Charles Rammelkamp – Fiction

Lee Harvey Oswald

 Castleman knew at once that the pounding on the front door was Shelley Pickett. It was loud and uncontrolled, erratic. It was crazy.

“Is that Shelley?” he called from the kitchen where he was chopping onions for a lentil soup.

Jodie, in the dining room, went to the front door.

“Go away, Shelley!” she shouted, as if to a dog that was rooting around in the garbage or tearing up a shoe. “Go away now! I will call the police if you do not leave now!

Jodie came back into the kitchen. Castleman had peeled several cloves of garlic from a bulb and had begun mincing them. It wasn’t fear that kept him from going to the front door so much as denial. It had only been a week before that Shelley had come to their house while he and Jodie were sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper. She’d stumbled on the steps and torn a hole in her jeans. They’d given her some warm water and a towel to clean the wound, and Jodie had put a bandaid on the scraped knee before Shelley left, muttering about killing herself. Now she was back. Apparently she thought it was okay to come to their house.

“She’s gone?”

“She saw me calling 911 on my cellphone. I canceled the call when she started to leave.” But Jodie went back to the living room to check.

“Roger! She’s still here!”

“Oh, fuck,” Castleman muttered, more discouraged than anything else. Why was she doing this? Why was she acting this way?

Just then Jodie’s cellphone rang. “Yes, I did,” she said. “Thank you for calling back. There’s a woman who’s been stalking my husband for several months, and she’s out on our front porch right now and she won’t go away.”

Castleman swept the minced garlic and chopped onions into a pan and turned his attention to the carrots and red pepper.

“She’s wearing a jean jacket, pants with holes torn in the knees and –” Jodie went back into the living room. “And a red flannel shirt and sneakers. Probably between fifty and sixty.” Jodie gave their address to the dispatcher, who assured her a patrol car would be on its way.

Castleman finished cutting the carrots and peppers, added them to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautéed them in oil for a few minutes before adding a can of diced tomatoes and the lentils, a container of vegetable stock, salt and pepper. He wiped his hands and joined Jodie in the living room. She was looking out through the window, from a distance where Shelley could not look in and see her.

“I wish they’d hurry up and get here,” she fretted.

Castleman looked beyond her at Shelley out on the sidewalk. She was consulting her own cellphone. Then the landline began to ring.

“God damn her,” he sighed. “Why is she doing this?”

“OK, they’re here,” Jodie announced a minute later. Two officers, one a bald white man, the other a squat African-American, had arrived in separate cars, no doubt responding individually to the call.

Through the window Roger and Jodie watched the officers talking to Shelley. They saw her handing over a photo ID and the officers writing on their notepads. The white guy walked away, talking into his radio, reporting facts, gathering information.

“Should we go out there?” Jodie asked Roger.

“I don’t know. Maybe not. But maybe we should. I don’t know. What do you think?”

“Maybe we better go out there.” Jodie opened the door and they stepped out onto the porch.

“Roger!” Shelley called. “Oh thank God you’re here! I just want you to know how grateful I am to you for reading my poetry! You’ve really made me such a better writer!”

“But Shelley, I’m not reading your poetry! I’ve told you that again and again!” Castleman kept his voice neutral, if emphatic, meanwhile rolling his eyes at the officers, shrugging his shoulders, as if to say, See what I’m dealing with? You simply cannot reason with this person.

“But you have to!” Shelley shrieked. “I can’t do this by myself! Ineed you! Please, please, please, please,please help me!”

Castleman shrugged again and shook his head at the policemen. What more could he say?

“I just wanted to tell you Doctor Sheridan has adjusted my medications,” Shelley went on in that imploring voice. “I promise not to pester you. I swear I won’t. I just wanted you to know. Thank you so much for reading my poems, Roger, I am so grateful, I –”

“Shelley, Roger is not reading your poems. He is not working with you on your manuscript. Just go away. Now.” Jodie’s was the voice of sensibility. Any rational person would have heeded her.

