Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US, including Antiphon, Clear Poetry, Eunoia Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears.More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/
I am the third son of the fourth daughter. For years no one spoke of this pairing—it was always the seventh son of the seventh son. How Orthodox—how sexist—how far-fetched, but none-the-less that’s what was palavered about. Until now, that is.
I was tired of my family members not talking with each other at different times for reasons both remembered and forgotten so I took it upon myself to resolve it for once and for all and let them disagree and still talk—even though it’s goes against our DNA.
In a recently released but much earlier translated footnote in the Dead Sea Scrolls that only I had been privy to (since I created it), the third son of the forth daughter is the be-all and end-all in the family and in the community.
Being that one, I was entitled to a life of leisure, multiple wives (if I choose), fresh baked goods galore, the decider of all disputes and a fresh young ox on my plate whenever the urge struck me.
To break the news, I called for a family picnic which is the only way to get my entire family to show up anywhere. Everyone comes—even if they’re not speaking to others. I’m known for my picnic spreads. A word of explanation: in my family any gathering where food is served is called a picnic whether it be Thanksgiving or Passover. Don’t ask. Okay—tradition—that’s the best I can do.
I broke the news over the serving of the brisket which meant that only a fraction of the family actually heard me. My brisket is to die for. Word made it around the table after a bit and soon each person had their own interpretation. “How about the 1st daughter of the third son?” “The only child of an only child?” “The second cousin of a second cousin twice removed?”
As I had expected none got the true gist of the Dead Sea Scroll footnote.
So over desert; Babka, apple strudel and rugelach and decaf coffee with Sweet and Lo, I explained that nothing was going to change except that I was now titular head of the family. I wanted no ox, young or otherwise, no more wives and I planned to keep on working. My role was basically to settle in-family disputes. Period. I was to act as a mediator and my word was the word. I was to be the Supreme Court, the Ralph Bunche, and the Gandhi of the Mirsky clan. That’s all I told them—no big thing—no tributes—no major changes except that we will no longer have family members not talking to other family members for long forgotten or petty reasons such as we have today and have had so often in the past.
As the picnic wore down I stood packaging the leftovers for anyone who wanted whatever there was and by the time everything, including all of my Tupperware, was all gone so was my family—never to be heard from again; but who bonded as never before, only this time with a common enemy to scorn and talk about at their family picnics.
Paul Beckman was also one of the winners in The Best Small Fictions 2016! published by Queen’s Ferry Press
His stories are published worldwide in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Metazen, Boston Literary Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His work has been included in a number of anthologies. Paul earned his MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. His latest collection of flash stories, “Peek” weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. Paul lives in CT and his website is www.paulbeckmanstories.com
shouts out to me. Each morning here. Some mornings
I ignore the voice, ignore the words.
Other mornings I want to shout back at it, engage
in a personal accounting of wins and losses,
determine how I rank overall in the scheme of things.
This recorded vending machine voice hails me
as I pass it by on my usual mall walk route.
It’s just a money-scooping small crane,
a vending machine programmed like
a midway huckster, luring us over to operate
the scoop and take home the plush teddy bear.
There’s no limit to what you can win!
The machine taunts with phony enthusiasm,
though we know there are limits to everything.
What I want to tell it is that I am a winner.
Whether I have maxed out my wins, or whether
my luck is waning is not for me to say.
I do know my soul mate appears determined
to share the rest of her life with me; I’ve outlived
my parents, even my younger brother;
my limbs are all intact, and I am still quite able
to walk past without a second thought and ignore
this nameless, bodiless barker.
Glen Sorestad is a well travelled Canadian poet whose work has been published widely throughout North America and elsewhere. His poems have appeared in over 60 anthologies and have been translated into seven languages.
His most recent book of poetry isHazards of Eden: Poems from the Southwest (Lamar University Press. 2015).
When she was five years old, Lynette began rewriting her life as a novel. (She was three when she started reading.) Now she is nine.
