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City of Lights
Jack Swenson

      I love the smell of love in the morning. It smells like Clorox. I roust my lady friend out of bed; we get dressed and hike downstairs to the lobby. L'ascenseur is broken again.
      We argue on the way down. We bicker on the walk to the bistro. I get coffee and croissants at the bar and bring them back to our table, and she is still talking, proving me wrong, when I return.
      We do this every morning. We don't get along, but what are we supposed to do? We are Americans, and we are in Paris, and it is April.
      We go to the zoo, have a fight, skip lunch while she pouts, then rent a rowboat and go out on a tiny lake choked with other rowboats and drink cheap red wine.
      That evening we go to a movie. It is a French movie with no subtitles. I can't understand a word of what is said. My friend speaks French, but she won't tell what is happening. Afterward, she claims the movie was superb.
      "Leave it to the French," I comment. "They sure can make movies!" She gives me a dirty look, knowing I am being sarcastic.
      With that, I shoot myself in the foot. She makes me take her back to her room, which is clear across town from mine, and sends me packing.
      It is too late for the Metro, so I have to walk. I don't mind. It's a nice night, and Paris is a beautiful city. All those fountains. And it really is the City of Lights.
      My hotel is near the city center, and as I pass the Opera, I see a man and two women on the sidewalk ahead of me. They are moving slowly. The man is limping. He is a short, big-shouldered man, as wide as he is tall. The girls are pretty and slim, and they are both about a foot taller than he is.
      I overtake the man and his escorts, and as I go by, I look back at them. Good grief, it is Gene Kelly, the famous American dancer! Kelly is grinning. He looks very pleased with himself.
      The next day I tell my friend about the encounter. "No pain," I tell her. "He was feeling no pain." She is miffed because she knows my story is true. I showed her the article in the Herald Tribune that reported the dancer's injury.

Jack Swenson is a teacher and author. He and his wife run a halfway house for wayward cats in Fremont, CA. He teaches creative writing to a bunch of elderly sprites at a local Senior Center. His stories have appeared in many online and print journals including Underground Voices, The Adirondack Review, Pindeldyboz, Mannequin Envy, Cautionary Tales, Eleventh Transmission, RAGAD, and Noo Journal.





     Keep off the grass, stick to the path, pick up your feet. Don't dawdle.
     No lights in the house after ten o'clock. All the curtains drawn; keep yourself to yourself. Quiet; be quiet, none of your business. Say nothing.
     Not now. Keep out. Go away. Your father's sleeping; mother needs her rest. Stand up straight. Don't give me that face.
     Knock before entering, wait to be asked, this is not your room. Stay away.
     Not now! Get out!
     That is not a toy. A hammer is not a toy —
     Sticks and stones, broken bones, words never hurt anyone. Not a toy.
     Hammer.
     Don't give me that face. Don't —
     Clean up this mess. Spick and span, put some elbow-grease into it. Those hands are filthy, clothes are ruined. Wash dark colours separately. Use a nail-brush. Leave things the way you found them.
     Tell no one.
     Go to your room.
     Good girl.

Sarah won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with her story, 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. Sarah's stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, Every Day Fiction, Idlewheel, Kaleidotrope and Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, "On the line," was published in the Daunt 2006 anthology. The Subatomic 2007 anthology features her story, "LoveFM." She won the Litopia Contest in 2007 with "The Chaperon." Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter. Website: Writewords.org.uk



Kicking Pebbles
Matthew Strada

      "My parents are getting a divorce," Scott said as he kicked a pebble against the curb. The pebble bounced back into the street where the boys were walking. Louis kicked the pebble next. It jumped the curb and disappeared into the thick grass near the sidewalk. "No way," Louis said. "Where are you going to live?"
      "I don't know. I asked, but they said they don't know yet. My mom is at my grandma's house now."
      Louis found another rock to kick. It was a chunk of concrete the size of a fist, probably from one of the construction sites at the edge of the subdivision. The concrete chunk rattled down the street ahead of them, squared up for the next kick. "Did you cry?"
      "No." Scott lied. He had collapsed like a ribbon intertwined with his father's arms when, between the top and bottom of the seventh inning of the Orioles game, his father said: "Your mother's not coming back from grandma's tonight. We're getting a divorce." The words were etched into the tissue of his brain. If he could get his hands under his skull, he knew he could feel the words, raised like scar tissue, raw and red and yearning to heal.
      "It's no big deal," Scott told Louis. "My dad said it happens to fifty percent of families." His father had cried, too. He had felt his father's tears soak through the sleeve of his Cal Ripken jersey. He had heard his father sob, muffled by gathered fabric and the willpower of a man who did not believe that men cry.
      "I guess so," Louis said. They had reached the spot where the concrete chunk awaited them. Scott very much wanted to kick it, but Louis's stride took him to the rock first. He gave it another kick. It skipped off the road into a ditch, where it would eventually be tilled over and disappear into the earth, to be rediscovered by different boys at a different time. "Where do you want to live?"
      "It doesn't matter." It did matter, of course, and Scott's quickening pulse registered the chasm between his words and the tectonic movements in his life. "The main difference is I'll have two bedrooms instead of one." Was the world turning a shade of red? "Probably twice the presents on my birthday." Yes, it was. The sky was red. The grass was red. Louis's face was red. "My dad told me that they'll still get along." The world was red, and Scott was weightless, his feet floating above the hot pavement. "So I'm lucky."
      Scott's eyes darted from curb to curb, looking for a pebble to kick. He found none. Desperate to strike out against something, he kicked the curb hard, expecting the red world to move around him, to sort itself out and assume again its old configuration. It did not.

