“Sunshine Butterflies” by Jon Berger

9303969400_9b8ce21d88_o.jpg

It was around 7 or 8 on a summer night. I was 15 years old. We were hanging out in my friend’s driveway smoking stolen cigarettes when somehow, I was in the middle of the driveway kicking Tommy’s head in over and over again. I don’t remember what it was over, he must’ve said something wrong to me. I get like this sometimes. When my blood starts pumping and I start seeing tunnel vision and I stop hearing what is being said to me. 

I remember my friends Robert and Ben sitting on the cement steps watching. We were at Robert’s house and Robert’s house used to be a gas station in our town a long time ago. 

Ben asked Robert if he was going to stop me and Robert said he would step in when it got out of hand.

Tommy pulled a knife out of his pocket. It was a butterfly knife, he flipped it open and stabbed me in the leg. Just below the knee, in the meaty part where the calf muscle starts. It didn’t hurt. It just made me wake up. Like when you wake up from a weird dream in the morning and you still think for a second that it was real. I just felt it. I held my leg out and turned it, the knife sticking out my leg, blood running down my leg into my sock. It was a nice knife. It was burned steel so the sun reflected off it and into my eyes and I saw spots. Tommy didn’t have enough time to lock the handles in so the handles swayed and glinted like wings as I turned my leg and I could feel the blade shift in my leg. 

Tommy scooted away from me sliding on his ass, his palms scrapping on the ground. His face was a red swollen mess with blood stains down his shirt.

He got up and ran away crying wiping his face. 

Robert and Ben walked up to me.

“Holy shit you’re bleeding,” said Ben pointing at my leg.

It put my foot on the ground and put some weight on it and it felt fine. I bent over and locked the handles together and grabbed the knife by the handle and pulled. I think it was stuck in my bone some because it came out kinda hard. I had to twist the knife some and it cut into my leg more. I yanked the knife and it came out all bloody, more blood ran down my leg. The knife had white stuff on it and white stuff was leaking down my leg mixed in with the blood. 

“What’s the white stuff?” I asked holding the knife looking at it. 

“It’s tissue,” said Ben.

“What? Like Kleenex?” 

“No man, like muscle tissue or something.”

“Is that bad?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Fuck, can I keep the knife?” said Robert.

“Naw, I like this knife,” I said.

“But you already got that black knife.”

“Yeah, but I got stabbed with this knife. I get it. You ever get stabbed you get the knife.”

“Make sure that shit don’t get infected,” said Ben.

Robert had an idea. He went inside his house. His mom was mostly deaf and there was some other stuff wrong with her and she never knew what was going on. 

Ben and I were sitting on the steps, the blood drying down my leg. Robert came back out the house with a half drank pint of 5 O’clock vodka and a dish rag. Robert was my best good friend and he was making sure I was going to be okay.

 He gave me the vodka and I put my leg out and I pinched the wound with my fingers and pulled it apart. It was deep red black and sticky inside. I poured the vodka down the hole and the vodka sizzled in my leg. I felt the sizzling travel to the center of my leg and down the inside of my calf. I grinded my teeth and grunted. Pink vodka blood spilled out the wound and splattered on the cement steps beneath me. 

“Hey guys,” Ben said. 

We looked at him. He was pale and sweaty.

“I think I need to go home.” 

Me and Robert nodded at him.

He left, slowly walking across the lawn looking up at the sky. He didn’t hang out with us anymore.

I poured more vodka into my leg and wrapped it with the dish rag. Robert went back inside and came out with a pair of his jeans for me to wear home so my mom didn’t see. I put the jeans on and left my shorts in his garage. 

 My leg was starting to ache by the time I got home. 

♦♦♦

A day or so later I was waking up to spots of blood and yellow puss on my white bedsheets. The wound was all red and puffy. 

I didn’t know what to do so I told my mom and we went to the new med express in town. 

When we got there the nurse asked me tons of questions in the room. I was sitting on the table with the crumply white sheet spread over it. I wasn’t smart enough to make up a story so I just kept saying I didn’t know what happened and shook my head. The nurse glared at me and my mom and said she wasn’t going to beat a dead horse. 

Another nurse came in the room and they had a syringe full of peroxide and they stuck it up the wound and it hurt like fuck and they shot peroxide up into my leg and it sizzled way more than the five O’clock vodka did. They did this several times until the wound was cleaned out. They cleaned it with disinfectant wipes and cotton swabs while shaking their heads at me and telling me how stupid I was. They said it had healed too much to put on regular stiches so they put on these butterfly stiches that held the wound together. The doctor came in to write out a prescription for antibiotics. He told my mom to take better care of me. My mom’s face was red and she looked down at her purse in her lap.

They printed out the bill at the front desk and my mom started tearing up and wiping her eyes when she saw it. 

We left for the pharmacy.

In the car, going through town, we got McDonalds and my mom begged me to tell her what happened. But I wouldn’t say anything. I just folded my arms looked out the window. The kid I beat up never said anything either. You just can’t do things like that. 

