3 Micros by Francine Witte

Mother Dog

The mother dog had left her puppies orphaned. We found them sprawled out in clouds of goo on the back porch. The mother dog had come by for food each day, and when we tried to bring her inside, she bit our hands. 

There were five of them. We named them after our fingers. Pointer being the leader, and so on.

We set out food. When Longfinger started to eat up all of it, starving the others, we laughed and laughed. How very protective this puppy is!

When Ringfinger got himself stuck in the stormdrain, we oohed and aahed. How cute he is, trying to swim!

When Pinky whined the entire night, we clapped and clapped, convinced he was trying out for chorus. 

But when we woke up to Thumb trying to suffocate us with our pillows, we got a little concerned. Maybe these little ones weren’t so cute, after all. 

Maybe we remembered all at once why we didn’t like the mother dog in the first place. Maybe we started to think about rounding up these little ones and re-orphaning them in the nearby park. 

But just then, all of them, the whole hand of them, surprise us with a birthday cake, even though it’s none of our birthdays. And even when one of us suspects a trap, rat poison in the icing, the rest of us vote it down, thinking instead, how very thoughtful these puppies probably are.

♦◊♦

 

The House Watches Her

like a dumb husband.  Like it knows she’s leaving, and it’s sorry, and it promised to change. Like this time, she’s gonna believe it.

Like the water heater won’t break again, leave her in a shivery shower, leave her telling Susan over coffee and fatty donuts how she got cheated on again.

And when she gets too fat to fight back, Susan says, “oh yeah, it was me.  Your husband cheated with me.”

And when she throws the coffee pot at Susan, who just ducks and scrabbles out of the house, she’s left with nothing but a hole in the wall where the coffee pot hit, and when she calls the fix-it man, he finds it’s just the start of her problems.

The roof needs shingles, and the floor is uneven, and the paint in the bathroom is a peely mess.

And she just can’t live in a broken house, a broken marriage, but when she sees what either one would cost to repair, she figures it’s cheaper just to hop in her car and drive away.

And when she does drives away, and hears the carburetor whine, or sees a crack in the road, she’s just going to face forward, keep driving, because she can’t repair the whole goddam world.  Now can she?

 

♦◊♦

 

 

When the packages start arriving,

I don’t know what to think. I stand in the doorway each morning as the postman brings box after box. Hundreds, in fact. 

It is, after all, Christmas, but still. 

My father is dressed up like Santa Claus.  Even though he told me not to believe.

The packages keep arriving, and soon, they are spread across the table, the carpet, and eventually out the door. They clog up the driveway, and we have to pry ourselves past them on the porch. 

There are too many to open, and we begin hoping for package burglars. The kind you see on the evening news. 

But no one comes. Only the postman with more packages. He looks at my father all dressed up like Santa and waits for a tip. My father puts his two hands on his jellybowl belly and jokes that he gave at the office. 

One day, the day before Christmas, so we’re hoping the packages stop, the postman dollies a human-sized box up to the porch. It is wrapped in gold, and out pops my long-ago mother. I’d only seen her in pictures that my father told me not to believe. 

 

Continued…

 

He had said I was found on a doorstep, but here is a mother if you need something to hold 

on to. He gave me a photo of this woman who is right now popping out of the box. 

Do you like all the gifts I’ve been sending? She asks, excelsior still in her hair. These are the things I should have given you all these years. My father says we don’t need any of that, we’ve been doing fine without any of that, and he pushes her back in the box. She doesn’t even struggle as he closes the flap and tapes her up shut. 

We watch as the postman, who is package-less now, passes our house. My father waves him over and slips him a twenty. Together, they carry the boxes to the curb and leave them for trash. 

Including the one with my package mother who looks just like my photo mother. The way my father looks like Santa Claus. The way whatever I believe looks just like what I don’t. 

 

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She live in New York City, USA.

“Racing Against Ghosts” by Daniel Eastman

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Steve came stumbling off the curb in cargo shorts and a polo shirt. Swung open the door and fell in shotgun, a movement so fluid I thought he’d rehearsed it. Sweating booze, he leaned over and put a tongue in my ear like it was supposed to be sexy.