Matthew Strada lives and writes in Washington, D.C., with his wife, son, and dog.




Neo-Samaritan
John Vanderslice

     Almost to Tucson, Henry Radcliffe left his Ford Fiesta on the shoulder of Route 77—his heart forced nearly into his back with an invisible, pressing, bloodless pain, his brain abuzz from an argument with Holly, the ex-wife he still hungered for—and stumbled strangle-eyed into a ditch. Before the hour was up, his body was discovered by roaming generations of feral creatures: fox, crows, gophers. Cats licked his cheeks for the salt, their emery board tongues bruising his cut skin. Desert spiders adopted him as an overpass, and one black snake came so close as to smell him.
     Edgar Weathers—thirteen clean years on the Arizona Highway Patrol—chucked rocks at the cats, every one of them staring him down, as if questioning human control over this or any other situation. Fifty seconds after Weathers' display, the cats moved—a sullen, sulky, stiff-legged bunch—but only to form a ring four yards off.
     Gun drawn against the felines, Weathers approached the human body. He reached for the dead man's waist—disdainfully as a rabbi toward any whited sepulchre—and in fact he couldn't bring himself to even touch the dark, stained t-shirt. Instead of turning the body, he kicked it over; he saw Radcliffe's face lacerated purple by ditch gravel, the blunt nose still flaccid, the damp tendrils of a half-assed moustache and unsuccessful goatee. Just peeking out of Radcliffe's armpit, visible through an unfortunate rip in the shirt, was a diseased green-orange gummy worm. "Kiss my ass," Weathers said, "I'm not touching that thing."
     Lowering himself to one knee, he ran a quick hand through Radcliffe's front pants pockets and discovered an afro pick, a sweat-melted business card from a laundromat in Syracuse, and a button the color of a gray goat's hair—but no wallet and no identification. Must be a reason why a white man needs a pick; I just can't think of it. Not checking Radcliffe's back pockets, Weather's didn't find the birthday card: a glossy picture of twin budding rose vines twisted around white shanks of picket fencing, with a message ball-pointed on the reverse: "Looking forward to your visit, daddy—but we're not going to let you sleep in your car."
     Only when he gave up on the corpse did Weathers notice the wad tucked inside Radcliffe's crotch, held in place by a big brass belt buckle: Benjamins, hundreds of them. Pacing, the patrolman tried to think what to do. Really, it's no big deal, if the fucker's dead. Si? Try telling me I'm talking food out of anyone's mouth. Unless he's got a wife—but I don't know that, do I? Virtuously, he spun the bills through his fingers, but like a magician working a stack of trick cards each landed in his pocket.
     West of Officer Weathers and the stranded Ford Fiesta and the prone body of Henry Radcliffe, the late sun pickled to white orange.
     X-rays for his broken-toothed kid; a Hummer to park in his driveway; a case of Jack Black; a big rock for his wife—there were plenty of good reasons. Yet, he thought, yet . . . until the cats moved and Radcliffe shuddered, spat bloody phlegm. Zinc-white crystals formed a crust on Radcliffe's upper lip: a sulphuric taste when he licked there, the only thing he did taste before he heard the retort of a gun, or maybe it was a cough, or maybe a grunt: that automatic, guttural, loathing communication; "Holly?" he moaned.

*Please note that this quick fic piece was written in 26 sentences, and each sentence begins, in order, with every letter of the alphabet.

