Safe Surrender Site - Ethel Rohan
Stone Boy - Tim Storm
The Fencer - Rebecca Gaffon
The Idiot - Mia Cartmill
Muse - Sarah H. Kaspar
The Pumpkin Smashers - Diane Valentine
Plight of Porcupines - Eva Eliav
Tiny Twice - Eva Eliav
Re: - Greg Metcalf
Sophia's Lament - Rion Amilcar Scott
The Master of Fine Arts - Jonathan Padua
Underground God - Victoria Clayton Munn
When Simon arrives home from work, Calista rouses herself enough to get into the shower. The water is warm and she stands under its stream until the bathroom mirror is foggy and her fingers are wrinkled.
She pours shampoo onto her head and as she rubs it in, dark strands of hair wrap around her fingers. As she lets the water flow over her, she sees more hair swirling with the water down the drain. She rinses the suds off her body and gets out of the shower. Wrapping a towel around herself, she swipes her hand across the mirror. She stands and stares.
Simon knocks on the door. "You okay in there?"
She opens the door.
"Hey," he says. "What are you doing?"
"I hate this," she whispers.
He wraps his arms around her and kisses her neck.
"Seriously, Simon, do you see my head? Do you know what I look like?"
"Yes. You look beautiful," he says. "Like you always have been. Like you always will be."
She only laughs because she knows that he is lying. There are some things innately false. "Beautiful, huh?"
"And just how is that?"
"What do you mean, how's that? It just is." His eyes are somber, his forehead furrowed. He says it again, with the intensity of a thousand closing arguments. "Beautiful."
No, Calista thinks. How could he think so? He couldn't. He doesn't. This is not beautiful. This is cancer. This is loss. And this is her dark hair scattered all over the greenish blue tile of the bathroom floor and her head left rough, with little stray hairs that stick up all over.
He reaches out a hand. She tries not to shy away, but she cannot help the reaction. She is not the same and she fears not feeling the same to him.
"I have to shave the rest off," she says, suddenly choked. She had thought she was prepared for this, but maybe nothing prepares for this.
"Let me do it," he says. "Let me help you."
"Fine," she says, "but let's do it now. I want it over with."
He rummages in the medicine cabinet until he pulls out a brand new razor. 'Sensitive,' it says in red lettering on the plastic package.
She gingerly sits on the side of the tub. He stands over her with a can of his shaving cream. She closes her eyes as he begins to rub it over her head, gently. She doesn't want to cry but what she wants doesn't really make a difference.
Hair, she thinks. It's only hair.
He rinses off his hands in the sink. She looks at him, his curls damp with sweat, when his back is turned. He is being strong for her and she doesn't know how he is managing it.
He turns back to her with the razor. She reaches up and puts her arms around his waist. She must hold him.
The razor goes over her head once, twice, three times and she stops counting.
It seems like the razor will never be done.
Suddenly she knows how sheep feel, their warm wool taken from them. She never thought sheep could feel outraged and stolen from, but then again, she has never thought much about sheep before.
He is done. He rinses the razor and she reaches for a lavender towel to dry her head. She forces herself to touch her scalp.
Simon throws the razor into the trashcan and sits on the bathtub's side with her. He does not say a word but puts his arms around her. His hands caress her head, not allowing her to pull away. His long fingers insist on touching, rubbing, memorizing this new part of her.
Calista gently slides her hands under his curls and lets her fingers catch on the roots of his hair, and she lets them stay there, tangled in the warmth. She cries into his wrinkled white dress shirt.
"Beautiful," is the only word she can hear him whisper.
If she had one iota of courage left, she would laugh again. But she doesn't.
It is three am when she wakes. The alarm clock's bright numbers hurt her eyes and she turns over onto her back. She is cold.
The silence of the room is strange to her and she realizes that Simon is not in the bed beside of her, breathing heavily and snoring in his rhythmic way. She sits up and swings her legs off the side of the bed. She stumbles over a pair of jeans lying on the floor at the foot of the bed. She catches her balance and carefully walks into the hallway. The light is on in the hall bathroom.
She takes the few steps to the open door.
There he is, head bent over the trashcan, razor in hand. Most of the job is done. Dark chunks of hair are scattered on the tile. Two more swipes of the razor and he is finished. The blue veins are bold on his naked scalp.
Disbelief paralyzes her legs, her voice, her thoughts.
He looks up and sees her there. His eyes are framed in red, the tip of his nose pink.
She goes to him. Rubs her hands from the back of his neck up and over to his eyelids, cheeks, chin. He leans forward and presses his smooth forehead against hers. Her eyes gulp down his image, his tears, his need to understand her pain. He is seeing though her eyes and in turn she can see through his.
"Beautiful," she says.
Christie Lambert is a southern girl with a passion for reading and writing fiction. Her most recent publications include short stories featured in Perpetual and Third Order Magazine. Currently, she is polishing up her novel in hopes that an agent will like it as much as she does. Her real-world time is spent with family and friends, her iPod, and staying up way too late watching Turner Movie Classics. Christie can be contacted at email@example.com.
The poker pot was at almost two hundred dollars, huge by my standards. Carla and I were going head to head. I'd just raised her twenty, a dollar for every year I'd lived. She seemed convinced that I was bluffing, but I'd a house of Queens. The other men urged her to go all in. The rookie in Fire Station Number Five, I'd my winnings spent already on that shirt and those jeans I'd spotted the previous weekend.
Carla tried to read me again, flashing her pouting lips and smoldering brown eyes, thinking she could make me cave. I remained a blank slate, fighting an unpleasant mustard aftertaste from the pretzels. Carla traced her tongue over her thick lips, and shook out her dark hair, sending-up another wave of her too strong perfume. The boys, in varying states of arousal, made animal sounds.
Just as Carla was on the verge of betting, just as the whoop was climbing in my throat and I was about to throw down my cards, someone banged on the Station's side door.
Carla's neck snapped around. "What the?"
I forced myself to look calm, but inside I was screaming for her to bet. "Just some kids."