“Not here,” I said, looking around to make sure no one saw us. 


He belched and the stench of Bud Light bloomed throughout my Taurus.

“Jesus.” But who was I to judge? I was drunk too. 

Looked around craning my neck from side to side. Not a body in sight, only darkness and a couple yellow porch lights. Coast clear. So I floored it. 

Steve gripped the plastic clothes hanger handle over the door and shouted, “Whoa!”
“Welcome to the Batmobile, baby.”
Steve laughed. “This is the fuckin’ Batmobile!”
Shit, why did I say baby?

Steve came home from SUNY Potsdam for summer. I didn’t go to college. I got a job working at the Car Freshner plant. A puncher. You know the little hole where the string gets tied at the top of the Little Trees? Well, I’m the guy who punches that hole with a piston machine. All day I’m punching and sending them by the crateful over to the guy or girl who’ll be stringing.

He had a beard, too. Everyone was growing beards. I couldn’t grow one so I told people I thought shaving was manlier. Dragging razors across my face, hell yeah.

I was speeding down Flower Ave by the golf course, looking for a good spot when I saw a familiar face in a passing car. Whoever it was, we made eye contact for a second and I was sure he recognized me. Fuck. Don’t turn around and follow me. Maybe if I get it up to sixty they’ll forget they saw me and not turn around.

“Why are we going so fast?”
“I saw someone.”
“Who?”
“Zach, I think.”
“Zach who?”
“I think his name’s Zach.”
“Zach?”
“The lacrosse player, Zach.”
“All lacrosse players are named Zach.”

Headlights winked in the dark behind me like they were saying, we know all about you, dude. We know and we’re comin’ to gitcha! When you’re living a secret life, every passing car, every stranger’s glance, every shadow cast has the potential to expose you.

Racing from my ghosts, I parked us in the lot of a funeral home several miles outside city limits. Red lights from the radio tower in a nearby field flashed across a stretch of darkened road.

I got out of the car and kicked some gravel and took a long pull from a bottle of Yukon Jack. Steve got close and breathed into my lips. “What was that all about? Driving like that?”

He peeled my shirt from my skin getting his hands underneath, kissed my gritty neck, and I dropped the bottle next to the tire hearing some of it slosh out into the dirt. Guys always kiss like they already own you, like they don’t care if you break apart in their mouths. He pulled me close by the button of my jeans, tearing them open.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just don’t want anyone to know.”
“Trust me,” he whispered between kisses, “everyone already knows.”
“What?”
“Maybe I had too much to drink and said something?” He stepped back and I could sense his shame in the darkness, standing there all hairy chest and stooped shoulders. “Are you mad?”

I leaned against the hood of the car looking down. Avoiding eye contact, absorbing his confession. Probably could have taken him. Even just a sucker punch. I thought about getting inside my car and gassing it back to town, leaving him stranded half naked at the funeral home on an empty back road. I thought about the ways to ruin him. Ah, fuck. 

My chapped throat burned. Feeling my gut wring itself out of booze and betrayal, I swallowed it down. Then I stood up and pulled him back to me. Everyone wants to play the tough guy in heartbreak.

We traded swigs for a couple hours looking up at the blinking lights over the radio tower before passing out in the backseat beneath a used beach towel.

Last I heard, Steve’s married and manages a bar down in Myrtle Beach. Me, I’m still punching away. Wonder if any of my ghosts are watching me now. Not mad about what happened between us. Not anymore. Goddamn

 

Daniel Eastman is a writer from upstate New York but he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife.

Twitter: @daniel__eastman

“No Signs of Struggle” by Margaret King

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The third night in the historic log cabin, I awoke with a jolt. Creaking. Tapping. 

“Just the old logs settling,” I told myself, but in the next beat, thought, “This place was built in 1873–shouldn’t it be settled by now?!”

(The ground shifts imperceptibly beneath our beds . An unsettling, and resettling…a dance between the earth and the manmade)

The past two nights had been peaceful, with all of us sleeping soundly in the wooded darkness and the freedom from traffic, train horns, and neighbors. 

