Fine by Sam Woods

36618540532_f22aefe351_o.jpg

Clothes litter the floor. A beer sits half drunk on the table, lukewarm, but it’s fine. You’ve been taking small sips from it. 

You need to drive. 

“What about this?” Your friend pulls a blue dress out of her closet. It’s fine. The colour doesn’t remind you of anything. Not the ocean or the sky or a song. “It matches your eyes,” she says. 

It doesn’t, but it’s fine. 

“Have you guys talked at all?” 

Not even a little bit.

“Yeah, we’re fine. He’s just been busy with the band.” The smile on your face is tighter than the fit of the dress but your friend has a belt to fix that.

“We’re going to be late.” 

It’s fine.

“They never start on time.” 

The parking lot is full. Familiar faces smile and ask how you’ve been over and over and you repeat that you’re fine until the word starts to feel like a stranger in your mouth. 

A beer finds its way into your hand, paired with a side of sympathetic eyes. 

They ask how you are, and you repeat that you’re fine. 

They hug you and you repeat that you’re fine. 

You feel a small crack in the makeup you carefully applied, and you repeat that you’re fine, and the music starts and there he is, and you’re fine and the lyrics wrap around your head and you mouth along with the words that have memorized themselves and you take sips of your beer and you’re fine. 

The song ends and everyone claps and you’re fine and you sing a long with the next song and the next and you’re fine, and a new song comes on. 

And you’re surrounded by friends. 

And you realize what the song is about.

And you’re fine.

And you listen to the lyrics and he’s thinking of leaving. 

And you’re surrounded by friends.

 And you’re fine until your friend asks if you’re fine, until another splash of beer hits the back of your throat, until a sea of eyes turn and look at you and you see so many familiar faces that haven’t been home in months trying to drown you in sympathy. 

And you’re outside. 

And you’re fine.

And you’re crying.

And you’re fine.

And you’re told it’s just art.

That it has no meaning.

And you’re fine, 

until you’re not. 

 

Sam Woods lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her work has appeared in Road Maps & Life Rafts, and Space by The University of Regina. You can find her on Twitter @SamLynn_Woods

“After 2:00AM” by Joshua Hebburn

18871532764_1eaa9cf612_o.jpg

Andre and him were going to get more beer at the gas station. It was after two in the morning and the gas station was the only place open all night that they could walk to from Andre’s apartment. They knew the gas station well from many other two in the mornings arrived at and passed through inside Andre’s apartment. 

They walked in the streets, through the diffuse circles of the streetlights. They talked shit about Andres roommate and how that loser had that girlfriend. They planned for Scott to be his roommate again. They talked shit about their mutual and absent friends. They talked about how everyone thought they were so much better than they were in highschool, but they were really just the same in nicer clothes. How much it sucked that nobody wanted to hang anymore. Everyone said they couldn’t. They talked about why they said it, how these things were variously lies. 

Then they were quiet for awhile except for the crunch of their sneakers. Yeah fuck em they said, one after the other. 

They came to the station. In the night it was luminescent and temporary seeming in its plastic and sheet metal exterior like a UFO toutching down for scouting in these suburbs. They walked into the gasoline smell. Scott liked the gasoline smell, and so did Andre. “Smells like teen spirit,” he said and Andre laughed. There was the old guy who sat with childlike eyes on the swivel stool in the cube plastic with the cash register and a wall of cigarettes. There were the candy and nut bags hanging from pegs or sloped in boxes, individually packaged. There was the wall of car gear. There were the three doorway coolers lit from their interiors with a white light that was slightly more blue than all the other light. Scott thought it was like an angel might be like encountered in heaven. 

Andre and him were going to get two of the tall cans each out of that cooler, but there was the boomerang. They stood next to one another by it and admitted it into their company.

The boomerang was made of light wood, like something you would get from Ikea. There were black racing stripes painted on each horn. It hung from a peg in the forest of tree shaped air fresheners. It was as if it had become errant and lodged there. 

“Hey,” Andre said, “Is this for sale?” Scott picked up the boomerang. It was not like something from Ikea: it was solid. It seemed like the real Australian deal. A koala killer. The way he held it made that clear to Andre.