♦♦♦

A couple days later, when my leg was feeling better and my mom was at work I went over to Roberts house. I limped down the street. It was hot out and I was sweating under my bandage that I had to change every morning. 

I knocked on Roberts door and he answered, “Shit, what’s up, man? How’s the leg?” 

“Yeah, it got infected.”

“Fuck dude that sucks.”

Robert came outside and we sat on his steps and we lit cigarettes. I pulled the butterfly knife out of my cargo shorts pocket flipped it open and snapped it closed again and handed it to Robert.

“Here, you can have the knife.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you deserve it.”

Robert looked at me side-eyed while he grabbed the knife. 

“Why do I deserve it?”

I shrugged. “You wanted to help me. So, thanks.”

Robert said he would always want to help me.

He took the knife and started to flip it open and close until it was a spinning blur. Robert was superfast. More than I could ever be. And our cigarettes just sat smoking in our lips as we watched the knife fly.

Jon Berger lives in Saginaw, Michigan. His work has appeared in BULL, Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Ellipsis Zine, Expat, Cowboy Jamboree and elsewhere. He tweets @bergerbomb44.

“Bored Games: A Real Estate of Mind” by Bud E. Ice

Bored Games Real One.jpg

Jerney’s real name was Jennifer but she preferred “Jerney” because she favored herself to be the free spirited, hippie type. She even had the long blonde hair to boot. Although born in the nineties, she dickate on the fashion trends of a generation before her time. But it was all an act. She wasn’t really a free spirit. She was more so just imprisoned by the romanticized nostalgia of an era. Jerney just liked to get stoned and wear psychedelic dresses and fringed corduroy jackets. She was obvious and didn’t have much depth but I kind of dug her attempt at style. Sometimes. Other times her lack of mental substance just got on my nerves. The visual can only go so far. Otherwise there might as well just be a hologram there instead of a human being. 

One day the two of us were hanging out at her place and she was fiending. Jerney was a speed freak and was constantly on some type of upper. She was still cute though, if you were able to look past the dilated pupils and runny mascara, the constant fidgeting and nonsensical ramblings about nothing. She had a chaotic existence.  

“I need to cop up. I’m all out,” she blurted out at one point. 

“I agree. You’re more annoying now than you are when you’re on the shit.”

“Fuck off. Come on. I need to go to my dealer’s house.”

“Do I have to go? I don’t take that shit. Can’t I just stay here?”

“I’ll buy you a six-pack if you go….”

We drove along for almost an hour. I was holding my breath for the whole trip because Jerney was driving like an erratic lunatic. I was afraid to breathe, fearing it would be my last. She cut three corners and blew two red lights along the way. The bitch drove as if the STOP signs weren’t in English. My head was on a swivel looking for cops. But we were lucky, and getting away with it. I wasn’t even sure what neighborhood we were in. All I knew was that it was a lot nicer than where Jerney and I resided. 

“Where the hell are we?” I eventually asked. 

“Maverford,” she replied.

“Never heard of it.”

“That’s because you never leave the fucking hood. I used to go to school up here.”

“Is it weird that I feel more uncomfortable in nicer neighborhoods than I do around our way?”

“No. That’s typical for someone like you.” 

I didn’t know what she meant by that and didn’t ask. However, it sounded derogatory. 

Jerney finally parked the car. We were on a residential street with big houses. None of the houses were connected and they all had yards. The grass and trees and birds all seemed appropriate unlike the manufactured nature that seemed wrongly placed around our way. We also had grass and trees and birds, but it always kind of felt like none of that shit should have been there. It never seemed appropriate. Nature in its most unnatural state. Surely it didn’t match the rest of the rundown concrete. It was like putting jimmies and sprinkles on an ice-cream cone full of shit and calling it dessert.  

“That’s Dean’s house right there,” Jerney told me. 

“Your drug dealer’s name is Dean?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I don’t know. Dean just isn’t a drug dealer sounding name to me.”

“What’s a drug dealer’s name supposed to sound like?”

“I don’t know. Like a nickname sort of thing. Like ‘Beans’ or ‘Fizzy’.”

“Not all drug dealers have nicknames. Plus, Dean’s not your typical drug dealer. I went to high school with him back in the day. Now I only go to him when he comes home from college. He goes to Princeton.” 

“Princeton, huh? A Poison-Ivy Leaguer. The upper-class is out here selling uppers. How ironic.”

“You’re so fucking annoying,” she replied. I don’t think she really meant it, though.  

We got out of the car and up a walkway that was lined with beautiful flowers, organized in a pattern of various colors. This guy Dean even had a screen door covering his storm door. That was impressive. You have to be pretty well off to have two front doors, I thought.  

“We’re going to have to stay here for a bit,” Jerney said. “Dean doesn’t like people running in and out. This is his parents house and he’s afraid the neighbors will get suspicious.” 

“Dino’s smart. I’d feel that way, too.”

“Don’t start calling him Dino. And don’t worry. We’ll only be here for like a half hour, tops.”

“There’s always some bullshit with you, so we’ll probably end up being here a lot longer. But, it’s whatever.”