Scratching. Scraping. I froze, all my senses on edge. A jingling of the dog’s collar, and then absolute silence.

(Sometimes the unsettling releases long-buried creatures from the deep)

“The dog would bark if someone were trying to break in,” I reassured myself, turning over and trying to fall back asleep.

A knock on wood, sharp. My husband sat up straight in bed next to me, and not realizing I was awake, quietly got out of bed and felt his way down the pitch-dark, steep wooden steps leading from the loft to the living area below. 

“He’ll check it out,” I felt reassured but was poised to grab my phone just in case (there was no reception this deep in the woods). Nothing. The minutes ticked by without any noise at all, and my husband did not return to bed. 

I tried not to drift back off to sleep in the silence and inky darkness, straining my ears for sounds of my husband coming back to bed, but my eyes and limbs were so heavy. With a sense of growing dread, I finally forced myself to get out of bed as quietly as I could. I crept down the steep wooden stairs, but how many were there?! Surely by now, I should be at the bottom of the staircase. 

I descended for an eternity, and the growing dampness and chill around me became palpable. Putting my hand out to touch the wall, I felt clammy, slippery mud instead of firm wall. My knees went weak and I began to tremble, my brain shutting down but for the most basic of survival functions. Ahead, flickering lights and the sounds of digging and hammering–lanterns and shovels and pick-axes, I now saw, being wielded by transparent workmen whose clothes and faces were covered in grime. Digging, digging, digging, prying, prising, throwing lumpy black rocks into carts on old wooden tracks.

Ahead, the dog wagging his tail near an open pit roughly the size of a grave, and my husband, smiling and beckoning to it. The transparent men surrounding it were digging, digging….

Finding my voice at last, I screamed, but the mud absorbed my cries like a sponge before all went, again, silent.

 

(The sheriff’s press release notes read, “There were no signs of struggle. The couple and their dog were found as if peacefully asleep. At this time, we believe there was a tragic hydrogen sulfide leak from the long-abandoned lead mine that tunneled underneath the structure. Law enforcement responding to the scene detected a characteristic sulfur odor. For now, the property is strictly quarantined until the hazmat team can ensure there’s no further danger to human life or health. I have no more information at this time.”

 

Reporter 1: “How do you think this gas entered the home from underground?”

Sheriff: “Possibly from a crack in the stone foundation near the structure of the chimney. Once the site is cleared, our forensics team will make a formal investigation of exactly how this accident occurred. As I’m sure you know, there are abandoned mines all over this area. In spite of the efforts made to find them all, sometimes in the case of these heavily-wooded, remote areas…well, they still turn up and surprise us.”

Reporter 2: “Do you think recent fracking in the area may have released the gas trapped in this old mine?”

Sheriff: At this time, we have no reason to believe that is the case. Black Zephyr Corporation is the only one fracking in the area right now, and they have assured us they’ve had no reports of accidents.

Reporter 3: “Many believe that the sulfur odor also indicates the manifestation of a ghost or spirit. Is this a possibility you and your department would consider?”

Sheriff: “Who is this woman? How did she get press credentials? Excuse me, I’m finished taking questions for now.”)

(The ground shifts beneath our feet, unsettling and resettling. A dance between damp earth and the built environment. Sometimes, the dance is fractured, and an old mine is disturbed, releasing long-buried creatures from the deep…)

 

Margaret King is a Wisconsin author who enjoys penning poetry, short stories, and novellas. Her recent work has appeared in Ghost City Press, Bombus Press, and Mojave He(art) Review. She is also the author of the novella Fire Under Water.

You can purchase Fire Under Water here.

 

 

“The Last Hunt” by William Falo

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The red fox looked up to the sky and let out a loud yelp. Snow fell into his eyes and he didn’t see a shadow moving through the trees. A blast made him jump and a shower of pine needles fell on him when the bullet slashed through the trees. He darted into the thicker woods with his tail down as not to be an easy target.

When he stopped, he sniffed the wind and knew the human was getting closer, he took a chance and bolted uphill to the deeper snow. While he could walk across the top of the snow without sinking, the human would have to trudge through it at a slow pace. It would be an easy escape.