The guy didn’t respond.

“Hey,” Andre said more loudly, “Hey, what about this.” 

The guy looked over. His eyes were vacant for a moment, like Andre’s hamster sitting in it’s cage. Then he was in them. He looked at Andre and Scott. He leaned up to the circle of perforations in his cube of plastic. He had such healthy skin. 

“Hey about this,” Scott said, wagging it.

“How much does it say on the peg?” The guy said. “It’s how much it says with its peg.”

Scott and Andre looked. They looked at one another’s eyes. It was decided. What else was there to choose but something other than more of the same?

Two hours later they would be sitting together in the emergency room, sober, blood coming through a towel pressed to Andre’s face. They would both smile like the idiots they knew they were when the young nurse turned her head, giving them the look. Scott was holding the boomerang. The boomerang was bloodied. It looked like a movie prop. 

Oh God, she would mouth at them. She couldn’t help it, what she would do next. The other nurse would tease. 

One day or night soon one of them would throw the boomerang again, and, of course, it wouldn’t come back. But it had that night, again and again, it had.

 

Joshua Hebburn’s fiction is previously in Back Patio, and has also been in X-R-A-Y, Hobart, and elsewhere. He tweets infrequently @joshuahebburn 

“Waste Not, Want Not” by David Cook

21798897155_61570b4b4d_o.jpg

‘Waste not, want not,’ Dad said, throwing my poor, dead goldfish Lionel into the frying pan.

I’d protested this as best as a seven-year-old could. I was already in tears from finding Lionel belly-up in his tank and now Dad was frying him for supper. But he made two reasonable points that shut me up: one, he could get a meal out of Lionel if he cooked him with fries and two, if I didn’t stop bloody crying right bloody now, he’d give me a slap. Dad salt-and-vinegared the corpse of my best friend and swallowed him in one greedy bite.

That day never left me. Though I resented Dad for years afterwards, leaving him to wither away in a run-down care home without a second thought, his lesson had drilled itself into my brain.

‘Don’t throw out that old loaf,’ I’d say. ‘We can use that for bread pudding. Waste not, want not.

Or: ‘There’s nothing wrong with that milk, just strain the lumps out. Waste not, want not.’

And even: ‘Use the old bath water. Yes, I just washed the dog. Waste not, want not.’

Such wisdom wasn’t often well-received by my wife, Heather, and daughter, Millie, but beneath their tangible contempt I thought they understood, even appreciated, my actions.

But then the dog carked it. ‘That’s the problem with pets,’ I said to Millie as she wailed. ‘Sometimes they just die out of the blue.’ I got out of the car, picked up the corpse of Billy the beagle from beneath the tyres, and laid it on the lawn.

‘Should we bury him, Daddy?’ sobbed Millie. I considered the options.

When Heather came home later, she screamed bloody murder at the sight of the dead, skinned canine next to the outside bin and didn’t even stop when I pointed out the new dog hair rug in the hallway. ‘It’s not like I’ve cooked and eaten the damn mutt,’ I pointed out. ‘I’m not my father!’ It made no difference. I was accused of traumatising Millie just as he’d traumatised me. I protested this too, although, actually, Millie did look a bit pale and was trembling like blancmange in a hurricane.

And that was the end of my marriage. Now I live in a fetid bedsit. Cockroaches march over me as I shiver on the hard futon. I’m starving. I’ve no food, nor money. The deposit on this dump took everything I had. My belly growls.

Then I think, they eat cockroaches in foreign countries, don’t they? And in that show with the not really famous people in the jungle? I grab one. It’s this or nothing. Waste not, want not. I force it between my lips. It wriggles and tickles and makes me gag. I wish I had eaten the dog now. There’s no way it would have been worse than this.

‘Waste not, want not’? Bloody daft advice. There was an awful lot I wanted now – to go back to the way things were, for instance, and not be such a stupid twat.

A spindly leg juts out from between my teeth. I pull it out, lie down, and try to sleep.

 

David Cook’s stories have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, the Sunlight Press and more. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, UK, with his wife and daughter. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100.

