I Called You Last Night? Really? – Mike Nolan

In the safety of my cubicle, I set my sunglasses and coffee next to the keyboard and fell into my chair, firing up the computer and taking comfort in being able to dim the screen. I couldn’t do anything about the overhead lights. 

I’d consumed half a Nalgene bottle of carrot-ginger-tomato juice, a concoction I heard was the absolute best cure. Nothing beats simply going back to bed, but I couldn’t miss work.

Scrolling through e-mails, I banged away at the keyboard. I was halfway through my coffee when Beth’s eyes slowly peered over the cubicle wall. My hands froze above the keys. 

“You doing okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, hi, I mean, good morning.”

I shifted my tired eyes back to the screen, wondering if they looked as bloodshot as they felt.

“You’re all right then?”

My eyes returned to Beth, and I could feel them pulse slightly, keeping time with my heartbeat. I drained the last of my coffee. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“Well, after you called me last night—”

“I called—” Catching myself before I could complete the question, I changed gears. “Yeah . . . last night. I called.” 

Beth slipped around the cubicle wall and folded her arms across her chest. Perching on my desk, she lowered her head and searched my face, wearing the expression you make when you’re not sure if you should continue a conversation. “You remember calling me, right?”

“Of course,” I lied. 

“All right, I wasn’t sure. And . . . I was concerned. You sounded sort of sad.” Beth’s eyes radiated empathy. My heart stuttered. She was perfect—smart, beautiful, honest—and now that I was over Amy, I was ready to fall in love with someone else, like Beth. 

“Sad?” I forced the smile again, proving I was not sad. 

I was treading water and damn close to sinking. The only thing I remembered with any clarity about last night was celebrating the date, October twenty-third. I was proud of having survived a year since breaking up with Amy, although I wasn’t sure survived was the right word. Over the last few months, I’d been careful to use the phrase, “breaking up with Amy,” because it sounded mutual, like something we’d both agreed on. Truth was, Amy ended the relationship, and I’d been walking around with a gaping wound ever since. 

So last night, on the anniversary of our breakup, I decided to celebrate. To show how strong I had become, I watched Sleepless in Seattle, the old Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan vehicle that had been our go-to romantic comedy. Amy and I had the lines memorized. As a precaution, I deadened any possible pain with vodka. Normally, I wouldn’t do that; I didn’t even like vodka. But at the time, it made sense, in a self-abusive sort of way. I thought watching Sleepless in Seattle would be like me taking on the role of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, when Bogy asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” “Play it . . . if she can take it, I can take it.” It all turned out to be torture, just like it was for Bogart in the movie. He couldn’t take it, and neither could I.

I ended up flat on my back on the living room floor, semi-conscious, TV screen buzzing a monotone, and a half-empty bottle of vodka by my side. A tiny voice inside my head kept saying, “You know you still love Amy.” Which was why Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and I all got hammered drinking vodka.

“So we’re going out to dinner?” Beth asked.

“Right . . .” I was fishing, working hard to concentrate on the conversation and keep the smile on my face.

Amy walked by with a stack of files in her arms. Christ! Perfect timing. I froze for a second, trying to regain focus and remember what Beth just said. After missing a beat, I grinned. At some point this conversation was bound to crash and burn. I would die in a blazing fire.

“I’d like that,” Beth said.

This time I smiled for real, just like Tom Hanks. Maybe there would be a soft landing after all. For a second, neither of us were sure what to say next. 

I lowered my eyes. “I’ve got a confession to make.”

Beth drew closer. 

“I was, you know, just a little tipsy last night. I mean, when I called you.”

“But you meant to call me, right? You want to go out . . .”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Yes.”

Beth made a sympathetic “Mmmmm” sound, her eyes full of concern. I melted. She squeezed my arm, and I loved her even more. 

Beth leaned back on my desk. “And you’re doing okay now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Really.” This was working.

“Well, we’ll talk about it at dinner, right?” She squeezed my arm again.

That sealed it. “It’ll be fun.” Now my smile was uncontrollable.

Before she returned to her own cubicle, Beth gave me a little hug, which actually made me shiver. 

