seamless All of the universe. Become One. And then keep going. Must be scary to fly over Mount Everest, dip into the Grand Canyon,” he said thoughtfully. “ But when you get there, Bob, it’s just love…you tell Donna not to be scared. She knows love…” The tall one smiled knowingly. “What’ya say I race you Bob old buddy?” In a slow, expanded gait, the two began to amble down the beach, shoulders slumped, their ankles large, black socks up to the shins. Jacob had been jogging in place, unable to take his eyes off the pair. It was the easy way they had talked about death that held him, that and the sapphire eyes that had gave the impression of oceans of time behind folded skin.

“Thanks for the time, son,” the short one called back. “You wanna walk with us, it may be time, it may be time.” They did not look back.

Jacob blinked. A swirl of seagulls passed excitedly before him overhead. The waves curled out in a loud swoooosh. Jacob jogged up to the old men. “What was that?” The short one looked up at him and smiled.

“I said thank you for the time son.”

Jacob jogged passed the old men, their visors blue, their laborious bodies shifting over the dry sand. He found his spot close to the incoming water, and ran the length back to his car. The sun had risen and the water gleamed under its auburn gaze. Jacob ran with ease, and felt the peculiar lack of burden. He danced closer and closer toward the water, feeling the morning breeze rush against his hot skin.

Jacob turned as he approached the pier, hoping to glimpse the old men between puffed breaths. He watched with amazement as they waved at him, all of them, from afar. Jacob smiled, a real smile this time, and laughed blissfully for the first time in months, maybe years. Jacob held his father’s hand for hours when he got home, and at exactly a quarter till seven, his father died.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tara Kaloz


Dosed


“Vanessa, you’ve gotta hold him down better than that.”

The child struggled under her weight, pushing and straining, mouthing to bite.

“I’m trying. He’s stronger than he looks.”

“Try harder.”

A fluorescent tube flickered overhead and would soon need a replacement. The child’s thick, puffy coat lost its warmth on a chair in the corner. His boots and their snow cakes puddled on the carpet. The sink dripped. The counter was lined with the whiteness of sterility and its trappings.

The man helped to steady the child with his free arm, leaning down into the shoulder, pressing his grip into the undeveloped muscle of the forearm. The child’s paleness turned to a reddening pink.

“Babe, don’t you think these inoculations, well, that they’re inherently wrong?”

“How do you figure that?”

“I mean, we get them so young. They’re not allowed to voice their opinion, their thoughts on the matter. They don’t have a choice.”

“And what would they do with one of those?”

Vanessa frowned.

“Listen, we get the parents. They sign the paper. They make the decisions. End of story.”

“So young, though. It doesn’t seem necessary. Why, in a few years, they could decide for themselves.”

“That’s exactly the point.”

The child whimpered.

“I think you’re hurting him.”

“They have to learn, Nessa. They have to learn not to fight this.”

“That’s the thing, though. The fight or flight of it all.”

“Not now.”

“Yes, now.”

“He’s a fighter, can’t you tell? We need to subdue this kind of behavior.”

“That’s it. You see, you’re wrong. This kid, all of them, all he wants to do is to flee, fly, whatever. Take flight. When they find that their ability to do so is inhibited, what else is left? Of course, he fights. The whole thing should really be, if not flight, then fight.”

“That’s enough. You got him?”

“Yes.”

The child’s muscles became softer, the body lax. The frightened eyes of the child glazed over, the pupils dilated. They became those of a fawn, helpless in their surrender. Without any logical choice. The eyelids dropped into atrophy.

“Here, take this.”

The needle’s glisten was tinted with a sheen of red. Vanessa wiped the tip in her cloth, careful to bunch the fabric where she squeezed. The man’s white back was turned away. His gloves stuck out of the small and overflowing waste basket. He finished washing his hands in the sink and turned to face her.

She was tipping the emptied tube around in her hands and the cloth. A droplet of the opaque liquid slid from one end to the other in a slow measured crawl, leaving a trail behind, which also slipped away and back into the droplet. “How much of this did you give him?”

“Enough. The new dosage. It’s a precaution really.”

“Says who?”

“Does it matter? You need to loosen up.”

“It most certainly does matter. Sometimes I wonder if I know you at all.”

“Would it be too hard for you to act your age? Jesus, Nessa, act like a fucking med student.”

“Technically, I’m not even a student anymore.”

“Hey, knock it off.” He cupped his hands over the ears of the child, now drooling onto the paper-lined table. “We don’t need an MP suit here.”

