My Tupperware™ container of used batteries is a constant source of anxiety I’ve been putting batteries in it because they aren’t supposed to go in the garbage, but the container is almost full now
I think they can be dropped off at City Hall or a school—some sort of institution, an institution where they have the solutions to these kinds of problems Unfortunately, I haven’t been to any institutions lately I serve no institutional purpose; I have no institutional knowledge
When the time comes, I’ll probably just dump the batteries in the garbage Or maybe I’ll recycle them Yeah Putting batteries in the blue recycling bin almost seems eco-conscious But if batteries don’t belong in either the garbage can or the recycling bin, is one choice better than the other? Is one decision less destructive? There is something to be learned here of intent
I guess I could try the composter— try composting the batteries for a million years Maybe Green Peace would laud my dedication; an NGO committed to keeping batteries out of landfills would be founded in my name
Let’s be real, though When I inevitably throw the batteries in the trash, They will meet their landfill fate They will marinate in the soil; their acid will mix with Earth
But until then, I’ll feel good just having them right here in the Tupperware™ container on my table It’s like I’m saving the world a little
Have you heard about the great bristlecone pine? It’s the oldest living thing It can grow to be, like, 5,000 years old That’s what it felt like when I met her Like something 5,000 years old was suddenly alive
I said, “Describe his apartment for me”
I was a detective of depressing facts You were a criminal of nothing You told me you’d hooked up with him, and I thought you were joking
I said, “Describe his apartment for me.” And you said, “He has these shitty leather couches.” That’s when I knew you were telling the truth
My eyes-wide are boring holes into this pallid glass of orange juice in front of me. I hear him -the pancake dude – but I cannot break my vision away. My drink has netted itself into tiny ripples, vibrating from the buzz of the restaurant. Tiny clumps of pulp bob up and down like buoys in salt-water sea.
There are waiters waiting for the old grey dying couple to choose their 2:00 PM dinner. Bus boys carrying plastic grey tubs of dirty melamine dishes into the sink sloshed around with soap, just to be slopped up again with eggs and sausage or chicken and waffles. His voice is a tiny speckle in the boisterous breakfast spot.
“So… was that a short stack?” I look up. Pancake Dude smiles, but he’s annoyed I haven’t answered him yet. Thick black dreads line the back of his scalp. His calm skin claims an innocent mind. He is older than me, but I have seen more than he ever has. I resent him for this.
“Just the 3 is fine.” Mom finally answers for me. Tight jawed. Furrowed brows. An almost convincing smile. “Let me put that right in for you, ok?” Pancake Dude takes our menus. Stephanie is sitting next to mom, twiddling her hair into her fingers. Around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again her brown curls move in the conveyor belt. We sit unspeaking in these unpleasant vinyl booths. I can’t believe they still make vinyl booths.
Now that I think about it, nobody has spoken to each other since last night. Mom is dancing with sideways glances, trying to catch a glimpse of sadness or tears on our faces. She won’t look us in the eyes though. She feels responsible. Which is and isn’t true.
I look up from the table and catch her staring at me. She clears her throat and pretends to look behind my head, at the clock on the far wall.
Hair into fingers, around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again.
Mom holds her cross pendant in the palm of her hand.
Breakfast tastes like sour milk and sugar. Nobody wants to go home.
Dad’s favorite song comes on as soon as Mom’s engine turns over. She slaps the radio dial mute with the heel of her hand. I think he was trying to reach out and pull her down into the speakers.
Mom turns to us and puts her finger up to her lips right before she lets us out of the car. “Don’t wake up your dad, ok? He’s sleeping upstairs.”
My breath instinctually becomes more shallow, quieter. I think maybe only I could hear the difference, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. Steph and I slowly lower ourselves to the ground and unlace our sneakers with patience and precision. Socks stay on; bare feet squeak on linoleum floors. We become methodic in our movements. Don’t step on that floorboard, it creaks. Open the cupboard, but don’t let it slam. I even see mom gently placing her purse on the countertop. We are tiny, uneasy guests in our own house.
Aunt Joyce is already there when we get inside the house. She’s cast out any trace of evidence from the night before. Dad’s favorite chair is right side-up and back against the wall where it’s supposed to be. Our floor lamp is gone, but so is the broken base and shattered bulb. She even replaced the repugnant smell of Jack Daniels with Lysol, and a peppermint candle. Everything almost looks normal. It feels as sterile as a hospital, but it’s better.
The only thing Aunt Joyce didn’t manage to cover up was the immense gouge of freshly chipped paint and cracked gypsum board in the wall. I can hear the yelling and screaming again as I start to think about what happened. I stare at the dent in the wall until I don’t see a dent anymore.
Mom makes us dinner as usual, and Steph and I watch Nickelodeon after, as usual. The white dent seems to have eyes. It twists and turns in my peripheral vision. Morphing into a disfigured face; something foul and unearthly. I don’t think Steph can see it, but I know it’s there.
Aunt Joyce is helping mom clean up in the kitchen. I can hear their whispers over “Legends Of The Hidden Temple”, and the sound of plates being put into the dishwasher. They are being too loud.
“Are you sure you and the kids are safe here, Lisa?” “Yes, of course. He’s their father. This has never happened before.” Which, of course, is and isn’t true.
Tip toe up the stairs. Brush teeth. Put on clean pajamas.
Mom folds the sheet and blankets underneath my mattress the way I like. Usually being strapped in snug is nice, but tonight it feels like a cage. She smiles at me and kisses me goodnight, but lingers on the bed for a bit.
I close my eyes, turn to the side and feign sleep. There has been so much silence today in rooms full of people. I don’t want to spend another single minute like that. Mom leaves. I stare at the glow-in-the dark planets on my wall.
I reach out to touch them and trace the stars.
I think about the dent.
The door creaks, and light spills into my room. The noise immediately wakes me up, but I do not move. I don’t move. Don’t move don’t move don’t move.
His breathing is so heavy, and loud. Careless, clumsy footsteps approach my bed. My eyes are shut so tight. I try to relax them so he won’t notice, but I can’t help it.
“Hey bud, are you awake?” I smell the bite of alcohol from his breath as he stands over me. It burns my nose, but I don’t move. If I don’t move he won’t know I’m awake.
He ruffles my hair, hapless and sloppy. Tries to shake me awake. I don’t want to be touched. I know what he did and I know who he really is. I want him away so I can sleep. My head screams. My body screams.
“Jack?” Mom calls him from the master bedroom.
Dad stands over my bed for another minute before leaving. I think he’s looking at the planets. We look at the planets together, apart. I don’t notice him and he doesn’t remember me there anymore.
I think of my mother.
The taste of sour milk.
I feel the dent with every step he takes away.
Ryan Westmoreland loves reading, artisan cheeses, and napping. Her work has previously been published in The Tiny Journal & Beyond Words Magazine. Find her at twitter.com/reeltuffcookie
Didn’t much matter where we ended up because it was always the same faces doing the same things with the same people and the same perspectives. Not much happens when nothings going on.
(practice in dialogue and realism just to make sure we could still do it). Tony asked what Callie’s favorite star was. Unprecedented conversation.
“Star Wars?” Callie said.
“No, just Star.”
“I don’t know any stars.” “You don’t know any stars? Of course you know stars.”
“Name one star I know.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” he repeated.
“So the sun’s not your favorite star?”
“No, the sun’s not my favorite star.”
“Then what’s your favorite star?”
“I don’t know I haven’t really thought of any of them. The North star? I don’t know that’s a stupid question.”
“Of course it’s a stupid question.” He paused to let that sink in before bringing the conversation back to his answer. “The sun is my favorite star.”
“It keeps us alive. All the other stars don’t even really matter.”
There were three other conversations happening around the table, one staying true to the well-worn subject of Star Wars and which was and wasn’t the favorite films from the series. While nothing of any substance could ultimately be added to the exploration of fandom, it was a conversation that would continue until the end of the universe despite, recycled for as long as the medium of film continued to exist (and maybe even past that). Someone tried to interject themselves into Callie and Tony’s conversation, but came up stopping short.
“If all other stars don’t matter, then why did you ask the question?” Callie asked.
“I wanted to see what your answer would be.” Tony said.
“Well of course it’s the sun now that you explain it. What am I supposed to say? The one my Dad bought my Mom for Christmas?”
“Your Dad bought a Mom a Star for Christmas?” Mikaela asked. (interjection interstitial).
“We all did. It was a family gift.”
Eventually the conversations would collide upon Garrett asking Tony what his favorite Star Wars film was. Someone handed around a plate of cocaine. Kyle did a bump and handed it to me. One in each nostril just to make sure it worked. Later we played some house music. Kyle played three or four tracks and then Garrett played about the same and then I played a few more than that and then Kyle played again for a long while, maybe an hour. I played once again later, but only after Kyle came and got me and told me to.
Fourth of July was coming up and someone offered the idea of the group of us camping instead of staying in town like we’d already been doing for weeks on end. The same thing we did every day. It didn’t need to be special, but living at the beach might just end up making the day worse. A series of differing opinions, but ultimately group consensus decided the best thing to do would be to do what we were already doing, either Tony’s house or Kyle’s house or maybe the beach.
The party ended around midnight. It would be just about the same again.
KKUURRTT is the author of ten books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
I have this special power random people give me free food
This lady I was sitting next to at the bar ordered chili cheese fries She did not seem like someone who ordered chili cheese fries. She looked to be around 40 and took care of herself perfect white teeth She asked me if I wanted some of the fries
I said yes and she asked the bartender for another fork. She asked if it was weird sharing her food with me
My friend and I laughed and said it happens all the time.
The fries between us. I poked them with a fork and took a bite. Got drunker talked
in walks the biggest douche bag in the world Alone, wearing designer clothes and a big diamond watch
The biggest douchebag in the world sat up at the bar next to my friend. ordered wine, asked a bunch of questions about the year of the bottle and shit
he worked his way into our conversation And once that happened the conversation was only about the biggest douche bag in the world
He told us he went to Africa and started his own mining company He wanted to impress us The mine collapsed and 50 workers died He had to flee Africa and lost a bunch of money He was upset about lost money He really wanted us to know how upset he was
We all just nodded along But I couldn’t anymore I said, “man, yer like the biggest douchebag in the world.”
My friend slapped his hand on the bar counter and tossed his head back laughing The lady giving me food giggled The bartender bent over, covered her mouth, her hair drooping over her face, she twirled around and quickly walked away
“What did you say?” said the biggest douchebag in the world. I repeated with a dead stare, “I said you are the biggest douchebag in the world.”
His face got red.
“what … you can’t say that to me.”
I took a big drink of my beer then said, “yup, sure can. Just did.”
I ate more fries I closed my eyes
The fries hit good with spices. The cheese so gooey and warm The beer so cold Tasting like exotic berries
I knew I would never drink this beer again I did not know what kind of beer it was. I don’t know anything And never will
My brain swam in the warm electric pool of an afterglow acid tab Smiling mermaids as brain cells Don’t bother me
“You can’t talk to me like that. You need to show some respect.” Oh I’d forgotten about the biggest douchebag in the world. I opened my eyes Turned to him “Bro, nobody cares about your problems. Get the fuck away from us.”
It got quiet.