Beth started to walk away and my breathing returned to normal. I focused on my computer as Amy walked by again, still carrying the same stack of files. Was she circling the office, waiting to talk without Beth around? Amy stopped next to my cubicle. I stood as she said, “You doing okay?” which made Beth stop and turn around.

“I’m fine. Ah, thanks for asking. How are you?” I fumbled for words as my eyes darted between Beth and Amy, and a hundred emotions—feelings that were supposed to be buried beneath a shallow pool of vodka—came rushing to the surface. Suddenly I was back to being Bogart, not Hanks. A sad, hungover Bogart.

“Good,” she said, nodding. “I just wanted to check, you know, after you called last night.”

 

Mike Nolan lives with his wife, Ann, in the little town of Port Angeles, in the far corner of Washington State, USA. He is the author of My Second Education, has a web presence at mikenolanstoryteller.com and can be reached at mikenolanstoryteller@olympus.net

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Jars – Tammy Breitweiser

A shelf full of glass jars line the entire East wall. The shelves remind her of a floor plank from an old barn floor. Some jars are empty. In three jars there is yellow liquid of various shades. One is a swirly glittery rainbow like a unicorn threw up. Several
are various shades of green and blue.

One jar has an eye that follows you as you walk by. The window at the end of the room is cased in white and the glass is so clean you think there is nothing in the frame. The room is ten degrees warmer than the hallway. The room is narrow like a hallway and a half
with one wall with no adornment at all. A simple wood desk stands under the window.

The jars are mysteries of memories. Snippets of emotions showing life and light. Some of the jars hum. A couple emanate voices that run nonstop like an 8 year old excited to be in the car going anywhere. Others are fireworks and excitement.

She picks up a jar from the third plank and the eyeball stares at her from the top shelf.

She cups her hands around the embossed jar. She hears a language she does not know. The jar is warm and she holds it to her chest. It looks like she is holding a weight ready to do squats. She closes her eyes and it hums louder. The frequency matches hers infusing
the feeling of green meadows and the smell of grass.

Words and images flood her soul. She breathes in contentment. She feels herself skateboarding down a hill with wind in her face. The breeze whips her legs. There is a sense of freedom, peace, and joy like a dream.

Tears roll down her cheeks as she starts to sway back and forth. The humming softens steadily and then there is silence. She opens her eyes and places the jar back onto the shelf without the sound of glass and wood. She feels oddly like she has been on a ride at
an amusement park and now it is time to exit where the sign leads.

The jar sighs and starts to hum. It glows light and brightens with a surge and glows normally.

The jars are like tarot cards and feed off your intuition. One who is not aligned would hold the jar and it would turn black and hot and she would rush it back to the shelf where it came.

The afterglow lasts and the feeling is like being wrung out on a humid long distance run or a massage.

Another day a jar will reconnect her with the feelings of loved ones who have passed.

It all starts with a color.

Tammy Breitweiser is a writer and teacher who is a force of nature, an accidental inspirationalist, the keeper of the little red doors, and a conjurer of everyday magic who is always busy writing short stories. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT

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Pamela – Linda McMullen

They say I broke in, stole things, and ran screaming from the house. It’s a lie.

The truth is that the king’s chamberlain had long suspected Mr. Baer – a senior footman – of having sticky fingers. The chamberlain suspected Mr. Baer of pocketing one of the king’s diamond pins. Accusations of theft were an extremely delicate matter. The chamberlain confided his fears to his own servant – my father. My father volunteered me to slip into the Baers’ house to investigate.

I waited until they had gone to church. The house was locked, but Mrs. Baer had left a pie cooling on the windowsill. I hoisted myself up and slipped through the window.

The family had obviously been running late; I spotted half-empty porridge bowls on the table. I amused myself briefly by tasting one. It was no better or worse than what my own mother made.

Then I began my search.

I sat on each of the chairs, to ensure the pin had not been hidden beneath a cushion. The child’s chair was poorly built, and it collapsed beneath me.

The floor had not been swept in some time.

I went upstairs. The Baers had two bedrooms; I went into the adult Baers’ room and lay on each of the beds, feeling for a pin-prick beneath the mattress. I also looked under the bed opposite, preferring not to dirty my dress, or my golden curls, on what was probably another dusty floor.

