A Shuffling of Seniors - Don E. Perkins
After the Harvest - Sarah Hilary
A Short Detour - Robert Scotellaro
Crossing - Gary Moshimer
Fall Away - Sara Crowley
Ignore this Story - Mike Langan
If I Cant Have Doreen Weidermeyer No One Will - D.E. Fredd
The Treasure Box - Diane Valentine
What if You had Flown? - Robert K. Omura
Working Out - Dan Corfield
The Grand March - Tirumal Mundargi
To My Ex-Husband on the Occasion of His Third Marriage - Melissa Palladino
What Goes Down - C.M. Adams
Leafing and Leaving
A bad storm was forecast for this night. A northeaster would be barreling down across the Canadian border, blowing out the last lingering of Indian summer. But the outside weather was of no concern. Very soon, a different storm would be erupting inside our home. The weight of the anticipation already seemed to be crushing me deeper into the pile of leaves I was leaning into at the end of the drive, hands hooked behind my head.
The last bit of sunlight was sinking below the house on the other side of the street. A damp chilling had begun. She called the children to dinner from the doorway in the pure motherly voice only they could evoke. They abandoned their work—gathering leaves in a basket at the other end of the lawn—and ran towards her, leaf dust clinging to their clothes, waifs in the half-light of dusk.
“You too,” she said in my direction, launching a sparrow into startled, stuttering flight from its perch in withered lilies.
The sun had now sunk from view and I shivered as I trailed the children into the house. Stepping into the foyer, I could see the familiar Sunday night scene, though everything was diffused without my glasses, left in the wheelbarrow. Flushed, moist faces behind iced glasses of water, all shimmering in the light of the candles on the dining room table. She presided over this scene at one end of the table while I took my chair at the other.
This was the island of tranquility she had created as a haven to energize the family for the coming week of work, school, meetings, soccer practice, and dancing lessons. But this Sunday evening was different. There would be little laughter this night. On this Sunday evening the kids were allowed to eat quickly and were back outside in fifteen minutes.
I spoke first. “Can’t we talk about this?”
“No. We’ve been through it, over and over again. You broke the rule.”
“Just once,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter how many times,” she smirked. “I wonder how that would play on death row—‘I only killed once.’”
“Yeah, but we’re not talking murder here¼.”
“Oh yes we are—exactly. You murdered us. You murdered our marriage and you ruined the family. But everything was said last night.”
Her eyes and the furrow between them betrayed no compromise. She left the room, and I exited through the foyer and back out into the chill of the yard. The children were playing hide and seek.
“Daddy, come find us!” the youngest screamed.
I ran after them listlessly as they easily escaped to the house. Their laughter was stifled as the door slammed behind them. A neighbor’s startled dog barked his disgust. I retrieved my glasses. A small breeze lifted some leaves from the top of the pile and laid them back with a rustle—like the sound of neighbors whispering. I could see clearly now.
Dennis Vanvick is a retired, self-employed techie. Dennis winters among the 7 million inhabitants of Bogota, Colombia and summers amongst the flora and fauna of northwest Wisconsin. Prior to 1997, he wrote some nonfiction, in the technical and managerial areas. Print publications include Computerworld and Information Week, which you probably haven't heard of. One online publication in College Journal (sister site of Wall Street Journal).
A Shuffling of Seniors
Don E. Perkins
"Your prescription will be ready in a few minutes." She motions toward a row of chairs beside the pharmacy counter. "Have a seat if you'd like."
I sit down. Most of the customers in Walgreen's this morning are elderly. I assume the Rolling Meadows Estates van dropped them off so they could pick up their prescriptions and other essentials. A half-dozen residents shuffle, amble, and inch along the aisles. Some hold canes, others use walkers, and a few steady themselves by gripping shopping carts. At that age walking requires ingenuity and it looks as though they've adapted well.