The biggest douchebag in the world left without finishing his wine
The chili cheese fries were gone now
The lady next to me put her hand on my shoulder I felt the tips of her nails softly pressing into my skin. she asked if I wanted to try the mac & cheese next I did
You’re in a rusty, beat-up green pickup that squeaks and sputters on a long, painfully straight highway. The lighting is orange and dusty-glowy but it’s unclear whether it’s dawn or dusk. Literal desert. Tumbleweeds. Cactus. Even in the dream you know it’s cliche. Pawn Shop by Brandy Clark plays on the radio but the static keeps cutting through so you turn the dial. Your car swerves into the opposite lane. An evangelical is telling you you will go to hell. You swerve back into the right lane and turn the dial again. Hot Girl Bummer by Blackbear comes on. The reception is crystal clear but you’re confused because the song alternates between saying “fuck” and censoring it. You feel dizzy. You reach for the can of Coke in the cupholder and take the last lukewarm half-sip left. You can’t tell if it’s half backwash or if it’s just gone flat. You see a gas station on the horizon, some townie off-brand kind you’ve never heard of. You glance at your meter and it’s far past the line for “E” but your car is still moving, lurching, running on fumes. You press the gas pedal down further and power past the station and turn the radio up. It is now playing Dance Monkey, but you didn’t register the moment the song changed because you were distracted. You visualize all four wheels falling off like caramelized sugar melting in your mouth, but they don’t. You visualize the body of the car coasting through the air after the wheels fall away and then coming down gradually several feet later as though the Earth’s gravity had been significantly reduced, but not eliminated. But it hasn’t, and it doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to because the wheels are superglued in place and spinning, propelling you forward. You glance at your odometer. Forty. A sign for the speed limit says 70. No one else is on the road. No one else has been on the road. You haven’t passed a single car since you started driving. When did you start driving? The radio cuts out and you know it’s because you’ve crossed a state border or a dimensional plane or the car is low on gas. Dua Lipa starts singing in your head. You let her. You don’t hear her voice, just a song stuck in your head. The way that downstream part of your brain hears. You see a storefront up ahead. It isn’t a gas station, but you notice you’re both hungry and thirsty. You glance at the clock on your dash and it’s 7, but you still don’t know AM or PM. You picture some vandal filling your tank in the car you leave unattended. You picture the thermodynamic arrow of time running in reverse. You remember that you can call Triple A after you get something to eat. You pull into the tiny lot for the convenience store and check the battery on your phone to make sure you can make the call later. 24%. You notice when you do this that it is PM and not AM, but by now it is almost 7:30. The lettering for the convenience store is big, blue, and unilluminated. The wiring in the letters doesn’t even flicker or short circuit or catch fire. The place must be broke. The letters say PIT STOP. The letters say REST AND DIGEST. The letters just say someone’s name, the name of someone you don’t care about. He probably isn’t the guy working the store. There is only one person working the store. He’s a pimply redheaded boy with glasses, late teens. His shirt is an ugly mustard yellow that clashes with his hair. He is reading a book by Descartes or Hegel or Wittgenstein. It is thick. It is paperback. It is oily-wet. The kind of print so fine it strains your eyes. But you aren’t the one that needs to read it. You turn your attention to the shelves. They are all the same. Red painted, wire, flat red metal bottoms. The paint is not chipped. The paint is still wet. It has come off onto the packets of chips. The packets of chips are all the same too. They are single-serving Lays Sweet Southern Heat BBQ. You count the racks, the aisles. There are six of them, they are about ten feet long, and both sides of each are stocked. Your eyes come to rest on probably twenty or thirty bags, individually. You glance at the wall opposite the cashier. There’s no clock, and the lighting is dim. There are three anti-theft posters but they all say different things and have different images. You don’t care about them. Your eyes scan higher. An official Lays logo advertisement is placed in the corner of the room like a postage stamp. “Lays: betcha can’t eat just one.” And below it and below the anti-theft posters, at the bottom of the room, appropriate eye level for maybe a rat, another advertisement with an identical logo says instead, “Sweet Southern Heat BBQ: it’s all we have.” You plunge both hands into the pockets of your faint black stained jeans. Your right pocket has a frayed hole in it and nothing else. Your left pocket has a wrinkled bill and three coins, all different sizes. You pull them out, unfold the bill and inspect the coins. They’re sticky with something. It is a one dollar bill, a quarter, a dime, and a penny. The orange tag by the first row of chips says $1.22. You grab one bag and take it to the cashier. He rings it up and the total with tax is $1.36. You give him everything you have and ask if he has a water fountain. “By the toilets, but it’s gross. Here.” He hands you a Coke, half-finished. You drink the whole thing gratefully in one gulp. It is lukewarm and it tastes like backwash, but it quenches your thirst, for now.
Lana Frankle grew up in the bay area and got her BS in neuroscience from UCSC in 2015. She is currently a neuroscience PhD candidate at Kent State University. Her short story collection, The Dismantling, was published by Gnome on Pig Productions in 2016.
The route I delivered mail in a remote area, but COVID still was here. People stayed in their houses and rarely came out, but they ordered lots of packages.
Porch pirates thrived now, and since it was fall, spiders set up webs big enough to catch me, dogs barked and growled at me as approached their houses even though I loved them, and
worst of all the bandits with black masks liked to harass me. Raccoons.
I complained about it, but all I received was a letter saying Erin was out-smarted by raccoons. It was posted on the bulletin board and everyone laughed at me.
I couldn’t afford to quit. Since my divorce, I lived in an apartment and needed this job to survive.
I removed my mask to eat my lunch and a raccoon grabbed the package that I just dropped off. I gritted my teeth.
“Drop it, you stupid bandit.”
I ran toward it holding out my dog spray out. The raccoon joined two others and ran toward the woods. I lost too many packages to porch pirates and got letters of warnings. I would like to add some men who lost packages did not receive any warnings. I chased the raccoons.
I turned the corner and one of the bandits threw a chicken bone and hit me in the eye. I turned and it looked like the raccoon was laughing at me. I covered my eye with my hand.
“You must have rabies?” I yelled out. It hissed when it slumbered away.
The package was gone. Another one lost. I made a partial eye patch out of some paper and rubber bands. I finished the deliveries with my one good eye looking out for the raccoons. The last delivery was for a house on a dead-end street. I didn’t even know anyone lived there, but the car in the driveway was the one I saw the girl get in earlier.
Near the front door, I glanced into the window with my one good eye. A girl was laying on an air mattress with a syringe beside her. It looked like she wasn’t breathing.
I called 911. It would take too long if she was overdosing. The window was open and I pushed in the screen and climbed into the empty room. The girl looked like a lifeless doll, I kept my mask on and tried CPR then glanced at an ID next to her. Her name was Emma. She looked like a teenager.
“Emma,” I said over and over, but she remained still.
The ambulance crew arrived and took over trying to save Emma. Someone ran out the back door. He got a head start, but a girl slowed him down and I gained on him. After a few more minutes, the man dropped the girl, turned around, and pointed a gun at me. I froze and saw my sad life fading away.
The man laughed when he looked at me. “Are you a pirate?”
“Let the girl go. I won’t tell the cops anything.”
His hand shook and the girl moaned and that idea faded away.
“What’s her name?” I pointed at the girl.
“Let her go.” I stepped forward.
“No. I’m not afraid of you. You’re just a minor threat.”
He steadied his hand and his finger twitched. He was going to kill me. I closed my good eye then heard a rustling sound. When I opened it, a blur jumped on the man as sparks flew out of the gun. I dove to the ground and everything became fuzzy, but I crawled forward and grab Hayley then we stumbled away from the scene while the man wrestled with the raccoons. I heard another shot and a searing pain in my leg knocked me to the ground. I looked back and saw a raccoon holding a gun. It sounds crazy, but I swear the raccoon was holding a smoking gun. They saved me, and yet one of them took the opportunity to shoot me. Raccoons are insane.
I limped with Hayley toward the arriving police cars. She wasn’t wearing a mask and that made me worried. When I got closer, some of them pulled guns while others stared in shock. I limped toward them with a drugged girl while wearing an eye patch and with blood pouring out of my leg. I collapsed to the ground when they reached me.
In the hospital, my eye improved but remained circled with a dark bruise. I looked in the mirror and thought the raccoons somehow made me one of them.
A negative COVID test was good news. My leg hurt and was wrapped in thick bandages. Nobody believed that a raccoon shot me, but I knew it was true. I played Animal Crossing and the raccoon in that game ran the town. After my experiences I knew that made sense.
I fell asleep and woke up to a blue wolf trying to catch a fish. I shut the game off.
Emma survived the drug overdose. The police arrested the man and explained away the bite wounds on him as from a stray dog despite what we both said about the raccoons.
On my third day in the hospital, Hayley and her mother used a tablet to do a virtual visit.
“You saved mine and Emma’s life,” she said. Her mother nodded.
“The raccoons helped,” I said.
They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Pain meds,” the mother whispered.
“You’re a hero.” They promised to stay in touch with me. Maybe they would.
On my first day back to work my pockets were filled with cookies, cat treats, and crackers.
I threw the treats out and before long a group of raccoons came out and gobbled them up. We made a truce that day, but they still stole food from me since raccoons can’t help themselves. I believe they are born to be mischievous.
The police never found the gun and I kept expecting to turn a corner and encounter a raccoon pointing it at me. No matter what its intentions are the sight of a raccoon with a gun made me shiver. That would be more than a minor threat.
William Falo studied Environmental Science at Stockton University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The UK journal Superlative, The Raconteur Review, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals.
In the market, even though preoccupied, I see her headed my way again, in a well-tailored black suit, white blouse with cuffs showing at the sleeves, black heels.
“What are you doing?” she says, stopping this time.
Most people out of work are beat, never curious.
“Picking out dinner,” I say.
That day, in the meat section, a small steak for $6.26 looks good, but then underneath is another for $8.08. So I have a decision to make. Have been making. Leaning.
She says, “I came back this way because I forgot nuts and you’re still here with that same two packages of meat in your hands?”
“You forgot nuts?”
“Yeah, right, I’m the one.”
I like what I see in her eyes.
And that’s how it starts, isn’t it? The ignited look—right conditions, it rages through the scrub, heads for tall grass.
“It wasn’t ten minutes,” I say. “Not quite eight.”
“If you say so.”
And that could have been it. But then, another day, deliciously eight weeks beyond, more shopping, there she is again.
I favor this store, the only one that has the proper lowest items checkout—even though it takes a longer route (4.4 miles from work; 8.2 from home) to properly get there.
I think she gets it too. I like her basket: smoked oysters, a pack of figs, a carrot juice, two-pack of brownies, pre-made wrapped roast beef sandwich, single roll of toilet paper, what looks like breath mints… and a crumpled white cup from the free coffee station at the front of the store.
(Does that count?)
She turns—looks at me looking.
I should know better but I’m getting drawn into those blue-gray eyes of hers. An edge beckons. She’s like one of those deep dark pools in abandoned quarries, where stolen cars and the parboiled bodies of teenagers end up.
I’ll skip the particulars. After I move in, we fall into routine. First eight days are great.
Neither of us is much of a cook. She uses the kitchen sink only to brush her teeth, and even then, not so often, but I like to do things right, the microwave my friend. I use one of the multiples, 24, 32 seconds depending on volume, to nuke or re-nuke. Eight more, if that isn’t hot enough.
“What are you doing?”
“You ever wonder how the mind can spiral? Loop back on itself,” she says, “so the routine becomes so credible it becomes incredible to believe one could change in any way?”
“Never,” I say, blowing on my spoon.
But she’s one to talk….
She doesn’t want loose batteries around. When the occasion arises, I have to reload a flashlight in the garage.
Speaking of cars, out somewhere, shopping or something? And she sees a dog someone has left alone? She circles the parked vehicle until the poor animal begins to bark. (If it doesn’t, and it’s time to, I stop her.)
When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom at night, she throws off the covers, gets out of bed and walks in backwards—comes out and into the bed the same way.
When she brushes her thick blonde hair? It’s four strokes down the left side, then the same, four, on the right.
I can live with that.
We all have our quirks. To be fair about it, I like to park in the same spot at work. It just makes me feel comfortable. How I start my day. Part of the set I work with.
Like when you hit eight minutes in a shower? You know, don’t you?
Maybe time to get out.
Maybe it’s what happens to any couple, together for that stretch, the feeling-out time, at the end of which you decide to keep it going or not. After say, eight weeks in, you take a long hard look and what do you see?
You see maybe, that day at the grocery was not about matched shopping methods, but instead a pedestrian chance encounter, where the compatibility you felt was a pent-up release, a transitional phase perhaps, rather than any soundtrack made from the music of the spheres.
Number two, you’re in an ice-cold garage puffing breath, changing flashlight batteries.
Number three, you sit down with eight chips, eight spoonfuls of soup and an eight-piece pizza pie because what’s eating healthy got to do with it?
Number four, you can’t believe that even if she doesn’t know that the Chinese consider eight a fortuitous number, a lucky number, a number promising good fortune—she should not be so as crass to remark, “We’re not in China.”
Number five, once you point out to her the base logic of certain numerical tidings she should definitely not smile.
Number six, you see that—don’t you?
Number seven, you see what you know now is the most important thing.
There is no number eight, so there you have it.
But you move on, don’t you? You go into to work, but you take a slightly different way. You may question the routine if not the reason, but you certainly don’t douse the baby with the cold bath water, as the saying goes.
You cut the wheel a little sooner than usual, and your heart thumps, as you swing it into the spot.
You take a deep breath, get out of the car, circle it, count each one out. Get inside on the good foot. Step it off, get it right. The new right.
And just that simple, like magic, yes like the music of the spheres, it begins the moment you see her: at the end of the row of cubicles, short black-haired, not long blonde (as if that mattered), seventh one down on the left.
What you hear is a song you hope will never end. It’s got the right beat, the rhythm to which the dance of your dreams plays out.
Jon Fain’s short fiction can be found here and there. He lies low in Massachusetts.
When Paul came in Susan’s mouth he shouted, ‘WrestleMania!’ It was the second time Susan thought about killing him. On Boxing Day Paul walked out of the toilet saying, ‘the turkey has left the building.’ His hair was damp and swept like Elvis. She wished he’d gone out the same way.
Susan spat thick like an athlete and rolled onto her side. Paul tried to explain but gave up somewhere between Triple H and 1999. He sighed and said, ‘sorry’. Susan switched off the lamp and patted Paul’s knee. She put one hand against her waist and willed him toward sleep. She didn’t need to wait long. Deep shadows rolled over them. Susan made circles with her fingers. She thought about the sea and Paul Rudd and the dead futures that had glistened on her tongue.