No pin.

I went to the junior Baer’s room, lay across the bed, and peeked underneath.

A trapdoor!

I tugged it open from my ridiculous angle – there, beneath the trap, wrapped in a handkerchief, was the pin!

I held it up to the light, watched it sparkle…

…and did not hear the Baers return until I heard shouting below.

There was no window in junior’s room, and no time to fly downstairs.

My best option, I reasoned, was to remain in bed, feign sleep, and pretend that I had wandered in as…a prank. I tucked the pin into my pocket.

Such a racket they made when they found me! Baby Baer pointed and screamed, Mama Baer wailed about the shock to her nerves; Papa Baer took me by the ear and hauled me to the village square, shouting all the while. A crowd formed immediately; someone ran for my father.

Father lit into me, calling me yet another female led astray by her curiosity. He offered to let Papa Baer punish me, giving no hint that bore any responsibility for my intrusion. Papa Baer took full advantage of Father’s offer.

I hobbled home.

My father offered no consolation, no apology, and no ice. Instead, he said, “Did you find it? The chamberlain has come asking!”

I looked him full in the face: “No.”

He looked crestfallen, and shuffled away.

I left in the night, went to the capital, and sold the pin to a wealthy collector. I have lived comfortably in town – and gloriously unencumbered – ever since.

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over forty literary magazines, including, most recently, Arachne Press, Luna Station Quarterly, Ripples in Space, Write Ahead/The Future Looms Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound.

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A Moment Coloured Dusk – Elodie Rose Barnes

Night rises slowly here.

A show of darkened gold, amber, fierce orange. Almost three hours after it started the glowing embers still spark in the western sky. Looking at them ignites a longing, as if the fiery trails – all that’s now left of the hottest day of the year – hold something just out of her reach.

She’s here to meet someone.

In all of the eighteen million, three hundred and ninety six thousand moments that she’s lived (give or take; she’s never bothered to adjust for leap years) only a handful stand out, coloured threads in a thick spool of grey. This will be one of them. The hard slats of the park bench digging into her thighs, the rustling and shifting of the trees, the warmth seeping from the city stone. The waiting. The two music students practising harmonies on the grass; alleluia over and over again. She doesn’t understand the rest of the Latin, but listening distracts her from wondering.

She’s here to meet a woman, but she doesn’t know what the woman looks like.

Her hands feel restless, jittery. She hasn’t brought a book because she doesn’t want to blend in. She needs to stand out, to make herself known, to make it clear that she is the outsider here because the other woman doesn’t know what she looks like either. Not any more; she’s all grown up from the year-old baby who survived the night on the convent steps. Left there by the woman she’s here to meet. Raised by nuns instead. She is imagining an older version of herself, and she imagines that the other woman is imagining a younger version of herself, but what if they are both wrong? How will they ever find each other here, in Paris, if it isn’t like looking into a mirror of the future or the past?

She wonders whether, like an animal, she will know her mother’s scent before she knows her face.

The sunset show is almost at an end. She doesn’t understand why people talk about night falling, because this husky, inky purple seems to be floating up from the heat-soaked ground. Her feet are swimming in it, along with the grass and the paths and the bottoms of the trees. Her hand nervously pats her small bag, wishing that she’d at least insisted on a photograph. All she has is a letter. She doesn’t know how the letter found her. Her husband is a diplomat, and she’s travelled so much that the ground sometimes sways beneath her feet. She wonders whether the handwriting – looped, heavy, spiky in places – will show in her mother’s eyes.

She wonders if it will finally feel like coming home.

Violet creeps up over her legs, over her arms, tangles in her hair. The leaves are swaying in it. The park is gradually emptying and she thinks this must be it, over, too late, but she doesn’t want the deep, rich colour to run with her tears. The moment is gone. With shaking hands, she gathers her bag and smooths her skirt. She’s glad she hasn’t told her husband.

She steps towards the night, and the woman on the bench opposite lowers her book

Elodie Rose Barnes is an author and photographer. She can usually be found in Paris or the UK, daydreaming her way back to the 1920s, while her words live in places such as Burning House Press, Bold + Italic and trampset. Current projects include two chapbooks of poetry, and a novel-in-flash on the life of modernist writer Djuna Barnes. Find her online at http://elodierosebarnes.weebly.com, and on Twitter @BarnesElodie.