Castleman went back inside to attend to the lentil soup, simmering on the stove. This did not seem cowardly so much as simply expedient. He and Shelley could come to no resolution. He stirred the soup, tasted it, added a bit more pepper.

A few minutes later Jodie called to him. “Roger! Could you come out here?”

“She’s gone?” Castleman did not see Shelley on the sidewalk. He glanced at the patrol cars to see if she were in the backseat.

“She finally walked away, toward the park.”

“OK, I’ve got another call to respond to,” the bald white cop said to his partner, without looking at the Castlemans. He got into his car and drove away.

The officer who’d stayed behind, Sergeant Lipscomb, looked to be in his thirties. He had a sympathetic face. Jodie told him she was glad they’d been gentle with Shelley.

“It’s not her fault,” she said. “She’s just – crazy.”

“You still have to protect your property,” Lipscomb said, but he acknowledged the implied compliment.

Castleman told him the story of his acquaintance with Shelley, how she’d been in a creative writing class he’d taught at a local community college “back in the last century.”  Almost twenty years ago. “She lives in the neighborhood, just a few blocks away. She’s on SSI. From time to time she’s hospitalized.” He shrugged. “I don’t think she’s violent, but….”

“She doesn’t have a record for violent behavior,” Sergeant Lipscomb assured.

“She doesn’t?” Roger and Jodie looked at each other with relief. He wondered if the officer thought this was a sexual affair gone wrong. He imagined there were a lot more cases like that than somebody wanting her poetry read.

“But she’s crossed a line here,” Lipscomb repeated, “and you have to protect your home.” He handed a notecard to Castleman with numbers and dates and addresses on it. “If she continues to bother you, go to the Court Commissioner’s office downtown and file a restraining order. Bring this information with you. I wrote the address on the card.”

After the policeman left, Roger and Jodie went back onto the porch.

“Well, no history of violence, at least,” Castleman shrugged, and Jodie agreed it was a good sign.

Still, Castleman thought, lingering outside while Jodie went back into the house, there’s always the first time, isn’t there? He tried to remember if the kid who killed John Lennon on the sidewalk in front of his home – the Dakota – had had a history of violence but couldn’t remember. Like Shelley, hehad attempted suicide and went to shrinks for depression. He’d approached Lennon for an autograph and then shot him in the back five times. Not that Castleman was John Lennon, though in Shelley’s eyes he seemed to be some sort of rock star, the man who could make sense out of her poetry, or whatever it was she had in mind – if she had any clear idea in her mind at all. Chapman had blamed it all on literature himself – The Catcher in the Rye.

Castleman looked again at the card Sergeant Lipscomb had given him. The address of the court commissioner where he’d file a complaint, Shelley’s ID – she did not have a driver’s license but this was a government-issued ID number. Castleman recalled that she had driven a car back when she was a student. He supposed she was deemed no longer capable of driving since then. There was also a date, 11-22-63 – Shelley’s date of birth. The same day JFK had been assassinated.

Castleman went back inside to look at the soup. He picked up the telephone on his way and dialed for the messages. She’d left three, all while she’d been standing on the sidewalk. “Hello, Roger? You’ve got to help me! Please! I’m not –” Castleman pressed the delete button. “Roger, I am not leaving until you –” Again he pressed the delete key. The third began, “I could kill you.” This time he pressed save.

“Any messages besides hers?” Jodie called from the kitchen. “Was she ranting again?”

“I didn’t really listen to any of them,” Castleman told his wife.

 

🍃

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House), which deals with the populist politician, William Jennings Bryan and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, by Main Street Rag Press. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

 

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Salvatore Difalco – Fiction

KRAFT

 

I tried to channel Samuel Beckett during an episode on my computer. I call times when I sit there episodes. Like schizophrenic breakdowns, or epileptic seizures. More and more I’ve come to see them as the psychic and hormonal anomalies that they are. For it makes no sense to sit here and pretend to create reality. The only reality: markings on paper. Burn them and that information would cease to exist. And they say information can’t be lost or destroyed. On the other hand, a perfect record of this exists in the hard-drive. Destroy the hard-drive and it would cease to exist.

