Dead Man's Float - Sally Bellerose
Like Heaven on Earth - Janet Paszkowski
Shattered - Shubha Venugopal
Another Adirondack Christmas - Jean Campbell Tullier
No Love Town - Jerry Vilhotti
The Tomb - Annie Abbondante
California Christmas - Bonnie ZoBell
A Walk to the River
I feel you beside me, but we don't speak, there's no longer the need. You look just like the way you did before chemo and radiation. You seem happy.
The homes of our neighbors, sidewalks and split-levels born of apple orchards and cornfields, tell tales of dysfunction. Christmas lights still up in March, yards a cluttered mess, rusty unused swings; shrines to neglected marriages, human lives underappreciated…until they're gone.
River Road, the graded slope to the vast floodplain, once the river itself, appears, an asphalt python waiting for me to make a mistake. Cars whiz by like giant gnats, then empty silence. The light changes and I move forward.
The woods stand tall, separating the road from the river. My senses are alive; drinking in the sweet scent of pine, I consume enough for us both. The path leads down to the flowing river, majestic in its beauty, timeless, cleansing, a lone witness to a millennium.
Gazing across the water I feel your hand in mine as we stroll along the canal, stopping now and again to pilfer a kiss.
I continue along the river's edge, startling a doe, a chance encounter. A glance, then she prances into the forest, her white tail waving goodbye. Like our first in that same spot so many years ago. A single path chosen amongst the many; our lives forever interwoven by fate.
You were so radiant then, a ray of light filtering through the trees. And you remained vibrant, so full of life even in the final stages, as I stood by helpless, watching my rainbow fade.
Richard A. Poveromo began writing two years ago at the age of 43. He lives in Central New Jersey with his wife and two children and is a Financial Advisor by trade. He gets up at 5:30am each morning and writes for two hours before going into work. Richard enjoys writing and reading Flash Fiction, Short Fiction and Prose Poetry. He is currently editing his first novel, "A Vision Of Hope."
Dead Man's Float
Dad is playing dead and I'm not in the mood for it. He's sprawled out on the Lazy Boy as usual. He lies with his head dangling to one side and his mouth open. His color is not too good to begin with so it's pretty convincing. I'm on the couch knitting and watching Oprah. "Cut it out, Dad." I poke his shin with the tip of my sneaker, not hard, but disrespectfully. Hey, he's playing dead and he's already been asked politely to knock it off twice.
Fortunately for my goal of knitting a few uninterrupted rows the slightest grin crosses his lips. Otherwise I would have to get off the couch and check for pulse and breath. This is one of his better performances. His chest barely rises and, since I'm not responding to death, every once in a while he throws in a little twitch to demonstrate that he could be in the throws of something significant but short of dead like a heart attack or a stroke maybe. He's had several of each.
"You're not funny. How are you going to like it if you actually do kick the bucket and everyone just keeps knitting or reading the paper?" Actually, if I was in a better mood, I would think his stunt was funny.
Sometimes I play dead myself. It's a good way to fall asleep. It's a family tradition that started on Haviland Pond where Dad taught us to swim. The dead man's float was lesson one. Are all kids taught the simple joy of lying in the water on their bellies, faces submerged, that other world gone for a minute, two minutes, then to let the air out the side of their mouths slowly and stretch it to three minutes, with practice close to four? Four minutes to straddle here and there. The object of the game was to fool a near-by swimmer, preferably a sibling, into thinking we were gone for good, then to spring out of the water at the last possible second screa ming and gasping for air. What could be funnier? Unless it was the thrill of being on the receiving end of the game, "finding" your sibling dead in the water, wading over to the corpse, touching the wet shoulder, that luscious horror of that short window of time when you've convinced yourself that maybe, just maybe, she was dead, and congratulated yourself for facing the dead body with such courage.
My sister Kathy stops by on her way to choir practice. She comes into the house without knocking. "Hi, Dad." She kisses the top of his head.
"He's dead," I say.
"That's too bad," she says. "I brought blueberry pie." She takes off her coat and puts a pastry box on an end table next to Dad. This makes his eyelids flicker and his mouth twitch. She straightens his head and gives me a dirty look. "He's going to get a crick in his neck."
"He's dead," I say. "And you're weird."
"She's knitting a scarf for a dead man," she whispers in his ear. "And she calls me weird."
His eyes pop open. "Boo," he says loud while her face is still an inch away.
"Dad," she squeals, making his day.
His eyes dart to the pastry box. "Is it made with that crap?" He means Splenda, the sugar substitute.
"No," she says.
"Liar," I say. I've been sitting with a dead man all afternoon and my sister gets the "boo." Tell me, is that fair?
