Toti O’Brien – Fiction 

INCANTATION                                                                       


     She doesn’t remember when she first noticed it. Retrospectively, the last few months melt in a kind of blur. The weather might be responsible—summer temperatures unusually lasting, bleeding into fall, have dimmed her awareness of the passing season. The afternoon darkness seems incongruous, unreal.
     She has missed Halloween. That night she has worked late. Then she has played the piano and lost track of time, finally crumpling on the couch with a book. Meanwhile, unusual outside animation has peered through. There must be a very lively party near by—lots of guests arriving, departing. Quite surprising on a weekday, yet not a problem. She has barely registered.
     Only the morning after her brains have connected the dots. “It’s November already,” she has sighed. Right! So yesterday was Halloween! She has missed it for the first time in her life.
     *
     She must have spotted the thing around Halloween. Nothing strange—the house is full of spiders. They are harmless and she enjoys them. They are elegant, too. She loves the fluid motion of their nimble legs—fingers on a keyboard. In the shower she can leisurely watch a few, intent at their dance. She doesn’t bother removing them.
     But this one, perched high in a corner, looks huge. Weirdly shaped, segmented… isn’t it normal? She remembers something from her school days. Abdomen, cephalothorax—spiders’ bodies articulate in the center. Why didn’t she observe the phenomenon before? This specimen must be bigger. Much bigger.
     She has chanced upon a mega-spider, enormous. A vague sense of alarm trickles down her spine. “Should I worry? Is it poisonous?” Soon her apprehension dissolves. It must be innocuous, she is sure. Only, an extra-large size.
     *
     It is growing. Day by day, shower by shower. At least, sometimes it looks larger. Is her observation reliable? She can’t tell. Today she is quite certain, and the shiver resumes down her back. “Will it keep swelling?” Then, confusingly, it seems to have shrunken…
     There is another spider in view. She checks and compares. This new one is average. An oblong shape, indistinct—no waistline, no upper and lower body are discernable. This one perfectly represents the category. It is pale—a grey shade—while the giant is pitch black.
      Once or twice she has seen it capture its prey. Strange behaviors… she didn’t recall having studied them. First the prey (a little fly? a small bug, inconspicuous like a speckle of dust) is stilled in place, paralyzed among the spires of a quasi-invisible web. The big guy comes near and does something with its legs. Something frantic, or so it looks because of many limbs juggling—fingers racing on keys for a rapturous grand finale.
     The predator paws its prey, nimbly, skillfully… like a potter at the wheel, a cook expertly stuffing some bird, a very quick knitter. A magician playing a trick of cards under the audience’s hypnotized gaze. The whole scene has a trance-like quality, suspended as it is in space and time—both precipitous and infinitely slow. She is charmed. A bit scared as well. With no reason, truly.
     *
     Then she sees the prey has also grown bigger. Wrapped it in a tight cocoon, now it looks like a detached segment of the spider itself, which is coming closer. Will it gulp the morsel? Will it glue it to itself, then gradually absorb it?  She doesn’t see it happen. Not because she doesn’t want to but, please, she needs to get dressed and go. Learning about spiders’ feeding habits isn’t today’s plan. Or tomorrow’s. It is totally irrelevant. She is wasting her time.
     Later, though, she can’t avoid noticing the creature has swollen, like the snake gulping an elephant in one of her children books. Did it swallow its booty altogether? Without breaking it down? It must have.
     Then it is back to normal. Approximately. Back to normal, she thinks.
     She is witnessing the prey-catching, prey-petting more often. Maybe a kind of lent ended and a feasting season begun. She is dazzled by the motions: the creature seems to have more limbs than it should. Is she counting sixteen? Paired like for a double-stringed guitar. Are the spiders two? How comes she didn’t guess? Joined, attached. Perhaps making love. Wouldn’t it be something? She should get her glasses. A step stool.
    Hell, no. She needs to get dressed and hurry. She is late.
    *
     It is one spider only. It has shrunk to size once again. She can count the legs—they are eight. Their fast motion gives an illusion of quantity—an optical lure. When they fumble the unfortunate captive they have a dizzying effect on her nerves. There is a slight obscenity in what looks like erotic foreplay, preluding to the incumbent annexation. To the mysterious merging she has never managed to watch.
     But of course, the beast doesn’t know a curious eye daily violates its privacy. It safely inhabits its own universe, surrounded by the magic circle it has wrought—a small galaxy, satellites gravitating towards the center, following the unavoidable laws of attraction.
     She has noticed it frequently bends at the waistline, hanging loosely at the bottom of its master web. Doubled over, it draws a letter V in the air, coarsely traced in black. V for victory—its favorite pose. It looks ominous.
     *
     Not only is the spider too big (will the anomalous growth ever stop? should she worry?) There is also no reason why it should hang in her shower. True, she never cared for an insect-free bathroom—but proportions do matter. This thing is so conspicuous it becomes intrusive. Sharing quarters is now inconvenient. Embarrassing.
     Obviously she should dispose of the thing. What is she waiting for? She must kill the spider. This particular one, taking itself for the master of the place, uncaring of limits. Indecent, to say the word. “I will kill it”, she murmurs while she grabs her towel. Then another though tickles her: she should get a stool and her glasses. She should look at the monster, once, really close. How ridicolous. Get dressed. You are late.
          “I must kill it,” she repeats each morning. But she vaguely senses it isn’t time yet. Instead, she would like to… can’t she avow its ugliness enthralls her? Are all things bad so charming, you can’t help another good look before getting rid of them? Are monsters so attractive you cannot let them go? She must kill the spider. Today.
      A chill goes down her back when she draws the curtain, fumbles nervously with the faucet, gasps for the comfort of hot running water. Is the cold—isn’t it?—making her shiver. Winter has finally arrived. Cold, cold, cold! She mutters. Foam is lathering on her skin like a shawl of snow. Looking down at her goose-bumped limbs, she wraps herself in her own arms, oblivious of all.
     Cold has come at last—a long delayed spell, a sentence postponed.

 

🍃

 

Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Masque & Spectacle, Feminine Inquiry, Indiana Voices, and Italian Americana.

Tiana Lavrova – Fiction

Rolflandian Ideonomisis   

“It is a sign of exceptional Thanatopsis to choose exceptional experimentation in sniffing and snuffing more or less implicit psy-Dolan Cantorian dogma… however, be aware, that you will be implicitly hereticized — and metronomically diagonalized in snuffing out by a terra firma diaphragmitis Lichten-apos.”

I.

“What is the universalizable — consider a Austro-Moldovian universalizable law, of the sum total of Maltesian “Functionality” — a biological, full-blooded, e.g., “Anglo-Saxon, and/or Germanic,” granted person — swiping-dry, any geo-political and/or botanical-pediatrism pre-packaged “mobiuses” within any n “personsified” conception? Independence, as more, antithetical — upper bound set(s) of what you might least value restrictively under the set V of “noetical diversion” objects?”

II.

