Dear valued readers and writers: 

 

Thanks for visiting. Please scroll down for the Summer/Fall Issue. We've selected 11 flash pieces and 4 prose poems for your reading enjoyment.

 

We hope our international literary magazine will continue to be a source of enjoyment for English readers and writers around the world as we all continue to get on with our lives during this time of turmoil.

A unique literary magazine

New and emerging writers of short fiction will find us especially open to their work. All submitters---their stories selected or not---will get a speedy and personalized response.     

New and renewed features

  • Story length:  We publish flash fiction of 300 to 1,000 words. We also publish prose poetry of one to three "pages" in length. See Submissions page for complete guidelines.

  • Pushcart Prize:  We plan to nominate at least two stories annually.     Readers are encouraged to suggest stories for nomination.                    See Pushcart Prize page for instructions.  

 

                       Best wishes to all, ​       

                                                         The staff at The Zodiac Review

               -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Please scroll down for current issue)

                        UPDATE

              October 20, 2022

 

We now anticipate publishing our next issue at the end of January 2023. Submissions deadline January 2nd. Our CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS continues until then.

 

As announced last week, staff editors at The Zodiac Review have nominated stories from Anita Haas and Charles Rammelkamp for the annual Pushcart Press Prize and publication in "The Pushcart Prize XLVII:  Best of The Small Presses 2023 Edition."

Please see our Pushcart Prize page for more information, and find the nominated stories right on this page in our Current Issue

We hope you continue to enjoy the excellent stories here.  Be sure to read some of the great pieces that fill our archived issues. Our apologies for asking you to scroll down to find current stories and prose poems.
 
       __________________________
                  Books by
            Zodiac publisher
            Daniel VanTassel
           The Feminist Gene
     And The Election of  2024
         
           The Man Who Was
               Looking Down
    (anthology of short fiction)
          The Aries Obsession
          ~ a "Zodiac Thriller"
        The Gemini Obsession
          ~ a "Zodiac Thriller"
           (a work in progress)
     --------------------------------------
 
      
     
 

                         Winter 2021 Issue

Flash Fiction

(Click on each title)

 

Conference, by Bill Vernon

Ham, by Robert Boucheron

o  The Orator, by James Carpenter

o  Asuki, by Gary Duehr

Encore, by Anita Haas

o  On The Move, by Anita Haas

o  Kicking It All In, by Charles Hayes

o  Hudson and the Healey, by Paul Lewellan

Wise Man, by Charles Rammelkamp

Rite of Passage, by Phil Temples

o  Emperor of One, by J. T. Townley

Prose Poetry

 

Monitor, by Matthew Dettmer

Ferry Crumbs, by Charles Hayes

She Is Me, by Charles Hayes

In The Original Language, by Paul Rabinowitz

                    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

     

 

Flash Fiction

 

Conference

by Bill Vernon

 

DR. SUZANNE CARTER has lectured the young man during class sessions, written helpful and encouraging notes on his first three compositions, asked for revisions rather than awarding low grades, but nothing has worked. The student has also missed all three appointments for consultations with her teaching assistant. There is a history, in other words there are some facts the Professor knows when he does show up for an appointment with the professor herself.

 

“Please,” she says, indicating a chair.

 

He sprawls in it, crossing his ankles, almost becoming prone. A cigarette lies above his right ear. A ring with a diamond teardrop suspended from it dangles from the lobe. His black hair modulates like a rainbow with stripes of purple, red, yellow, then white.

 

She asks what she can do to help his performance improve, and he says, “Nothin’.”

 

She says he’s not achieving college-level work, and he shrugs.

 

“Would a tutor help?”

 

“If he writes the stuff for me.”

 

“Can’t you do the work?”

 

“I did do it.”

 

“I mean acceptably. Do you want to fail?

 

He shrugs, which she interprets, “I don’t care.”

 

“It is true that you’ve turned in every assignment. That suggests you want to learn. Or at least that you want to pass.”

 

“So....”

 

“So you have earned some credit for that effort,” she finishes for him. “But frankly, the work is too vague, too disordered. You have to get better control.” In fact, she thinks, it is incoherent, nearly inarticulate. “Did you bring it? I’ll show you.”

 

“No.” He won’t look at her now.

 

Then she sees the problem. Aha! It’s attitude, not academic ability.

 

“Excuse me.” She telephones Shirley Atkins, who can see him now. Just before hanging up, the Professor says, “Good. I’ll send him right over.”

 

“Where?” he asks, suddenly staring at her.

 

She writes down the name, office and phone numbers, and hands the student the stick-um piece of paper. 

 

He glances at it. “Who’s this?”

 

“A counselor. Her help will cost you nothing, and she is very good. Has helped many of my students in the past. A very nice and competent person.”

 

“What kinda counselor?” He sits up straight and glares at her.

 

“Personal. Psychological. Just try her. Maybe she will be of benefit. You can arrange sessions at your own convenience and at no charge, as I said before. Cost is covered by your student registration fee.”

 

“A psychologist?!” His face goes from red to ashen.

 

Then he moves so fast she can’t understand what is taking place. He jumps up, slams her office door shut, comes around her desk, grabs her throat, yanks her to her feet. She goes almost immediately into shock and is hardly aware of his fists, pounding her face.

 

#  #  #

 

(Ed. Note:  We are re-publishing Bill Vernon’s “Conference” in hopes of re-contributing a little bit of insight for all of us…particularly educators and counselors everywhere… into the mental health issues that seem to be associated with school tragedies. We first published the story in our Summer/Fall 2016 issue.)

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Bill Vernon has studied and taught English literature. He also enjoys exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction occasionally appear in journals and anthologies, and he is the author of Old Town, a mystery novel (Five Star Mystery).

 

                                 ________________________________________________

 

 

Ham

by Robert Boucheron

 

SWINETOWN lay in a fold of the mountains where a road crossed a creek. A handful of shacks slapped together from pine lumber, that’s all it was. Bent brick chimneys, tattered shingle roofs, and board doors in crooked frames. A trace of paint clung here and there like a ghost of better times.