Jerney knocked on the door and a dorky looking frat boy type answered. He was wearing a powder-blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a pair of pink khaki shorts. His shirt was tucked in and he was wearing sandals. I already knew we weren’t cut from the same cloth. His were a lot more expensive and mine had holes in them. 

“JERNEY! Long time no speak!” he rejoiced, while giving her an awkward ass hug.

“I know, right! How’s everything been?” she asked.

“Ehh, I’m just out here living the dream.”

Was he living the dream, or was he just lucky enough to be born into it? 

Dean looked at me and I could tell from the rip that he didn’t fuck with me. “Who’s your friend?” he asked, playing the fake nice guy role. But he had no lie in his eyes. He could tell I was white-trash.   

“This is Bud. He’s my friend from back home.” I reached out to shake his hand and he gave me a limp noodle. He probably thought my hands were dirty, which they might have been. But, regardless, I still felt some type of way.

“I’ll go get your stuff. How much do you need?” Dean asked Jerney.

“I got two-hundred on me, so whatever that gets me.”

“Sure thing. I’ll be right back.”

Dean went up stairs and I could hear him go into the bathroom and wash his hands. He must have thought poverty was contagious. 

“Fuck this dude. I don’t like him. Just a first impression, but still,” I mentioned to Jerney. 

“He’s a square. I’ll admit. But he usually gives me good deals, so it’s worth it.”

“You should just let him fuck you. You might get the shit for free.”

“I’d rather just pay the bread.”

Dean came back down the stairs with a sandwich bag filled with round, orange pills. If you didn’t know any better it could easily have passed for a bag of SweeTARTS. I’d never seen so many pills in one bag before. He handed it to Jerney and her face lit up like a Christmas tree.  

“They’re five milligrams, so I just charged you five each. But I threw in an extra ten because I haven’t seen you in awhile. So there’s fifty there, altogether,” Dean told her.

“Oh my God! Why are you so sweet!?” replied Jerney as she opened the bag and threw three of the pills into her mouth.

We all went into the kitchen and sat down. I sat there not saying much as Jerney and Dean talked about various things and people who they knew but I didn’t. Hollow smalltalk back and forth. I noticed the pills were starting to take effect on Jerney because she started talking a lot faster and couldn’t sit still. Then I heard her say, “Oh my God! Are those board games, over there?” as she pointed to a shelf across the room. “We should all play a game!”

“Sure. I’m down!” said Dean.

I’m not, I thought to myself. 

The two of them got up and walked over to the shelf.

 “Which game should we play?” asked Dean. “How about Sorry?”

I’m sorry I came here, I thought.  

“I’m not a big fan of Sorry,” Jerney said.

“How about Trouble?” Dean suggested.

I’m in enough trouble as it is, I thought. 

“MONOPOLY! OOOOH! OOOOH! Let’s play Monopoly. That’s my favorite!” Jerney emphatically said. 

“Then Monopoly it is!” Dean answered. I got the vibe that he just wanted to get in her pants and would go along with anything that she said. It was only annoying because I became aware of it. 

The two came back to the kitchen table. “To be honest, I don’t feel like playing,” I told them. I hadn’t played Monopoly since I was a child and I barely even played it then. I was always bad with money management. I could never manage to get my hands on any of it. 

“Oh, come on. Don’t be such a party pooper. It’ll be fun!” Jerney told me. 

“I’d rather not.”

“Here. Take two of these, you’ll get into it. You’re mind just needs to focus and be stimulated. Just watch,” she said as she took two of the orange pills from the bag. I had a fuck it moment. I popped the pills in my mouth and swallowed them without water. “Alright,” I said. “Let’s get this shit over with.” 

“I’ve yet to lose a game of Monopoly a day in my life,” bragged Dean, as he gleefully started passing out the assorted-colored, fake cash. 

“I’ve only played a handful of times, in mine,” I replied. I started counting out what fake money he handed me. “How much are we supposed to have?”

“There should be a total of fifteen- hundred dollars,” replied Dean.

“You shorted me fifty.” 

“Oh, I’m sorry. My mistake,” he replied as he handed me two $20s and a $10.

Right then and there I realized Dean wasn’t on the up and up. There were plenty of fifty dollar bills in the bank but he knew exactly which bills he had shorted me on, without me saying anything. I pretended not to notice. Playing dumb is one of the smartest things you can do. Especially when dealing with a fraud. See how far they try and take advantage of you, before unveiling the truth and letting them know that you were on to them the entire time. And, even then, they’ll still probably attempt to lie their way out of it.   

We were playing Monopoly but I came with my poker face. 

“Okay, let’s get started,” said Dean. “Pick which piece you want to be. Jerney gets to choose first since she’s a woman.” Was he well-mannered or a sexist? I’m out of the loop when it comes to gender etiquette these days. I once tried to hold a door for a woman and she snapped at me, going on this long spiel about how she didn’t need a man to do her any favors. She was so insulted by my attempt at being a gentleman. I went from chivalrous to chauvinist in the blink of an eye. Anyway, Jerney couldn’t decide what piece she wanted to be. It was between the dog or the iron. She ended up choosing the dog. 