I watch a lady maneuver her aluminum walker along the cosmetic aisle. The two front legs have wheels and someone has mounted yellow tennis balls on the two rear legs. She stops to read the instructions on a box of Autumn Auburn hair rinse. Perhaps she's remembering her hair color of years ago. After a couple of minutes she replaces the box, sighs, and slides on. I'm glad she decided not to tamper with her diaphanous white hair. I hope her walker with yellow tennis balls doesn't suddenly lose its grip and lurch forward sending her sprawling.
Perhaps it's an old war injury that prevents the man from standing upright as he inches along the vitamin and supplement shelves. From his bent position he has trouble scanning the top rows. Finally he selects a bottle of Saw Palmetto capsules and wobbles on his cane toward the cashier. I hope Saw Palmetto gives him the cure he's looking for.
Now a shriveled man inches toward me clinging to a shopping cart to keep from falling. He leaves a prescription with the pharmacist and shuffles to the chair next to mine.
"Time to get some more old geezer pee pills," he says. "Gotta keep the waterworks going."
"Yep, that's important," I say. I don't tell him I'm waiting for the same thing.
Don E. Perkins has worked as a mental hospital attendant, a social welfare worker, and a vocational rehabilitation counselor. He also has designed, built, and marketed miniature furniture. He and his wife of 58 years live in Des Moines, Iowa. They have three adult children and two adult grandchildren. His stories have appeared in the Lutheran Journal, Good Old Days magazine, Long Story Short, Burst, Iowa Writes journal, Foliate Oak, and Sylvan Echo. One of his stories received Honorable Mention in the 2007 Erma Bombeck short story contest.
After the Harvest
My brother was in Helmand Province yesterday. Not fighting, just looking; a visit with the squadron leader to gain a better understanding of conditions for men on the ground.
Phone-calls are rationed on the airbase. An allowance of thirty minutes every seven days. My brother rang my mother and told her, tongue-tied by protocol, a sanitised version of events:
Barracks, some without doors, wallpapered with warnings about tarantulas and infection.
This is what reaches me, third hand. I try to imagine the rest.
Heat pressed like a blank face to every window (if there are windows, glass is hazardous, but I need a point of focus, something I can recognise). Otherwise it's boiling metal and bullets, the stench of death filtered through scorching air and sand abrasive, burrowing everywhere. Men with their guts held like infants in their arms. Or actual infants; it is so hard to see.
Words fail me.
The poppy harvest is over for now, the fields burned back to stubble, which means more time for bombing. The soldiers can't stop everything; opium destined for the etiolated arms and ankles of addicts. This seems the very least of it, a sly by-product of a worse war, one without name.
As a baby, jaundiced, my brother was planted on a sun-bed with all the other newborns, in goggles and diapers, wriggling under the lamps until sleep came.
I stood and watched through the glass panel in the door, trying to pick my sibling from the field of yellow limbs. 'Sunflower babies,' joked the nurse.
How did it feel to be a part of that tender, creased camaraderie? Such a strange first experience of the world. Did he miss his sun-bed soul-mates, when we took him home, did he dream of little heads nearly leonine with scurf and fuzz?
Sarah won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892. Her story, The Eyam Stones, was runner-up in the Historical Contest. Both stories will be published in the Fish anthology 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the new Crime Writers' Association anthology, features Sarah's story, One Last Pick-Up. Her work has appeared in Literary Fever, Every Day Fiction, Ranfurly Review and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and daughter. Website: Sarah_Hilary.
A Short Detour
I stop along a deserted stretch off I-5. I've got a bladder the size of a grape. My wife, Fran, waits in the car, annoyed that I'm taking so long. Before me is an expanse of California wildflowers; a variegated and fluttering carpet clear to the hills.
We are taking this road trip to visit my in-laws, two states over—worlds away.
"Lou," Fran calls out. "You planning on watering the entire county?"
In the car I tell her, pointing, "When my time comes, that's where I'd like to spend my final days. Just plop me in that field—I'll die with a smile on my face". She pulls down a little shade on her window; changes the radio station. "Can't you hear all that static?" she complains.
When I drive away she says, "I want it to be quick—to look up and see a falling safe or a piano a few feet over my head—maybe feel a second of panic, then—lights out!" Each station is staticky, except for one—vibrant with Mexican music. She clicks it off.