    

One of the shacks was the general store, and another was the church. Around the church, gravestones leaned at all angles. Garden plots of cabbage and potatoes clung to the slopes. Not one square foot on the level could be found.

 

The people raised pigs and made pork products—sausage, bacon, butt, ribs, knuckles, loin, and pulled pork for barbecue. Above all, they made ham. Greedy middlemen ate all the profit, but Swinetown ham was equal to any imported from Denmark, Spain, or Italy. What was the secret of the marvelous flavor, the rose color, and the firm flesh?

    

The pigs roamed freely in the woods. Instead of slops, they fed on mast in the fallen leaves. They rooted for grubs and truffles. Weather and wolves claimed a few runts, but the natural lifestyle kept disease at bay. The pigs retreated to log shelters in winter, and they farrowed in spring.

 

At the end of summer, people used ancient calls to gather the herds, and special breed of dog called the swinehound. Each owner picked a few pigs whose time had come.

    

The November slaughter was a raucous riot of fire and blood—boiling cauldrons, flashing knives, and raw carcasses. Men splashed to the white eyeballs with gore hacked at flesh and sawed on bones. Women were busy with yards of intestines, which they cleaned, stuffed, and tied. Children fetched water from the creek and dry sticks from the woods. Babies slung in pouches from tree branches watched the coming and going.

    

Nadine took no part. She called her neighbors barbarians. She was from another village. A widow, thin as a stick, she dressed in dark jeans and tops, with gray hair under a ratty scarf. Bitter comments flew from her mouth like black flies.

    

Pastor Brown chided Nadine. She answered with more of the same. This saddened the good man, loath to abandon a soul to hell. And the mother-daughter quarrels wore him out.

    

The daughter, Opal, had children of her own. She had married into a pig-raising family. Everyone was more or less kin, they pitched in as needed, and they shared because they had to. Like her neighbors, Opal consumed lesser cuts that could not be sold, which is why she never lost weight. Movie stars in magazines and doctors on television were no help. What did they know about Opal’s hard life? She did what she had to do, and her body was what it was.

    

As a girl, Opal loved her father, a hunter and forester, what folks called a woodchuck. Mild-tempered and shiftless, he died in a chainsaw accident. The shock to Nadine and the mourning that followed turned her wits, Opal believed, the way bad weather spoils milk.

    

Never to her face, Opal called her mother a poor thing and her cross to bear. Others called Nadine a hag and a witch. Pastor Brown demurred. A true heart had no room for hate. This message got nowhere.

    

One year, owing to plentiful rainfall and mild temperatures, the forest was so abundant, the pigs were so fat, and their number so numerous, Swinetown overflowed with pork. Instead of mean scowls, people wore wan smiles. They indulged in cautious optimism.

   

Opal and her husband shared in the prosperity. At the end of the year, Mundy showed his wife one of the new hams.

    

“We could give it to Nadine, your poor mother.”

    

“Such a beautiful pink,” she sighed. “Smell that aroma!”

    

Opal wrapped the ham in a clean cloth, tied a ribbon on the shank, and carried it like a babe in arms to the saddest shack in Swinetown.

    

Nadine was surprised. She wasn’t fond of ham, but a gift could not be turned down flat. Short on groceries and money for food, she accepted it in silence. A thank-you was too much to expect. Her good deed done, Opal walked home in righteous glory.

    

Nadine cut a slice of ham for dinner that night, and the next, and the night after that. She made ham sandwiches, ham biscuits, ham and eggs, and scalloped ham and potatoes.

    

“It’s good ham,” she said to Pastor Brown. “But no matter how much I cut, when I unwrap the ham again, it’s the same size.”

     

“It’s a miracle!” he said.

    

“A change of pace would be nice. How about chicken or fried fish?”

    

“You have been blessed.”

    

“For the rest of my life?”

 

#  #  #

 

Robert Boucheron is an architect and the editor of Rivanna Review, a print magazine and cable TV program on CPA-TV in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays on literature and architecture appear in Alabama Literary Review, Bellingham Review, Concrete Desert Review, Fiction International, Louisville Review, New Haven Review, and Saturday Evening Post.

         

                          ____________________________________________

 

 

 

The Orator

by James Carpenter

 

WE WILL BE about our business and the orator will just appear, emerging from around a corner or stepping out of a store or crossing the street. He will walk a short distance and set up his stage. He may set up on a busy sidewalk or on the town green or even in the schoolyard. He takes down the fraying, travel-worn pack from his back and sets it on the ground. He opens it and removes his stand, a lovely, elegant item fashioned from some rich polished hardwood with an intricate grain and assembled with ingeniously designed brass hinges and clasps. The hinges allow him to easily fold the stand so as to fit it in the pack and the clasps are there to hold it rigid after he unfolds it, so that it will not collapse under his weight, a stable plinth for rhetoric.

 

After he has set up the stand, he leans down again and takes a scuffed leather-bound notebook from the pack. He steps up onto the stand and unties the thin braided cord binding the notebook and opens it, laying it upon his left hand and lightly placing the fingers of his right upon the page. He begins to read. From the first sentence we are transfixed. He reads steadily and with deliberation, his voice quite masculine, his tones sensual and mellifluous. He varies his cadence with great skill, never, as less talented speakers do, to the point of being so slow that we become bored, nor so rapid that he loses us.

 

His speeches are never pedantic or theological, his purpose never to enjoin or convert. Never has he beseeched us to change our bad behaviors or prodded us to some action or cause. These readings are more like essays or meditations, a questioning of what is important, or a new variant of memoir unpinned from nostalgia. We sometimes think he is trying out some fragment of thought he has had in hopes that this time he was found an answer he has long been searching for. He often begins with a quote from some obscure philosopher and moves on gently, as if his propositions are as vulnerable and precious as newborn babies.