“Dinner’s ready, man.”

“It is?”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

“Who says I’m having fun?”

“It’s an obsession, then.”

My annoying friend, whom I will not name, as this has gotten me pilloried in the past, is correct, to some degree. But to call my thing an obsession seems imprecise. I compare it, more accurately, to eating, or defecating, functions that hardly require obsessions to promote and validate them. I have no choice, plain and simple.

“You’ve painted yourself into an existential corner.”

“You can say that, yes. I’ve nowhere to turn.”

“And yet, it will never sustain you.”

Sustenance, an issue at the end of the day. Anyone can record their silly thoughts and call them art. That doesn’t necessarily make it art. But it also doesn’t negate that possibility. Who’s to say?

“I made lasagna.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Yeah, I am. Made macaroni and cheese.”

“From a box?”

“Of course from a box.”

I can’t go on. I must go on . . .

 

 

🍃

VOYAGEUR 

 

In some respects, the guided tour left much to be desired. I liked discovering things on my own, at my own pace. I had spent a month in Rome when I was a young man, by myself, with the guidance and counsel of no one. And though my Italian was poor, I managed just fine. The man beside me smells like borotalco, not a bad thing on its own, but blended with sweat and fecal matter, upchucking becomes a distinct possibility.

“Stop the bus! Stop the bus!”

“Guy’s green, man.”

“He’s gonna be sick.”

“Get him outa here!”

A thousand hands shove me forward through the tunnel of the bus, into the harsh light of southern France. A Van Gogh field to my right blinds me with its uncanny blaze. A flock of black birds circle in the sky. I smell grape-pressings and sheep’s cheese.

“Another delay.”

“What can we do?”

“I have a suggestion.”

“Shut the fuck up, you old fart.”

The voices grow distant. The painting grows smaller and smaller, the black birds descend.

“There he goes.”

“Down for the count.”

“Someone get water.”

“You stepped on my foot, ass-wipe.”

And then I feel a great peacefulness arrest me. I am breathing evenly, calmly. The earth is warm under my cheek. I hear the bleating of sheep in the distance. I will come, I will come to you, my pretties …

 

🍃

 

Salvatore Difalco 

Carl Perrin – Fiction

The Diamond Bracelet

 

 

            Brenda poured herself a cup of coffee and asked, “How did you get that cheap son of a bitch to buy you a diamond bracelet for your anniversary?” She poured a generous dollop of cream and three spoonfuls of sugar into her coffee and stirred until her sister thought she would scrape the glaze off the inside of the coffee cup.

            Miriam smirked and said, “I made him feel guilty.”

            “He’s not having an affair, is he?”

“God, no. He’s too lazy to have an affair, but he has plenty to feel guilty about.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for one thing, he promised me to give up smoking three years ago.”

“He didn’t give it up?

“He gave up smoking at home, but I can smell the smoke on him when he comes in. He knows I can’t abide alcohol, but every once in a while he comes home smelling like a brewery.”

“So how did you use that to make him feel guilty enough to buy you a diamond bracelet?

Miriam poured herself another cup of coffee. “You know those new gizmoes they have to control things in your house?”

“Like turn the light on and play music and stuff?” Brenda ran her fingers through her hair, which was blonde this month.

“I bought one last month. I knew he would object to me spending the money, so I hid it under the bed.”

“Yes?”

“I learned that you could talk to it and have it say stuff back to you.”

            “So?”

            “He is such a creature of habit. He takes a nap every afternoon at 3:00.”

            “So what did you do?” Her voice was impatient to hear how her sister used the gadget.

            “I fixed the gizmo–it’s called an Echo–to come on at 3:15 every afternoon and say, lowering her voice to a creepy waver, ‘I am the voice of your conscience.’

            “He never mentioned hearing it, but I knew he did. I could tell that it shook him up,” Miriam laughed. “After about a week I told him I wanted a bracelet for our anniversary. Then I stopped ‘The Voice of his Conscience.’ A few days after that he came home with my anniversary present,” waving her wrist in front of Brenda again.