 

2 Fables by Donald Ryan

8352634213_e8781a14eb_k.jpg

Baby Boy is a big fan of the hard-boiled eggs. Me, I’m eating a chef salad—the kind where the pile of piled toppings topple the function of the salad. Might as well.  It’s an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, and I’m sitting behind a fucking salad. I put on too many onions and am getting a headache. Baby Boy is on his second hard-boiled egg. Or is it his third? I lost count watching my husband ruminate steak. He says the streak of fat is man cud chewed in memory of the cow. We opted to lose weight, together, as a team. He chose the meat and sweets diet. Me, you guessed it. Skipping our first weigh-in was him giving up in the guise of a collective decision. Baby Boy swallows his third—or fourth—hard-boiled egg. I demand he eat veggies but don’t notice if he does.  My husband haw-haw-haws over half masticated meat. I started drinking too early—in life, this morning. This is my secret. I share it with coffee or Baby Boy’s orange juice. Vodka’s love is universal. Baby Boy swallows down a hiccup of hard-boiled eggs and scurries towards the bathroom. He doesn’t make it, spewing next to an elderly couple. Who knows how many dates these people have been on, alone in each other’s company. So thin. So frail. So disgusted by Baby Boy’s vile hard-boiled bile. My husband and I will never make it to their age of loving lonesomeness. Shit—they’ll be lucky if I can make it over to muster an apology. Baby Boy can’t swallow his sobs. He screams while being screamed at. My husband is furious. But he has no need to be. I’m the one with the salad. 

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life

 


 

The neighbor’s dog kept barking. Barking. Barking. And barking, all while being shushed by the browned leaves. Other than that, the day was silent. The sun was out, being toyed with by the clouds. Silver outlining the sky. It was the type of day that people who were destined to meet, met and people that weren’t, don’t. The world felt right. And the air. The sky. And the Heavens. All felt right. All but the neighbor’s dog was synced for great existences, no matter how mundane. Dano was sitting, flipping channels. He couldn’t sleep. And nothing was on. But even the nothing on television was being interrupted by the neighbor’s dog. Barking. Barking. And barking. He checked his watch, already knowing it was far too early to start getting ready for work. A blonde in a snug, pink dress faked a smile into the camera, complimenting the chef who looked like someone’s (kidnapped) grandmother (whose poor, dear soul was being forced to bake on television) before being flipped to a thin, sweaty young gentleman in an unfitted suit acting far too excited about a local high school’s football team Dano didn’t even know existed. Insomniacs who work the night shifts had to deal with the same crap television as the insomniatic dayshifters. The breeze picked up, harshly hushing the neighbor’s dog, but couldn’t maintain its gumption. A perfect degree of heat radiated off the ground, complimenting the day’s briskness and the essence of uncapturable perfection. An aweness unseen. Dano turned off the television.  His reflection on the dark screen stared at him slouched in the chair. Not liking what he saw, he turned the television back on, which disappointed him further. Mute became a happy medium. Now the thrift store fasionista bouncing through the commercial barked. Barked. And barked. The melody was becoming rhythmically wild. Almost furious. Dano pressed the spot where his eyebrows connect and ran his middle finger up his grainy forehead to his hairline. He yawned. His cell phone sat charging next to him. He’d call out of work. This the third time this month. No bother. Days like today were made for staying in, watching television.       

Every Dog Has Its Day

 

 

Donald Ryan writes. Hobart, Back Patio, Silent Auctions, Hello America, elsewhere.

“Letters Become Bricks” by Parker Young

827528543_02f9658080_o.jpg

You never know when one thing might become another. Like the letters I wrote — they all became bricks before I could mail them. Little grey concrete bricks. I didn’t have any use for the bricks, so they formed a pile in the corner of my living room which grew and grew with each subsequent failure of a letter. A thin layer of powdered concrete covered the floor over there, in the corner around the increasingly substantial pile. Because I couldn’t get my letters into the mail quick enough.

