Joan of Arc – Dan A Cardoza

I am in Paris, for one year, my high school student exchange program. I enroll in the obligatory French language classes. To my surprise, I love both courses, and my teachers, especially, Fleur. I have her in my advanced French class. I admit she is my favorite, a master linguist, and philosopher of everything Amour.

First I giggle, and then I ask her “how?”

Fleur’s short answer, “Slightly lift your tongue like a pen, and then sketch tiny alphabets in your closed mouth. This works especially when painting nouns and verbs.”

“You are making me blush Fleur.”

“No Ms. Melissa, your limitless imagination is making you blush.”

I cry when I say goodbye to Fleur. She asks that I be careful. She says, “there are so many decisions in life, and so few involve choices. Love is the most important decision in life, choose wisely.”

By the end of summer, before my senior year, I commanded the poetics of the French and believe true love will eventually find me, and haunt me pleasantly forever, like a ghost circling the tip of an endless Dreidel.

*      *      *

Years press forward, depressed, I drop out of college, with only one quarter remaining.

*      *      *

We are taking one of our long drives, into the foothills, where witchweed, and lavender thistles bouquet the rolling green landscape, wafting a potion of jasmine blossom, and the delicate scent of wild mustard. But as I look closer, past all the beauty, I can also see the alabaster rib cage of a winter deer, under the rotting oak shade branches. I see spring creeks, running dark and muddy, and moody. I see all this through my passenger window, and then as I slowly turn, I notice you thinking too hard.

You fancy me invisible and then you mouth, “I still can’t believe she’s gone.”

*       *      *

We take too many of these trips, but at least I can mull to myself out the window, rearrange the scenery, even the weather, which seems darker with each new trip.

When we return in the early evening, you ask me, Please stay for a glass of Merlo you would rather not waste.”

I say, “No thank you, Mr. Conrad.” I think cadavers.

*      *      *

Over Bombay and Safire, at a fancy hotel bar full of enough men for a turkey shoot, you flirt me around like it’s a whore convention. I think shame on you, but I understand because in your mind I am bought and paid for, like your wrinkled laundry waiting for its folding in a basket at home.

As I cry and race home, I throw out party napkins full of telephone numbers. The fresh air pounds me like a sound tunnel, cigarettes, ash and filth lift then whisk in a swirl, like Dorothy’s Kansas tornado.

‘Where are those god damned ruby red shoes when you really need them,’ I say out loud?

*      *      *

I’m not worth much, that’s what my lazy boyfriend says. He fancies himself a ninja wordsmith, and he’s good at the hateful ones. He’s a Jedi Knight, with a sword for math. For example, he knows exactly how many empty Budweiser cans it takes to recycle our dreams, typically $10.00 at the recycled center.

During sex, I am high above him on a cloud hooked to a string. I can predict when he cums, because that’s when I am paying late bills or eating apples in my mind. Then I crush, “Right there, right there baby!” That’s when I cut the string and untether, and float to the stars, far from the white noise in my head. Then somehow, I awake from my sleep not quiet dead.

*      *      *

I’ve been told that it is ok to live with the memory of love. That it’s ok to live with a vivid image, or .gif of stormy neon kisses that flowed over and down, staining my white blouse. Just live with the memory of weather and the wetness you caused, all this just by saying “I love you,” and meaning it. I’ve been told by my therapist, it’s also ok to remember the broken dishes on the floor, to make room on the table when food was not what we hungered for. If only I didn’t recall the two solemn marines at the front door.

*      *      *

On our way home from yet another Sunday and dusk, you say, “No! Like an ice cream cone, slow and easy, like she used too.”

I listen, but I can’t hear you. It’s a terribly windy day that insists on flapping against my ears like mad seagull wings. I have to lean into the wind just to hang on. As I stand at a childhood bridge in Seattle, mist rises from the water toward a cloudless sky. I see heaven, magnifique, it is so all alone, orphaned of name. On such a day, emptiness can only be quenched in fathoms. ‘I say to myself slow and easy, slow and easy. It’s almost over.’

*      *      *

Le temps a des ailes. ‘Time has wings.’

All stories must end. This one does not.

We find ourselves at Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts. Melissa is teaching a class about the French Renaissance. Outside, on a bench, a young woman finds herself pleasantly fatigued from the challenge of learning. She looks out across the vacant green courtyard at the tall stand of fall Sycamore, which seems to climb into the afternoon sky like a burning teal castle. Just in time, a damsel needs rescuing.

In her silence, she traces the letters of Joan of Arc with her tongue, blending each letter into words into a carousel of thought. It’s The One Hundred Year War, a revolution. She knows to take her time.