Lynette’s real-life parents, Bill and Sarah Smythe, put back vermouth and inhaled Marlboros. Bill, six feet, four inches, possessed the frame of a man who eats only when prodded. Sarah, thin but shapely from afar, up close exhibited a fine network of facial wrinkles often bestowed upon the nicotine-addicted. Lynette’s friends thought Mr. and Mrs. Smythe exotic, envied Lynette her flaccid parental bonds.
Lynette never told her friends that, most weekend mornings, she vacuumed heaping ashtrays and washed sour-smelling highball glasses; and then prepared pancakes, sausages, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for herself and older brother Jimmy. She washed and dried breakfast pans and dishes. Checked on her parents, always finding them, fully clothed and snoring, on their extra-long bed. This was comforting as well as worrisome for nine-year-old Lynette.
John and Judy Wilson, the parents in her book, drank only cold water or tea, and toked Jamaican weed solely on special occasions. They didn’t throw parties for adults; they planned fun and educational family events.
Lynette’s alter ego, Kendra, an average-height brunette with above-average looks, had no trouble making friends, and was expert at double-Dutch jump rope and on-line games.
In her novel, Jimmy did not exist. Rather, Lynette replaced him with a Dalmatian dog, Tintype. Was Tintype a silly, quaint name? In her book, So Said the Wilsons, no name was silly.
Lynette kept the novel a secret. Once in a while, when Bill or Sarah tried to shake free of an alcoholic haze, one or the other would ask why Lynette took her “little briefcase” into the bathroom. They didn’t wait for an answer, just mentioned it to their boozehound friends as if it were the cutest thing in the world.
The girl disdained the lot of them.
In the bathroom Lynette could think. Cry. Write. Breathe. Some days, locked in for an hour at a time, she felt lucky no one in the family suffered digestive problems.
She wanted to make the Smythes suffer. Bender Bill micturated in his pants in front of his daughter. Sloshed Sarah exhaled smoke rings into Lynette’s face. Jism Jimmy addressed Lynette as “Skelet-o” or “Miss Ug.” For all that and more, she wished them ill. Or dead. It didn’t make her proud of herself. It gave her relief.
Paragraph one from So Said the Wilsons:
“Every year John and Judy Wilson planned intricate escapades for their only child, Kendra, to bolster her intellectual, social, and physical well-being. This Saturday was ‘Excavate Your Treasure Day,’ complete with crayon-wrought treasure maps, hand-sewn pirate costumes, and Judy’s special combination pink lemonade-honeyed green tea. John had been planting ‘little boxes of fun’ for a week, on the grounds and inside their two-story home. Both parents worked hard to provide Kendra—and pet Dalmatian Tintype!—a ‘bootyful time! ’”
Her opening paragraph makes Lynette want to retch. She will improve it, as she’s a fearsome editor. Plus, writing the book transports her to another zone: a caring-parent, self-abusing-brother-free, loyal-dog zone, where every living creature is hers to mastermind.
She’s sure So Said the Wilsons will sell. Longer term, the kiddie novel should allow Lynette Smythe to emancipate herself. To leave this booze-soaked dunghill and its denizens behind.
That Saturday the Smythe parents were throwing one of their disgusting soirees, which meant Jimmy would have to go to the basement, or a friend’s house, or under a rock, or behind a giant trash cart to obsessively masturbate. Lynette would have to stay in her room most of the night, or ride miles away with her laptop on unicorn Destiny.
Oh, for a day with John and Judy Wilson! An afternoon whispering to Tintype and brushing his coat! Lynette would swear off Candy Crush. Quit jumping rope. Even lock away her laptop—No access to So Said the Wilsons! No texting friends!—for a month.
On Sunday morning Jimmy was not in his room. His bedcovers were in their usual disarray. Backpack and cell phone were gone. No stench of sweat. No cum-stained socks. Lynette felt flutters of panic in her stomach and throat.
She ran to her parents’ bedroom to alert them. No Bill! No Sarah! Wrinkled bedspread. No keys on the dresser; no wallet, no purse!
Lynette covered her mouth with her hand to slow her breathing. She sat on the rug in the living room and shook back and forth. The nine-year-old envisioned Bill and Sarah, bloody, under a truck; Jimmy, mangled, inside a dumpster, face half-hidden by apple cores and paper coffee cups.