I tried to dissect one of the bricks. I thought maybe my letter would be inside — maybe the letters weren’t turning into bricks so much as growing concrete brick shells. I carried this brick outside, onto the sidewalk, placed it carefully in the exact center of the sidewalk, width-wise. Then I went back in to fetch the sledgehammer I borrowed from my neighbor Kenny. It took about fifteen minutes to satisfactorily demolish the brick. No letter inside, of course. But I couldn’t dismiss the possibility that the substance of the letter filled the brick in powder form, mixed into the concrete somehow.

Fortunately, a friend of mine worked as an aid in a nearby university laboratory. I brought her the crumbled remains of the brick at an appointed time. In a petri dish, she mixed some of the concrete powder with drops of a purple fluid before placing the dish beneath a microscope. She operated quickly, efficiently, and silently, a priestess of the observable world in her flowing white lab coat. After a few minutes hunched over the microscope, muttering prayers, she looked at me.

Looks like these bricks are thirty years old, she said.

Well, that was impossible. I was thirty years old. The now-demolished brick had appeared on my kitchen table two weeks ago, in place of a letter I hadn’t finished writing.

The next week, I tried a different approach. I actually mailed one of the bricks, hoping it might become a letter again in route to its recipient. I boxed it up and paid an exorbitantly high postage fee due to the weight.

Three days later, my brother called me up.

Why did you send me a brick? he said.

Ah, damn, I said.

I have a family, you know, he said.

Right.

You can’t just send me bricks.

I’m sorry, I said.

I’m mailing it back to you, he said.

The pile of bricks grew larger and larger until I decided to stop writing letters . Then I thought I might as well build something, since I had so many bricks. Besides, I had lots of free time now that I wasn’t writing letters. I carried them one by one into the back yard. Technically, I shared the yard with the three other occupants of our building, but nobody ever went out there but me, it seemed. In nice weather, I liked to lie down in the grass and hear the powerlines hum overhead. Sometimes a helicopter flew by, or a bird.

The only thing I could think to build was a small outdoor fireplace with chimney. I borrowed my neighbor Kenny’s wheelbarrow, mixed up an old bag of concrete, and got to work pasting bricks together in the proper shape — an arched mouth and gently sloped belly leading up to a hexagonal chimney column. Unfortunately, I was one brick short — I needed the sixth brick to finish the uppermost row of the chimney. No problem, I thought. I’ll go inside and try to write a letter.

Except this time, the letter didn’t become a brick. Of course, I thought. Just when I need a brick, I get a letter instead. So I sealed the letter in an envelope and mailed it, hoping it might become a brick on the way. Then my brother would call me up, complain, and mail the brick back to me, and I’d have a brick.

Hello? I said when the phone rang three days later.

What is wrong with you, said my brother.

I’m sorry, I said. I noticed he was actually crying. Or maybe he had allergies — I couldn’t remember if he always got allergies or not.

Why would you send me this? he said. This awful letter.

Parker Young lives in Chicago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Bluestem, and Oyez Review.

“Tales of Ordinary Madness Redux” by Bram Riddlebarger

44947571962_e83e6dfb4c_o.jpg

I bought a used copy of Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness at a bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas. I had read most of Bukowski’s work in my twenties, but that was a time when I only read books from public libraries. I didn’t have the money to purchase books. I never had. If I wanted to read Ham on Rye, I would wait a year or two to find a copy in a public library in Portland, Oregon, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Columbus, Ohio. Wherever I moved next during my Great Search for America: Or, A Job that Paid Enough to Cover the Rent in My Crummy Apartment Far from the Hills of Southeastern Ohio. I was at the mercy of public libraries and the books that returned, God bless their souls. The small, public libraries in the region where I grew up didn’t carry much Charles Bukowski, or many of the other writers that I enjoyed. Sure, I might taste a few of their books, but they were apples leading me to a broader table. A need. A want. Growth: the original sin.

This all happened before the internet, when sins went the way of the world.

Cast out of the garden, I wandered the earth, working landscaping jobs and washing dishes and picking up trash to pay for the rent and my beans.

Eventually, I lived in enough places to read Bukowski’s entire oeuvre.

In my forties, I realized that I didn’t own a single one of his books. I hadn’t read any of his stuff for years. He was a ghost of my work boots. But there it was: Ham on Rye. And look! Tales of Ordinary Madness. I bought each copy for four dollars and change and carried them back home to Ohio, back to the tainted garden, back to the house that I was looking to sell.