Behind a group of snow-covered pine trees, he listened to see if the human continued his

pursuit. Why would he? But he knew the answer. He saw his mate in the trap. The cruelty was beyond his understanding. 

Crows in a tree farther down the slope cawed out a warning. The human was coming. The birds took flight and continued to sound the alarm. A large deer bolted past him. When he was younger, he might have tried to take one down, but now with missing teeth and sore legs the buck could kill him. He should have followed it.

The sound of crunching snow made him focus his one good eye in the distance and he saw the human climb up a pile of boulders. The fox watched as the human leveled a long stick to his eye, he looked through a tube on top of the gun. Before he realized that his red tail was sticking out into the pure white snow a spark came out of the gun and searing pain instantly spread from his leg to his head. He tumbled over and saw red flecks on the snow where he was previously standing.

“Yes.” The human yelled. The fox limped to cover behind some trees. He feared the next spark from the long stick, but suddenly the human cried out. The stick flew out of his hands and the human fell off the rocks and rolled down the hill until his body ended up hitting a tree. The human remained still, his long stick was nowhere to be seen and a trail of gloves and supplies littered the snow.

The fox licked his wound, but the pain didn’t stop. After the blast of the shot, the woods took on a haunting silence, until he heard crying.  He wanted to get closer to the human. The vision of his dead mate drove him. It took a long time while dragging his leg behind him, but he made it close enough to see the human’s bare fingers were shaking while frozen streaks of water lined his cheeks.

The fox moved closer. 

The human saw him and reached for something that wasn’t there. Panic filled his face. The fox waited.

“I’m sorry I shot you, but you killed my dog and all my chickens.”

The fox tilted his head.

“Didn’t you?”

The human sobbed. His hands started to turn a dark color. Night was coming and the human probably wouldn’t survive it. 

“Maybe, I was wrong. The dog was my best friend and I was so mad. My neighbor said a fox did it and he said he knows it because he traps them. I would never trap any animal.”

His mate died in a trap. Should he help this man?

A yipping sound came from the pile of boulders. Two coyotes looked down upon them.

“I recognize that sound. That’s what killed my dog and chickens. It wasn’t you; it could have been the coyotes.”

The fox watched as the coyotes disappeared behind the rocks.

“I’m sorry. Revenge got the best of me.” The fox looked into the human’s eyes for a long time. Maybe he didn’t use the trap. He slowly moved closer while keeping a watch on the rocks. Coyotes were tricky and he needed to be alert. The man fell asleep and the fox stood guard as long as he could. Darkness was not to be denied and the fox curled up next to the man using his tail for warmth. He saw his mate waiting by a den. He was home.

 

♦◊♦

 

The park ranger stopped the bobsled and looked down the hill. She took out her radio. 

“This is Madison. We need medical right away. I’ll send you the GPS.”

She drove past a rifle and saw numerous coyote tracks, then followed a path of gloves and other items until she reached the man under a tree. 

Next to the man was a fox. Its bushy tail covered the man as much as possible. The man’s

hands and nose looked frostbitten.

She felt his wrists and got a pulse. 

“Make that a medical evacuation by helicopter. He may make it, but could lose his hands. This will be his last hunt.” She put the radio down and saw the man was trying to speak.

“The fox?” He managed to mumble.

Madison looked closer and then shook her head.  “It might have saved your life.”

She kneeled next to the man and covered him with an emergency blanket. 

“What happened here?” Madison asked.

His hands shook and he opened his mouth, but he couldn’t speak. A single tear then fell down his frozen cheek and made it all the way to the ground. 

 

William Falo writes fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Newfound, The Ginger Collect, Fictive Dream, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.

Twitter: @williamfalo

“And Things Like This” by Matthew Lovitt

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There was a certain look about Frank, a look like make me or prove it or you call that game? And standing near the reinforced window, the sun softening the ragged contours of his face, it was hard to know if he was really insane—a puzzle made of a fresh snow bank. Virgin white cut with shades of gray. Psych admissions were often a matter of three hots and a cot, the mental health deputies would say. How right they were, their minds were already made. Yet still I wanted to inspire change.