“Flexing (or not) “artificial lines” on continua encoded “mark-offs” for mental disorders: transfinite innatist genuses ― cathartic, neo-Plutonian, embryonic-Nebuchadnezzar token-type states. Describe the former and latter state’s continua similarities per flexing Cambrian poca-oscillating line on calculating these rationale (then, compose liberetti ― give Kyrgyzstan-kryptonian nodal, Brentwood transactions) innatist, tachycardic genuses. Then, hand-paint their mercenary in frozen fish marmalade.” 

 

🍃

    

Tiana Lavrova, better known as Timaeus Lavrov, is an avant-garde writer from British Columbia, Canada with an interest in digital parts-to-whole philosophical musical instruments; open-source philosophical treatments, and absolutist self-reliant living. Their interests also include unspeakable languages, ideonomical calculators, and Gaian thought-crime-free zones.

Paul Beckman – Fiction

Cloud Wars

 

 

 

“Look at that big one at 2 o’clock. Is that a tricycle or what?”

Suni, lying on her back in the grass next to Henry agreed with him on the shape of the cloud. She’d rather be making out than playing cloud games.

“Look, Henry,” Suni pointed, “those two clouds are kissing. Don’t they appear to be having fun?”

“It’s like they’re next to each other,” Henry said. “See, now the tricycle is turning into a bicycle.”

“Will you look at that,” Suni said. “The kissing clouds have a third one in the mix—a ménage a tois. Boy they’re so lucky, aren’t they, Henry?”

Henry thought Suni talked about hugging and kissing too often and told her so. Most fifteen-year-old girls in his class were the same.

Suni rolled on top of Henry. “I don’t believe it,” she said, “those two clouds above us look like us lying here. See? See?”

Henry didn’t see and Suni stayed squished atop Henry hoping he’d get the hint and look at her and their faces would be close and she’d kiss him if he didn’t kiss her first.

Henry shifted his eyes without turning his head. He sat up and pointed—rolling her off him. “A dog, a perfect poodle dog right there. I’m going to write that down in my cloud book” he said, pulling out a small blue spiral notebook.

“Holy Moley will you look at that! I’m blushing. The clouds that look like us lying here are moving and one cloud is lying on top of the other. They’re making out right in front of us. Put that in your book, Henry.”

A drop of water fell on his face as the clouds overhead darkened. Henry stood. Suni stayed where she was and enjoyed the big raindrops beginning to splash her.

“Let’s run to the car,” Henry said, reaching for Suni’s hand to pull her up. She resisted and tried to pull him down. She wanted to taste the water on his face and neck. She wanted Henry to put his hand on her breast and his tongue in her month and she wanted to make him forget writing in his dumb cloud book.

Finally Suni stood. Henry refused to stand under a tree and huddle close to her. He only wanted to run to the car. So finally they did that and Henry drove Suni home and turned down her offer of hot chocolate and towels for drying each other off.

That night Henry texted Suni: “Clouds are my favorite things and you didn’t take them serious. I still like you but I don’t think we should date anymore. Henry.” #clouds don’t really kiss.”

 🍃

 

Paul Beckman is an award winning author with over 300 published stories to his credit, on line, in print, and via audio. He hosts the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series at KGB.

Kyle Hemmings – Fiction

Old World, New Day

It’s a  new world, one sans my longtime roommate, Munch. He’s always overdosing on insidious poisons from his past, and I wonder what fine morning I will wake up to find him frozen for good in a fetal curl. All the rooms of the apartment are empty. Munch, the ex-engineer who once worked for S & E, who developed a new plastic that sent the company’s stock soaring into space, who after failing rehab after rehab was salvaged by moi, rescued from underground shelters and a confederacy of stray cats, has vaporized into an emptiness too vast to locate him. 

 

I always tell him there’s hope, the kind of hope Frank Sinatra and Doris Day once sang about, that some night, chancing a walk without raincoat, he will feel the droppings of some sweet melon moon. He can only believe in pain and the luxury of its aftermath.

  

We are both bonded by the stigma of being lovable losers. It’s a kind of friendship with strong roots and sickly leaves.

  

“Love never lasts,” he once told me, “the better half of each couple on a moon colony have deserted for lack of proper space shoes. The other half are resigned to their personal craters. Either on earth or moon, you are doomed to masturbate into oblivion.”

  

Calling Munch’s name a thousand times, whisking through each room again and again, just to justify that I have done more than my share to save the both of us, so that I can feel lighter on my feet in my guilt-free shoes, I find Munch’s old tape recorder conspicuously situated on a wicker chair in his bedroom. Hesitant to turn it on, suspecting it might contain Munch’s long good-bye without the noticeable twitches and facial blushes, I finally hit RUN. 

 

“Charley, I know this is awkward and as the French say, pueril, I’ve decided to say good-bye this way without all the melodramatic hard-on soliloquies that in the end come to nothing. A misfire. You see, Charley, I’ve gone mad without a lover and I was even madder when with him. At first, I couldn’t stand to be apart, that some force of nature, either rain or sun, had destined us to idle in cafes, to pander to each other’s self-sinking indulgences, to fondle each other in ravaged hotel rooms without discount. I truly believed it. Then, Master Bot (my personal sobriquet for him) began to grow tired and twisted, justifying everything by trying a new shape for his needs. After loving one another with root and gut-instinct, Master Bot would burn my fingernails just to hear me scream, just to confirm that I was alive and well in the vortex of pain. I let him do it because I loved him or maybe I felt I deserved pain, that I had no right to protest what’s inevitable.

 

 He said I reminded him so much of the small animals in his childhood, ones in captivity, and the matchsticks, he added, were something he never outgrew. He burned down, he admitted, so many paper houses that could not shelter his flimsy lovers.” 

 

And so Charley, I’m a wreck. Well, when haven’t I been? I want to die, but not sure how or when, or that maybe the whole thing is superfluous because I’ve been dying all along. It only takes a quick of the hand, but I want to have a drink first and remember the good times if there were any. And I want to thank you, above all, Charley, for sheltering me from a storm that soon raged too wildly, broke into every sanctum. Perhaps, we’ll see each other again, veil ami, perhaps not. Take care of yourself. You are as precious as moon children, although I no longer believe in the moon.”

 

I have to find Munch before he turns to nothing and isn’t discovered for months.

 

I rush along city blocks, noticing the squirrels bungee-jumping from branch to branch, that is, without all the cords, witnessing the rose-chested Grosbeaks perched on trees as if they could be an oracle. Tell me, I want to ask them Where is Munch? If I don’t save him, I will surely die from self-neglect. Their answer in a song is both obvious and cryptic. I can’t understand their language and the meaning of their octaves, but they give me hope. Sometimes it’s good to be alive.

  

I search Munch’s usual haunts, the late-night diners and the bars on the outer circumference of town. In one bar, The Golden E-gal, I strike it rich without matchsticks. The barmaid, a middle-aged woman with large brown eyes, the daughter of holocaust survivors, tells me that Munch is upstairs in a private room and that he doesn’t wish to be disturbed. I tell her it’s an emergency. She understands. She can guess the secret-terrors behind Munch’s eyes. She understands his voice-imprisoned-within-another-voice.  