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Banshee – Claire Loader

They say the banshee came the night my grandmother died, the night my mother was born. Through their screams and wails it was said another sound could be heard, a keening howl that tore about the hedgerows, raced upon the fields. The desperate cries of life and death dancing above the thatch as both bled into the floor beneath it.

I never really believed in all that shite. My Grandmother dying as she gave birth on the barren earth of a dingy cottage was horror enough without the need of a spectral element. I think Mam was always disappointed in me in that way, as if not believing in another piseog I was turning my back on her somehow. Just another disappointment to add to the pile.

“Could you make your bed this morning please, just once?”

“Yes, Ma.”

“And don’t go using the dryer so much. You know it eats up the electricity.”

“I’m sorry, Ma.”

“And you better not fail that maths test this morning. If I have to be called in to talk to Mrs Kennedy one more time…”

“I’ve been studying Mammy, don’t worry.”

If the banshee really did exist surely it was in the form of Mrs Kennedy, she heralded the death of all things. That pursed upper lip, those awful tanned stockings, the way she spoke Irish like she was squeezing it past a carrot squashed up the hole of her arse. Her classes were like one long drawn out scream in which we were all forced to remain silent, not knowing which one of us would drop next from shear boredom. And I was late, again.

“Ms Kavanagh, Dia dhuit.” The words slid out of her mouth like putrid yoghurt. “Delighted you could join us.”

I sat quickly in my seat, determined to ace this thing, to prove to Mam I was more than just a future burger flipper at Supermacs, pregnant at seventeen to the likes of Enda Costello. I looked up at him from my exam paper, broad shoulders hunched over his own, the bottom edges of his pants mucky with this morning’s dirt. Up early on his Dad’s farm most like, his large hands at work long before I managed to drag mine out of bed. His pen was dwarfed by them, and I could suddenly see myself in its place, albeit far less rigid…

“Ms Kavanagh! Eyes on your paper please!”

The banshee again, screaming at me from my future. I looked at my blank paper, then at the clock. I didn’t need the gift of foresight to know I was in deep shit.

When I arrived home Mam looked shook, as if she knew already of my imminent F.

“You alright, Ma?”

Her hands paused in the sink, “Yes. Yes, it’s nothing.”

My eyes narrowed, full sure she could somehow see into my mind, into all of its scraggly compartments, see clearly my morning equations that had nothing to do with numbers. I wavered like an unsure cat, not knowing if it was truly safe.

“Why don’t you go walk the dog or something?”

My brow creased in suspicion. “Sure, Ma.”

I grabbed the dog, hand sliding over the small box in my pocket as I headed out to the quiet of the back field. My parents hadn’t built far from the old cottage, its stony gable end the only thing visible now through the tangle of brambles. I turned from the kitchen window, lighting up a cigarette away from the ‘Great Eye of Mammy’ that was otherwise always watching, Molly rustling about the long grass as I drank in the quiet of the afternoon, certain at any moment Mrs Kennedy would appear with my fast food uniform at the ready, the stitched white shirt proclaiming my doom.

Molly started barking suddenly and I nearly tripped as, quickly turning, I saw her growling wasn’t at the house but the ruins, a dark movement catching my eye from between the bushes.

“Those little Halloran shits again.”

I don’t know what I was doing heading towards the cottage, as if my cigarette was some kind of lightsaber against local vandals, but I stopped abruptly, the dog trembling at my feet, a hooded figure looming out from the stone.

“What the…”

A shriek broke the air and, not waiting to find out if it hadn’t come from my own mouth, I ran through the paddock, my fingers fumbling on the kitchen door, before slipping inside and slamming it safely behind me.

Mam spoke suddenly from the middle of the kitchen, as I leaned heavily against the door, my chest heaving. “You saw her too, didn’t you?”

“I, no, um… maybe?”

Mam stood ashen, her gaze suddenly fearful and I barely made out her whisper, “But she only comes to warn of another’s passing. But that means…”

Our eyes locked. Perhaps now was a good time to tell her about the test.