‘il y a pire que d’être seul, as Fluer might have said––there are worse things in life than being alone, like having no choices perhaps.

It’s then, Erica, with only the tip of her tongue, slowly spells, M-e-l…

La Fin

 

DAN A CARDOZA has a MS Degree in Education from UC, Sacramento, Calif. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new book of fiction, Second Stories. Recent Credits: 101 Words, Adelaide, California Quarterly, Chaleur, Cleaver, Confluence, UK, Dissections, Door=Jar, Drabble, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Fiction Pool, Foxglove, Frogmore, UK, High Shelf Press, New Flash Fiction Review, Rue Scribe, Runcible Spoon, Skylight 47, Spelk, Spillwords, Riggwelter, Stray Branch, Urban Arts, Zen Space, Tulpa and Zeroflash.

Image by bonoflex from Pixabay

Puff – Marie Fields

I took up smoking when I lived
In the ex-hotel, ex-brothel building
Everything had been repurposed
I’d sit in the kitchen with my feet up
Puffing on Sobranie Cocktails
The insulation so terrible that I
Didn’t even need to open a window
No fear of the alarm drawing attention
Not like Johnny would care
He’d probably join me
I splayed out a smorgasbord of
Colorful cancer in front of me
Letting each one inch me closer
To a high I was loathe to
Leave behind in sleep
The itch so strong I had to
Start chewing gum during the day
Keeping up the façade of decency
I had repurposed
Just like the building.

 

Image via Wikipedia Commons

La Maldadita – Matt Kendrick

When I was younger, I lived in a chicken coop. The smell of chicken shit still permeates my dreams from time to time. Other times, I dream of anthropomorphic octopi who wear polka dot swimsuits and sip paper-umbrella-accessorised mojitos. Did you know that, literally translated, the word ‘mojito’ means ‘little sauce’? ‘Ito’ is a diminutive, you see. It makes things smaller. ‘Gatito’ is a chicken. ‘Paragüita’ is a cocktail umbrella. The word for a nestling child is ‘niñito’. And that was me – a niñito, a tadpole, a scrag of bones and gristle. I was a starveling who got sent out to the chicken coop because I wouldn’t eat my vegetables. My parents said it would teach me appreciation.

What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – chickens’ beaks are sharp needles. They use them to assert their authority. That is where the term ‘pecking order’ comes from. Two – chickens ‘get in a flap’ at every rustling movement. They are like the cartoon bully who blanches in the face of an even bigger bully appearing on his patch. Three – hens emit an almost incessant cluck. They get restless when they are selecting a nest box. They fret about the placement of the straw. It is enough to make you want to wring their necks when you are sleeping in amongst them. Four – chicken shit has a smell that stays with you long after you’ve left the brood.

*      *      *

The day I wouldn’t eat my vegetables was the first time of many. I was five years old. Further chicken-coop-banishment offences included wetting my bed after a spider-infested nightmare, knocking a tacky china vase from its kitchen sideboard perch, and serving my father a mug of tea without his customary three sugar lumps. Each trip to the chicken coop came with a lesson to learn, like self-control or respect. Mainly, I learnt that my place in the ‘pecking order’ was right at the bottom – beneath my two older brothers, beneath the dog and the cat and my dad’s Cortina, beneath the television set, and even beneath the fifteen chickens. I was the runt that couldn’t throw a ball properly or run in a straight line. ‘Good for nothing’ was what my father called me. My mother used to smack me round the back of the head for staring into space.

When it came to corporal punishment, my father favoured the buckle of a belt strap whipped against anxiously clenching buttocks. My brothers learnt from his example. They liked nothing better than to clobber me in the gut.

*      *      *

There was one time I remember when I didn’t want to watch a movie that had been rented from the local Blockbuster. The red-circled number on the case was an eighteen so I was far too young for it. I didn’t understand most of the grown-up language or what was happening in the scenes where a gangster and his mistress appeared to wrestle beneath a crisp white bedsheet. But the amount of blood was horrifying. Graphically, at various points through the movie, it was pooled on the ground. There was a scene where a crow pecked a woman’s eyes out. Another crow emerged from the innards of a frostbitten beggar. When it got too much, I tried to slide off my chair.

‘Where d’you think you’re going?’ asked my father.

My tear ducts seeped moisture. A stifled gobbet withered in my mouth. ‘I…’

‘This is family time and you’re not to spoil it by being a cry-baby.’ He threatened to tie me to the chair if I didn’t stay in place.