Sitting next to a far window with streaks, Munch is staring toward a wall. A half full mug of beer sits before him. I sit down across from him. The table is small, round and nicked to shit.

 

He speaks without looking at me.

 

“So you found me, Charley. You’re a good hunter. But I’m not much of a find. No reward for you boy-o.” 

He brings one hand up to wipe his lips. I gently grasp his hand, inspecting the missing fingernails, the cinched nail beds, their purplish color.

 

 “Does it hurt, Ernest? Do they hurt?” 

He smiles as if to himself. He still doesn’t look at me. 

 

“Everything hurts, Charley. It hurts everyday. I’ve been condemned to hurt.”

  

I guide his hand to the table. I stroke the back of his wrist.

  

“They’ll grow back, Ernest. In time, everything will grow back.”

 

“Will they, Charley?” he says with a slight twist of lips, a twinkle in his eyes.

 

🍃

 

 

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose is Future Wars from Another New Calligraphy and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies,  manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.

Gary Hoffman – Fiction

Don’t Mess with J.R. Bunting

 

We weren’t really expecting anything exciting to happen. We were just a bunch of mostly veteran reporters sent to cover a story in south Florida that looked like it was going to be much less than interesting. Of course, our job was to make it interesting for the folks back home. A story about a good murder would have been something to make us want to write it. Four of us had gathered in the Blue Heron Lounge of the Victory Hotel in Miami. Now, the Victory wasn’t known for being the hotel with the most five star ratings, or any star rating we knew about, but it was cheap, and all our editors liked that.

 
We were all there because Jolene Harding was running for mayor of Miami. This in itself was not remarkable, except Jolene was an openly professed, gay, twenty-two year old transvestite. Her name had been Joel, but she changed it for political purposes–at least that’s what her press releases said. She was supposed to show up at the Victory for a press conference, but none of us were real sure why she chose this venue.

 
We were all pretty quiet and busy concentrating on our drinks, when somehow Buzz Lucas got on the subject of the guy his daughter was living with. “The guy’s a jerk,” Buzz proclaimed. “He doesn’t even read newspapers.” He took a long slug of his drink. “Hell, for all I know, he can’t even read. The dud will probably be a bum for the rest of his life. Won’t earn a dime!”

 
“You mean he won’t become rich like all us journalists?” Leo Mantis said.

 
“Hey, maybe I missed out on something,” Walt Burbis said. “You mean you guys got rich doing this, and I didn’t even know about it?” He laughed and took a pull on his bottle of beer.

 
“Well, some people have done pretty damned well putting words on paper,” Buzz said.

 
“Name one,” Walt challenged.
Buzz got a serious look on his face. He stared right in Walt’s eyes. “J. R. Bunting.”

 
“Looks like he’s got you there,” Leo said. “J.R. found how to work the system, somehow.”

 
“J.R. was a genius,” I told them. “He was very good at many more things than just writing.”

 
“You talk like you know him,” Walt said.

 
“Oh, I know him alright. Have known him since he was twenty-six years old and had just gotten out of the slammer.”

 
“The slammer? J.R. did time?” Buzz asked.

 
“Oh, yeah.”

 
“What’d he do?” Leo wanted to know.

 
“Well, he was just a kid, sixteen, if I remember the story right. He was growin’ up in Butte, Montana, and his parents didn’t seem to care about him. Kind of let him grow up like a tumbleweed driftin’ around town. There was a little ole store there that was open late at night. J.R. and a couple of his buddies decided the old lady who worked the store evenings would be a easy target, so they went in to steal some beer. J.R. went back to the cooler to grab a couple of six-packs while the other two stayed up front to divert the attention of the old lady. Well, she caught on real quick and tried to stop them. When she came out from behind the counter, one of the guys pushed her and she fell. She hit her head on the corner of the counter and died.”

 
“Holly crap!” Leo said.

 
“Yeah, holly crap,” I continued.

 

“Everything was caught on a surveillance tape. The kid who pushed her got thirty years. J.R. and the other guy got ten each for just being there. J.R. spent two years in a juvenile facility and was then sent to Montana State Prison. Being a young guy, he had to do a lot of fighting to keep the older men away from him. Cost him time he could have gotten off for good behavior. So, he spent the whole ten years locked up.”

 
“Boy, never heard that story about him,” Walt said.

 
“Well, it ain’t somethin’ he advertised, but I never heard him deny it, either.”

 
“So he gets out, becomes a major journalist and starts racking up the big bucks? Never even finished high school?” Buzz said. “Maybe there’s hope for my girl’s boy friend yet.”

 
“Oh, he finished high school alright,” I said. “In prison. He also picked up some pointers on a few illegal things along the way. Guess that’s just part of being there. But, he got a degree in journalism by correspondence through University of Missouri.”

 
“That’s one of the best in the country,” Leo said.

 
“Damned straight! J.R. never wanted to settle for anything less than the best. Course that also got him in trouble later on,” I said. “So, anyway, I was knocking around the country at the time trying to land some sort of a writing job that would pay me enough money to live. I ran into J.R. at a bar in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Course his name wasn’t J.R. then. It was Randy Osgood.”

 
“Randy Osgood? Where’d J.R. Bunting come from?” Walt asked.

 
“That’s another part of the story. So he tells me he’s working as a reporter in Omaha and thinks his editor might be willing to take on another reporter, if the guy can write. He tells me to bring in some of my clips the next morning, and he’d introduce me to his editor. Well, he was good to his word as he always was. He made the introduction and left me alone with the editor to sell myself. I got the job. ‘Bout six months later, J.R. asked for a raise. The editor in Omaha laughed at him, and that pissed ole J.R. off. He started lookin’ for a better job the next day.”
“One of the people he contacted was Sid Roanstein. Sid was managing editor and the owner of the Trib in Chicago. After a week or so of haggling, J.R. got a new job and a small raise. He said the raise wasn’t worth moving, but he was mad enough at the guy in Omaha to do it anyway. But, that was J.R.—once he got his mind set on something, he did it.”

 
“We up to the place where he changed his name, yet?” Leo said.

 
“Not yet,” I told Leo. “I think we need another round before we go on with the rest of this story.”

 
Everyone agreed with a fresh drink, so we waited while the waitress brought us more booze. “Okay,” Walt said. “Let’s get to this. I’m learnin’ things I never heard of before.”

 
I smiled at him. “Of course you never heard most of this before. It was a little before your time. How old are you, Walt?” I asked him.

 
“Twenty-four.”

 
“Well, much of this happened before you were even born. Where was I now?”

 
“J.R. had just moved to Chicago,” Buzz said.

 
“Oh, yeah. As soon as J.R. gets to Chicago, he gets introduced to this show girl, Lily Branovich. Lily was a looker. She had tits big enough she probably couldn’t see her feet if she was standing up straight. Ole J.R. falls head over heels for her. They were seen together in some nightspot every night after she got off work from her show. So life became very good for J.R. and Lily. He was doing well at the Trib, and Lily was photographed more than at any other time in her life. People at the paper started calling J.R. Judge Roy Bean and Lily was his Jersey Lily.”