“For crying out loud, the kid’s unconscious. He’s practically comatose with the amount of chemicals in his veins.”

“Just the same. You’d be surprised what the unconscious mind picks up. One can’t be too careful these days.”

Vanessa disposed of the syringe and returned to the side of the table, next to the boy. She ran her hand over the child’s face and something warm and subtle pulled from somewhere inside her and at the corners of her mouth.

The child sniffled, wriggling up his nose like a small and innocent animal. Defenseless. One of his socks had been stretched past his toes from the tug of the boots. Vanessa was gentle with his leg as she pulled the sock over the foot to fit the grooves made by the heel and big toe, back into its place.

“You know, Mark, this isn’t right. I knew this was a bad idea.”

“Vanessa, there is no turning back now. Promises were made. The money’s been transferred.”

“Ever hear of a refund?” She made a shushing sound as she eased the boy into her arms. He was heavy against the smallness of her body. Her muscles strained and tensed into their role.

“I can’t let you do this.”

Vanessa didn’t turn around. She talked away from the man as she moved into the doorway, stepping into the hall. “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t.”

The pinch was sudden. Another needle-tip reddened. A second tube emptied into the highway of a bloodstream.

Even as her legs began to give out, she forced herself to turn around and stare into the man’s eyes, searching for some meaning. She sheltered the child in her arms as she collapsed in slow-motion against the table and onto the floor.

The man took the boy out of her arms and laid him onto the table. Vanessa’s body slid further to the floor. The man removed his white overcoat and pushed the hair out of the once-warm woman’s face. He leaned over past his knees to kiss her lips, measured and fleeting in his duration there, and then placed the coat over her body, veiling her eyes.

Beth Mandl


In the Dark

“Are you awake” I say into darkened bedroom.

“I am now.” My little sister’s voice trails down to me from the top bunk. Little. Not so little anymore I guess. “Can’t sleep?” she says.

“Nope.” I stare out the bedroom window and watch the snow erratically flit in and out of the glow of the street lamp. It’s warm in the house but I pull the covers a little tighter around me anyway. “It’s weird being back in the house, huh?”

“Weirder for you than me I guess. I come to see them once a month or so, you haven’t been back in four years.”

“I live across the country Tess, it’s not cheap to fly back and forth!”

“Geeeeeezus Jeff, calm down. I’m just saying that it’s weirder for you than it is for me. I do think it’s a little weird that they turned my room into the hobby room and yours still looks like it did when you moved out, especially since I’m the one that’s here all the time, but whatever.”

My right eyebrow rises in the dark but nobody sees it so the effect is lost on all but me. “Easy kitty, your claws are showing.”

“Sorry, too many years in the shadow of the almighty Jeff has left me an empty shell of a woman constantly looking for validation from parents who quite frankly wouldn’t notice or care if I was eaten by a pack of rabid raccoons. It’s made me a little bitter.” She laughs as she says this but I know that she didn’t have it easy when we were growing up and that even in jest, truth lays heavy.

“Things will change tomorrow sis. The mighty will fall and all that.”

“Jeff, do you really think you should do this tomorrow?”

The miniature Christmas tree sitting on the desk in the corner blinks faintly; red then green then blue. I remember hanging homemade ornaments on that tree and proudly dragging my mom in to see it. It used to make me happy but now only represents an innocence that is forever lost; an innocent belief that parents love you no matter what. Because there are some things you just know he won’t accept. “Tess, I’ve hid from this for a long time. Nancy says to treat it like a band-aid. Get it out fast; no muss no fuss. It’ll only hurt a second.”

A small sigh escapes from above, “Yeah but the thing is, I don’t think it will only hurt for a second. I think it will hurt you for a long time. Not to mention what it will do to mom being stuck in the middle, because you know she will.”

I stare up at the bottom of the top bunk and say, “Do you really think it will be any better if I wait another day, or until next week? Or would it be better if I wait until next year? Better yet, maybe I should just never say anything and just die with it in my heart; never having said anything. Knowing that even though my dad still loves me he never really knew I was a fake.” I swipe angrily at a rampant tear.
~

“Babe, I love you and all but that was a little dramatic, even for you.”

"Well what the Hell Tess!”

“Look Jeff, don’t yell at me because you’re scared. I’m just trying to make sure you know what you’re doing. Once you say it you can’t take it back.”