At dawn Susan smoked in a chair and tended to a lily. She ate dry cereal from a box, cracking down on the honey clusters. Paul snored and flopped over on his back, feet stuck out, his sounds heavy and irregular like the confused mourning of a bear. On their first date Susan asked why he was so tall. Paul told her that he was bitten by a radioactive basketball player. Susan smiled and laughed and when he said, ‘do you want to come back?’ she told him that she did, but now she’d moved in the joke didn’t seem so funny and he wasn’t as tall without his boots on.
Susan leaned back against the wall. The low sun burned like spotlights. Pressure gathered in her chest, pins and needles, vague and burning. The room was strewn with clothes and used towels. In the corner was a folded steel chair. Susan looked at Paul: flat out, grunting, helpless. A new strength rose in her. It was now or never. Susan crept towards Paul, a crowd of voices roaring in her head. She slipped back onto the mattress, ducking the imaginary ropes. Susan grabbed Paul’s leg, lifting the heavy, tattooed thigh. Somewhere behind her the referee counted: 1…2…3.
Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.
Frank passes by the house a second time, the pack of lithium tablets in a bag on the dashboard of the van, wondering how to tell Anne he isn’t well. The light from the porch swells outward, imitating warmth. He parks.
Anne is walking around in thin linen, floating from room to room. Frank drops his bag and makes for the stairs, head low. He feels the sweat and dirt bound closely to him, a weight that tingles.
‘Don’t change,’ Anne says, woozy in the doorframe. ‘I like you just like that.’ Her voice flicks like a tongue inside his stomach. She pours another glass of Sambuca‘to refresh her,’ she says, ‘like a holiday.’
They are on the sofa. Anne looks over at a bit of skirting board with a dead spider curled up on it like a little hand stuck trying to make a fist. Frank crinkles the medicine inside his pocket, feeling confused and sad and a little bit like “this is a problem” but one he’s not allowed to talk about because how much does he drink and besides isn’t he the one who’s crazy and WHO THE FUCK IS HE anyway?
‘Are you…?’ Frank says, with no idea how the sentence is supposed to end. Anne’s grinning, pouting, quivering her lips. Her eyes are swollen, full of aniseed and webbed dust.
‘What?’ She says. Her hand coils round the tumbler like its moulded there. She twitches out a thud of ice like rock hitting crystal or cold hitting throat. Frank shivers.
‘Nothing.’ He chews the corner of his cheek. Frank’s dad comes back from cancer, filling his brain-space with insults, calling him worthless. The voice gets replaced by a montage of drugs and childhood tears. Frank wants things to be his fault.
Anne gulps and swallows, sighing with a snake hiss. Frank smells sweetness. Anne drapes an arm across him, her white bra peaking through loose cloth.
‘You look good,’ Anne says, lilting, a slight slur, thin fingers brushing Frank’s hand. Frank wants to have sex and break up and take Anne to therapy and get a job where he can afford therapy and go back to college and kill himself. He gets up and makes pasta. Anne eats six slices of Parma ham thin as razor blades and smokes two Pall Malls with the door open. Frank takes the tablets and feels a little further away from himself; like his consciousness and body were somehow a TV he was looking at from across the room. Limbs move, mouths move. There are rooms with lights on, bodies sharing space. It all seems fine in a way that seems dead. Like a still life.
Anne kisses his neck while Frank thinks about those aniseed sweets his grandma used to suck, little red balls that spilled onto your tongue. Anne puts pressure on his thigh and pulls up her dress. Frank puts his hand under, feels the wet warmth. His grandma dies just as quickly as she lived. Anne slips away her underwear. It stays hooked on one leg like a hula hoop rolled around a belly. They have sex fully clothed, scratching and tearing at the hard places behind each other’s backs. Frank examines them both from somewhere else, his mind locked in a threesome with a slower, greyer version of himself and a woman that several drinks ago used to be his wife.
They finish and sit side-by-side, breathing heavily, staring out. Frank turns on the news and lets the world do its work, the dissolving bigness of it, the vast expanse of anything that can crush you down and make everything close seem bearable. There were wars and fires in California. It would be ok. Frank holds on to his knees, feeling them shift beneath his hands. Anne pours a drink. Outside the city makes its broken music: sirens, aeroplanes, cheering, and underneath it all a cool wind swirling, whispering with leaves.
Frank gets up and crosses the partition back into the kitchen. He watches Anne through a dark reflection in the window, a mass of hair and neck. He’s there too, an oblong of grey sweatshirt, a piece of face; all the rest of him cut off by the frame, severed by awkward angles of light.
‘The days are getting colder.’ Frank says, pulling a beer from the fridge.
‘But we’re not Frankie,’ Anne says, ‘we’re not.’ and she lights up another cigarette before she’s even finished laughing.
Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.
Do you know anyone named Dick? Well, maybe their real name is Richard, but they don’t go by Rich, Rick, or Ricky, just good old-fashioned Dick. If so, does it make you uncomfortable? Do you giggle when they introduce themselves?
Have you ever uttered the phrase, “you can suck my dick,” when someone irritates you? How has that affected you when someone special wants to literally suck your dick? Do you feel it’s extra degrading because, in addition to putting a vessel for waste disposal in their mouth, they are also committing an act that you previously deemed a killer insult?
Let’s talk about the term “dickweed.” How do you feel about that? Here’s what the Oxford Living Dictionaries have to say:
A stupid, obnoxious, or contemptible person (especially a man).
Not a bad definition, but thank goodness for Urban Dictionary and the user that goes by Phuqit. Here are Phuqit’s definitions, uploaded on October 11, 2006:
1) A completely self-absorbed, useless asshole with shit for brains;
2) A person so irredeemably stupid that their idiotic behavior causes pain to everyone that they interact with.
Personally, I think Phuqit knocked it out of the park with the first definition. A “useless asshole with shit for brains” has got to be the winner.
What if the person you know that insists going by Dick isn’t just anyone, but he’s your dad? How does that work? What if he rails against the vulgarity of society and how it has ruined his preferred nickname, but you really want to call your boss a fucking dick? You can’t escape the vulgarity, right? You could call your boss a cock, I suppose. “Hey, you fucking cock!” That doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, you need something extra on the back end, like cock gobbler or smoker. Even so, the vulgarity is ever-present, and guilt will gnaw at you because you know that you’re just substituting for dick, and it’s not like saying penis is any better.
Can you imagine talking shit about the boss with your co-workers, and you decide to bust out penis? “Wow guys, he’s being such a penis today.” They’d laugh you right out of the group. Then, sitting alone in the break room, watching your co-workers laugh and carry on, you’ll wonder why you even felt the need to compare your boss to a phallus. Your boss might be a jerk, but a dick? A prick? A cock? Why the insatiable urge for vulgarity? After all your dad, that guy named Dick, didn’t he raise you better?
T.L. States lives in Tucson with his wife and kids, and some shit he wrote can be found at Hobart and The Daily Drunk. He wastes time on Twitter as @epmornsesh
I need a place to stay for the night. I’m commuting two hours to school and can’t splurge on gas to make two trips in two days. I make a call to a friend. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. He answers in two rings. Before I can ask a favor, he tells me come over. My phone is dying. I scrawl the directions in my notebook.
I make the drive to Alameda, wondering how long it’s been since I’ve seen him. Just over a year. We were the last of six to move out. It’s dusk when I pull up to his house. His roommate lets me in and tells me he isn’t home. I call him.
He answers: “I just got home.”
I tell him I’m here.
“Are you telling me the call is coming from inside the house?”
I open the door, welcoming him into his own home. A good, long hug follows.
Sometimes it’s awkward seeing a friend after an extended absence. There are the people we used to be and the people we are now, and it can be hard to tell how much is left of the person we remember. Sometimes the middle section in the friendship Venn diagram gets too small to hold. Those people take up ninety percent of my Facebook feed.
That’s not what this is. This is an instance where two friends part ways for a while and pick up right where they left off. We crack jokes, talk at annoying volumes, and laugh about our failures du jour. Before long, we’re sharing books, quotes from authors who inspire us, and little snippets of our own creations.
We mack some burgs and reminisce about how we used to buy a pack of cigarettes after lectures and hate ourselves for it. It’s a reminder that we’ve grown up—in some ways.
We watch Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, and he rewinds the movie every time we start talking even though we’ve both seen it before. He says that if he doesn’t, we’ll miss critical character development.
It’s after one o’clock when the movie ends. We watch an episode of The Simpsons. We play a card game until 3:30. I tell him we should have blown up the air mattress earlier, but turns out he has a great air mattress. It’s got a built-in pump that’s real quiet. Before long, we’re talking about our relationships. I’m no longer crashing at a friend’s house—this is a full-blown sleepover.
Why is it that a sleepover demands that all members of the party be in pajamas and tucked in bed before talking about feelings? Maybe this is a guy thing, meaning it’s likely that emotional repression brought on by toxic masculinity has caused us to only speak truthfully about love only under a literal blanket of protection. We’re older now; we’ve seen therapists! We can talk openly about our feelings, sure, but it’s just easier when we’re cozy. The moment is not unlike when, after a long day, my dog lays on his back and lets me scratch his belly. We call it a night at 5:30, but the sun is almost up. We’re well into morning.
At 9:15, my alarm reminds me of an impending phone interview. It’s for food stamps. I scramble around the room gathering necessities. My eyelids weigh heavy, but I’m awake. I walk outside and the morning air whispers you can do anything and I believe it because I’m twenty-five and I don’t know any better. The rest of the world is worried about when a boy becomes a man. Growing up in California, I’ve only ever been a dude. But after a night of friendship, I feel like a kid again.
Even though my trailer park butted against the stilted drive-in screen, the fence made it so I couldn’t see the movies for free. But I could still hear them.
The drive-in used speakers you hooked on your car window. They got ripped from the stands when the cars took off and the owner got tired of fixing them. So he put the movie sound on 89.9 FM so you could hear the movie on your car’s radio.
If you drove down 144 late at night, and listened to 90.1 FM, which was WTTX OUTLAW KOUNTRY, and you passed the drive-in, the movie sound would cut-in for a mile or so before it would fade back into David Allan Coe.
I tuned my Barbie clock radio and waited for it to get dark. I listened to the movies with my dad. If the drive-in played a movie we’d both seen a hundred times, we acted-out the scenes and lip synced the talking. We had our little adaptations right there in the living room. The drunker dad was the better actor he was. When there were new movies we hadn’t ever seen, Dad left because he was only ever interested in things he’d already seen, and I’d lay in bed listening and I’d cast my actors and paint my scenery and cut away and fade and dissolve.
In the winter when the drive-in was closed I watched my Unsolved Mystery tapes. I watched them alone and it got dark early. Some of the stories scared me so bad that I wore several pairs of panties to bed. In my mind it helped with two things: a raper would have a hard time and if I had nightmares and wet the bed all of the layers of underwear would keep my bed dry.
I tried to peek over the drive-in’s sheet metal fence but it was too high and too sharp to climb. I couldn’t sneak in either because somebody sat in the ticketbooth all night. But it wasn’t a total waste of time because I liked to investigate the sweet smell that came from somewhere along the fence. It smelled like Teddy Grahams. I sniffed the leaves and the clusters of showy flowers but I couldn’t locate it. The hot air really made it smell.
The movie sounds with no pictures and the Teddy Graham smell were what kept me from running away. They were my own unsolved mysteries.
But then I started riding around with boys and sneaking into the drive-in was easy when two or three of us girls hid in the truck bed under a tarp or in the backseat covered with a sleeping bag. Four or five of us got into a double feature for four bucks that way as long as we stopped giggling and were still. The smell of the Teddy Grahams was masked by our boozy breath and the boys’ stink of creosote and cum. We never stayed for both movies or we forgot what we saw. It turned out we made our own movies and I wasn’t missing anything I hadn’t already seen. Ours were better. I didn’t like watching beautiful people on screen try to make me feel things that weren’t really there. I liked making my own scenes.
Once I was taken out to the pastures, somehow alone with somebody. The boy said he was taking me out to podunk with him so we’d get abducted by aliens. He told me the story of Barney & Betty and I told him I’d seen them on Unsolved Mysteries and he got me all witless. We parked by some substation and he flashed his headlights over the sleeping cattle to attract the mothership. All that did was scare away the bats and attract the lightning bugs. He tried to touch me and I tried to stop him. The back of his neck smelled like raw pie dough. I smelled like the hot metal handles of a merry-go-round.
We sped through clouds of lightning bugs until their phosphorescent ooze was smashed out and covered every inch of the car. Until the car was glow-in-the-dark. Until we looked like the mothership we wanted to be taken up in.