 

CLAIRE LOADER was born in New Zealand & spent several years in China before moving to County Galway. A photographer & writer, she was a recent winner in the Women Speak poetry competition and blogs at http://www.allthefallingstones.com

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Trainwreck – Alexa Locksley

First time in Denver, a highrise hotel
Smooth sweep of the sliding door whispers class traitor
recessed lights nod in agreement
My companion’s asleep—
exhausted by the mesas of Utah
the hazy opulence of Vale
or maybe my sullen silence
Tiptoe through the lobby of the Grand Hyatt
dress too short
hair too disheveled
flannel too flannel
too many toos for this place
and a copy of Burroughs tucked under my arm
catches the camera eyes of the elevator woman
fluorescent glare from her black plastic shells
insect eyes bulge from her face
She adjusts her orange hibiscus print dress
smiles a false robot smile
and telepathically opens the doors.

Cross the stone corridor
step out into the steaming gray morning, stand under wet humid sky
my antennae drooping, two wilted celery stalks
Take refuge among leather and lamplight
Crack open gold coins, melting yellow streaks
Cell walls expand, jelly replenished
synapses of cellulose stronger with intake:
poison word hoard and rich burn of espresso
wine & sour oil
faint hints of charcoal at the back of the tongue
an imagined memory of withered grass, oolong reduced to ash
false dairy, shelf stable and sanitized
in another world, twin apricot suns below ground
in the lindworm’s tunnel under Munich streets

Shake off the memory
shake out my powdery wings
dodge the streetcars and blend in with gray concrete
Disguise myself as a steamed salmon
lemon slice to keep up with the fashion
and join in the stream

A fresh bucket of deep-sea dread from a long-past meet&greet
(too serious and literary for the ampersand)
Warst du schon mal in Wien?
that deceptively innocent questionmark a tiny tadpole sprouting tentacles
transforms
octopus whirlpool spirals down to the depths
until your friends fish you out
reel you in
admonish in hushed strained voices because Jesus Al you can’t say that
and the sting of the fishhook still slices into your cheek

But now in the diegetic present
face to face
you’re one of us, I’m almost sure
our panicked transaction of phrases a mutual trainwreck
jumbled words casualties that limp from the wreckage
and for a moment I belong.

 

ALEXA LOCKSEY is an escaped Midwesterner living in Las Vegas, where they teach English. Their poetry and short fiction has appeared in Ghost City Review, Peach Mag, Shot Glass Journal, Rose Quartz Magazine, and Bone & Ink Literary Magazine. They are on Twitter and Instagram @AlexaLocksley.

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The Tutor – Bayveen O’Connell

After mid-terms it was decided that I needed a biology tutor. Dad made a call or two and then dropped me off at the house at the end of the terrace on Lincoln.

“You’ll love her. We dated senior year,” he grinned as I got out of the car.

Climbing the steps, I heard the door click open.

“Maggie, right? I’m Angie,” a woman in a whoosh of loose kimono robe welcomed me in.

The hallway led to the kitchen, which was illuminated by windows running the length of the whole room, overlooking the yard. She sat and motioned for me to join her. Angie’s hair was long, black and silky, and she looked out at me through her bangs, pulling a pack of Lucky Strikes and a lighter from the pockets of her kimono.

“John said you’re struggling in Bio.”

I flinched. It sounded worse coming from a stranger. Raising her eyebrows, she put up her hand. “Struggling. I hate that word. Forget it.”

I exhaled, letting a nervous giggle escape. Smiling as she lit up, she said: “So what’s up?”

“What’s up?” I wasn’t sure where to begin.

“What’s the deal with Bio?” Angie took a drag.

I glanced along the infinite window sill where things were growing in pots higgledy-piggledy, green and dangling in every available space. “Humans are ok, even frogs and parasites but plants are just too bland. I mean…pea chromosomes and bladder wrack seaweed?”

Angie exhaled and issued a whoop of laughter. “Your father’s grown wise with his years, sent you to the right place.”

I looked back at the sill again, full of strange colours and scents, high sweetness and sour rot.