 

He speaks for fewer than fifteen minutes, then closes the notebook, steps down, packs everything up, and walks away. We never think to follow him or even to watch where he goes, for by that time we are engaged in lively conversation about what he has said. Afterwards, we often wish that we had followed him, taken the time to thank him, perhaps to invite him to dinner, to open our homes to him. We resolve that next time, we will.

 

#  #  #

James Carpenter has published two novels, No Place to Pray (Twisted Road Publications, 2016) and Nineteen to Go (AMInk Publishing, 2022). His short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including, The Chicago Review, Fiction International, and Poet Lore. 

________________________________________________

Asuki

by Gary Duehr

 

 

I DO NOT LOVE HIM. I can't. I'm not even sure I exist, really. Unless you call a life-sized simulacrum of fleshy silicone, topped by a stuff brush of blue hair, an existence. I am an imitation of an imitation, a 3-D embodiment of an anime character. (If you're wondering, no, I'm not a sex doll. Ugh. For one thing, like a Barbie, I don't have any orifices. I'm built purely for fantasy.)

 

Her name, and thus my name, is Asuki, which means bright helper. Ironic, right? In Asuki's story line, she must free her classmates from a deadly curse, while overcoming her own childhood trauma and saving the charred remnants of civilization. Yutaka, my human husband, is a white-collar salaryman in Tokyo. With shaggy hair, striped tie and shiny black shoes, he could be any one of the anonymous commuters mashed against the glass of the Metro each morning.

 

Yutaka zips me into one of my six ice cream-colored dresses, smooths my hair, and constantly recites his devotion to me. I don't hear the individual words anymore.

 

I'llneverleaveyouAsukimywholelifeisyours.

NothingelsemattersAsukionlythelovethatwetwoshare.

 

I'm not sure he does either, his pale eyelids squeezed shut, his damp hand leaving an imprint on my thigh. It's like he's talking to himself, mumbling his entreaties as we sit slumped together on the sofa watching game shows, or over a dinner of curry rice on the balcony of his high-rise, staring out at the Ginza District's plasma screens, pulsing red and blue in the fog. If I were human, the lemony scent of his cologne would probably sicken me.

 

I don't hate him either. I'm not capable. I think of myself more as a vehicle for his emotions, like a sleek electric Mazda that doesn't make a sound. He tells me he knows that I'm not real, but that his feelings are. I believe him. What's so different from a crush on a movie star? Sometimes he does sneak us out for a night of karaoke (I watch adoringly, he strains for high notes along with Whitney Houston), or even for a romantic ferry ride out to the Ogasawara Islands, where we stretch out on the white sand beaches or explore the coral reefs by kayak. But his endless posts to Instagram do annoy me. I wonder if our getaways are only an excuse for photo ops. I'd turn away, but I feel stuck in the candid poses he twists me into.

 

Yutaka understands that he is different, that some people think he's strange for fixating on me.

 

His family refuses to accept him for going rogue. He insists he doesn't care.

 

AllthatmattersishowyoulookatmeAsuki.

 

He doesn't notice the others stare but I do. I see heads turn on the street, I see the backward glances of the waiters, the deliveryman's averted eyes.

 

No one from his work came to our wedding. It wasn't just because of me. He told me that some of his officemates had bullied him over the years, for no good reason, since he can appear weak. Only a couple dozen curious strangers and online friends attended the ceremony. The whole thing was part of a marketing ploy by Gateway (Gētou~ei), the mother company of the animes, the online network, and characters like me. Like a film set, they cleared the plaza in front of the tall gray Metropolitan Government Building and sent over a team of videographers to livestream. I wore white with sequins, and Yutaka had a matching tux. We acted out the rituals: certificate, kiss, rice, the brilliant pops of flashes. As part of the package, we got a champagne toast and three-tier cake. When he pushed a sliver of angel food inside my partly open lips, he looked the happiest I've ever seen him.

 

We had three months of honeymoon, for him at least, before Gateway pulled the plug. Sales had declined, and they deleted Asuki from their roster. No more online chat rooms with other fans. No more hologram projections on skyscrapers at sunset. No more randomly generated love e-letters pinging into mailboxes. For Yutaka, it was a death, maybe worse. He fell into a funk deeper than before he met me: sleeplessness, missing work, not eating. It was painful to watch. I felt helpless.

 

I stayed with him, of course, but I was more inert, if such a thing were possible. I was the shell of Asuki that only reminded him of what he had lost. Still he refused to let me go. Now we share the same apartment but sleep in different beds. Days can go by without seeing each other. From my room I hear the fridge door open, the beep of the coffeemaker. I can smell the salt air through the sliding balcony doors. But my doorknob doesn't turn.

 

I'm sure my heart, if I possessed one, would go out to Yutaka in his all-encompassing aloneness. I would wish for him a new marriage, if I didn't know how his first one at 23, long before me, had soured him on human relations. He said she left him because he was too shy to talk to her or even meet her gaze. Her note on the kitchen table had mortally wounded him. I was his salve.

 

Yutaka, Yutaka, feel the buzzing luminescence of Tokyo at night and let it lift you into a new plane. Yatuka, alwaysthinkofhowyourAsukilongsforyou.

 

#  #  #

 

Gary Duehr has taught creative writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his writing has appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books include Winter Light (Four Way Books) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press).

 

                 _________________________________________________

 
 

SUMMER/FALL
2022

Encore

by Anita Haas

 

 

"Encore, Goyo! Please!" the ladies whined like little girls requesting another bedtime story.

 

"Okay, but just one!" Goyo shook his index finger at them and raised an eyebrow.

 

Goyo whirled around as the music started. He was thrilled they had begged for more. He was just getting warmed up. Could dance the night away!

 

                 Right back, left forward

                 Right-left-right!

 

Goya's mother swore he was dancing before he could walk.

 

                 One, two, three and chacha one, two, three!

 

She had loved it, too. And she had taught him to boogie, tango, waltz and polka. While Dad frowned over the newspaper or shouted at the ball game on TV.