“You should have picked the iron,” I said to Jerney. “Your clothes are wrinkled.”

Jerney looked down at her blouse and started brushing herself off, trying to straighten it out. 

“Don’t listen to him, Jerney. Your shirt looks perfectly fine,” Dean chimed in. 

“Thank you, Dean. See? Why can’t be more of a gentleman like Dean?”

“I don’t know. Anytime I’ve tried it ends up getting thrown back in my face. I feel much less vulnerable being an asshole.” 

It was my turn to choose what piece I was going to be. I reached for the car and Dean nearly smacked my hand away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I must be the car. You can ask anyone I’ve ever played with. I’m always the car.”

“I don’t know about that,” I responded with sarcasm. “I have no way of asking everyone you’ve ever played with. You could easily be lying to me.” I was just being snarky and difficult on purpose. I really didn’t give a fuck whether or not I was the car. Shit, I didn’t even own a car in real life. 

“Come on, dude. Do I look like a liar?” he asked.

“Nah. I trust you,” I replied. And here I was, ironically lying to him. I didn’t trust him one bit. That made us both liars. The only difference was that he cared a lot more about Monopoly than I did. 

I ended up choosing the wheelbarrow instead of the car. I only chose it because it seemed like the stupidest piece that was left. I almost picked the battleship but my lack of interest didn’t have me prepared to go to war. 

“You’re choosing the wheelbarrow?” Dean asked while doing  a very condescending laugh. “In all my years of playing I’ve never seen anybody choose the wheelbarrow.”

“That makes sense. I’m a non-conformist. Plus it might come in handy when I collect all the cash at the end of this. You’re both looking at a first generation millionaire,” I said while pointing my thumb at myself. 

The game got underway. The first half was agonizingly boring as we all tried to acquire whatever properties we deemed fit. I could tell Dean had some sort of strategy brewing because he wasn’t purchasing any of the properties he was initially landing on. I decided to be facetious and bought up all the skid row properties because they represented the type of environment I was accustomed to in real life. That meant Mediterranean and Baltic Avenue were going to belong to your’s truly. I was playing the role of a slumlord. Jerney, on the other hand, was basic and just kept talking about how much she wanted to land on Boardwalk and Park Place.  

The pills that Jerney had given me were starting to kick in. I felt a slight buzz and glow forming throughout my body. I became very tuned into the environment, both the board game and reality itself. I hadn’t felt mental clarity like that in quite a long time. Then I caught Dean cheating, again. He passed “Go” and when he went to collect his two-hundred his fingers got sticky and he took an extra hundred from the bank. I saw him do this a few more times as the game progressed. But I continued to bite my tongue. I didn’t care enough to bust him, yet.

Midway through the game I had acquired all of the railroads and was able to build a hotel on Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues. I didn’t spend my cash on anything else and was fortunate to not land on any of Dean’s properties. Dean’s main focus was on collecting all of the red properties. Despite stealing bread from the bank he had only managed to build two houses on each. 

Jerney’s strategy, or lack thereof, was a shit show. The speed had her far too erratic to play the game wisely, or even somewhat coherently. She was biting off way more than she could chew. All the properties she owned were random impulse buys and none of them coincided with one another. She’d buy one of the purple properties and then go buy a yellow one. She was able to grab Boardwalk, however, just like she had hoped. But by the time she landed on Park Place she didn’t have enough money to buy it. She was still having a great time, nonetheless. She was high as a kite and just enjoying life. I started thinking, maybe she’s the smartest one out of all of us. 

“So, what’s your dad do? You got a really nice place here,” I mentioned to Dean at one point.

“He works in real estate.” 

“No wonder you’re so good at Monopoly. You probably get it from your father. It’s that genetic real-estate of mind.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” he replied, but you could tell his mind was focused on the game. 

I laughed on the inside because I was really throwing shade. His father was probably just like him. Real-estate frauds. 

It came to a point where Jerney was almost out of cash. She passed “Go” and got her two-hundred dollars but also landed on my hotel, Baltic Avenue. Even with the extra two-hundred she didn’t have enough to pay the rent. I had to evict her. I had no choice. 

“Well. That’ll be four-hundred and fifty bucks, my dear. And by the looks of your bread over there, you don’t got it,” I said to her.

“Fuck it. I’m tired of this game, anyway,” she replied while leaning back in her chair and lighting a cigarette.  

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll be alright. I might even be generous and let you trick out of one of my hotels. How does that sound?”

“Suck my dick,” she said. 

“You might just have one, too.”

“ALRIGHT! ENOUGH! Enough of the talking! I’m trying to concentrate,” Dean lashed out. 

Dean was taking this stupid ass game way too seriously. I couldn’t understand it. You would have thought we were playing with real money by the way he was acting. He wasn’t conducting himself very well. I guess his own arrogance was getting the better of him. He did mention that he’d never lost a game of Monopoly in his life. But luck wasn’t going his way. Oh well, I thought to myself, that’s what you get for cheating. 