All this traveling required oil.

Lubrication of the machine.

Bukowski would understand.

I had changed my own vehicle’s oil since I was sixteen. I still have the wide, low metal drip pan, filmed by time and dented by gravel that my father had used since he had taught me the work. The same one that my father discarded before he too left home, casting himself free from his familial bond. But one day I took my car in for repairs in my mid-thirties. I had the shop change the oil along with everything else that was needed to plan my next escape.

And that was it.

I could never unscrew the oil plug from the drain pan again.

My socket set is a gift that a voyager to the outer systems could only hope to possess when their spaceship was eaten by a physical manifestation of their innermost selves, but it was no match for power tools.

Stripping out an oil pan plug isn’t high on my reading recommendation list.

I began to go to Walmart for oil changes, like the defeated adult that I had become.

When I do, I always bring along a book with me. I sit in the small waiting room and read and dream about lower prices, surrounded by blue. No one has ever spoken to me in all the years of waiting in this room, or one just like it. Reading a book in the American public nowadays is like practicing the speed limit. Most folks just look at their phones or go shopping for their lives in America. But, O, today that changed.

I was only three pages into Bukowski’s “A .45 to Pay the Rent” and his peculiar capitalization, when I heard:

“O. I’m about to fall asleep.”

The man on the blue bench beside me shifted uncomfortably. He was a bit younger than me, a talker. He was in line ahead of me for an oil change.

He wanted to begin talking. His phone had no voice and had emptied itself of its secrets.

We both had a forty-five to one hour wait for the Walmart employees to honk once before backing our cars into the sun with fresh oil inside them.

“What is that your reading?” asked the man, like an automotive governor. He was perceptive and quite possibly an addict, but very friendly in a distant way. He was like the next ridgeline across the valley of our blue bench seats when the air currents were moving low.

I showed him the cover of the book, but he had already read the title.

“Is that like, I don’t know, this guy’s thoughts or ideas or essays on like how crazy things are in [insert jumbled, made-up psychiatric phenomena].”

“No,” I said. “It’s just short stories.”

Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, my new oil-change companion traveled the interstate of the psychic dream world. He had been deployed for three tours by the United States Marine Corps. He kept the money that they sent him each month for his many troubles in a safe at home. The banks wanted their forty thousand dollars that he had already taken from them. The banks didn’t care about PTSD or living in a rented, haunted house in Coolville, Ohio, where demons that could not be assuaged with sage played in the windows of your mind. The banks didn’t care that your father at a late age began frequenting the lonely state park restrooms and parking lots to act out his subjugated, sexual tendencies that concerned you in the years before he died with a cigarette in his hand, or that you saw him now in your demon dreams with a woman’s breasts and a knife jabbing into your head. They didn’t care about your visions of dead travelers in National Parks from an unknown enemy like the ones you knew so well, but couldn’t see, or rarely saw, when you were deployed so not very long ago. Hundreds of thousands of deaths unaccounted for and unexplained. Missing 411. Or that you didn’t trust your girlfriend with that money stashed away in your safe and that you, with a straight, unashamed face and without a thought or a flinch, were willing to tell me that you would put her in her place because you were a man, because, as much as our society may be changing, the social and economic poverty of our area is just as our fathers and their fathers before us, and that is how you were raised, and the small changes that have come have only begun to bleed into the edges of our moral poverty, while our economic morass has remained so much the same. Or the beauty of the Hocking Hills in Ohio in autumn, the myriad colors of the trees and the caves and the land, just thirty minutes away up the newly routed bypass gouging its way through our national forest, the only dream that was real and achievable, but would forever be unknown. Or the surge of the Hocking River, our river, our lifeline, our artery in spring swelling it banks to drown the damned or the foolish or the suicidal in the bleak outlook of our place and our time. Or that grand old lunatic asylum high on the hill over town, beckoning like a light against the dark that has long ago fallen. The specter of electro-shock and your friends that you remember, still there in the ward.