What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – the rooster is a vicious bastard who’ll peck your eyes out at the first sign of weakness. Two – the alpha female is complicit in everything because there are other hens nipping at her heels. Three – a cockerel’s principal drive is to displace the rooster. He does this by shoving his weight about. He does this by picking on the pullets and the chicks. Four – chicken shit has a stench that makes you want to chunder.

*      *      *

Small things set masterpieces into action. ‘El whiskicito’, the small whisky that sets an addictive personality on the path to enlightened thinking. ‘La ideita’, the wisp of an idea that fuses inside the fatty tissue of a human brain. ‘El corazoncito’, the trembling heart that turns to tarry black after a lifetime of meekly cowering in the shadows.

Click, click, click and we are all returned to that living room where a seven year old’s nightmares were gorged on age-inappropriate cinematic exposure. This time, though, the chair-tying threat has been carried out and my father has the same terrified look that all chickens get when a bigger bully appears on their patch. There are roundels of sweat at his armpits and I bet he’ll wet himself before the end. My mother is clucking incessantly as she always does. I give her a slap to try and shut her up. I think how pleasant it will be to wring her neck and see her squawk her last.

I’ve got ‘un cuchillito’ (little knife) in my hand. I’ve got ‘una memorita’ in my head of a time when my father locked me in the chicken coop for three days straight. It pissed it down the whole time I was out there. I missed two days of school and got a detention on my return for not completing my Spanish homework. ‘Una pepita’ (a seedling) of resentment was born in those three days. It germinated in the deluge. The next time I felt the bite of my father’s belt buckle, it sprouted shoots of hatred; thoughts in effervescent chlorophyll of future revenge.

Chlorophyll – I used its dictionary neighbour to knock my parents out; a dab of it on a handkerchief, creeping up behind my father whilst he sat lounging in his underpants. When he came round a few moments ago, he looked surprised to see me. My mother had the expression of a broiler who knows its time is up.

*      *      *

All that is left now is to commit a little devilry – ‘la maldadita’. It is but a ‘peccadillo’ really. If you think about it, it is only what you should expect from the chicken coop – cockerel rising up to take its place, alpha female exposed for the heartless bitch that she is.

The inspiration for my retaliatory sequence is soaked in the blood of an eighteen-stamped Blockbuster video. As I use the knife to cut ‘une grietita’ (a chink) in my father’s wattle, I get a sense of profound satisfaction. It is in the way he flinches. It is in the way he yells out when I slice his index finger clean in two. Luckily, the neighbours are used to ignoring the odd sounds that emanate from the chicken coop. That’s good because my mother’s screaming is like a parakeet on crack.

I won’t bore you with the details – the fact that I turn it into ‘un juegito’ (a little game) or the fact that I revel in doing things ‘despacito’ (slowly). What I will say is that the amount of blood is horrifying. It gets everywhere from the nicotine-stained drapes to the dog-chewed cushions. There is a splatter of it on my shoes which I wipe off with disinterested disdain. I feel giddy at the sight of the two parental corpses slumped in their chairs. And the only other thing that penetrates my skull is the smell of faeces, my father’s bowels having given out just as I was pecking my knife into his flabby hackles. It smells worse than chicken shit.

Outside, almost on cue, one of the hens emits an inquisitive little cluck.

 

MATT KENDRICK is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published by Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Press, Spelk, Storgy and Collective Unrest. Further information about his work can be found on his website: http://www.mattkendrick.co.uk. He is on Twitter @MkenWrites

Image by Donald Gazzaniga from Pixabay

The Alpine Garden Club – Steve Haywood

With the pint of freshly poured Wainwrights in one hand and potted plant in the other, Tom headed to the back of the bar, through the doorway into the snug. He didn’t know why they called it a snug, there was nothing snug about it. The paint on the walls had long since turned to an indistinct dull grey, the bleakness only broken by a few curled up posters advertising a darts match that had been and gone years ago. The furniture wasn’t much better, a few scattered tables sticky with generations of spilled drinks and wooden chairs darkened with age until they were almost black. There was precious little light in the room, the small high windows giving just enough illumination so that you could see in front of you in the middle of the day and didn’t trip over the frayed brown carpet. He liked it though, it matched his mood these days and more importantly, it was quiet. Nobody came here except for the quiz on Sundays. Today wasn’t Sunday.

He slumped down in his usual chair in the corner of the room, carefully placing both pint and plant pot on the table in front of him. Absently, he swept the scattered bits of soil off the table onto the floor and properly looked at the plant for the first time. It seemed a bit dried out and forlorn, though there were two purple flowers with a yellow centre which Tom supposed someone else might call pretty. After a few moments of staring intently at it he looked away, his lip curling slightly. What did he want with a plant? He’d only forget to water it, leaving it to shrivel up and wither away, much like everything else in his life. He’d told Mark as much earlier, in their session together.