John Vanderslice teaches at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas. His poetry and short fiction have appeared widely in literary journals, including Seattle Review, Laurel Review, Crazyhorse, Sou'wester, Pedestal, Chiron Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and many others. He has also published stories in the anthologies Chick for a Day (Simon & Schuster, 2000), Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers (Livingston Press, 2005), and Tartts 3 (Livingston Press, 2007).




New Friends
Denny Vanvick

      That tic in your left eyebrow. High color in your cheeks. You were boiling. You asked how I could accept an invitation without checking with you first. It was typical of my selfishness, you said; lips were pursed in a child's pout, a look that was once endearing…
      "Kevin's a good guy, but if you don't want to go I'll call them. How's that?"
      "I don't even know them," you said, as if it is against accepted social norms to meet people you don't know.
      "If the whole world was antisocial as you, the human race would have died out long ago."
      After that first visit to their home, you changed. We reciprocated with an invitation to our apartment. When we were alone, you talked about what nice people they were, how much you liked them both. We went to a movie with them, then a play, even their daughter's soccer game.
      Soon you would be asking, "Have you talked to Kevin this week? What are the plans for the weekend?"
      Small things festered and swelled into significance. You stopped your habit of holding my hand, when we were with them, even in line for the movies. You seemed to be touching him more than was necessary. When you came from the kitchen carrying his wine, you handed it to him from the side, your free hand on the small of his back, as if to steady him for a delicate maneuver, your breast pressed against the back of his arm.
      Languid lovemaking on weekend mornings was soon discarded for frantic late night couplings in the dark — always initiated by your urgent foreplay and always on the nights we had been with them. The sex had become hotter, wetter, yet somehow more impersonal, nearly anonymous.
      The wine gave a new flourish to your goodbyes at the end of the evening, including arms around the neck and kisses on the cheek. Once, I thought your lips brushed his.
      After they left, I asked you about it.
      "What? You're either going completely mad or completely paranoid," you said, the eyebrow tic and the color in your cheeks ratcheted up by four glasses of wine.
      "It's late. We'll talk about it in the morning,"
      It was obvious, your defense would be a searing offense.
      We never talked in the morning and the irritants continued. He called about our weekend plans and I overheard you talking to him on the phone. You spoke in a coquettish tone I had not heard since early on in our marriage.
      Circumstantial evidence, all of it. A jury of peers would not convict. But there is no judge, no jury, no executioner — only me.

Denny Vanvick has been writing fiction since 1997, after taking a creative writing course at the University of Minnesota. The most valuable advice he picked up at the course was "Start", so he did. Prior to 1997, he wrote some nonfiction, in the technical and managerial areas. Print publications include Computerworld and Information Week, and one online article in College Journal (sister site of Wall Street Journal). His fiction has appeared in Pulp and Dagger, Muse Apprentice 2006 Guild (The M.A.G.), and Noo Journal. Denny spends summers in a cabin in Wisconsin and winters in Bogota, Colombia.



Matt Lavin

     The driver's side door of a Chevy station wagon with the faux wood paneling shuts a half second before the passenger door opens. My dad and I meet in front of the car, staring at a hundred vacant spaces in an abandoned grocery store parking lot.
     "Oh, hell," I say, half to myself. "It's Easter. Do you think they're even open?"
     My dad walks toward the store wearing a windbreaker and a pair of work boots. I stand ten inches taller than him, lanky with frazzled brown hair, a direct contrast to his five-foot-seven-inch 160-pound frame, his black-gray beard, and a bald spot that has become noticeable only in the last year. But we wear the same bad posture and hobo gait. He looks like his grandfather, like his father, and is proud of it. And I look like his son.
     Dad suddenly doubles back, grabbing my elbowy arm with his thick hand. He reaches into the pocket of the beige Members Only jacket, and comes out with a three-inch rusty nail in his hand.
     "Hold up a second," he's laughing "… this nail is to remember the good times."
     "Did you bring that on purpose? For Easter?"
     He shrugs and smiles. "No, I didn't plan it out, but I realized it was there."
     "You should add that to your annual repertoire."
     Every Easter he recycles three jokes about Jesus. Not jokes, really. Just three lines of dialogue, like they've been taken from the caption of three New Yorker cartoons. I am certain he did not make them up. They go like this:
    1. You drop that cross one more time and you're out of this parade!
    2. You're not going to believe this, but we only have one nail left. Would you mind crossing your legs?
    3. Wow, the view's great from up here, you can see all of Jerusalem!
     The jokes are most certainly not funny, not on their own, not the way he tells them, but he thinks they are funny, and that's funny. The nail joke isn't funny either. It fits right in.
     Only a few miles away, at this very moment, my mother is having dinner with my sisters. I wonder if she prayed today, prayed for her ex-husband. Did she read the book of Matthew and think about Christ on the cross? What were his last words? Forgive them, for they know not what they do? Or, my God, why have you forsaken me? Or simply, it is finished? Mom will cook ham or turkey for dinner. My sisters will clamor over polished silver and porcelain dishes.
     A sacrilegious father and his unbeliever son belong together on this day. This joke in the parking lot is how they celebrate Easter—it is their family tradition.
     Dad puts the rusty nail back in his pocket and walks toward the grocery store, and I am a few steps behind him.


