Out With The Old – Sandra Arnold

One hour to midnight. Soon the church bells would peal across the town heralding first-footers along the streets. They’d knock on doors, call out Happy New Year, deliver small gifts of coal, coins and cake. May you always have a fire in your hearth, money in your pocket and food in your belly. They’d be welcomed into houses through the front door and given a glass of sherry and a mince pie before leaving by the back door. Every year Cynthia looked forward to the tradition and the company, though each year the cleaning got harder.

She knelt back on her heels, surveyed the half-scrubbed floor and wiped her forehead. She’d been cleaning since six this morning, but she still had the inside windows to wash and the kitchen benches to scour. Her mother used to say she’d die of shame if Cynthia opened the door to first-footers before the whole house gleamed. She’d impressed upon Cynthia the importance of ridding the house of any trace of dirt from the old year. If she neglected to do this, her mother warned, bad luck would follow. When Cynthia’s father fell down a mine shaft, her mother blamed Cynthia for failing to demolish a cobweb in the kitchen.

After the funeral Cynthia’s brother offered to take over his father’s first-footing role. His flaxen curls alarmed the neighbours who argued that first-footers had dark hair and such a departure from tradition was asking for trouble. The librarian advised them to read local history to learn how these superstitions arose. She added that rampaging Vikings were unlikely to put in an appearance so it would be safe to welcome first-footers of all descriptions. However, the neighbours’ doubts were confirmed when Cynthia’s brother died of pneumonia a week after his night of first-footing. His mother blamed Cynthia for forgetting to defrost the fridge.

For fifty more years Cynthia was meticulous about cleaning every part of the house before midnight. When her mother died last New Year’s Day the neighbours blamed it on the new trend of female first-footing and predicted the end of the world. Cynthia saw no point in mentioning that her mother had died in bed with an empty whisky bottle.

Cynthia rubbed her aching bones and surveyed her half-scrubbed floor, reflecting that now her mother was gone, there was nobody left to see or care what she did. She stopped scrubbing, washed her hands, set out the sherry and mince pies, switched off the lights, lit a candle and placed it by the window. Then she lay on her sofa and dozed until midnight.

She woke to the sound of peeling bells and waited for the crunch of footsteps on the snow, laughter, the creak of garden gates being unlatched, the splashes of light across the dark night as neighbours opened their doors to call out Happy New Year. In the lengthening silence she watched the flame of her candle burn low and heard only the beat of her own heart.

 

Sandra Arnold‘s most recent books are a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) and a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ) which were published in 2019. Her flash fiction and short stories have been widely published and anthologised. www.sandraarnold.co.nz

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Pan – Christine A Brooks

James was small, so small in fact
that at times it seemed
his body refused to grow at all

he was barely noticed by
his mother —lost among the
many children
many chores
many responsibilities that
come with raising a family

he liked to climb trees but
often could not reach even
the lowest hanging limbs
so instead he would sit
and think about ways to not be
so small

a party was being planned
for the favorite son’s birthday
so, James shrunk even more
and was not seen going down
to the pond to ice skate

what happened next
he would never tell & before
long he was the favorite
—mostly because he wore
the clothes of his brother
who never returned from the pond that day
just one day before his birthday

after that

James never felt small again

 

Christine A. Brooks is a graduate of Western New England University with her B.A. in Literature and her M.F.A. from Bay Path University in Creative Nonfiction. A series of poems, The Ugly Five, are in the 2018 summer issue of Door Is A Jar Magazine and her poem, The Writer, is in the June, 2018 issue of The Cabinet of Heed Literary Magazine. Three poems, Puff, Sister and Grapes are in the 5th issue of The Mystic Blue Review. Her vignette, Finding God, is in in the December 2018 issue of Riggwelter Press, and her series of vignettes, Small Packages, was named a semifinalist at Gazing Grain Press in August 2018. Her essay, What I Learned from Being Accidentally Celibate for Five Years was recently featured in HuffPost, MSN, Yahoo and Daily Mail UK. Her book of poems, The Cigar Box Poems, is due out in late 2019. https://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrooksauthor/ Twitter: @OMG_its_CBrooks www.christinebrookswriter.com