To my relief, everyone's attention returned to the game. Carla recounted her remaining chips. I held my breath.
Again, Carla's head turned toward the side door. "There."
Play, I wanted to scream.
Carla rushed from the table. "That's a baby crying."
The men followed her. My jaw clenched, I dragged myself after them. I heard the baby, bawling by then, before I saw it. A newborn, still bloodied, it was wrapped in a yellow fleece blanket, abandoned under our Safe Surrender sign. Carla bounced the baby in her arms, shushing.
We moved the sodas and snacks aside on the kitchen counter, and made a bed of sorts with our jackets. I pulled my eyes from the table, and the cards and money. A boy, the newborn was naked under his blanket, his mottled skin irregular patches of grey, blue, pink, and red. His umbilical cord was still leaking, its jagged end severed with a blunt object.
My first finger stroked his impossibly soft forehead. He froze, momentarily shocked, his fists and feet reaching straight up. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments before he was crying again, his limbs flailing.
Carla cradled him to her chest. "Fresh from God."
"Fresh from something," Captain Dave muttered. He worked a thatch of his moustache between his finger and thumb. "Who's calling him in?"
Carla placed the baby in my arms. While she spoke on the phone with the paramedics, I marveled at the baby's warmth, the blaze of his large eyes. By the time the medics arrived, I'd named him Chance.
"No Chance," Captain Dave corrected.
"Don't hex him," I said. "He's just started."
Captain Dave popped a cookie into his mouth. "Some start."
One of the medics peeled Chance out of my arms. Carla traced a cross on his forehead, and whispered a prayer at his ear.
The poker game resumed, the spill of chips and scatter of cards looking like a miniature war-zone.
Carla went all in. I threw down my house.
"Son of a bitch." She showed her three Aces.
The men clapped and hollered.
Captain Dave patted Carla's shoulder, and looked straight at me. "Hard luck." Maybe I just imagined the hint of accusation.
I counted my winnings: two hundred and twenty four dollars. I had those new clothes on and a cold beer in my hand already, fighting off the ladies.
At the end of our shift, I passed Carla working on the fire truck.
"No hard feelings?" I asked.
"Naw. I'm too busy thinking about Chance—"
"No Chance," Captain Dave corrected.
"Stop it," she snapped.
"He'll be fine," I said.
"What must that mother be feeling? The dad, if he even knows?"
I avoided her eyes, not saying that maybe they weren't feeling anything.
Driving home, I stopped the car at the crosswalk, letting the mothers and children go by. The road cleared, and I drove on. Cruising, I fiddled with the radio dial, searching for a better music station, anticipating my new designer threads. The evening sun poured through the windshield, blinding. Chance flashed through my mind, how he'd looked and felt in my arms. Shaken, I pushed aside the pang, making a mental note to also use my winnings to buy more condoms.
Ethel Rohan's work appears or is forthcoming in elimae; PANK; Storyglossia; Word Riot; mud luscious; Ghoti Magazine; Identity Theory; Anemone Sidecar; The Northville Review; and (So New) Necessary Fiction, among many others. She blogs at www.straightfromtheheartinmyhip.blogspot.com.
They laughed at Jeff in the subway, and then in the 8th Street Station. When he emerged above ground, heading for the Liberty Bell, they pointed at him shamelessly. He was a freak, dressed up in his toga and face paint, and their laughing eyes probed beneath his costume. He hated himself.
But he knew a little immobility would help. When you take your statue stance, the ridicule ends. People still look at you, but they're looking at something different, not at the lonesome DSL installation guy with Social Anxiety Disorder. You become a virtual two-way mirror, safe in your secret room.
Still, all the pointing and laughing made him self-conscious enough that he decided to head for the less populous Washington Square rather than the Liberty Bell. There, he could practice his breathing exercises and try out the self-validation techniques he'd recently read about.
He chose a bench near the Walnut Street entrance, struck a thinker pose, and focused on his breath. Not two minutes into his act, a boy entered his periphery. The kid was combing the park for something, crouching occasionally to pick up one of his finds. They were stones, Jeff soon found out—smooth, round stones. The boy approached and set his treasure on the bench. "Hey, you wanna play a game?" he asked.
Jeff stifled a sudden urge to cough. Clearly, the kid didn't know the unwritten code. You don't talk to living statues. Everyone abided by the rules. Jeff depended on them.
The kid looked to be in middle school—certainly old enough to know better. But he didn't wait for Jeff's reply. "When it's your turn, you can take any number of stones away from any one row. But you can only take from one row at a time." He began arranging the stones in three rows. "The object is to leave your opponent with the last stone. Ready?"
Jeff knew this game. He'd played it with the children in Changsha on his way back from the wet market every day. He glanced sideways to confirm. One row of three, one row of four, and one row of five. Yep. Same game. There was a secret to it, a sort of algorithm that would guarantee victory as long as you didn't go first. He waited for the boy to make a move, then, remaining statue still, he reached a gray arm toward the stones and took one.
The kid stroked his chin like an old chess player before removing his stone. Jeff knew the winning combinations. Leave your opponent with a 1-1-1 or a 2-2 and you couldn't lose. He'd taught the Chinese kids by beating them every day. The lesson was stronger when they figured it out themselves.
How bold he'd been in China, striking up conversations with shop owners and neighbors. He'd even paused once in the middle of a busy street, turning his head skyward as bikes and buses passed him by. The pungent smells of urine and freshly-killed poultry mingled with the car exhaust and newly-poured concrete. And under the heat of a dirty sun, all his fear had evaporated. He was a foreigner; he was forgiven his foolishness and his trespasses. They'd parted around him like an island in a river.
And here, on this park bench, some odd middle school boy was doing the same thing—ignoring the rules of the road.
Jeff envied him.
Even as he won each new game, he envied him.
"Wow," the boy said, finally looking Jeff in the face, "you're pretty good at this game. For a statue." And then he gathered his stones, exited the park, and headed north on 6th toward the Liberty Bell.
Jeff wanted to say something to stop the boy, to shout after him, "I'll teach you to win," or at least, "Don't go!" But who was he to promise or command?