“You’ve seen my babies, eh? Here, let’s make a bet. If you don’t have green fingers by the end of the month, I’ll give you 40 bucks.” Angie stood up, coaxed me from the chair and pointed towards a pot with spiky-headed things. I shrugged, eying the gross little petals that looked like mouths.

“We can bet your father’s money.” Angie said, watching me watching her plants.

Above us, a bluebottle fly hummed, bumbling down the window. It made a long, lazy loop around us and stopped near one of the spiky mouths.

“What you think?”

I didn’t reply. I was too busy looking at the fly rubbing its front legs in anticipation of some delicious juice, then crawling up and into the red tongue of the plant. Just like that- snap! The jaws closed around it, the spikes inter-twined, yet I could see the shape of the fly still wriggling inside.

I turned to Angie, my eyes nearly bulging out of my head: “This can’t be real, this is some sort of…”

Angie threw her head back and chuckled, the light glossing through her hair.

“You’re not a teacher, are you?” I said.

She rolled her eyes, “No, I’m a witch. And I have more weird stuff out in the greenhouse, if you’re interested.”

 

Bayveen O’Connell lives in Dublin and loves travelling, photography and Bowie. Her flash, CNF and poems have appeared in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Former Cactus, Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, The Bohemyth, Boyne Berries, Underground Writers, Scum Lit mag and others.

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Takotsubo – Rebecca Field

The inflatable Darth Vader in the hallway keeps making me jump. It catches me unawares as I nip to the downstairs toilet, go to answer the front door or pick up the post. It is a dark shadow lurking in my peripheral vision, about the same height as you were; three foot or thereabouts. In that instant when my brain forgets, I wonder if there is somebody standing there, if it is you come back somehow.

Your Mum wouldn’t have it in your house. I remember her bringing it over, saying ‘you’ve got more room for things like this here,’ and setting it down with a smirk. I hadn’t the heart to say we wouldn’t have it either. When you turned it on, it started making those heavy breathing noises and then you took out the controller and started moving it up and down the parquet and I realised the full extent of its robotic capabilities. I’ll admit, I did wonder if after a while I might be able to accidentally puncture it whilst hoovering whilst you were at nursery.

I tried putting it in the garage, but every time you came over it was the first thing you asked for. You loved chasing the cat with it, dressing it in different hats and scarves, pinning me into corners in the kitchen with it as I made your lunches, and so in the end it stayed in the hallway like a quirky piece of furniture, waiting for your next visit.

That afternoon, I came home with Fred in my black pencil skirt, hung up my jacket and slipped off my court shoes by the front door. It was there waiting, holding its light sabre aloft. It seemed to have an indignant look on its face, as if it had been denied the one thing it wanted, its sole reason for being. I know how you feel I thought. Keep busy, I told myself. Don’t stop or you’ll never get going again. I went upstairs to strip the beds, open the windows, let in some air.

As I was loading the washer I felt the first pain. It was sharp and unrelenting, like somebody squeezing my heart in a tight fist, trying to wring out every last drop of blood. I leaned on the counter, knowing it wasn’t right, but thinking that maybe it was a manifestation of grief and might pass soon. I went back through the hallway to the lounge, to the safety of soft furnishings and carpets. I saw it again in the corner as I passed and I thought that if this was my time to go then that wouldn’t be so bad.

I leaned back on the sofa cushions and called to Fred, only half-hoping he’d hear me. He called the ambulance and that’s how I ended up in the hospital with a cardiologist telling me it wasn’t really a heart attack; it was this thing called Takotsubo that had made my heart stretch out of shape. He said it was the shock of your death that did it, but I’d probably make a full recovery. I decided right then that he knew nothing about bereavement. Fred asked why it had such a strange name and the doctor said it was from the Japanese, something about the clay pots fishermen use to catch octopuses, and how they looked like the shape of my left ventricle. He drew a diagram on some paper and I wondered how an animal as intelligent as an octopus could get trapped so easily in an open necked clay pot. Maybe they were too trusting I thought, thinking they had found somewhere nice to rest, then finding themselves ripped out of the water before they realised what was going on. I don’t remember the rest of what he said but I stayed on that ward for several days, thinking that my heart was still broken whatever the monitors were saying.