For the first time that morning Lynette noticed the living room was devoid of full ashtrays, dirty glasses, and soiled cocktail napkins. No cigarette smell, either. She peered through the windows overlooking the Smythe driveway: No SUV! What was going on here?
How would Lynette be able to continue her schooling? What would happen when she ran out of food? Who would pay the mortgage? How would she celebrate her tenth birthday tomorrow?
As unlikely as it seemed, Lynette knew that had to be it. Her parents and brother must have left early─and stealthily─to buy her a birthday gift! Sarah and Bill must have cleaned up all party detritus last night before collapsing into bed, and conspired, along with Jimmy, to make Lynette the happiest ten-year-old in the neighborhood.
Lynette could barely believe her luck. Could Bill and Sarah Smythe live up to John and Judy Wilson? The nearly-ten-year-old felt tired from sudden excitement and good fortune. It was, after all, early Sunday morning. She hadn’t slept enough─or eaten. Now was a perfect time to sit on the couch and wait for her family. Surely they would bring breakfast back.
Warm. Warm…and soft. Movement. Licking. Lynette raised her head. Dalmatian puppy breath warmed her cheeks. This adorable creature was running around her, then to her, panting in her face and licking her cheeks.
“Finally!” Judy took a drink of cold water, laughed, then called to her husband, who was rolling a diminutive joint in the kitchen. “John, Kendra’s back! Bring that weed in here.”
Judy turned back to her daughter. “I think Tintype was scared he’d never play with you again! Be a dear and bring us some rolling papers now, would you?”
Iris N. Schwartz is a fiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Most recently, her work has appeared in Grabbing the Apple: An Anthology of Poems by New York Women Writers; and insuch journals as The Gambler, Gravel, Jellyfish Review, MUSH/MUM Journal, andSiren. She has work forthcoming in Pure Slush (Volume 12).
Technology’s always daunting to these older folks,
used to cashiers, baggers, checkout lines.
The way he looked around, furtive,
like a kid needing a bathroom,
I was sure he’d pressed the wrong key,
bought something he didn’t want
and didn’t know how to undo the purchase.
But then he tossed the mango
into his World Wildlife Fund bag,
the panda on the side cuddly
as I figured this old guy to be,
and I just felt sorry for him,
probably living on a crummy little pension,
Social Security check barely covering his medicine,
squeezed like we all are in this economy
that favors the wealthy, scorned as a freeloader.
But I just couldn’t let him steal the mango.
“Sir,” I said, touching his arm
as he started walking away.
Then he got all defensive, pulled out
his receipt like some ancient Egyptian scroll,
pretended to look it over for the transaction…
well, maybe he was confused,
maybe he did think he’d paid for it.
But then he not only handed me the mango,
he gave me an avocado, too.
That’s when I knew. Poor old guy.
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe – Manet
What are you looking at? Yes, you.
At Gustave and Ferdinand
trussed up like fowl on a dinner table?
The swell of my breast? My bare haunch?
The smooth hip, buttock, thigh?
My clothing heaped beside me?
Yes, you, the intruder, the voyeur.
What are you staring at?
Even Eugenie lowers her eyes,
stepping from the pond
nimble as a dainty doe, discreet.
Certainly Gustave and Ferdinand,
despite being mummified in their clothes
behave as if nothing’s exceptional.
Even in that ridiculous turban,
gesturing to his brother-in-law,
Gustave’s as cool as the glade
in which we find ourselves
on this close afternoon at the start of summer.
Of course I should make myself comfortable.
This is a picnic, not a formal banquet –
though you’d never know it from their clothing!
Besides, nobody’s looking.
Charles Rammelkamp edits The Potomac, an online literary magazine – The Potomac — A Journal of Poetry & Politics He is Prose editor for BrickHouse books in Baltimore, where he lives. His latest book is a collection of poems called MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY (Apprentice House, Loyola University) and another book, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, has been accepted by Apprentice House as well.