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Margaret, Reading
Ernestine Lahey

      The ad said: “Maggie, Helen has died. Tom.”
      Margaret had checked the Christian Hearts section of the Good News Herald every Friday for four years looking only for these words. She’d heard about Helen’s cancer from a cousin up in Sudbury. She knew that if he decided to look for her when it was finally over, he’d come to it as he had done before—quietly, here in the back pages of this paper. He’d do it like this to say he hadn’t changed, and Margaret reading it would mean neither had she. He’d do it like this because starting like they’d done before would be a little like forgiveness.
      Ten years ago. Margaret standing on the front porch, the October frost drawing down the eyes of summer. Tom turning the truck around in the drive, going to marry Helen, already three months gone.
      That evening Margaret sat across from Ned, eating her peas one by one. He coughed into his empty plate and said, half-standing, “do you mind if I don’t wait for you to finish?”
     In the airport she picked out a postcard. “Having a Slice of the Big Apple” She wrote: Ned. Your dry cleaning will be ready on Tuesday next week. I’m going home now. Love, Margaret. She phoned her cousin in Sudbury. “Tell Tom I’m coming.”
      Home. The wheatfields and duskwoods of Ontario. Tom tending his crops, his ageing mother asleep in her chair, and Margaret, reading at the supper table.

Ernestine Lahey was born and raised in eastern Canada. She now lives in the Netherlands, where she teaches linguistics and literary stylistics at a small arts and sciences college. When not inspiring future generations of linguists to seize the proverbial day, she can often be found wondering why everyone else’s bio is so much cleverer than her own. Her work has recently appeared in The Montreal Review.



Tehachapi Depot
Tony Press

      Listen, son, before you go, you got to hear this. Train won’t be here for awhile. I wasn’t always rich, no matter what you think, or what your mother says. I worked this county. I plowed. I planted. I picked. I killed rats the size of sheep, spent winters so fucking cold you’d sell your left nut for an extra jacket.
      You don’t believe me, but what do you know? You’re a little punk. You’re your mother’s, that’s what you are. Boarding school. Shit. In my day, as soon as that pasty-faced schoolmarm turned her back, I was gone. Next time she saw me I was taller than she was, so there was nothing nobody could do about it.
      And don’t think I’m ignorant. Don’t you ever think that. Fancy words and school uniforms mean nothing to me. You’re the one who don’t even know where those eggs come from. Yeah, you can say—“a chicken”—but you don’t know the half of it.
      Let me tell you about the look in a rooster’s eyes. God, to see a rooster, chest bursting like a river ‘bout to blow its dike, that’s seeing something. Those hens know what’s what, damn right.
      Maybe you’ll learn something. Just remember, it’s my goddamn money, not that candy-ass of a husband your mama’s got now. You remember that, and maybe you’ll be all right.
      You’re my son. Make me proud. Hell, I am proud. Know that, too.
      God, those roosters.

Tony Press lives near the Pacific. His fiction appears (or soon will) in Rio Grande Review; SFWP Journal; Qarrtsiluni; Menda City Review; Foundling Review; Temenos; MacGuffin; Shine Journal; Lichen; and in the anthology Crab Lines off the Pier.



Claudine
Tina Barry

     Lawrence is heavy and I’m soft. Our bodies aren’t as pretty as they were 30 years ago. Ee-ah, ee-ah the bed squeaks.
     Our evening begins: ee-ah, ee-ah; Brie and bread, a fitting snack for our time in this French village; a post-coital chat on the window seat.
     Shutters open, the aromas of warm sidewalks and dogs, a woman’s perfume. We sip wine. Below us, across a narrow lane, is the terrace of Madame Claudine’s café. She bends over and wipes a table with slow, distracted strokes. “She’s as tiny as a tart,” Lawrence said. He’s got the “tart” part right. Kohl-rimmed eyes crinkle in the corners, and her wide smile of delight “Bon Jour!” is reserved for male customers.
     Claudine disappears into the café then emerges with a gold lame bag slung over a shoulder. A huge padlock sits heavily in her hand. She slams down the eatery’s front gate, pushes the lock closed and looks up.
     “Ah! Monsieur Lah-ree,” she yells. “You are the king of all the land!” as if our perch is his throne.
     “And you, Madame Claudine,” Lawrence calls, “are my enchanting subject.”
     “Ah,” she says, patting her frizz of bleached yellow hair.
     “Bonne Nuit, Madame.” I’m the interloper ruining her fun.
     She lifts her head, nose heavenward. There’s a wet spot on my dress from our lovemaking, its aroma as heady as Claudine’s bouillabaisse. I hope she smells it.