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Just say more to me Captain. I need some more said to me very bad – Jim Meirose

The Captain worked shirtless in the hot sun digging post holes for a new fence. His next door neighbor, Iron Mike, would come over watching. The Captain worked hard, digging the first hole deeper. After his second pass with the spade, digging down, loosening the earth, He was using the clamshell digger to pull out the earth when Iron Mike began urging him loudly to stop, because what he was doing was wrong. The Captain stopped, caught his breath, and said to Mike, What’s the matter, Mike? The hole’s a foot down already. If I’m doing this wrong, how can that be?

You did the hole already. There’s dirt from it there you put. Then you just went back to do it again. Why again, when it’s dug once?

I—uh, oh. Okay. I need to go back and do this again and again, until the hole is deep enough. I’m not doing the whole thing all over again.

Yes you are, Captain. I don’t want to argue, but the answer you just gave contains the words I need to go back and do this again and again. Did you not say those words?

The Captain gripped the long poles of the clamshell digger harder, putting into the grip what he did not want to put out his mouth over Iron Mike—please observe, that at this point, his obedience to the third rule of thermodynamics which is the total amount of energy in a closed system cannot be created nor destroyed but only changed from one form to another—that is true, Mike but I also added after the words, until the hole is deep enough. How about that? That make it better? he asked—and, surprised at his patience in correcting simple Mike, he leaned on the diggerpoles with a casual smile, awaited Mike’s answer, and each instant of waiting intensified his compassionately understanding and comforting—comfortably pillow-soft mildly waiting superpatient and harmlessy bland, blank face, into which Iron Mike softly oozed, Oh yes, that makes sense Captain. I realize I was the party in error. I half-listened to your sentence. I jumped to a conclusion. Probably due to the track record you have in failing to accurately answer my questions today, I just leapt to the conclusion that each one in succession today will fail as well and it’s probably best, since I am so conditioned, and know that when one is conditioned to operate in a single given perceptive mode, from word one to word n of any given conversation, consisting of more than three conversational exchanges, its best for me to withdraw from the playing field for the day have a few good meals some nice wine and an on-demand movie tonight, of at least three hours’ duration, followed by at least the classically correct eight hours of sleep, the hot morning shower, the walk around the block, the positive benefits of which would be enhanced by the accompaniment of a leash-trained healthy dog, if one is available, and then back home, a light low-carb breakfast, and I will come meet you here again tomorrow at whatever o’clock sharp I observe you continuing your work from any room of my house with one or more windows facing your yard—uh—I will meet you and we can try again to get the talk off on some different foot than we did today, ‘cause I don’t like doing things wrong, Captain. Please use your tools some more. I need to fix mistakes right away—in that I know I am much like you, Captain—I know you and I are so much alike. I learn how the tools work when I watch you. That’s why, when you come out to do a job I like coming over. I want to learn what all the tools do, Captain. I like to be with you Captain. I like it very much. Someday I want to know as much about tools as you. The things you do make me think and think, Captain. I can’t learn tools no place else, Captain. Like what you said that seemed so simple—right tools for the right job you know that old saying—you said that Captain. Hey. Yes, you did. Listen. I never heard that one, that was a good one Captain, a really really good one man o’ man—hey. Use that one there. What? I never saw that tool before Captain. Use that one. Use any tool at all, sure. Any one of which you will. Just say some more to me Captain.

I need some more said to me very bad.

Where’d you go to Captain?

I need some more said to me very bad.

 

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Smoke Rises – F C Malby

Smoke rises from the fire pit, curling into snakes above their heads. Sounds from the black of the forest make Harry flinch and spin his head like a baby owl. He is the only boy to turn his back on the heat of the flames. Robin holds the tin close to his thigh. Their fears, written on pieces of paper in spider writing, coiled tightly inside, ready to burn, sending a spiral up to their ancestors. If a great grandfather can take the thoughts that keep them awake at night, they might sleep easy. Harry wonders how many of them have written about the accident, about how Ed had died on the tracks that night last winter as the mist descended. They all carried the belief that it had been their fault, that they had killed him. 