"The glare," she says, once we're on the highway. "I'm going to shut my eyes."
And I imagine how it might be:
It's a still afternoon. Maybe too still. She's pulling groceries from the back seat, grumbling to herself about the front lawn needing to be mowed, when the cyclone rumbles through like a million freight trains; sucks her up in a whirl beside a doghouse and a featherless hen—her screams unheard amidst the mad cacophony of roof tiles clacking together in the vortex.
After an appropriate period of mourning, I will be sitting in a diner. The waitress's name will be Cindi. I'll become suddenly aware of an elegance to her rag-swirls; the artful way she repatterns the table's smudges.
We will date. I'll find in her a stunning genius for common sense, and an uncommon sense of what is stunning.
She, so much younger, will think me wise, and reward my keen observations with wide eyes and an eager body. We'll lie entwined at the center of the king-size bed I shared with Fran. The one that was never big enough.
We will move in together—get the dog I always wanted (Fran was allergic) and name it Scruffy.
For my birthday she will get me a modern version of the Kama Sutra—a tome entitled, Oo-La-La (1001 sex positions)—with the promise we will master each.
She'll be willowy enough for the position illustrated on page 341: The Standing "69". I'm envisioning the up and down motion of her long tresses tickling my shins, when I hear the faraway screech of Fran's voice circling like a hawk.
"What the hell, Lou," she gripes. "You just blew past our exit!"
"Huh?—oh," I say, and head for the nearest turn off, notice the way the light passes through the iridescent wings of a crushed bug against the windshield, like stained glass.
Robert Scotellaro's work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Ghoti, VerbSap, 971 Menu, The Laurel Review, Red Rock Review, Northeast Journal, The Vagabond Anthology, Macmillan and Oxford University Press collections and elsewhere. He is the author of several literary chapbooks, three books of poetry, and the recipient of Zone 3's Rainmaker Award. He currently lives in California with his wife and daughter.
I'm coming home from work in my white orderly outfit in my Ford Maverick. All I have to do is get over the railroad crossing to my house. But there's a train stopped at the crossing. A long, long train. There are train guys in gray coveralls standing around. One waves his arms at me. One bends at the waist and pukes on the road.
I'm pissed. I just have to get home. Just another hundred yards over the tracks. But this is the longest damn train I've ever seen here. I get out and slam my door like I'm the most important person in town. At eighteen, I'm a hothead.
One of the trainmen looks happy to see me. His eyes grow wide when he sees my uniform. He beckons me over to the train and says, "Check him." He points toward the train. I get a whiff of the other man's vomit.
"Him, under there. We called the ambulance. It's taking a long time."
"I'm not a doctor. I'm just..." I recognize the wooden cane in the black stones by the track. The eagle head carved on it. The man once again points to the body slumped over the rail, half under the train. I recognize that linen suit, the purple veined ankles sticking out. Old man Baldwin never wore socks. Then I notice his shiny white shoes about ten feet from the tracks, paired up perfectly there like nothing ever happened, where he had probably carefully placed them.
"Stupid old man," says one of the men. "It was on purpose. Orlando here saw it."
"His wife just died," I say, stepping cautiously toward the body.
"Check his pulse," someone says.
I crouch. The metallic smell is part train and part blood. His wrists are nowhere to be found, probably twisted somewhere under him. I'm not moving anything. I reach for his collar, to check his carotid, but my fingertips find nothing there. I see his elegant white hat near one of the metal wheels of the next car up. It doesn't look empty, and I feel the blood leaving my head.
I retreat to the long brown grass near the tracks. Sometimes this grass would catch fire from the sparks. Old Baldwin was the one to teach me not to fear trains, their speed and thunder. He said it was exciting. Look for sparks, he would say, and sometimes we'd get too close. Sometimes his hat would fly off and his long white hair would whip like the grass.
He would walk me all over town and tell me of his wife's illness, and how he feared sickness more than trains or dying.
The sun takes a low October angle and lights the train for as far as I can see. It gleams. It's nothing to fear, like he told me. It's a thing of beauty. I'll ask if I can keep the cane and the shoes.