‘What’re you giving me a plant for of all things? I always kill the damn things. My ex-wife would go away for the week on a conference, and when she got back her precious plants would be dead. We’d have a blazing row about it for days afterwards.’

‘Ah but the beauty of this type of plant is it hardly needs watering at all. So just take it, it will bring some colour into your life. Next week at our session, you can tell me how it’s doing.’

So that was how he came to be stuck with this stupid plant. He’d been tempted to dump it in the bin on the way here, but knowing Mark he’d ask him to bring the thing in one week, take a photo of it or something.

He took a deep drink from his pint, and sat back, slowly losing himself in the dark, swirling currents of his thoughts.

He didn’t know how long it had been, time was largely meaningless to him, but his quiet world was suddenly shattered by the hubbub of voices coming closer, and then the harsh strip light blinked on. He squinted in the glare and saw several people entering the room. He didn’t understand, it was Wednesday today, not Sunday. A woman in her late forties with short, greying hair came straight towards him. She took in the plant in front of him and smiled broadly. She thrust her hand out, forcing him to shake it.

‘Hi! You must be the guy from the website, James was it?’

‘Err, I’m Tom actually.’

‘Tom, right, sorry. Don’t know whether I’m coming or going sometimes. I’m Marie. Let me introduce you to some of the others.’ She beckoned them over. ‘Everyone, this is Tom. He’s the website enquiry I told you about. Tom this is Sheila, our social secretary, Paul our treasurer and Ana who’s our librarian.’

‘Hi Tom.’

‘Hi.’

‘Sorry, I…’ Tom started.

‘Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to remember everyone’s names. It’s not just us either, we may not be the biggest branch of the Alpine Garden Society, but there’s more of us than you’d think. Oh look, here’s some of them now.’

She went over to welcome the newcomers, and Tom was just thinking about using the reprieve to get the hell out of there when the middle aged, balding man she’d identified as Paul stepped up in front of the table.

‘Really good to meet you. I say, is that a Sisyrinchium Bellum you’ve got there?’ He didn’t wait for a response before continuing. ‘Beautiful flowers, Sisyrinchum Bellum. Blue eyed grass they call it in California, but then you probably already knew that. It’s your plant after all.’

‘Um well…’

‘I had a girlfriend with eyes that colour. She was beautiful too. Left me for her fitness instructor.’

‘Sorry to hear that,’ Tom mumbled.

Paul waved it away like it was nothing. ‘Water under the bridge, you know, it was years ago. Say, I’d better get a drink before we start. What are you drinking?’

So that was it, he was stuck in the monthly meeting of the Woodsham Alpine Garden Society. Paul came back with a pint for each of them and a packet of Nobby’s nuts which he offered round then proceeded to crunch loudly for the next few minutes.

‘Right, shall we begin?’ Marie shouted, silencing the chatter. ‘We’ve got an exciting evening ahead. As some of you know, Linda and Jim have just got back from a trip to the Pyrenees and have agreed to show us their pictures on the big screen. I’ve had a sneak preview and they’ve got some exciting plant species to tell us about. Over to you.’

With slowly dawning horror, Tom realised he was going to be in for a long night. Linda and Jim, had hundreds of photos to show off, all of a series of plants that he struggled to tell apart from each other. The only consolation was that as the ‘new member’, a succession of people kept insisting on buying his drinks. After a while, everything started to blur, but the black dog that usually stalked him when he was drinking obviously had better things to do for once, for he felt a strange, unfamiliar warm glow to proceedings.

*      *      *

He woke up with a groan, clutching his head. He hated having a hangover, so much so that he usually didn’t drink enough to make him suffer, but this morning he was definitely suffering. Quite why that was though, he wasn’t sure, he usually only had a couple of pints before going home and slumping in front of the TV. Then turning his head slightly, he spotted the potted plant on his bedside table, and it all came flooding back. He couldn’t help but laugh out loud, then instantly regretted it as his head started pounding. Of all the things he could have imagined himself doing yesterday, attending the monthly meeting of the Woodsham Alpine Garden Society was not one of them. What a dreadful evening! Except… it didn’t seem that dreadful at all, now he thought about it. Okay so watching hundreds of plant pictures on the big screen did get a bit samey after a while, and he didn’t get why some of the members got so excited about new seeds they’d got in their seed library, but the rest of it was alright. He’d got free booze all evening out of it, but it wasn’t just that. He had really enjoyed the company, and the feeling like he belonged (even though he clearly didn’t, what did he know about plants?).