Being that he was so visually agitated I felt that it was only right to add a little fuel to the fire. I decided that I’d start talking shit at every given opportunity, just to rub it in. I had karma on my side, so I began feeling mighty braggadocious, despite the fact that I didn’t care whether I won or lost. 

Things really began reaching a boiling point when Dean started landing on my properties. Three straight times around the board he landed on either Baltic or Mediterranean Avenue. He became more and more enraged each time.  

“I don’t know, Dino. I’m starting to get the vibe that you like staying at my hotels.”

He didn’t answer me and handed me my cash. I counted it to make sure it was all there. 

“I’ll tell you what. Next time you come through I’ll personally send one of my best hookers up to your room. Free of charge, it’ll be on the house. Hell, I might even send Jerney up there for you.” 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” he screamed. His voice even cracked. “And don’t call me Dino!”

“Whoa, whoa. Cool out, man. I’m just trying to look out for my favorite tenant.”

“JUST PLAY THE FUCKING GAME!” 

I rolled the dice and landed on a space that forced me to pick up one of the orange “Chance” cards. I flipped the card over and it told me to go directly to jail, which was appropriate for someone like me. Dean seemed to take slight solace in this. 

“Wait. So how do I get out of jail?”

“You either need a “get out of jail free” card, which you don’t have, or you have to roll a double on your next turn,” he replied.  

“Bet.”

My next turn came around, and you wouldn’t believe it. I rolled a double. Playing craps all those years had paid off. I had mind control over the die. The god’s were playing puppet master, and on this particular day the strings were in my favor.

“Well, well, well. I’ll be damned. Look! I rolled a double. Snake eyes. Just like yours.”

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?” Dean shrieked.

“Exactly what I said. You’re a snake.”

“AND WHAT MAKES YOU SAY THAT?!?!”

“Because I’ve been watching you cheat this entire game. You ain’t slick.”

Dean jumped up out of his seat while flipping the entire board off of the table. All of the pieces flew in different directions, a few of which hit Jerney on the head. I don’t even think she noticed. She’d taken three more pills since bailing out of the game earlier. She just sat there wide eyed taking everything in.   

Dean stood tense and motionless, huffing and puffing with anger as all of the fake money slowly fell through the air around him. My eyes went back and forth between Jerney and Dean. I was waiting for one of them to say something. Finally I couldn’t take the silence any longer and spoke up.

“Sooooo, I’m assuming the game is over?” 

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, BOTH OF YOU!”

Next thing you know Jerney and I were back in her car, both bewildered by what had just taken place.

“Is it just me, or does that dude have a lot of pent up rage in him?” I asked Jerney.

“Nah, you’re right. He’s always been known for spazzing out over dumb shit.”

“Over Monopoly, though? It’s a fucking board game. Who would care that much?”

“He’s a rich kid, you know how they are. They don’t have anything but dumb shit to complain about, usually.”

“I guess you’re right. Anytime I go into the city it always seems like the homeless people are walking around content with having nothing. While all the dude’s in business suits look miserable as fuck.”

“That’s because they are, bro. How does the saying go? Money can’t buy happiness. That shit is real.”

“Facts. Sometimes that shit just helps finance your sorrows instead,” I replied.

“That’s actually pretty profound. Especially coming from you.”

“Yeah……don’t forget. You still owe me that six-pack for putting me through this bullshit.”

“Deep one moment, right back to shallow in the next. But, I’m a bitch of my word. I’ll get you you’re beer. It’s the least I can do after that whole mess.” 

Jerney started up the car and we made our way back to our crusty safe-haven. She kept her promise and bought me my six-pack, on the way. Life’s not too bad when you got a six-pack. It helps make life’s bored games a little more bearable. Shit, if you get drunk enough, you might not even have to cheat.


Bud E. Ice is a functioning alcoholic and part-time lowlife located right outside the ratchet grounds of Southwest Philadelphia. His work typically involves a comedic take on social etiquette, race, class, morality, battles within the self, family issues, death, vulnerability, and whatever other realities seem relevant at the time of the writing. It’s HIS reality, but a reality nonetheless. So the reader can either RELATE to it or LEARN from it. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? There’s far worse ways to waste time.

TWITTER: @BudEIce

“Del Taco” by J. Edward Kruft

5139134629_1c717edd89_o.jpg“Out of the van!” yelled the cops, guns drawn.

Wide-eyed and hands up, Marc answered: “I swear! He said he was eighteen! Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Tell them!”

Meanwhile, in the desert, Monica posed next to a Joshua Tree while her girlfriends spread the blanket and popped the champagne and tapped weed into the bowl and, one of them, Sheila, squat-pissed behind a cactus that was playing a game of stick-em-up.

“Anyone ever notice,” began Joanne, as she was like to do, “that Mr. Murphy had a face like a weeping willow?” This betrayed that they had all been together since high school, excepting pissing-Sheila, whom the other girls tolerated for Monica’s sake, who had a bead on Sheila marrying her brother.

“Can I just say,” said Sheila, buttoning her Levi’s, “that this is one fucking-out-of-the-way place to have a shower?”

