A Woman Like Me - Julie Beckham
Cyber Candy - Sarah Hilary
Hey, Baby - Camille Alexa
Last Trip - Harley Crowley
Home Visit - Florence Kraut
My Grave - D.E. Fredd
The Dog Calling Contest - Jennifer Gravley
Johanna Wainwright awoke on the day of the autumn fair to a cool October morning. Seventy-five last spring, she was still a good-looking woman. In the kitchen, she began dumping items for the tag sale into a brown paper sack. She couldnąt forget Mr. Langton Woodbury's contribution. How sweet of him to donate his gold tie clip for the occasion. Mr. Langton Woodbury dressed in coat and tie even when working in the garden raking leaves, always the perfect gentleman.
Outside, the icy wind whipped along Wainwright hollow, tearing through the maples in a red and gold fury. Johanna heard geese bark overhead, crows caw in the fields, and the leaves crunch underfoot. A young couple smiled at her, and Johanna waved back as she crossed the river, her footfalls echoing over the wooden planks of the covered bridge.
When Johanna reached the Milburn Falls green, she heard the metallic notes of the village calliope. The heavy aroma of cinnamon and hot apple cider blanketed the area, mixing in with the thick morning haze. Tented stalls formed a semi-circle in front of the old church, and locals milled about, tacking up signs and tagging articles for the sale.
Johanna was pricing records when a Glenn Miller title, łAnd the Angels Sing,˛ brought memories of her father. Her friend and protector, telling the police he was behind the wheel that day, blaming the accident on his failing eyesight. Taking the blame as he always had. Johanna was in a hurry, late for the Milburn Falls Historical Society luncheon, and backing out of the drive, she hadnąt seen the child, let alone the damn tricycle. Thank God for her father. She missed him so.
At midday, people gathered up left-over items and said their goodbyes. Johanna was especially pleased Mavis Bell had bought Mr. Langton Woodbury's tie clip for twenty-five dollars. Wouldnąt he be thrilled?
Later as she sat at the kitchen table, drowsy, sipping chamomile tea from Grandma Amelia's best china, Johanna looked out at her once beautiful garden. She watched the afternoon sun filter its rays through the branches of her favorite maple and cast a shadow over a mound of freshly turned earth. It gave her such comfort to know Mr.Langton Woodbury was resting as well.
Johanna wasn't interested in a romantic involvement. Why wouldn't he believe her? Imagine trying to take her fatherąs place. Langston seemed so sweet at first, such a good friend. Why did he have to go and ruin it?
Upstairs, Johanna slipped between the covers of the four-poster bed, then pulled Aunt Caroline's quilt up to her chin. She ran her fingers over the intricate stitching, smoothed over the colorful patches now yellowed with age, and it was then, Johanna Wainwright drifted off to sleep, but not until she gave thanks for a loving father and her history in the little, New England town‹the sense of time and place that kept her safe and sane.
Paul Alan Fahey is a learning disabilities specialist at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. He is also the editor of the national magazine, Mindprints, A Literary Journal, (www.imindprints.com), a forum for writers and artists with disabilities. His work has recently appeared in Coyote Wild, Skive Magazine, Harvest and is forthcoming in Crimson Highway and A Cup of Comfort.
A Woman Like Me
"It won't be a problem for you?" he asked. We were getting drinks on the patio of a restaurant we frequented where the cloths draped the tables all the way to the ground.
Chris liked that people walking past would eye us and wonder what he'd done to deserve a woman like me.
"There's nothing wrong with my organs," I told him. "You know that already."
"Well, as long as it won't hurt you. And as long as you can handle taking care of a baby. If it's not a genetic problem, the kid's just gonna keep getting bigger."
"They don't know why it happens."
"It's wild, isn't it? Me and you having a baby!" He shook his head. "No one's gonna believe it."
"I knew I'd have children some day. I didn't know it'd be this soon, or with you, for that matter."
I smiled and the waitress came out and set another beer in front of Chris. He clanked the bottle against my glass of ice tea and then threw it back.
"Fatherhood!" He shook his head again.
"You make enough money now that you're working in Auto. Not tons, but it'll be enough."