“You ever seen Repo Man?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Well that’s what our car looks like right now. The car in Repo Man. I hope we start flying away.”
We went faster and he turned the radio up louder. This was our adaptation.
He brought me back to the trailer park. I walked along the fence drive-in fence and found that Teddy Graham smell because the booze evaporated and the boys were gone. I could tell finally that the source of the smell wasn’t from one thing. The smell was an amalgamation. The smell was all the flowers and weeds and roadkill and trash and exhaust. I picked the smell apart into its pieces. I didn’t sense a whole anymore.
With both mysteries solved, I felt untethered but not free. I saw where I had been tied and what was used to tie me there. I thought I’d drift. But all I wanted was to find another mystery that I wouldn’t be able to solve. I didn’t want a bigger world. I didn’t want to know anything anymore. All I could do was be a mystery myself so I got wild until I didn’t know who I was. Until I was like a merry-go-round. Sort of spinning until there were many transparent copies of me. So many of me nobody knew which one to grab a hold of. I drifted and I couldn’t see what I’d been tied to anymore, at least. I knew it was still there. And here I am now trying to cut that piece away that’s still dragging behind me.
Adam is a writer and lives with his wife in Franklin, Indiana.
Everyone was milling around the lab waiting for the meeting to start when Hailey told me we were going to the amateur adult film festival.
‘You’re going to this with me and Brian,’ she said. ‘No significant others.’
Brian came up beside me. ‘Did she tell you we’re going to that porn thing?’
‘I already bought you a ticket,’ Hailey said. ‘You need to pay me back.’
We met at a bar on the north side of town. My girlfriend was working. Hailey left her boyfriend at home. Brian didn’t have to worry about it—he had just gotten out of a five-year relationship. They’d owned a house together, a Jeep, two pugs. He’d joked about finding a ring and she’d told him straight up that she would never marry him. He found a room in a house three blocks from the lab and had been living there for a couple weeks when I first met him. The ex had already bought him out of the car and the house, but they still shared custody of the dogs then. It would take an entire year to break him on that. By the time we were at the bar on the north side of town, he was drinking every day and too much, juggling three girls, and hooking up with his ex every time he went over to walk the dogs just as a fuck-you to her new boyfriend. One of the girls I never met, much less learned her name. Val was nice but all I remember about her was that she had dark hair and all of her friends were lesbians. I think Brian kept her around because she let him borrow her car. Stacy, the last girl, was about ten years younger than Brian, a few years younger than either Hailey or I. She was pleasant in a dumb way and, according to Brian, loved cocaine and sex in the bathtub.
Hailey could barely sit still, giddily leading us in a round of sexual confessions. ‘Dude, okay,’ she was saying, ‘I absolutely love it when a guy licks my asshole. Obviously I’ve never had Greg do it—’ Greg was her boyfriend, ‘—but back in college or if I knew it was going to be a one-night stand, I was always like get back there and make it happen, I don’t care if you get a disease.’
It was my turn. ‘Well, Megan is on birth control but last week she got super horny during one of those stretches where she’s on the placebos. We were out of condoms so she flopped over on the bed and shouted, Fuck it! Just put it in my ass!’
Hailey snort-laughed, sending bits of her vegan meatball sub crumbling across the table. ‘That’s so Catholic! I love it.’
Brian was making a face, a half scowl hidden in his pint glass. ‘That’s gross. I don’t do butt stuff. It’s a one-way street.’
‘I mean, yeah, with that attitude,’ I said.
‘I’ll bet you’d love getting your asshole eaten,’ Hailey said. ‘Anyway, good luck dealing with this fucking porn festival then.’
Brian’s phone buzzed. ‘Oh nice. Stacy’s here. She’s right out front.’
Hailey looked like he’d just slapped her. ‘What? Fuckin—what happened to no boyfriends or girlfriends?’
‘She wanted to go and it’s not like she’s my girlfriend.’ He used air quotes here.
Stacy arrived at the table with an oblivious smile. ‘I’m so excited! A movie fest! Wow.’ It was pretty clear Brian had not specified the style of films that would be shown. In her defense, its name was relatively benign. It could’ve been anything. ‘So, like, what’s the plan? Are we going straight there? I’ve already got my tickets.’
Hailey looked to me as if I could somehow disappear this girl. ‘We’re gonna take a cab to a whiskey bar down the street from the theater, have a drink or two, then go in.’
‘Oh cool,’ Stacy said. ‘I hope they have tequila. I don’t like whiskey at all. But I love tequila.’
Hailey puckered her lips. I hadn’t known her that long—I’d only been at the lab four months—but this was by far the angriest I’d ever seen her.
As we were paying up, Stacy got a text. ‘Holy shit, my friend is in town. I haven’t seen him since high school. Should I tell him to meet us at the whiskey bar?’
Before Hailey could protest, Brian cut in, ‘Yeah, sure. Let’s add another one.’
I don’t remember who was at fault, but we all ordered the special—a habanero bourbon that tasted like someone had simply mixed ground up pepper seeds and ribs into Maker’s Mark. The shots had us all choking. We sipped our little glasses to the bottom, complaining the entire time.
I was buzzed enough to be sociable towards Stacy. ‘So, who’s this friend we’re meeting?’
‘Oh, he’s like my best friend from back home. I haven’t seen him in years. He was like super Christian back then, basically a Mormon. I’m surprised he even wanted to come to a bar.’
When he did show up, he shook all of our hands and introduced himself as Chet, surveyed our empty shot glasses and asked the server for one of what we were drinking. He looked exactly the type of golden retriever I expected.
His shot arrived and I said, ‘Watch out, it’s pretty—’
He tossed it back. Immediately, he let out a trio of bronchial coughs. It sounded like someone had stabbed him through the lung with a screwdriver. ‘Oh my goodness,’ he said through an embarrassed smile, blinking tears out of his eyes. ‘Whew! You all did that?’
He asked what our plans were for the night and Stacy told him about the film festival. He ordered tickets on his phone.
The fest itself was fine—short films about pegging, nipple clamps, orgies, graphic blowjobs, gimp masks, a couple of narrative pieces—none of it was particularly sexy, which I think was mostly the point. Very little of it was compelling, which seemed less purposeful. Still, as each new title card flickered across the screen, Hailey would slap my thigh and stage whisper, ‘Ooh, watch this!’ as if I could do anything else.
Afterward, back on the street, Hailey was buzzing, in possession of too much blood moving too quickly, and asked if she could buy me a drink. She led our group to a crowded dive. Everyone split between trying to squeeze their way up to the bar or stake out a place in line for the bathroom. I didn’t want part in either so I stepped out front. Chet was standing next to the entrance, staring off into the middle distance.
‘Hey, man,’ I said. ‘What’d you think of the fest?’
He kept his eyes on some unknown point in space. He looked like someone had beaten the shit out of him spiritually. ‘I saw things that I will never be able to un-see. I just—I don’t know what to do with that.’
‘Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad.’
‘Yes. Yes, it was,’ he said, getting angry. ‘It was that bad. I don’t think things can be the same anymore. I’ve seen stuff now. I don’t think I can even be the same person. I’m, I don’t know, different.’
‘Hey, take this.’ Hailey stood in the doorway sloshing the head of a beer all over her hands. ‘You need to come inside to drink it.’
I turned back to try and bring Chet inside, but he was gone, just completely vanished. I never saw him again, never heard what became of him. When I think of Chet, like I’m thinking of him now, I always imagine him happy, freed of unnecessary shame and fulfilled by his fall from grace. I know it could easily be the opposite.
Aaron Block is a graduate student at Oregon State University.
In this video (the kid says) he walks us through the foolproof steps to killing yourself. One: put
on a tune! (He puts on a tune.) The tune should not be melodramatic, but should (he stresses) stand up to postmortem analysis. (The tune builds. Synth, muted percussion. I walk around with a handglove, / shrugging my shoulders, / fucking up everything.) Two: video! Even though, well. Maybe this should be the first step? (He sighs.) Never mind! (At this a rehearsed smirk.) Three: text the ones you love. Ideally something simple. (He shows us his phone. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.) Four: turn off your phone! (He turns off his phone.) Five: attempt to kill yourself. Do your best to make it appear real! (Cross-legged on a baby-blue carpet, his back against a spackled wall. The light belongs to either an early morning or a late afternoon. The T-shirt he wears is ambiguously stained and bears C-3PO’s beaten-gold face. Now hold open the door so I can fall in. Hold open the door so I can fall in. Elsewhere, muted, someone laughs. The kid laughs, too. Then he lifts a knife from the floor at his side and horizontally slashes across both wrists.) Six (he manages): wait to be found. Do not cut too deep, if you choose to go this route. Perpendicular to the veins. Permit the blood to clot, the wound to heal. Or perhaps take pills. Less dramatic. Also less risky. (There’s no more sun, / and no more light shines through. The blood does not clot. And still the blood does not clot. He wipes his wrists upon his shirt, staining it further. Panicking, he attempts to rise, and sways, and falls upon the floor, face-first. Off-screen, muted, someone laughs. The video cuts out.)
A familiar disorientation, this. One deriving from either the original Blair Witch or any of its sequels or copycats. A human face steals the scene from leaf-littered earth. Baby face. Flushed cheeks. Watercolored eyes the same color as the eggshell fragments we glimpse above and beyond him through warm-colored leaves. His breath smokes. It is cold. “I’m sorry—” he says, breathes. “But—it’s been a minute since I’ve gotten out. So if we don’t bag anything. Sorry. Anyway.” He breathes.
But he does. He bags many and without mercy. It is a crisp fall day and couples and families are out. They fall with hardly a sound. In another sort of film, one more traditionally shot, we hear a high whistle as the man’s missiles search out their marks, a satisfying thwack as they find them and sink. In another story, the hunter’s victims scream. A group of his would-be victims forms. They fight back. A couple (either old or young, old or new) survives, thereby asserting the importance and indomitability of love. But in this film we hear only the man’s heavy breathing, the steady progress of his heavy boots crushing fallen leaves.
Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his He is keeping on keeping on.
I blew my nose this morning. I know it’s gross to say but it was a big honking load of snot. I opened the tissue afterwards, to examine my harvest. What had I reaped?
I mean, was that the locket I gave my high school girlfriend? Was that a ticket stub from the baseball game where I got drunk and fell down the stairs? Was that a ragged piece of my own body, snipped away by an arrogant surgeon?
There was this green army man I stuck in my pocket when I was eight, who went through the wash and lost a hand. I promoted him to the grizzled captaincy of my ragtag force (from Navarone). He punched a whole crapload of Nazis with those binoculars in his left hand!
A crumpled can of Natty Light, too. I bet it was from that liquor store. You know? The one you and Billy and I’d hit on the way to the “ugly” bar? We’d grab a six-pack and drink some but always donate one to the old guy slumped on the sidewalk outside. Joe. That’s what we called him, even if it wasn’t his name. Do you think he minded? Probably not.
There was a lot of sand.
Was that the sand from the beach where Jules and I made out behind the palms? Or the one where the waves slammed me down and, I think looking back, I came away with a concussion? Was it the sand from all the beaches ever, all mixed up?
Or was it just the sand from every empty lot I ever crawled through and every worksite I ever sweated over? That gray-brown sand, not the good white stuff.
There was a rusty chunk of my honor, a jagged piece of my dignity, and plenty of tarnished copper hopes.
And there was so much more. I wanted to save some of it but, in the end, I just folded the tissue and tucked it into the garbage can, pushing it deep down under other, bloodier tissues and lengths of rancid floss. Easier that way.
Still the questions linger, though. Am I the hero of this play? Or its villain?
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
There’s a hole in my eye. I don’t think people notice it but that’s probably good. It might freak them out, especially if they got close enough to look through the hole to the other side.
My good eye sees the people talking to me, clear as day, like you see me now. But through that peephole in my other eye, I can see the coming darkness. The creeping doom and crawling chaos set to engulf us all.
Yeah, all of us.
It’s not pretty. And it’s not a fun power, or whatever, to have.
“Goodbye,” I think to myself, as people talk about new cars, new homes, old girlfriends, rich husbands, medications, and jobs.
Do they notice the sad set of my mouth when they talk about their children? I hope not. I don’t want to bum anyone out. You know?
“That’s so sad,” I say to myself when they talk about the future, about dreams and aspirations. I have to concentrate on not shaking my head and pursing my lips.
Does that sound fun to you?
Plus, it’s hard knowing what to say to people. I don’t want to lie, of course, but I don’t think they’re ready to hear about the end, either. I’ve opted to be polite, like when someone asks you if their new haircut looks good or when someone shows off a new car. You say something polite, right? Even if you hate it.
So, like, when my brother told me he and his wife had decided to have children, I said, “Won’t that be wonderful.” It’s not going to be anything, of course. But I can let them enjoy the thought of it. I even smiled to add to the moment. He’s my brother.