 

“Lily had one major flaw in her character though. She not only liked all the attention she was getting, she especially liked the attention from men. It didn’t take too long before she was steppin’ out on J.R.. ‘Course, J.R. didn’t know anything about it, at first. Everyone else in Chicago seemed to, though.”

 

“While all this was going on, J.R. was developing another idea for a column he thought would be good for him and the paper. He talked to Sid about it, and he was willing to give it a shot.”

 
“That’s when J.R. got into the letters to the lovelorn business?” Leo asked.

 
“Yep. J.R. thought it would sell, but Sid wanted him to change his name. He wasn’t sure a man writing such a column would be taken seriously. Sid wanted him to take a name that could be taken as a woman’s name. J.R. always thought the Judge Roy Bean thing was funny, so he came up with the same initials, J. R. The bunting part came from baby’s clothing. He thought women would be drawn to that. Sid also agreed to give J.R. a few extra bucks per column, if it did well. J.R. was so convinced it would do well and he would have extra money, he slipped off and married Lily one night.”

 
“Well, it sure as hell did well,” Buzz said.
“Thing was, Sid didn’t really bother to tell J.R. how well it was doing. Sid was getting inquiries from other papers wanting to carry the column. He saw the chance to make a great deal of money, so he called J.R. into his office and offered him a good raise to keep writing the column. There was a catch though, but all J.R. saw was the money. The catch was Sid wanted to copyright the J.R. Bunting name. That meant he could control who got the column and what price they paid. J.R. signed the papers.
“J.R. got the first hint of what he’d done when he was traveling around the country covering other stories. Other journalists all over were talking about his column and what a splash it was making. It was also about this time that he began to hear rumors about what Lily was doing. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he heard that Sid was running around with Lily.”

 
“Wow! A double whammy!” Leo said.

 
“Yeah, and no one was going to get away with doing that to J.R. Bunting,” I said.

 

“He knew he’d get back at Sid and Lily, but he just wasn’t sure how. But, J.R. was patient about this situation. He waited until the right time came. He did hire a private investigator to follow Lily. What was found just made him more determined. It seemed Lily was now spending most of her free time with Sid.”

 
“A few months later, Lily’s mother got real sick, and Lily wanted to visit her. At the same time, Sid concocted a scenario to get J.R. out of his life once and for all. He would have Lily all to himself, and he figured he could find some flunky to continue writing the column. He gave J.R. a story to work on, told him he wanted it the next day, but that he couldn’t work on it at the office because a cleaning crew was coming in to wax the floors that night. J.R. thought the whole thing sounded fishy, but he went along with it. That night, J.R. went out on the town. He posed for pictures with local politicians and anyone else who was half-way notable. He got into a scuffle with bouncers at Club 29 when they wanted him to leave when the club was closing. J.R. insisted they call the police to straighten things out. They did.”

 
“The following morning, Sid was found stabbed to death in J.R.’s apartment. Of course, there was a big stink about it, and several local politicians called for hearings as to what had happened. After all, Sid was a prominent citizen in Chicago. J.R. was immediately ruled out because he had hundreds of witnesses, as well as the police themselves, who could place him somewhere else.”

 
“How the hell did J.R. get away with that?” Buzz asked.

 
“Well, like I said, J.R. had a perfect alibi. During the hearings, many things were brought out, including Sid’s relationship with Lily. It was theorized that Sid had come to J.R.’s apartment to kill J.R. so he could have Lily all to himself. A police captain testified his theory about Sid’s death. He figured Sid came into the apartment carrying a knife, which was found with a couple of Sid’s fingerprints on it, to kill J.R., but tripped over the edge of a rug, fell, and stabbed himself. The only unanswered question was why Sid also had a gun in his coat pocket. The captain said he thought it was a backup for Sid. He really wanted to use the knife because it wouldn’t make any noise.”

 
“So did J.R. have anything to do with it?” Leo asked.

 
Buzz slapped him on the arm. “Sure he did! Hell, he’s J.R.!”

 
“So what really happened?” Walt asked.

 
“First, two weeks later, J.R. marched into the new owner’s office and showed them a paper Sid had signed a few weeks before giving all rights to the column back to him. The new owners were Sid’s sons, Barnaby and Ernest. They really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, but since it was J.R. wanting to change something, they had it looked into. The signature on the document was taken to a handwriting expert and was guaranteed as being authentic.”

 
“How did J.R. do that?” Leo asked.

 
I smiled at him. “One of the skills he learned at Montana State Prison University. He could take anyone’s signature, and after three or four tries, have it down pat.”

 
“So he got the rights to his column back?” Buzz asked.

 
“Yep, free and clear.”

 
“What happened to Lily?” Walt asked.

 
“She stayed around for a time while the divorce was going on. She was pretty much shunned and left Chicago draggin’ her good-looking little butt behind her,” I said.

 
All of them were sitting silent, looking at the table that was anything but well taken care of. Buzz sloshed his ice cubes around in his glass. Leo was turning his glass on his coaster.

 
“So how did J.R. do it?” Walt finally asked.

 
I cleared my throat. “More training from Montana. I ran into J.R. one time in a bar in the Village in New York. He had quite a few drinks under his belt, and he started talking. He said they used to spend their time in jail thinking of ways to kill people and get away with it. Like I said, he got suspicious when Sid told him he would have to work at home that night. Before he left his apartment, he turned the light on in his home office and just left the door open a crack. All the other lights in the place were out. He left a tape recorder running with sounds of a typewriter coming from it. He then strung a piece of black wire across the hallway, right at the edge of the rug, so if someone came in, they would trip on it. He took a butcher knife and froze the handle in a pan of water. He could then set the block of ice on the floor with the blade pointing up. He figured Sid would come in, trip on the wire, and fall on the knife. He also figured Sid wouldn’t die immediately. He would probably grab for the knife and leave his fingerprints on it somewhere. By the time J.R. got home, the ice was melted. He took down the wire, scuffed up the rug, and called the police.”

 
There was again silence around the table as the men digested the story.

 
“So he got away with murder?” Leo said.

 
“God, what a story this is gonna make,” Walt said.

 
“What story?” I asked him.
“You mean you’re gonna keep this under your hat, and you want us to do the same?”
I took a drink of my Scotch. “I’ve kept it a secret for over twenty years. You try and turn on a colleague like that, and I have enough connections to see you never work in journalism again.”

 
“You serious?” Walt asked.

 
“Wouldn’t test the theory, if I were you,” Buzz said with a smirk across his face.
Another journalist stuck his head in the door of the lounge. “Hey she’s here!”
“Well, gentlemen, looks like it’s time to go to work,” I said.
We all were draining our glasses when we heard two shots fired in the lobby.

“Sounds like we might have a murder story after all,” Leo said.

 

🍃

 

Gary R. Hoffman has published over three hundred short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years. He now resides in Okeechobee, Florida.