Monica said: “This bride-to-be is ready to get baked. Who’s with me?”

They sat around the blanket, Sheila plopped into the middle, and while Joyce got the pipe lit, Mirabel poured champagne into cups made from avocado pits.

Meanwhile, in Laguna, Mrs. Blancas listened on loop to Elaine Stritch belt “Ladies Who Lunch.”

Does anyone still wear…a hat?” she asked along, clutching her gin fizz. She adjusted her turban in the mirror and spoke to herself: “My father used to tell me, he’d tell me, ‘Lolo, you better marry rich, because you are the laziest person I’ve ever encountered.’

And one for Mahler!”

“Can you imagine he said that? To me?”

In the parking lot of Del Taco, Marc sat in the back of the cruiser. A cop was still questioning the boy that Marc thought was a man and he tried desperately to read their lips through the bulletproof window, the heat stifling him. He was caught off guard when the front passenger door opened and the other cop – the cute one, the one with the pencil mustache – got in. He handed Marc back his cell phone. “You might want to call someone. We’ll be heading to booking in just a few. Figure bond will be about ten.”

Marc showed his hands, cuffed behind his back. The cute cop sighed and got into the back with Marc and unlocked one of the cuffs so that it dangled like a gaudy bracelet from his left wrist. “Giorgio for Men?” asked Marc. The cute cop slammed the back door and left Marc alone.

Nothing. Not even voicemail. He dialed again. Nothing. He looked through his contacts.

In the desert, Sheila’s phone rang. Being she was in the middle of the blanket, everyone stopped as she looked at her phone. Monica said: “I can’t believe you get a signal.”

Sheila got up and walked toward the stick-em-up cactus.

“The fuck you want?”

“Sheila,” said Marc, “you with Monica?”

“What’s it to you, you fuck?”

“Sheila, listen, really, I need to talk to my sister. I’ve tried calling her but she doesn’t pick up.”

“You know, you’ve got a lot of nerve….”

“Sheila! Seriously! Now is not the time!”

She hung up.

“Fuck!” yelled Marc, enough that the cops and the boy who pretended to be a man turned to look.

Marc began to cry – not ugly-cry, but a single, dramatic tear – as he dialed once more.

Mrs. Blancas turned down the volume and picked up her princess phone.

“Yes?” Silence. “Yes, who is it?” she asked, looking in the mirror at that mole that ought to be removed.

“Hello, Mrs. Blancas.”

“Oh.”

“Wait. Mom. Don’t hang up.”

Silence. Then: “What do you want, Marco?”

As he searched for words, Marc watched a family walk through the parking lot. The kids were devouring their tacos as they walked, the littlest one dripping salsa verde down his front.

“The tacos here really are delicious,” he said, wiping away the tear, the dangling cuff brushing his cheek.

“What?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, are you drunk?”

“I said: THE TACOS HERE REALLY ARE DELICOUS! THEY’RE JUST REALLY FUCKING DELICOUS! OKAY?”

“Oh, I can’t do this. Really, you’ve always been such a churl,” said Mrs. Blancas.

“Mom. Really. Please. Don’t hang up.”

Silence.

“Do you remember,” asked Marc, “I broke my arm and you wouldn’t take me to the hospital, until finally I vomited on the dinner table and….”

“Your father was much too tolerant….”

“What has that have to do with….?”

“Someone had to be the heavy.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was you all over.” Silence. “So, you’re not at Monica’s shower….”

Sheesh. Are you kidding me? It’s in the Goddamned desert!” She huffed. “Now, what’s all this cockamamie talk about tacos? Marco, where are you? Marco? Good God, you’re not in Tijuana, are you….?

The back door opened and the cute cop stuck in his head.

“All set?” he asked.

“Who’s that?” asked Mrs. Blancas. “Marco, who are you with? I hear a voice….”

Marc took a breath. “Here’s the thing, Mrs. Blancas. I’m in a little bit of trouble and as much as it pains me to no-fucking-ends to ask: I, might, kind of, you know, need your help….”

But soon enough he understood it was too late. In her impatience to get answers, Mrs. Blancas had put down the phone to examine more closely her mole, this time with the magnifying glass, and then she readjusted the volume to ten so that the only response Marc received was Elaine Stritch screaming at him, full throat:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAiii’lll drink to that…..


J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College, and has been a Best Small Fictions nominee. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, includingJellyfish Review and MoonPark Review. His sister used to needle him with the same knock-knock “joke,” the one where the answer is banana over and over, until finally, the punchline is “orange…you glad I didn’t say banana?” He hated it immensely. He lives in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha.

His fictions can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com
and he can be followed on twitter here: @jedwardkruft.

“Dicklicker” by Daniel Eastman


8413770791_ce29c75645_o (1).jpg
It’s just one of those things that happens. 

Smoke wafts off the fire and stings my eyes. Stings in a way that makes the face across the flames seem a distant stranger. Cody cracks open a Coors and tosses me another from the cooler. When I catch it, I continue looking at his face, his eyes, looking for all of the minute changes years have given him. Like being behind the wheel of a familiar street in a storm. He’s thinned out now, around the cheeks and temples. 