 

Bram Riddlebarger is the author of GOLDEN ROD (Cabal Books), EARPLUGS (Livingston Press), and POEM 3 A.M. (Nihilism Revised). His forthcoming story collection MESSAGES FROM THE AMERICAN TRASHCAN will be published July 4, 2020 with Cabal Books. He lives in Southeastern Ohio.
Social:
Twitter: @B_Riddlebarger

“A BRIEF HISTORY OF FAILED SELF CARE” by miss macross

24441998825_a3993592c0_o.jpg

Chug some room temperature water because my health is something that I need to consider more. Walk down to the pharmacy on Grant to buy overpriced CBD gummies. They’re still cheaper than the gummies from that boutique named Noun & Adjective, the one with a very Tumblr minimalist aesthetic and a soccer mom owner who is too high to do her taxes but also can’t really afford her accountant, so her business will go under in two years and her storefront will be replaced in that building by one of those garish but somehow less try-hard CBD KRATOM SHOPS that have everything on their signs in ALL CAPS, that sell ENERGY SHOTS and offer a deal on A FREE MONSTER IF YOU BUY X WORTH OF KRATOM and honestly, I’m all about that.

This fucking city, though. My water came from a gallon jug69 nice cents at the convenience storebecause there’s lead in the pipes compounded by frequent bacterial contamination. A criminal suit against the municipal water authority is pending, and my tap water is currently speckled lint ghostscertainly unsafe but I will wash my dead hair with it anyway, because I have no choice. Just like I have no choice but to go to the overpriced pharmacy on Grant for CBD, because my car is dead and there is no public transit in my neighborhood on the weekends. No idea if these gummies will do anything for me, as my stress is caused by my environment, rapidly deteriorating and not covered by my insurance.

miss macross is a Pittsburgh-based multi-genre writer who enjoys watching mecha and taking naps. Her first chapbook, MISS MACROSS VS. BATMAN, was published by Dark Particle/CWP Collective Press in 2018. Find her on Twitter @missmacross.  

“Armchair” by Parker Young

3519722825_e02f0ccc10_o.jpg

 

I had some friends I didn’t like. I didn’t like saying their names. For example, Arnold Bunk. How often in one lifetime can you say a name like that?

The problem with friends you don’t like is that gradually, over time, you forget why you don’t like them because they’re your friends, and anyway you’ve got nobody else to rely on when your smoke alarm goes off in the middle of the night for no reason you can see.

I’m getting ahead of myself. As the story goes, my smoke alarm went off in the middle of the night. But I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know where all the deductive equipment could be found. Anyway, the noise punched a hole in my head where a hole shouldn’t be, and I didn’t think I could go on living. Not with the hole in my head. Two holes actually. Ears! This is the story of how I got ears.

Instead of ending it right away, I went over to Arnold Bunk’s house, because I hated his name so much it was the only one I could remember in a time of crisis.

They’re called ears, he told me.

Fuck, I said. I think I was wailing.

This one’s just about Arnold Bunk, by the way.

He had a house with a basement.

Come on down, he said, leading me slowly down the stairwell, into the basement. The basement was where he kept his prize possession, a machine which reads your head. In the end, you get a word. This is the word, the machine would say, that most closely corresponds to your head. Or, if you believed in the power of the machine to the same high degree as Arnold, you could say that the machine’s word was your head. And your head was the word. Or was it that the machine was your head? Now I can’t recall. Arnold carefully strapped me in. He pressed the button. The machine had only one button because it did only one thing: read your head. Unless it also became your head, that would be two things, unfortunately. The button told the machine to do it, whatever it was, the reading, and my word was ARMCHAIR.

That isn’t correct, I said.

Arnold just looked at me.

Don’t do that, I said.

What? he said.

Don’t look at me like that. Like my head’s an armchair.

I’m not, he said, but next he put me in front of his TV. 

What could be worse than an armchair with ears? I heard everything that happened.

 

Parker Young lives in Chicago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Bluestem, and Oyez Review.