“Don’t you think I know that Tess? Don’t you think I have played the scenario out a million and one times in my head? I have. I don’t know any other way to do it. It’s not like I can sugar coat it. It is what it is. I am who I am…and apparently I can’t change it. I don’t think I want to anymore anyway.”

“I know that Jeff.”
~

“Are you mad about it Tess?”

“Mad about what you’re doing?” she asks.

“No, I mean about everything. Are you mad that they bet on the wrong kid? All those years you had to hear about how you should be more like me. Does it bug you that all along they were wrong? That you were the perfect one and that I was the messed up one?”

“If that’s really how you feel about yourself then maybe you aren’t ready to say it tomorrow.” She says angrily.
~

“I used to be.” She says. “Mad that is. I used to think about how easy it would be to just tell them myself and then wouldn’t they shut up real fast. I used to dream about how dad would fall down at my feet and weep while begging for my forgiveness.”

“Wow.” I whisper.

“But I don’t anymore. He wouldn’t do that anyway, I guess.”
~

“Are you scared?” Tess asks me.

“Yeah.”

I hear the creaking of the bed as Tess rolls to the end and climbs down the ladder. “Scoot” she says as she slips in beside me. She leans over and grabs the old yellow flashlight from the side table and turns it on. She sits forward and holds the flashlight under her chin so that the light gives her face a sort of devilish pixie look and she says, “Legend tells of a woman named Bloody Mary………”

I settle in to listen, already thinking of what story I’ll tell when it’s my turn, and I know, even if it’s only for tonight, everything is ok.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Matthew Gamertsfelder