Or, when a colleague said she was pursuing her dream of starting her own business, I told her, “That’s going to be great.” Didn’t do me or her any harm, pretending like that.
One day, my friend Frank told me how bad things have gotten with his wife. She kicked him out. He never saw his kids anymore. In a dark moment, half-drunk, he said, “Maybe I should end it all. No one would miss me.”
“No. Don’t bother, Frank,” I said. I patted him on the back, tried to be reassuring. “It’ll all be over soon.”
He didn’t seem reassured. But he took my advice, so maybe I was helpful without saying too much.
I have looked into the mirror, you know. To satisfy my curiosity. I looked closely. Right down into that hole in my eye.
I wasn’t going to tell you this but I think I figured something out. Remember when I told you I can see what’s coming, the end that’s coming? Now I think I know where it’s coming from.
I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Like when you’re the fastest runner in your class. Or you did really well in the stock market. I looked inside there and now I know it’s getting bigger and there’s no stopping it, so don’t bother trying.
Well, this isn’t something I feel the need to brag about, that’s all I’m saying.
No, I’m not winking at you! Ha-ha! I’m just trying to get one last good look at you, that’s all.
With the good eye.
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
We don’t carry baggage, we carry lassos and the time has come to move on, rope someone else with our feelings, drag their nights behind our galloping will and hope they survive the long, painful cut through the mud. It’s not that I mind the gesture. It’s hard to sever ties, so we might as well start by trimming the fat before we remove the heart entirely. It’s just a picture. Two people smiling about something, with a filter that made us look like sepia gods, soaked in the sun of a beautiful, infinite day. But I can’t stop thinking about the morning of. We stopped for breakfast and you told me, in between bites of your McGriddle, that thing I promised I’d never repeat, I reciprocated and we cried, guiding our horses for another round of circling the barrels long-since filled with poison from our respective upbringings. But we drove and eventually, we parked. We found the sun and shed the greater weight for the smaller moment. For company so perfect we had to save it. Smile into your camera and preserve the day. Celebrate. Not because we found happiness, but because we’d found each other.
But fuck me, I guess.
Timothy Tarkelly is a poet from Southeast Kansas. He’s had two books published by Spartan Press. When he’s not writing he teaches English to Ninth Graders. One of them recently described his ponytail as “immaculate.”
Save for the few movie nights in my room or hers next door, or that awkward fight we had about how I wasn’t any fun because I didn’t go anywhere with her or Sarah — which made me cry for feeling inadequate as a friend, even though they lived life in a much faster lane, while I was preoccupied with depression and the kind of anxiety that makes you want to rip your skin off, even just walking across campus during broad daylight, and as a result of our different lifestyles, no one chose me as a roommate for the following year — Mindy didn’t know me all that well or the childhood experiences I had that forced me to become a shell of myself, never opening up in an unabashed, raw way, or share what I really felt or what I was really going through, or keep a journal because, deep down, I knew that my well-being depended on no one finding it, to know that shoving one of her leftover condoms (thank G.O.D. unopened) from her Spring break trip with Bill (the poor schmuck she strung along for months on end), into the plastic case holding my bed-in-a-bag, facing it upwards so my mother could see it when she helped me move out of my freshman-year dorm room for the summer, was not humorous. Mindy’s malicious “Oh, don’t forget your condoms!” as she stood in her doorway, while I made my way past her to the elevator, disgusted my mother and mortified me. Red-faced, I ripped it from the bag and threw it back at Mindy’s feet, insisting that the condom wasn’t mine, knowing the idea would be lost on Mindy that her move was a low-blow. And as convincing as I tried to sound that Mindy was playing a dirty trick on me, it mattered not. My mother’s scorn, coupled with my immeasurable embarrassment and guilt, hung over me during our short ride home, thick as clinging, overgrown ivy that never seems to die no matter how much you keep cutting and ripping.
Christine M. Estel lives and writes in the Philadelphia area. She tweets from @EstellingAStory.
On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired.
When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint.
That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.
Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us.
John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.
The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous.
Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen.
Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.
Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.
Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence.
Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick.
I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.
What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time.
Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief.
John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright.
I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought.
John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around.
We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.
The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west.
That was pretty good, wasn’t it?
We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home.
Adrian Belmes is a reasonably depressed Jewish-Ukrainian poet and book artist residing currently in San Diego. He is editor in chief of Badlung Press. You can find him at adrianbelmes.com or @adrian_belmes.
A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer.
A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home
They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory.
Motherfucker tossed a 10-pin bowling ball through neighbour Gord’s windshield by mistake there. August long weekend. I mean, motherfucker had every intention of tossing it through the windshield. Only Gord’s Aerostar wasn’t the intended target. Oh ya, motherfucker’d been drinking. Everybody was. Long weekend and all. No excuse. But what ya gonna do? Motherfucker figured buddy was stepping out with his ex. Probably was. But she’s free to do what she wants, right? 2020, baby. Live laugh love eh? So, buddy says something and motherfucker goes off. Fuckin right off, bud. Someone kept ‘em from fighting there out front of the Inn. Sent motherfucker packing one way, buddy stumbling back into the bar—thank Christ—or who knows what woulda happened. Remember last time? Anyways, motherfucker fucks off. Only, he’s back an hour later with the bowling ball. Dunno where he got it. No idea. Don’t wanna know. Gord, he was sleeping, passed out hard, at the time. Shitty news to wake up to. No fuckin doubt. He’s insured, though. Sure. But there’s your deductible right fucked. Nevermind explaining to insurance why motherfucker put a 10-pin bowling ball through the windshield and all. Gord’s still right pissed about it. Oh ya. Big time.
Sheldon Birnie is a writer, beer league hockey player, and father of two young children who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose writing has appeared recently in BULL, Rejection Letters, Cowboy Jamboree, Riot Act, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie
I made it through. That’s the point of this story. Anything is possible. Perseverance and endurance are requirements. So is meeting a kind person. A helpful organization. Let me stop here and hit the rewind button.
I’m fucking cold. Not it’s sort of chilly out. Not brrr or damn I need an extra layer. No, I’m talking bone cold. Your veins aren’t navigating the blood correctly. Your mind is a fucking ice block. Details: I’m in a parking garage. This is my current home. It’s connected to the courthouse. The temperature is in the teens. It’s early January in Ohio which means I’m freezing. I’m in the glass-encased stairwell, where it might be a couple of degrees higher than outside at best. I’m trying to sleep on concrete. I have no blanket, just a black peacoat which I received from a local church. Sleep is hard when you can’t get warm. And when you feel worthless. And alone. And scared. And suicidal because that’s always an option. It has to be when you have nothing, you are nothing. I fantasize about jumping off the top of the garage. Splat. Goodbye. My story over. Fade to black. But I didn’t actually jump or I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s go a bit further back.
2009 – 2011
I’m a degenerate gambler. I love to bet the horses. And by love I mean the unconditional kind. Love gambling more than my children or why else would I spend every nickel to my name on a bet? Christmas gifts? Fuck that noise. Birthdays? A card with no cash. Everything else? I’m just a ghost at the track. A depressed ghost. A sick in the head ghost. A selfish piece of shit ghost. I am everything besides a good dad. I chase the dime instead of spending time with my tiny girl or older son. I care about nothing but exactas and trifectas and superfectas and longshots who are longshots for a reason. It’s a compulsion. I can’t stop nor do I truly want to. I sell my food stamp card to gamble. I con my mom out of money to gamble. I steal metal from factory dumpsters and sell it to a scrap yard for money to gamble. Like I said, chasing the dime, except the dime is an elusive rabbit and I’m an inefficient hunter. I’m awful at gambling because I honestly think I’m more intelligent than speed figures and breeding and past performances. I’ll chase that dime, that high until I land in a parking garage.
I’m halfway asleep when I hear a car approaching. Headlights flash over my frozen body. Cops. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. Two officers, but only one speaks. He’s young. He asked me what I was doing here and whatnot. I mumbled my usual bullshit answer and he eventually said something about we didn’t see you here. His way of saying go back to sleep, you’re not in trouble. I was relieved.
Roughly two hours later and another car approaching. I’m bathed in headlights again. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. A familiar face, the young cop has returned in his personal vehicle. He has stuff for me. McDonald’s. A quarter pounder and fries. A gift certificate. Gloves and toboggan. A puzzle book and pen. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. He told me about a place where I could get help, Transitional Living. He knew the woman who ran it, gave me her card and told me to call her tomorrow. He also said he was going to call her. This place helped the homeless and mentally ill. He knew I was in trouble and he went out of his way to intervene. An absolute saint. He pulled away and I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept thinking about the kind and caring police officer. A good man. A good human. The opposite of me. I also thought about Transitional Living. Hope on a business card. I would eventually get in touch with them and start the long process of getting better. Years of therapy. A case manager who worked her ass off to transform me. Medication for depression. A new chapter began. A new me was born. I became a real dad again.
I made it through to the other side because of a young cop. Because of Transitional Living. Because I was resilient and wanted to change. I embraced it. This story ends with me in my own home, warm and cozy, writing about the past. And hope. Because hope is real. Clutch it like it’s a newborn and never let go. Hope saved me many moons ago. It can save you, too. You must believe in something you can’t see or touch but is always there.
Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere, You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.Attachments area
There is an Asian man on the subway He likes swimming with dog sharks I know this because I just overheard him He said this to his friend:
“I like swimming with dog sharks,” he said “It’s nice,” he said
I have never been swimming with dog sharks It is a regret I didn’t realize I had I don’t even know what a dog shark looks like I picture a German shepherd underwater It is gliding towards me with fangs exposed The dog shark has tiny fins and they are wagging frantically like so many tails
I should have asked the Asian man what dog sharks look like if only so I could picture them better and relay the details to you
If I was ever in the water with you and saw one I could say, “Look, there’s a dog shark” My knowledge of dog sharks would totally impress (I hope nobody asks any follow-up questions about dog sharks)
I guess I’ll just search “dog sharks” on the Internet but it’s not the same
I often eavesdrop—it’s something I can’t help but I’d never overheard anyone talking about dog sharks before So I really should have asked that Asian man on the subway
I should have asked him about dog sharks I think I would have learned something
I want to write the Jurassic Park of Great American Novels But I’m worried that might actually just be Jurassic Park
I call the help lines on subway ads
Look for answers in phone books
I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of failure,
and I’m a glossary of defeat
What’s a synonym for all of this?
My life seems beyond definition
—only because nobody has come up
with terminology so bizarre,
vernacular so flawed
I read Web MD entries to satisfy my neurosis
There are sick plot twists in books
about the Bermuda Triangle
that I read as a kid
Josh Sherman does run the @iamdave_hello Twitter account.
light blowing through slatted bamboo | across faded carpet spottedwith reds | mustards | strands of pale pup fluff and shreds of shattered leaves | washing tides rolling and ebbing like the years of psychedelic trees inconsistent in design and direction independent of the moon
the last warm sip the next morning is even sweeter than golden nectar of dreamed up gods luring me again inside a predestined quicksand Wednesday by hungry overlapped voids unwilling to be shuttered unfed
Don’t Forget Breakfast
my nostrils flare & flap like dry gills suckling air unsettled with churning richness of butter- drenched popped corn sagging, stubborn, in its own congealment – salty, lip-puckering & liquified sunshine crème. or maybe it’s the peeled & boiled eggs I left in a foggy bowl next to the sulfur- dank sink, steam twisting, oblique, for the hills. I squeeze them between finger and thumb like plump cysts to be certain they’re ready and, pleased enough, I lock them away, droplets dangling, tucked roughly on a too-tight shelf that squeezes them like shackles on a beauty awaiting an unavoidable fate as the next scheduled snack for a giant, drooling ape.
Stephen Ground recently packed his life in his truck and drove to the centre of the continent, where he makes movies and writes poems about the weirdness in the air.
A few flakes still swirled down, danced on the nasty gusts of bitter wind that always flush city streets in winter. The parking garage across the street was dark, and most of the restaurants and bars had closed early because it was a weeknight, and cold.
I was catching a breath of air outside the Hyatt House in the Mosaic District of Fairfax outside Washington, DC. Probably I was trying to decide if I should walk a block or two to see if anything was still open, if it was worth it to brave the cold to eat alone, or go back up to my room and take the salad I bought at the fancy Super Target across the street, the one with the escalator, out of the mini fridge and finishing watching Beauty and the Beast.
Among the few stragglers on the street, there was a man smoking a cigarette outside the Hyatt who glanced at me once, twice, and made his way over.
Oh, here we go.
“Cold enough for you?” he asks.
“From out of town? Here on business?”
“Me, too. My name’s (insert name). I do sales. Travel a lot.”
Maybe his name was Larry. He looked like a Larry. I never remember names on the first or second go-round. Actually, I think he had a more surprising name, something hip or young, like Mike or Liam. He was a couple inches shorter than me, round beneath his expensive suit, probably 15 to 20 years older, bald with some graying hair around the edges.