Brian Michael Barbeito – Fiction

PROMISES MADE UNDERWATER

(A kiss for the mural)

Colored electrical lights affixed to small poles had stationed themselves at the bottom of the wall. There were some yellow ones and some were blue, while on the sides two that were faded and orange tried also to throw their glow up at the wall. It was the white ones though, larger in physical size and with more wattage, that outshone the others. Beside all of these were thick grasses and they were probably as thick as a brand or type could come without being called feral. They grew up all ways amid and amongst themselves, hunter and forest green hued, but so textured for the thousands of blades that at times they appeared black. This was all on the Atlantic Coastline and the sea somehow both rhymed and foiled the sky. The first boasted of whitecaps and reefs, of piers that tried to race out to the horizon line where cargo ships tried to slate the sea and floating man’o’ war, of poison puffer fish and myriad other artifacts. The second was a home to small planes that flew banners advertising local eateries and other events, and strange native birds flew by there with cumulus and cirrus both watching their flight and the ways of the planes. The coastline was a mixture of bright cement curbs that waited beyond the hot sands and of course the palms, terrene trunks and verdant leaves, which lived with a slightly cocked posture in boulevards of woodchips, sand, or both.

 

When the day tired of itself and even the dusk became overtaken by the night come to announce itself like a wave, the mural could be seen for the lights that shone on the wall. The mural was painted three or four stories tall on the side of, depending on how you looked at it, a large motel or a small hotel. It was of a tall ship, a realist-painting, and nobody knew who the artist was because it was neither signed nor dated. The ship was with wind in the white sails and the ocean birds scattering across the forecastle. The sea, rough, choppy, a sky threatening rain but no rain yet – but the ship – determined, going, plodding through to somewhere. I often paused to look at the ship in the day and also at the night. I stared at the picture until someone had to tap me on the shoulder and bring be back to the motel streets, the bright curbs, the sounds of the sea or the nearby seagulls yapping over scraps.

 

At nights, I waded unceremoniously through the water up to mid shin. Nothing really happened save for the night. I made the mistake of going in a bit deeper. I felt a solid object and wanted to see what it could be since whole conch shells, bright pieces of coral broken off from the nearby reefs, and other treasures could be found in that area. As I bent down, I did manage to grab the piece but I then lost my footing due to a wave and perhaps the dark. Next thing, a larger wave appeared and brought me out about five or ten more feet. I had gotten taken in an undertow, the bottom side and invisible part of the wave that pulls outwards back to the sea again. I was under the water and had swallowed what felt, against reason, like a chunk of the sea. Flailing my arms, thinking I would tread, and waiting to hear the sound that the arm and hand make upon the top – I realized that I was further under the ocean than I expected. Panic-dread-angst, all mixed together as an emotional stew. Bits of white specks in the vision, some internal vision. Nothing supernatural that I knew of – probably neurons firing and creating some odd lights. I wasn’t coming up. I didn’t know who Poseidon was but it felt like something was pulling. It was only more undertow. I said internally that I would kiss the ship, the painting of the ship – if I could get back up. Who I said it to, and why, I didn’t and do not know. Maybe I said it to the firmament, the reef, to an unknown God or Gods, to the whole, to myself, or to nobody at all. Maybe I thought the ship was a rendering of a real ship and the spectres or phantoms of the crew lived in those parts still. Oxygen deprivation, chaos, the feeling of going further downwards – these did not live well with logic. But as soon as I said it I was up. Gasping,  I swam inwards, and lay on the shore. After some time I rose, shook myself off and walked towards where I had set out that dusk.

 

The next days held  hours that were quietly rhapsodic. Outwardly I appeared the same and did the prosaic things that make up time. Inwardly I was happy to be among the earth dwellers and the living. Days learned how to be weeks as they traded themselves continually for night and then the night for the bright and onwards. Weeks joined hands and made a few months. Eventually I left. I forgot to kiss the mural. It would have looked insane, so maybe I intentionally forgot. But I wanted to. I thought I would be back but it’s not always the case that you get to go back. An unfulfilled promise and a broken deal. Maybe this is my kiss for the tall ship. I wonder sometimes if the mural is still there where the sea, effervescent, a salty and languid but dangerous libation, kisses the shore. And if it is, I wonder if the strong white lights nestled in thick grasses still outshine the others and splash themselves on the ship and the sea and the sky beginning in late dusk and going through the long pitch dark stretch right into places where secrets and promises are borne and made.

 

🍃

 

Brian Michael Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. He is the author of the book of short fictions Chalk Lines from Fowl Pox Press (2013) . Recent work appears at Fiction International from San Diego State University.

Sean Daly – Fiction

First Things First

 

For me, I try my best to get along. I don’t want drama. Even if I’m constipated which happens. It’s uncomfortable to talk about but it happens sometimes. This morning feels like an eternity since I went. I think I’m good to go….then… ahem… then the sensation is followed by nothing.  But today it will happen soon enough, I tell myself, for sure, you got this one.

Now I’m at a Costco parking lot.

“Are you okay?” my girlfriend says.  She knows there’s a problem.  Even though I’ve remained silent about the whole matter.

“I’m okay, why?”

“You look distressed.”

“Nah.”

The morning is all light, no heat. I always go in morning like clockwork, so I’m kind’a heartbroken if you want to know the truth, but it doesn’t stop me from getting out of the car and trudging to the entrance.

“Do you have the list?” she asks.

I fumble in my pocket. Everyone moves in a general malaise. Get this, my girlfriend stops by a reverse osmosis system and becomes immersed by it. By water. Fascinated by water, which is a good thing in its own right. Clean water can help. I’ll admit it. I’m not crazy.

But, I say.

“Let’s just stick to our list, Hun.”

Then my girlfriend recites it without looking. “Tri-tip, lettuce, rice.”  She’s memorized it even though she just asked me for it.

“We agreed to stick to the list.” None of which is conducive to movement, I’ll agree, still I want to get the items for the BBQ and split. I reach for my pocket again, but my hand stops over my gut as if it were a magic wand.

“We could use a water system?” Her voice is all heat, no light.

“I dunno” I say.

I wait.

Hmmmm,

but I say nothing more.

No follow up from her, either.

Nada.

“So were getting one now?” I say after a spell. As a matter of point, I catch myself observing the water moving through the charcoaled system, one cylinder to another, and it looks beneficial in all candor. It really does.

I grab her hand. I want to move along and get what we came here for. “What’s wrong with our water, anyways?” I say tugging at her, playfully.

“Chemotherapy, pesticides, heavy metals.”

Talk about nails on a chalk board.

And the entire store is populated with anonymous faces which is neither here nor there.

But she shakes off my grip – miffed.   She walks away – borderline fuming – the way she does. I pursue her while doing a quick inventory of the food I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours.  Then I review the list she’s memorized, the one rummaged for in my pocket. My girlfriend stops, again. Hands on her hips.

“So we can’t even entertain other things we might need?”

I hesitate. My thinking is this: sure we can babe after, but only after, I  go. I got to move my bowels, you have no idea, but no words come out.

No explanation in my defense, whatsoever.

Not a word.

Nothing at all.