Gary Moshimer works in a small hospital in Pa. His stories can be seen in Word Riot, Eclectica, TQR, Sybil's Garage #5, Green Silk Journal, and upcoming in Pequin and ken*again.
Mary feels exhausted, a jerk of irritation fizzing through her. She knows that it is tiredness that makes her want to scream and smash things. She calms her voice, adds sugary words to fool them into thinking she is loving.
"Sweetie can you get your pj's on now? Please?"
There is no response; her son's head remains bowed over his DS.
Mary turns to her husband.
"Jake, honey, could you deal with Phil while I get Theresa ready please?"
She doesn't wait for his non-reaction before leaving the tiny chalet lounge and entering her daughter's cupboard of a bedroom.
The walls smell musty even though they have been lucky with the autumn weather. A trail of sand leads from the discarded flip-flops to the bed and over the covers.
Theresa is reading one of those trashy teen books about snogging. Mary isn't sure that she's old enough, but now all the clichés seem to be coming true, so the one about them growing up too fast probably applies.
"5 more minutes."
Mary goes back into the lounge. The day of fun has been tedious. A long drive down yet more narrow and twisty country lanes that caused her heart to toss. They got lost, of course. The kids fought in the back, the adults in the front. On arriving at the historic village of who gives a fuck they had been out of the car for only 5 minutes before Phil wanted food and Mary needed a wee. They stomped around looking for positives.
"Oh, what lovely stone work."
"Yeah mum, gorgeous," came the sarcasm-laden reply.
It is late, and the tiredness is almost all consuming. They had planned that when the kids were in bed they'd open some wine and have "together time." They both know that means Jake is hoping to have sex. Mary has about 3 minutes of energy left, and they get snuffed by Phil accidentally weeing all over the bathroom floor, and her being apparently the only one capable of wiping it up.
"I think I'll head to bed now too," she says.
"Oh! An early night? Good idea," says Jake.
"No, no, sorry sweetheart, I'm absolutely wiped out."
In bed the familiar fretting starts up. What if Jake leaves because they never have sex, what if there is something wrong with Phil's penis and that's why he always misses the toilet? What if Theresa has already kissed someone? What if the oven is faulty? Could they all be dead of carbon monoxide poisoning by morning? There's a certain peace in the last thought. Death without consciousness, endless sleep. She drifts away.
Sara Crowley has had fiction published by Pulp.Net, elimae, flashquake, Litro, Cella's Round Trip, and a variety of other lovely places. Salted, her novel in progress, was shortlisted for the 2007 Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award. She blogs at asalted.blogspot and appreciates you taking the time to read this.
Ignore this Story
This story is no good. This story is not what it seems. You will think you know this story and then it will turn on you. One day this story will show up at your door, throw its arms around you and sob. "I have nowhere else to go," it will say. "If I can just stay with you a day. Maybe two." Before you can answer, this story will slip by you and plop down into your favorite chair. It will put its feet up on your coffee table and start telling you about its childhood. When you finally get to bed, it will keep you awake by reading itself aloud.
In the morning, as you're rushing to the shower, it will step ahead of you and start a bath. When you get to work, this story will call and ask where your blender is and why you don't have any rum. When you hang up it will get bored and turn on your computer. It will email your mother its darkest secret. She will call you and say, "How could you write such things?" When you get home, this story will accuse you of ignoring it. "It's the other media in your life, isn't it?" it will say. It will erase the programs on your DVR and run a magnet over your iPod. It will download a virus onto your laptop, and flush your Blackberry down the toilet. It will tear the last chapter out of your new mystery novel. When you tell this story goodbye and show it the door, it will shade its eyes and sniffle. "You're right," it will say. "No one likes me. I don't even like myself. You've been good to have me this long." It will wipe away a tear, take your hand and thank you for your honesty. Then, as you watch it leave, it will back over your mailbox.
