Take The Shot – Kelly Griffiths

A rough hand rattles my shoulder. “Get up, Danny. The sun won’t wait.” 

I slump into the cold glass of the passenger window. Dad’s burnt coffee and cigarette smoke vie for dominance in the pickup. A wisp of outside air slips through and I lap at it. 

Our endless footfalls pulverize the frosted grass. Dad finally finds the perfect spot and we crouch in the biting wood, coiled for sound or movement. I allow my eyes to close and a second later feel the rousing shake. 

“Look. A ten-pointer.” (Like it’s Christmas.) “You take the shot, Danny.” 

My vision blurs. I travel back in time.

Bounding across our toy-studded backyard with his pink tongue flapping is my Scotch. He jumps and paints my neck with warm slobber. I dig my hands into his thick fur and hug him back. 

He isn’t real. Scotch is three-years’ dead. But still, I hold the vision like the wrestler I am. Like the wrestler Dad was.

Scotch, best dog ever. Pillow. Blanket. Monster-slayer… Sick. I begged for a pet doctor.

Dad snorted. “A vet? They’ll charge us out the wazoo for nothin—tests and crap that ain’t gonna make him no better.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I just do.”

“But how?”

End of conversation. It wasn’t about the money, Dad said. He was going to take care of Scotch. 

He prepped with a case of Budweiser and stumbled out the door, Scotch in his arms like a new bride. I pulled at his legs but he kicked me off. 

I followed. I thought by coming I could stop it.

The whole way from our place through the farmer’s field and into the copse beyond, I reasoned with him. “Scotch might get better. I’ll take care of him. We don’t need a vet…Dad?”

Dad slid back the action like he always did before a shot. Until that moment, I associated the noise with New Year’s Eve. 

I did what any boy would do: threw myself over Scotch’s wheezing form like Pocahontas. 

Dad swore and almost lost his footing. “Dammit, Danny. I almost killed you.” He grabbed me by the arm and held me aloft. With his other arm, he pointed the gun at Scotch and shot him as I dangled, thrashing. 

“Now look what you did.”

Scotch was hit in the leg. He tried to bring his tongue to the wound but didn’t have the strength. Dad dropped me and crushed my face to his thigh as he raised the gun again. I beat at him with boneless fists. 

The blast and Dad’s recoil and Scotch’s silence said it was over.

A rough hand rattles my shoulder.

The calloused, thick hand that wants me to grow into it shakes me out of the memory. “What the hell, Danny? Take the shot.”

 

KELLY GRIFFITHS lives with her husband and children in Northeast Ohio, where the sun always shines and her muse does the housework. Her work appears in Reflex Fiction, The Forge Literary Magazine, and Ellipsis Zine.

Image via Pixabay 

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sweet//summer – Ehlayna Napolitano 

no place for my shoes, i
am sunsick in my best friend’s bathroom
while she is
straightening her eyeliner
in the mirror.

her father will never
fix the one cream-colored tile
that is cracked in the corner —
but on this day, she tells me
that the room is eventual;

projection is the act of
turning things into projects.

we are july-hot in the woods,
she is dotting her lips with
gossamer honey.

i put my shoes in her bathtub and
we sweat under the iron
as i straighten her hair out
and it slicks against her neck,
caught in sticky sweat, like
bugs in amber.

she has not occurred to herself
as beautiful yet;
and i am standing picking at my clothes,
running comparison tables in my head —

as if i could eventually uncover
the formula to explain the seeping dissatisfaction;
a matter of division,
one self here, another there — i could be beautiful too.

“i can’t get the lines straight,” she says to me,
and i agree.

 

EHLAYNA NAPOLITANO is a poet and editor. Her chapbook, “Penelope in the Morning,” was published with tenderness lit in 2018.

Image via Pixabay

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All The Old Days – Alanna Donaldson

Your flowers are dead so I pull them up, the rotten leaves and dusty roots. They give themselves up, give up their little white bulbs, and I pluck them out of the earth. I see life down there, a grey spider crawling slowly, a crop of shiny white eggs, a round brown slug like a jelly sweet, rolled on its back. 

When the plants lie like a beast on your lawn, I sit in the doorway and watch the sun sink. Beneath my nails are little dirt moons and there’s sweat in the dirt on my face. Up on the hill, clean and clear above the trees, stands the pylon. Brittle old frame, dull metal, gunmetal, a cowboy in a doorway. As a child I used to ride up there, lie my bike in the grass and stand in its shadow, hear the wind in the wires, shrill sounds of space. Now the evening sun lights it up, climbs on its shoulders and disappears.

It rains all night, as though something is forgotten and overflows. It chimes in the stone and pours and pools in the gutters, the low wet sounds of a wishing well. It rolls off the hill and under the house and the walls creak like a boat. I lie in my old bed and am wide as a landscape, then small and thin as a twig. I grow and shrink in this way, like the sea, in this old boat, this old bed, until I fall asleep.

I remember the rose bush and the perfume that we made, thin brown juice that smelt of nothing, soft petals bruised in a jar. I remember the cherry tree with a fat blossom bed where we used to lie, look up at blue sky and pink blossom hanging down. In each flower was a little green eye and the eyes swung together in the breeze. When I sat up, petals stuck to my arms like eyelids and you brushed them away, those cool little lids, with your warm hands.