 

🍃 

Sean Daly

Toti O’Brien – Fiction 

FIVE THINGS SHE DID ON HER BIRTHDAY                                


     21.
     On the evening of her twenty-first birthday she attends English conversation class. A small group. Two guys in their thirties, non-descript. A middle aged Chinese couple. The teacher, for whom she has fallen head over heels. Another girl, a bit older, the teacher clearly plans to get intimate with. Tonight.
     She has known the very minute she’s passed the front door. You catch these things by radar, at twenty-one, especially when directly involved.
     There’s a bottle of lemon vodka on the coffee table. She has her eyes on it, but she refrains momentarily.
     The class starts. None of the students, her included, is in very good shape. They are slow, they stutter, they blank. The teacher—a bright guy, on the brisk side—has to feed them each and every word. They are reviewing body parts. “How do you call this?” he asks, brushing her forearm with an awkward, quick caress. She knows what he means—la piel, la pelle, la peau. It is on the tip of her tongue. She so wants to please him. She tries. “Sky,” she whispers. Almost… Irritated, frustrated, he turns the other way.
     This is when she grabs the bottle, unscrews the tin cap, and down goes the whole damn thing.
     She awakes kind of late the day after, wrapped in a thick bathrobe. He has brought her a cup of coffee. She needs it. He is relaxed and smiling. No kidding: the other girl is still lingering in the kitchen. They are still pecking and flirting. Love birds.
     Her dress is almost dry, hanging on the balcony in the morning sun. A long tunic, with a small embroidery, white. They have thoroughly washed it yesterday night. They have washed her too, sticking her stark naked in the bathtub, since she has vomited all over herself. She remembers nothing. Her dress slightly damp on her sky—her skin—is refreshing.
     Thank you. I mean I am sorry. Goodbye.
     Since, she can’t stand the smell of lemon vodka. Alcohol should be drunk unflavored. Pure.

     22.
     She is still trying to learn English. Another small group in another area of town. She has fallen head over heels for a fellow student. A bit older, bit weird, plenty mysterious.
     Things were kind of evolving between them. Meaning they had exchanged phone numbers and such. Things were getting promising for the last few months—until he briskly vanished. Once a week she has sat at her desk and spied for the sound of his car, persuaded she could recognize it. She’d know when it would turn the corner, park at the curb. Then she only should wait for the door to be pushed open, and his lanky frame to appear. Every passing car made her ears bleed. Every passing car scorched her nerves, ripping her apart.
     On the night of her twenty-second birthday he comes back. He sits by her and sighs, “I’ll bring you out to dinner”. She holds her breath momentarily.
     He has picked a downtown joint, small and trendy. In a daze, she has no idea of what they are eating or drinking. A North African transsexual singer, just a couple of feet from their table, grabs all of her attention. Short and bold, not-too-thin, but gorgeous. And the way he sings in French, “Plaisir d’amour, ne dure qu’un instant”—whatever it means—is just mesmerizing.
     He was sent on a job, he says, that’s why he has missed class. Very well paid for once. Should he buy something special before squandering the unexpected sum? He’ll do whatever she says. Seriously? She tries focusing, but the singer makes her mind wander. She tries harder. “A motorcycle,” she spits, suddenly inspired. She details brand and model, she can almost see him ride. What about her? Not sure. “Chagrin d’amour,” goes the song.
     He was sent to India, in fact. He has brought back a stone for her birthday. Here it is, surrounded with soft cotton, in a real jewel box—a pink amethyst.
     Early the morning after she goes belly button piercing. She’s bringing along her gold chain—the one from her First Communion—to be melted in order to mount the stone. Can’t afford it otherwise, but the chain will do. She will wear the pink thing from now to eternity, or close. “Dure toute la vie,” wailed the singer. Is it how the song ends?
     Then he never returns to class. She keeps her ears tuned, in vain.
     Once, while waiting in front of a theater with friends, she sees him arrive with fracas on a sparkling bike—the correct one. A girl is behind him. They don’t look much in love. They look totally, boringly for-ever-matched. They look married.

     23.
     She has moved abroad. After a short breather, she has fallen head over heels for a guy she’s met on a typing job. Right. She is typing a super-boring book a writer needs on the spot. Please, please, please, can’t wait. Hunched over the keyboard, she sweats, when a guest comes in and starts fooling with her. Around her. Behind her. Making funny faces—awkward way to break the ice. It breaks anyway. He insists for the writer to keep the typist for dinner. They exchange information. She can think of nothing else since.
     She invites him at her birthday party. A small gathering—besides him and herself a selected girlfriend, just in case. The two of them are a bit older than she his. And way smarter, and perfectly tuned. Thus the conversation shine, which is good, because he is having fun.
     Too much fun? They slouch on her bed—a large mattress on the floor. They are talking psychoanalysis, dreams, and so on. “Have you fantasized to have sex with two guys at once? How often?” he asks. “With two girls?” her friend promptly replies. “Have you ever dreamed,” her girlfriend insists, “you had two penises instead than one?” He laughs, splitting index and middle finger like a viper tongue—his hands casually reaching behind this and that waist, to the right, to the left.
     She wonders if she should call it a night.

     50.
     She has moved abroad again and again. In her country of last destination, she has serendipitously met her first English teacher. They have made a beautiful child, then they have separated.
     On the night of her fiftieth birthday she has got a good gig. She will sing French love songs at someone’s birthday party. This is what she does best. She has left her son and her umpteenth boyfriend at home. They will have fun together. More than they would with her.
     Outside it rains cats and dogs. The address points to a residential area of town, up the hills. Tortuous little routes deepen out of sight, concealed, remote. In the fog she only can see a couple of feet ahead. Everything feels unreal, but instead of being scared she’s exhilarated.
     The gig goes impeccably. No one bothers her while she does her thing in a corner, niched between an aquarium and a flower display. Smoothed in, part of the furniture, enclosed in her bubble.
     Later, someone comes to pay a compliment. Her performance was perfect. Discrete, neutral, unobtrusive, tinged with just that drop of nostalgia. The organizer is pleased. He smiles while he puts the check in her hand. “It’s my birthday,” she cannot help whispering, but he’s gone already. She cries suddenly, without a reason, her face buried in the scores she’s packing away.
     When she gets home, they are sleeping.

     8.
     They have chosen today for her first communion. Are they trying to spare themselves a celebration? Save on dessert?
     She has been waiting. A bit scared, bit perplexed. She has never worn a long, white, embroidered dress before—not even for Carnival. It’s a strange, eerie feeling. Not so sure about the bonnet, hemmed with curly ribbons, tightly framing her face. Whatever Mom wants.
     It’s a cold gloomy day. They have driven uphill to a small chapel. Proto-Christian, Dad says. Spare, severe. Naked. She kneels in the first pew. Family is bunched behind her. No one else.
     The priest talks in Latin. She knows what about, but she doesn’t quite understand. She feels dizzy—something is squeezing her throat, oppressing her chest—the smell of incense perhaps. Or the scent of the narcissi she’s holding. So pungent. So pure, porcelain white, almost fake. Sculpted. Petrified. Dead, almost.