And so I said, How are you feeling, Frank?

He said, Okay.

And you’re adjusting to the hospital’s routine?

Sure.

What about your delusions?

Same.

Yesterday you mentioned the mob.

They’re going to slit my throat, I would say.

Care to elaborate?
What’s the point?

I can help.

Unlikely.

And maybe he was right— what little help I could provide was likely too late. For patients like him, the best bet was to minimize the pain. Which to me meant therapy and space. Then again what would the insurance company say? Treat him and street him, never mind the coping skills he won’t retain. Or snow him with meds then call it a day. But there was more to social work than getting paid.

What about the Abilify, Frank?

It makes it so I can’t shit.

I can ask the doctor to add a stool softener to your regiment.

The stools fine. It’s my guts what’re bad.

I pursed my lips.

And the voices, they won’t quit.

What’re they saying?

They’re screaming for a cigarette.

That’s it?

He shrugged.

Well I guess it could be worse. They could be whispering obscene… Never mind. But tell me where you’ll go when you leave here, where you’ll live.

My truck.

And you’ll be safe?

Safe enough.

I said, Okay.

Because who were we to force upon him four walls, poly-blend sheets? Where he chose to live was his choice to make. And to drop him at a shelter would put more than one life in harm’s way. A history of violence is a hard thing to escape. Bombs exploded atop the brainstem. But that was a conversation for another session.

Do you have any questions for me? I said.

He scratched his chin.

If not, that’s okay.

What would happen if I tried to escape?

The police would bring you back.

I meant jump into rush-hour traffic.

And you lived?

He nodded.

Same.

Okay.

Or worse.

Worse.

Probably a months long commitment with the state.

He said, Oh.

You’re not…

Yes.

Okay.

He lowered his eyes, ran his finger down the window frame.

After escorting Frank back to the unit, I told Dr. Dobson of his constipation, suicidal ideation, and severely depressed affect. She told me to contact his family to let them know that the patient would be leaving before the end of the same day. I was to give them the phone number to the crisis line, for when Frank experienced his next break. When, not if; also just in case. 

 

•••

 

Frank stared into the middle space. From behind the nurse’s station, I asked him his pharmacy of preference, outlined the documents required for his MHMR admit assessment, and requested he sign a release for me to talk to his family about the diagnosis. To involve his loved ones would improve his chances of success and educate them on how to best support Frank through the recovery process. But when I slid the ROI across the desk, he crumpled the document, kicked a hole in the wall, then paced the unit, beating on his chest. 

I’m a human being! he said.

What he meant was anyone’s guess, but when the tech attempted to calm him, he spat at her, called her a bitch. Then the charge nurse called Code Blue over the PA system, and onto the unit descended all available hospital staff—admins, cooks, and facilities men. They circled about him, with their hands held in front of their chests. The nurse stepped forward, whispered thinly veiled threats, and then down she went. Blood spurted from her mouth, covered Franks clenched fist. 

I felt bad for her, but what did she expect? This wasn’t the Ritz. And what reason can be heard over the voices yelling homicidal threats—figments? God doesn’t love every one of His children best. There are winners and losers, usually the opposite of first guess. At least Frank knew to smile when they stuck him with max dosage emergency meds. Which is when I thought we might end up friends.

 

•••

 

The nurse held a bloody napkin to her lip. Dr. Dobson sucked on the cap of her pen. I said, I think we should hold him, give the meds more time to take effect. Forty-eight hours isn’t enough to learn what’s happened to him, not to its full extent. And if I can convince Frank to attend a few groups, he may reveal more of what’s going on in his head—a win-win. Really he’s quite intelligent. Or he seems to understand the system. Which to me suggests a need not met. One more day, I pleaded. We owe that much to him.

 

•••

 

Frank sat in front of the television, passing gas. The stench hung about him as a Linus Van Pelt-like mist. Sill I sat, feigned interest in the TV evangelist, preaching Original Sin. We were born to defy Him. But salvation could be had for the price of twenty-two inch rims, touch-screen navigation, and, to a lesser extent, limo tint. God wanted for his servants the finest Cadillac. And did we really want to betray His wish?