He let the helplessness wash over him. He let it steal his breath. He let it paralyze him once again.
And so the boy walked on, leaving a statue behind.
Tim Storm lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife Eileen. He teaches high school English, and he blogs at wiscostorm.net, where he writes about internet sociology, apples, Ecuador, and things that never actually happened.
He pulls a towel from his kit bag and gingerly dabs at his face, concerned for the first time in years that exertion might have rendered it over-red. It's not a comforting thought—the image of his round, thick cheeks flushed so they resemble a tomato. Or worse, a baboon's backside.
He's not an unattractive man. Broad certainly and tending a bit toward ruddy even at the best of times, but he still possesses a full head of tussled sandy hair. His body, unlike many or his peers, has no wobble. His muscles are solid and he's regularly the first to fifteen, even when bouting men half his age. Not bad for just over fifty.
But she is nowhere near fifty. And he's all too aware of her presence. He considers slipping away, hopefully unnoticed, but hesitates just a moment too long. She glances in his direction and smiles. There is something genuine in her expression. Encouraged, he steps forward.
"Who are you here to see," he asks.
It's the most natural question he can think of. She is perhaps even younger than he first thought, probably in her mid thirties. And pretty—rounded and soft, quite unlike his wife's magazine caliber gauntness. The woman points to a youth who's been having an excellent tournament.
They chat for a bit. He steals only occasional and discreet glances at the beginnings of soft-white mounds in her plunging v-neck; until that moment when his eyes flick back and catch hers watching him. He expects some cacophony of bells and whistles to abruptly reveal the presence of a lecherous old man, or at least her friendly demeanor to fade in disgust. But she smiles, her lips forming a coy sweetness, as she flushes the lightest shade of pink. Then her eyes shift away, letting him off the hook.
He could crow. He had forgotten how it felt. Not that he's fool enough to think she wants him bending her over in the nearest loo just yet. But she likes his casual appreciation, is pleased with his company, and perhaps is even the tiniest bit interested in him.
Over a crackling PA system someone announces that his next bout is about to begin on piste 5. Rueful, he gestures at the empty strip. "That's me," he says, dropping the towel and picking up his weapons and mask. "But we'll speak again."
"I hope so," she replies and he believes her.
He salutes his opponent and then the official, before dropping his mask into place. Through the wire mesh, he can see her across the gym. She's watching her nephew, but every few moments her eyes shift from the youth on the piste in front of her, to him in the distance. It's all the encouragement he needs.
He springs forward like a cat, then lunges, scoring the first touch with such alacrity his opponent steps back in surprise. Fencing like a man possessed he dances through the remaining bouts. When only the championship contest remains, he finds himself face to face with the nephew. As he clips into the electronic reel, he watches the woman wishing the youth good luck. Her hand clasps the lad's broad shoulder but her eyes stray toward him.
He weighs his options.
With his kit bag slung over one shoulder, he picks up the winner's trophy and glances around the emptying hall. The last of the congratulatory back thumpers has departed and so has she. Alone, he makes his way to the car park. Would she have said goodbye if he'd let the boy win? But things are better this way. Simpler. And being completely honest, he doubted he could really be unfaithful to his wife. They'd shared too much over the years. But even as this thought takes shape, he pictures the younger woman's faint blush and part of him wonders.
He throws his gear in the back seat and opens the driver's door before he sees her several spaces away. His mouth goes dry—one more chance.
"To what," he wonders aloud as her head turns in his direction. Should he wave or just stand there stupidly? The bullet-proofing of his reawakened ego has already begun to weaken. She mightn't be interested in him at all.
Her gaze meets his and she pauses for an instant, as if she too is unsure. But there is something affirming in her expression. It wasn't mere wishful thinking. Her lips soften into that smile he finds so engaging. She mouths the words, "Well done," then slips into the waiting vehicle.
He rubs a nonexistent smudge from his gilded trophy. The cold metal is a poor substitute for her warm touch, but at least he won't mind his mates passing it around the pub.
Rebecca Gaffron is a sometimes writer, sometimes procrastinator and hopes she will be forgiven for both. Her stories can be found in a variety of print and online journals and at her virtual home:www.rebeccawriting.wordpress.com.
It was that dog again. He had chewed the corner off of the bottom stair and eaten the splinters. Except for one, that slid with ease into the bottom of Paul's calloused foot as he came down to get his morning coffee. He hobbled to the kitchen for his first infusion of caffeine to steady his hands before operating on his foot. He took his coffee into the living room and clicked on the news. He heard Marcy come down, and as she poured herself a cup, he said,"Hey Marcy? It's about the damn dog. Did you see what "The Idiot" did?" She came in and flopped on the couch beside him pouting. "You never did like Iddy. Not from the beginning. You're jealous of him because he cuddles up with me on your end of the couch."
"Well, I wouldn't want him to give up his seat for me. Not that he's going to any time soon. It's like he has Velcro on the bottom of his paws. I have to practically peel him off. You really shouldn't give him the rest of your pizza, Marcy. He's really overweight...and what about the other day when he forgot the screen door wasn't open and took a short cut through it to chase Mrs. Dow's cat? How 'bout your darling Iddy that swiped two sirloin strips off the Friedman's grill? Do you ever look out the window when I'm trying to get in my car and I'm late for work? In case you haven't noticed, that Boston traffic is no picnic. He's in love with my car, you know. He comes out of nowhere the minute I open the door, and jumps in the driver's side. I try to pull him out and he goes over to the passenger side. Then I go around to that side, and he jumps back in the drivers seat. I finally get him out, and when I get in, I find out my clean chinos are mopping up paw prints on the seat! Another disgusting thing he does,-he licks the steering wheel. It's the salt from my sweaty palms or something. Believe me, when he gets through with me, it's like I've been doing reps at the gym."
Marcy looks sleepy and bored, and yawns audibly. Iddy wakes up from a nap and realizes Marcy has come down. He gets up, stretches, and yawns himself. He waddles over to greet Marcy, wagging his thick lariat of a tail, like he hasn't seen her in a few years, and knocks Pauls cup off the coffee table onto his bare feet. He doesn't have much to clean up because Iddy will eat or drink anything, and is licking Paul's scalded feet and the table.