Sally Bellerose lives and writes in western MA. Her recently (or soon to be) published short stories can be read in Rock and Sling, The Binnacle, and in Queer Shorts, an anthology from Merge Press. She can be contacted at SallyBellerose.com
Like Heaven on Earth
Ms. Prim & Proper leans her petite body backward into her executive-sized black leather chair. "Mr. Simmons, please understand, as Director of Shady Grove Elder Care I appreciate your parents' desire for intimacy, but . . ." The billowy white clouds painted on her office ceiling hover above me. ". . . quite simply, I must insist you ask them to tone it down."
My silence forms a low gray cloud over her head as she sorts through the files on her desk. This is the third time in three months she has summoned me to her dove white office. She makes me squirm like a blushing father who's been told by the junior high principal that his son had mooned the 4th period lunchroom.
I spent most of my childhood with my pillow squashed against my ears, muffling the primal sounds that filtered through the rawboned wall separating my cowboy-theme bedroom from my parent's red satin sheets, lava lamp and mirrored ceiling.
She shuffles her files aside and smiles, her slender fingers combing through her long golden curls-not once, not twice, but three times-until her silky corkscrews uncoil across the shoulder pads of her navy blue jacket. A kink in Ms. Prim & Proper's tight-laced feathers perhaps?
"Can I count on you to rectify the situation this time?"
I feel as if her shrewd blue eyes are reading my mind like a picture book detailing every sexual fantasy I've ever had. "I'll have another 'little talk' with them." I try to respond as if I'm in charge-not envious-of my parents' libidos. Though I suspect what Ms Prim & Proper really wants me to do is hose my parents down. I rise from my chair to shake her smooth, narrow hand.
I'm not emotionally equipped to deal with reports my parents are still having sex in their assisted living suite. Hell, I'm half their age, and I haven't had sex since my divorce two years ago!
Next to an ivy-choked garden gate, my parents sway on a white wrought iron glider-hand in hand. I pull up a white wicker chair and sit beside them. "How are they treating you here?"
"Oh it's wonderful, like a little bit of heaven on earth," Mother says as she squeezes Dad's spotted hand.
"Food's good too." He squeezes her tangled fingers.
"Fine weather." I clear my throat and then steadfastly deny my parents' sexuality, choosing instead to respect their ageless love and lust. " . . . not a grey cloud in sight," I say.
"Like heaven on earth." Mother repeats.
Dad leans toward Mother's good ear. "Food's good too."
I return home and wait to be summoned back to heaven.
Janet Paszkowski is a freelance fiction writer, poet and visual artist. A graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her fiction and poetry have received regional and national awards, and have appeared in literary and mainstream markets
Liner streaks my eyes black. I press hard on lips with Rowdy Red, sticky under gloss.
"Why should I expect anything?" My mother's voice invades pink flower wallpaper and fuzzy peach carpet.
I lean against my canopy bed, hold the mirror close. Makeup boasts bold hues bright against dark.
Clanging noises and slamming doors, my mother's, "I should walk out!" my father's "Go ahead!" accompany blush adding angularity to round cheeks.
I pull out fishnets, sexy with lines slinking down thighs. Torn red micro-mini, lacy black blouse. Over it all: baggy jeans and sweatshirt, no trace of padded bra.
I start at sounds of glass exploding on newly cleaned floors. Must be that expensive punch bowl filled with her special banana-strawberry punch. My father found the bowl a waste - kitchen clutter, money thrown out.
Hysteria tinges her voice as I mascara curled lashes, spike jagged haircut. "I don't need your help. Leave me alone!"
I sneak clunky boots into backpack and stroll downstairs, stopping to pose, lips pursed, before the hallway mirror. More shattered glass. I enter the kitchen.
"You look ridiculous. Wash that makeup off," my mother snaps, squatting with glass dangerously close to calloused toes. My father, broom in hand, tries once again to approach, but she shouts, "Go away! Get that through your stupid thick skull."
He throws the broom, mutters: "Ungrateful woman," stomps upstairs.
My mother's face is wet, gray under now-small eyes. Eyes no longer large, sexy, like in the portrait of her at twenty-five, which I keep, pick up every time she knocks down.
"When you drop liquid, first pick up glass, then mop, then sweep. You don't just barge in with a broom and spread glass around puddles," she explains to ugly yellow linoleum floors.
I set the table for yet another painstakingly cooked dinner to be quickly shoved down throats.
"Waltzes in here, pretending to help. Glass everywhere. Next: infected foot," she says to the rag twisting in her hands.
She never notices hidden fishnets, skirt, bold bellybutton covered with sweatshirt. As she hunts for shards, I glance at my reflection in the kitchen window and dream of boys I'll meet at the concert tonight.