At your next party, this story will show up uninvited, with your ex, and tell your friends that you own the collected works of Nicholas Sparks. When they snicker, it will look both ways, lower its voice and say that in your night stand, hidden under a box of tissues, you keep a tear-stained copy of "The Bridges of Madison County." When you call this story a liar, it will frown and say, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Everyone knows I was only joking. I thought we were closer than that." When your friends turn away, this story will smile. "I made you," it will whisper. "You're nothing without me." Before you can tell this story off, it will sigh and examine its fingernails. It will wave to someone over your shoulder and brush past you. This story will betray you and then it will turn up its nose at you. It will treat you like dirt under its feet. I warned you.
Mike Langan has published several short stories and two legal mystery novels Dark Horse and Ready for the Defense. He received his JD and MFA in creative writing from George Mason University, and his BA in philosophy from Colgate University. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Syracuse, NY. You can read more about him at www.MikeLangan.
(Best read before late October of this year)
I am two fools, I know, for loving, and for saying so—John Donne
Let me say, at the outset, that Doreen Weidermeyer is quite safe and in good health. It is true that she misses elements of her old life, but she also recognizes the tremendous upside of her present circumstances, however limiting to her personal freedom they may be.
She eats very well. There has been a fifteen pound weight loss. I initially picked Jenny Craig, but many of those entrees were suffused with garlic and high in sodium which upset her digestive tract. Now I shop fresh daily, and we bond in the kitchen preparing that which we take into our bodies. I purchased the Exer-Trac 4000 (the Titan) and mornings are spent toning her body into shape.
A year ago, when I first was smitten by her, it was mostly by her potential; she was like an older home, a fixer-upper if you will. The more I watched her, the more I saw how easily I could mold her into my lifetime companion. No one chooses to fall in love. In fact the verb "fall" is quite apropos. One moment you are leading your humdrum life and the next, wham, you are at the mercy of forces well beyond you. If you need an authority far greater than mine to tell you that, read my hero, John Donne, especially his Elegies or acquaint yourself with his infatuation with Anne More, the fifteen year old love of his life. Indeed, it is our nightly ritual, to hone her intellectual side, to read passages from Donne and discuss them.
I shall quickly insert here that my behavior, since Doreen has been my guest, has been beyond reproach. When this is all over, my goal is to have Doreen stay with me voluntarily and forever. That could never happen if I were not respectful.
Speaking of respect I need to bring up the infamous Earl Weber of Weber Siding and Replacement Windows fame. I could, like Dante and his sainted Beatrice, have chosen to love Doreen from afar. That was my initial plan. It was only when she began dating Earl that I decided to act as I have. The man is twice her age and a crook. Ask anyone in Southern Vermont who's had work done on their home. They'll give you an earful. Even better, ask his two previous wives what they think of him to say nothing of that ludicrous affair with a barely twenty country singer he had two years ago.
The minute I saw the direction their relationship was headed I knew I had to strike. It took a few weeks for Doreen to calm down and recognize that escape was not a viable option. Yes, I was holding her against her will, and I'm not afraid to use the "K" word, but I'm certainly not like Bruno Hauptmann or the Bader-Meinhof gang who give kidnapping a bad name.
Slowly, then, she has begun to see there is no need to pander herself to the likes of Earl Weber. Material possessions are as not important as they once were. She feels good about herself. The weight loss, the fact that she can set the treadmill to an eight minute mile pace and is able, with a little help from me, to understand the workings of Donne's mind has enhanced her self- image tremendously.
With that in mind, I think that in a few more months my work will be done. I have chosen October 29 of this year as the date whereupon I shall throw caution to the wind. On Vermont highway 91, just south of the Windsor exit there is a rest area. It is staffed during the summer by volunteers, but, after foliage season, there is only a lavatory attendant who occasionally checks the restrooms during the day. I don't know the exact time, but on that date Doreen Weidermeyer and I shall appear. As that fateful day approaches, I shall be contacting the local news outlets, and I'm certain the Vermont and Federal legal authorities, after reading this, will also attend.