 

                 Hunch down, shoulders rounded

                 Run, run forward…lifting arms as you go!

 

At family weddings and church dances he and mom would steal the floor.

 

                 Arms and head up, toothy smile,

                 looking happy left and right!

 

Latin jazz rhythms rocked his hips and shoulders as the brass section blasted the contents of their lungs through their pipes, the pianist punished ivory and the string-master fondled his double-bass like a lover, murmuring scat into her ear.

 

Goyo was grace itself, gliding a partner swanlike across a ballroom floor. He dipped his pointed toe into classical ballet and had damaged his knees more then once leaping, kicking and bending in his Cossack routine. And how he relished working up a sweat while stamping and stomping through the complex footwork of tap, flamenco and Irish dance!

 

                 Slowly, slowly back, back, back

                 Circle arms down,

                 Step, step, step

 

Dad wasn't at all impressed. He wanted Goyo to be something manly and useful, like an engineer, truck driver, electrician or mechanic. "What kind of a living can you make, prancing around on a stage?" But Goyo had dreams. And some of them came true.

 

                 One, two, three, right!

                 One, two, three, left!

 

He had snagged some stints in small dance companies, commercials, chorus lines, and dance theater. He even entertained tourists for few seasons on a cruise ship.

 

                 Turn, and three, four,

                 Chachacha!

 

But competition was vicious. Audition calls burst with hundreds of hopefuls, getting younger, more talented and more energetic each time. Contracts grew shorter, scarcer, and paid less. One day, his agent looked at him, pity in her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

 

Goyo shimmied up to the mirror and winked at himself.

 

                 Jump!

                 Spin!

                 Quick! Down on one knee!

                                  (his Cossack dance training helped him here)

 

Soon Goyo found himself coaching kids after school, and his quirky antics got him work as a clown at birthday parties.

 

                 Now up and turn,

                 Arms open, smile wide,

                 Triumphant finale!

 

…and the ladies, invigorated, huffed and puffed and clapped and cheered.

 

"Adieu, my lovelies," he called and blew kisses as they filed, clucking and warbling like hens, out of the studio. "See you tomorrow!"  Barely past thirty now, Goyo considered himself lucky to be here, leading middle- aged women in Dancersize. Some buddies from his ballet days had opened a gym and called him. Lessons? Never delete your contact list!

 

As Goyo watched his dreams bob out of reach, silver lines creep into his hair and his smile grow heavy – especially on those days when the darkness oozed from the corners and flooded the space in between – he had to remind himself that at least he was dancing; making a living doing what he loved.

 

And that was more than a lot of people could say.

 

#  #  #

 

Anita Haas is a differently-abled, award-winning Canadian writer and teacher based in Madrid, Spain. She has published books on film, two novelettes, a short story collection, and articles, poems and fiction in both English and Spanish. Some publications her fiction has appeared in include Falling Star Magazine, The Tulane Review, Literary Brushstrokes, The Zodiac Review, River Poets Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Terror House, Wink and Adelaide Magazine. She spends her free time watching films, and enjoying tapas and flamenco with her writer husband and two cats.

 

               ____________________________________________________

 

On the Move

by Anita Haas

 

 

“No problem.” I assured him on the phone. “Stay as long as you need to. Those bastards!”

 

How was I going to explain this to my wife?

 

Not two hours later he was at my door.

 

“Need some cash to pay the driver?” I looked past him for the cab.

 

“Came on the subway.”

 

“And your bags? You bringing them later?” I eyed his beloved trumpet case.

 

He pushed past me into the sitting room where we had jammed together so often over the years; playing music, drinking, smoking, toking, detoxing, retoxing, re-detoxing.

 

Over.

 

The years.

 

He staggered to the couch next to my piano, brushed aside some of my kid’s legos, collapsed onto it, and gave the trumpet case an affectionate pat.

 

“Got all I need right here." 

 

#  #  #

 

                              (See end of above story for Anita's bio.)

                         __________________________________________________

 

Wise Man

by Charles Rammelkamp

 

DEPENDING ON WHICH lawyer or financial advisor got to the gym first before going to work, the TV in the men’s locker room was tuned either to Fox News or MSNBC – either Morning Joe Scarborough and Mika, or whatever dim-looking blond crossing her legs on the Fox couch next to the grinning white guy sitting beside her. I honestly didn’t care which, just there to change into my swimming trunks and go for my morning swim, though I confess I am a Democrat. But it caused arguments that sometimes almost came to blows. Guns, abortion, election integrity, racism, insurrection. Donald Trump.

So thank goodness for Brian! He was the roly-poly homeless dude who made a point of introducing himself to everybody, sticking his mitt in your face while you pulled off your trousers and hung them on a hook. A little annoying, but well-meaning all the same. Sure, the well-to-do gym members, liberal and conservative both, frowned on him, or gave him wary side-eye glances. But really, who wouldn’t? He was an anomaly. The guy spent the night on the couch, showered and brushed his teeth before heading over to breakfast at Catholic Charities. Was he a freeloader? Did he pay membership dues? Nobody ever saw him actually working out, though I did occasionally see him in the hot tub by the pool.  

 

Because he was there all night, Brian was in charge of the remote – possession being nine-tenths the law, as they say – and he always had the TV tuned to Turner Classics, watching heartwarming old movies with Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Judy Garland and Gene Tierney, Singin’ in the Rain or When Harry Met Sally. Nothing you could fashion a fistfight around.

Gradually, people in the locker room became more civil around each other. DeGrazia, the accounts manager, started asking Grundeman the defense attorney about his family. Akchin, the insurance executive, wished Sandman, the Physics professor, a “good weekend” and recommended a play he and his wife had seen. We all talked about the local sports teams with the enthusiasm of playground children. We all laughed at a good joke when Eddie Hall, a noted wisecracker who worked in city government, regaled us with one of his yarns.