     22.
     When they step out, downtown looks alive, brimming with entertainment. Vendor booths crowd the plazas and the riverbanks, stores are open and lit, tourists everywhere.
     “And your favorite flowers?” he asks. She’s unsure. Until she remembers: “Narcissi. Isn’t that smell incredible?”
      He laughs. “They will be hard to find, girl. We’ll try.”
     “They are in season.”
     “That’s true. With a little luck.”



🍃



Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in Peacock Journal, Sein und Werden, Avis, and Ink on Thirds, among other journals and anthologies. More about her can be found at totihan.net/writer.html

Carol Roan – Fiction

AFTER  GOD  LEFT

by

Carol Roan

Frank Wilson decided to cook some oatmeal for his supper. Why not? At his age, he could eat whatever he damn well pleased. Truth be told, his stomach wasn’t what it used to be, and it had been acting up ever since his encounter with that newcomer, Geoffrey . . . Geoffrey . . . No matter his surname, not worth trying to remember. He didn’t know why he let the man upset him. 

“Now, Franklin, you know as well as I do why you’ve taken a disliking to that man.” Edith had been in her grave for fifteen years, but she still hung out in the kitchen, ever ready to tell him where he’d gone wrong. 

He’d eat in his den, that’s what. He poured some cream on his oatmeal, never mind his damn cholesterol. The thought of his doctor, and the feeling that Edith was glaring behind him, inspired him to throw some chocolate chips on top before he headed for his leather easy chair.

He was halfway through his supper before he could admit that Edith was right. As was too often the case. The Geoffrey fellow reminded him of himself, or of the man he’d been in his day. Except that Frank had been for bringing Spring Valley up to date, modern, and the new man was for taking the town backwards. Either way, the two of them were do-gooders, thinking they knew what was best.

The difference was that Frank had finally learned his lesson. Spring Valley wasn’t about to be changed. It would plod along its own mulish path, ready to give you a kick with a hind leg if you thought otherwise.

He put his empty bowl and cooking pot in the sink, told the hovering Edith that he’d wash them in the morning, and went upstairs. Where he lay straight and flat on his side of the bed, and made order of his tomorrow. Frank watched himself as he would move around the gardens and paint the front steps and, if he was up to it, fix the drain spout. If he planned until he was weary, he could sleep without dreaming, without seeing beyond his house and yard. Sharp on the edge of his mind were thoughts of who he might have been and what he might have done if he had not married, if he had not come back to Spring Valley. His order began at that fear’s edge of naming the ifs.

He had begun planning his retirement from the insurance business in Philadelphia when he decided he would move back to his hometown. Edith had wanted to settle in Delaware, near their daughter. But she’d been after him for thirty years to make peace with his father, so the next time she brought up that subject he agreed with her.

 “You’re right,” Frank said. “He’s not going to be around that much longer, and I’ll regret it if we don’t patch things up now. A few years in Spring Valley, and then we’ll move wherever you want.”

He thought it best to give her a week or two before he told her that his grandfather’s house had come up for sale, and that they’d be moving east sooner than she expected. He’d checked out the commute. He could drive—I-95 was a straight shot—or he could catch the train that ran between New York and Philadelphia. All in all, it had seemed like a good decision at the time.  

He had intended to spend his weekends fishing and golfing. But after they were settled in  and his gardens were planted, he began to see what Spring Valley needed with eyes he had brought from the outside world. He had a vision then of how the town and its men could be. 

Frank had been mayor for two terms but had not yet accomplished all that he’d set out to do. He had been up for re-election, with his head full of plans for the next two years. And then those plans had all withered and blown away one Saturday morning at the barbershop.

When he stopped in that morning for a trim, most of the chairs along the wall had been occupied by men waiting for a shave or a gossip, holding newspapers up near their faces to keep the talk from turning womanly. Then a man over by the window had made a remark, not meaning anything ugly by it, just joshing about how the mayor‘s father was walking the streets saying the town didn’t need any more of an uppity mayor who’d gone to college.

Frank’s father still held a sore spot in his heart. When the barber turned him around to face the mirror and give his blessing to the trim, that heart sickness came up into Frank’s eyes and changed his vision. He didn’t see anyone in the mirror that he recognized. He paid his two dollars, walked out of the shop, and saw his father clomping along the sidewalk in his fishing boots. He was flicking his dentures in and out of his mouth and talking loud to the trees about his son. Clomp, “uppity”, clomp, “college,” clomp, “idiot,” with the false teeth rattling like a skeleton’s jaw.

Frank walked back to his own yard and never let his thoughts drift toward the town again. As soon as his car was in the garage at night, he changed into his overalls and knelt in his gardens. Sunday mornings he drove Edith to church and himself out of the valley to play golf.

After he retired, he took Wednesdays for his sabbaths and left the town to fish in a lake beyond the hills. He went alone. 

Unless the neighbor-boys’ ball landed in his tomatoes. Then he asked if they wanted to go fishing on Wednesday. Beyond the ridge, memories of the outside world came back to him and he became a storyteller, a teacher. He laughed and told the boys stories about the life he lived outside, about the golf tournaments he’d won and the country he’d seen on his travels. He talked to them about how they should help their mother more and gave them advice about school, all mixed up with how to set the hook when a fish bites. 

“I was a psychology major myself,” he told them. “Remember, boys, there’s no better preparation for business. Doesn’t matter what you do in this life, you’re going to have to deal with people.”

On some Wednesdays when he fished alone, with only his past self for company, he thought about the girl Edith had been. He lay on the lake shore and felt strong and lazy again, and thought of bringing her with him. He imagined dipping his fingers into the cool edges of the lake and drawing her youth on her face until it shone, and then carrying her off into the woods.

He had asked her once. He’d made up his mind before he reached the ridge that he would not look down into the valley, but just keep his eyes on the winding road and walk straight into the house and ask her.

But she had said that he must be getting old, or maybe sick, because he knew that Wednesday was her prayer group day and that the Lord’s work came first.

The lake-smile that had traveled all that way on his face turned quiet, and his eyes lost their distance. He went to the garage to change his clothes. He put away his tackle and floated the pickerel not needed for supper in coffins of water for the freezer. That had been the end of such dreams.

Frank knew God had left the town long ago, without leaving behind any work for the women to do. And He was’t coming back, that was the plain fact. No matter that he had learned not to believe in God, the town had believed in God and that meant God had been there. Even the men had believed. Because they had needed God more than the women had.

When God had been there, the hills had been His hills, men’s hills, set on the earth to contain God’s people and to protect them. The hills had touched God’s sky, a strong sky that had kept the men upright and tall, had kept them from being sucked into the rich, giving earth of the valley.

The hills had never been breached when God was there, for the men then were heroes who went over the hills to fight the enemy. They had had order, then, and a reason to die. Even if they lay in the churchyard circling the oldest oak tree, an obelisk nearby marked their earth-covered bodies, and another monument marked where a famous speech about freedom was given, and another the house of a signer of the Declaration.

But after God left, the monuments stood lonely, and there were only the closing, circling hills, and a random sky that parched, or flooded, or ravaged the streets with lightening. 

Frank never told his wife God was gone. There wasn’t a man in town who didn’t know the hills didn’t reach to God anymore. And not one of them so cowardly as to tell a wife the sky was empty, a loss they had each borne in silence after that night when they had all felt the cold rise up out of their guts and never come back to them warmed by a Protecting Father.