The Summoning


Edwin Carpenter just wanted to get away for a few hours, that Sunday afternoon in later September. A gorgeous day, by any standards: seventy and sunny, without any of that awful August humidity, the intermittent cloud cover from bleached ivory sky cotton confirming the afternoon’s rainless forecast. Edwin Carpenter just wanted to be by himself for a while, to think. At thirty-three, he held a dead end job working twelve hour shifts at a plastic products factory, seven AM to seven PM, running the molding machines for ice cube trays, baby bottles, Tupperware containers and the like, where the only thing lower than the pay was the level of responsibility. He had needed to have essentially no responsibility when he took the job, five years ago, after his newborn son Charlie had died of SIDS, after his wife Clare divorced him and went to live with her mother in Weehawken, New Jersey, because she couldn’t look at his face without seeing Charlie’s. Edwin Carpenter had awoken that morning with the conviction that five years of wallowing in self pity was quite enough; the pieces of his broken life beckoned, cried out to be picked up and reassembled, a siren’s song he could no longer ignore.
.
In those long ago, happier days, he and Clare had loved to take long walks in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just a short drive from their apartment in Cuyahoga Falls. They’d even gotten to bring Charlie a few times before he passed away. An older, more somber Edwin would now take a long walk through the park alone, to decide how best to rebuild his shattered existence.
.
So it was that at 1:47 PM, Edwin Carpenter found himself walking unhurriedly down a well-beaten trail, hands in his pockets, thinking of his Uncle Bob’s oft-repeated offer of employment at his construction firm in Taos, New Mexico, an offer he had refused as often as it was repeated. He thought also of Bob’s former step-daughter, with who his uncle remained on good terms, a kindergarten teacher Edwin’s own age named Tiffany, to whom he had often mentioned his intelligent and handsome, if melancholy, nephew from Ohio. Tiffany very much wanted to meet Edwin, and for the first time, Edwin began to think he might like to meet her as well.
.
As he walked and thought, a whisper of wind whistled through the trees, unseen birds twittered theo doe theo doe theo doe. A brown and grey rabbit shot out from the underbrush to his left as though it were being chased by Satan himself, vanishing into the bushes to his right as rapidly as it had appeared, just beside a short pine tree, perhaps twice as tall as Edwin, its trunk three Louisville Sluggers around and coated with slow oozing sap. As he walked, his tread became lighter; the emotional deadweight of five years of despair uncoiling itself from his soul a bit more with each step. Edwin Carpenter thought of giving a two weeks notice at the factory tomorrow morning, of forfeiting his security deposit on the apartment where he lived to break out of the lease six months early, of loading a U-Haul truck with his few meager possessions and driving cross country, to the fresh start that awaited him two time zones away. He thought of how he could do it, could really do it, could be there in probably as little as three weeks. A broad smile bloomed on Edwin’s face, the first to have done so in a very great while.
.
It was then that he heard the chanting; from somewhere off to the right, too low and distant to be recognized as anything but human voices. A moment later, a doe burst out from the brush, moving away from the direction of the chanting with the same frantic rapidity as the rabbit. The deer paid him no mind, but instead fairly charged into the bushes on the opposite side of the trail, and for several minutes afterward, Edwin heard it crashing through the forest in its mad flight.
.
He became intrigued: what could so badly frighten the animals in the park? What were those people chanting, and how were the two connected? Edwin felt his growing elation intensify, after all, this was the first time in a very long time that he had taken a real, genuine interest in anything beside a liter bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Overcome with curiosity, Edwin began to carefully and quietly make his way through the undergrowth to his right, toward the chanting with its eerie wailing undertone. Several minutes passed as he blazed a trail toward the oddly hypnotic chorus. Edwin was no linguist, but as he drew nearer he became convinced he had never heard the strange and alien tongue being chanted. It was harsh and guttural, almost as though the words were not meant to be spoken by human lips. Abruptly, he reached the source.
.
Standing behind a thick stand of tall bushes just behind the edge of a small clearing, Edwin saw the source of the chanting. A triangle had been scorched into the grass, each side lined with bizarre, runic markings or hieroglyphs which made him faintly uneasy to look upon. At each of the triangle corners stood a person garbed in flowing black and purple robes, their faces concealed by their cowled cloaks and silver masks, roughly like nondescript human faces, with more of the eldritch markings across the forehead and down the temples and cheeks. Each stood with arms outstretched and fingers splayed; a faint azure glow shimmered around their hands with no apparent source. A scent like gunpowder and burning hair hung thickly in the air. Suddenly, the chanting became louder and faster, congealing his blood in his veins, and Edwin thought the wail of a banshee from Irish lore could hardly be less pleasant than that terrible song.
.
He saw a smokeless, bluish-purple flame erupt in the triangle’s center, first a few inches high, then a foot, then two, then a yard, then two yards, up and up until it reached some ten feet into the afternoon air. The chanting reached it loathsome crescendo as the impossibly hued flame stopped growing, blotting out all other sounds so completely it was as though audition existed solely to register that demonic hymn. Then, just as Edwin didn’t think the scene before him could become any more ghastly, it did.
.
The flame surged to twice it height for a brief moment, then winked out of existence at precisely the same time the robed figures ceased their chanting. Immediately, he wished it had not, for what replaced it was infinitely worse. Edwin could not believe what he saw, could not believe something so terrible could actually exist, yet there it was. His mind could find no other term for it but demon.
.
The monstrosity stood approximately ten feet tall, on hoofed feet like a goat’s, but hairless. Its scaly skin was a bright blood red. From its massive shoulders sprouted enormous bat like wings, from the small of its back a spiked tail swayed and slithered like a python. Each of the three digits on its thickly muscled arms ended in a curved claw like a miniature scimitar. Its horned head was somewhat like that of a bull, but instead of flat, bovine molars, it short muzzle was filled with serrated fangs like those of a shark. Three unblinking eyes fixed intently on the robed figure standing at the triangle’s point furthest from where Edwin stood, petrified with terror. This figure, dropping his hands to his sides as did the others, addressed the horror.
.
“Greetings, demon,” said a human male voice from behind the silvered visage. “I am Symun, your master.” The demon made no reply other than a sound midway between a dog’s growl and a cat’s hiss. “I have summoned you here for a purpose.”
.
The monster spoke then, or made the nearest approximation of speech of which it was capable, in what Edwin recognized as the same language as the chanting. “Let fall the warding spell,” said the man who called himself Symun to his accomplices.
.
“Master, are you sure that is wise?” said the one to his left, a young woman by her voice.
.
“Fear not, Euripida. My control over the demon is complete. Observe. Kneel, demon,” Symun commanded, and the demon immediately obeyed, with another growl-hiss. “In return for your services, demon, we offer you a sacrifice. You may rise.” The demon rose, and again spoke. “Why, right over there,” replied Symun, raising a hand toward where Edwin still stood, too transfixed by what he had seen to even think of escape. Symun spoke a string of words in that hideous tongue, and from his hand erupted a gout of flame that burned away the foliage concealing Edwin. This last impossible event proved enough to shock Edwin out of his stupor, and he turned to flee, hearing yet another incantation in the demon’s tongue. Edwin halted, mid stride, and although his mind screamed at his body to move, to get away, he could not so much as bat an eyelid. It was as though all the muscles in his body had suddenly atrophied away into nothingness. “Behold, demon, your feast.” Edwin heard the demon charge toward him on its great wings, and felt its hot, foul breath on his neck even as he heard Symun’s cold laughter ring out through the clearing.