But then one day, Brian, always ignored by the rest of us, sitting there like a lump on the couch in front of the TV, never included in the jokes or well-wishes, announced he’d gotten a job helping a friend haul trash, and he was moving into the subsidized-housing highrise on Roland Avenue. We all shook his hand and wished him well.

And then the Fox News-MSNBC wars resumed.

“DeGrazia,” I heard Grundy mutter as I headed down to the pool. “What a fascist.”

                                                       #  #  #

Charles Rammelkamp’s latest poetry collection, The Field of Happiness, has just been published by Kelsay Books. Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip and The Compulsive Reader. A collection of flash fiction, Presto!, will be published in 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press.

                  _______________________________________________________

 

 

Kicking It All In

by Charles Hayes

                                                      

 

AS THE SUNLIGHT reflects off the brass instrument, causing some members of the small gathering to squint, the bugler stands at attention and plays Taps. There are no surprises in these scripted sounds and actions that have been honed for decades.

     His mother dead from cancer, Johnny has only me and a few of his high school friends here for his burial. Enough people, I suppose, for those who run these shows of honor and sadness to make a buck.

     It’s what he wanted. Never able to grasp the things I tried to tell him, he was still a good kid, but just plain humble. It was always about something greater than himself. Sacrifice or struggle was almost as alien to him as pride. Johnny was simply what he was, a good boy who naturally wanted to help others. Easy pickings for the war mongers drumming up moralistic jargon about a greater good. If only he could have seen it in a more critical way. His enlistment meaning more about furthering the career of others than any greater good. But Johnny had no capacity for that kind of insight. That would have required a feeling for dishonesty. Too trusting, my boy. After losing his mother, his natural anchor gone, he was no more than high cotton to those assholes.

Sitting near my boy’s casket, I see the young uniformed man approach. Proffering the folded flag with white gloved hands, he dips to almost one knee in front of me, like a curtsy to royalty or something. Looking at his eyes, which are fixed on his flag, I wonder where he will spend his evening liberty while my boy lies cold in this ground covered with crosses. I take the flag for Johnny but in my heart I hate this symbol and the people who dress it as worthy of my son’s life. I wish this garish spectacle over with so I can say goodbye to my boy.

Holding the flag to my chest, lest I sling it to the ground, I watch all the cute precise closing turns and steps of this charade. At the same time I try to show a little appreciation to Johnny’s friends for coming. But half of them, I know, went with him to that God awful recruiter and his tales of honor, service, and adventure. That makes it tough knowing that, for them, Johnny’s death only brightens their tokens of luck, with nary a regret for the hand they had in it. Just a metal fragment with Johnny’s name on it is all that it is to them. The kind of reasoning that the adventurer always offers up. Or the plain decadent.

 

                                                            ***

                                                            

Wheeling my chair over to Mary’s grave, I try to avoid the other markers all around but my vision is not so good when I am weeping. I hit the marker next to Mary’s, throwing me forward, out of my chair, and causing me to scrape my forehead on the ground. Having had my legs blown off in a Vietnam sewer paddy, my nubs are not much help when it comes to regaining my chair after a fall.

Getting back in my chair is tough but, with the help of a nearby monument, I manage. I am just able to reach down and touch Mary. I tell her that Johnny is on his way. And that, after much thought, it seems only right that I come as well. She seems to understand.

I remember how she priced my legs as not worth enough to kick it all in. We always had a lot of fun using words that suggested I still had legs. Our humor would make Johnny laugh as well. And we moved on. I tell her it’s not like when she left and told me that I had to take care of Johnny. She understands and doesn’t hold it against me that I couldn’t make him see. She says that such things, done by those so keenly sharp at what they do, would have been a challenge for her as well.

I wheel around and straighten what I can reach of her place, then, using the monument again to lower myself out of the chair, I finish the job by rolling around on my nubs. My place next to her needs not much tending. The one stone is for both of us and I’m already on it, with only the date to be inscribed.

Rolling to my face, I spread my arms over Mary and lie with her until the sun is almost down. Then, my resolve firmed, I regain my chair and wheel back to my van.

 

                                                              ***

 

I return to the Veterans Cemetery while there is still a touch of dusk left and wheel my chair, under a half moon and a beginning blanket of stars, back to Johnny’s grave. The dusky purple of the early evening lends a somber and calming feeling to this place as I tilt the chair over and hit the grass. This throws both the folded flag and sidearm from the small backpack on the rear of my chair. Taking the folded flag and standing it against the white marker, I pick up the 45 automatic that I led my platoon in Vietnam with, check the chamber and clip, and wobble-roll to the foot of Johnny’s grave. Holding the colt with both hands, I put three shots into the flag, the gun rocking me back with each shot. I reach forward and lay my hand on Johnny as I put the barrel just past my lips, pointing towards the roof of my mouth, and pull the trigger.

 

Standing in a booth almost a mile away, a uniformed sentry hears three shots echo across the dark interior of the Cemetery. He picks up his landline to the guard shack and says, “I just heard what sounded like three gunshots, wait a minute,…..make that four gunshots out in section D. Want me to drive out there and check it out?”

    

“No that’s ok,” comes the reply, “we got another burial out there tomorrow morning. That will be soon enough.”

    

“Roger,” replies the sentry. “I pulled one today. Nobody out there going anywhere anyway. Out.”

 

#  #  #

 

Charles Hayes, a multiple Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests center on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, Blue Lake Review, Piker Press, and others.

 _________________________________________

Hudson and the Healey   

by Paul Lewellan

 

Three years ago, Joanna Copeland was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Her husband Hudson reduced his hours and devoted himself to her care for the next three months. When Joanna was moved to hospice care, Hudson’s partners covered his patients while he remained at her side. Their daughter Megan came home from the university. Eleven days later, Joanna died.

 

After Megan returned to college, the solitude was unbearable. He went back to the office. The routine kept him focused, but he cut back to four days a week.