A while later, he was up, dressed and breakfasted. He glanced up at the window. The sky outside was a deep blue, and the sun was shining in through the window, illuminating the room. Light refracted off a glass sat by the sink, sending out multi-coloured ribbons of light off the white tile walls. Sat on the windowsill where’d he left it last night was his Blue-eyed Grass. In the sunlight the colours were even more striking, the yellow centre contrasting well with the blue-purple petals, to his untrained eye at least. The plant itself did look a little dry though, so he ran the tap over it to give it some water. Some of it quickly started dripping out the bottom onto his shoes, so he rummaged in the cupboard until he found a chipped old side plate which he put underneath to catch the water. A couple of the lower leaves were a bit shrivelled up and obviously dead, so he carefully picked them off, humming to himself softly.

 

STEVE HAYWOOD lives in a small historic city in England. As well as writing short fiction, he blogs about short stories, novels and assorted topics at http://www.inkypages.co.uk. He can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Lancaster_Steve where he regularly tweets to share stories he likes with anyone who will listen.

Image by Mark Martins from Pixabay

Mia’s Well – DayVaughn McKnight

Andrew walked down to Mia’s well with his head held down. Sweat grew from his forehead and dripped down his weary face. One hand was pressed against his ribs while the other held onto a blood-stained sheriff’s badge. He carried a slight limp with each step and his bare feet left clear imprints in the sand path.

“Hello, Andrew,” said a voice.

Andrew stopped walking and looked up.

The bucket of the well gently swayed back and forth before coming to a stop. Andrew proceeded to move closer to the well. “I’ve done it,” he said as he held up the sheriff’s badge. He walked to the base of the well and threw it into the water below. He took in a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief, baring a smile across his face. “I’ve done it.”

Andrew went over to the crank of the well and lowered the bucket into the water. Sploosh. He turned the crank in the opposite direction and the bucket raised to the top. The bucket was empty. “Mia?”

“This was not my request,” said a voice from the well.

“What? What do you mean?”

“You may drink when you have learned what it is that I want from you.”

Andrew looked down, shaking his head. “No, Mia, please.” Tears formed in his eyes as he dropped to his hands and knees. “I’m exhausted,” he said as he beat his fist against the sand. “What more must I do?”

“Please get up,” said the voice.

“Do you know how hard this is for me?”

“Yes, it pains me as well. But you must–”

“Shut up!” Andrew picked himself up and wiped his face. He kicked at the foundation of the well.

“Andrew, you must learn–”

“I said shut up.” Andrew continued to kick at the well, each kick with more intensity than the last. “I’m done with this.” He pulled out a switchblade from his pocket and grabbed onto the well’s rope.

“What are you doing?” asked the voice.

Andrew pressed the blade to the rope and moved it back and forth. As he cut at the outside fibers, dark clouds moved across the sky.

“Think about this, Andrew,” said the voice.

Andrew briefly stopped his actions to look down into the well.

“You could always go back into town tonight. Clear your mind. I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow,” said the voice.

“No, I don’t need this,” said Andrew as he went back to cutting the rope, making steady progress. “I’ve thought about this long enough.”

“Andrew, you’re clearly in need of water. Why don’t you just–”

“Damn your water,” said Andrew, now cutting at the rope with greater force. The rope had only a few threads holding it together.

“Are you sure about this?” asked the voice.

Andrew cut the last thread of rope.

The bucket of Mia’s well fell into the waters below. Sploosh.

Andrew fell onto his back, eyes fixed on the nighttime clouds.

“Goodbye, Andrew,” said the voice.

The sky rained down upon Andrew’s body.

“Goodbye, Mia.”

 

DayVaughn McKnight is a writer from the DC metropolitan area. He has works that have previously appeared in Ursa Major Literary Magazine and Adelaide Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @DayVaughnTweets.