Upon arrival at the rest stop, I will alight from the vehicle, bend a knee and propose to Doreen. If she will have me, it will be the greatest day of my life. If I am rebuked then so be it. I have a solution for that possibility. As of this writing I do not know her mind. There are moments when I sense a developing bond between us, but I have read Donne's essay on the inconstancy of women. On October 29, therefore, I shall be reborn, ready to spend the rest of my years with the woman I love whether it will be on this earthly plane or in a celestial one, if you catch my drift. Either direction is of little matter to me. I am in love. All else pales.
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into love's hands it come!
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some;
D. E. Fredd—lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had fiction and poetry published in several journals and reviews including the Boston Literary Magazine, Connecticut Review, The Pedestal, Storyglossia, SNReview, eclectica and Menda City. Poetry has appeared in the Paumanok and Paris Reviews. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the best short fiction of 2005 and was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist. He won the 2006 Black River Chapbook Competition and received a 2007 Pushcart Special Mention Award. I have been included in the Million Writers Award of Notable Stories for 2005, 2006 and 2007. A novel, Exiled to Moab, published by Six Gallery Press will debut in 2008.
Lisa had only seen one in an antique book before, but here she was, seeing one right in front of her. It was a small box, ugly from tarnish and dirt. She knew, just knew that it was worth more than the dollar price tag.
"I'll give you fifty cents for this," Lisa said to the woman sitting by a cash box. One always haggled at rummage sales.
The woman looked at the shabby box. "It belonged to my husband? grandmother. How about seventy-five cents?"
"I'll take it." Lisa fished in the pocket of her cargo shorts for the correct change. She paid for her find and headed back to her car. Maybe there might be something else of value. She stashed the box in the trunk for safe keeping and went back to look around some more. But nothing caught her eye.
She was so excited, she went home instead of stopping at any more sales. At home, she took out art paintbrushes, soft cloths and some distilled water. First, she gently brushed any loose dirt from the box. Lisa went to the bookcase and took out the book on antiques. Sure enough. The same identical looking box was featured in a collection by a famous French silversmith, Jacques la Balliet.
Carefully, she jiggled the clasp. Lisa had been so excited, she never thought to open it to see if anything was inside. The inside was lined with deep purple velvet. There was a loop of matching ribbon pressed against one side. She took a tweezers and gently pulled on it. The floor of the box lifted up, revealing a secret compartment. On the very bottom was a slip of yellowed paper.
Lisa held her breath as she read, "Inspected by #45."
Diane Valentine has been married for 42 years, has a supportive husband, three grown children and 5 grandkids. She works part time as a substitute teacher. She has a degree in history with a minor in women's studies from Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. For the past several years she has been enrolled in workshops and classes at AllWriters Workshop and Workplace with Kathie Giorgio. She is an editor for the USS Fiske newsletter. Her recent publishing credits include: "Soviet Women" appeared in synopsis form in The Historian. "The Thomas General Store" appeared in the Waukesha County Historical Newsletter. "No One Will ever Know" appeared in the New Author's Journal. "A History of Torhorst School" appeared in the Landmark Quarterly.
What if You Had Flown?
Robert K. Omura
You listen to Hannah go on and on, comparing freedom to seagulls riding updrafts over the blue Mexican surf. She tells you about her trip to Puerto Vallarta, where the tide tickled her toes and the Pacific breeze calmed her fears. She went without you. She even forgot about the lawyers.
Mexico had been kind, scrubbing the worry-lines from her forehead. Her green eyes are friendly. She asks you how you're doing—how you're really doing—and without hesitation you lie, saying you're fine. When she glances up at you and smiles, the noisy restaurant grows quiet and her tanned face glows. She hasn't looked this healthy and fresh in years. You shove strands of her hair back from her eyes, noting the way, tied up in a pony-tail, it shines; bleached to a dusty brown from the hot sun and salt air.
Sadness fills you, runs like rushing waves through your chest, and you hear her every word, crystal clear—something you never did when you were together. Her laughter bubbles up from her chest, making you smile, though your lower lip quivers slightly. You swallow down your bittersweet beer, the colour of gold across your finger, from the pint glass gripped firmly in your hand. The tawny hops and sharp carbonate roll across your tongue. There is a beer ring on the divorce papers; the corner tucked next to your half-eaten quesadilla. You shove the papers under your plate, hoping to delay that talk.