New Story Challenge: Four Items

Quickly, pick a set of words below and write a story—as naturally as possible—in three pages involving all four items.

1. Car, Hat, Knife, Sunday
2. Kitchen, Jar, Scarf, Blue
3. Los Angeles, Sandals, Snow globe, March
4. Bar, Toothpick, Book, Piano
5. Coffee shop, Kite, Shoes, Thanksgiving
6. Gloves, Department store, Nuts, Wind
7. Dog, Hill, Car, Snow
8. Cantaloupe, Notebook, Pliers, Field glasses (binoculars)
9. Cell phone, Park, Birds, Lightening
10. Sign, Stick, Child, Siren
11. CD, Beer can, Tambourine, Snake
12. Mask, Tears, Whistle, Thursday
13. Hand, Cleveland, Blazer, Singing
14. Akron, Fire engine, Horse, Baseball
15. Hammer, Baby, Cricket, Baseball cap
16. Fourth of July, Dancers, Horn, Raven
17. Darkness, Skeleton, Laughing, Scent
18. Comic book, Limp, Striking, Orange
19. Rocks, Sky, Prehistoric creature, Crawling
20. Blow-up toy, Broken up love, Station wagon, Rope

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rosie Heindel: A Story


Dark Clouds

The secretary led Tabitha into Tim’s large office. He sat behind his desk with his legs propped up and his hands behind his head. When he saw Tabitha he quickly sprung to his feet and leaned his fat belly over the desk as he enthusiastically reached for her hand. She smiled seriously and shook it.

“Hello, My name is Tabitha, and—”

“Hi, Tabitha! I’m Tim Darrow, president and founder of Darrow Technologies, Inc., as you know.

How are you today?”

“Fine. I’m here because—”

“It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?”

She looked out the large picture window behind Tim at the ominous dark clouds. Tabitha brushed some imaginary wrinkles off her long cotton dress. “If you don’t mind rain and like the cold.”

Yellow teeth appeared behind a wide smile. “Well, the sun is shining when a beautiful girl like you walks in.” He licked his lips.

An awkward silence ensued, then Tim continued, “Besides, this is nothing compared to those monsoons you get over there in India.”

“Oh, I’ve only been there once.”

“Please take a seat,” he said gesturing to a chair across from his desk. He sat down heavily in his leather conference chair but never took his eyes off of her. “So, what part of India are you from?”
“I was born just outside of San Francisco.”

“I’ve been all over India. Mostly in Calcutta, but I’ve been to a few other big cities.” He scanned her small body and noted her conservative dress. “You look like you’re from the rural areas.”
She stared at him with disgust, but couldn’t find a polite way to leave the room.

“You Indian girls are quiet, but I know there’s a hidden tigress inside every one of you,” he said, winking.

He leaned forward, resting his heavy body on his elbows, which pressed into the desk. “You know,” he raised his eyebrows, “I’ve done some intensive studying of Hinduism.”

“I’m a Christian.”

“I did business over there last year and stayed for three weeks. I took a tour of the Dakshineswar kali temple. Have you ever been there?”

“No.”

“It’s breathtaking.” He grabbed a picture off his desk and handed it to Tabitha. “That’s Ipsita,” he said pointing to a young Indian woman. She stood outside the ornate temple, smiling awkwardly with Tim. He had both arms wrapped around her delicate waist and looked at her. She stood stiff and square to the camera. “She doesn’t talk much, but she’d do anything for me,” he said studying the picture. “She put on the traditional garb just for me that day. Normally, she wears sexy little American mini-skirts, but I wanted a more authentic picture of India to take home with me.”

Tabitha didn’t know how much longer she could hold her anger back. She reached into her purse and pulled out a pamphlet, slamming on the desk in front of him. “I’m here on behalf of International Justice Missions.” Tim drew in his breath to speak, but Tabitha curtly cut him off. “I am raising money to rescue young women out of the sex trafficking industry. If you’d like to make a tax deductable donation, please turn to the back of the pamphlet, fill out the information, enclose a check, and mail it to the indicated address. Thank you.” She hastily got up and turned for the door.

“Whoa! Wait a minute, Sweetheart!” he said rising. “Can I write the check now and just give it to you?”

Suppressed rage churned in her belly like a trapped dragon. She clenched her teeth together.

“Sure.”