When Paul leaves for work, he expects Iddy's usual dash for the car. He opens the door quietly, just a crack, and looks around. No Iddy! He sees a moving van across the street and Iddy busy with the O'Brien's trash cans. Iddy is chewing a long piece of plastic wrap. He loses interest and trots up the ramp of the van to sniff around and scope things out. The moving men come down the sidewalk, step up on the ramp and slam the doors shut, sliding the metal bar across, then jump into the cab. The engines roar and off they go. Paul notices the Minnesota number plate. He sails by the van on 128, gives the driver the thumbs up. He sings all the way to work. If only he knew the words to "Hail! Minnesota!"
Mia Cartmill was born in Boston, Massachusetts and lived in Freeport, Maine for 25 years. Her essays have been published in the Christian Science Monitor, and The Boston Globe. Her poetry has appeared in the Aurorean, Journey/Eden Waters Press, Pemmican, Words and Images, and Main Channel Voices. She currently lives and writes in the small southwestern town of Casco, Maine.
You walk past the coffee shop, where the old pub used to be, the smells of beans and business suits combined with fresh cut grass from the nearby park. It is springtime. Spring always evokes a sense of nostalgia in you. This spring, in particular, has been fruitful in this regard. You consider entering the shop to order tea, as you used to do when you were a teenager, as it made you feel even more adult than ordering coffee. But you are not a teenager anymore, and you have long since realized that you prefer coffee, typically with liquor and a bit of whole milk. Instead later you will buy a glass of lemonade from a seven-year-old girl with ribbons in her hair, for fifty cents. You will know this is a high price for a girl with a homemade lemonade stand to charge, but you will buy it anyway because it smacks of both youth and ambition. You will remember how you used to value these things.
You stroll past the other shops on the tree-lined street. The flowers in the boulevard of your old college town appear brighter than you remember, and you wonder if you ever truly noticed them when you lived here. You think of the first time you brought a girl flowers and how drunk you were and how much she loved them and how much you did not love her but wished that you could. You long for the ability to wish for such things again. You do not believe in such things anymore.
You remember your mother finding your youthful obsession with marriage to be charming. You remember your father finding it disconcerting. You think of the boxes you finally threw away in your late twenties, full of fancy suits and lists of fashionable restaurants and wines and clipped advertisements from Tiffany's. You consider the words of your most recent therapist that enforced your pre-existing belief that you had a non-diagnosable condition. You know that if a mental disorder of the heart existed, surely you would be its poster child. Instead you have spent years in therapy that has proved curious at best and demoralizing at worst. You view psychoanalysis as something wonderfully enlightening for other people.
You enjoy listening to the noise that your shoes make as you walk. You wish you could somehow capture this sound and cue it at any given moment. You find this thought to be creative. You remember your teachers telling you how creative you were, even when you were very little. You wish this creativity could have proved to be constructive rather than merely cute.
You walk past the old bookstore and wonder if the elderly Asian man still owns it. The same faded art posters are still on the wall, and the scent of old leather mixed with mildew still wafts out the door and onto the sidewalk. You find this comforting. You instantly yearn for your old classics collection—Dickens, Lawrence, even Milton. You realize you miss being a student. You particularly miss having a major. It gave you something else on which to focus, on which to devote your amorous mind.
You bump into a woman in her early twenties. She spills her coffee on her shirt and shoes. She appears both annoyed and helpless. She looks much like your first college girlfriend. You are afraid to offer her help or to say anything. You make eye contact with her and turn away, nearly tripping over a small dog.
You remember the first time you had sex. You remember how shortly this was followed by the first time you made love. You remember knowing the difference. You do not know if you would recognize the difference now. You do not know if you believe in the idea of making love anymore. You wish you had read more poetry.
You see a group of pigeons gathering on the sidewalk by a lamppost. You are soothed by their communal behavior. You stop to watch them as they coo and search for crumbs. You wish you had bread to offer them. You find them friendly. You realize this is unconventional. You are temporarily impressed with yourself.
You remember what it felt like to be inspired by something other than pigeons. You know you are too young to be so uninspired. You should be appreciating fine art and expensive cognac and intelligent women. You feel childlike and withered simultaneously. You do not know how to reconcile this.
You wish you had never longed for love. You wish that Karen/Brenda/Joy/Heather had been right for you. You wish that you had been right for them. Ten years from now your heartbreak will inspire you to create artwork that will catch the attention of the New Yorker and other respected magazines. You will not recognize this connection.
You will fall in love with a woman who attends one of your art shows and she will fall in love with you and you will marry her. You will forget that you ever felt this alone, and you will once again sleep peacefully and through the night.
You wish you could take the time to find solace in this analysis. You have to leave the pigeons now. You have lemonade to buy.
Sarah H. Kaspar is a freelance writer, marketer and photographer. She lives in Chicago.
We've all heard the nursery rhyme of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater. Well, let me tell you about the real life pumpkin eater, or eaters, as it turned out.
The week of Halloween fear struck our neighborhood. Methodically, someone or worse, something was destroying the jack-o-lanterns, street by street, night after night. The first night was attributed to the rowdy boys who were out having some fun. The next was blamed on one of those gangs, like the Crypts. The next two nights it escalated to the Mafia and invaders from outer space. The pumpkins were gone with only the stems left behind. If the pumpkins happened to be plastic, they were smashed to smithereens. At the same time every outside water faucet was turned on and left that way until the homeowner discovered it. This was usually with either water in the basement or a large pond outside the door.
"It's up to you, Sonny," Mr. Werczak point his cane at me.
"Why me?" I wanted to know.
"Because you're the youngest person around," Mrs. Lee said.
True. I was under seventy. "Couldn't I just put up one of those surveillance cameras, like they have at the bank." I asked.
"Won't do. Need to catch the culprit red-handed." Werczak flourished his cane in my direction and walked away.
