The Patrician – Joseph S. Pete

A bronze statue of the haughty patrician still stands sentinel by city hall. The city elder
founded the company town that bears his name as a steel mill’s dormitory a century ago.

His steely vision, now immortalized in burnished bronze, built the world’s first billion-dollar
corporation. But his ken did not extend that far into the future, or encompass all the collateral damage.

Today, the city is a putrescent carcass of boarded-up chop suey joints, vacant homes,
abandoned haberdasheries, bygone lunch counters, and shuttered storefronts.

The main drag is an unending graveyard of dead dreams, plywood-patched tombstones.
Bulletproof plexiglass counters guard the few remaining liquor stores and check cashing places.

Fast-food restaurants are locked up tighter than a Fort Knox vault, many vacant lots look like a hockey
enforcer’s gap-toothed smile. The whole litter-strewn, graffiti-tagged city is disintegrating slowly.

Back when, the patrician never left the gilded parlors and grand ballrooms of New York City,
and really took no more than an offhand, avuncular interest in his namesake burgh.

He stands tall and eternal in gleaming metal as vacant apartment towers and barred-up businesses
decompose all around him. His legacy is the burnt-down house, the weed-choked lot,

the for-sale sign so faded as to be illegible. The patrician lords over these American ruins,
after the mill was mothballed, after the workers gave up, after the homeowners skipped town.

Still, hope sprouts in vacant lots: an art gallery here, a new donut shop drawing long lines there.
The corporate paterfamilias may have given up on this town, but the people haven’t.

 

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Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee who was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary work and photography have appeared or are forthcoming in Dogzplot, Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Offbeat, Oddball Magazine, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Chicago Literati, Bull Men’s Fiction, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, The Rat’s Ass Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, Vending Machine Press and elsewhere. He once wrote the greatest, most compelling author bio of all time, but it was snatched up by a blue heron that swooped down and carried it off to the sea, so he was forced to attach this rubbish instead.
C’est la vie.

 

Image: Andrew Martin

Lost Love Found – Alison Lloyd

I dreamed about you last night. It seemed a little out of the blue, then I felt terrible when I realised that I hadn’t thought about you for a few days. You used to consume me, body and soul. But then I wondered, do you think about me? The last few weeks have been so confusing. I wish I didn’t think of you at all.

Tiny, disjointed, fleeting micro thoughts – danced through my head only to vanish when I consciously pursued them. They could be triggered by anything. The day before it all went wrong, I saw a workman in a service station eating one of those awful boxed salads. The ones that look as though they died in that one portion plastic coffin. I imagine that you would hate them. He looked nothing at all like you, no penetrating gaze or perfect smile. He was as short as you are tall, but for a split second my heart almost skipped out of my mouth. I could hear your complaints from the day we met, replaying in my mind about healthy eating being forced upon you, all for some fancy wedding. I can understand you wanting to look your best, but you already had an unfair advantage over other men. You laughed, patted your imaginary spare tyre and told me how you preferred a thick rare steak that you could get your teeth into, salad was for rabbits. Your eyes shone like lapis lazuli as you leant forward and winked at me, your fingers touching mine, pausing as you returned my pen and the paperwork you had signed.

Whoever said that you should tone up and join the gym, I thank them. I knew you were different to the others when I first saw you in my office, and watching the way you dedicated yourself to your exercise routine was fascinating. Most people joined a gym, attended three sessions and then vanished. Not you. Your enthusiasm was enthralling, every evening I locked my office door and watched the CCTV. I saw you sweat your way through all the machines and then start on the weights. Seeing the exertion on your face, sweat on your brow made my thoughts drift to you and me between the sheets. I just knew you would be a considerate lover and in my mind’s eye your hands were eagerly exploring the topography of my naked body. I would linger in reception while you were showering and then we would chat briefly as you left. “Good workout?” I would ask.

“Great, but I am sure I will ache all over in the morning. See you tomorrow”.

See you tomorrow. Yes, you would.

*

The first time I saw your home, I was shocked and had to double check the address. I was expecting a city centre apartment to match the suave suits I saw you in every evening. It was a three-bed semi on an identikit newbuild estate. That was better though, I came to realise quickly. Much more practical. It would be perfect for our kids. I could see them playing on the front lawn. A girl with your dark hair and blue eyes and a baby boy toddling around, his face framed with a halo of gold curls like mine. Then I was torn in two. Seeing another woman walk out of the front door and get into a car. I remember how my hands were frozen to my steering wheel, I wanted to plough her down. You were nowhere to be seen. I watched her drive away and got out of my car. I walked off my anger and felt my legs burning like over used pistons and the freezing cold catching my breath in my throat. I was gasping, my fists clenching and flexing as I struggled to keep calm. That bitch could never mourn your loss like I do.