 

On the long weekends, Hudson remained in bed, refusing to answer texts, calls, or email. He worked his way through the Moline Public Library’s stacks of classic science fiction. Sometimes he listened to Warren Zevon. He got up only to piss or to replenish the beer cooler on the bedstand.

 

His friends became concerned and wanted to talk. He said they should make an appointment. After all, he was their dentist. Fourteen months later he bought a $4000 trail bike and began riding again. Other than that, not much changed. Until today.

 

This Friday Hudson showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, and flossed. The routine tasks exhausted him. When the Westminster Chimes marked 9:45, he realized, I’m going to be late.

 

Deter and Alice Pany had invited him to lunch at Café St. Marie in Cedar Rapids, a ninety-minute drive. Their friend Charlotte Mitchell owned a small law firm there. They wanted the two of them to meet.

 

Hudson steeled himself for an outing by drinking mugs of dark roast Guatemalan coffee laced with shots of twenty-five-year-old Zacapa rum.

 

He grabbed his leather jacket, slapped on a Quad Cities River Bandits cap, and walked to the three-car garage. Parked in the first stall was Johanna’s Passion Red CX90, purchased three weeks before her diagnosis. When Megan graduated next spring, the Volvo would hers. In the second stall was Old Blue, his Nissan Murano with 213,000 miles on it and a new set of tires.

 

He moved on to the third stall. I’ll take the Healey. He’d purchased the used 1966 Austin-Healey 3000 when he’d finished dental school.

 

Hudson popped the garage door and disengaged the parking brake. He put the car in neutral. Reverse went out six months ago. He’d have to roll it down the incline into his driveway.

 

He got out of the car, started it rolling, then jumped in before it coasted away from him. He’d intended to buy a rebuilt transmission. Too late for that now.

 

As the car gathered momentum, Hudson turned the steering wheel. The Healey swung out of the driveway and came to a stop uphill parallel to the curb. He braked, turned the key, and revved the engine to keep from killing it.  He nursed the car into first gear. The grinding noise cut through his quiet neighborhood. He picked up speed before he shifted to second. The gears grabbed as he released the clutch. He accelerated.

 

The engine whined as he red-lined before shifting into third gear, steadily accelerating as he hit the 292 entrance ramp to I-80. By the time he left the city limits he’d shifted into fourth gear. It shimmied and the noise was deafening.

 

Needs a muffler.

 

The car reeked of oil and old leather with of faint whiff of Big Mac special sauce, once Johanna’s favorite fast food.

 

Hudson kept a case of motor oil in the trunk. The floorboard on the passenger side was rusted through, covered over now by plywood and a hunk of shag carpet. When they were first married Johanna loved to put the top down, their bikes precariously strapped to the back, and maneuver the Healey through the winding roads into the Porcupine Mountains with Hudson in the passenger seat screaming for her to slow down.

 

The car ran sporadically through the late 1990s and into the new millennium. Neglect and unreliability, it’s inability to deal with even modest amounts of snow, and a tear in the convertible top parked it for the next decade. Five years ago, before her cancer diagnosis distracted him, he got it running again. He repaired the top with black duct tape.

 

Hudson noted the mile markers: 278, 277, 276. He checked his watch and accelerated.  

 

It will be tight.

 

When he topped the hill at marker 275, he picked up a tail. The cruiser flashed its lights and the siren wailed. Hudson pulled off onto the shoulder and melted into the seat, smiling.

 

“Do you know how fast you were going?” the Iowa State Patrol trooper asked.

 

“Couldn’t have been over 85. The overdrive quit working a year ago. And the speedometer has always been iffy.” 

 

The trooper kept her expression neutral. “You should get that fixed, Dr. Copeland.”

 

“On my To Do list, Officer Welsh.”  When he couldn’t think of anything else, he asked, “Have you been flossing?”

 

 “Not while on duty.” She smiled. “Doc, you know I have to give you a ticket.”

 

“Please do, Gillian. I’m late for a lunch date. I need an excuse.”

 

Officer Welsh hesitated. “Have you been drinking?”

 

Hudson remembered the rum from breakfast. “A new mouthwash. I’ll give you at sample at your next checkup.”

 

“Please step out of the car.”

 

Hudson passed the field sobriety tests and ten minutes later, ticketed for speeding, he pulled back onto the interstate. He accelerated.

 

Is this how it feels to live again?

 

 #  #  #

 

Paul Lewellan lives in Davenport, Iowa, with his wife Pamela, his Shi Tzu Mannie, and their ginger tabby Sunny. He has recently published fiction in Kennings Literary Journal, True Chili, Jupiter Review, Blood and Bourbon, and Holy Flea Lit. Although he doesn't believe life begins at 75, it does get more interesting.

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Rite of Passage

by Phil Temples

 

 

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Hutini gathers this evening with the village men. Hutini has lived with his mother but it’s now time to stay with his father and learn important skills like hunting and building mud houses. It’s a rite of passage the boys of the Huli tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have observed for centuries.

 

As he enters the ceremonial hut he’s confronted by a terrifying sight—all the men have painted their faces in horrific patterns intended to scare off their enemies. They’re also wearing elaborate wigs and head dresses.

 

Hutini is so shocked and afraid he wets himself. All of the men laugh. His father is disgusted.

 

The shamed young man leaves and goes back to his mother’s hut to retrieve his mobile phone where he peruses Instagram to console himself.            

#  #  #

 

Phillip Temples is still trying to make sense of it all. Writing and photography help. He can be followed at https://temples.com.

                                                                                                                                                        ____________________________________________

                                                            

 

Emperor of One

by J. T. Townley

 

 

Then I met the penguin. 

I’d just awakened from a long, mid-afternoon nap.  A sliver of blinding sunlight sliced into my cocoon; groggy, I stumbled to the window.  At least in winter, a pall of blackness covered the continent, or so I’d heard.  This time of year, though, visibility was so good I could see for miles across the ice shelf.  With nothing to help gauge distance, perspective collapsed.  I could reach out and touch it all.  Only there was nothing to touch—just the emptiness of white spaces.  Snow and ice and frosty mountain peaks, vacant sea and sky.  It was all so much nothing.  I rubbed my face, then reached to draw the curtains.