"That's not what worries me."
"I could keep teaching, if you think we'll need more. It wouldn't bother me. I might go nuts, just me and a baby all day long."
"What about the crib?" he asked.
"How will you get the baby out of the crib?"
"There are special cribs. I'm sure they have something, some device. There are all sorts of people in the world."
"The highchair will also be a problem."
Just then the hostess, a pretty girl of sixteen, led a woman and three chidlren to the table beside ours.
"Frankie needs a booster seat," said the woman. Her youngest rolled himself into her skirt.
The hostess leaned over the table with prayerful hands. "I'm so sorry. But we have a bunch of kids right now, and we just ran out of seats. Maybe I could find you a phone book or something . . . "
The woman sat down and lifted Frankie into her lap with a groan. "Anything so I can eat some food!"
I slid onto the ground and held up my seat like a flag. The older children twisted in their seats to get a look a me.
I climbed onto the chair and sat with my head just over the table top.
"Could we buy you a drink? the hostess asked. "For your trouble . . . "
"I'm not . . . "
"She'll take a Bud," Chris interupted.
I rolled my eyes. "There are plenty of things low to the ground," I continued. "We could go shopping tomorrow and I could show you, if you like."
"No," Chris stared after the hostess. "You don't have to prove it to me. I just wanted to make sure."
Julie Beckham is currently working on a master's degree in comparative literature at the University of Georgia. Her stories have been published in Grimm Magazine and Ottawa Arts Review.
CyberCandy sells Twinkies, and Rainbow Twizzlers. It has Hostess Ding Dongs in boxes of 24, good for up to a fortnight past the sell-by date if they're stored in cool dark conditions.
'Cool dark conditions.' I love that.
If I had a computer, I'd never leave the house; CyberCandy's online, ships direct to your door. I've lived in London all my life, was raised on sherbet fountains and dib dabs, liquorice shoelaces, blackjacks and jelly wellies. These days I'd rather a Ding Dong than just about anything else.
I shop at CyberCandy in Covent Garden. It gets me out of the house. The sight of me scares off the skinny school-girls standing by the boilings, but Ben-behind-the-counter doesn't mind. I may not be the best advert for candy but he knows I'll spend more than the pair of them put together. I work the aisles sideways like a crab, filling my red bucket. I get what I want but there's a hollow space that gnaws, until Jolly Rancher rides to the rescue.
Ben empties the bucket into a brown paper bag, the kind they use for pornography or prohibition gin. I take the bag to the carousel by the side of the Opera House and watch the painted horses going round. It's years since they let me ride. The afternoon's brown-and-grey, but the lights on the carousel are bright, jolly as the Ranchers that rattle in my fist.
I make my way down to the Embankment and sit on my favourite bench. I nearly fill it, hip to hip. From here, I see the slow turning of the London Eye, unblinking above me. A couple on the next bench are necking with noisy relish. I watch the boats on the water, chugging away.
If I had a lover, I should come to him with cherry lips, sticky and sweet. He'd hold between his teeth not a red rose but a raspberry Chupa Chup, wrapper off. I'd let him nibble iced gems from my breasts, and dress my toes and fingers in gummy rings.
I'd lie with a single jelly bean marking out my belly button, pina colada flavour, and I'd tremble from head to toe like a pink blancmange bride.
He'd exult in my doughy flesh, its lumps and bumps, would dust me with kisses and watch me rise, golden and feathery-light, to burst with starry flavour on his tongue.
Sarah’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Velvet Mafia, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, Kaleidotrope and Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, "On the Line," was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia "Winter Kills" Contest in 2007. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter. Website: www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/
You pull your crazy-ass cherry-red smoke-spouting Camaro up by me and you lean out the window, letter-jacketed elbow gripping the door.
"Hey, Baby!" you yell, though I'm right-freakin'-here. "Hey, Baby! Come for a ride."
I snap my gum at you.I know you. I didn't turn sixteen last night for nothing.
I ignore you, walk on; that's how it usually works. Against my better judgment my hips sway even more.
"Hey, Baby!" you say. I roll my eyes your direction. I know you from French class; Madame doesn't like you and neither, usually, do I.