 

“resume builder” by SR Gorski

3449616058_533eb6fa4f_o.jpg

 

A2

I lay naked in the tub with my back flat and feet up on the wall underneath the shower head, while using my feet to turn the knobs. The water has not yet reached my ears—wait, there it is, the vacuum-packing sound and low rumble of water seeping into my ear-canal. I bear it. Then the island of dryface gets slowly enveloped. As the tide makes its way into my nostrils I try to resist the choking sensation of water passing through my nasal passage and down my throat. Everything but periscoping pursed lips submerged, and I know I must look ridiculous. I stop right as the toohot water begins tipping over my lips directly into my mouth. And in a low-grade, self-asphyxiated epiphany it comes to me. Right at this moment I get THE idea: the ultimate résumé builder…

B2

 “In the tub? No dearth of womb symbolism for you Tommy,” Dolly, my agent, says. She hadn’t looked at my face since I walked in her office. Cheap polyfiber carpet rapids mire her floor in homage to Dolly’s penchant for furniture rearrangement. Her intern, Josh, had bought mover’s gloves months ago after catching on to his boss’s obsessive tendencies. “Think about it Dolly.” It’s fool-proof, I’ll land a job within the month. Modern minimalism meets performance art meets stigmata. An indomitable work of genius,” I say triumphantly. She is fully on board. Dolly calls in Josh and he begins dragging an aluminum filing cabinet between our conversation as she pantomimes pointless directions. 

A2

Another bath-time revelation. I lay in the tub as it drains. The cheap rusted varnish on the spigot and handles, for some reason, is a combination of turquoise and tooth-paste-white. Sitting there, play-paralyzed and unthinking, I notice that the shadow of the faucet neck makes the shape of an arm and finger pointing down towards the drain. There is still a small amount of water funneling through the perforated metal, getting wider in circumference as it runs out. I choose to avoid the more obvious symbolism of seeing a shadow point down towards a dark abyss; instead, I concentrate on the vortexing water. Momentum and a downdraft create swirling medium surrounding a vacuum. Debris with the most mass gets taken to the outermost limits and is ejected. It is a most telling omen for tomorrow’s endeavor—as if physics had extended its laws to my mind— a curious and overlooked micro-phenomenon but, for this moment, for some reason just out of my grasp, it inspires.

B2

 “Okay, I’m ready, I think,” I yell. But Dolly can’t hear me from below. There’s an 8” x 10” paper rectangle five stories down on the asphalt and she is standing next to it holding the camera I lent her. She is wearing some nurse scrubs she also borrowed from a roommate in case this gets messy. I focus on my target while standing above the building’s logosign: Jersey City United Packing HQ. I’ve practiced the jump in my head and I know I can make it. My résumé, an insignificant target, until I land—then it becomes something entirely different. This will show everyone that I am to be taken seriously, and that all of those acting classes weren’t just hobbied pursuits. I take a few shuffles then a half-hearted fakelunge just to see how it will feel. Dolly winces, “Even I knew that wasn’t the one,” she yells just loud enough for me to hear. No more thinking, I lean forward to get a lateral bearing on my target and pushoff the building as if it is going to pushback. I free fall stiff legged and t-posed. You got this Tommy. The ground closes in and I barely make out some blurredblack ink on white background just below where I think my chin will probably land. 

C2

I think of pastbaths and instead decide to shower. Need to keep my head clear for final calls, interviewers can’t get enough of me. I had to take down all of the mirrors in my apartment because I got tired of staring at mangled mandible and torn velum. “It’s enough that I feel like I look good,” I say, holding in jutting collar bone so I can tighten my tie. As I leave, I pass my résumé, plaqued up on the wall. Dolly was right, it did look good up there, limned with bloodspray and some teeth indents (hallmarks of my good aim). It had been a stupid thing which always made me feel incompetent; anunfair judge—a funhouse mirror and tipped scale. “You landed just how you wanted. You landed it and they can’t get enough of you.” I exclaim with a brokengrin.

 

SR Gorski is the pen name of a person obsessed with thought. SR graduated with an english/creative writing degree and attends writing workshops regularly. SR is interested in speculative fiction, specifically the effects our era of access has on social interaction and cognition.