He stares at the darkened house as if the kitchen is a hundred miles out. He’s thinking Sandy’s looking out from the window over the sink. I’ve driven up from the city for a weekend getaway. He said it was fine if I crash on the couch but I know somewhere in the background there was Sandy, the voice of reason. He’s a bad influence, I can hear her saying about me. Saw it in her face over dinner, all flared nostrils and pursed lips. Honestly, I’m shocked he wound up with a woman like that. One who gives a shit. If only she’d known Cody back when. If she knew the Cody I knew. 

Twigs snap in the orange glow. Crickets whistle in the high weeds in the fields behind his backwoods home. A nature scene gutted with a spire of smoke.

“So,” he says, scuffing the sole of his sneaker in a pile of old ash. Levi’s frayed around the heel.

“Thanks for letting me stay,” I tell him.

“Dude,” he burps on exhale, “It’s fine. I missed you.” 

We’re trying hard to talk like the people we were before we were old but all of it comes out stunted. Nostalgia. Fish tales of football fields and fistfights like a couple of old soldiers. Nothing but a series of ‘remember whens.’  I sneak a look at my phone out of habit. Then I nod toward the darkened house.

“Think she’s okay with it?” 

“House is in my name.” Cody shrugs with the silver can hovering in front of his lips. “She can deal with it.”

Shit. Sure beats the backseat of a Civic. Guess it can’t all be bad. Ain’t like I got a Sandy around to tell me what for. 

“It’s nice to get out of town for a bit is all. All the signs and people and lights, gets suffocating. My head feels like it’s full of bricks.”

“I hear ya,” Cody nods at the fire but I don’t know if he really hears me hears me. “Work’s got me running twelve hour days. Mm, shit. Know who I ran into at Cracker Barrel the other week?”

“Who’s ‘at?”

“Well, not ran into but I saw her. Remember that girl you dated back in high school? Tracy?”

“Lyndaker. Tracy Lyndaker”

“Haha,” Cody says. “Right. Tracy Dicklicker.”

Forked tongues of fire obscure the sight of Cody’s gaunt face but reflect back in his eyes.

“How’s she doing?”

“Well, she’s working at Cracker Barrel.” He clicks his tongue and goes, “Still got a good ass on her though.”

In the tenth grade I got into it with Tracy Lyndaker. Together we fell hard. Her parents forbade the relationship so I would hide in the hedges on Sundays before they left for church. They said I provoked extreme reactions from people. You can’t stop what we had. So we sat on the patio and let our hands and mouths wander until she knew they’d be back and send me running through the thicket. She had a set of eyes that felt like she was always on the verge of tears. It was around that time that Tracy tried out for cheer squad and got rejected, too. I guess I thought I could be a splint for the spirit and what have you.

“It’s okay.” I pressed the icepack to her swollen ankle using my free hand to wipe tears from her cheek. “You’ll get it next year.”

Tracy never gave me the details. But there wasn’t ever a next year. She never tried out again. Word never got out about what exactly went wrong, just that she got cut after tryouts. That mystery almost made it worse. We spent the icepack Sunday in bed together fumbling through an exchange of virginities. It felt like the appropriate thing to do to combat life’s minor failures. This is what people do. 

“I love you, Tracy Lyndaker.”

If you say you love someone with the last name tacked on it adds meaning.

“You love me?” Like she wasn’t sure it was possible. 

She started to cry dreams of cheerleader tears again and took my hands off her. She said her parents would be home soon and that I should go. 

Soon after that Cody began calling her Tracy Dicklicker behind her back and telling everyone she got cut from cheer squad for being too fat. Candy bar titties, is what he said. I said nothing. I said nothing because he was my friend and people laughed when he spoke even when he wasn’t saying anything funny. Not that I thought Tracy was fat. She wasn’t. Cody just saw a target. When Cody called me a Dicklicker Lover I faked my smile like I was in on the joke. Without a reason I broke it off with Tracy. Ghosted her. I didn’t want to be the guy who dated Dicklicker. I could tell she was hurt. Maybe hurt wasn’t the word, like when I told her I loved her. Sometimes I would open the curtains and see her with tears in her eyes, a silhouette backlit by streetlamps, tapping her fingertips along the tops of my parents’ picket fence. Other times she’d be nowhere at all. 

In tenth grade I drove Tracy Lyndaker crazy. Like I’d unearthed something buried in her and broke it. She finally cornered me outside of school. She’d been hiding in the hedges and pulled me in with her. 

“You don’t get to fuck me and tell me you love me and disappear from my life forever.” Her pale face reddened with a stream of tears and snot and ugliness. “I deserve an explanation. At least—I at least deserve that.”

Alright, Tracy.

“Do you know that people call you Tracy Dicklicker?”

She sputtered to inhale more air than she could in her sobbing fit, an old motor turning over.

“What do you say? What-What do you say when people say that about me?”

I said nothing. 