Matt Lavin is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Iowa. He has published journalism, reviews, and other writings in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, The Lake Placid News, Western American Literature, and Bosworth: An Online Humor Magazine Brimming with Unearned Self-Importance.




Trauma
David Massengill

1.

Fly to Brazil, Damian cooed to himself as the dogs snapped and yanked at their chains. Swim in a turquoise sea and gorge on shellfish and don't return to me until this war is past and it's summer again and I've gone back to napping in the forest with Jakob. "Open your eyes and turn toward the square!" the guard screamed at Damian, who'd been facing a crack in a sooty wall. Damian obeyed so the guard's gun wouldn't dig deeper between his ribs.

2.

Damian didn't know horror could have such order. He watched the commandant march across the camp square to where Jakob slouched, all pale skin except a metal bucket covering his head and the badge that resembled a woman's vagina pinned to his bloody shoulder. The commandant forced Jakob to sidestep until both his feet sank into the February puddle. After leaving Jakob, the commandant blew a whistle, signaling for the Rottweilers to maul. Damian then opened his mouth for the gun like one does for a thermometer.

3.

He never sweated in Ipanema, and he was capable of breathing beneath the surfaces of hotel swimming pools. But what most disconcerted the transparent man named Damia was the way couples strolled right through him, lips-on-lips or cheek-on-shoulder. Damia failed to fall asleep in Rio until he lay beside Jako, a fellow see-through he'd spotted on the bus that goes all the way from the airport to the giant statue of Jesus. Though the new lovers had no corporal bodies, they had memories enough to recall that they'd been boyfriends in Poland before their executions. With the weird insight of a poltergeist, they recognized the war criminal who tried to move family into their bungalow.


David Massengill is a Seattle fiction writer whose short stories have appeared in The Raven Chronicles, StringTown, 3 A.M. Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Rivet Magazine, and N.O.L.A. Spleen, among other literary journals. He has recently completed a collection of flash fiction and short stories about gay men's relationships, for which he is seeking a publisher. Please visit his Web site at www.davidmassengillfiction.com.



Make Room at the Table
Christine Baerbock

     Someone knocked on our front door just as I set the gravy on the dinner table. Albert and I looked at each other and he shrugged. He didn't know who it was either. Everyone I had invited to my first Easter dinner was already accounted for: Lucille and Harvey, the cousins and Mother with her ridiculous Easter hat. She had dyed numerous goose feathers until they were bubble gum pink and fashioned them on top of an old church hat. I bit my tongue when it started molting in my bowl of pickled crabapples. Albert pulled himself away from spreading rhubarb jam on his biscuit to collect our new (and uninvited) guest.
      I smelled him before he stepped foot in the room. The stench of Lucky's and cheap whiskey drowned out the aroma of roast ham and buttery mashed potatoes.
      "Hey everyone! Look who made it!" Frankie yelled as he waltzed over to Mother and hugged her. "My Frankie! My Frankie!" Mother said and began bawling. "I just knew you'd make it home. Oh, this means the world to me, you know."
      "I know, Mama. I brought someone back from Chicago for everyone to meet. Come on over here Phyllis. Don't start acting shy on me now." Frankie winked and circled his arms around this dark haired stranger puffing away on a cigarette. "Actually, Phyllis is here to stay. We just got married."
      Mother stopped bawling and the room went silent except for the scraping of Albert's knife on his biscuit. I spoke first.
      "You've only been in Chicago for two weeks! You weren't supposed to bring back a wife! A complete stranger? Someone you barely know! I think you've really done it this time. Right, Mother. Don't you agree?"
      Mother stared back at me. "Be a dear and fetch your brother and new sister in law some chairs so we can celebrate Easter as a family. Lucille, Harvey, could you scoot down and make room. I want my new daughter in law to sit next to me."
      Phyllis pulled the cigarette from her mouth long enough to say, "We just ate. I'm not real hungry, but I'll take a glass of wine." As she reached for the bottle, the ash at the end of her cigarette gave way and landed in my gravy.

Christine Baerbock lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She writes short stories and has a background in medical social work.