Shubha Venugopal is completing her MFA in fiction from Bennington College and also holds Ph.D. in English. Experiencing literature from both the academic and creative perspectives has been a wonderful experience for her, and she loves being a teacher, scholar and writer. Her fiction and poetry has appeared or will appear in Literary Mama, Antithesis Common, Elimae, Eclectica, Mslexia, Kalliope, and Women Writers. She is an assistant professor and will soon be teaching at California State University, Northridge. She lives with her husband and two beautiful children: a toddler daughter and an infant son.
Another Adirondack Christmas
Jean Campbell Tullier
My thick wool mittens grasp the last four longnecks. Beers that have been kept cold since August in the vintage Kenmore that has stood sentry, not unlike a faithful snowman, by the garage door since I was invited up that Christmas of '71 to meet your folks. You grab the ax from the pegboard wall that is more a large piece of art than an efficient keeper of tools. Little-boy size bow and arrow swinging from one hook, leather aviator's helmet with rotted straps hung on a nail, tangled balls of kite string, pieces of multicolored wire, and the obligatory rusty saw. Its own crazy quilt of two generations that serves as the backdrop for a collection of abandoned dirt bikes and wooden skis. The afternoon scene is made all the more charming by sun filtering through windowpanes decorated by the delicate architectural feats of the resident spiders. You toss the ax in the back of the truck, its clang muffled by damp hay bales leftover from a boisterous October ride when the kids brought their college friends up to the camp for the weekend. We each swing ourselves into the cab of the truck in a familiar pas de deux , choreographed to steel guitar as opposed to Tchaikovsky, and land hard on the coil upholstered seat now covered with your Dad's plaid stadium blanket. I still miss him. With a clanking toast to the annual mission, you confidently negotiate the challenging driveway, boyswillbeboys backwards, as I punch the stiff black buttons on a radio that is wired for Patsy falling to pieces and Buddy. You accelerate to the limits of the '53 Chevy, still running strong even though it came off the assembly line the same year as me. The new car smell was replaced years ago by musty wool and memories. With heat full blast, windows all the way down, the new set of tires sings along with the radio, repeating their percussion on the cold blacktop. We pass the Taylor farm, Danziger's old place, and the Greelys, and then take a ninety-degree turn into Tom's field, crusted with dry stalks long since plowed into the mud and now glazed with refrozen snow. Tires digging in, we bump over hard crusted ruts, our heads coming closer and closer to the roof with each successive bounce. You point the truck in a determined line, angling out to form the left side of a V. Then fishtail arc to the right in a half circle, coming to a point, then making a sharp turn to the left, mirroring the radius of your previous arc. Then you angle back to the exact point where we began, carving out what must look like a crayon outline of an acre-wide heart to some low flying Cessna or bored cherub looking for trouble. We head down the trackless road to the opening in the trees where the pine needles that cushioned us in June are transformed by a thick blanket of last night's fresh crop of powder. Our two empty bottles chase each other down the dashboard as we tumble out the doors. Falling like eager angels, and lying face-up in the virgin snow. Our arms and legs openclose, openclose as we flap our wings in a slow motion signal to God. Then we quickly slide together to seal our pure skin and passion from the coldest December in memory. The startled winter birds create a red blur through a measured line of birches and then settle on a single large oak that resembles a demonstrative grandfather amidst a young stand of beech trees. Quiet returns. Save for our mis-timed breath. Each of us puffing like a nostalgic mountain train slowing at the station. Youme, youme, you me, you me, you me. Before the cold seeps to our skin, we gather up the ax and the beer and move into the forest, reverently, one deep slow step at a time, in search of this year's perfect Christmas tree.
Jean Campbell Tullier lives within steps of the Chesapeake Bay and owns BlueWater Agency, Ltd. a boutique advertising agency in Annapolis, Maryland whose tagline is The best ideas come out of the Blue.® Most of her creative writing involves scribbling haikus in birthday cards or writing short commentaries about nature or life. She has had a handful of short pieces published in The Washington Post and The Capital, aka the crab wrapper.
A No Love Town
Burywater, with its low buildings skyline and church domes heralding tall crosses from their summits like middle fingers, loomed before him as he drove to the cemetery. He never knew his so-called brother Leny One N, and felt like the hypocrites going to Dante's ninth circle of hell for betraying their principles. His siblings looked away, resented him for being their late father's favorite. Back in his car he admired the view of the town in his rear view mirror; a town that was being swallowed up by clouds of pollution and escorted by a yellow-brown river that once belonged to Indians that were buried in the dirt with no marking to show they had walked the earth that they had found after thousands of miles of wanderings.
Jerry graduated from the only college that won the NIT and NCCA basketball tournaments in the same year but more importantly than that-Jonas Salk who helped rid some of the world of polio with his vaccine also graduated from the same NYC school that's called in some circles: "The poor man's Harvard". Jerry Vilhotti has been fortunate to have had stories published in many places like Lit Review and others . His eyes are the color of wine - semi-sweet.