I signed up a new client last week: he was older than you and had steel coloured, close cropped hair. No real similarity. He certainly did not have the presence you do. But he wore an aftershave like yours and for a moment, it was like a mask. His voice seemed to take on the same cadence, but his sentences ended abruptly by him laughing at his own jokes like he was a goddamn comedian. I smiled tightly at him but really, I wanted to smash him over the head with my keyboard. If only he knew that the entire time I sat there nodding at his banal chit chat I was thinking about you. The way you had held your coffee cup, the pad of your thumb wiping away the little bead that threatened to roll down the cup like a dirty tear. After you left my office that day, I held that cup to my lips, exactly where yours had been. The kiss we would never have, and we didn’t even know it.

*

After I saw that woman leaving your house, I drove back to work. Lost, cast aside. I couldn’t help myself. I had tried to stop myself from searching for you on social media after my friend request was repeatedly ignored. But I couldn’t. I frantically searched the drawers in my desk, pushing away papers. My fingers skipped over un-popped strips of pills. There, right at the back, where I had left it. I grabbed at my phone, opening apps as quickly as I could and then desperately searching for your profile. It was gone. Deleted. I wished I still had the photos of you, I had saved them on my work computer and then bloody IT company had wiped them when installing updates for the new software. A sense of emptiness came over me. A fragile shell of a person that seemed destined for nothing but an eternity of misery and loneliness. If somebody had touched me right then, I would have shattered into a billion splinters. I needed to feel better. I needed you.

I had one last thing of yours. I reached into the tiny zipped section of my bag. Carefully, I took the crumpled plastic bag out. The tester strip from Debenhams was still there, sat at the bottom. I could see clear water marks where the over zealous counter girl had squirted your signature scent onto a card sampler. It had taken me and her around fifteen minutes to narrow it down to find the right one, after all it wasn’t like I could ask you. I had skipped from the shop, hid the strip in the sealed bag to preserve it. To keep your essence. I held the bag on my lap and ran a torn finger nail across the Ziploc. My once tidy manicure had been chewed to shreds. My chest was enclosed in a vice, my head pounded, and tears pushed from my eyes. I have been doing so well trying to keep you out of my head. I almost succeeded. I love you and hate you.

I opened the bag, to my dismay, the smell was barely discernible from the chemical taint of the plastic. This would not do. The aftershave sample was a poor substitute anyway, after all it lacked the warmth of your skin and the musk of your body to give it a truly authentic smell. In a split second I made up my mind. I knew what I needed to do. I might have promised myself I would be strong, but I am not. A quick check on the computer gave me the information I needed. In just a few hours I would be fine, you would be here, and I would feel so much better.

*

6.15pm. It was time. You were a man of routine, came to work out every evening on your way home from work. I walked from my office. Amelia was standing behind reception picking at her split ends. This wasn’t in the plan. “Go clean up that spillage outside of reception on the walkway” I barked at her.

“Uhm, Ok. Can I get you anything when I come back in? a coffee maybe? You look like you could do with it” she faltered.

I did not have time for her trivial questions. My blood was pounding through my body in anticipation and my mouth dry with nerves. As she walked out, I checked the monitors, then my heels drilled out a staccato as I made my way across the tiled foyer into the changing rooms. The lockers in that gym were opened by a tag that you wore like a watch, programmed with your own code. I held the universal staff tag to the locker that I knew you used. Thirty-three, just like your door number. The door popped open. There. That heady mix of soap, toothpaste and aftershave was punctuated by the natural musk of your body. Weak kneed, I struggled to decide what to take. Stroking my fingertips over the soft knit wool, I slipped the scarf you wore over your coat -into my bag, sure you would not miss it. I closed the door and hastily retreated to my office with my prize. I did not see Amelia looking oddly at me and whispering to the cleaner. Nor did I see my manager standing on the mezzanine with a grim line etched into his mouth as he pulled a phone out of his pocket and punched out numbers. He had never liked me. Later I did not even see the two police standing outside my office door. I was far too lost in your smell, the memories of our brief meetings in my office, our shared stolen moments as we passed in the corridor. I imagined it was you entwined and wrapped around my body instead of your cashmere scarf.