“What if it doesn’t work?” asks Tony, rubbing his hands together. 

“It has to,” says Fred. He stabs the fire so that the smoke twists and dances until it reaches a point in the sky where it vanishes. 

“Did you hear that?” Robin asks. He rubs his knees, as though summoning something; a genie, or courage perhaps.

They all heard it; a voice from the point where the smoke vanishes into the darkness. 

“What if it’s Ed?’ says Tony.

“Or an ancestor? Someone who is angry?” Robin is shivering but it’s not cold.

“Did we kill him?” asks Fred. “I mean I don’t know if it was our fault or his.”

“What if we all die, too, you know, as punishment?” says Tony. He does not look up.

“It was only a dare. He was meant to get up. I didn’t tie the rope to the tracks tightly. I really didn’t. He was meant to get up,” says Robin. He starts to cry, and the crying gives way to shaking. They hear a sound like thunder and a voice, but they cannot discern any words. The fire goes out.

 

F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her stories have been widely published both online.

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Starsky (and Hutch) – Ellie Rees

I found him last week – quite by chance – on line,
he and his blond partner, still fighting crime.
Their leather jackets, his red and white car
it’s the way that he moves… coiled, muscular.
It seems somewhat strange at my age – for surely
I’ve fallen in love once more – with Starsky.

I sit before the screen as Starsky pulls his gun
explodes into a running chase
or it’s when he touches his partner’s face
it’s his tightly wound energy and strength that entice
(I’m feeling a little delirious)
my mind has become
such a glamorous place

But –

Starsky is writing his reports on a typewriter
Hutch records evidence reel-to-reel
cars, with bonnets the size of double beds
growl and roar through littered streets

Side-walks with call-boxes hungry for coins
a bit-part actor searches for a dime

Telephones everywhere nakedly revealed
with cables that coil
squatting on desks
or pinned to a wall

The receiver crashes down
in frustration or rage
just so the camera
can dwell on
Starsky’s face.

But –

it’s not the spaniel collars
or the high-waisted trousers
it’s not the victim status
of all the female roles
it’s simply my reflection
look – there on the screen
blurring his expression –
that drags a veil once more between
the present and the past.

Starsky is not reachable by mobile phone.


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Sweet Sixteen – B F Jones

Mum said she could go to the party. This is very rare. Mum thinks she’s too young, only just 13, but it’s Fran’s 16th birthday party and Mum caved after Fran called, begging for her favourite little cousin to come.

The entire city is sweltering with heat so she puts on her denim skirt with a t-shirt and conceals her shiny nose under a puff of Mum’s heady beige powder.

Fran lives a few streets away and Mum and Dad agreed that she could go on her own but that Dad would pick her up at 11.

She enjoys the solitary walk, the warmness of the evening on her bare limbs, the hum of the busy streets, the smell of food and cigarettes emanating from the nearby cafes. Somewhere, someone is playing the saxophone, and long, weepy notes float in the balmy air.

Moments later she rings Fran’s doorbell. Music and specks of conversation seep through the door, followed by an uneven clattering of high heels. Fran greets her warmly, her clammy arms around her, before abandoning her in the middle of the lounge to welcome more guests.

A couple of girls stand by the buffet and she smiles at them, but they only stare, long enough to make her uncomfortable, before going back to their conversation.

She pretends an exaggerated interest in the CD collection, looking at each one of them for far too long, drinks a soda, bubbles too quickly chugged stinging her throat, and eventually sits on the edge of the sofa, clutching a plate of untouched sandwiches. On the wall clock, only five minutes have gone.

Just as she decides to go, the tall guy comes and sits next to her. “I’m Lily’s brother”. Ensure of who Lily might be, she just nods.