I couldn't figure out what to use as a weapon, something to defend myself.. I settled on a large LED flashlight. Maybe I could temporarily blind whoever it was while I ran for cover.
Behind the bushes, I set up a folding chair. Damned if I was going to crouch all night. About ten o'clock I made myself comfy and waited...and waited...and waited some more. Then I heard some rustling and scratchy footsteps. Then some more. Carefully I parted the branches to get a better peek.
There must have been three dozen raccoons invading our street. I sat mesmerized. They ate greedily of the pumpkins and then went over to the outdoor faucets and with their agile little paws, turned the spigots on. As the water gushed, the coons washed themselves up. Slowly they waddled down the street with very full bellies. In their wake were shards of plastic pumpkins, pumpkin stems and great pools of water.
Would anyone believe me? I took my flashlight and looked for tracks. On one of the sidewalks were some prints.
The next morning, I was confronted by my neighbors. I tried to tell them we had been invaded by marauding raccoons but no one would believe me. And, the prints were dried up and gone.
"Hey, Sonny, you really didn't see anything," shouted Old Mr. Werczak.
"Just made the whole thing up," Mrs. Lee shook her finger at me.
"We want proof!" some one else yelled.
"Raccoons, my foot," muttered Werczak.
"You're not getting off that easy," came a shout.
"Okay. Okay" I threw up my hands in surrender. "If you want proof, I'll get it for you."
"Pictures would be nice," Mrs. Lee nodded and smiled.
v So, that night I went to the next block and set up the chair behind another hedge. Instead of the flashlight, I brought a camera. I went out an hour later than the night before. So, I waited...and waited some more. Then there was a familiar sound. I watched while the coons did their thing. Same MO. I took pictures, lots of pictures. After the raccoons left the area, I went home and to bed.
"Where is the proof, boy?" Werczak asked as the crowd gathered in front of my house the next day.
"Right here!" I held the camera high for all top see. "Just look at the viewer."
"I don't see anything," Werczak shook his head. He passed the camera to Mrs. Lee.
"Just some strange lights. I told you they came from outer space."
I took the camera back. Then I noticed the flashing light saying, "Low Battery". Damn, these electronics. "All right, I'll try again tonight."
One street over, an hour later than the night before. Same routine. Fresh battery. I only had to wait an hour or so. Just as I aimed the camera, there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and there was an officer of the law.
"Heard there was a Peeping Tom in the neighborhood."
"But, Officer, I was just trying to get proof the vandals destroying the pumpkins are raccoons. No one will believe me without a picture."
"Just go on home, sir. I really don't want to haul you in. Too much paperwork."
I was going to protest and try to explain the situation again, but changed my mind and just went home.
The next morning I faced the neighborhood crowd.
"Well, where's the proof of those coons you claimed you saw?" Mr. Werczak demanded.
"Mrs. Lee was right all along, They were aliens from outer space."
"And you tried to tell us the mess was made by raccoons. Shouldn't lie to your elders." Mrs. Lee said as the crowd dispersed. I breathed a sigh of relief. It's over. Or, so I thought. The next morning I awoke to the ring of the doorbell. Dressed in a robe, I answered the door. There was the whole neighborhood.
"You lied to us, Sonny," shouted Mr. Werczak as he waved a newspaper in my face. "Read this."
I took the proffered paper and read, REPORTER SOLVES MYSTERY OF SMASHED PUMPKINS. There were pictures of the marauding fellows I'd seen before.
"You told us it was aliens from outer space. It's a sin to lie," Mrs. Lee wagged her finger and glared at me.
"I apologize," I said as meekly as possible.
"We can't trust you to do any investigating any more." Said Werczak. Everyone nodded. Then they all turned around and left, but not before Werczak snatched back his paper.
I couldn't help but grin. Those aliens were smart to disguise themselves as raccoons.
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.
Plight of Porcupines
"Oh, this is precious," I say.
Silence. Joe's nose is buried in a thick paperback history of Greece. I take a calming breath.
"Joe." Not bitter. Not plaintive. Firm.
"Take a look at this picture." I nudge my magazine across the table.
Unwillingly, his eyes flicker upwards. "What is it?"
"A baby porcupine. The mother's dead. The zoo's trying to raise it. What a sweet face," I croon, "and such tiny fingers."
"Mmm," says Joe. His eyes slide back to the politics of Greece.
Between sips of espresso, I watch the woman. Holding a sheet of carefully pencilled notes, she's singing softly one of her own compositions. The waiter is a reluctant audience.
"Lovely," he says, trying to pull away, "really lovely."
Her hand flicks out quickly, capturing his wrist. "There's another verse."
She sings it in a high, tremulous voice.
"That's wonderful," says the boy.
"My father was a composer," says the woman. "Music is in my blood."
With a large-knuckled hand, she scrapes the scant brown bangs from her forehead. Silvery roots glint in the sun. "Moments of beauty," she says, "moments of beauty."
The boy's well-developed biceps flex a little, a polite Samson, longing to break free. When I lift my finger and gesture for the bill, he gratefully flees towards the cashier.
The woman turns hopeful eyes in my direction. She sizes me up.
"You think I'm nuts," she says.
"Not at all," I murmur.
"People need moments of beauty."
"Yes," I agree.
She lifts her heavy body from the chair, pushes her music into a faded patchwork bag, and lumbers away.
The boy rushes forward with my bill. He head is fashionably shaved. A gold earring glitters in his ear.
"Sad," he says. I shrug. "Takes guts to let it all hang out that way."
"If you say so." He smiles. "You get all kinds."
I give a brisk, practical nod, and thrust my notebook deep inside my purse.
The next time we meet, I'm occupied. I don't see the woman until she says, "What's that you're writing?" She cranes her neck and peers around my arm. "Ah, it's a poem," she says, delighted, "do you share them?"
"Sometimes," I say coolly. I close the notebook. "I try not to impose."
She tilts her head. "You're very dignified."
I begin to gather my things.
"Maybe too dignified," she chuckles.
I slip away. When I glance back, she's pulling sheets of music from her bag.