*

I tried to explain to the detectives, I told them that you felt the same way about me and you would not mind. They refused to believe anything I said. They claim you saw my picture and did not even recognise me. “She works at this gym? Oh, yeah. She signed me up a month ago. Seemed nice enough, but now you mention it she has been watching me quite a bit when I visit. I think she must live near me too, I’ve seen her on my estate”. I hate you. But I loved you. Why would you do this? How could you lie about our deep connection, our bond? They went through my desk and belongings and asked me endless questions about my tablets. Why were they unopened? Why did I have so many?

*

Apparently, a mistake on my record claims I have had a caution for stalking a few years ago. We both know I am not that sort of person. Now if I breach my bail by approaching you then I will go to prison. It’s a misunderstanding that I am sure will be cleaned up in time. The PC that waited with me for the duty psychiatrist seemed to feel some sort of understanding. He even said that fledgling relationships can often be complicated, and I should find something new to hold my attention, a hobby or maybe even a puppy. His dog kept him sane, he said. He patted my hand, his big bear paw reassuring and warm against mine. I noticed the lack of wedding ring on his third finger and then saw the early morning sun was peeking through the blinds, highlighting him with golden beams. He made me a cup of tea, stirred it three times like I asked and even brought me a little plastic packet of digestives. As he passed me, I noticed his scent. Homely, like fresh air, fabric conditioner and walks in the park. Closing my eyes and filling my lungs with air, I could almost imagine him walking his dog. A big scruffy Dulux dog. Or possibly a greyhound. Maybe I could even be at his side with a puppy running around our feet as his arm links mine.

 

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Image: Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

 

I Can’t Explain Anything Anymore – Mary Lynn Reed

At the counter is a guy in fatigues who says he’s a writer. I know, you’re never supposed to write about writers, but that’s what he told me and I don’t believe him anyway. He eats a slice of pecan pie and never opens his notebook. His pen spins between the salt and pepper.

The androgyne in the back-booth sips her coffee. She’s an every-other-nighter. Never says much of anything. She’s got tattoos on her knuckles and doesn’t order food. Just coffee. Black. No cream and no sugar.

My nephew, Armand, is sixteen and has bright purple hair. He told me pronouns are a choice you can make for yourself now. He told me about Ze and Hir and I tried to make sense of it.

Ze shouldn’t say ze’s a writer if ze’s not.

I want to ask hir what brings hir here every other night, but I’m shy, for a waiter, and I’m afraid she/ze? doesn’t want to be bothered.

Most people who come in for coffee or pie at two in the morning don’t want to be bothered. There’s something, or someone, they’re hiding from, in the middle of the night, with notebooks and pens and tattoos on their knuckles.

I watch the guy in fatigues look back toward the booth. I expect him to turn around and ignore hir the way everyone else does. But ze doesn’t. Ze stands up, tucks his fatigue shirt tight into his fatigue pants and walks back to hir booth.

There’s a baseball bat in the kitchen. The owner has kept it handy all this time, after he was robbed in 1992.

She/Ze? tilts up hir bright blue eyes at the faux soldier. I expect hir to tell him to leave hir alone, get the hell away. But she doesn’t.

I’m standing there tight as a drum, waiting for something awful to transpire. Not just expecting but knowing something awful is about to unfold.

But I stand and watch—and there is this guy in fatigues who told me he was a writer and then didn’t scribble a word in that damn notebook for a whole hour, there he is taking a seat in the booth across from the androgyne with the beautiful eyes whose pronouns I don’t know, and before I can get my hands around that Louisville slugger to protect hir from this Army/Navy stiff, the two of them are talking like they’re at a freakin’ high school dance, and one of them might be about to say, “Hey, you wanna—?” and the other will say, “Sure, why not—” But I don’t know which one is gonna say what, and I don’t know where they’re gonna go or who will lead and who will follow.

All I know is that I’m standing there alone at the counter, looking down at a piece of fried egg hanging off a fork on a paper napkin, thinking that it looks sort of sad and lonely, and also, like everything beautiful in the world, at the exact same time.

 

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Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, Litro Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, and Wigleaf, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland, and she is co-Editor of MoonPark Review.