Frank said, Amen.

So you’re a believer? I said.

Hell yes.

Well then maybe you’ll appreciate the topic of today’s life skills group—developing a positive social support system. If religion isn’t that, I don’t know what is. Care to join us?

No.

How about a cup of coffee? 

Pass.

A cigarette then.

 

•••

 

I opened the group with my story into recovery from mental illness. At sixteen I was diagnosed with major depressive and personality disorders after eating a handful of benzodiazepines, NSAIDS, and antidepressants. I bounced in and out of commitments for a decade, until I met the man who helped me see beyond the broken thoughts like dead bodies sunk in my head. Now my mission was to help others find their solution. And of the group I asked if there was anyone in their lives who might provide the same kind of perspective.

Which was when Frank shot to his feet, and said, I ain’t got no mental problem. The real problem is people like you telling me I’m sick…bad. Just because I don’t follow your rules doesn’t mean I’m broke or lost or stupid. I want to walk hand-in-hand with Our Lord and Savior. Unto Heaven. That’s it! Not like you give a shit. Oh and where’s that cigarette?

I said, What I hear you saying is that you find strength in your faith.

That’s right.

And that you don’t care for our treatment methods.

He curled his lip.

That’s excellent, I said. Thank you for sharing your experience. And you’re right in that religion can be a positive influence. Would anyone else like to share a helpful person, group, or association in their support system?

A sallow-looking man raised his hand.

Go ahead, I said.

Women.

Is there a particular woman?

My wife.

That’s great! Our families are great supports, assuming they want what’s best. Which is not always the case. Consider yourself blessed.

The man smiled.

Frank muttered, Horseshit.

I said, Do you have something to contribute, Frank?

I see what you’re doing, calling my family garbage.

Tell me more about that.

About your voodoo mind tricks?

About what you perceive as an indictment.

Frank puffed his chest. Who’re you calling a dick?

The air in my lungs seemed to thicken, and the other patients held their breath. I thought to pray, but counted backward from ten instead. As if I could de-escalate him. God may have been the better option, but then again faith was a grift. Or we were doomed to live the same mistakes over and over again. No matter how many gold teeth glistened when the preacher grinned. 

 

•••

 

I watched the second hand on my wrist watch tick. My work phone rang the loudest ring of 4:50pm, amplifying the throb in my head. The taste of blood still lingered on my lips, the smell crusted in my nostrils, from where Frank’s forehead hit. He took me down quick, and the other patients couldn’t peel him off before he got a few good licks. But coming into the job, I knew of the risks. See: no good deed goes unpunished. Also compassion is a matter of dollars and cents. Like love and patience and respect. And so, Fuck it, I said, and went home to entertain the voices still chattering in my head.

 

Matthew is a drug addict recovering in Austin, Texas. His work can be found at Soft Cartel and ExPat Press. He spends too much time on Twitter– @mrmatthewlovitt.

3 Micros by Todd Mercer

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In the Mood

How to become the nursing home’s youngest resident: Dive into a city pool without seeing if it was drained. I’m glad to be alive. Many people tell me I should be.

The music in the dayroom is the sorest trial. Crooners, old-time Big Band Swing. Staff parks my chair beneath the speaker and I’m stuck ‘til someone moves me. No sensation from the C-5 vertebrae downward.

It was after dark. My friend wanted to swim too. He told 911, “He’s dying.” Ten feet below on the concrete, I said, “Bad news, man—we’re all dying.”

A little levity.

 


Luminaries

Jane, shopping in Home Depot, answers other customers’ questions. They mistake her for a Paint Department employee. We load our cart with electrical cable, junction boxes, switches, outlets. The whole Edison package. We’re illuminating a former crack-house we bought at distress price. When we first went through, items thieves had stripped out included the copper pipes, the breakers. Most windows. The stairs. The place screamed “ruin.” Ruined lives poisoned the structure. Jane saw the potentiality. She said, “We have complete freedom in here.” I said, “Seems like the last tenants let their freak flags fly.” Jane was busy with the future.