“Yah. I travel all over. Been to Chicago, Grand Rapids, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and that’s just last month.”
I waited to hear where this was going. It could be anything. It wasn’t that I automatically thought he was going to hit on me, although it was one possibility.
“Am I holding you up? Were you waiting on someone?” he asked, looking around like my phantom lover was about to appear. I looked, too.
“No. Just getting some air.”
He lit another cigarette, got a sad look in his eyes, kind of glanced across the street at the empty stores and sidewalks.
“So, yeah,” he said. “You travel all the time, kind of miss out on a lot. Aren’t always there for the family, wife and kids, you know?”
I thought of my own son at home, fending for himself for the first time, cooking ramen.
“My wife has to put up with a lot on her own, you know? See, my daughter, she’s had some problems…”
Ok. Stop. If I’m alone in this, it’s a curse.
In this case, it’s the fact that we are two travelers meeting in a strange city, alone. It’s the anonymity. He is never going to see me again. If I judge him for what he is about to say, it doesn’t matter much. I make a good stranger.
It’s part of the reason I avoid people. It’s also what will make me great at what I have come here to be trained to do. People ache to tell their stories. If you give them the chance, you don’t have to yank confessions like teeth. They just fall right out.
My card is The Fool. I’m just a weary wanderer stumbling through life, occasionally falling off cliffs. Somehow I come off like The High Priestess. I pick up my tramp sack and sling it over my shoulder, and it gets heavier all the time. I can’t set it down. It would leak secrets and those secrets are acid. They would eat a hole in the pavement right through the core of the earth. Maybe if someone could feel how heavy this pack is, they might carry it for a while.
There was a man who bought me a drink in a bar I used to frequent. I must’ve been about 19. He was quite a few under the table already. When I said I wouldn’t go out with him, he told me he just murdered his wife and buried her up off GA-400. His story turned out to be true. People tell me everything — people who’ve had things happen that never should have, people who have done things that you don’t ever want to know people actually do. People. The dark undercurrents of humanity flow like a cesspool into the steaming sewer called reality, while the citizens above walk the paradisiacal paved streets dressed in Armani and Louis Vuitton.
Every once in a while someone says or does something that shakes me to the core, something beautiful, innocent, surprising. Once in a blue moon. I never wanted to be this jaded. Every time a new dark secret gets added to my bag, I feel like I’ve been robbed of something else.
So the wind still bites and I’m sure Beauty has run to save her Beast from the villagers’ torches by now, and it’s kind of disappointing that he is actually a handsome prince when she was just getting used to the Beast.
The man standing beside me, Mike or Liam or Larry, blinks back tears because of his daughter’s battle with anorexia. If I were a better person, a more honest person, I would probably say exactly what I’m thinking which is maybe he should send her out to the bush because anorexia is a culture-induced entitled white girl problem and if she had to go survive on her own without attention or comfort or food for a few weeks she would be eating grub-worms quick enough and quit breaking her father’s heart. But, instead, I feel sorry that he is sorry, so I don’t say anything.
“You’re shivering,” he says. “Better get inside where it’s warm.”
I slip under the stainless white comforter in my suite and prepare to fall into a dreamless coma, wonder if there is anyone on earth who I could trust enough to tell my stories to.
Abigail Swire is just a wandering stranger, and only dangerous sometimes.
My partner recently told me that she can tell I was mostly raised by my grandparents. She called me the oldest young person she knows. Or was it the youngest old person? Either way, her point was made. And I can’t deny it, as much as I’d like to try. I do appreciate a quiet night at home, devoid of surprise run-in or unscheduled interruption. Even when I make plans, well in advance, no matter how much I’m looking forward to it, whether it’s a concert, a baseball game, a poetry reading, or a live pro wrestling event, when the day of the show comes, I’d rather stay at home, and even after I’ve convinced myself to go, no matter how much I enjoy it in the moment, I’m happiest when it’s over. Katie told me that I lack spontaneity, and my response was that I experienced enough spontaneity in my childhood to last me the rest of my life. Katie rightfully groaned and rolled her eyes, her response whenever she felt I was playing the victim, and I said, “I lived in 20 different houses before I was sixteen!” My mom and my stepdad were spontaneous, spontaneous with their jobs and their bills and their fidelity and rent, and as a result of their spontaneity, we would spontaneously move to two or three different apartments in one year. During the first grade, I attended three different elementary schools (one of them twice that year), a fact that still makes my mother cry when I bring it up. All three schools were within the same school district, in Holmen, Wisconsin, a village with fewer than 10,000 people, but for a first grader in the mid-1980s, they might as well have been on different continents. For one of the schools, I was only enrolled a couple weeks, while I temporarily lived with my maternal grandparents (hardly the first or last time). I barely remember anything about it, except for pissing my pants one day because I was too shy to raise my hand and ask for permission to be excused for the boy’s room, but it turns out that my brief presence evolved into a bit of an urban legend for my classmates. One evening, in my early 20s, I was approached by a group of drunk college students (granted, I was also then a drunk college student) and asked if my name was “Josh Sather.” And, well, the answer was yes. “Sather” was my legal last name before I was adopted by my stepdad, when I was in the second grade, but for these strangers to know me by that name, it meant they would’ve had to know me before then. So, yeah, I am Josh Sather, I confessed, and my answer was met with an explosion of laughter and profanity. “Holy shit, where the fuck did you go?” one of them asked. “What the fuck happened to you?” another slurred. “I told you he existed!” said another. As it turns out, this gathering of intoxicated individuals had all gone to school together, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, and my two weeks in their classroom, in first grade, was like a blip in their collective memory, like a shared delusion. The weird, quiet, ambiguously ethnic apparition who showed up, unannounced, in the middle of the school year, and then vanished without a trace, just a couple weeks later. Did that even happen? they’d joke amongst themselves, Was he even real? And finally, it was confirmed, like the existence of Bigfoot. Josh Sather lived. “And that,” I proclaimed, “was the result of spontaneity.” Katie just looked at me and yawned, and then so did I.
At the Drive-In
I told my mom that Katie and I were at the drive-in, and she had plenty of romantic advice to give. “Buy her some popcorn, put your arm around her shoulder, hold her hand, and kiss her on the cheek,” she told me, as though this was our first date, and Katie and I hadn’t been together for over 18 years, and raised two kids and a dog. I read my mom’s text to Katie, and she sarcastically gave me the finger.
“Do you remember when you took me to American Werewolf in London?” I asked my mom, and she immediately began to apologize. When I was about 2 ½ years old, my mom took me to the drive-in theatre, with her then boyfriend/friend who was a boy, to see John Landis’ American Werewolf in London. I was obviously too scared to watch the whole movie, and almost immediately began to cry at the sight of Rick Baker’s groundbreaking, Academy Award winning horror effects, but it was one of the most formative memories of my childhood, and likely why I’m such a horror fanatic to this day. “Your grandparents weren’t always so perfect,” my mom said, attempting to change the subject. “They took me to the drive-in to see The Graduate when I was 7 years-old,” she said. She said watching the love scenes in the car with her parents was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life, and she still hates Dustin Hoffman for that very reason. “That’s great,” I said, “you should ask grandma about that,” and once again the texts began to pour in. “You can never do that!” she said. “Grandma would be so mad. She would deny it. Don’t ask her about it. Promise me you won’t ask!” she begged via voice-to-text, and I promised her I wouldn’t ask.
“What a shame,” I said to Katie, “to be almost 60 years-old and still not feel comfortable talking to your only living parent like an adult … Remember when Jackson puked at the drive-in?” I suddenly recalled. Our son was barely one year old, and we had taken him and his then 6-year-old sister to the drive-in theatre, to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Katie had just finished feeding Jackson a bottle, he had just recently stopped nursing, and when she sat him up on her lap, to be burped, his entire stomach full of breast milk emptied onto the dashboard. Perhaps needless to say, we didn’t stick around to watch Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka, with Katie and Jackson soaked in hot, curdled breast milk, and his sister, Gabriella, throwing a crying fit over having to leave the movie early.
Well, on the night of July 3rd, Katie and I didn’t have any kids with us at the drive-in. It was just her and me, our first movie together, alone, in god knows how long. It didn’t even really matter what movie was playing, it was just good to be out of the house. “In the car, but out the house,” Katie posted on Facebook. All around us, even while the movie played, thunderous fireworks lit up the horizon. “Next time we’ll bring booze,” we promised each other, and sighed in relief when the credits rolled and it came time to crank the air conditioner.
Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.
i just want to read liver mush dot com every morning
after i read pitchfork and a blog about jeans
i want liver mush dot com to replace twitter dot com
the headlines will read “liver mush dot com is the most popular website ever”
“liver mush dot com in works to purchase facebook dot com”
liver mush dot com tastes like selling your soul to make a friend and i’m here
once liver mush dot com exists there will be subcultures on liver mush dot com
ingroups and elites and innovators making liver mush dot com their own
weird liver mush
alt lit liver mush
podcasts hosted by liver mush personalities
a new yorker article getting it embarrassingly wrong
quote liver mushes on liver mush
re liver mushes
sub liver mushes
“the creator of liver mush dot come deserves the guillotine”
everything runs its course
“the creator of liver mush dot com is hiding at a mountain retreat meditating
on the vaguest bullshit you can imagine”
the creator of liver mush dot com abandons all thought of liver mush
we have to deal with it now
CHRIST’S BODY BROKEN FOR YOU
a slice of liver mush crumbles
under the spatula’s pressure
as i try and flip it
Graham Irvin lives in Philadelphia, PA. His column, SOUTH x SOUTH JERSEY, is at BULL: Men’s Fiction. He has other writing at The Nervous Breakdown, Maudlin Press, and the Neutral Spaces Blog. His twitter account is @grahamjirvin.
The unraveling began when the barstools I bought on craigslist were too short for the counter. I laughed at the thread rustling out of the side of me. That was a sign, but I didn’t know. I just tucked the string back into the seam and the stools under the ledge, and went about my day.
The loose thread rippled my fabric gently, quietly. I felt the cloth twisting in my ribs as I held my breath in the middle of the night, wide eyes staring into blackness, trying not to move. The whiskey tugged at the strand mildly at first, but pulled harder and harder every night. In time, molten liquor burnt reckless holes in the swatches.
I wove apologetic patches. “Sorry” makes everyone feel better, even if it wasn’t my fault. I would hem delicate sheer shrouds with heavy yarn, thick and sweet. I could tell that something was off, but it held me together for a time.
The last stitch unwound itself on the day I moved out. My new apartment is an unwrinkled bolt of whatever I want it to be – wool, lace, twill, joy. I hang silence like bunting on the walls, to brighten up the place. I took the barstools with me.
Maggie Petrella (she/her) is a poet based in Buffalo, New York, but currently probably lost somewhere in the continental US. Her poetry has appeared in Detritus Online, dreams walking, and The Daily Drunk Mag. She tweets @maggie_425.
I like my life but it’s unexpected After Erich’s tweet
college degree, $100,000 in debt, slinging coffeehouse lattes at privileged mommies and daddies whose kids want cake pops and won’t be quiet till they get them
scan the job ads looking for a way to put four years of rhetoric and econ and history classes to use but there’s 1400 other college grads and laid-off middle managers competing for every one
I want to do good in the world, make change, care for my parents when they grow old – but right now that looks more like someone else’s future or maybe no one’s
look around it’s the same for everyone, nothing special about me, a whole generation getting skilled at punching cash registers and clearing drinks from tables, thank you ma’am just happy for the work
my best buds have had bad jobs, no jobs, gone back to school hoping it’ll be different the second time around, most of us still living with our parents, sleeping in the same beds we had before puberty
friday nights I’m cleaning locker rooms at the high school picking up the left-behind jock strap of some kid whose future I can predict cuz I’m living it now
don’t get me wrong – I like my life but it’s unexpected
Spoon-feed a sick hamster from a jar of baby food and you, too, will form a bond
Days later, when she dies on the table during surgery you never imagined paying for, you, too, will cry
Then you’ll stifle your sobs and sniffles, collect your child from school, and prepare to break the news
Later, you’ll gather your family around the dining table still mourning, and draw together, pictures of hamster memories
One will become the memorial card your child hands to friends to harness his grief and theirs
Kim Kishbaugh is a former journalist whose poetry and other stuff has been published in some places, including here on the Back Patio. She wanders through the world looking for magic and sometimes finds it. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kkish.
That morning, her birthday, Nina went to pull the curtains back and open the window to the backyard.
Her heart throbbed as she crossed the fake wood in the house she just bought, stepping barefoot across the living room. The floor was cold
She had a secret place in her heart where the rain cannot enter: a chamber to place every emotion from happy moments to the tightly wound up heartbreaks locked away for her to sometimes massage.