Tracy screamed. She screamed a scream that seemed to never end. It turned the secrecy of the bushes into a joke. I heard footsteps. Dress shoes on concrete. Loafers. Voices of authority. 

“The hell was that?” 

I tried to stop the screaming. Make it all okay. Think. Hold her. Don’t put your hand on her butt, of all the things to do. Comfort her. Make it all okay. Before they come. A weeping pulse held gently against my chest.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I loved you, too, you know.”

“I know. I still love you Tracy Dicklicker.”

A slip of the tongue. 

A bloody nose. 

A thing that happens.

They arrived to take her away before she could really hurt me. Guess we didn’t consider how she might’a got hurt. 

“Great ass,” Cody says again. “Heard she’s got a kid now.” 

He stands to go piss. Face to the stars, I stare at them in the distant way you do when you’ve been living in the city too long and finally make it out. They become new again. I look up at them for I don’t know how long. I lose time. I imagine all of our old friends around the fire laughing, embers cracking.

All of it tainted with a wave of regret. I come awake again to the slosh and ting of a beer can touching down. 

“Ah shit.” 

Huh. Cody’s leg is on fire. Stumbled. Freak accident. It crackles loud, lapping at the leg with a hunger for flesh. I always thought denim would melt into the skin if they caught fire together but no, the flames just burn it away to get to the meat. Cody sobers up and crawls away crying, slapping at the sizzling redness. 

“Help, dude. Help me!” 

I am standing and looking over this scene trying to feel one way or another. Cody rolls it out in the weeds but the damage is done. White light winks the house alive and Sandy comes running out in nothing more than a t-shirt. She’s a breathy mess.

“Help me lift him into the truck,” she screams. “We need to get him to the hospital! Come on!”

We each hook one of Cody’s arms around our shoulders and drag him into the truck. 

“God,” he cries. “God!” 

In the passenger seat he clutches the air around his leg. His hands look burned, too. His Levi’s dangle in tatters. Soon to be blisters, his burns sizzle like a hissing snake, ssssssssss. These years gone by have changed us but good. 

One of the last things Tracy Lyndaker said to me, screaming as they dragged her away, was “What do you think Cody’s saying about you? You’re not safe!”

And that’s true. No one is safe. Not me. Not Cody. That’s why I’m telling you this now. I’m glad his leg got all burned up in the fire. Feels like justice. And from that happiness and hissing comes hunger. I’m craving fried eggs.

Sandy revs the truck and I begin to walk away.

“What are you, where are you going?”

“Cracker Barrel,” I tell her. Just to look. Won’t say nothing.

I am a no good piece of shit. This is what Sandy screams at me as the truck tires tear up bits of gravel and grass. Cody is quietly screaming to God. It’s me. Always been me.

I am a bad influence. 

I provoke extreme reactions from people. 

I start my car and wipe the smoke from my eyes.

Like I said, it happens.

Daniel Eastman is from a river town in upstate New York. Now he lives in landlocked Allentown with his wife, their dogs, and a bunny.

Twitter: @daniel__eastman.

“Art’s Chicken and Memory Depository” by Tiffany Belieu

5889391179_f6acc31aff_o.jpg

 

When I stop at Art’s Chicken and Memory Depository I always get the number two. It allows you to deposit for free, and the fries are bigger. 

I haven’t gone anywhere but Art’s since the big fiasco at McMemory where it was found out that they were selling the memories to people for implanting purposes. The little that was recovered by the raids is being kept in Sector custody. You couldn’t even get a copy of the memories back if you wanted to. Nothing is sacred anymore.

When I pull up to the window it’s the usual girl in her white chicken uniform and the hat with the beak. She offers me a stretched-plastic smile.

I have plenty of time in the line leading up to the Removal Window to rifle through the things I want to forget. The fight with my girlfriend last night being at the forefront. 

We haven’t been dating that long. This fight could be considered our “first.” We’ve had little tiffs but this was the first full-on shouting. It’s why, I tried to explain to her, I hate relationships. They always lead to one or two or more people getting hurt. She claimed that if I could just commit to something long term it wouldn’t feel this way. Or at least would be easier to bear. Something about a burden being lessened by two?

At the window I place my consent card and driver’s license in the dish.

“Please enter your time frame on the key pad.”

I enter 8:15 p.m. on the 20th until 9:00 p.m. on the 20th. The fight ended before then but the aftermath confuses me if I don’t remove everything. Even, regrettably, the tender way she nuzzled my neck post make-up sex. 

The machine whirs to life and I am out for less than five seconds. When I come to they are handing me my bag of grease. I murmur thanks and toss it into the passenger seat.

I eat alone in the parking lot before going home. Though the memory is gone the aftermath is rattles inside me. It’s disappointing that nothing changes right away. 

I still always think I’ll feel lighter.

 

Tiffany is working hard on her dream of writing. Her work is published or forthcoming in Okay Donkey, Collective Unrest, The Cabinet of Heed, Rabid Oak and The Mantle among others. She loves tea and cats and can be found @tiffobot on Twitter.

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

12697269255_1d0a38ee52_o.jpg

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