 


Strings

Corey tells strangers in the bar’s next booth his needlessly extended shaggy dog story about three strings who fought, then said, “I’m a frayed knot.” They laugh superficially, because the joke isn’t too advanced, but they were raised for courtesy. He isn’t focused on our depressing discussion about my wrecked relationship and the diabolical other party whom I have not decided to leave. What friend wants to hear drawn-out installments from a guy living for years in Crazy-town who won’t rent a moving truck, but still complains? Corey rejoins me, interrupts my woe-airing, cuts his advice to a dangling phrase. “Stab me once, shame on you…”

3 Micros by John Sheirer

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Happy Holidays

When she was twelve, April’s father was transporting the Easter ham from the outdoor grill to the kitchen and dropped it onto the breezeway’s concrete floor. April’s mother, of course, was furious. Moments later, both parents screamed at each other over the ruined meat. Pineapple glaze, April’s favorite, oozed into the pores of that rough floor, built so many years ago by the original owner of their ancient farmhouse.

From that day forward, nothing was the same. Her parents’ holiday arguments grew more common as the years passed, making fancy meals an endangered species in April’s home. Thanksgiving turkey drumsticks were wielded as weapons. The Christmas roast was lobbed like a grenade and left on the floor as luxurious dog food. Jellied cranberry sauce dripped from walls like Technicolor blood at the multiplex.

Now, so many years later, April has a family of her own. But she’s more careful. Her family battles are fought over ordinary plates of fish sticks or peanut butter sandwiches or mac and cheese. Her children will grow up with happy holidays.

 


 

Sign

Jessica eased the car to a stop at the traffic light. She and Wayne had never been in this part of town before. The GPS told them that they were just a few minutes away from the new restaurant where they were meeting friends for dinner.

“What the hell?” Wayne said suddenly.

“What is it?” Jessica asked, following his gaze out the passenger window.

“Who would give something that name?” Wayne asked.

“Where?” Jessica said as she focused on a large sign between two bushes. “Oh!”

In big, brown, capital letters on a beige background, the sign read, ANAL PLACE.

“That can’t be real,” Wayne said.

“Must be some kind of joke,” Jessica replied.

From the car behind them, someone tapped the horn, a polite reminder that the light had changed to green. Jessica and Wayne both kept their eyes on the sign while she inched the car forward. As their perspective changed, they saw the letters move out from behind the bush on the left.

“Ahhh!” they both said as Jessica fed the car more gas, and they sped on toward the restaurant.

“I think the waterfront is over that way,” Jessica said.

“I guess there’s a canal around here somewhere,” Wayne replied.

“Yeah,” Jessica said. “And we’ll have a good story to tell at dinner.”

 


 

One Thing

“There’s one thing that always works,” Marty said as he steered the car along the interstate. “One thing that always cheers me up if I’m feeling down.”

He could feel Debbie looking at him from the passenger seat. They’d been dating for three months, and things seemed to be getting serious. There were no enormous “red flags”–just a few small ones, barely pale pink, nothing that they couldn’t deal with.

“It’s something dirty, right?” Debbie asked, not laughing. “Is it something dirty?”

“No,” Marty said, chuckling. “Nothing dirty.”

“What is it?” Debbie asked.

Marty inhaled and was about to answer, about to tell her that a simple hand on his shoulder was all he ever needed to feel better, when Debbie interrupted: “Wait! Don’t tell me. It’s too much pressure! I don’t want you to be disappointed if I don’t do it.”

One far off day in some indefinite future, Marty’s daughter or son would ask him, “How did you know you were really in love? How did you know you were with the right person?” And by then Marty would have found the right person because that’s why he would have a daughter or son. Maybe by then he’d be able to answer his child’s question. Maybe by then he’d know about finding the right person. Marty envied that future version of himself.

But for that moment, as Marty steered the car toward the freeway exit and Debbie changed the subject to whatever their plans might have been for that evening, the only question he could answer for certain was how he knew he was with the wrong person.

 

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wonderful wife Betsy and happy dog Libby. He has taught writing and communications for 26 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he also serves as editor and faculty advisor for Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and his books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.