Tina Barry’s short fiction has appeared in the Boston Literary Magazine; Tiny Lights; 5 x 5; Short, Fast and Deadly; Thunderclap Press; Six Sentences; 50 to 1; and Picfic where she won the “3Cheers” award for a serialized story; and are forthcoming in Fractured West; The Linnet’s Wings; and Exposure, an anthology of microfiction from Cinnamon Press. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she’s an M.F.A. candidate in creative writing at Long Island University. She can be reached at tbarrywrites@yahoo.com.



Cuts
Jennifer Baker-Henry

     She calls at 4:33, later than our usual time, but with all the staff cuts I understand. She’ll probably need a shoulder to cry on or some form of release. I’m eager to accommodate her, help her relax.
     In the midst of layoffs I commiserate with those ousted, yet am also excited at the thought of being alone with her, being one of the few to know the reasoning behind the cuts and of her needs.
     There’d been no questions or comments when she approached me about a liaison. She exhibited her power as she stuck her thumb between the buttons of my shirt, under my tie and looked me in the eye, daring me to move or present opposition.
     When I enter her office she keeps her distance and looks around me, but not at me. She’s stiff when I approach her and moves back a step to let me in. I try to catch her gaze, but she quickly turns around to close the door. I hear a deep intake of breath from her and this is before we even touch. I feel the wetness under my armpits, an all-around heat emanating from my body not in line with the excitement I felt earlier.
     She twists her wedding band around. It’s an accessory I haven’t seen in a while. The slight downward slope of her mouth and the wrinkles curving around her lips let me know it’s over. She’s about to kill two birds with one stone.

A native New Yorker Jennifer Baker-Henry has been writing since she entered the academic institution and continues to do so every moment she gets. Jennifer received her MFA from The New School's graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York's baccalaureate program in English. She works as an associate editor in academic publishing, an ESL tutor, proofreader, and writer for the urban e-zine AroundHarlem.com. She is also a mentor for Girls Write Now. Jennifer is working on a variety of short stories and enjoys baking & updating her blog www.jennifernbaker.com/blog with random tidbits and reviews.



Coffee with Nathan
Luca Penne

     In spearing rain Nathan looks me up and down, jealous of my height but not my intellect. His own, superior, speaks Russian with a self-assurance only an abstraction can maintain. Shall we compete over coffee? Indoors, he folds his umbrella so viciously it threatens my eyes. Once seated, he sits with such rigor he towers over my slump. I clench my coffee mug against his rage to spill it in my lap and try to focus conversation on common enemies, editors insensitive to our creamy personalities, a public indifferent to the rhythms we attempt. Nathan’s beard whistles as powerful winds pass through it from the fourth dimension, the one I’m too flaccid to inhabit. The waitress looks aslant. Her good humor fails itself as Nathan brays over a joke just as she stoops to refill his tottering mug. I’m choking on my coffee, unable to find a word intelligent enough to grind Nathan’s face into mud pies. The rain looks so cold the thought of re-entering it further brazens me to face him down. So I rattle off names of poets he doesn’t know: Prufer, Gay, Glaze, Cirino, Presfield, McIrwin, Lowery. His beard waggles and sputters and writhes like an animal stuck on the highway. Something in Russian, some glib folk saying, erupts. I’ve won the moment in English, but he has graciously one-upped me, so we clutch ourselves to ourselves, shake hands, split the tab and part.