"I met an interesting woman," I say to Joe.
Talking to Joe reminds me of roulette. This time my number comes up. He's listening. Quickly, I fill him in.
"A character," he says. "She sounds lonely."
I close my eyes. When I open them again, his chair is empty.
Today, she doesn't bother with preamble. She thrusts out a large hand.
I graze her fingers with mine. "Zipporah...that's appropriate."
She understands. "Yes...I warble, I trill." She sang a few notes in her fluting voice. "I'm a queer bird," she smiles. "You're married?" she asks abruptly, "you're not alone...an attractive girl like you?"
"I'm married," I confess.
"You show him your poems?"
I pause for only a moment. "Of course," I say.
Tiny isn't religious anymore, but she remembers something of the rhythm of those days, a purposeful beat, not as random as the tempo of secular life.
But she's not tempted to change. What's the use? Religious or not, it's all the same in the end. Tiny pulls her shawl close around her, tries to feel dignified and calm. She lifts her head perched on a slender neck—the word scrawny is firmly pushed away—imagining that she's delicate yet tough, like the dried rosebud she keeps in a tall glass vase on the dining room table. Deep crimson, it's endured for years, though it looks to be as fragile as burnt paper.
Tiny knows she isn't a good woman. She's vain and proud, defiant to the core. She dislikes boundaries, natural or man-made. Most difficult to accept are her own limitations—her cowardice, her flaws, her foolish daydreams.
As she walks, she lets an image thrust itself into her thoughts. That waiter at the café, so beautiful. So radiantly perfect. He always flirts a little when she orders. And Tiny responds. She just can't help herself. Beauty has always seduced her, enthralled her.
No, she isn't a good woman. The world's damaged creatures make her cringe. Like that plump, blank-eyed boy she sometimes sees waddling down the street, singing off-key. Or the beggar, a regular visitor to her block, who looks as clumsily folded as bad origami. She never drops money into his cup, though it seems legitimate to her that he uses his ugliness as others use their beauty. She actually admires his daring, his business acumen. But these thoughts are not as helpful as coins would be.
It isn't precisely true that she has no pity. Wounded animals touch her. She'd go out of her way to help an abused dog, or cat. Once, when she was younger, she found a litter of starving kittens in a barn, tried to feed them, and gotten badly scratched for her trouble.
Tiny grimaces. The other night, she saw a dead cat in the road. It looked quite whole, except for the pillow of dark blood under its head. Perhaps she heard faint sounds, a kind of bleating. No. Impossible. The animal was finished. It was over. She had rushed away without turning.
There can't be any heaven, Tiny thinks. She certainly doesn't deserve it, and she's far from the most vicious specimen of mankind. She clenches her fists, the nails hurting her palms.
Tiny's husband watches from the balcony as she approaches. He actually feels his heart leap a little. What a fine woman she is, still slender, still youthful, still sensual. She'd kissed him passionately that morning, made him feel like a young man, though they'd been married for over thirty years.
She was so kind, his woman. The way she cared for their old dog, Jam, before he died, the tenderness in her hands, in her gaze. It moves him to remember that last hard day, Tiny patiently trickling water into Jam's mouth, exultantly calling out, "Look, he's drinking." Later, she'd sponged his bloated body with cotton wool, and cuddled him gently though he still smelled foul. At least they hadn't needed to put Jam down. He'd died during the night, in his own box, after an evening spent on Tiny's lap, his heart stuttering beneath her fingers like faulty neon.
There, Tiny had noticed him, she was waving. Her wonderful smile flashed out. It was still the smile of a girl with her life before her.
Eva Eliav grew up in Toronto, Canada and received a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Toronto. Since 1970, she has been living in Israel. Her prose and poetry have been published in a number of magazines both in Israel and abroad, including Stand (U.K), Room of One's Own (Canada), ARC (Israel), Voices (Israel), Natural Bridge (U.S.), Quality Women's Fiction (U.S.), and online in The Apple Valley Review and Cyclamens and Swords. She is a contributor to Tel Aviv Stories, a new anthology of English writing in Israel. Her stories will be appearing in upcoming issues of The St. Ann's Review and Horizon. Eva Eliav is married and has a daughter.
RE: movie note
No, it's not weird at all. It's nice to know someone's reading those! haha. They're fun to write. I'm a movie buff. Have you and your husband watched The Truman Show? That's a good drama with some comedy mixed in. You might both like it. Anyway, thanks for the note.
RE: movie note
Oh, I love The Truman Show! That's the one where he lives inside a movie set, and everyone's watching him. That one was funny, but also good. He also did that comedian movie where he died. That one was funny but also, you know, meant something. But my husband wouldn't watch that one, either. My name is Elizabeth, by the way, but my friends call me Beth.
RE: movie note
The Andy Kaufman movie, Man in the Moon, I also really liked. I think that may have been his best performance. He truly embodied that character. The Truman Show is a Peter Weir movie. You might want to check out some of his others.
RE: movie note
It was a pretty weird movie, wasn't it? But I still really liked it. I'm glad you write back. Some people end conversations online just all the sudden. I don't get that. You wouldn't suddenly stop talking to someone in person, would you? I'll look for more Jim Carrey movies, like you suggested, but I might have already seen them all. I think if you like an artist you have to watch everything they do because that's what they wanted to do. I even watched that boring one where he bought that movie theatre. Did you see that one? And do you agree with me about what I wrote about watching whatever an artist you like does?
Talk to you soon,
RE: movie note
I respect artists who make genuine choices for their craft, but no, I don't feel an obligation to watch anything an artist I like does. It depends on whether the subject matter interests me.
RE: movie note
That is a really good point. But maybe I like Jim Carrey more than you do, because I would want to see him in any movie he does. Maybe especially if the subject doesn't interest me, because he might be just the one to get me interested. By the way, my name is Beth. Did you forget? I hate when people think because it's email they don't have to use names. You wouldn't send me a letter without starting with my name, would you?