Soon they are talking and laughing, and the seconds on the clock rush around. Someone dims the light and changes the music and they start dancing, barely moving to the rhythm of an unknown song. The two girls stare at her again, but this time she doesn’t mind.

He’s holding her tight against him, and she likes this long, musical hug. She’ll have to ask Fran what this song is.

His face comes closer to hers there are small flecks of green around his dilated pupils. She hasn’t kissed very much before. She’s learned the technicality of it with her childhood friend a couple of years ago, the unromantic experience providing much giggly. And her boating buddy kissed her on the last day of the holiday, his sea-salt lips on hers leaving her feeling tingly, trying to put a name on the warm, bouncy feeling in her stomach.

“Come”. He takes her hand and leads her to Fran’s room, closes the door and kisses her again, his tongue insistent. His moist hands move slowly down her back, pressing her against him.

They are underneath her shirt now, unclasping her bra. His fingers press too hard on her breast before making their way up her dress. And there is a growing bulge in his trousers. The bulge rubs on her. Up. Down. Up. Down. Rub. Rub. Small grunts come from him while she stands there, not knowing what to do.

So she just keeps kissing.

She doesn’t know what this feeling rising inside her is. It’s not the tingly warmth from the summer. It’s more like a heavy, crushing sensation. Maybe that’s normal?

She doesn’t know, so she just keeps on kissing.

Her name is suddenly shouted in the corridor prompting him to jump back. He pulls a strand of her hair behind her ear, gives her a smile and a wink as she battles her bra clasp. She shyly smiles back, trying not to look at those hands, now rearranging his trousers.

She and Dad silently walk back. The saxophonist has stopped playing and the cafes are clearing tables.

 

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What’s Left Behind – Traci Mullins

Everything is too neat.

Boxes taped shut and stacked into corners, clearly marked so the movers will know which box goes to which house. God forbid that one of us will end up with something that might remind us of the other.

Even the garage is swept clean. Only a half-full trash bag dangles from a nail. He must have forgotten to toss it. More likely, he left it on purpose, like an accusation: “Thanks to you, rubbish is all we have left.”

He’s the one who prefers booze over me, so why am I left holding the bag?

I drop it into the back seat of the car, go in to recheck each room one last time. Throw up in the bathroom. Am tempted not to flush.

It’s taken ten years to come to this. Ten years of begging, cajoling, shaming, screaming, threatening, lecturing—my voice becoming like the adults’ in the Peanuts cartoon: wa wa wa waa. But I couldn’t shut the fuck up. Didn’t get it—that words are no match for a fight with an addict. I should know; I’m as addicted to him as he is to scotch.

In the den now. I can picture him stacking wood in the fireplace on a Saturday night, sweet smear of old soot across his nose. He can turn our favorite room into a cozy patch of heaven, and every time, I think the same fool thing. How can he want anything more? He lasts an hour before his nightly rendezvous with a better lover. I let the fire die.

In the kitchen now. Blueberry pancakes sizzling cheerfully on a Sunday morning. Today will be a good day, you’ll see. But when ‘60 Minutes’ tick-tocks, he’s been out for two hours, a string of drool pooling onto the leather sofa. I pull a blanket up over his face. He might as well be a corpse.

In the bedroom now. I find him unresponsive on a Monday afternoon. Call the ambulance. This will be the day, you’ll see. There’s no deeper bottom. He’s drunk by noon on Thursday.

That’s when I tell him: “This is it. I mean it this time.”

He snorts. Tosses back another shot. “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

Front porch now. Pulling the door shut for the last time. It doesn’t hit me. You’d think there’s a point in there somewhere. It’s lost on me.  

 

Traci Mullins, a non-fiction book editor by day,discoveredflash fiction in 2017, and it’s been a love affair ever since. Her stories have been published in three anthologies, Panoply, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Boulevard, Blink-Ink, Dime Show Review, Ellipsis Zine, Cabinet of Heed, Fantasia Divinity, and many others. She was named a Highly Recommended Writer in the London Independent Story Prize competition.

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