 🍃

            Two weeks later Miriam was at Brenda’s As Brenda poured the coffee, Miriam asked, “Where did you hide the macaroons?”

            “In the bottom cabinet, behind the big stew pot.” The sisters loved macaroons, as did Brenda’s husband, Harold, but Harold was supposed to watch his sugar intake, and if he found the macaroons, he would eat the whole package.

            “So, did you decide where you’re going on vacation next month?” Brenda asked,  taking a delicate nibble out of her macaroon.

            “We decided to go to North Carolina.”

            “North Carolina? Whatever are you going to do there?

            Miriam hesitated. “We’re going to watch the NASCAR races.”

            “NASCAR! NASCAR? I thought you hated NASCAR stuff.”

            “I do, but the reservations are all made. The money is spent. We can’t go anyplace else at this point.”

            “You let him turn the tables on you, didn’t you? You let him make you feel guilty because he spent so much money on that bracelet.”

            Miriam looked down. “Yes, I’m afraid I did.”

            “I still don’t understand it,” Brenda said. How could he afford it? That bracelet must have cost thousands of dollars.”

            Miriam shook her head. “That’s what I thought when I agreed to go to North Carolina with him. But yesterday the credit card bill came. The bracelet isn’t diamonds at all. It’s only rhinestone, and it cost $19.99.”

 

🍃

 

 CARL PERRIN started writing when he was in high school. His short stories have appeared in The Mountain Laurel, Northern New England Review, Kennebec, Short-Story.Me, and CommuterLit among others. His book-length fiction includes Elmhurst Community Theatre, a novel, and RFD 1, Grangely, a collection of humorous short stories.  He is the author of several textbooks, including Successful Resumes,and Get Your Point Across, a business writing textThe memoir of his teaching career Touching Eternity, was a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award. 

Nan Wigington – Fiction

Second Chance

 

The ramshackle VW bus, its Westfalia pop top rattling and threatening to break loose, wallowed up my driveway like some battered freighter seeking harbor. It came to a stop and made a short, sharp knock, its engine unwilling. There was a lurch toward my garage door, the sound of a brake being engaged, then nothing. The windows of the bus were veiled in macrame. I thought I saw one of the veils move, hazel eyes peer out. I stood at the screen door wondering whether I should back away, close my front door, pretend I wasn’t home. Should I step out on to the porch?

 

The driver’s side door opened with a bang as if kicked. I wondered what my neighbors saw. My long lost brother, his bare foot breaching, followed by a left leg, clad only in cut off jeans. I imagined a ten-year beard tumbling down his chest, his dirty blond hair in matted ropes. The last time I’d seen him he’d only had a scruff of a beard and wore a muscle shirt and sandals along with his cut offs. Our mother was dying. I had scolded him for coming to the hospital looking like a tramp. When he stood up to go, I had stood in his way, thinking I could heal the rift between us, cover the thorns.

 

“Be responsible, for once,” I had said.

 

“I never liked the old bitch, anyway,” he had said, “Get out of the way.”

 

I wouldn’t move, so he punched me in the eye. The frames of my glasses had cut into my cheek. When I heard him leave, I thought I was crying, but I was bleeding. Our mother died without him, and, without him, I took care of the mess of her estate.

 

Now he came around the front of his van, clean shaven, in work boots, jeans, a blue denim shirt. He looked toward my screen door, then to the van. He slid the rusty skinned passenger door back to reveal a boy and a girl, the boy thin and sandy-haired, the girl fat and dark like me. The girl had some sort of bear. She squeezed it tight to her chest. It made a brief, plaintive mewl. I opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch.

 

The trio formed at the sidewalk and approached across my grass. They stopped briefly and looked up.

 

My brother scanned my face for scars. He spoke –

 

“You gonna let us in, Ada?”

 

I looked at the girl. I looked at the boy. I nodded.

 

 

🍃

 

Nan Wigington’s recent work has been published in Pithead Chapel and Spelk.  