RE: movie note
Seen any good movies lately? You're not mad, are you? About my telling you to use my name? I was just making a point. Like you made a point about how I shouldn't watch everything an artist does because the subject might not interest me. (Don't think I didn't realize.) You didn't respond to my last message. I know you like to show me you're sooooo important by waiting two days between emails, but it's been almost a week.
Write me back,
RE: movie note
Well, I guess that's the end of that. So much for a supposedly nice person who likes writing about movies and being glad someone is reading. I'm hardly worried about it. For all I know you're not even who you're acting like you are.
Have a nice life,
RE: movie note
Hi! How have you been? I just saw the new Brad Pitt movie where he is born old and grows young. Have you seen it? If you could grow young instead of old, would you do it? It's something to think about. Write me back (if you feel like it). : )
Greg Metcalf has been writing for several years. He has completed two novels, both unpublished to date. He lives in Ohio with Ebullience, his cat.
Rion Amilcar Scott
It's funny to watch someone fall asleep and even as I was concerned, I couldn't help but chuckle seeing your eyes flit shut and your jaw go slack and your head tumble like a toppling boulder. Then you snapped back to consciousness looking around in embarrassment. You mumbled at me with some irritation as if you had no idea what I found so funny. I teased you, but you didn't laugh. Instead you cursed the pain in your skull, said I wouldn't joke if only I understood. I thought, if only I could get you to stop being so uptight, just for a few minutes.
Several times, between sleep and wake, you grabbed your brush and dabbed some purple between the white-bluish streaks on the canvas. I must admit, that I had no idea what to make of that piece at that particular moment, but I was willing to hold my tongue and go with it until something emerged.
And I have a confession to make. When you stopped fighting it and you let your arms dangle and your mouth hang and you shut your eyes tightly and snored a little, then a little more, I sneaked in with that old fashioned camera you bought me—the black antique one you paid a grip for—I crept in silently and trained it on you. I got down on my knees—that was the best angle—and I snapped for a good ten minutes. I like taking pictures in your studio. The light is always pitch perfect and you know that I enjoy snapping shots of you working just as much as you hate me walking into your studio with my camera. Since you never allow me to take shots of you working, you can't really blame me, baby. So, that's what I did before I woke you and dragged you to bed.
I couldn't sleep that night because you couldn't sleep that night. I should have held the cold rag to my forehead rather than yours.
Baby, I knew you were special, but didn't know you were that special; special enough to transfer the pain in your head to mine. As you talked it was as if the hot knives that you said were jabbed into your eyes twisted into mine. And yes, I could feel that ghost hand reach through the spot between my eyes and squeeze my brain. When I closed my eyes I could see that purplish-white light that you said made each blink an eternity. It didn't help me to hear you rattle on all night. First, a general string of profanity. Then you directed it toward work and your boss, and then at the migraine. I probably could have finished your tirade, it doesn't really change, at least the end doesn't change: I just want to paint; what's so hard about that? Then you ask if I'm listening, never waiting for a response.
After a while it blended into a twisted sound that burrowed into my skull, like a wailing electric guitar solo that whines on long after its beauty is exhausted. You didn't even realize that I had said nothing in response, other than a grunt here and there. And I understand, sometimes people just need to talk, say the unsaid. I got out of bed at about 4:00 for a bowl of cereal. Rice Krispies. Corn Flakes. Lucky Charms. It's funny how you groaned softly when I was next to you, but wailed louder as I made my way into the kitchen. You're so cute, even when you're annoying as hell.
You apologized for keeping me up, but both you and I realized it wasn't a real apology, just something people say.
I took a deep breath and asked the obvious: Did you ever think that you're making yourself sick?
You brushed me off with a laugh. Said you probably have a brain tumor. Then you launched into another endless tirade: work, your boss, God, even the concept of time itself.
I started to respond, but stopped myself after the first words. It was just dawning on me that there was nothing I could say to you to get you to listen to me. As you sunk deeper and deeper, I asked myself if you even wanted to find your way out of your gritty cave.
You used that pause to rail on, your cuteness melting. Your voice sounding like feedback whining through speakers as you said your magical three words: You'll never understand.
I hate those words. I can't imagine it ever registering with you how much I detest when those words sail from your lips. How did those stupid words become your favorite weapon? When did I become the fucking enemy?
Those were my last thoughts that night, Bobby, as you railed against everyone and everything and I closed my eyes to the whitish-purple light of that night's sleep. That next morning when I woke, I didn't expect that I wouldn't return. It seemed like a normal day, but I put that antique camera in the passenger seat and drove following the light on the horizon. Before I knew it, I was so far away it felt like a point of no return and there was little light to chase. The world was purplish-white just like when my brain ached and I closed my eyes.
Rion Amilcar Scott grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has stories published or forthcoming at Unlikely 2.0, Dogmatika and www.solnoirpublishing.com. His stories have won awards from the Pan African Literary Forum, the Indiana Review and George Mason University, where he received an MFA in fiction. He teaches English at Bowie State University.
To show: On the first day of workshop the first thing the professor explains is that in true literature there are no happy endings. There can be bittersweet endings. There can be tragicomic endings. Most certainly there will be sad endings.
To tell: No one gets out of this program alive.
Struggle with duality.
You must open up your soul. Your heart must be unlocked and eviscerated, mined for nuggets of truth and sorrow, the bloody remains left for carrion birds. Every memory must be recalled, molested, touched in unwanted ways. Here's an important lesson in contrast: there is a sinister meaning under every sunny image, a sunny meaning under every sinister image.
You must harden your soul. Every secret put to paper will be scrutinized. Your classmates will snicker. In red ink will appear the words, Fake! Not buying it! So pointless! You must bare your teeth like a cougar, drip saliva onto the page, and rewrite.
In seminar, the professor poses the question, What is the duty of the writer?
A blonde woman from Texas speaks loudly, It is to marry art and commerce into something that the public will buy in mass quantities.
You love her more than anyone else in the program. In workshop, she gives you flippant, derisive comments on the stories you submit. What your stories really need, she writes in her responses, is more space aliens. Why don't you do more space aliens? When you speak to her after class, who are you and how did you get from there to here? she blows cigarette smoke in your eyes, the sting of it excruciating, exquisite.