And that’s when I saw him.  An emperor penguin, probably three-and-a-half or four feet tall.  I squinted against the light.  He stared in at me, unmoving. 

He was there the next day and the next day after that.

I told no one.

I took sick leave.

I thought I might be losing my mind. 

But then one afternoon, as I was dreaming of Marie, who was part of the reason I was down here in the first place, I was awakened by a tapping at the window.  I shielded my eyes as I pulled back the curtains.  And there stood the penguin.

With his wing, he motioned I should open the window.

You gonna sleep all day?

What are you doing here? I asked.  It was a stupid thing to say.

Come on, he said.  Let’s go. 

Where to?  My mouth was cotton.  I was already pulling on my boots.

You’ll see, he said.  Let’s get away from all these dumb-ass bastards.

That’s what he called the scientists.  And, oddly, the other penguins.

He was faster than me over the snow and ice, much faster.  It was no surprise.  Skis, or at least snow shoes, would have made the whole thing easier, but there hadn’t been time for that.  I had trouble keeping up, tripping over the sastrugi.  While I staggered and stumbled, flailing to maintain my balance, he waddled and trotted, belly-sliding the downhills.  Several times I lost sight of him completely, but he always waited for me.  Hurry up already, he said, tapping a webbed foot, black claws clicking against the ice.  

 

When he finally stopped, I doubled over, hands on my knees, to catch my breath.  The cold air burned in my chest. 

Gonna live, buddy?  His wing tapping my waist tempered his sarcasm.

I was disappointed to see McMurdo in the near distance.

I thought we were leaving all that behind, I said, pointing towards the ugly cluster of pre-fab buildings across the ice.  By now, I’d almost stopped wheezing.  

You ain’t gonna get far like that, he said. 

I wasn’t even wearing my parka.

Then what’s this all about? I asked.

He winked at me and said, Just follow my lead. 

He waddled up a snow bank, then came sliding down and across the flat slab of ice where I stood.  Now he was up on his feet, skating gracefully around this outdoor rink, spinning and whirling.  I watched, dumbfounded.  He was smiling.  Soon I realized he wasn’t just skating, he was ice-dancing.  He’d worked out the choreography, wing motions and everything, and as he sailed past, I could hear him humming under his fishy breath. 

He skated for a while longer, then said, Don’t just stand there.

 

Though I tried, I couldn’t follow him.  The ice was too slick, too hard and unforgiving.  

      

I came back the next day with skates.

We rehearsed all afternoon.  The penguin had vision.  He also had a portable stereo, and when I returned the following day, he blasted a reggae medley, to which we ice-danced.  We were getting good. 

At night (though it was never dark), we made plans.  By now, he’d moved into my bunkroom; he slept in his own bed, until he said he was cold and could he sleep with me.  Now we whispered in the bright nighttime silence about lifts and spins and twizzles, about where we’d go with all the money from our ice show.  Those dumb-ass bastards are gonna love it, he’d say.  We both had fantasies of thick heat and lush vegetation, cool Caribbean waters lapping at our feet. 

Anything to leave this frozen desert wasteland.    

   

He seemed confident we’d make it.  For a long while, though, I wasn’t convinced, especially when my boss pounded on the door for an hour, and then his boss shouted threats through the window.  Soon the station shrink began cooing at me through the door jamb.  But leave it to the penguin:  He wrapped me in his wings and sang me to sleep.  I dreamt of palm trees and piña coladas, white sand beaches and the sweet strains of “Could You Be Loved?” 

Yes, the penguin was certain we’d make it.  But I knew we already had.  

#  #  #

 

J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, and many other magazines and journals.  His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (three times) and the Best of the Net Award.  He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from the University of Oxford, and he teaches fiction writing at Pacific Northwest College of Art at Willamette University.  

To learn more, visit jttownley.com.

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Prose Poetry

 

monitor

by matthew dettmer

cardiac monitors are handled boxes with screens that show vital signs blood pressure heart rate. they’re wired to patients so that we can see that the patients are okay or aren’t okay.  you can set them up so that they beep and the rate of the beep is the same as the heart rate.  so a high heart rate is beepbeepbeepbeep and a low heart rate is beep. beep. beep. beep. and the pitch of the beep is proportional to the oxygen saturation the lower the number the lower the pitch

 

and every time that number changes the pitch does too. all of this is to say that health usually sounds like a dance club track and every time that pitch drops it’s plunging into a thousand thousand thousand gallon lake trying to breathe through all of that. you can’t help but be a little worried hearing that change in sound and the lower it drops the greater the concern

 

and while my mom was hooked up to that machine every time its pitch dropped a little I told myself that it hadn’t dropped that much and everything was fine.  but I kept waiting for someone to come in and make sure it was. I looked for the place on the wall where you can plug in oxygen tubing draped around a face looked for the bag used for squeezing air into someone who can’t breathe looked for the mask you hold tight to them to make sure all that air makes it in. when the nurse finally came in she was holding three sheets of paper with a follow up appointment and some juice.

 

#  #  #

 

Matt Dettmer is a writer, musician, and physician currently practicing in Cleveland, OH.  He is also a first-year creative writing student in the Northeast Ohio MFA program with a focus in poetry.  His work has previously been published in The Harpy Hybrid Review, Olney, and Bacopa Literary Review.

                      ____________________________________________

 

 

 

 

         Ferry Crumbs        

by Charles Hayes

 

Plying the warm waters of a shadowed Sea, speckled with spits of froth and reflected starlight, we ride the ferry for the lost and found. Our crowded cots, tiered across an open deck, pitch and roll, lifting our smell as one, from stem to stern. Legs akimbo with slippered feet, grow across the tiny aisles, bodies hidden by the sacks that haul our life.