Luca Penne lives in West Lebanon, NH where he's a carpenter and ski-lift operator. His work has appeared in Otoliths, 2River View, 8 AM and other journals. He's from Missouri and likes being surrounded by mountains.




Singularity
Tom Mahony

     My buddy and I sat on a bench watching her. She walked her dog through the park every day. We came to admire the spectacle. Not in a creepy way, not ogling or anything. Just gazing. We were the only people there without a kid or a dog.
     Okay, maybe we were a little creepy.
     She loitered as the animal shat in the grass. There was something about her, some essence that yanked me from my beloved faux-leather couch each evening. I couldn’t describe the intense grip she had on me, struggled to pinpoint the source of her singularity.
     To call her beautiful was a pathetic understatement. Statuesque? Too cheesy. Ravishing sounded plain stupid.
     “Man,” my buddy said, shaking his head. “She even looks hot scooping up a pile of dog crap.”
     “Bingo,” I said.

Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in dozens of online and print publications. His first novel, Imperfect Solitude, is forthcoming from Casperian Books on December 1, 2010. Visit him at tommahony.net.



A Van for Bennie
Dave Davis

     In July 1969, I was home from college manning a cash register at my uncle’s store. A family pushed a cart piled high with groceries into my station.
     “Mr. Shin,” I said politely, “how you doin’?” He nodded.
     The family watched in silence while I worked.
     As I rang up the last items, Mr. Shin finally spoke. “You know what happened to Bennie?’
     “Yes,” I replied, filling out the credit slip. “I was sorry to hear about that.”
     He signed and with a slight smile, spoke again. “We got his death benefit from the Army. Ten grand. Wanna see our new vehicle? I followed the family into the parking lot. There sat a new van, long, plain, and white with black wall tires. Mr. Shin opened the rear doors and the sacker and I piled in the bags. When we were finished, he proudly opened the two side doors, showing off the green plastic benches. The brood scrambled in. The mother settled her bulk into the front passenger seat and gazed through the windshield, as if she could see Bennie in the shimmering waves from the asphalt—a snaggle-toothed grin beneath the garrison cap cocked slightly to one side, the ill-fitting green uniform hanging loosely from narrow shoulders, the tan shirt and black tie.
     The kids fell silent. The father looked at me for a long moment. “I guess that’s it,” he said.
     Grasping the handles, I swung the side doors shut with the deliberation of an undertaker.

Recently retired, Mr. Davis earned his living as a writer/editor in business and industry. He is now a domestic in his own home, and suffers from occasional bouts of fishing and writing.


Good Cop, Bad Cop
Thomas O'Connell

      The baby monitor is a radio that begins its broadcasting day at the whim of an eighteen-month-old child. It amplifies each sound from the nursery so that we fret over noises we would normally sleep through. At the first sound, my wife asks if I heard the baby. We listen for another alert, timed to coincide with our deciding that our child has returned to her dreams. I volunteer to quiet her, telling my wife to go back to sleep.
      We each have our methods for settling our daughter. I enter the room, guided by the night light, pull the covers up to her shoulders, plant a quick kiss on her forehead and tell her in a stern whisper to go back to sleep. She catches me at the door with a whimper or a wail. I pause, repeating my admonition. I tell her it’s late, which means nothing to her. I tell her I am leaving, which means even less. I tell her she’ll have no television in the morning, which she does not believe. About this time, my wife usually arrives, brushing past me, ignoring my childcare theories and sending me back to bed.
      She kneels beside our daughter, her hand tracing a soft circle across the blanket. I return to my room, voicing my theory about needing to be firm to get the child back to sleep. I climb into bed and lie awake listening to my wife’s voice singing through the monitor.

Thomas O'Connell is a librarian living in the mountains of southwestern Virginia whose short fiction has appeared in The Broken Plate, Caketrain, Staccato Fiction, and Sleepingfish, as well as other print and online journals.