Niles Reddick – Fiction

​Closer Walk

for Beverly

 

It was unusual for a Baptist minister and his wife to get a divorce, but the divorce was after the deacons had asked him to resign and after his having preached well for fifteen years, saving souls and increasing membership in the church and adding a two-story brick addition to the small church and sanctuary. When the minister didn’t resign, almost half the church left and began meeting at the Masonic lodge, bringing in a retired preacher on an interim basis until they could decide their course.  Rumor was the preacher’s wife Jessie was worried about their family and wanted to move north closer to other family and get away from the gnats, snakes, and rednecks of the deep South. 

Jessie’s sense of despair increased when the break-away group returned after they’d garnered enough support for a majority vote to boot the minister and his family from the church and the nice brick pastorium, which had recently been purchased against some of the deacons’ support. It was a humiliating and degrading experience, a hard pill for a minister’s family to swallow, especially after friendships had flourished, care and concern had been shown to parishioners, and the growth of positive momentum of the church in the community. Jessie was stoic in the business meeting, save a tear or two welling in her eyes and zig-zagging down her cheek.

Stubborn and unwilling to listen to his wife, the preacher let Jessie go and live in a trailer in another rural community not far away, where she took a job as an elementary school teacher. Rumor was they would work it out, get back together, and move away, but dreams of the night fade with the sunrise and Jessie began counseling to help her make way through the life fog she felt engulfed her.

At the end of their first session, Hugh embraced her and she began to whimper. He whispered positive messages to her about how strong she was, how she would get through it, how she had her whole life ahead. Sessions left her feeling exhilarated and the embraces became more than comforting. The first kiss happened unexpectedly, and she felt it was innocent enough and didn’t think much of his wife or family. By the time he dropped a sack of peaches by Jessie’s trailer and they became entangled in passion all the way down the hallway into her bedroom, she had come to believe he was sensitive and caring about her, had fallen in love with her. She had fantasies about their home together, two middle-aged souls finding a renewed salvation in each other, but the meetings became more fraught with promises until he began to ask for some time and she made threats to go to his wife, to go to the counseling board.

By phone, Hugh and Jessie planned to get together and talk. She was reluctant, but he reassured he’d made some decisions. She told him she’d meet him after she finished some work on her classroom, a Thanksgiving decorating session with card board cut-outs: horn of plenty, pilgrims and natives, and turkey stapled on the bulletin board framed with orange accordion border.

She was putting the finishing touches on the bulletin board when Hugh creeped into her room. Startled, Jessie turned on her heels. “You about scared me to death. I thought we agreed to meet at the café to talk.”

“Change of plans.”  Hugh pulled the revolver and pointed. “I can’t let you destroy my life.”

“Hugh, I’m not trying to destroy your life. Put that gun away.”

He moved toward her and she backed into the corner, where students had stood remorseful of their behavior, and he fired a bullet into her side, and she fell to the floor. Blood began to soak that side of her seasonal plaid dress and he pulled her to the side door, through the Bahia grass to her car, where he pulled her body into the seat, sat her up, put the pistol in her hand, pushed her hand toward her head and pulled the trigger again, allowing blood and brain splatter to cover the driver’s side window. 

He wiped where he knew he’d touched with an alcohol wipe, walked back in the same path, turning his feet sideways and raking the grass back in an upright position, cleaned a puddle of blood on the linoleum floor. Her purse he left on the desk. The pistol had been his, but he’d paid cash for it at a gun show in Atlanta several years ago before registration was required.  In the days that followed, after being discovered dead by a custodian, local law enforcement ruled Jessie’s case a suicide and her family struggled and moved away to begin a new life. 

As Jessie was in her final moments, she noticed a glow coming through the school window across the desks, and she reached for a gentle hand that comforted and walked her peacefully toward that light in the window. She was appreciative of the warmth and closeness with which they walked.

 

🍃

 

Niles Reddick is author of a novelDrifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in many literary magazines including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta StudiesSouthern ReaderLike the Dew,The Dead Mule School of Southern LiteratureThe Pomanok ReviewCorner Club PressSlice of LifeFaircloth Review, among others. His website iswww.nilesreddick.com