As she went about her business, from brushing her teeth in the morning to those occasional rough nights clutching her stuffed koala bear, well-loved since babyhood, at night, Nina felt every trace memory deep inside, stashed away in that place.
On most days, now counting into five digits Nina filed something away. Some weighed lightly, others not so.
She does not remember when she began putting these things away. Maybe six or nine years old, perhaps five or three, but whenever it began, something was put away.
Today was her birthday. Lucky her, she thought. She glanced at the framed poster from a rock show in San Francisco the year she was born.
It was called The Congress of Wonders. At the performance, Kenneth Anger showed films. When Nina was older she loved Puce Moment, wanting many colorful clothes like the actress, and many big dogs to walk down the stairs from her magical bungalow in the Hollywood Hills.
Her parents met there, or so the story goes. She has no photos of them on the walls. They are in two boxes, one on a shelf in the hall closet.
The remaining images rest deep inside that box.
She began to part the curtains, saw the bluebonnets were in bloom. They got lively early. The winter fled early this year. The yard needed work, especially the fence. The weathered planks were coming undone and falling away. Looked bad. Tawdry. Didn’t want the neighbors to talk behind her back any more than they already did.
Nina did not like her neighbors. They were from another time, triggering bad memories of her parents. Violent at worst, passive-aggressive and neglectful at best, Nina felt unburdening relief when first, then the other, died.
They crafted the box in her heart. Parents do that, you see, she would tell therapists over the years, sitting on comfortable couches, or lying down staring at chartreuse ceilings. Going over every slight, at every level of painfulness, always tying to breakthrough, hoping to break open that box deep inside and dump everything out.
Just never quite got there.
She sometimes called herself the saint of the abyss. Her standing at the edge, visualizing suicide but never quite got near the point of actually doing the act, instead occasionally musing on the concept. One psychoanalyst finally convinced her otherwise that it was an act of murder only to hurt others. Nina took it as a reminder that she didn’t want to hurt her parents—only make them admit fault.
At the time she came to that conclusion, it was too late for them to see. They had died long ago. There was no point, so Nina resolved to plow through, while continuing to add near-daily memories to the box.
The dead didn’t give a shit, so neither did she.
She moved to the sliding glass door. The magnolias were blooming early, too.
As she bent to pull the pole that locked the door she felt the box. It felt burdensome more than usual this morning, rustling restlessly. She felt heaviness in her chest, and she caught her breath. This happened sometimes, presaging a panic attack.
She struggled to slide the door, reared forward and coughed. It was one deep heave, and what came out felt like fire.
When came to, she was on the ground, surrounded by bluebonnets. The wind had picked up, and she saw her hammock swinging in the breeze.
She felt light, and immobile. Nina moved her fingers to her face, sliding them down across her cheek. Finally, she moved on her side, caressing the bluebonnets with fingertips. She was taught never to pick them. Too unique, and they don’t last very long in bloom.
A square, hand-carved cedar box was beside her. Small, and very old; Nina recalled it was on a nightstand in the house they lived on St. Elmo. All she could recall from then was the curved stucco entries.
But the box–that she remembered well on her parents nightstand.
Isis winged. Freed.
Later, after placing the box with the photo albums and loose papers, placing them back on the closet shelf, Nina took a shower. She dressed, grabbed her journal and drove to the coffee shop to write.
Her friends planned a karaoke party for her later. She looked forward to it. Put on a puce dress she hadn’t worn in a while for the occasion.
Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and a reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Back Patio Press, Trampset, Lunate, Ghost Parachute and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for Focus on the Story.
Blade Runner 2069 Our sleek, candy and blue lit, forged-cast titanium pizzas are mind meltingly mouthable and come with your choice of sides, like fried spanners, everything the wired doll needs. Necromancy in case of malfunction is not advised.
Aqua Vitae Emotionally numb, I walk, down, down, down, into the ocean. The vampire squid are in bloom. I can’t extract soluble oxygen. Don’t wait up for me.
When I was in high school, my friends and I were vandals. We talked about burning down a house, spray painted penises on dumpsters, and on more than one occasion, a crowbar would scream into a mailbox.
One time, we filled a milk jug with old paint we found in the basement.
We put it out in the middle of a busy road really early in the morning.
We hid in the bushes for like, 20 minutes.
Just as we were losing hope, something happened.
It was straight out of a science fiction film—
a tractor beam started dragging the jug into the sky towards some hazy blue lights hidden in the clouds.
I still wonder today, why?
Why do aliens need paint?
I thought they liked butts and corn.
Logan Roberts is an artist and poet from Ohio. He tweets @hello_im_logan.
Shovelling handfuls of sand into my mouth like it’s going out of style. It ain’t headed anywhere, but I’m straight up starving. Somehow this is upsetting my stomach worse. Chugging ginger ale to ease the pain of living, laughing, and loving, and yet it’s all supposed to be good in the hood. So why can’t I stop? Shirt bursting at the seam, buttons hand-sewn in Hawaii popping off like a party at Mike DiRenzio’s house. Talk about an hourglass figure. You’ve got to be kidding me.
The man steps off the beach for the last time. He can’t help but think of his life as a sequence of moments in a plot, the string connecting those moments nearing its end. The handgun shifts.
It’s ironic. The idea of driving a hundred and fifteen miles just to sit on a patch of grass (except minus the grass (and the dirt) and replace them both with miles of miles of sand even though we’ll never really know how deep sand even goes, digging through without it just falling back in on itself is one of life’s great impossiblities) to look at the ocean and say ‘good job’ before getting shot in the head pow pow two bullets to the back hitman style (you gotta check out this movie Boondock Saints it’s sick as fuck, bro). I’m falling, sand filling the whole above, limbs flailing, this shit taking a full on eternity. I think I get it now.
The man doesn’t think of himself as a man, but rather a space that occupies spaces. Something in between, something that stops––a force other than self. Maybe he isn’t a man. Maybe he’s a woman. Or maybe he’s neither, a being without center. Imagine being so determined by one event that your identity becomes the event and all you are is the thing and not the person outside the thing. Thirteen in the magazine. Imagine only categorizing your life by an event. One in the chamber.
The obituary read something like this:
Don Williams was born and raised in Middleboro, WA. It’s not known by this reporter if he enjoyed getting shot in the head or not, but we are forced to assume that he did not. Was it his dying wish, or perhaps, more complicated than that, something he never even considered? There are limited resources at our disposal without a social media account with which to determine a lifetime lived. Shortcomings must bid adieu in the case of the senseless beach death. He might be missed. He might not. Our sincerest apologies; this is not our finest hour.
The man––or the shape in the shape of something coming––looks at the address in their hand. Written on the back of a napkin for a nearby gas station that serves fish tacos in the back room. An address passed to the shape like a bad idea you can’t shake. A secret never to be intervened against. The shape looks at the houses on the street, titled shacks with addresses hidden behind tropical overgrowth, the chaotic music of a flock of green parrots hidden in the palms towering above the healthily cracked street. Cars half-rusted by salt heavy air. Then the shape sees it, a little yellow one-room, front door open to let in the breeze. Sounds of splashing from the backyard. This is the moment the shape takes the handgun from the waistband of pizza-print swim trunks.
Literally. That’s the word I’ve been thinking of. Couldn’t remember it for the life of me. Literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Such a simple word, how could I forget it? Something’s wrong with my brain, losing bits and pieces through a hole in the back. How am I supposed to remember the details when I’ve never even known–fuck–forget the thread again. That fear of not remembering your locker combination but it’s my home address and all I’m able to do is wander these streets for nigh on a hundred years. Only dogs can see me now.
The shape follows the narrative string to the inevitable, unable to step away or remove themselves even if they wanted to––forced into this by an unseen hand typing each next step. Typing, the sound pulling the shape toward the backyard. Old typing. Not the modern weak click of laptop keys, but the heavy mechanical thud of vintage history. Smith Corona or Royal. Ink to paper through violent punctuations. Permanent. And the splashing, shallow and playful. And the laughter––or giggling, someone who’s just tricked the warden into an all-you-can-eat last meal. The handgun’s a Glock G23 Gen 4 with a shortened trigger distance, Trijicon red-dot sight, trigger pull of less than 5lbs, extended suppressor, Longhorn slide pull charging handle, and a magazine loaded with jacketed hollowpoints. A dog barks somewhere close. A child laughs somewhere far.
The shape looks over the fence and sees him––the writer. Sitting in a kiddie pool, naked, portable Smith Corona typewriter in his lap. He types a set of phrases, says “Literally” and giggles to himself again. The shape points the handgun at the writer, a forensic string connecting the end of the suppressor to the back of the writer’s head, evidence to later map the bullet’s trajectory, an effort to find a killer who’s already a ghost. Five pounds of pressure against the trigger. The shape takes the inevitable shape. All this is is sound and silence.
Oh shit wait what’s happening? Uhhhh… hello?
Tex Gresham is the author of Heck, Texas (Atlatl Press). He lives in Las Vegas with his partner and kid. He’s on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at www.squeakypig.com.
KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. His novel Good at Drugs is forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press. He can be found on Twitter at @wwwkurtcom.
I honestly don’t know how my son wound up inside the redeemables deposit. I guess he climbed in while I wasn’t looking. He weighs about as much as a bag full of glass bottles, but I still would have noticed him synched up in that flimsy green plastic.
We ran out of the barcoded stickers that label the bags and scan to unlock the hatch, so I had no choice but to leave him inside the yeasty shipping crate. I crossed the parking lot, went into the grocery store, and printed out a new reel of tags from the kiosk.
When I got back, he’d torn through some of the flimsy plastic and had thrown recyclable material everywhere. He’d latched onto a Heineken can, tonguing whatever dribble was left in the rim, and his hands were sticky beyond belief, though that’s par for the course with my little condiment lover.
I scolded him a bit, just because we’re still working on boundaries, and then convinced him to tidy up as best he could. The virginal reel of white squares on its wax paper backing fluttered in my breast pocket just beneath my chin. It gave me the idea. While he was in there, he could make the most of it. Like fishes and loaves, our bounty miraculously multiplied.
“Just put these over the ones already on there. Cover ’em right up,” I instructed. His love for stickers came in handy. Usually a scarce good, I encouraged him to be liberal with them. Lining them up just right was good practice for his fine motor skills.
When I invited him to climb out, he protested. He was having too much fun, but I was getting paranoid so I retrieved him, maybe too hastily, because his tears attracted some looks, though nothing people weren’t used to ignoring.
A couple days later I went to check our balance. All those nickels really added up quick. It was tempting to withdraw it all, there were lots of places it could’ve wound up, but I found the self-restraint to leave it there to redeem against grocery bills. We ate good that week, worry free.
Then I got a call. My account had been flagged. They had my boy on camera. No mention of me, for some reason, but they’d tied the suspicious deposit to our usual Hannaford and figured it out from there. I considered denying it, but no plausible alternative explanation presented itself to me in time.
I agreed to repay them, or rather, I had no choice but to wave goodbye to what remained of the credit on my account. They revoked my program membership, and took down my son’s name to proactively ban him from their system. Fraud is such a harsh word, it sounds so deliberate and nefarious.
My bottle deposit days of convenience are over; we’re back to Redemption on Forest where the proprietor levies an unofficial tax, pilfering odd containers on the grounds that they’ll clog his machines. It’s low-tech, but the human element keeps it interesting. Probably more efficient than the corporate surveillance at the other place, but my son keeps finding ways to wind up places he shouldn’t be. We always make the most of things.
Crow Jonah Norlander lives in Maine with his wife, child, and two retired racing greyhounds.
I don’t like the sound of it. “Group interview.” But I need a job. It’s getting pathetic. I’m living off a credit card and the very little money I have saved. Money I made working back home in Arizona and money my father gave me right before I moved here, in the hopes I’d make something of myself. What I’m saying is, I’m broke. Useless. And still pretty soft. I looked online, using my neighbor’s internet, and found that a movie theater not far from me is hiring. I sent over a resume and the manager responded a few hours later, telling me to come in tomorrow for a group interview. And the first thing that goes through my head is NO. I’m not ready. Can’t handle groups, let alone group interviews. I don’t even know what they are. Am I to become part of a group, or are they? I type it in on my computer and read and read and read, preparing. If I know what to expect, then I have a chance. My favorite article that I find is called “How to Nail a Group Interview: Tips, Questions, and Work Simulation Exercises”. I study it. I let it become part of me. I read it again and again until I know every question by heart.
“How do you work in a team?” I grew up playing sports, so I am very comfortable with the concept. I live and breathe for the team. I love the team. I am the team and the team is I.
“If one of your team members asked you for help with their work, before you are done with your own, how would you react?” Fuck yeah. You need me to sweep the floor? I’ll sweep. I’ll pick that popcorn up with my bare hands. I’ll slurp that nacho cheese right up. You need help with the bathroom? On it. One of the urinals broken? Easy. I’m the new urinal. For the team, I will serve as a human urinal.