Image by Britannic Zane from Pixabay

I Met Your Father in the Globe Factory, Sonboy – Jim Meirose

Twenty-seven Christmases and just one gave up a Replogle globe—and believe it or not, that was where I met Dad, Sonboy. The globe factory. In the globe factory on the actual manufacturing floor there are many mansions. Many golden mansions out the lanes all branching up the hills past Peter’s gate. Past the big throne that is similarly situated as the statue or Walt and Mickey gob p’shawing out ta the castle they piled there. That kind of a figurehead. Once you are there there’s no more need to kiss. What’s kissed, you guess which. I for my sake cannot say—but up above the sedimentary clashes on clashes of machinery noise on the Replogle corporation’s factory floor, out of the war-fog of the shackling and clashing whirring and ripping globe wrapping gluing forming and mapularianity-coating the cardboard spheres with the latest imaginary multicolored geopolitically transected beautifully presented scale-model fake planet Earths, the procession of them up fifty feet drying moment over moment the thousands of them not just being fifty feet up all together, but each one separately being up fifty feet which means—and get the pith of this magumoidal number about to be generated that no one—no no one—ever in the history of our race—has calculated, that’s—in just one of the thousand and five Replogle globe factories extant in just this here one single hemi of half this whole planetary hipposide, my sweet—if there are a hundred globes winding their way out around and back and around and the other way then a-this-away with each being fifty feet above the earsplittingly loud factory floor, that is five thousand feet which is ninety-four hundredths of a mile in English; noventa y cuatro centésimas de milla in Spanish; and aŭdek kvar centonoj da mejlo in Esperanto. The guide that took us through the factory, having told us all these facts and these figures, then put us against the wall of the factory. He went down the line and pressed lightly down on the left shoulder of about ten thousand of the one and a half million applicants for the job of quality control inspector at the out-shoot off the back-end of the fifteen inch diameter Replogle Imperial series V8 powered medium-strength superfast cooler than shit whisper-quiet space age assembly line—acquired used from the matchbox racing car knockoff North Korean faux-petroleum based hemorrhoidal cream and other assorted pain relief products—related to end-to-end management of the garden variety twenty-first century alimentation and other crapshot picklemen’s afternoon delight tracts soothable ailments store, eh eh eh—eh; and she did indeed say, ah yes she did, you—have no right calling me by my first name—ah mean, you lookin’ et me? You can’t see me. You don’t know me—et al.

Okay?

Good.

So after I lost the job at Replogle I went out a’wanderin’ their parking deck for several years and my head and my head and my—head, to keep the panic filling me at bay, took me back past the manufacturing line on the way to the wall where they’d stand me and ultimately pronounce and execute the sentence of rejection on me—and the fact that there were ten thousand others receiving the same sentence that day made it not on milli-nit easier to gnaw back—the loud rude filthy stinking globe manufacturing machines passed me by again and again until the seventy-fifth time through the search for my car I beheld a single human man standing at his post by the side of the fully automated line of cold icy logic-driven dispassionate Krupp-steel panels of the line, his hand poised over a big red button. The first time by him it was just a big red button and my car was still lost. The second time by him it was a big red plastic button and my car was still lost eh. The third time by him it was a big red plastic button with the words EMERGENCY STOP embossed into it and my car was still lost eh eh, but—the fourth time by it was pushed—his hand had moved; the earsplitting assembly line noise-curtain dropped—and my car was around me. Eh eh eh. He was beside me. Eh eh eh eh. He said I feel your pain. Eh eh eh eh eh. And we drove off and then, though you were nowhere near actual birth yet, you had at last found a Father. And the you which was born at the same moment as me was relieved of its first outer layer of smothering pap applied in the effort to smother it away. But now you had a Father. This put you halfway there Sonboy.

Any questions?

Good.

 

http://www.jimmeirose.com

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

After Before – G J Hart

Before when sailing
Was plain, I moved
From here to there,
Rowed with oars spare
As ulna, returned hopes
To rivers
Risen
With hope.

Then, Built a cabin
With fir And foul
Language,
Hauled up jasmin,
And leant and watched
My plot
Scud through
Gasping storms.

After with rivers
Withered, I sacked
Kindling and clothes,
Boarded a ferry,
And leant and watched
It scatter
Years
Across my shoulder.

Arrived I relished
Forecasts and ice cream,
Hung hollows
For coming storms
And sat before
Waters
Beneath
Vaults of endless growth.

 

GJ HART currently lives and works in London and has had stories published in The Molotov Cocktail, The Jersey Devil Press, the Harpoon Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.

Image by Julius Hagen from Pixabay

Losing Light – Bradley Sides

Before.

All of us kids from the neighborhood were out in my front yard sitting and talking. Laughing and waiting. All but Gresh that is. He, more than anybody, celebrated that first night of summer when the fireflies returned.

He howled as he ran in the yard. His bare feet smashed into the muddy puddles. Before even the tips of his toes could dry, he plowed into the rows of dandelions, pretending the white floaties were fireflies. Then, he fell into the dewy grass and the pieces of the world covered his body.

When they finally arrived, they bypassed the rest of us. Some of the younger kids called out and chased them, with their Mason jars clanking against their stubby, damp fingers. The rest of us already knew even if we wished we didn’t.

The fireflies went toward Gresh. Their tiny bodies spun and sped. Flicked and glowed. Their lights were like a silent symphony—synchronized perfectly to create just what they’d intended.