“portrait of the ‘artist’ sitting with a second tallboy  at the kitchen table in the dark listening to a random  youtube playlist” by David Henson

 

2994894886_8fa21bb3d4_o.jpg

portrait of the ‘artist’ sitting with a second tallboy 

at the kitchen table in the dark

listening to a random 

youtube playlist 

 

hello other spirits.

here we are again. breaking down doors. packing up the crib. pullin’ out babies. and broken boys. and busted brown shoes. we got knobby knees and heart veins, arteries, shoelaces, codex cola, cryogenic freezes, totally antonym spellings, let’s pull another track, not get hooked on language, why go from music to language, why not just divorce the words from the music, forget about chords, focus on the movement of hands, better yet let machines make it random and be totally surprised the first time you hear it, you are no longer the composer you’re like the maestro god, you’re like the god who accidentally set the world in motion and still delights in its idiosyncrasies, you’re like the boy shut in the closet and raised by dust bunnies, coming out thirteen years later speaking nothing but dust.

if someone gave you a laser as wide and strong as you wanted you would wave it around all drunk like a madman, splitting every heart from every mind. 

back to my second point, all this structure shit is structuring my thought process, which sounds healthy but is completely detrimental to ‘flow,’ to life in general. achievements should only be unlocked in video games. movies should only be made by those who are on a path to madness anyway. what path is this if you’re drinking and typing nonsense into your email in the pursuit of you don’t know what? no one will respect you if they don’t recognize the structure somewhere, if you don’t adhere…you’re already caught on a track. you want to be free of tracks but something else inside wants you on a track. 

we want the backsides of celebrity, well yes, but I mean we want underneath the hood, no we want the factory, no we want to follow the factory workers home and know what time they finally fall asleep. 

you can help relieve suffering. you can help nothing else. let me make a list – do dishes after dinner, push a car out of a muddy ditch, with taxes, with exams, get you the credit you deserve, build a nest(egg), fight the war…..if you help spread death or pain you aren’t really helping. if you are kind and present maybe you help without knowing it. i am on my way to giving up everything. is that healthy or suicidal?

if you could will the skin on your hands to open and drip your own blood in slo mo, you would feel powerful and maybe content. if you could be the most drunk and not hang-over then you would be better than god and more fun. 

piling snow, packing it down, hollowing it out=the most happy you’ve ever been. why didn’t you convince yourself to take that nap out there? 

is it bad karma to try to commodify your dreams? is that what I’m experiencing? 

how do you write a whole novel when there are no instruments to choose from?

what if your art was to leave not a trace of yourself the moment you died?

watch a show on the couch next to your spouse, tell her she is pretty, rub her back, tell her not to feel guilty when you watch another one, bring her the hot sauce, remember what it was like when you walked around in china, remember that it is better in your apartment where it is warm and your thoughts can swim and mingle and uh oh feedback loop, closed circuit, nothing new. 

why is new important? why grow?

i love the phrase ‘force quit.’

no one has asked me to do anything other than job stuff and to clean the apartment for many years. and most of that is intuitive and unsaid anyway. 

if you aren’t distracted by fighting a disease, you start fighting yourself. oh fuck, this song. i thought it was shouting outside. 

my smartest, most insightful friend makes cheese for a living. grows cheese? mongers cheese. 

i asked him in an email to convince me to have a baby soon. his response was no response, which is not uncommon for him, to take months to respond, but this was something i thought he would have responded to quickly, especially with the news of another one on the way. maybe he is teaching me something with no response. oh, i get it. 

fucking love the concept of a drum circle, have no patience or desire to be a part of it. maybe just scared. plus white dreadlock stigma. it feels. it always feels. 

it feels. feels. don’t pin it down. ethereal. dollar signs. uh uh. 

this song is not totally adhering, or maybe it is. but does not matter. 

to love chess but never get even one percent better at it. is that better than anything?

to be worthless and know it. is that honesty?

a present friend, but not particularly thoughtful. i mean me. 

 

David Henson’s short fiction has won multiple prizes and his short story chapbook, AN EXPLANATION, was published by L’Éphémère Review in 2018. He records music under the name Shadows on a River and makes comics and art at Kinda Zen Comics. He tweets @davidbhenson.