"Take your jock-ass self to the game," I say. "Go look up a cheerleader's skirt," I say. "Go throw a ball."
You grin but I know you don't mean it, not really. "I've got vodka," you tell me, like you think you can buy me.
I've got news for you: if I could buy myself from me I would, but I can't. So I open the rear door of your sorry-ass car and slide into the back.
Monday at school you pretend you don't know me. It's what I expected, so I'm not surprised. I feel the sting of you still; between my legs, on my thighs.
Hey, Baby, I want to say, it's not you, it's me. I did this; don't take that away. Don't even try.
Camille Alexa's fiction is forthcoming in several print anthologies, including Ruins (Hadley Rille books), Sporty Spec:Games of the Fantastic (Raven Electrick Ink), Black Box (Brimstone Press) and the Machine of Death Anthology. She has other short fiction and poetry forthcoming in Star*Line, SpaceWesterns.com, and Bewildering Stories. She writes for the Green Man Review.
The stars were flying all over the place. Thousands of them, swarming like fireflies. I thought it had something to do with the tab I'd put on my tongue. My eyes were jerking every which way, following their crazy paths. I jammed my eyelids shut and grabbed hold of the arms of my lawn chair.
"Whooee!" I shouted.
Brian came right over. "What is it, the stars?"
"God yes—I can't look at them!"
"It's not the drug," he said. "It's really happening."
"The stars came loose, I think!"
"No way." I peered at him through my fingers. "We're just having the same trip."
"Uh-uh, I didn't take it yet. I was waiting to see how you were doing." He grabbed at my arm. "We gotta get out of here!"
"And go where, if the universe is coming apart?" I still had my wits. I was shielding my eyes from the sky with my arm and I rolled out of the chair onto my knees. The grass was waving at me, which was soothing, and more like what I'd expected.
"My parent's basement! Come on!
I still didn't believe him but he was acting so desperate I let him drag me up off the ground and we stumbled up the long hill towards the house. I was getting used to the sky. It was so beautiful, all that glittering motion. I wanted to stop and stare but he jerked me along.
"Do you hear that?" His voice was ragged, panicky. I did hear something—a crackling roar from the other side of the hills that sounded like it was heading our way. That got me moving, and then I was racing him towards the basement doors at the side of the house. I looked back once, at a tree silhouetted against the sky, just as it burst into flames.
Between us we managed to lift the doors up and we ran pell-mell down the concrete steps. The doors crashed shut behind us and it was black dark in there. Brian fumbled around and found the string pull to turn on the light bulb dangling from the ceiling.
The basement is where we used to play when it rained, mostly war games with Brian's plastic soldiers, using his Lincoln Logs to make our forts. They were still there, layered with dust and cobwebs in a red plastic bin. The old beanbag chairs were slumped up against the wall. Brian dragged them to the middle of the room and we flopped down, panting. In the dim light from the overhead bulb it was hard to see, but it looked like Brian's eyes were bleeding. He didn't seem to notice, and he leaned across the floor to pull the bin of toys between us.
We divided up the soldiers and arranged our battle lines, and waited for the world to end.
Harley Crowley lives in Bellingham, Washington, smack between a great independent bookstore and an old Carnegie Grant library, and is part of a roving band that gathers to write in local coffee shops. She has another story coming up in Every Day Fiction.
Don't be afraid. Clutch your official notebook. Walk up the cracked sidewalk, past the beer cans and boxes from the pizzeria strewn over the brown grass. Climb the broken steps in the dark November evening. There. The cop is waiting for you on the porch. You can do it. You can decide where the children go. So what if the neighbor complained for two days before the police came and called Social Services. You're here now.
Go through the house with him. There isn't much to it: a kitchen stinking from garbage; a saffron colored sofa, its armrest ballooning stuffing; a television blinking cartoons from the Nickelodeon channel. Follow the cop to the bedroom where he found three kids sleeping head to foot in the only bed. The cop's as green as you are. Listen to his wisecracks about the one boy who still lays there, his legs pulled tight up to his neck, his large brown eyes darting every which way; his thumb in his mouth, sucking like a greedy baby.