Gresh didn’t get up. He didn’t speak. He didn’t welcome them in any way. He just opened his mouth, and they found their way inside.

I couldn’t watch for long. I said goodnight and went inside.

The others’ voices followed me until I closed the door behind me, but they still played over in my head.

I peaked from my bedroom curtain one last time after I turned off my lamp. He was still out there. Glowing amidst all that darkness.

He sat at his little desk in silence most days, staring off into the sky. When the rest of us went swimming at the pool, he said he had important things to do if we asked if he wanted to go. But when night approached, he grew anxious. He tapped his feet against the wooden floor, and he rocked back and forth in his chair. He slowly pecked at the window with his bitten fingernails. All he did revolved around them.

When they inevitably returned each night, he yelled and took off into the yard.

It was bad enough that I had a brother who housed thousands of bugs. It was even worse that he glowed. The worst, though, was how he sat in the front yard in the mornings with his little notebook and wrote away with nothing but the tips of his glowing fingers. The neighbors used to call all the time and tell us about Gresh. He scared their kids, they said. Really, though, he scared them.

Mom constantly asked him what he was doing. He would always say the same thing: “Important stuff.” When Dad asked him: “Important stuff.” Me: “Important stuff.” None of us knew what to say, so we didn’t say anything.

One night when he was out illuminating the neighborhood, I went to his room and opened the notebook he’d been working on all season. But, of course, there was nothing there.

By the end of summer, I needed sunglasses if I was in the same room as Gresh. It wasn’t just the tips of his fingers either; it was all of him. Even from underneath his clothes you could see his bright body trying to find its place in a world it couldn’t ever really belong.

His eyes were heavy, too, and although he glowed, he still looked dark around his eyes. He didn’t eat during the day. Mom and Dad worked. I played with my friends. He sat around and waited on his “friends” as he called them.

Only a few fireflies remained on the night Gresh came to my bedroom and dropped the notebook on my bed. “Goodbye,” he said. I nodded at him as I smirked.

I eventually looked out to see what he was doing–to see how many fireflies would find their way inside him–but when I opened my curtains, I couldn’t see a thing. All of the light was gone.

After.

Even if I close my eyes and focus, I can’t remember the way he smelled or the sound of his voice. But, I can remember moments. There was that one day when his arm rubbed against me on his way to meet them one evening. He wasn’t hot. He wasn’t even warm. It was like that time he sliced his finger on the cover of one of my books he was returning, and he bled actual crimson blood. Honestly, I expected light. Bright, burning light.

We still wait on their annual return. No one mentions Gresh to me, but I hear his name echoed in the soft breeze. The name engulfs and suffocates me. We all have Mason jars now. There’s really not that much difference from the young and the old. We all want.

One of the kids trips over his shoelaces and falls. He rests on the ground and stares up at what surrounds him. He is quiet. It’s like he’s a part of a different world. It’s brief, but it’s gorgeous. I wonder if that’s what Gresh felt all the time.

It really was beautiful if you think about it. The way these tiny, mysterious bugs flew to him with no effort on his part, and he allowed them inside him. To protect them. To comfort them. To befriend them. I just wish I knew why.

I wake up some mornings and wonder if Gresh was just a dream–if he was just someone we all made up in order to have something special in our lives. Then, I remember the laughter and the names. Some things can’t be made up.

My parents are asleep, and my friends are at home. I peak outside from my window to watch them. It’s what I do a lot of nights when I can’t stop thinking about Gresh. Tonight, it’s like I’m lost in space. The stars are twinkling. Bright then dark. Here then not. It’s my whole unknown universe.

A firefly lands on my window, and its light dies.

I grab his notebook, and I go outside. The grass is cool when I sit down. The pages of his notebook float in the nighttime air. Unlike that night when I looked at the pages in his bedroom, there are words now. Or one word written over and over. Gresh’s handwriting is heavy, frantic. “HELP!” There’s something on one of my cheeks. Maybe it’s a firefly. Maybe it’s a tear.

I call his name. My voice is quiet at first, but it grows. “Gresh! Gresh!” The name feels strange coming from my mouth. I doubt I’ve said my brother’s name more than a handful of times throughout my whole life, but it finds its place as I cry louder and louder.

I fall into the grass and look up at the bright dots burning above me. It’s hard to focus. I can’t tell the stars from the fireflies. I just know it’s light. As long as it’s here, I won’t stop. I open my mouth and I wait. I feel something on my lips. I can only hope I’m not too late.

But it hits me. He was writing to them.