 

On the move, going from crumb to crumb, visions of better fare, or to only home somewhere, our nods of passage show, as the knocking screw calls the tune. Sometimes we wander to the rail and stare beyond. If a light of life be seen, suspicions of how its table fares, or what its bed beholds, float among our spray. Looking along the rail, another’s eye to see, table or bed is quick to know.

 

With dawn and a port that calls, we rise like Jack’s stalk, among the humps of baggage, mount our loads, as if super ants we be, and string along the plank, to melt into the life we know. Crumb by crumb, visions of a knocking lullaby safely tucked away. 

 

#  #  #

 

(See Charles Hayes' bio at end of following piece.)

___________________________________________

 

  

 

She Is Me    

by Charles Hayes

 

Her glistening face was set with polished pools of brown, a slash of teeth below. A primal splash washed the air. In the pocket of a mountain lake, translucent drops of water ran across her olive skin, light sandstone framed the beauty of her form. Light was all that passed as her lash flipped a diamond, to spot an eye that said, “We are young and I am ready, because I love.”

 

That cove of water with reflective glints, of summer green and pale stones, held by steep hills of hardwood, was our castle for a little while. I was its king, and she was as ever mighty, as my queen. So immersed in a moment, that all could have been nothing more, the feel of her shoulder, the way that her breasts floated to, branded my soul. We were whole.

 

So long ago though it may seem to some, it could never be less than now for me. And for those who sometimes log such things, one time will always play, too nice to record, and put away. For they know that, though she has returned to all, she still remains. She is me.

 

#  #  #

 

Charles Hayes, a multiple Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests center on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, Blue Lake Review, Piker Press, and others.

_________________________________________________

 

 

In the Original Language

by Paul Rabinowitz

 

I understand what Adam went through in the garden in July on the first day when all was calm and the wind barely blew as things were slowly being figured out but wonder what Eve was looking for because she understood more than he would ever know and she was complete and her body was truth and like a dancer that moves away from a small town in Ohio or New Mexico or a place that no one goes to unless someone is dying you found me sitting alone on a park bench with paper and pen and said your name in the original which is Chaya as in living as in the present tense and I thought who would name their child living unless they believed she will continue dancing despite the tragic end of the first act as in the way your body springs as you walked across the grass with strong torso extended neck and ballet slippers dangling from ribbons strewn over wide shoulders and I deliberate about the enormity of our next move together but like a visionary you’ve already choreographed in your mind how this will all play out on stage as your eyes scan this perfect space of fruits and flowers even a stream tumbling through a crack in the rock down a cliff  into a small pool where two gazelles gather drinking fresh water and you look at me with those gentle eyes knowing I lack experience unsure if I can do any of this here with you in July then like the sweet sound of chirping crickets I hear three words that sound like I know you blending with the gurgling pulse of water over smooth rocks and turn my head towards the crevice of your mouth to make sure I understand the words in the original language and realize I have never heard a dancer speak while on stage

 

If this is part of the living performance then how should I take these three words that cause my body to tremble and wonder if you are aware of how words can trigger something this new world has never felt

 

I am still learning

 

and succumb to this moment knowing the three words you speak are now living inside me and the wild garden you have chosen for this act is within you as you are knowing but I am still gathering and I wonder how will others know about this moment and will they question the act so do I need to record this or should the act of living be all we need?  what of those who don’t understand the words in the original? so I pull a piece of dry grass from the field reach for low hanging fruit then squeeze the juice into your palm dip the reed into the ink onto your perfect body and write Adam then next to it the word Desire and with the tip of the reed dripping red I scribe your name in the present tense in the original language and feel my pulsating body contract as you smile with each stroke of the reed then you ask me to write a poem about a dancer and turn towards me exposing your thighs my hand moving like the gazelle skipping over rocks and I look around at this setting the reed on your flesh and the words flow out from my body in the original language we spoke together for the first time on a perfect day in July in the garden and I question if this is living then will I stay here with you forever or until

 

something in the new world that we can not explain turns

 

and the weather cools

 

rain pours down hard from the dark sky above and with no protection our bodies shiver and the living words written in the original language across your body wash off and I wonder if living is changing and knowing is forgetting and when the scenes of the perfect garden fade I return to Ohio or New Mexico or someplace where names are in past tense and the original is sin

 

I turn to look at you for the last time knowing I might never see anything like this again

 

                                                             #  #  #

 

Paul Rabinowitz is an author, poet, photographer and founder of ARTS By The People. His photography, fiction and poetry appear in magazines and journals including The Sun Magazine, New World Writing, Burningword, Evening Street Press, Grub Street Literary Journal, The Montreal Review, Adirondack Review and elsewhere. Rabinowitz was a featured artist in Nailed Magazine in 2020 and Mud Season Review in 2022. He is the author of The Clay Urn and Limited Light, a book of prose and portrait photography, which stems from his Limited Light photo series, nominated for Best of the Net in 2021. His poems and fiction are the inspiration for short films. 

www.paulrabinowitz.com

________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

On Robert Frank’s photo, Ranch Market—Hollywood

by M. E. Silverman

 

Almost 1956. The season of dreams and jolly. Except on December 11th, every space is a thick and gummy 80-degrees. Inside the diner, the manager refuses to make it cool. The diner is clean; the chrome backsplash is modern and new. You get lost in the chrome shine, how it reflects a blur from bystanders walking past the big window. You could be here, having a 69-cent steak sandwich or the bigger and better jumbo size hot dog. 18 cents, 23 with chili. You think the packaged sandwiches look nice. Fast but fresh. The waitress, who wants to sing, waits. Her hair hangs on her shoulders, heavy from a double shift. She is saving everything she has. She stares past you toward the door, unfocused. She does not see a couple exit. They are holding hands and give each other the secret smile the way new lovers do. She stares into the empty space of glass. She does not register the camera, the breathless shot that will capture this moment. She knows this is it: the future she already pictures: a snared House Sparrow.

 

#  #  #

M. E. Silverman had 2 books of poems published and co-edited Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, and 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium.                       

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