“I think it’s terrible what these girls have to go through. I try to help when I can.”

“How kind of you.”

“Yeah, people like to put them down, but they’re just doing what they have to do to survive.” Some memory flashed across his face and he smiled proudly. “They look at me like I’m a god!”

Tabitha glared at him.

“So, how much does it cost to rescue a girl?”

“Nine hundred dollars.”

Tim whistled.

“Well, I’ll make the check for eighteen hundred, then.” He reached into his drawer and pulled out a check book. “Who do I make it out to?”

“IJM.”

He handed her the check.

“Thank you.” She moved for the door. Tim quickly ran past her and opened it for her, smiling. He took her hand in his, “You’re doing a wonderful thing.” She forced a smile. “God bless you,” he said. She nodded, then started to walk away.

“One more thing, honey!” Tim shouted after her. “Will you let me take you out to dinner sometime?”

Dave Materna: October Story

A Special Place

“Well wha’d ya go down there for anyway?” Boris asked his little sister.
~
“I was looking for something,” Na’sha said matter of fact. “But I couldn’t find them.”

“You just went down for a look like always.”

“No, I was looking for the Halloween decorations if you must know.”

“So where are they?”

“They’re gone, I guess”

“Mother’s gonna be very angry again,” Boris warned. He looked at his little sister’s clenched fist.

“What’s in your hand, Na’sha?”

“None of your business.”

“Let me see.”

Na’sha unfurled her delicate hand. “See, he gave me another one.”

“How many is that now?”

“Just six. He only has ten. Had ten.”

“You shouldn’t bother him. You know mother doesn’t like it”

“I know. But I just can’t help it. He says he loves me.”

Boris and Na’sha went into the parlor and sat next to each other and held hands.

“He always remembers your birthday. He never remembers mine.”

“Maybe I’m special. Besides, it’s not like I get one every year.”

Boris agreed, “Nope, just the special birthdays.”

“Like when I was twelve and I got a pony from mother.”

“Yep, just like that. Special.” Boris looked at his little sister. She was still quite pretty. Cute even.
“Did you see his face this time? Did mother feed him today?”

“I took him some of my cake.”

“And he knew this was a special birthday?”

“I guess. But I don’t know what’s so special about it.”

“Mother says you’re seventy-five years old now.”

Na’sha nodded, “But I don’t believe her...”

“Well,” Boris observed, looking at his withered hands, “this finger he gave you still has his wedding band on it. Your golden anniversary birthday.”

“Oh.”

“Put it with the other ones, I suppose?”

“Yup. In my little red finger box.”

“That smells bad ya know.”

“I know. But I can’t throw them out. He loves me.” A groan escaped the cellar. “He loves me a lot.” Na’sha felt sorry for Boris. Daddy never cut off anything for him. Maybe because he was the oldest. Or because he was the boy.

“Daddy would know too, wouldn’t he? He always keeps a calendar on the walls. With his knife.” Na’sha held her hand like she was carving a wall with a big knife.

“I didn’t think mother would let him.”

“You know how she always says no, then changes her mind.”

“He’s had that knife since nineteen-fifty-four.”

“I know. We gave it to him for his birthday.”

“He won’t talk anymore, will he?”

“He tells me he loves me, but that’s about all. Why won’t you ever go down there? To at least let him see you?”

“Because you know damn well that mother won’t tolerate that.”

“Maybe he’d cut off something for you sometime,” Na’sha sneered. “Maybe that’s why you never get anything.”

“I just don’t like looking at him in that room mother made for him.”

“And he doesn’t like being looked at,” Na’sha wanted to be honest. “It’s like he’s ashamed of his little hole. Mother could open the door every now and again. Like for a special day. Like Halloween.”

That’s when they heard the ’54 Pontiac heave and roll into the over-grown driveway.

“Jesus,” Boris glanced at his wristwatch then the oaken front door, “Mother’s home.” He slowly stood and balanced on his wobbly seventy-eight-year-old feet. “We’d better get this place looking like Halloween. For Daddy’s sake.”

About Me

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I'm a professor of English at The University of Akron--I teach fiction writing and literature classes. I have published over sixty stories and essays in magazines, as well as a novel, Jack's Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts. I grew up in a military family, so I'm not from anywhere in particular except probably Akron, where I've lived for over thirty-five years. Before I came here, I never lived anywhere longer than three years. I got my BA from U.C. Berkeley, my MA from San Diego State, and my MFA from The University of Iowa.