 

BRADLEY SIDES is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at the Chicago Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is at work on his debut collection of short stories. For more, visit bradley-sides.com

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Waning Plumes of Frostbitten Air – Scott Moses

The frigid wind laps at the wolf’s nose and its lids open, the yellow irises in bloom as the pupils contract. Scanning the tree line of the winter wasteland, it peers into the crevices between the pines, searching for what it knows lies within.

It struggles to its feet and stretches out, claws expanding at the cold of the snow. Its stomach wrenches, unable to remember what it is to be full. The wolf lifts its nose, and a plume of air escapes its nostrils.

Some days I feel so dead behind the eyes. Staring up at the ceiling, my body’s innate clock rustling me from slumber minutes before the alarm whines in the way it does, signaling the start of a day I’ve lived ten thousand times.

The wolf stumbles with a whimper and tends to the fresh wound adorning its leg. The flesh burns where the black tendrils latched and dug in, spewing venom throughout the wolf’s already weak and waning body. The wolf laps at its wound, eyes clenched, resisting the urge to cry in the way it did when it was young.

Its yellowed eyes still on the tree line, vigilant for the threat, for the thing of many arms, which seems to glide along the surface of the snow, weaving throughout the trees. The wolf can’t recall when the evil first arrived, only that it did, and that it has followed it ever since.

The wound is hot on its tongue, and the movement of a nearby stream enters the wolf’s ears. It loses itself in the caress of the water’s flow, believing for a moment it isn’t hunted- isn’t constantly on the run.

The water rushes from the shower’s nozzle, jarring me from lethargy, and I stand there in the early morning, wondering what the point is. My internal workings coaxing me to continue the daily ritual of merely existing.

The wolf nears the stream, the coolness beckoning, and shakes out its fur before pressing its snout to the water.

The whiskey warms my chest as I surveil the others at the bar. Some smiling, some laughing, as if not living the same day over and over again. How I envy that, the spark of something new. Something, utterly different. Do they know what it feels like to see everyone around them content, all while feeling it’s out of reach?

A chill runs through the wolf and it stops drinking, and as the fur on its back rises so do its eyes to the blackened anomaly hovering on the other side of the river. A gargantuan squid, tentacles twitching, watching the wolf with its hulk of an eye. The wolf’s legs stiffen with the weight of its stare, the weight of its, smile.

The wolf takes a step backward, remembering the last time it faced the evil. The stench of the squid’s venom erupts in the wolf’s nostrils and with another step backward it yelps, scrambling away on lanky legs. Its malnourished body panicked and carrying it through the forest.

The branches grab at its face and snout, clinging to the fur on its shoulders as it runs, runs knowing the thing is faster than it will ever be. Knowing it’s only a matter of time before it feels the searing pain of the squid’s tendrils. The wolf’s eyes widen and it presses on, lungs ablaze with the frozen air.

The lock clicks and I loosen my collar after another day at the proverbial mill. Sometimes I visit the past to talk to myself. To ask where my zest for life went, and if it’ll ever come back.

The wolf backs against the wall of the mountain, pressing its body against the slick rocks. It lowers its head as the malformed mess approaches, blackened tentacles extended, hooked barbs expanding, dripping with venom. And as the evil’s shadow envelopes the mountainside, the wolf’s tail curls between its legs.

They question why I’m not, more than I am. Why I haven’t accomplished, more. These voices which come in the throes of sleepless nights. Why the space next to me has been bare of something real for so long. And how I don’t care, and do all the same.

I believe you can leave with less than you came with. I believe because of life and all its shit, you can have less of a soul when you die. Battered, and shredded, still intact, but not much more than a stringy mess of what you’ve managed to live through.

The wolf lowers its head, eyes on the squid and the hooked barbs inches from its snout. The acid hissing in the snow as it leaks in anticipation.

And as the familiar weight of unworthiness comes, as it does from time to time, a small voice rises up.

First, a whisper.

Be thankful, it says. Open your eyes.

Then, a murmur.

You’re not alone, and never have been.

And in the throes of everything, something flickers within me. The possibility for happiness, and that the will to strive for it in the midst of hell is something utterly necessary.

And so I straighten my posture, the other voices still present, but not quite as damning. Wondering if something good is worth the pain, knowing that it is.

And so the wolf’s brows furl, a low growl in its throat, and the ghost of a squid halts a moment, reminded, as is the wolf who looks up at it, that no matter how broken, defeated and starved it’s been, this wolf still has teeth.

 

SCOTT MOSES is an optician by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Coffin Bell, Boston Accent, Nightingale & Sparrow and Beautiful Losers. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity. Twitter/Instagram: @scottj_moses

Image by Patrick Neufelder from Pixabay

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