“What is your biggest weakness?” Well, sir, I’ve got to be honest here. I am too hard on myself. A perfectionist.
“Why do you want this job?” Ah! I’m glad you asked. One word: Film. I have been a student and lover of film my whole life. Just to be close to it — the magic, the prestige and pageantry — it would be an honor.
And I’m still playing it all in my head over and over as I walk to the interview the next day. I’m wearing my best t-shirt and my hair is combed back. I look like an asshole. Hopefully though, an asshole with a job. I can see the movie theater ahead of me and a mixture of hope and sickness fills my head like cold wet fingers pushing in through my ears. Employment. Responsibility. Money. I look down at myself, run my hands through my hair, inhaling that magical Californian air, and cross the street toward my destiny. Ahead of me, a young man in a tucked-in button-down shirt is walking in to the theater. He’s college age, my age, but he looks younger than me somehow, more alive. I watch him as he talks with an employee, smiling confidently, thanking the employee by putting his hands together and bowing slightly. Then I watch as he walks through a door next to the snack bar. He’s here for the group interview. He’s my competition. And I think, good. If it were easy, I wouldn’t want it. Someone once told me that men are like sharks, that when they stop moving and competing, they die. And I am (essentially) a man. A shark. A competitor. When I get closer to the theater door, I see my reflection. My nicest shirt isn’t so nice and my eyes are sunken in and red and there is a big juicy pimple in the center of my forehead—couldn’t be more symmetrical, pulsing and ready to explode on my fellow interviewees, so noticeable I feel like I’d have to address it. But that’s okay. I’ve done my research. I can do this. I walk in and head for the door the nicely dressed young man went through. As I pass the snack bar, I can hear two employees talking. They’re saying something about the actress in some new movie. “If I was that hot,” one of them says, “I’d be in movies too.” “Yeah, like, she’s not even a good actress!” “Fucking lucky bitch.” “Exactly. It’s all luck,” the other says. And I start to feel physically ill. The voices of the employees seem really sharp. The smell of stale popcorn is all around me. The floor is sticky and my shoes are making a crunching sound as they rip away from the soda-soaked tile. My mind starts to drift off. The confidence is fleeing along with it. And for some reason my whole body feels hot and starts moving on its own. I’m walking out the door and then I’m on my way home and then I am home and then I’m on the phone with Fresh asking if we can meet up. I find myself in an alleyway behind a smoke shop. Fresh appears and he takes the cigarettes out of my shirt pocket and lights one, then sticks a small bag in the cigarette carton and hands it back to me. I realize it’s my turn so I take out the money from my pocket and we slap hands and bump chests. He says, “later bruh bruh” and then I walk home with the image of the nicely dressed young man smirking at me, like he knows something that I don’t and never will.
What Would Happen If The Speed of Light Simply Changed
I knew the speed of light had slowed down to a snail’s pace when I looked across the street. The people I saw on the other side were from weeks ago. I knew it when I looked down at what I was eating and saw breakfast, even though I was actually eating dinner. I knew it when I first laid eyes on my true love, even though our children were already born.
Every morning, I’d ask this barista how he was, and he’d always say the same thing — “I’m here.” Then one day, he wasn’t. That was years ago. But I still think about that guy, all the time.
What We Can Learn from The Death of Mr McKenna
They found my old high school history teacher, Mr McKenna, dead behind a bookcase in his home. Neighbours had complained about the smell.
I looked into his cause of death. Apparently if you drop something behind a bookcase or a wardrobe, you should never lean into the small gap between it and the wall to retrieve it. If you lose your balance, you might get stuck. If nobody finds you, you might die. Apparently, this is very much a thing.
Instead, move the bookcase or wardrobe first. It might be a bit of a pain, but then again, so is slowly dying alone.
I don’t remember many lessons from school. Only those from Mr McKenna’s. I remember him spending a whole afternoon convincing us ‘however’ and ‘therefore’ are two of the most powerful words in the English language, and we should always consider using them in any conclusion to any essay. I remember someone asking him what the point in learning history was. He told us, amongst many other things, history presents us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes of the past.
It must have been awful for Mr McKenna. All alone, lodged against a wall as his last breaths left his body. The bookcase that killed him must have been stacked with so much amazing literature. Books about wars, scandals, revolutions, migrations, all kinds of hardship. In all those pages, I bet there was nothing warning about the potential perils of getting stuck behind a bookcase. Maybe if there was, he’d still be alive today. These words are going to be in a book. These very words, right here.
Maybe this book won’t stop any wars. However, maybe it will end up on someone else’s bookcase. Maybe when that person gets old and they live alone, they won’t die stuck behind it as a result. Therefore, these words about Mr McKenna’s death would have saved someone’s life.
Neil Clark has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions anthologies, as well as longlisted for both the Wigleaf Top Fifty and Bath Flash Fiction award. His work was included in the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction of the Year 2019/20. His debut flash fiction collection is now available from Back Patio Press.
After getting paid, Goya drives to Walmart hoping to purchase a gun and spending an hour looking at guns and picking one out and filling out all the necessary paperwork and handing her background check to the clerk.
“So, it will take a week for the background check to process?” Goya asks the clerk.
The clerk turns the forms to read them, and he makes little reading sounds under his mustache, and his eyes go back and forth across the paper, and he breathes a deep breath in to his mouth and out through his nose.
“I can tell you right now that it probably won’t pass,” he says, turning the form around and pointing to a checked check box that reads, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness. “They cannot sell guns to people who have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses.”
“Okay,” she says, taking the paper from him and walking through the parking lot to her car and driving down the highway and pulling into the parking lot of a different Walmart and filling out another background check without checking the box called, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
As Goya tells David about how she wants to buy a gun, he imagines Goya accidentally shooting him through the wall between their rooms.
The sequence of hazy mental images starts where he can visualize both of their rooms at once. Goya is in a nightgown, and it has a geometric-shape print. The shapes are fluorescent yellow and fluorescent orange. She holds some hand cannon. He stands up to put his pants on or something banal. Her room fills with smoke. The images cut to where the point of view is behind the bullet. Everything is in slow motion. His daydream follows the bullet to his brain. His body falls away. It reveals blood splattered on the wall behind him.
David focuses on the red liquid, and the blood on the wall in his mind becomes the pasta sauce he is gazing at. The room tone takes on a dead-channel quality. The buzz sits on top of all other sounds in the room.
David squints. He feels nauseous. He moves a wooden spoon in the pasta sauce. It pushes chunks of vegetables around in the red liquid. Goya watches him.
The dead-channel tone reaches its highest point of tension.
“Smells good,” Goya says.
“Thanks,” David says.
She laughs. He cannot figure out why she laughed.
“Have you ever shot a gun?” she asks.
He focuses on her briefly. He goes back to watching the pan, and the sauce boils, and he leans over, and he checks the size of the flame, and the flame has fingers, and the flame fingers pulse.
“Blanks for some films I worked on in college,” he says. “Why?”
“I don’t know, like… I’ve never shot a gun, but I’ve been wanting to for a long time.”
She brushes her hair out of her face. She pulls herself up to sit on the countertop.
“I led some generic-type guy on for months because he kept saying he would take me to shoot guns,” Goya says. “We broke up, because it was like… never going to happen.”
“We would just play chess all the time, and I never won,” Goya says. She is starting to digress.
“Months,” David says. “That seems committed. That seems quite committed. I think you can just go to a range and shoot pictures of people with rented guns.”
“I feel like I am really good at chess. I must not be because I never win,” she says in the digression.
“Yeah… well, a shooting range doesn’t seem very meaningful,” she says.
“I feel like I am good at chess because I beat someone with a chess tattoo,” he says following the digression.
She laughs. David laughs. They laugh for different reasons.
“Not sure if I look for emotional significance in a shooting experience.” David walks away from the stove. He gets the colander ready. He gets something else ready.
“That’s unbelievable to deal with,” she says.
“But you’re not looking for a shooting experience, David.” The sauce begins to bubble, and Goya turns the stove off for David. “This is important to me.”
“I would only get a gun to live out some following-in-William-S.-Burroughs’-footsteps bullshit.”
“That seems meaningful.”
“Yeah, I need to get a gun,” he says. He continues in a nasally, William S. Burroughs voice, “Time for our William Tell routine.” He mimes placing an apple on his head, and he bites his lip as though placing the idea of the apple with care, and Goya holds some invisible hand cannon, and she takes the idea of the apple in her sights, and she fakes recoiling with its implied kickback, and he moves his hand behind his head as though his brains were being splattered on the wall behind him, as though Goya just shot him in the face.
“I’ve been thinking about purchasing a gun, but I just feel like… it is not a good idea. Seems like a joke that turns out not to be funny. Like joining a cult.”
With a magazine over her face is Goya lying on the couch. There is supermodel wearing deconstructed jeans on the cover with a featured article about the You’re Worth It campaign. A little light leaks between the magazine and her face. It illuminates images, but they are too close to focus on. Fluorescent colors are on trend. Out-of-focus fluorescent colors fill her entire field of view. When she breathes out, the pages curl and crinkle. She holds the sound of crinkling paper in her thoughts, distinct like a sound effect for a film. Crinkling paper becomes her favorite sound. She can conjure this sound at any moment in her thoughts, and again she conjures the sound in her mind, and she breathes out, creating the sound with the magazine.
As Hunter walks in, the first thing he sees is Goya on the couch sleeping, snoring quiet breaths, making tiny crinkling sounds. He leans his skateboard against the couch, of course it makes a scraping sound as it begins falling, his hand reaching out towards the skateboard, the skateboard staying just out of his reach.
The skateboard smacks into the hardwood floor. He picks up the skateboard. Maybe, somehow, Goya slept through it. Goya lays still with the magazine over her face, so Hunter begins walking toward his room.
“Err,” Goya says through the magazine.
Hunter brushes his long, black hair out of his face revealing his sparse mustache, and he says, “Sorry for waking you.”
Goya does not respond, not moving, not speaking.
Hunter starts to walk away.
“Hunter,” Goya says. “What’s your favorite sound?”
He pauses and turns around, and he says, “Umm,” and brushes his hair out of his face again. “Something frying in a skillet.” He laughs.
She smiles beneath the magazine.
“I think mine is crinkling paper.”
Goya comes up behind David. She stares a getting-someone’s-attention stare at him. David stops focusing on his phone. He scans the room. Every horizontal surface has beer cans on it.
“Hunter and I are walking to the bluffs,” Goya says.
She asks if he would like to come with. He agrees. He grabs his camera. They walk toward the bluffs. Their neighborhood is close to downtown, and most of the homes are standalone, and they have small, unkempt yards. The neighborhood is mostly impoverished households, and the occasional new home with a manicured yard stands out. A passerby nods at them. Hunter and David and Goya wave. Another passerby yells at them from across the street to ask for a cigarette.
“Sorry,” Hunter says.
“Fuck you,” the passerby says.
They walk between some houses to the bluffs. Hunter and David and Goya sit. Their breath vaporizes. They cannot distinguish between cigarette smoke and their breath. They look through the vaporized breath at the distant mountain. It is snow capped, and it vomits a jagged forest into polluted waters below.
“Can I bum a smoke?” Hunter asks.
David is the only one with any cigarettes left. He sets his camera down. He reaches into his pocket. He pulls a pack of cigarettes out. The pack is black, and it is beaten up, and all the cigarettes are bent. David opens the pack. He hands it to Hunter. Hunter pulls one out. He lights the cigarette. He hands the pack back. David places the pack beside his camera. He leaves the lid open as if to say, They’re fair game.
Vaguely in David’s direction, Goya touches her mouth with a soft touch and a distracted gaze. She reaches out, grabbing the camera and bringing it to her face and pointing it at David. His hands cover his face. He makes an anxious expression behind them.
Hunter’s eyes shift from David to Goya and back to David.
The camera flashes. As Goya pulls the camera away from her face, David pulls his hands away from his face, and they reveal their faces almost in unison.
“Did you get it?” David asks.
Goya smiles as she sets the camera down, and they go back to looking at the view from the bluffs. “I think we’ve found it,” Goya says.
“Found what?” David asks, and he believes he already understands, but he asks in hopes of hearing her speak. He hopes she will speak romantically. He hopes she will speak romantically about this moment.
“I wish I hadn’t said that… seems silly now,” Goya says.
“I don’t know… like that intersection of comfort and novelty and connection with the people around you.”
“It seems nice,” David says, and he may have destroyed the sentiment by acknowledging it. Hunter and David and Goya sit quietly for a while.
Everything slows down, and they never realize how slow they live.
No Glykon is a writer, designer, and musician based out of Providence, RI. They are stretched upon the plain and covering some nine acres of ground. Two vultures on either side of them are digging their beaks into their liver, and No Glykon keeps on trying to beat them off with their hands, but cannot.