"He thinks he's got a bottle there," the cop says.
Nod your head. Force yourself to look competent. Don't gag on the smells of sweat and urine coming from the bed, and the dark corners of the room. Now go into the living room. See the four kids waiting there. You know how to ask the questions. Ask the oldest girl. She's probably 13.
"Where's your mother?"
"When did she leave?"
"Two days ago. But she always comes back."
Breathe slowly. Be gentle. "What's your name, honey?"
"Did she leave you in charge, Debbie?"
She shrugs, nods.
Get the other kid's names and ages and write them on the DSS form. Brian, 8, in the bedroom. Ruthanne, 10, lounging sullen on the couch. Michael, 6, mesmerized by the cartoons; Amber 3, prancing around while her diaper sags around her knees.
Ask: "When did you eat last?"
Listen as Debbie's eyes dart to the debris on the table. "We had macaroni before."
Don't think when "before" is. It's okay if you look into the refrigerator and the cupboards, taking inventory: two cans of Chef Boyardee, a half empty box of elbow macaroni, a tub of margarine. You're only trying to help. Empty the curdled milk from Amber's baby bottle into the sink and run the water.
Watch while the cop turns away in disgust and hear his muffled: "Whadaya expect from these people, anyway."
Tell him what you need to do before you make the call to the office.
Don't notice Debbie listening with the tears sliding down her cheeks. It's not your fault that her mother's gone. Take Amber's hand as she swings by, her chubby fingers clutching your pants, but don't look into her sweet face. Answer the cop's whispered, "What's happens now? Can they stay together?" with a furtive shake of your head.
Shudder to yourself, because, even though you are new to this business, you know the answer.
Florence Kraut lives and writes in Rye, New York. Her short stories have appeared in national confession magazines and magazines for children and her op-ed essays have appeared in Westchester news magazines. She has upcoming stories in The Rambler and Writer Advice. She is a social worker and formerly Executive Director of a family service agency in Connecticut.
Someone dug my grave. I should thank them. I'm could not have done it on my own. Of course, I would have laid it out differently. Not that I'm complaining. There's a sycamore that shades the sun so my plot is a haven for moss. Leaves will be a concern. Further down the lane near the Carteret family sites, there's plenty of light and decent drainage. That would have been nice. Make your grave where you'd plant a garden was what my grandfather always said. But you can't have everything. They won't even allow headstones. It's got to be a flat marker on ground level so the gang mowers can sweep over it. No vases, flags or flower baskets either. Jake Brunson, who had the room next to mine at River Crest until he passed, heard of a cemetery that has that artificial turf like football teams play on. You can have a headstone as big as a Japanese car and no one will bat an eye. They'll run electric in if you want it.
This is the hole I'm destined for. I need both hips replaced so if you pushed me in right now I'd never get out. Already I see ground water oozing in. I'll rot before the ink on the Medicare paperwork is dry. I thought it would be bigger.
D. E. Fredd—lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had fiction, poetry and essays published in several journals and reviews. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the best short fiction of 2005, was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist, and recently received a 2007 Pushcart Special Mention Award. A novel, Exiled to Moab, will debut later this year.
The Dog-Calling Contest
"Fluffs!" you and your sister called into the thick, hot air simultaneously. You stood with a few feet between you. You had placed Fluffs at the end of the driveway yourself, unwilling to afford your sister any advantage inherent in having been the last to hold him.
"Fluffers!" your sister sang out, employing the same inflection she used when calling him to sleep in her bed.
Given the choice, Fluffs always slept on her bed. Fluffs was, technically, her dog, but deep in your heart, you didn't believe that animals could be owned. It was on.
"Fluffer-wuffer," you trilled, "want to go for a ride?"
Poor Fluffs moved his paws uncertainly. He hesitated, his tail wagging into this small space of silence, and then came forward, nose pointing toward your sister.
In a flash, you crouched down and held out your fingers in the approximate shape they'd make holding out a biscuit.
Yes! Your heart resumed a monstrous beating: Fluffs' tongue was on your fingers, and you had put your sister in her rightful place.