When you were together, you never went to Mexico, or any of those five-star resorts she raved about; though you took the time each night to read the glossy brochures she'd eagerly brought home. You shunned the artificiality of it all: the white beach umbrellas stabbed in shifting sand, the crowded surf full of pale gringos in tacky t-shirts and Speedos. Now, regret squeezes you, makes you feel smaller. What would it have hurt to have made the trip, just the once?
What-ifs consume you. What-if you had been a better man? What-if you had given up control for one person who truly loved you, instead of shutting out the whole world? The demons never had to cross the borderland to get inside of you; they were inside you all along. Your past, a sealed tomb, holds only bones, each memory an insubstantial ghost, shades of things that never were and never can be. Each day you shovel more bones into the crypt, filling yourself up, until your life becomes a reliquary. What-ifs are your special kind of hell, one not foreseen by Dante, where you flit about in the dark like a bat, your heavy heart weighed down by failure. You never soared above the sunny beaches.
"We can't change the past," she says, reaching out to grip your hand in hers. "We have to move on." She hands you a pen. You find the irony laughable. The divorce was your idea, and now you can't find the strength to sign the papers.
Robert K. Omura lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he practices law. He is active in education, law reform, the environment and the outdoors. His fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in numerous literary journals, ezines and anthologies, including the Raving Dove, the Rose & Thorn, GlassFire, and Paradigm. His poetry aired on CBC Radio for National Poetry Month in April, 2008. He is currently working on a novel, but that's slow going at best.
Everyday he works out at the gym in order to sculpt his pecs, cut his abs, and bulge his biceps. He lifts weights, rides the bike, sweats, stays slim; looks good, not bad for forty five. People mistake him for much younger, say thirty five.
But he talks to no one. He just works out—sweating, grinding, looking good, looking into mirrors. Plays beach volleyball on weekends, so now he's tanned along with fit. He's looking good at forty five, hell, looking good at thirty five.
Pretty soon he's thinking of his former lady. Pretty soon he's thinking of her all the time. Pretty soon he's thinking of her when he looks into the mirror and sees how good he's made himself look.
He starts to wonder what she'd think if only she saw him now. Would she want him back, what with his new body? Would she see how handsome that he is with his golden tan? He tosses in an extra set of traps and delts. He rides the bike a little longer. Not bad for forty five, hell, not bad for thirty five. She'd have to want him now.
He goes to the gym, he sweats, he works out even harder. He gets better looking every day, younger, but now he only thinks of her. But what is the point if she's not around to see him?
Every time he walks by a mirror, anywhere he sees his own reflection, a car window, a puddle on the sidewalk, a blank TV, he thinks, if she could only see me now. He imagines the look on her face, her eyes bulging, her mouth watering. She'd surely lick her lips. Her pussy would grow moist. She'd know how wrong she was.
He imagines stepping into the room where she is sitting at a table talking to a friend he can't recall she ever had. Perhaps she's sipping coffee. Then he walks through the door.
She looks up suddenly. She doesn't recognize him. She only thinks, who is that sexy man? She lusts for—him! It's him, she thinks, my god, it's him! Look how good he looks, as if, as if he's thirty five!
He wants this moment. He thinks about this moment everyday, every time he looks into the mirror while holding dumbbells in his hands. He feels his biceps burn with pain, and yet he lifts. Up, down, up, one, two, three, again and again, curling, lifting, up, down, up, thinking about this moment when she will see him and have to take him back. She'll have no choice. Addiction, obsession, that's what this is. One, two, three, up, down, up... He's looking better every day. He wants her back. Admit it to yourself, he says. You want her back. If only to see that look upon her face, to see it one more time. That' s all this is. He looks up at the mirror, then puts down the weight and drops his head, ashamed to even look.
Dan Corfield lives and writes in Newport Beach California. He teaches writing at California State University, Long Beach and earned his Masters in English from Chapman University.