      Atlas in hand-over-steering wheel, dusk, the buzzings of summer’s goldtime chirp with the willow limbs floating on the water’s edge; headlights glistening as they run. The sign on the bridge’s cement: Sispsey River. I’m just outside of Tuscaloosa pondering why I can’t write these poems, certain it has to do with the last time I had courage enough to love and be loved. Thinking of Anne Marie, I wonder where she is tonight and who she is with, but of distance, god, and music because I’m going to Colorado to get an organ.
      It’s a Hammond B-3 just like the one Greg Allman used. So did Jimmy Smith and John Paul Jones because if your man ain’t driving no Hammond, it ain’t gonna swing, funk, nor chime.
      It’s in a basement just off Colfax in Denver because Aunt Rena and Uncle Gary were hippies. Gary financed it so he could play “Please Come to Chicago” by the Moody Blues, but never really learned to drive.
      I’m still learning.
There are bridges to cross.       Highway 78 stretches about the heart of the Delta, spills into Tupelo, crosses over into Memphis where I’ll stop because the Mississippi tastes like Robert Johnson’s mother’s breast milk.
      I won’t rent the hotel room with the memories in it, but I’ll pick up my main man Tony Thomas, convince him to quit his day job selling Hammonds in a shop three or four miles off Beale Street because he can drive. He’s balding and says his kids won’t let him jazz it up anymore. When he asks about Anne Marie, I’ll tell him what happened, hold my securities as close as those opposed, and remember she reassured them both after taken from afar: Honey it will be okay all work out I promise forever it’s only halfway across the United States be thankful it’s not California. After leaving Memphis, no one will have to ask why I’m somber anymore because I’m not coming back.
      I won’t stop in Arkansas: thread my way into Tulsa’s flatlands, and it’s still cold there this time of year. Anne Marie knows why. I’ll drop in at Albert’s on 15th because his floors are dusty and his beer is cold. Jake will close the bookstore a little early, bring his newest first print of something by V.S. Naipal: He’s up for a Pulitzer! He’s going to win the Pulitzer! Albert will tell him to stop because he thinks only gay people read books.
      I won’t stop by Anne Marie’s apartment across from the Arkansas River after circling the block for hours contemplating what the hell to do with these flowers because it is no longer appropriate for me to love her.
      Folding my atlas, I realize how far Oklahoma’s panhandle won’t wait.
      Neither will the unwritten poems because I’m going to Colorado to get an organ.

J. Clayton L. Jones is a professor of English and creative writing at Georgia Highlands College in Rome, GA. He has an MFA in poetry from Georgia State University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in H_NGM_N, The Albatross, The Cortland Review, nibble, Writers' Bloc and a book by Jason Carter titled Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders (National Geographic Press, 2001). He is a songwriter and mandolin player who performs most frequently with his string band, The Groundhawgs.



Car Crash
David Snyder

     There’s this feeling you get when a car’s flying at you. Even when you know it has to stop, the sense pulses in. Because this one always might not. You know there’s a red light, and the driver must see you, but you still get that gulp. You hear your breath. You get that solid slab stomach feel, like all your torso’s muscles are one, bracing. It’s not near-death so you don’t get a split second powerpoint of your life, but maybe you focus in, see details, slow and clear. The sunlight sliding along the hood. A passerby’s mouth rounding out to scream. And the driver’s face, his eyes so scared it makes you calm, like that’s what you needed. His panic the only possibility, so you accept it, going out stoic. And even while you’re thinking this and feeling this, seeing this, in that micron of a second, even still you know it can’t and won’t happen. He has to stop. You’ll keep walking, be fine. But this is that one time. He’s not going to stop, and you’re not going to be fine.

     That’s the feeling you get when she looks at you with that stone-serious face and says, in a quiet voice, We need to talk.

David Snyder is a graduate student at Emerson College pursuing an MFA in creative writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Coal City Review, Meeting House, Defenestration, Crash, and Farspace 2.







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