Baby, oh baby. Yes. Material.
Go home for winter break. Get stoned by yourself on the balcony of the second floor of your house, exhaling blue smoke into the blue twilight. Under the glow of Christmas lights, you feel five again, loose limbed and pliant, stupidly giddy with the scent of pine in the air. Smile in your sleep. On New Year's Eve you kiss no one, not even your own ass goodbye as you head back to school, back to that frozen urban tundra, back to that workshop.
A classmate introduces you to post-modernism.
It is a disembodied fist on a dirt road, index finger protracted, pointing towards the sunset, like a compass, like an accusation.
It is a broken light bulb lodged in a ceiling too high to reach.
It is during workshop when the woman from Texas dumps the contents of her purse onto the table, a compact, a tube of balm, a wallet as fat and heavy as a brick, faded receipts and gummy bills fluttering down like dirty secrets, her screaming across the room, This, this is what your stories look like!
It is the cruelest month.
In the darkness, in the glow of your laptop, read the news and expand your grief:
Bacteria and viruses are getting smarter. The sun is more cancerous. The weather is apocalyptic. A famous author publishes a book about people eating, gasp, other people.
Everywhere, across borders and skins, people are dying unjust deaths.
When people ask about your well-being say, Research.
The best you have: A man falls asleep and falls in love with his dream, unsure of which world he has created and which he has left behind. It's lofty and indulgent and narcissistic and the worst part is, you fucking love it. Call it a memoir.
June, July, August
Back home, your father parades you to his friends like prized livestock, like rare jewelry. My son is going to be a doctor, he says, and when you try to correct him, try to explain the dull intricacies of your degree, this Master of Fine Arts, he pinches you in the side.
Later you tell him, I'm not going to be a doctor, dad.
What? he says. Something inside him deflates. His face begins to melt right before you. Wait, he says. What?
Your mother says little except when she peers suspiciously at the bags under your eyes, asking, Are you on drugs?
Your friends don't recognize you anymore. Across bar tables and in the passenger seats of speeding vehicles they look like they are mourning. Dude, they whisper, so that's what it's like to get off drugs.
To show: Who is this person, this character, this narrator, now? What place, a place full of bear traps stuffed with blue cotton candy, are you headed to? When will that pinprick of white light, when will it expand into something resembling salvation? Where are you going with this? Why did you do this to yourself?
To tell: I don't know how.
Jonathan Padua holds and MFA in Fiction at New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. His work has been published in Fugue, pindeldyboz, a Thousand Faces, and other various journals. Originally from Pearl City, Hawaii, he now resides in Brooklyn.
The city was waking up, and Thomas could feel it. He lay in his bed, wondering what today would bring, slowly drawing the covers from his eyes. It was a good day for Thomas, a good day indeed.
Thomas finally had what he had been looking for all his life—proof. Proof that God existed. His teachers, his family, his friends—they'd all have to believe the way that he believed now. He straightened the sheets on his bed and went into the shower, careful to stay covered in front of his windows even though he was on the third floor. One never knows who might be watching. Like GOD! He chuckled.
After Thomas's thorough shower (he used economical soap and shampoo, none of that wasteful stuff for him) he slipped into his usual navy blue suit. Thomas bought his suits at two for one sales, and made sure they all looked the same. That way, when one wore out he could still present the same face. This was very important to Thomas. No changes. Change was bad—it could anger God in some way. Well, today he'd find out if all of his hard work had done any good.
Thomas decided to walk down the three floors to the basement, eschewing the elevator as decadent. Who needs an elevator to see God? Thomas sure didn't. He smelled the mold as soon as he walked to the basement door—he'd have to do something about that. God should have a better place than this, but his shine... it was so bright that Thomas didn't think keeping him in his apartment was a good idea. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
A flash of light nearly blinded Thomas. "What are you doing to me, little man?!?" boomed an angry deity. "You kept me down here after knocking me out, in this moldy rat infested place! You are sooo lucky I don't have my powers while I'm down on Earth..."
This was God? This angry beast of a man? Thomas stepped back so the spittle wouldn't hit his face. "I'm sorry, sir, um, holiness, um, Him, God. I saw you walking down the street and I knew, just knew you were Him. So I knocked you with my books. I had to prove to everyone that you existed. See, it was your glow, you glow, sir..."
"Yes, I know, dammit, that's why I don't come down often, but this city usually ignores me. Why you picked me up I'll never know. Anyway, put me back so I can ascend. I can't do that here in this basement. I am so stupid. Thinking my creations would care about me..." God went off on a tirade that scared Thomas a little bit. God cursed? Was angry? Wasn't benevolent or all-powerful?
"Um, God, well, will you at least talk to my sister? She just won't believe in you. Maybe if she sees you shining..." Thomas stepped back waiting for a spit-filled explosion of words.
"No. She will never believe. Some people will never believe in Me. I am not for everyone. You believe, but it is an unhealthy belief. You are too strongly entrenched in Me. You must stop this and know that I see you—but others do not feel as you do." God sighed and looked for a place to sit down. He was wearing jeans and a Ramones shirt, with his flowing dark hair. A nimbus of light surrounded Him.
Thomas was puzzled. God didn't want everyone to believe in him? He noticed God's clothes for the first time. God wore... jeans? This all seemed wrong to him.
"Are you sure... are you sure you're God?" Thomas asked, adjusting his glasses.
"Sure I'm God, kid. Now, let me out of here, and could you loan me a few bucks for the ascension?" God boomed.
"You're not God, are you?" Thomas timidly opened the basement door.
"We're all God, aren't we, man?" The man walked out the door, leaving Thomas standing in the moldy basement alone.
Victoria Clayton Munn wrote her first book at age six, and shows no signs of stopping. She is a writer and poet who has been published in various online and print ?ines, including Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Right Hand Pointing, decomP and more—as well as a chapbook "Two Lips". She lives near Albany NY with her husband and daughter. Visit her at writinggirl.com.