The Grand March
In the evening, grandfather passes me holding the umbrella over his head, without turning to me. I want to get under it, one last time, perhaps. He's pretty fast. He's wearing a white dhoti, and a beige silk shirt and a brown jacket over that. He's painted sandalwood paste in the center of his forehead, and at the temples, has drawn a charcoal line on the forehead, from top to bottom. He's put in a dark brown dot, the size of a peanut, where the thin black line ends and his white, shiny eyebrows meet. He's covered his semi-bald head with a brown toupee and has slipped his feet into costly Bata sandals. He's chewing betel leaves with betel nut pieces and perfumed tobacco. Maybe he's had his lunch. I smell them both, the sandalwood paste and the tobacco. Where's he going? I try to follow him but my limbs move slowly, his tall figure receding at frightening pace. Soon I see him at the horizon, a small erect figure, the umbrella still canopied over his head, silhouetted against the setting Sun. In the morning, I'd asked him—his head ensconced in bloody bandages, he in white sheets, a feeding tube slithering out of his mouth, two I.V. sets piercing his arms, the oxygen mask pinning his face down—how're you grandpa, to which he'd blinked those smiling eyes, I'm OK.
Tirumal Mundargi lives in Bangalore and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Long Story Short, Gowanus, Niteblade and postcards from….
To My Ex-Husband on the Occasion of His Third Marriage
First, let me say that I no longer wish to kill you. Or rather, that I no longer take pleasure in fantasizing the ways in which your life could come to a sudden and satisfying end. The paid, deadly stranger, the poisoned fruit—I've put away those childish ideas. I have thrown away my voodoo doll and no longer pray for you to fall ill—brain cancer, stroke, heart attack, leprosy. No, I wish you health!
I'm also through with vandalism, although the musk on your tailpipe still makes me laugh. So appropriate for you to reek of skunk, in your bespoke suit and hand-stitched Italian shoes. I'm also done dropping those frozen, dead mice down your heating duct every time I come to pay a social call.
No, my love, I'm wishing you endless years with clarity of mind until the day you die. Old age has turned you sentimental, and you love your latest little tramp with a passion that knows no reason. How it makes me smile to see you together; your liver-spotted hand clasping her plump, soft arm. Who will you catch her with? Her physical trainer, or perhaps the pool boy? Even now I can see her winking at the bartender while you empty your bladder yet again. Will you find her misspelled love notes? You'll tremble and cry while she swears they're meant for you. And maybe she'll wear that new lingerie for you but most likely she'll say it's too itchy. You won't be the one to pull that lacy black bra strap away from her shoulder.
Yes, I think my work is done and I'll give way to the sharper knife. Blessings on this day. May your marriage be a long one.
Melissa Palladino is Inkwell's 2009 Pushcart nominee, and a finalist in New Letter's 2008 Fiction Contest. She lives in a converted church in Rockport, MA and hopes that will give her some pull in the divine intervention department.
What Goes Down
There is a new half-gallon carton of Breyers' double-chocolate ice cream on the table before me. I don't bother to sit. I take a spoon in my hand and dip it into the unbroken chocolaty expanse, easing my mouth over the impossibly creamy cold. I shudder involuntarily. The first bite is always the best—like the first of anything, like an orgasm. I take another spoonful and then another and another.
After a few spoonfuls, I begin to follow a rhythm, eating, not thinking.
Chocolate is my favorite flavor. I feel the cold travel all the way down my esophagus. As the ice cream softens, I think of throwing away the spoon. I imagine using my hands. Plunging them deep into the soft velvety chill.
Too soon, the carton is empty. My steps are measured as I walk down the hall. I fight the urge to run though there is some urgency. Someone could come any minute.
I close the door behind me and lock it. I raise the lid. The bowl is smooth and cold, but in a different way than the ice cream. I look where the water is pooled and very still, then lean over and let my guts spill out like a breath, once and then once again.
It takes three flushes to clear the water.
Briefly, I consider kneeling to embrace the toilet. It knows me better than anyone.
C. M. Adams lived abroad for many years. This is her first publication. She lives in Andover, Ma and is working on a collection of short stories.