Young as he’d been that Halloween night—still in his teens—he’d tried to warn the men. He had seen them going toward the train station with their shotguns carried low and strong. He had gone out into the middle of the street and tried to tell them that it was just the radio. That it wasn’t real, but just a made-up story about the Martians landing over in Grover’s Mill.

But they had pushed him aside with their gun barrels. The invaders would never get through the hills, they said. “The British didn’t get through and, by God, the Martians aren’t going to get through. We’ll turn them back at the station.”

He had watched them coming home in the chill of near-dawn, had seen them dark under the pale sky, their guns lifeless and drooping. A laugh had started deep in his belly for their cold night on the tracks scaring away nothing but voices that had come through the air. But their necks had been so bent, so vulnerable, that his laughter had twisted down into fear, and he had looked up for heaven. The first time he had done that since he was a little kid. 

Back then Frank could look up and find God with a white beard and white robes sitting on a gold throne straight up above the Presbyterian church steeple, looking down at the valley and smiling. He remembered how he had creased his eyes nearly shut and stretched his mouth open until God had shone out of the sun, or the moon, and had sat there as clear as anything.

He’d grown out of such childish beliefs more than a year before, and had expected he’d soon grow out of the loneliness that followed. But then the silent men had walked past his window—a crowd of them, each man somehow made lonely by the night—and the sky above the steeple was empty.

Tears started in Frank’s eyes at the old, old memory. Tears he’d thought had dried up long ago. Out of habit, he reached across to Edith’s side of the bed. But his hand found only the smooth, cold sheet.

He got out of bed, fumbled for his slippers, and made his way downstairs, holding onto the handrail, as he’d had to do of late. He filled a bowl with chocolate ice cream, added some caramel sauce, then some peanuts, and sat down at the kitchen table. He didn’t smile, didn’t want to encourage Edith that much, but he did look toward her chair.


🍃

With graduate degrees in vocal performance from Indiana University and in business from Columbia University, Carol Roan has sung in the television premiere of a Ned Rorem opera and has testified about gold trading before the CFTC. Several of the stories from her collection have been published in literary journals; others, as yet unpublished have won awards, including a fellowship to Summer Seminars Russia, where she studied with Gina Ochsner. More information about Carol’s meandering career is available at www.carolroan.com.

Joe LaFata – Fiction

Everybody is from the Same Place

1.

Existing/growing on this lake is different than existing/growing on land. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Under sun and moon this body winks from coruscating coves and glittering inlets. Double suns replace alarm clocks: one high which nudges our shoulders at dawn; one low that sits on the body, shining its reflected light into our rooms under the seeps of doors. And the thickness of summer air: in its height the vegetation receives more, swells with humidity. The moisture emanating into the air from the body is so thick that when our families visit from out of town they walk around wearing snorkels. From inside, they sweat with each glance they poke outside through the windows, which remain clouded with condensation. And everything is green. Even the water is green in reflecting the puffs of green trees miles high, as big as clouds and as thick with water, too. Sweaty, slick branches uplift leaves that pant tears like hot, green tongues. Yet we have cycles, too. In a seasonal spiral towards vegetation’s abdication, the boughs give back more. Things turn colors. Fires scintillate on shorelines across the lake from wherever you are; their distant flashing accenting the shades of the season of everything falling into the water. Near-decomposed brown quilts of leaves crinkle under preteen feet racing to and from docks. Later, coupled teens pile quilts into abandoned boathouses for fun and fumbling, warming each other with skin against skin. It never freezes here: exposed limbs line the body and soon slip straight into sleeves of new leaves. The fresh and heavy heat comes quick, overnight. And now it has cycled into our last muggy months here in this place that I’m from and that, in some ways, everybody is also from. There is not enough of me to breathe it all in before leaving. Most everybody stays: getting hitched, thronging around the body in new homes, starting careers, saving up to buy their parents’ boats, generations upon generations of motor oil making faint trails through the body which just erases them anyway. And now, realization: there’s not enough time in this last summer cycle to be ready to leave, yet I’ve been breathing this my whole life, never once stopped breathing it or even left to breathe somewhere else. And leaving coming so quick that we’ve abandoned maintenance of the house. We have since allowed the fish to sleep on our roof. We have since let the vegetation swell wild, the grass appear mangy. And during sleep, shellfish and other lake-beings hover over my bed. Drip things into my open mouth.

 

2.

In the new place, sealant paint covers the walls white. They are not yet the color they will become. The first time I saw it I got embarrassed when we arrived in my father’s car and saw the others cutting wood with an electric saw, pouring concrete over his future porch. He takes me up to the house through the mud where the driveway will be. The halls echo with a voice like my own but older, one I can never inhabit, with plans for paints and future furniture: This is the master bedroom, this is the master bath. His voice goes on but all I can think of is this is the master bedroom, this is the master bath. He’s not pointing or gesticulating to the vaulted ceilings or high archways; he holds his hands behind his back like my grandmother taught him as a child when in stores, so as not to touch anything in that childishness he shed long before I knew him. Yet he’s making happy, quick steps, dodging piles of wood and stone, his wood and stone, soon to be placed into a permanence that will long outlive his retired time here, that will eventually become a place for others. And although he is from the same place as me, it’s not in the same way. We share experiences from the lake house, only gathered and kept them differently. Now, this skeletal frame filled with carpenters and the hammering of wood is housing for us a very different experience. And, for him, it is a good one. He shows it to me like it’s his new toy which requires our dislocation to be fully assembled. Later he asks how my own search for place is progressing because, frankly, time is running out. The yard isn’t much, he says, but that’s the point, you know. Less yard = less yardwork. No lake winds, no double sunsets blinding from the west. Less space—we don’t need it—functional rooms, open floorplan. It will be ready in October.

 

3.

The air’s thick moisture vibrates with the psalms of swans as they scull themselves across the body in this last summer cycle in this place which, in some ways, everybody is from. Someone living elsewhere could make that same argument, no matter how differently they see things. These twins down the lane sleep religiously tangled in each other in order to see each other’s dreams, wondering if one day they’ll be separated and how they’ll share each other’s memories like they do now. They wake in kayaks bumping against their neighbors’ docks, arms linked so as not to drift away from each other. Still come and visit us, they say as they pass by our dock in synchronous paddling. During their wet naps at noon in the grass, short and neat next to ours which we have long since allowed to climb past our knees, they dream in nervous conjectures what translocation from each other will feel like, guessing its texture. Anyway, it is sweating and, like a lantern, the body holds moonlight: the bulb above feeding the shimmering bulb below. The heads of snakes make trails in the body close to shore, where we are sitting and drinking. I breathe in, hard. We pull fish out of the body like flapping silver coins and take the hooks out of their mouths, send them swimming into September.


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Joe LaFata is earning his MA in Digital Publishing from the University of Illinois Springfield. Having earned a BA in Creative Writing from Illinois College, he has lived in the Midwest his entire life. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Forte, The Alchemist Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine.