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

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Orangelip – Adam Kelly Morton

Jeff is the only guy I know who truly appreciates dinky cars. My favorite is a navy-blue Hot-Wheeler Ford Mustang that goes super fast on the plastic racetracks that we have laid out all over his basement floor. It smells like oil down here, but it adds to the experience. Jeff has a Matchboxer fire truck that goes pretty fast too, but it doesn’t go around the loop-the-loop as fast as my Mustang. He loves fire trucks though, and his has a moveable yellow ladder on it that’s pretty fucking cool.

Jeff asks me, “Why don’t you let me use your Mustang this time around?”

“No,” I say. “You’ve got your fire truck. Stick with that, Orangelip.” I call him Orangelip because Jeff always has Tang residue on his upper lip. My mom was the one who first called him that. She has funny mean names for all the neighborhood kids.

Jeff looks down at his fire truck and rolls it around in his hand. “I never get to use anything that wins,” he says. “I never get to win.”

“Well, that’s just too bad for you, Orangelip,” I say. “A loser is a loser.”

After a while, we go upstairs to the kitchen for lunch. Jeff’s mom’s blonde hair is usually done up in pretty curls, and she always wears makeup and light-colored clothes. Now, she’s just wearing an old, beige bathrobe that has brown stains on it. She’s barefoot, has hairy ankles, and her face and hair aren’t done up at all. She stands behind the counter and scrapes a thin layer of Skippy onto a piece of white bread, then covers it with another piece and puts it on a plate. Then she gives us couple of plastic cups of water and a container of Tang, and walks out without putting anything away.

“Why is your mom so quiet?” I say, as Jeff starts spooning Tang into his cup.

“I dunno,” Jeff says.

“Your parents getting divorced or something?” My parents are divorced, so I feel bold about asking.

“No,” Jeff says, with his mouth full of sandwich. He takes a gulp of Tang to wash it down. I take a heaping tablespoonful of Tang for my water. We never get tasty shit like this at home. “But he lost a bunch of money,” Jeff continues. “The bank called my mom the other day and-”

Jeff’s mom appears in the kitchen doorway. “Eat your sandwich!” she says. Jeffrey looks up at her, then down at his plate. She keeps standing there, staring sometimes at us, sometimes at the kitchen stove as we eat in silence. Afterwards, we go back downstairs, put our dinky cars and racetracks away and go out. It’s too quiet at Jeff’s house. He should get a dog or something. We have a dog named Daisy. She’s fun, even though she licks herself all the time.

Jeff’s backyard has wooden, vertical fence on two sides and high, chain-link fence at the back. Beyond is a field full of trees and wild brush that’s called the Dead End. It’s at the edge of Foster Park, and I’m not allowed to go in there. But there’s a hole in the side fence that we can pass through into the neighbors’ yard, and from there it’s easy to slip through a gap in the fence and into the field. Jeff takes a look back at the house to make sure his mom isn’t watching as we go.

The week before, we’d explored a bit, and found a dead cat. It had grey, tabby fur and its eyes were green, and glazed open. Bugs were crawling and flies were buzzing all over it. Neither of us knew what it had died of. We decide to go find it again.

“Jeff,” I say. “What does your dad do?”

“I dunno,” he says. “Sales or something. But he’s not home as much as he was before. Now he doesn’t get home until after I’m in bed.”

It’s weird to me that Jeff doesn’t know what his dad does for a living. My dad is a textile dyer, and Jacques is a mailman with Canada Post. Mom’s a homemaker, like Jeff’s mom–only my mom is a much better cook.

We find the cat. Its carcass is flattened, and it seems to be just fur—a cat-shaped mat. There are a few tiny, white worms wiggling around on its surface.

“Touch it, Orangelip,” I say to him.

“You’re crazy,” he says. “I’ll get worms all over me.”

Jeff picks up a stick and starts prodding the dead cat. He digs the stick underneath the cat and starts lifting it up.

“I’m gonna throw it at you,” he says.

I back away from him. Jeff is walking towards me with the stiff cat out in front of him on the stick when he stumbles on a tree root. The cat falls off the stick and lands on Jeff’s left foot. He screams and jumps up in the air. The whole underside of the cat is covered with maggots, and a bunch of them get onto and in his shoe, which he yanks off. Jeff is screaming and has tears in his eyes.

We run from the Dead End back toward Jeff’s.  When we get to his backyard I look up. Jeff’s mother is there and staring out the window. She probably heard Jeff’s hollering. Now, if it had been my mom, I knew I would be in trouble right away. She would know that I had done something bad. But I realize that we are going to be okay, because Jeff’s mom isn’t looking at us. She’s just staring out into the field.

Back inside, we play dinky cars some more. We stay downstairs, and Jeff’s mom stays upstairs. When it’s time for me to go home for supper, Jeff opens the garage door and I leave.

“See you later, Orangelip,” I say.

As I’m walking back, I see Jeff’s dad coming down Harmony Street in his rusty, brown Plymouth Reliant. I wave hello, but he drives right past me.

I get home and me, my mom, and Jacques eat spaghetti with meat sauce and Caesar salad for dinner. We’re in the kitchen and The City at Six is on our black and white kitchen TV. Daisy is eating kibbles out of her bowl.

“What do you suppose Jeff eats for dinner?” I ask my mom.

“Orangelip?” she says. “Tang, probably.”

After dinner, I do some homework, then watch a bit of hockey in French with Jacques, brush my teeth and go to bed. While Mom’s tucking me in, I come really close to telling her about the dead cat, but there’s no way I can do it without mentioning the Dead End. She would just know.

It’s later on that night that I wake up to police sirens. Through my bedroom window overlooking the driveway, I can hear Mrs. Andrews from next door talking to my mom on the front lawn. My clock says 1:20am.  I kneel on my bed, pull back the blind and look out through the window screen. It’s a warm night.

Jacques and my mom are out there with Mrs. Andrews. Our French neighbors from across the street are out there too, standing in their lit doorway. Suddenly, a couple of police cars rush by with their flashers on.

“I’ll go see,” Jacques says to my mom.  He starts walking down the hill. I see dozens of red and blue lights dancing on the houses where the street turns west toward Foster.

Mom sees me, and comes back into the house. I hear her walk up the stairs and through the hall to my room. She opens my door. Daisy runs in and jumps up on the bed. I pet her while still kneeling. She starts licking herself.

“What’s going on?” I say.

“Something,” Mom says. She puts her arm around me, and we stare out the window together.

Every few minutes there’s another police car, or special police van that goes by—then a couple of news trucks from CTV and CBC. People from the neighborhood are walking down the street to see what’s going on.

My mom and I are still awake when Jacques comes back. The three of us are in my room. “It’s at the Moodys,” he says.

“Is their house on fire?” I say.

“No,” says Jacques. “Go to sleep, Alan. We’ll talk in the morning.

“But, I want to know if—”

“Alan,” my mom says. “You’re safe. You go to sleep now. Do you want Daisy to stay with you?”

“Okay,” I say. Mom and Jacques leave, keeping my door ajar for Daisy to go out if she wants to.

I lie there for a while, thinking about Jeff’s house on fire. It probably started from the oil smell in the basement.

In the morning, Mom is sitting on my bed beside me. She is stroking my hair. “You up?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Come into the kitchen.”

Jacques is already there. “Sit down, Alan,” he says. I do.

Then he tells me what’s happened.

It doesn’t make sense. Jeff’s dad did something horrible, first to Mrs. Moody, then to Jeff, then to himself in the garage, and that I’d never see any of them again because they were all dead.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Mom says.

I don’t say anything. I just start to sort of shiver and cry. Mom and Jacques hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe.

But all I can think about is not being able to play dinky cars with Jeff anymore, and that it’s really too bad.

Orangelip would have loved to see real fire trucks in front of his house.

 

ADAM KELLY MORTON is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-six), acting teacher, board gamer, filmmaker, and writer. He has been published in (mac)ro(mic), Soft Cartel, Spadina Literary Review, Black Dog Review, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool, Open Pen London, Talking Soup, and Menda City Review, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published in London, UK. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bloody Key Society Periodical literary magazine.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Third Dimension – Sheila Scott 

Perhaps I should be less heroically independent. As I’d fumbled with my stick and the handles of the car door, the taxi driver offered to take me up to the entrance, but I waved him away, embarrassed by my need for assistance. Now I tic tac my way up to what he said was an impressive façade of shining glass.

A slight breeze from the revolving door alerts me I am near the entrance. I put up a hand to catch the speed, insert myself into its spin, and let the metronomic click of its passage tell me when to step out.

A vastness opens around me; I can feel its echo. After a beat I opt for the direct approach and start straight ahead. The leather soles of my shoes squeak across the hard floor, and my stick keeps a syncopated rhythm until it hits the front of the reception desk.

‘Good morning, sir. Can I help you?’ A young female voice with the flattened vowels of a northern accent.

‘I have an appointment with Doctor Eric Meadows at Third Dimension. Eleven o’clock. My name’s Roy Collins.’ I hear the flick of a page, forward then back.

‘Very good, Mr. Collins. You just take a seat and I’ll tell Doctor Meadows you’ve arrived. Here, let me help you.’ Her chair scrapes back. A gentle hand takes me by the elbow to a nearby seat and, as I sink into it, the firm vinyl makes a similar sound to the floor. The receptionist leaves a trail of violets and vanilla in her wake as she returns to her desk. I fold up my stick and lay it across my lap.

My GP put me in touch with this place. Doctor Calder is a good sort, one of the ones who truly cares about the patients, not just dashing off a prescription and propelling you back out the door. She’d read about the new process in some science journal or other and thought it might help me. ‘What do I have to lose?’ I told her, and she put her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze.

Now I sit and listen. A lift pings intermittently and voices drift past. Footsteps resonate confirming my original impression of great space. Eventually I become aware that someone has closed in and stopped before me.

‘Mr. Collins?’ The rustle of a sleeve as a hand is extended. I hold out my own hand and it is firmly grasped and shaken.

‘That’s me. Doctor Meadows I take it?’ We release hands.

‘Call me Eric.’

‘Eric. In that case, I’m Roy.’

‘And how are you feeling today Roy?’

‘Ach.’ I face the voice and give a shrug. ‘Can’t complain Doctor Me… Eric.’

‘Do you think you’re ready to come with me up to the lab?’

‘Yes, I believe so.’

‘And you brought a photograph with you?’

I pat the breast pocket of my tweed jacket and offer a smile.

‘It was always my favourite.’ I feel my eyes dampening already and remind myself of the vow I made this morning. No tears.

‘Good stuff. That sounds ideal. Right, let’s get started then, shall we?’

He also takes my elbow and guides me towards the pinging lift. ‘We’re very grateful for your participation in our trial. Your perspective will be most helpful to us.’

The lift doors shush open, we take a step and they shut behind us. I can feel the closeness of the walls and there is a strong smell of brass polish. Eric taps a button and the lift shunts into action. It is hard to tell if we are going up or down.

‘There’s nothing more for you to sign you’ll be pleased to hear, Doctor Calder kindly sent us on all the forms.’

‘Ah. She’s very efficient. Been a good doctor to my family.’ My voice catches.

‘I would imagine she would be, yes.’

The lift thrums. Eric gives a little cough.

‘I understand my colleagues have already gone through the process with you, Roy, is that correct?’

I nod.

‘I’d a very long phone call with one of them on…must have been Monday? I’m pretty sure we covered everything.’

‘Yes, that’ll be our Doctor Stewart. She’s a devil for the detail.’

The lift jolts to a stop and Eric guides me out. A silence hangs between us as we walk. Finally, he opens a door and escorts me into the room.

‘If you’d just like to have a seat, I’ll go and check they’re ready for you. In the meantime, is there anything we can get you? Tea, coffee, water?’

‘A coffee would be lovely thanks. Just black.’

‘No problem.’ The door closes. The air in the room is a mix of lemon freshener and institutional mustiness. There is a low hum, I suspect from the air conditioning, and a clock ticks loudly. I take the photo from my pocket and with my fingers lightly trace the scene as best I can.

The picture sat on the mantelpiece for years, watching as its occupants in the real world grew bigger and bolder or smaller and greyer; morphed from flat black and white to the colour of the three-dimensional world. The frame surrounding it changed, reflecting passing tastes and trends, but the picture remained a constant. When Gemma married and moved overseas, that image was a visual reminder of those early carefree days. A few years later, I would look at it to see Linda, the woman I married, as she gradually left us. When I could no longer cope and she was moved to the care facility, the photograph was still there. My sight went not long after that.

I’ve heard folk say the one thing they can never take from you is your memories but that’s a lie. I watched Linda stripped of hers. Then as I grew used to the darkness I realised that the images in my brain were also beginning to fade. One night as I was feeling my way to bed I knocked the photo to the floor. I picked it back up and tried to remember the scene. My chest chilled; I recalled the form, the beach and the chairs, but could no longer visualise their faces or what they were wearing. I couldn’t see them anymore.

The door opens again.

‘Hello Mr. Collins.’ A different, younger male voice.

I hear him cross the room. ‘I’ll just put your coffee on the table here.’ He pauses as I don’t react. ‘It’s just to the left-hand side of the sofa.’ He passes back in front of me and the door closes once more. I track the surface of the table with my hand until I locate the paper cup. The steam blasts my face as I lift it to my lips, but the coffee is low on taste and I set it back down. The clock counts the seconds aloud until Eric returns.

‘All ready for you, Roy.’ He leads me out the waiting room and into the lab. There is a buzzing noise and a smell like electricity. It reminds me of the strange odour given off by the little engine of my childhood train-set, as I laid my head at the side of the tracks trying to make it look life-size. I take comfort from it in this alien world.

Murmuring voices are working through a checklist. Every so often there is a loud clunk. From Doctor Stewart’s description of the process, I guess it’s the sound of the projectors being positioned.

‘Could we have your picture, please, Roy?’ I pass him the photograph and listen as he inserts it into the machine. Fingers rap on a keyboard and another voice says ‘set’. Eric ushers me on a few paces.

‘Sounds please Jez.’ The room fills with the staccato shriek of seagulls over the velvet rolling of waves to shore. Children laugh and chatter in the background. I have no idea where the soundtrack comes from but today it will be my North Berwick.

‘That’s you, Roy. Just reach out.’ Eric lets go my arm and I stretch out my hands. A small gasp escapes my lips as I touch the soft wool and floral embroidery of Linda’s favourite cardigan. That’s right. She wore it most days that holiday. She’d got it in the women’s drapers beside the Co-operative when we’d just moved into the house. I can picture her standing in the kitchen swirling round as she held the front panels straight to show off the pattern. She’d never had anything so fancy, she said, but she just couldn’t resist it. She wore it all through carrying Gemma too, even when she couldn’t do the buttons up anymore, the panels sitting either side of her swollen belly like curtains. That little top was a constant in the early years of our marriage and one of the reasons she loved this picture so much.

I long for the sweet scent of her favourite perfume as I trace the shape of her arm up to her shoulder, then bring my hands up in front of her face. There is the gentle heart shape of her chin, the tilt of the corners of her mouth and the upward sweep of her perfectly permed hair. A pair of large round sunglasses, so fashionable at the time, perches on her small snub nose. Her face reforms in my mind.

My eyes are wet and I don’t care. For this fleeting moment they are returned to me, yet I am reminded of how much I have lost. My shoulders heave but I am smiling. It is worth it.

In the photograph Linda sits in a folding chair and I follow the cold steel of its tubular frame down to where I know Gemma kneels, frozen as a five-year-old. My hand skims her pigtailed hair, the cool cotton of her tee shirt with the three pearl buttons on one shoulder, and the frilled skirt of her bathing suit. She is carefully constructing a small empire of sandcastles with her bucket and spade. Over the soundscape conjured by the lab, I recall her soft voice explaining to the inhabitants of her castles how their sand city was evolving. I hear Linda’s voice too, sharing the gossip gleaned at breakfast about the other residents of our B and B.

I remember where I was immediately prior to taking the photograph and, with some difficulty, resume this position. Sitting beside Gemma, my back resting against Linda’s legs, I am engrossed by the B and B tittle tattle and Gemma’s great construction project. I run my hand around the contours of the castles and, as the details regenerate, I will them to stay in my memory this time. The pressure of Linda’s knees against my spine reawakens the sensation of her stroking the shorn hair at the base of my short back and sides. I can smell the mix of sunscreen, brine and ice cream that was Gemma after a day running around in the sun. Everything I used to see when I looked at the photograph, I sense as I sit inside it.

‘One more minute, Roy.’

His voice sounds quieter and a little less confident than before.

‘Yes, Eric.’ I give Gemma a kiss on the top of her salt straggled hair then haul myself up. The temporal distance, oddness and presence of an audience make me feel almost shy as I lean down to hug my wife a last time. Now I catch the light rose traces of Linda’s perfume. She feels firm and alive, not the frail echo that sits in the hospice hiding sandwiches in her dressing gown and screaming because she doesn’t recognise me.

A touch on my arm and I jump.

‘Sorry, Roy. Didn’t mean to startle you.’ Eric steers me back across the room. The seagulls and waves cease, and I realise, once again, they are gone.

Eric hands me back my photograph.

‘Thanks again Roy. Karen will be in shortly to look after you. You okay?’ Once again I nod. I don’t trust myself to speak just yet.

The next steps have already been explained to me. They’ll take me through to a clinic where all my vitals will be monitored, and a psychologist will debrief me. The scientists have learned to be more careful what they release into the public domain after the last time. They want to assess the medium-term impacts as well as the immediate, so in a fortnight I’ll go through a second batch of tests, then a third lot after six months.

The real world can wait, though. For in this moment, I see everything clearly again, and for as long as I can I will cling to this image. I will stay sitting on the beach with my young wife in her favourite cardie and my beautiful little girl building castles made of sand.

 

SHEILA SCOTT is a hybrid writer-scientist who most enjoys sitting with pen and paper turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Published in Causeway, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Poetic Republic, Qmunicate and shortlisted for Arachne Press Solstice Shorts, she also helps lead New Writing Showcase Glasgow and has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account @MAHenry20.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Spidey Manda da Plumber Boy – Jim Meirose

“After a three-hour struggle to get him on the phone, he was rude and I should have just said I wasn’t interested.”

–Actual online review posted by disgruntled plumbing service customer

Spidey Manda the spidery wallclimber pushed in from his maternal gohole bigger than the average baby but smaller than the smallest grown man but as all large babies his appetite dwarfed every other aspect of himself. Sit down to this meal he ordered himself silent. Once down in a meal it became the world. It did. All art begins in babies. Far out woman’s drain stopped three miles or more out. Spidey had-a his number stuck up at the market. Far out woman pulled down the wallset and keyed the number believing he’s a plumber boy. The kitchen sink’s backed up oily and filthy all swirling with foodbits—my Wanda did dishes and it’s all up in there, she prepared to say when the phone picked up. Right foot tap began making her say My Wanda did dishes and it’s—the phone three miles or more out rang out over Doc Manda’s impenetrable meal of a world—fifty forks in the phone went on. Sixty forks in. The phone went on. Tap to left foot to right and then back. My Wanda seventy forks in did dishes eighty-one two three forks in and it’s. Three quarters of the plate went in S. Manda by now all up in there hey this phone’s faulty a hundred and five. Meester Manda paused. Why have I paused. Why. Salt it is. Salt’s not on the table and I need salt. This phone is faulty said the crack of her hangup her waiting a second here’s why you know. Anything that won’t start working right away causes reflexive shut down count to thirty push trying to start whatever again—and so forth. Like smacking the side of the unit used to be. Where’s the salt I know I got some hey he said to no one at the cupboard out of the meal world huh mealworm not mealworm world’s the thing yah listen next time I  said meal world—her fingertap one number at a time she’s a read off the paper and  tap the corresponding number on the set; back repeat until entire string’s entered and. Ah here’s the salt get back over sit back down the meal world domes over and Spidey Manda da Plumber Boy hot dog bat damn! The salt’s gonna fine up this meal. Fine to the top! The phone rang and surely this time it will. Work. Done salting the forking reset back to one, then go; My Wanda did dishes and it’s all up in there; One fork in yes two three four. Five my Wanda did pick up damn six seven forks in. Tapping then glance to the sink. Water calm water smooth water deep water blue. Ring ring ring think of deep water blue sparkling midsummer Sun beating over all not humid slight breeze trees rustle lock rhythms with rings over over again over and; the salt’s good not much left water calm water savor it slow. It’s too good yes good slower forking slower savor. Slow. Deeply lower the basemented founders of the plumber-firm Billy and Bluto having observed quite long enough began deciding having been at it since their big machine tapped randomly into franchise number two tagged with S. Manda, proprietress. Mysterious cleaning of my thing hut. Done daily in the dark unnoticed. Mysterious cleaning. Wanda did dishes. Of my thing. Salt’s finin’ yah finin’ up the remainder of Manda’s meal. Hut. Tap counter. Yes. Wanda did dishes space the start hold it there back a bit Billy okay Bluto did dishes and watch the gauge okay up a hair, yon; there there there hear there ring one ring two ring—penetration of a world-impenetrable the miracles we do today. Hut. My Wanda. Salt good. Wanda. Thirteen good. Bread good. Salt finin’ finin’ eat faster it just happens no not with my mouth full; Fire, no good! belched the monster. Shut the set down Billy. Shut the set down. It’s too distracting. Hundred two hundred and more and more ring. Relax and go upstairs. See him call him out for. 

Salt good salt salt good God yes slower slower. 

Far out woman given up calls out Wanda my Wanda hey. Come here. I want you. I want. Billy Bluto punch on the off speakerphone the toetips of which recall sweet gentle deerhooves. Calling Spidey Manda with a ring other than the Far out Wanda line termed number one. For purposes of clarity we will refer to Billy and Bluto’s as number two—even though we know that labelling these lines suchwise relies on the fiction that says these are physical lines like lone away a love a last or somewise similarly named time-passages, when nowadays nothing that’s working looks like it ought to to the mostly thinkingbound still-fooled-into-thinking that; logic is a noun. Touch it; Billy and Bluto alternate punching Spidey Manda’s designed to be instantly remembered registered and copyrighted phone number. Wanda! Even though in this heah’ yeah’ the term phone number is patently inapplicable. Write what you know boy, stated Miney Fuerer. Miney Fuerer is long dead though so, punt! And the call started through goosed in the Willy and got ready deeply in-breathed but not the holding kind, whichkind would lead to freezing with the immediately fatal network failure that would lead to, and kicked the ring-sound out the earpiece piercing the thinskin of the worldrind wound about Spidey twisting his head around then ringing again getting his butt up and one more last time slinging his bulk across at the wall unit sweeping and tapping it down to his rightlobe by habit always used for answering because the leftlobe has less than half the hearing for some reason no medical specialist has been able to discern therefore just chalking it up to g-g-g-g-enetics, Hello? No genet-t-t-t-t-ics We need to speak to Spidey Manda okay this is it here goes for the money—genetics hah yah genetics woo hoo ah—I’m Spidey, heybob. Who comes in my ear here? Who who. Comes? Comes at me? At me in my ear?

Billy as Bluto, after throwing themselves around each other for several hours, and about one half more after, got to it saying but not in unison—and which one said it’s really not something you need to know—we have seen that at least once and possibly other times too but for sure this once though possibly othertimes possibly othertimes p-p-p-p-possibly other-timesss too, eh; you took a long lunch. Right in the office. Right by your phone. It rang and rang—the robot numbermen who clock in these things say their counters got full. Fully fully. Did this happen from where you sit out yonder past the otherside of the great crack between us? Yeah did it? echoed the other either Billy or Bluto you do not need to know and do not think that the order their names are given in is any indicator of who spoke when. Past performance is no indicator of future results, Bob. You are on your fucking own. Yes, that’s right hardthrusting shitty notions a’fly everyplace allwheres hereto and tomorrow for you are on your fucking own—no no no phone rang. The warriors! Also no object in earshot gave forth any clear resonant sounds, as bells being struck do, my sillies. Okay if that’s your attitude sir Spideyman, I think we have to examine the freaky fucky timeline baby—spanning many too many years of time; the great joke. Life starts with a great spurt. Big greasy rice corn gristly blackball down in the lower pipebend. My God George this can’t be my baby. Wanda come here do we have a plunger?  Blackspined leatherbound mechanical manuals on this low shelf. How the hell do they know on them thar’ TV medical reality shows how to. There’s a number of discoveries each person’s made since birth but by the time you’d like to know the number it’s become impossible to determine. You are trying to solidify the past and that only gives rise to a lie.  However the number of blades of grass on the planet has been measured and documented. The slimingly slithery mucousy glistening organ-masses all pulled out to look for a leak. Hah! Really? Okay then look it the fuck up. Wanda came with a plunger. At least three hundred fat books in the library at Trinity are hollow containing the most popular contraband of their specific era. Or a tear. The first boil lance of any lifetime. Three. Tends to never be forgotten. No bell made an impression on my mind. Sets of hands shuffling through the live guts. Skinny scratchy itchy. She splashed it down in the black water and up down up she set it to sucking. Hey, Ferp! How do they get all those guts back in properly? On a descending stairwell going to the next class was where I was when he died, senor Wildenstein. I detected nothing and no one summoning me using bellsound or any other sound. South River. Plunger it plunge sure but those bends are iron. Comic book back cover, Hey boys! No Wanda careful you’re. Sell Grit. And maybe steel. Door to door. Wide shallow grey dull-lit aisle. I had the salt. Chain link. The garden hose kinks just one spot everything stops. Men’s room there. Spraying water all. Ladies’ room here. The intestines just kinked just one spot everything stops. Pubic ah. The salt is the life. Pubes-stench. Over the room. Pubes-stench in the Dahmerspace. Jesus said put away childish things. I mean, I would expect to hear the phone if it really rang as I did when you called. The water stops it’s just easy to walk the hose find the kink and kick it away. Gimmee that sucker here. The recovery room. Nothing filled with sound. In the recovery room the nurses are told watch for defecation. No I almost got it. I am sorry mister Simpson but you can’t go home until you amply evacuate. No echo. Garden hose kink yah. No you don’t. Green summer garden hose kink stops evacuation yah. Just salty goodness. Evacuate on the one hand squirt on the other. Give it here. I can tell you what’s true though Mister Wet and Mister Whistle. Mister Simpson we need to see an ample bum-squirt out you before we can. Kinkhose. The phone never rang. Kink the hose kinking of the hose is almost never desirable unless. How does that come out through there so easy Lord! Dense. Stiff. Long. Damp not wet. Not liquid. The creator the great engineer. Big soft bulb-headed pushplunger up down up Wanda roiling up slimy blackbits from the deeptrap. Wanda pushed pulled pushed pulled, stating, It will not let go. Call the plumber—what was the matter I thought you were calling a plumber why did you call for a plunger? This doesn’t work—is the plumber coming? Whoseit—is it—that Spidey Manda—that guy.  Is he coming? He coming I no plunge no more eh eh. Manda drop what you are doing and tell us why you did not answer the customer. Wanda, don’t play the silly fake accent there’s no way it’s cute. Three problems with that question Messrs. Billy boy Bluto; first is that I am doing nothing to drop. Unless you count my paying attention to the two of you. In which case I will do as commanded. Since you are in positions of authority, and that all authority comes from God, consider yourselves as ignored. Eat your ways through those ones my biddies. Call the plumber woman; and I am going to ask you the question I have kept to myself since the day I hired on. Ready? Of course man we do not mean stop paying attention to us. Quite the contrary. Look at us! Look! What is it Wanda? I’m ignoring you! I’m not touching you! I’m ignoring you! I’m not annoying you! Heh heh heh. Aw. You have never paid me the simple courtesy of allowing me to know your name. Spidey Manda, do you want to be terminated? Huh? You know my name. I told you my name at the interview. Hmmm hmmm hmmm I’m ignoring you! I’m not touching you! I’m ignoring you! I’m not annoying you! Am I annoying you? Hmmmmm—No you didn‘t! Spidey Manda, you have to our count of four to reverse your direction ah—I suppose you weren’t paying attention at the interview, though you seemed to be. What other things did you deceive me into thinking you were paying attention to that day? Hey hey hey that day? Uh. Uh. Am I annoying you? I’m not touching you. One, Spidey Manda. PLAN the scambot came homing in under telling Wanda to spurt out spurt fast, Caulinda Plummah should be your name boss. Number two. Wake up please. Three. Someone I’m ignoring I suspect is trying to trap me. Caulinda Plummah yah should be your name. And, four; okay okay so’s as I walked up Washington past the borough hall laughing like at just being school age, I think that’s when it happened yah that’s when I think—God touched me in the head and asked me, What if you had to sit and write down everything you know? Spidey Manda. This is it, Spidey Manda. Caulinda Plummah baby, Caulinda Plummah, hey—this is it; could you do it Master Manda eh could you could you could you do it could you do it eh—eh?

 

JIM MEIROSE’s short work has appeared in numerous venues. He has published several novels as well, including the upcoming “Understanding Franklin Thompson” (JEF pubs) and “Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer” (Optional Books). Info: www.jimmeirose.com  @jwmeirose

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Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Men in Different States – Rickey Rivers Jr

I want a good meal.
I want nice clothes.
I want a car.
I want a house.
I want a wife.

I have great meals.
I have nice clothes.
I have a nice car.
I have a nice house.
I have a great wife.

I had a good meal.
I had nice clothes.
I had a car.
I had a house.
I had a wife.

I want what I never had.
I have what I always wanted.
I had all my wants.
I want more than you have.

 

Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Mobile Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He likes a lot of stuff. You don’t care about the details. He has been previously published in Every Day Fiction, Fabula Argentea, ARTPOST magazine, the anthology Chronos, (among other publications). https://storiesyoumightlike.wordpress.com/http://twitter.com/storiesyoumight

.Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Fool – Danny Beusch

Perched on the rusted chair, nursing my third coffee, thinking. About last night: the worst yet. About what I’m doing wrong. I watch him tame the rampant ivy with Grandma. He looks like any normal seven-year-old. He looks like sugar wouldn’t melt.

‘Good boy,’ she says. ‘They’re sharp. Keep them pointed at the ground. Good boy.’

She wanders into the shed. As soon as she’s out of sight he lifts the shears. The shiny edges dazzle me with sunlight. Seconds later, eyesreadjusted, the blades point at my throat. He inches closer. I grip my mug, legs frozen, palms burning.

‘James,’ shouts Grandma, holding a rake. ‘Point them down, please.’

He drops his arms, runs to her. I inhale the whisky in my drink.

‘Be careful,’ she says. ‘You’ll hurt Mummy. Now come here and help me clean up this mess.’

I cool my hands under the kitchen tap, pour something stronger, worry about what will happen after Grandma goes home.

*      *      *

He kneels in the old ceramic bath, facing the wall, hugging his chest, shoulders tense. Dirt from the garden muddies the water. The dripping tap echoes under the high ceiling.

I soak the flannel and squeeze; water trickles down his back. He flinches, turns, clamps his mouth onto my forearm. I pull but he clings on,piercing skin. I force my fingers between his teeth. Prise open his jaws. Push him away. Stumble over. Run.

*      *      *

Frozen peas numb my arm. Merlot warms my body.

He’s crying so I know he hasn’t drowned.

*      *      *

Back upstairs, the bathroom smells damp. I wrap my shawl tight, smile at the sight of my breath. Smile at the vivid bruises across his sunken chest, the cigarette burns that dot his knees, those bottle-blue eyes, that perfect nose.

‘It’s OK, sweetheart. Mummy’s here.’

*      *      *

He curls up in darkness. Silent. I shut the bedroom window, unscrew the light bulb.

A sob – just audible above the squeak of the lock. ‘You fool,’ I say. ‘Do you think you can win?’ I put the key in my pocket, wipe away tears. ‘You stupid fool,’ I say to myself.

 

Danny Beusch (@OhDannyBoyShhh) lives in the UK and tells stories. He spends rainy days reading Joanne Harris and Margaret Atwood novels. He started writing flash fiction in 2017

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Keeping Up With The Joneses – Alva Holland

Banks of scarlet azaleas and cerise rhododendrons mark the driveway to the double garage of No. 7 Maple Way. Mr. Powers nurtured the shrubs from cuttings and is proud of the privacy his colourful hedges provide for his double-fronted detached residence.

Next door at No. 5, single-garage Mrs. Johnson thinks her hybrid fuchsia and cotoneaster are far superior to her neighbour’s efforts in terms of display and colour. She covets her secret source of quality fertilizer which she refuses to share with No. 7 in case his display should surpass hers in terms of admirability as people pass.

No. 3’s triple-garage, vintage car owner, Mr. Bailey doesn’t like flowers but has a lawn fit for a Queen. Mrs. Johnson watches him vacuuming the leaves, almost reverently, each Saturday morning. She secretly envies his gleaming edge-cutters – a thing of shining beauty, glimmering in the summer sun as he creates the perfect right angle to his precious carpet where it meets the driveway leading to the polished doors containing his venerable collection.

No. 1’s granny-flat-instead-of-a-garage Mrs. Jameson is a container gardener, with terracotta pots full of brightly coloured bedding plants spilling over onto lustrous grey pebbles and glorious hanging baskets adorning the fascia board. Young widow Mrs. J and her elderly mother tend the baskets and pots in a prayer-like fashion.

Maple House sits at the end of the road. The house doesn’t have a number because it used to be the only house in the area before the wealthy owners died leaving it to a good-for-nothing son who wasted his inheritance. The estate ended up being sold to a hungry developer who converted the sweeping driveway to a wide two-lane road, split the estate into lots and sold them off to the Powers, Johnsons, Baileys, Jamesons and their like.

The competitive street befits the Jones family who’ve recently taken possession of Maple House. A sweeping renovation has commenced. The neighbours will spend the next year striving to keep up.

Winter arrives.

The Neighbourhood Watch man patrols.

A heavy snowfall blankets the estate in anonymity.

Every house now looks the same.

 

Alva Holland is an Irish writer from Dublin. First published by Ireland’s Own Winning Writers Annual 2015. Three times a winner of Ad Hoc Fiction’s flash competition, her stories feature in The People’s Friend, Ellipsis Zine, Train Lit Mag, Stories for Homes, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Jellyfish Review.
Twitter: @Alva1206

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Meet In The Middle – Chloe Smith

The dew from our coffee cups
Soaks into the oak, a temporary tattoo –
We were here, it says, as the remnants dry
And you lift it to your quivering lips.

I nudge mine, just slightly, with my thumb,
The way you used to tap me, gently,
To bring me out of a restless sleep.

It was always a relief, to have you there –
Now you just leave me be, let me wake up, moist with a cool sweat,
With those nightmares staining the fringes of my mind as I reach out into the empty space –

You haven’t touched me in months.

You eye it, the steaming mug,
A smoke signal, communicating,
More than we’ve done in a while –

I don’t know what the white wisps are trying to say, as they rise, weakly –
But it doesn’t seem like enough.

I pick it up, and notice a pattern in front of us –

A light Venn Diagram, etched almost artfully,
The ghost of our drinks, our last-ditch meeting –

On one side, you, and your soft hand, your fingers almost skirting the outside line,
But still hanging on. Just by a hair, by a nail.

And on the other, me, not even a part of it –

I steady myself
And then let a contender enter the ring

My slight hand, shaking slightly, just edging into the middle
The ring gleaming in the light –

You keep watching me.
I don’t know what you’re thinking,
Maybe of that piece of advice we got given on our wedding day –
I don’t think we were really listening…

Your finger twitches, almost beckons me,
But I was. I laughed it off, at the time.
How would that work?

My bliss was a firework –
Bright and joyous, but not everlasting.
The smoke always lingers, finds you eventually.

We just need to cough it out,
Let it leave our tired lungs…

But now –
Now you need to –

And you do.

In a quick swift movement,
Your hand reaches out, slots into mine,
Like it’s meant to –

Out rings shine together, the sky lighting up
With stars instead.

But in that quick swift movement,
Your elbow
You were always clumsy –

Knocks into our cups, which we’d hurriedly placed down,
Our hands too busy with other things,

And they fall, each in turn, like dominoes,
Like chips –

They paint the faded table a glistening brown,
Rewriting our game with lukewarm enthusiasm.

Somehow it avoids our laps,
And while we let go,
To clean up –

You beam at me,
Match my warmth.
The gleam on our hands reflecting in our faces.

I know we’ll be okay,
That knowledge tickles me as it lights up
The edge of my mind,
As we parrot hurried apologies to the waitress, and wipe each other’s hands.

After all, we have a blank page, now,
We can always play again –
Find each other as easy as breathing, as falling pleasantly asleep,
Now we are here.

 

Chloe Smith is a disabled writer and poet from the UK. She is a Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2015, and her poetry has been published in Rose Quartz Journal and Cauldron Anthology, with more forthcoming in TERSE. Journal. Her website: https://chloesmithwrites.wordpress.com/. Her Twitter: @ch1oewrites

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Hamburger Hal – John Grey

Hamburger Hal was Richard Ucci
who grilled patties on a grid of fire,
garnished them with all the fixings,
trucked his miracles around church festivals
and modest fairs in parks and empty lots.
He prayed over his specialties in Italian
as he spread salt on meat like holy water,
a tattooed testament to all his father taught him
about the meaning of “cooked just enough.”
Both generations lie under the soil of St Mary’s
with its faint aroma of barbecue sauce and relish,
their bones united by spatula and fork.
Hamburger Hal lived three blocks
from where I grew up, the side of his van
painted with sizzling meat and onions,
giant bottles of ketchup and mustard,
and a guy in a huge white cook’s hat
who didn’t look the least like Hamburger Hal.
I never had one of Hal’s burgers in all my life
though I know there were some who swore by them.
Richard Ucci claimed to have a secret ingredient
like Coca Cola or KFC though we kids
figured that for a lie, for the Hamburger Hal that
we knew was nowhere near bright enough
to be concocting magic recipes.
He just grilled burgers the same way everybody else did.
But he had a van. He could be America
whenever there was some place to park it.
His competition was candy floss and bounce rooms.
And his late old man of course.
He died young. A tractor trailer crossed the dividing line
and crushed him like a slug.
People still say no one made burgers like Hamburger Hal.
But Hal wasn’t a real person so maybe those aren’t real memories.
I do remember clearly watching dogs chasing that van
and thinking to myself, they’d better not catch up with it
or they’ll be on a bun before the day is out.
You get all kinds of stories about those who put themselves
out there, if only in a small way.
The truth is probably mediocre burgers and no chopped-up Fidos.
But that’s not a good truth.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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