 

Image: Sharon Ang

He Sensed Future Folly – Jenean McBrearty

Can you taste color? Swallow music? Hear Professor Albrecht thinking as he stands at the lectern in his office? It’s in the middle of the room. The sun must not stare at the rare parchment in front of him else the ink fade more. He whispers as he reads the words of Anon:

Ironic, is it not, that those who speak of hope and change, loudly decry the despoilment of nature? Nature is a stranger to hope. Life is a cycle of birth and death, and if there is hope for continuation, she keeps the evidence well hidden. Change takes millennia to plan; the volcano erupts but then settles down to the stable minutiae of growing grass. So why the clarion of revolution that prevents the prayed-for peace? Cruel, cruel wilderness, Birth Mother of ambition and his own beloved freedom.

Did Anon mean those words? Perhaps there was a reason why the long-buried texts were forbidden to public publishing. The reason must be freedom—his own freedom—individuality—new dictionaries called that inequality. Hence indignity.

“Well, Albrecht, you’ve been translating the Washington Chronicles for six months. Do they make sense?”

Lambert had entered his humidity controlled sanctuary without the required warning. Again. He must make the door-sign bigger.

Albrecht covered the tatter-edged paper with a supple suede cloth. “Maybe if I wasn’t continually unexpectedly interrupted, I could make more headway.”

“Oh, I am sorry.” Lambert opened the door, rang the bell cord, closed the door again, and strode to the lectern. “Can you believe paper was once plentiful as sand?”

It was almost as if he enjoyed taunting the Curator of the Congressional Library. “Yes, and words once had meaning that most everyone understood. What do you want?”

“A report. One with a few quotes explained with suitable details useful for the next election.”

“You mean fodder for the grist mill of propaganda.” Albrecht motioned Lambert to sit down, knowing he wouldn’t. Everyone hurried through his job. He closed his ancient Oxford Dictionary to protect it as well. Lambert was looking at him with his usual mechanical grin.

“You talk funny, Al.”

“Propaganda is political information delivered with the intent to affect the emotions of the listeners. A grist mill is…never mind. Listen to the words of Anon:

How I love my well-constructed pen because my fingers do not tap well. I do not own keys or buttons that let me compose my thoughts. Thoughts should linger like summer perfume, not dart about like lightening. Thoughts are prayers. Waking dreams. Eagles have wings. My cat purrs. I have my pen. Each of us content in a Master Plan. Hope is an illusion, but happiness within our grasp to understand—to be free is to be lonely.

“Sounds like BS to me,” Lambert said.

“Do you see what Anon has done? He has led us down a path of philosophy in that one sentence. Each of us content in a Master Plan. Does he mean content as in happy? Or content as in the stuff contained. Joy or the list of chapters in a book?”

“Why do you waste time thinking of what a dead man might have meant?”

“Why do you assume it’s what a man meant and not what a woman wrote?”

He watched Lambert remove his glasses and massage his eyes. Albrecht no longer despised him or the politicos. They feared freedom more than strife and injustice because they couldn’t bear to be alone. But neither could they relish the thoughts of others. Couldn’t taste them. Couldn’t swallow them. Couldn’t hear them. But Albrecht could.

“Does the text make any sense at all? ” Lambert demanded. “What do I put in my report?” His glasses once again rested on the bridge of his nose, even if he couldn’t see. To Albrecht, his question sounded like a tear.

What did I mean, he asked himself silently, thinking of that question a man a hundred years hence would ask? T-e-a-r. Tear as in sob, or tear as in rip?

He bowed his head. Wait. Or weight? “Just tell them that, so far, the text is just poetry that doesn’t rhyme and has no reason.”

 

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Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over a hundred and ninety print and on-line journals. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. Her novels and collections can be found on Amazon and Lulu.com.

 

Image: nile via pixabay

Auguries – Sara Chansarkar

Night:
Transmission trembles
Little brother’s voice crackles
Over Oceans
His wife
Hemoglobin’s heaving
Each hour is critical

On my dresser
Two succulents
The hardiest of plants
Nestled in a vase

Left one looks limp
I make it lean
Against the upright right
Place them
Under my bedside lamp
In the light of which
I read and read and read
Gets tiring
But the bookmark doesn’t budge

Morning:
She’s still slumping
I break a bamboo skewer
Plant it in the vase
Tie it to the tremulous one
With a black thread

Evening:
Away from the skewer
Broken at a right angle
She lays listless

I gently pluck it out
Wipe off the soil
From its roots
Lay it on a paper towel
Sluiced
Not by water from the faucet

 

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Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. Her work has appeared in print and online. She is also Pushcart nominee for 2017.

 

Image: Michael Gaida

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