When Fred brought me home, Darth Vader was still in the hallway where you’d left him. His face was expressionless, like the way I felt. I didn’t think you’d want me to put him in the garage just yet, Fred said. No, I said. I quite like him there after all.

 

 

REBECCA FIELD lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca was highly commended in the 2018 NFFD microfiction competition and tweets at @RebeccaFwrites

 

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Blueberry Muffins – Steven John

Dymphna lived with her mother in three damp, square rooms above Greasy Joe’s truck stop on the drainpipe road out of a nondescript town, the name of which mattered only to those that lived there. Greasy Joe himself, Dymphna’s father, had keeled over from his lardaceous arteries when she was twelve, and her mother had been bitter about it ever since.

From a mouth like a squeezed lemon her mother would say, “Your father fucked off and left us nothing but his arse to wipe.”

“Father didn’t fuck off Mum, he died.”

“Well that was convenient for him wasn’t it? Got him out of frying eggs for the rest of his puff,” Dymphna’s mother would say.

The red neon Greasy Joe’s sign pulsed like a bleeding heart into Dymphna’s bedroom. Her mother gave her Saturday night and Sundays off. A night and a day away from the water boiler where she made mugs of tea and coffee for fifteen hours straight. The day Dymphna had left school at sixteen her mother had said,

“You’re on drinks. I’ll do the frying,” and that was that.

There were Saturday nights, in front of her bedroom mirror, when Dymphna thought she was pretty enough. She blow-dried her long silky black hair and fluttered her eyelids at herself. There were other Saturday nights when she thought she was a flat-chested bag of bones that stank of streaky bacon. Either way her boyfriend Eddie would pick her up Saturdays, in his articulated truck, for the overnight haul to London.

After three hours on the road Eddie pulled into their usual layby and Dymphna ran over the carriageway for McDonalds and Cokes. Whilst she was gone Eddie pulled the curtains across the windscreen and laid out the blankets on the single bunk behind the wheel. When Dymphna climbed back up the steps to the cab Eddie poured two large plastic tumblers of rum and Dymphna emptied in the coke. Whilst they ate their cheeseburgers and drank their rum and cokes Eddie watched video of extreme fishing.

Dymphna rested her head on Eddie’s shoulder.

“Well this is nice Eddie, just you and me,” she said.

“You made me miss a good bit. He was on a monster fish” Eddie said and rewound.

At bedtime Eddie and Dymphna stripped off to their underwear and got under the blankets. Dymphna had in the past tried some experimentation with their love-making but there wasn’t sufficient headroom for anything that different. Eddie said that it seemed like a lot of huffing and puffing for nothing much anyway.

At five in the morning Dymphna woke to the cough of the truck’s engine and Eddie taking a piss on the front wheels. She pulled on her clothes, used the McDonald’s toilets and brought back coffee and blueberry muffins.

Whilst Eddie supervised the unload she redid her make-up in the sun visor mirror and never left the womb of the cab. On the return journey Dymphna talked about her dream to own a café by the seaside. Eddie said that was fine by him as long as he could go fishing.

“Maybe I could sell fresh fish from a corner of the café,” he said.

“And I would sell my homemade muffins,” said Dymphna.

Late on Sunday night Eddie dropped her back outside Greasy Joe’s.

“Same again next week?” he said, without stopping the engine, or taking his hand from the wheel. Dymphna leaned over and kissed him on the mouth.

Back upstairs in their damp rooms her mother lay hugging a cigarette on the sofa. She didn’t say hello or take her eyes from the TV screen.

“Had a good day Mum?” Dymphna asked.

“I changed the oil in the fryers,” she said, “whilst you’ve been out enjoying yourself.”

 

STEVEN JOHN lives in The Cotswolds, UK, where he writes short stories and poetry. He’s had work published in pamphlets and online magazines including Riggwelter, Bangor Literary Review, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed and Former Cactus. He has won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and was highly commended in 2018 ‘To Hull and Back’ competition.Steve has read at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Stroud Short Stories, Flasher’s Club and The Writer’s Room on Corinium Radio.  Twitter: @StevenJohnWrite

Image via Pixabay

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