When you are dead on the smooth, glinting autopsy table, they will take out all your insides. The oily, yellow layer of fat that keeps your red muscles warm will grow tacky in the air, and your blood will pool in the bottom of you, like puddles after rain. They will ladle out the white, soupy vomit of your stomach contents with the same brand of ladle you have in your kitchen drawer, seeing the bits of carrot and undigested corn from the meal you didn't know was your last. They will know you liked to swallow your pasta whole, feeling it wiggle down your esophagus in one piece.
You will still be beautiful. Like a sleeping child, your facial muscles will relax angelically, but you will still be you. Your lips will have the same 58 creases, dipping gently like rolling hills. Your ears are still mazes like conch shells, translucently white like coral sand beaches. Your skin will retain its same cottony consistency for a while, smooth and cool under my fingertips as they perceive the curves and wells of you. But only my fingers will tingle with sensation, as you remain breathless and still.
Your hair will be messy and falling in your eyes, and so I will finger comb it, memorizing the texture and color before they split your cranium like a coconut to examine your brain. Before they peel away the skin of your face, I will commit all the slopes to memory, your geometry burned into me. I will be able to see you in constellations and building frames-- wherever there are undetermined shapes waiting for your form.
Your nudity is big as an opera. Splayed and spread, skin and hair everywhere, you are art, not pornography.
The heat you once generated, which pulled me in like a moth to your bare light bulb, has now stilled like the blood on your veins. I wish to spread myself out on you, transferring life from my cells to yours via active cellular transport, absorbing as much mortality as I can until we both exist in a place between life and death.
To see the insides of you, they will have to pull you apart. The doctor is really nothing more than a soft-fingered explorer who knows his way around the black lumps and brown chunks of the human anatomy; he knows which juices squish out from where and why. He doesn't know what a gift it is to hold your purple heart in his latex hands.
He will make you an empty shell of yourself with your breastplate screaming open, loudmouthed. Everyone will be able to look inside you, like the krematoria at a concentration camp.
I want to crawl inside where your heart used to be, and warm up what's left of you. You will be my cave, your ribs arching over as protection, your sternum the keystone of my tomb. I want them to sew me in there forever and let me go with you, wherever you go, regardless of what rot or pungency or worm should occur. I want to be the stuffing in your turkey and the picture in your locket.
In a thousand years, someone will find you and open you up carefully, lovingly, as the most precious artifact that ever existed, gloved fingertips touching every rotten hair on your putrid head with reverence. In all your gory glory, they will crack you open and find me inside, tiny, and curled up, where your heart once was.
And they will shake me awake. Yawning, I will tell them of you.
Annie Abbondante has been published in Void Magazine, The Los Angeles Journal, The Any Dream Will Do Review, Farmhouse Magazine, and DyingWriters.com. She enjoys music, movies, tap dancing, and French fries.
You see your father, stepmother, and stepgrandmother on his side for Christmas Eve dinner. You try to dress up and look decent. This is the only time of the year you ever see your father, though he lives ten miles away. Afterward, driving past palm trees with holiday lights spiraling up their trunks, you and some of your brothers and sisters stop by your mother and stepfather's since she knows you've been with HIM. You and your sibs use a lot of swear words. It's a relief.
While at your mother's, you get a chance to say hello to your stepbrothers and sisters, who will be spending Christmas Day visiting their real mother at the mental hospital.
You drive down the coast to your place and get four hours sleep. Your mother wants you back first thing in the morning. She says the nieces and nephews are giddy about Santa's visit. In reality, they're too young to make sense of the story adults keep trying to sell them-Spiky-eared men smaller than children building gifts you can buy at K-mart, parents dragging live trees into the living room and spraying something white called "snow" on them, fat men squeezing through heating systems. It's your mom who can't wait to see the whole brood together.
You set two alarms to meet your siblings and their offspring at your mom and stepfather's for Christmas breakfast. As you pull up, you see a neighbor's surfing Santa has been vandalized overnight. Your nieces and nephews are more excited by tinsel and colorful wrapping paper than the gifts inside. You and all your siblings wear sweats with spots on them since you can. You guzzle coffee and fight over who has the fattest ass and needs the biggest chair to watch the presents being opened.
After all your brothers and sisters have left, you stay behind and help your mother and stepfather collect the wrapping paper ripped and strewn everywhere. As you push the screen door open to leave, you see dogs walking by on their morning constitutional. Their panting in the sun causes their jingle bells to jingle. You manage to keep your eyes open long enough to drive back to your place where you can undo your top button and fall asleep in front of It's a Wonderful Life.
Bonnie ZoBell has received an NEA for her fiction and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. Her work has appeared in such magazines as American Fiction, The Bellingham Review, Arts & Understanding: America’s AIDS Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and she has flashes in the current issues of Salome and juked. She teaches at Mesa College in San Diego.