In the morning I see a red pheasant in the red sunrise and follow it up the hill. The trees watch from the perimeter, bend towards one another, murmur together. I stand below the pylon and feel the blood that streams in me, curls like wings in my back. The wind is my breath and the grass is my hair and the sun is my skin. I remember all the old days, rolling back below me, and one day in particular, when the pylon seemed to fall against the moving clouds, bright white clouds whose shadows flew like birds down the hill, and you were standing at the gate, waving and calling me home. 

 

ALANNA DONALDSON works in publishing and lives in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by stories. Now and again she catches one and writes it down. She can be found on Twitter at @alannamadeleine.

Image via Pixabay 

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Commandment – Nuala O’Connor

It’s a fact that Trish has the most handsome husband in Aghabulloge. It’s a fact that all the wives covet him. It’s a fact that I do more than covet, I reach out my fingers and touch. It’s a fact that I’m a commandment breaker. It’s a fact that Trish’s husband is too. It’s a fact that for months we are clandestine heroes, fuelled by lust, Trish’s husband and I; we slip-slide-slobber in laybys and barns, up hills and down lanes, and no one notices. Until they do. It’s a fact that Trish is more than angry, she’s frenzied. It’s a fact that Trish tries to set fire to my car in our driveway. It’s a fact that when that fails she daubs large words across my car with yellow paint. Thou. Thou Shalt. Thou Shalt Not. Thou Shalt Not Commit. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adult. It’s a fact that Trish runs out of space.

 

 

NUALA O’CONNOR’s fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Gooseen’ won the UK’s 2018 Short Fiction Prize and was published in Granta; it is now longlisted for Story of the Year at the 2018 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was published to critical acclaim in September 2018.     www.nualaoconnor.com

Image via Pixabay

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How Not To Make A Birth Plan – Hannah Storm

Ride through the rain because the car won’t start. Get soaked by the old people driving too close to you and the kerb. Hurtle down the identikit corridors, your husband’s yellow bike jacket dripping water on the floor. Watch the women with pearls and pinched faces and wonder if they are tutting at you or the queue at the hospital they come to each week with their husbands, who turn to them with deaf ears and Daily Mails.

When it’s your turn to be seen, watch the midwife prod your belly: ‘You still planning that water birth?’, she scribbles in your notes. Watch the pinched faces turn to smiles then pull on your husband’s jacket again to go into battle.

Repeat after four weeks, when you’re too big for the bike. Try to follow the midwife’s advice to ‘relax’, even though you’re on a trolley with someone’s fingers in your fanny, feeling for something they can’t find.

‘He’s sideways’, she says; you don’t hear the ‘don’t worry’. She sends you to another hospital, where they scan your son and you joke that he must be confused about which way is up: after all his Dad is a Kiwi.

Repeat at 37, 38 weeks. Try not to panic when they say don’t worry.

At 39, 40, 41 weeks, listen when the midwife says second babies rarely engage before labour. Try to relax. Fail.

Wake a week later with the rush of warm water. Watch as your husband carries your older child to the car, thinking how small she looks asleep. ‘Don’t worry darling’, you say more for you than her. Wait for the first pains. Short. Manageable.

Spend the day at the country hospital. Walk and walk in the summer sun, but only manage four centimetres. Listen as another midwife says, ‘I’m afraid we’ll need to induce you’.

Arrive in the city hospital, to a room with five other women and no air con.

Then the real contractions begin. When they crescendo you vomit all over yourself, pain like nothing you have felt before. Relax someone says, fixing you with fingers and now a monitor for the baby’s heart. A man appears from nowhere, an angel in scrubs.

No time now for no worries. They heave you onto the trolley, hurtle down the hospital’s identikit corridors. Try to sign your name as you scream. The needle scarcely has time to take effect before a voice says, ‘we need to go in’.

The next thing you hear is a silence.

Then a cry. You wonder if it’s yours.

After an eternity, the angel places your baby on your breast.

‘Don’t worry, you hear yourself say, Mamma’s here’.

 

HANNAH STORM is a journalist and media consultant, specialising in gender and safety. Although she’s been writing since she was a young girl, she’s recently discovered a passion for short stories and flash fiction, thanks to an Arvon course with Vanessa Gebbie and Cynan Jones. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.

Image via Pixabay

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At the time of first blood I’m shut in a drawer – Hilary Hares

An antique chamber of unpanelled oak,
it holds me like a library, smells of small slights
and pencil-sharpening. Echoing the memory
of a dream, somehow it feels safe.

Beside my knee, a flamingo’s beak, snapped
on the croquet field, forms a hollow cornucopia.
Trapped by my hip, a moth-wing, fragile
as gelatin, crumples – disaster to hatch in a drawer.

The stamps are out-of-date, the envelopes
unwritten beside a pile of blank sheets used for
boarding-school letters that started: Dearest,
ended: all our love – I always crossed that out.

Turning over is hard. I push against
the wooden ceiling. A set of keys finds
the hollow between my shoulder-blades,
tries to unlock something.

The Old King never notices I’m there.
Rooting for his palette knife, crusted in oils,
he comes across an empty tube of Carmine 189,
sighs, scuttles back to the safety of his cell.

The Red Queen reaches in with a hot hand,
finds me wanting, turns up my palm,
searches for a future.

 

Having survived a childhood dominated by the Red Queen, HILARY HARES has an MA in Poetry from MMU. Her poems have found homes online and in print including Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Magma and South. Her collection, A Butterfly Lands on the Moon supports Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care.

Image via Pixabay

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