Fall 2014 Issue
(Published September 2014)
Flash Fiction (Click on each title)
(Originally published in our Summer 2012 issue.)
Stray Cat, by Charles Rammelkamp............Editors' Choice (See Charles' They All
Lived Happily Ever After, Spring 2013 issue)
Prose Poetry (Click on each to go there)
> ONLY IN THE MAKING
> TALES OF MEN PART 1
> LOVE AND HATE
> SPILT MILK
> BORN LUCKY
> MC FUNNY
The Keening of the Ccthull
by David Adès
It was time, once more, for the keening.
Since time immemorial, the Ccthull had gathered across the world in great keening bowls for the keening. They had keened the world in its youth, in its vitality. They had keened for remembrance and for history; they had keened for dream and for strength.
Once, it was a keening of joy, of thanks, but that time was long ago.
The world was tired now, in decline, its resources greatly diminished, and with them the Ccthull. Now they keened also for loss and grief, they keened for the passage of all things through the heavens.
Always, the Ccthull had searched the stars and keened their aloneness in the universe. How could it be, they wondered, that in the brightness of the skies, ablaze with stars, no other life manifested? In keening their aloneness, the Ccthull filled the keening with yearning, with both throb and plea, with waver and quaver.
Every corner of the sky the Ccthull had searched, with every science they possessed, with every resource and every skill, to be met, epoch after epoch, with an absence of any sign in any frequency.
The keening had evolved over time, adding layers of richness and complexity, weaving more voices and experience and knowledge into the song, many-layered, never the same.
The Ccthull gathered now, for the greatest keening of all, a keening of heart and soul, of life and death, of rise and fall.
All over the world, the Ccthull filled their great keening bowls, raised their muzzles to the sky, and began a keening that would be a broadcast, a transmission to the universe, here joining, here parting, here weaving, here crossing, here haunting and beautiful, here elegiac, here joyous, here extemporized, the few and the many, the one and the all, the chant and the prayer, keening the ground, keening thunder, keening cycle and blaze, keening, keening.
It had been found, at last, in a distant corner of the sky, from a star system beyond reach and beyond reply, from a time that may have already passed, an answer, a noisy transmission, and now, knowing that they were no longer alone, the Ccthull keened as they had never before keened, keened for themselves and for the other who would never hear, who would never know.
# # #
David Adès is a poet and short story writer who has recently moved to Pittsburgh from Adelaide, Australia. He has been a member of Friendly Street Poets since 1979. His poetry collection Mapping the World was commended for the Fellowship of Australian Writers Anne Elder Award 2008. His poems have appeared widely in Australia in publications including over 20 of the Friendly Street Readers, and literary magazines such as Island, Tirra Lirra, Wet Ink, Famous Reporter, Five Bells, Social Alternatives, Verandah and Studio, with some poems also appearing in translation in Vatra (Rumania). He was the winner of the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Short Story Prize (2005).
by Chella Courington
She had not seen a train pass through the town in years, yet she lived on the outskirts and could easily be wrong as she often miscalculated anything bound by a schedule. Time to her was a fixed concept easily eluded if one were concerned with other things like filling pages for a novel or thumbing through Franny and Zooey for inspiration. She could sit in her bed, computer on lap, and click words into existence without noticing the sun had come and gone multiple times when she walked to the kitchen for a peanut butter sandwich and found an empty jar among banana peels. The Amtrak could have blown its whistle every day, maybe three or four times, rushing over the rails, such as they were, and she would not have heard it. But now she wanted to go somewhere, leave her characters alone to settle their own snarky problems.
She went to the station. A one-room brick house with a toilet in the back. The stationmaster said it used to be an outhouse with a deep hole and a tub of lye to smother the smell. “Perfectly enclosed, of course.” But with the twenty-first century came porta potties. Somehow the town’s Amtrak still seemed behind, but he assured her otherwise. And he was a modern-enough looking man with his black pants and red vest though his glasses reminded her of John Lennon. Round wire rims. “We have a train coming through today at 4 p.m.” His table heaped with spreadsheets, some marked with coffee stains, he asked if she wanted a ticket. “Not now,” she said.
At home she changed into a pair of pink leggings with a black top long enough to cover her butt, sadly surrendering to gravity. Filling a basket with avocados, she returned to the depot and sat on a wooden bench. She spent the afternoon waiting to hand anyone who passed a dark green fruit. But without the train, there were no passengers. So she placed the avocados in a line on the seats and left to see what her characters had worked out.
# # #
Chella Courington is the author of three prose poetry/flash fiction chapbooks: Love Letter to Biology 250 (forthcoming from Porkbelly Press), Talking Did Not Come Easily to Diana and Girls and Women. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong, Nano Fiction, The Collagist, and The Los Angeles Review. With another writer and two cats, she lives in California.
The Place Where the Chiefs Meet
by Frank Diamond
I am 26 and it’s the night my father died. My mother insists that I had nothing to do with it. My siblings don’t play; they curse me over the phone. They’ll be in tomorrow. At one point, I slump at the kitchen table, crying and sick from withdrawal. Crystal tugs my arm: “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I shake loose and run out.
I should head to my apartment, but I don’t want to be alone. Dizzy’s not there. He’s heard about Antonio and decides to visit friends “in Jersey.” That’s as much as he’ll narrow it down. If he’s scratched the itch enough he could be with another woman and know something? I don’t even care anymore. So I walk Fishtown the night my father ends, seriously thinking about following Dad to the other side.
Mom knows this. Earlier she’d said, “Be fair to your girls. Please, be fair to me.”
Well, what’s fair? Having a junkie moms? A waistoid daughter? I am scheduled for rehab the next day, but this fills me with dread, not hope. Dread of never again floating on the Sea of Mellow. Dread of losing forever the beautiful images, of expanding my consciousness until I become an angel looking down. Dread of failure, too. Some people in the neighborhood go in and out of rehab like they have season tickets. Maybe one or two escape for good. Not great odds.
As I walk, the past strolls by. The birth of babies, the breaks with men, the smoking, snorting, huffing, and shooting up. The headline about Kat Borkowski. “Body Found In Park ID’d As Missing Fishtown Woman.” I’ll get a headline, too, just because I’m Antonio’s daughter and everybody will know why. The obvious gets headlined.
I look up, and I’m at Newt’s. I hear kids, loud then hushing one another, up to something. Three boys and two girls and — wait — I recognize Babs. She’s 20 and still hanging at Newt’s? She takes a joint. Inhales. What am I going to do? Tell her just say no? I turn. I am sick.
The word comes to me. I stumble a bit. That morning I had an entire conversation with my Aunt Kitzy, Dad’s aunt, really, paying her respects and she’d asked me to fetch her tea and when I came back into the room, it was empty.
“Where’d Aunt Kitzy go?” I asked.
“Cheryl,” Mom says, shaking her head, “she was never here.”
None of this that I am seeing is real. Or some of it is. I don’t know. The row homes, four or five abandoned, blink sadly like tethered beasts. A deep, rustling sound as if the earth clears its throat. Something hits me flat on the head. A big raindrop, the beginnings of a downpour but the wet washes rusty over the scene. “Smack! Smack! Smack!” against the asphalt. I start hurrying off when Babs calls out.
“Cheryl DeMarco! Don’t leave me!”
I swing about, but the kids are gone.
Were they ever there? And who’s there now?
More voices. “Don’t leave me” — Spindles. “Don’t leave me” — Marty. “Don’t leave me” — Jim Delaney. “Don’t leave me” — Dizzy. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.”
I squint, can just make out four men. In robes? Priests? No, not robes. They’re wearing ponchos. They’re scowling.
Years later, I learn that Newt’s had once rested on Lenape land that they called Kachamensi: “The place where the chiefs meet.”
Someone walks toward them and I faintly recognize her. As the men gather this alternate me into their protection the individual raindrops meld into a single force. Before they disappear into the wall or the past or the netherworld or wherever the fuck they came from, one of the chiefs turns, juts his chin out at the real (I think) me.
A decision’s been made. I will live.
# # #
Frank Diamond has had 30 years writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines, and television, and is currently the managing editor of Managed Care Magazine. He has released a novel, The Pilgrim Soul, and a short story collection, Damage Control. He has had dozens of articles and columns published in outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Bulletin. His short stories have appeared in Innisfree, and Kola: A Black Literary Magazine and his poetry has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Fox Chase Review, and Black Bottom Review. He also wrote the Bloom’s Guide (competitor with CliffsNotes) for The Handmaid’s Tale. He lives in Langhorne, Pa., with his wife, Kate, and daughter, Emily.
Forty Years on Earth
by Mexico Michaels
A woman is driving an SUV; her husband is in the passenger's seat. They’re in their late thirties, driving up California’s coast for a vacation in Oregon. A cottage on the beach. They’ve been going to there since before their first son was born. He's now in his second year at Fresno State. Each trip coincides with the woman’s birthday. Last year was the first time they skipped her birthday trip. The oldest boy leaving for college and a troubled pregnancy canceled that ritual. It's a sunny day and the first trip for their second child who is now eight months old. The couple is happy, joking around. After about two hundred miles and a couple of wrong turns, they’re nearing the half way marker to their destination. That big old barn hanging on to the hill.
She pops a bubble and licks the gum back into her mouth. He wakes up from dozing in the passenger seat and stretches. The woman glances at him and asks, "What's your name again?" He laughs and introduces himself. A moment later, she notices his wallet between the seats; it's opened and her picture is showing. She asks, "And who is this?"
He grins and says, “That's my wife."
"Oh, well, she's pretty.”
"Ya, I know. You should see my girlfriend.”
She giggles, "I bet."
He pulls down his visor and says, “Man, that sun is bright.” The sun exposes the lines behind her sunglasses. Smiling crow's feet. He'd never seen that before. Until now, he’d have sworn she hadn’t aged a minute. Still beautiful, he thinks to himself--she may be getting even more attractive. Those tiny lines enhanced her face. Her beauty is like those newly developed lines, subtle. She's always been subtle. That's what made her cool. It's what drew him to her. Not bad for day shy of forty, he concludes. He had debated in his mind a hundred times what to do for her fortieth birthday. On previous visits, they had picnics on the beach, cookouts on their cottage deck. Two years ago, their oldest son arranged a romantic dinner for them at Clay's, a low-key gourmet restaurant outside Coos Bay known for attracting incognito celebrities.
He adjusts his visor mirror up and catches his own reflection, some gray at the temples. Not aging as well as his wife, but still, "Not too bad," he assures himself. She takes a hairpin curve too fast and swerves into the other lane.
"Hey, keep it between the ditches, ok?" he says.
"Are you scared?" she grins.
"You tired, babe? You've been on the wheel since before sun-up. Want me to take it the rest of the way?"
"Nope. Wide awake," she answers.
She blows another bubble and pokes it back in, swallowing her fingertip while looking at her husband. “Yum,” she says.
“We may have to pull over before we get to the hotel,” he says. They both laugh.
He moves the visor up to block the light but then pulls it back down so he can look at his son in the back seat. "How's it going back there, Jimmy dude?" He shifts the visor scanning the back seat. Seeing only piles of luggage he asks, "Where's Jimmy?" He stares at the back seat and can't believe he isn’t seeing his son. "Honey--where’s the baby." His voice breaks.
"I heard the funniest joke the other day. Want to hear it?" she asks.
The husband yells, "Stop the car!"
She pulls over. The man jumps out before the car stops. He opens the back door and searches the floor and the back seat. "Where did you put Jimmy?" he yells as he begins throwing bags out of the vehicle. She adjusts her mirror to see herself and blows a small bubble. Licking the gum back inside her mouth she asks, “do you want to hear the joke or not?"
He bolts toward her. “Where is the baby?
She sighs. "What baby?”
# # #
Mexico Michaels has worked as an entrepreneur, an ironworker, an organic farm hand, and with Habitat for Humanity’s administrators as a consultant. He currently lives in the Midwest, where he runs, practices yoga, and writes.
Levin & Kitty, c. 2014
by Lara Dolphin
They hadn’t spoken since the morning meeting. Now they sat across from each other at the company Christmas party perusing headlines and gossip on their mobiles.
A message or rather an initial “K” popped on her phone.
“P, u, s?” Insecurity bled through his text.
“N,” she replied. Not pulling up stakes. He looked up from his device hoping to catch her gaze, but she did not glance his way. “A, I, y, n, q?”
He got her meaning completely. She had totally misunderstood his intentions. You are not my next quarry. “N, m, p.” Again he sought to meet her face. Still, she buried her head in her phone.
No more playing, but aren’t we playing a game now? “H, c, I, l, y, a?” She was right. He didn’t deserve her. After all they had been through, how could she love him anymore. Then his heart raced at an unexpected correction.
“H, c, I, l, y, a, m?”
He had to see her visage, to read in it what at long last he had hoped for. She continued to stare at her screen intently, teasing him and suggesting only one alternative. With a tap of the video-calling button, he saw his own widening grin framed within the picture of her lovely, flushing face and knew the answer to his next question would be yes.
# # #
On hiatus from the practice of law to look for lost pacifiers and break up pool noodle related combat, Lara enjoys writing poetry as well as fiction. She serves on the staff of Every Day Fiction. Levin & Kitty is a play on the famous scene in Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty write each other messages in chalk on the green felt of the card table.
The Window Where the Trains Came In
by Janet Irvin
My mother drags an iron bed up the stairs into the hallway that leads to the bedroom I share with my two younger sisters. She covers the narrow mattress with an army blanket and places two empty cardboard boxes beneath the bed to hold sweaters I do not own. When I come home from school, Mom, who has never read Virginia Wolfe, announces that now I have a room of my own.
It is a bullet chamber. The ceiling slopes, providing little head room for a daughter who has grown taller than her mother. It has no door, but it does have a window, three feet by four, single-paned, too weak to support an air conditioner, but strong enough to admit morning light and the aching siren call of the freight trains that frequent our industrial valley.
In the spring, resting my arms along the sill, I inhale the tar and sulphur smells from the steel mills, the lilac perfume from the neighbor’s hedge, the pungent damp-earth odor of worms, the manure spread over the farm fields behind our property. In summer, I breathe in corn stalks and apple orchards and the promise of tomorrow, a fragrance carried on unseen wings.
Sometime during the summer of that thirteenth year, I acquire a pink diary with a small buckle clasp and a key to lock away my thoughts. Each day, I sit by the window, scribbling my story on an unlined page. Pay attention, I write. This is how it was.
I am seven and still sleeping in the dormer, when I pack pajamas, underwear and all my books into two paper bags, run my hand across the silent panes and announce that I am running away. My mother forbids me to go. At the kitchen table, my siblings fold their hands, look away, afraid to pick a side. When my father comes home, she hands me over, like a chore she longs to be rid of. Dad sends me upstairs to unpack while my mother rattles the dishes. In the set of her shoulders, I recognize the battle line already being drawn.
Sometime during the winter of that thirteenth year, my mother will find, unlock and read my journal. That night, giddy with secrets, she will share my words with my father, while I lie in my iron bed, stretching toward the muted whistle of trains, dreaming of riding rails, of clickety-clacking away from the plastered angle of ceiling that crouches over my dreams.
One day later, from my perch by the window, I ignore my father’s command to come downstairs. He launches his shoe at me. I duck, and the missile hurtles by, shattering the glass and sailing on, its trajectory uncertain. As the shards rattle around me, the hole in the window whispers, Run. Don’t look back.
# # #
An Adjunct Instructor of Spanish at Wright State University, Janet Irvin does her best creative thinking while paddling a canoe. Her stories have appeared in and won awards from numerous print and online publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the Oyez Review, OASIS Journal, SPARK a creative anthology and DARK TALES.
by Doug Johnson
The crowd was pretty much what you would expect when a small Alaskan town of 862 souls is visited by 12,000 passengers and crews of four large cruise ships. I ambled through the town, allowing myself to be deflected from my course as I was caught up in the eddies created by the storefront gawkers or buffeted by the countercurrent of small groups moving against the flow. The sense which stands sentinel on the private space around the body and which will often allow one to move through masses with little contact was overtaxed by the confused and purposeless movements of this body of humanity. My progress was full of small collisions, abrupt stops, sideways slitherings, and wide detours into the street. No one seemed to have any idea where they were going. Movement in any direction would suddenly be deflected by almost any random sight or sound or the calling of fellow gawkers. The default movement of the aimless was the sudden stop and many promising advances toward my destination were so delayed.
I particularly hated this crowd of which I was an unwilling member. When people would stop to look at some point of interest, it was so much more irritating and disruptive than the considerate and urbane manner in which I contemplate in fascinated oblivion the sights and wonders of my own travels. I am certain that on those occasions when my movement had come to a dead stop in awe struck contemplation of a Hong Kong street scene, or an Austrian baroque ceiling, it blended unobtrusively and was without effect on the local population going about their routine business.
Furthermore, this crowd was exceptionally unattractive in both manners and appearance. Protruding bellies, misshapen faces, badly pocked skin, legs with lumps, veins, and growths made up just some of the sights with which I was assaulted. It really was quite notable the extent to which the physical deficiencies of this crowd elicited repulsion. While I and many of my friends share the physical shortcomings in appearance of those in this crowd, neither I nor my friends or family had elevated those deficiencies to such a level of repulsion. In fact just the opposite, because it was a strange fact, which I can only attribute to the fine quality of those within my circle, that they had managed to morph what in others were repulsive characteristics into something quaint and quite lovable.
While I was temporarily a part of the crowd, I held myself aloof. My movements had purpose. My destination called to me with its promise of quiet beauty, whispering silence and solitude. It was there that my defenses would drop, the senses would sharpen and peace and understanding would arrive. The path forward would be clear and unobstructed. It was the opposite of everything in town. There the natural eternal order of things prevailed. Here the landscape was littered with the detritus of a greedy and selfish humanity.
Indeed the town itself was a shrine to a time of greed when men forsook all civilized behavior in the quest for gold. When the gold rush of 1898 is viewed from the present it takes on an unreal museum quality. The tourist bar converted from the old bordello with the scantily clad mannequins peeking through the lace curtains from the upper floors is no more real than the replica of a “typical” 1890’s bar which the National Park Service has created on Broadway and placed behind a plastic barricade. The real Gold Rush was made of mud and greed and cruel remorseless selfish striving, carried out with pain, discomfort, and danger in a place far from home, while a sense of forsaken loneliness pressed down on the heart. Companions in misery were competitors. The kindness and aids naturally exchanged by humans facing a common adversity could be a risk to one’s own stake and survival. That such hardships were seized so readily was a testimony to how bad things were for many Americans in the late 19th Century. For many the romantic road of the sourdough to adventure and wealth was taken out of desperation.
I used to drink with my shipmates down the street at Moe’s. Nestled behind its fake brick front, it had the ambiance of a parking garage. Substitute exhaust fumes for cigarette smoke and the comparison is even more apt. While not as tony and certainly not as clean as either the National Park Service diorama or the used to be bordello, it was a place where working men and women could go and get a beer. Perhaps a century from now there will be a shrine with mannequins dressed in Carharts and halibut jackets in a cleaned up and restored Moe’s.
I am headed out of town to the East, over the creek and across the railroad tracks. There, tight against the sudden slope of the hill, lay the start of a steep and rocky path. Eagerly I seek the lonely trail the crowd disdains. Alone at last I feel the welcome press of the unyielding slope against my calves. Soon tired knees are pumping to the indifference of the hill. They parse out muted time, shrunken yet displacing all else as I count out the slow tortured steps.
This trail is mine. It is claimed by the authority of long association and bolstered by the silent testimony of former trail mates now resting beneath cold alluvial rocks in the valley. My claim has been honed in the winter’s snow and burnished by the mother falcon who slashed the back of my neck one early spring when I unknowingly strayed too close to the nest she protected.
The quiet and solitude enveloped me like a balm. The world began to take on the rightness that one always suspects exists but never reveals itself except in unexpected moments. The words of the Almighty as spoken through the prophet who said, “be still, and know that I am God,” spoke to me as my body worked through that stillness outside of time. I was home. My feet caressed the path like a returning lover. Peace and comfort were once more my companions on the journey. To be once more in a place of certainty and solitude restored my optimism and vigor. The world was indeed a fine place and I was a fine fellow in it.
The sound first came to me from behind, at what I would guess was two switchbacks down the trail. Muffled footfalls accompanied by way too much laughter and chatter for a trail this steep. The irritating sounds made by the interlopers in my domain persisted without letup. After a few minutes I could hear that the conversation was in English and between what sounded like two men with an indeterminate foreign accent and a woman speaking with British inflections. They were not from Skagway or even summer workers who would undoubtedly be engaged at this time in tending the needs of the hordes of tourists from the ships. Hell, they were probably not even Americans. In any case they did not belong on my trail and I resented it.
While I held firm in my conviction that this was indeed my personal trail I recognized the valid claim of others with the proper credentials to the same area. The Chilkoots and other native peoples who had lived in the area for centuries certainly had a claim. Although the areas of Southeast Alaska that the natives had traditionally inhabited were often different than those that the white man generally saw as favorable. The natives tended to select the areas with the most abundant and easily taken fish and game. The water access was good for canoes and most important had the best micro climate. The white man valued harbors for deeper draft vessels and access to minerals and timber and such places were often the most inhospitable without the support of products of the industrial revolution. It was an old joke in Ketchikan that the city had been established in an area that had about the worst weather in Southeast Alaska. It was often raining sideways in town while the old native village of Kaasan across Clarence Strait on Prince of Wales Island would be in sunshine.
While I had regard for the validity of various ownership claims I realized that they were all rooted in possession, habit and selfishness and that the law which gives the veneer of legitimacy is mostly just a snapshot of the reality at the time it was written. A lot of the conflict seems to be over what time is referenced to make it legitimate. My claim, which I held to be paramount, was based on some 30 years of hiking these trails whenever I got the chance. The Native claims would go back centuries when some of their ancestors had without doubt trod this area. The fact that I had never seen an Indian on the trail proved mine was the superior claim. The invaders on the trail behind me would undoubtedly claim that they had a perfect right to be here since it was a public trail, promoted by the tourist board of Skagway and maintained by public institutions and volunteers. I could dismiss such spurious claims without difficulty.
I resented the approach of the hikers and their intrusion into my private space. An intrusion which would in fact be drawn out over the length of time it took for them to overtake me. The insult was all the greater for their young lungs which not only supported a faster pace than my own but also provided a reserve of air to converse and laugh as well. It was now possible to pick up intelligible bits of the conversation and I constructed all scenarios of the relationship of the three trespassers. Above the murmur of the male voices I would catch the trill pleasure of the female laugh. I reached into the shallow well of my reserve energy and upped my pace to exceed theirs. I didn’t look back but soldiered on, heartened by the now diminishing sound of the conversation. The burn of a heightened pace gave evidence of costly physical effort but it also stoked the self satisfaction of the preservation of my solitude.
Lost in inward tranquility, I almost didn’t hear the first stone rolling underfoot close behind me. Turning around I saw her about fifty paces back, head down, arms pumping, while her heavily shod feet picked carefully between the loose round rocks scattered across the trail. We were on the last straight incline before the crest of the hill. She drew alongside me just as we reached the top. I had just straightened up and picked up my pace on the welcome gentle downward slope to the lake. She slowed her pace to match mine and we fell into step together.
“Lovely morning” she said enthusiastically with a smile and not a hint of breathlessness.
“Yes indeed” I croaked out between ill concealed gasps.
She was wearing some sort of mid-calf khaki pants, a blue T shirt, white ball cap partially covering short auburn/gray hair, and sturdy brown hiking boots. On close inspection she appeared to be about middle age, maybe 45 plus, but the glow of exertion with a patina of sweat, her fit body and her obvious joy spoke of someone much younger than the years which her face revealed.
For the next forty minutes we fell into easy conversation. She had engaged in pleasant exchanges with the pair she had overtaken on the trail before she caught up to me. Indeed murmurs of the conversation punctuated with her pleasant higher pitched laugh had first alerted me to intruders within my domain. And now here I was tolerating without objection, not altogether unpleasant words with one of those who had threatened my tranquility. We were an odd pair. I was a lapsing misanthrope, with every step and word descending further into the pit of hypocrisy, walking side by side with an ebullient embodiment of human congeniality and optimism. Old saws such as “liking man but not mankind” or ancillary ideas often put forth in sales or managerial seminars such as “strangers are friends we haven’t met” or “I never met a man I didn’t like,” rattled through my head. I struggled to grasp at any nugget, however worn, to explain why I was enjoying this conversation and company. For in fact there were many strangers I did not want to meet as well as many people I knew well and didn’t like.
The pleasure of her company could not be explained through sexual tension, because while I confess to often preferring the company of women I could not envision a circumstance of physical attraction. A benefit of having a certain number of decades on the odometer is the ability to relate honestly to the opposite sex without the deviations of a younger man. Indeed we were in a post sexual world. She told me much about her life, confirming my thoughts that she was once a beauty, and had experienced all that entailed for a girl and later a woman abroad in a world of men. She imparted this plainly and within the context of the conversation and my practiced ear I could find no hint of subtext. Her words provided a peek into another life and a view of the world from that life which I would never be able to comprehend on my own.
I learned that she was born in Kenya to English parents at the end of the colonial period. She lived there until she was 15 and then moved to the UK with her parents for three years. After that she lived and travelled widely, I think Indonesia and Australia were mentioned. Later came marriage and children. She now owned an orchard in the Okanagan in British Columbia which she claimed took all of her time with little left for travel or other pursuits. The visit she was on to Alaska was a retracing of a trip she had made years before with her husband. Her words were intelligent, informed and molded around a world view based upon the observations of a life deliberately lived.
At the south end of the Lake we parted, she to continue around the lake to the steeper upper lake trail, and I to return to town by a different route.
# # #
Doug Johnson lives and writes on an island in Puget Sound and in Ketchikan Alaska. He has spent his professional life at sea and around ships and boats. Recently he has begun writing tales inspired by events in his life.
by Nashae Jones
When I came back from Sicily I brought back a man. His name was Renzo. He was small and lithe. Every time we touched it was like electricity sprung from our skin. Renzo spoke a little English and I no Italian, but there was something about how we looked together. Skin on top of skin, his pale and milk-like, mine smoky and charred at the edges. I brought him back to my New York apartment, a little studio in Brooklyn. He called me things I didn’t understand. Tesorino. Piccola. Dolcezza. He reminded me of a bad romance novel, but he was something, really something, and his mouth felt nice, slipping and sliding up the back of my neck.
The first Friday we were back, we lay in bed, Renzo’s legs entangled possessively over mine. He smelled like peanuts, the unsalted kind my grandmother used to pick from my Uncle Leroy’s patch. I liked it. I liked every bit of him. That same day, Renzo clicked on the television and turned to the news.
“I love your news,” he said. “It’s so much to see. So much sadness.”
I didn’t answer.
“New tonight, a deadly shooting in Sanford, “ the television droned.
Renzo’s hands snaked around my waist.
“The police have the gun and the shooter, but no arrests have been made.”
He buried his nose in my hair.
“A boy of just seventeen was allegedly shot by twenty-eight year old George Zimmerman, a supposed member of his neighborhood watch.”
I sat up, brushing Renzo’s hands off of my waist. The boy, the dead boy, on the television was sweet-faced and young. He looked familiar, as if he could’ve been a cousin or maybe a distant relative. He looked like he could’ve belonged to me. The boy’s mother appeared on the television, her hands fluttering like small, swift eyelashes.
“He walked out the house to go to the store,” she sputtered. “He was visiting. He didn’t know anybody. He didn’t know. “
My chest tightened. Renzo’s fingers clawed at my hair.
“Your hair is different. I touch it all day.”
He placed his nose in my hair again.
“He was bored. That’s why he walked to the store. He was just bored. He was on his way back,” the boy’s mother choked out, “He was on his way back to me. “
Then, Renzo laughed, a long, deep throaty laugh.
“This woman is silly. Such silly words. Boy was killed. It was justice. No?”
Something inside my chest ripened and hummed. It strummed in my chest like an aged rubber band. My mouth was on Renzo’s before I knew what was happening.
“He was just walking home. That man shot him because he was walking home.”
I sucked at Renzo’s mouth, devouring him. I sucked and bit and dug my fingers into his cheek. I kissed him until it hurt. I kissed him until I sucked the laughter right off of his breath.
# # #
Nashae Jones has had her work appear in Blackberry, American Athenaeum, and Bicycle Review magazines, among others. She is currently a graduate student, writer, and reviewer.
by Mark McKee
"No one may know
what songs are sung
in the hearts of men's souls."
-- Madame Bernard,
upon the wake of
Hans the Basketweaver
Hans lived eighty years in the village of Ur. He had spoken not to anyone til the day he was interred.
It was a simple mistake; Hans could not fault the townspeople. Weeks would pass without his moving a limb. He sat in his corner, basket in hand, and stared fixedly at a stain upon the wall. The stain twitched anxiously, as unsettled as he.
Without thought, Hans wove baskets. In sixty years he had sold but one. The walls of his hovel were lined with hundreds: all sizes and shapes, all shapes and colors. They teetered atop one another, stacked to the ceiling, threatening always to topple upon him. And all, said the townspeople, were five prices too dear.
Sometimes the gnawing in his stomach grew tiresome. By moonlight he scavenged the leavings of Ur. Bits of discarded meats, rotten vegetables and fruits found way to his maw, the incessant gnawing in his stomach finally becalmed. In truth, he would not bother, but the growling was grating, the grating was boring, and the boring was dull.
There was little for anyone in the village of Ur.
One afternoon, Madame Bernard came to see him. White chiffon puckered in the folds of her vast paunch.
Said she: "The basket you sold me has finally worn out. Fifty years I've had it. Such fine craftsmanship, my boy."
Hans was seated in his corner, a nearly finished basket perched on his lap. Hans' eyes were milky. His jaw hung limp.
Moments later there was heard a great cacophony in the village of Ur.
"Dead!" said Madame Bernard. "Hans is dead!"
So, Jenson the Woodworker fashioned a coffin. Small and cheaply made, it was fashioned of spare pine from the back of his shop.
Madame Bernard headed a small procession, which sojourned through the city en route to the cemetery on the outskirts of Ur.
Madame Bernard said a few words. The air was still. Birds were scarce.
Then Madame Bernard went home to her cottage, fifty paces back to the village of Ur.
The sky was moldy. The sun was setting.
In the dark Hans awoke. He found his arms and legs confined by the stiff sides of a pine wood box, the scent sweet nectar to his enlivened soul. He was unable to sit up. He was unable to move.
Realizing there was enough air for but one deafening howl, Hans smiled, filled his lungs, and let everyone in the village know he was dead.
# # #
Mark McKee is from the American south. It's even creepier than Faulkner said. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, theNewerYork, and Literary Orphans, among others.
A Story About Whales
The Male Whale just wanted takeout. He had a long day at whale film school, which is more stressful than it sounds, and he did not want to deal with it. Granted, the Female Whale wasn’t wrong to point out they were broke and didn’t have money for takeout when they could cook at home, and the Male Whale conceded that, so there was really no reason to remind him the whole reason they were broke in the first place was the Male Whale couldn’t stay sober. It hurt the Male Whale’s feelings, and that was why he said that whatever he wanted, she didn’t want it, story of his fucking life, but when she said does that include you fucking every female whale with cute tortoiseshell, that was just taking it to a whole nother level. It was uncalled for.
First off, the Male Whale never touched her. He was lonely while the Female Whale was out of town and having a hell of a time just not drinking, and he liked the attention of this other female whale—we’ll call her Jezewhale—beyond a level of what was appropriate. Granted, he shouldn’t have had dinner with her, but that’s all it was.
The Male Whale didn’t know whose panties those were. Granted, they were exactly the kind of practical-yet-supple kind of copper-colored panties Jezewhale would probably wear—the Female Whale’s observation, not his—but hey just as easily could have come out of the Female Whale’s luggage, and just because she didn’t know where they would have come from doesn’t mean they didn’t. Granted, he couldn’t rule out Jezewhale might have planted them; female whales operated on a level of emotional guile beyond the Male Whale’s comprehension.
Anyway, at that point, the Male Whale knew himself well enough to know he needed to leave and get control of himself before he did something ugly, because he was getting that thing where every muscle in his body coils up and it’s like he can’t open his fists and it makes him destroy everything in front of him. And the meetings really do help with the anger. Not every meeting is about anger issues, granted, but they don’t need to be—they really help the Male Whale put things in perspective, so really, leaving and going to a meeting was the most constructive thing the Male Whale could have done at that moment, but he was also wounded and angry, and so when the Female Whale spat—yes, she did spit it—fine, go on, run off to one of your meetings you coward, that was really unfair, and that’s why the Male Whale shattered the doorstop. Can we agree the Female Whale was not being supportive?
Granted, the hormones fucked with the Female Whale’s emotions, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. It’s sort of like alcoholism—the alcoholic isn’t really in control of himself, but it still hurts when he says and does fucked up shit. Granted, the Male Whale put those chemicals in his body—whether or not it’s voluntary is debatable. It’s still chemicals.
So the Male Whale walked off—note that he left the car in case she needed it—he walked off in the rain, and when he got to the Old Dog he just stood in front of it for a while and thought, fuck it, if she’s not going to support me what do I care, and he could almost feel the antiseptic burn of whisky in the belly, he could feel the release, and he felt so coiled up still, and he just stood there in the rain staring at the bar until he realized all at once what an asshole he was, what a cliché, standing across the street from a bar in the rain, like the will-they-won’t-they cliché of every pop culture alcoholic, which exactly the sort of hackneyed and even dangerous misportrayal of recovery as depressing Sisyphean battle that he hoped to someday in his own films make some small effort to correct, and also that it doesn’t rain in the ocean but let’s just pretend it does. So he went to the meeting instead and even though, granted, no one shared anything explicitly related to anger issues, the Male Whale realized that he was angry at the Female Whale only because of how angry he was at himself for hurting her. The point is the Male Whale is sorry. The point is whales mate for life.
# # #
Jeffrey Otte’s fiction has previously appeared in the Copper Nickel and SmokeLong Quarterly. His journalism appears in the Village Voice and other newspapers and magazines. He also knows how to ride a unicycle.
by Charles Rammelkamp
The crazy guy at the gym is standing in the middle of the floor, in front of the full-length mirror on the side of the bank of lockers at six in the morning, singing soulfully, but tonelessly, to some melody in his head, snapping his fingers, swinging his arms, bobbing his head and bending his knees. From the lyrics he croons over and over I think it must be a gospel song – or possibly a love song. “Nobody's greater than you…Nobody’s greater than you…Nobody’s greater than you…”
He’s standing in the pathway to the urinals and showers, but he seems oblivious. People walk around him, clearly annoyed.
Once I talked with him. He uses a locker near mine. He told me he lived in a homeless shelter nearby, paid his membership dues to the gym with his Social Security stipend, and when he left the club in the morning after bathing and watching the morning news, he went to the Catholic Charities soup kitchen around the corner to help feed the homeless. His eyes swirled around in his head like whirligigs. Clearly unbalanced.
Since then I’ve basically avoided him, nodding politely and moving on. As the saying goes, if you don’t intend to take in the stray cat, don’t feed it the first time. There was no advantage to knowing this guy. I just came to the gym in the morning to swim half a mile, shave and bathe and go on to work. Like everybody else I basically felt like I was in a hurry, even when I wasn’t.
“Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you…”
Sometimes I’d see the crazy guy at poolside when I was swimming my laps, talking to Kathy, the cute but introverted lifeguard. He’s the kind of guy who gets into your face, a close-talker. I watched Kathy recoil while trying to be polite. She didn’t need a stray cat either.
I walk around the crazy guy to the urinals, wash my hands at the basin, again walk briskly around him, avoiding eye contact, headed to the pool.
“Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you…”
When I come back from my swim half an hour later, the crazy guy is still standing in front of the mirrors, singing. “Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you…”
Again avoiding eye contact, I go to the showers, and when I come back, he’s still there, only now I see the other gym members gesturing toward the guy more openly. He’s been at it for almost an hour, singing the same thing over and over, getting an aerobics workout there in front of the mirror.
“Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you….Nobody’s greater than you…”
When I dress and head down the stairs to the parking lot, I see Mike Harding, the burly assistant manager who wears the too-small t-shirts that emphasize his muscles, headed up the stairs to the men’s room, a look of determination on his face.
# # #
Charles Rammelkamp’s collection of poems involving missionaries in a leper colony in Vietnam during the War, FUSEN BAKUDAN (“Balloon Bombs” in Japanese), has just been published by Time Being Books. He edits The Potomac, an online literary journal: www.thepotomacjournal.com.
The Story of Losing
by Sasha Sanchez
San Francisco is such a small city—when you lose people, you can usually find them again.
This was before Twitter or stupid lame Facebook.
But back then, early nineties, there was the potential of getting lost. Maybe a misplaced phone number or a semester taken off from State, maybe a procession of weeks turning into months, turning into years.
Maybe even the day of finals.
“Ok, see you after the final!” But then he must have finished early, he always rushed through quicker than he should have and then no sign of him and a lonely ride on Muni later and poof! Two years have passed and you’ve graduated and are working at some lame ass job as a receptionist and wearing ugly heels and a ridiculous shabby pea coat and there he is. Again. Across from Market Street staring at you. While his girlfriend is kissing his neck and the street performers are playing Calypso music.
See you after the final.
Yes, yes, Bea, you know this is your story. The story of losing. Losing isn’t hard to master. You knew that poem before they put it into a movie starring Cameron Diaz. It’s a fucking great poem. Losing isn’t hard to master but what of the finding? The glimpsing?
So, so many years now and finally spelling his last name correctly on Facebook and sha-zam there he is. With his beautiful Greek Italian family in the Dominican Republic on vacation.
Turns out losing is hard to master. You want to lose this. Lose the political science study group of two at Yakety Yak on Grant. Lose the A’s you gloated over his B’s. Lose the ridiculous you who never even tried for something you wanted. Who only shrugged her shoulders and continued on like it didn’t matter. You passed them on Market with a dumb blind smile forming on your face.
And he stared at you Bea, stared at you till the last possible second and then he moved on.
# # #
Sasha Sanchez works in a transitional kindergarten classroom. She also teaches poetry classes for elementary school children through California Poets in the Schools. Sasha lives with her husband and three kids in Mill Valley, CA.
Belson, Keelie and the Moon
by Daniel VanTassel
“Belson,” I said to my business partner Belson, the way Robert Parker’s Spenser would have said Frank Belson’s last name if he were pronouncing it like an elocutionist and then listening to the sound of it play back, which was exactly what I was doing. I got to like the name Belson in Parker’s books. I don’t know what it is about some names. They just get to me. Each in a different way.
“Belson,” I said again.
“That’s my name,” said Belson.
“Has a nice ring to it,” I said.
“Uh huh,” Belson said, just like that. He doesn’t miss a trick. He’s so good at keeping up with the wordplays I’m always coming up with. He never ceases to amaze me, the way he follows what I’m saying. Unlike Keelie, my girlfriend, who I now realize had never ceased not to amaze me. I can see that now. Amazement, I think, is a necessary ingredient, a prerequisite, to relationships.
Yesterday, for example, while we were driving in an easterly direction, Keelie was noticing the odd shapes of the moon as it came up over the horizon. I had to admit that the bands of clouds, in conjunction with the moon’s waning phase and all the layers of atmosphere we were looking through, given the moon’s low position, really were changing its appearance in surprising ways. I had to admit that she actually had noticed something of significance .
Waning Gibbous, I thought, noting its diminished upper right quadrant.
“Lumpy,” she said.
“Like an egg now,” she said, digging deeper. “Like a face now,” she said, deeper still.
“Mmmm,” I said, frowning.
“No?” she asked, a little miff in her voice.
“It does seem to morph real quick from one thing to another,” I said.
“Quickly,” she corrected.
Well, there you go, I thought. I shouldn’t sell her short just because she doesn’t know about the moon’s phases. She wouldn’t know about a penumbral eclipse, either, or the Higgs boson, or predicate nominative, so does that disqualify her? Of course not.
I remember that at that moment, I had promised to let myself stay open to the possibilities. I let her wonderful name wash over me as it always did, temporarily releasing me from my doubts and actually causing some primal excitement, so to speak. Keelie. A swell name, I thought. Keelie. Keelie!
But then she said, in that soft way she always did when she felt she had discovered something, “Oh, wow. Look. Now it’s on the other side of the road.”
My rising hopes for her fell like that mansion they just showed on TV that slid off the cliff in California, only faster. I may have been erecting my mansion on a weak foundation, I thought. Location, location, location.
“Belson,” I said, back in the present. “Your name is perfect for our business. It has that ring, but also a nice period sound at the end of it. No nonsense.”
"Here we go,” Belson said.
“No, really.” I said.“ Puts a final stamp on things when you introduce yourself to our clients. I’ve watched them react to it. There’s the ring, and then there’s the period. People have a lot of confidence in you and our products when they hear it, know what I mean? Gets them ready to buy into what you’re saying. Know what I mean?”
Belson looked down and sighed. “No, I don’t know what you mean, John. And I don’t want to know what you think it means. And I don’t want to know what you think I think you think it means.”
After a minute or so, he let out a longer sigh and looked up from what he was doing. “Look, I think you just think too hard about things sometimes." (He paused. I remember that. I think he was ... what's the word... remorseful.) "I’m just sayin’,” he added.
“It also has that extra noise you hear when you close a door all the way, you know what I mean?” I said.
“Hoo boy,” Belson said again. “Now it’s a door. And then there’s a period sound. After the bell. And there’s an extra noise. Who knew.”
“Yes!” I said. “See? You’re always so damn fast to see what I’m saying!”
“Jesus, John. The door, the bell, my name, an extra noise. Don’t tell me,” he said. “Please. Just don’t tell me about the effing extra noise.” He seemed pretty grumpy at that point, unlike his usual self when we’re having a good talk like this one.
“Well, see, that’s a click when you close a door all the way,” I said. “That’s the period. That’s how your name works for us. You’ve rung the bell, (Bel…right?). It’s opened the door, you’ve started your pitch—product features and benefits and so on—and, voilà, it’s a done deal. Your name helps to do that for us, see. They buy into it before they even know it. Good morning, everyone. I’m Belson. Ding! Click! Sold!”
“I always give my whole name,” he said. “I don’t just say, ‘I’m Belson.’ Who the hell would do that?”
I thought about Keelie some more. An attractive girl. Woman, I should say. Personable. Friendly. Kind of a gentle soul. Presentable. Hell, more than presentable. Clean.
I never wanted to let myself think about what most people probably thought of her, like, She’s not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Or, She’s not the sharpest knife in the deck. Instead, I used to make myself concentrate on her name. It did a lot for me. It still does, when I say it to myself. Some kind of audio pheromone software, I suppose.
I looked at Belson again. “See? See what I’m sayin’? About your name, I mean?”
“John, I... No. Just no. I do not know what you’re saying. I almost never do. But the product’s going out the door, thanks mainly to your work on it, so just keep doing whatever the eff you’re doing. You design it, I sell it.”
“Please stop calling me Belson.”
“You used to always know what I meant even before I said it,” I said.
“John… Listen. Seriously. I don’t even have any idea what the eff that meant,” he said.
I wondered, had Keelie ever known what I meant, even after I said it? Take this morning. I wasn’t trying to be Spenserish. Or Forrest Gumpish. After we had gone back to bed and eventually had gotten up, I said, “Y’know, mornings are like opening a door, in quite a few ways. First, of course, our eyes. You can see that, right? I don’t mean see. You know. I mean see in a different sense. A door to a new day. Two doors. Our four doors. And then other doors open in the morning. Curtains. Bathroom stuff, of course. And then there might be another opening. Not to be crude about it, but you know what I mean? Like this morning with us? Wow! Right? Right? Anyway, later, opening up things for breakfast. Each thing we opened was a door.
“Also,” I continued, “I think that before you open the door at your place to go out each day, starting tomorrow, if you’re over there then, or even over here if you stay the night, you might want to go ahead and consider this: try wondering if somebody’s left something there for you—a gift or something—so when you open your door, first go ahead and peek out a little, see what’s there. Kind of a Norman Vincent Peale positive thinking about the day. You’ll be surprised what the new day will present you with, know what I mean? I’m thinking that’s how we should live the rest of our lives. I think that would work for us. Know what I mean?”
She said, “John, we need to talk.”
Now, tonight, quite alone, I’m trying to understand everything. Even what she said about the moon. Maybe she only meant it appeared to have moved across the road.
Nope. I don’t think so. I think she thought it actually did.
# # #
Daniel VanTassel is editor and publisher at The Zodiac Review, and owes much of the success of the magazine to its staff, each of whom is a pro and a pro bono. Dan is the author of the spy thriller, The Aries Obsession. His second novel, The Feminist Gene and the Election of 2016, is scheduled for publication in 2015. His fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications.
by Chris Wilkensen
In the brink of winter, Sam sat in his partner’s late-90s Pontiac Sunfire, his unsteady hand cradling his glock inside his puffy jacket. Shaking due to nerves, shivering due to the cold.
“You know the difference between being cheap and being poor? Being cheap is having money and not spending it. Being poor is not having money and not spending it,” Sam said.
“The thing about rich people is they already have all they need. But everything to lose,” his partner said.
In high school, these kids drove their American cars to affluent neighborhoods and keyed German luxury cars to blow off steam. After high school, they looked for something to put in their pockets.
“I don’t know if I can go through with it,” Sam said.
“If you don’t go through with it, I’m never talking to you again.”
In Sam’s mind, his way out of poverty was to sell drugs or join the army, the latter a last resort. He’d do anything before that.
Sam went into the 7-11, the only one inside. He felt his phone vibrate. It could be his partner, something important. Sam’s sweaty palm retrieved the phone too quickly, almost dropping it. Private number. That made him even more nervous.
He walked to the chips aisle, glancing back at the clerk, an Arab in his 30s. The clerk stared through him, expressionless, like a movie were playing on the freezer cooler windows. Mirrors.
Maybe the clerk knew. Sam’s heart began to race. He grabbed a $1.29 bag of Doritos, his dad’s favorite junk food. He couldn’t remember the last time they talked. Regardless of the outcome, his dad would find out. Sam hadn’t considered that until he held the Doritos.
He couldn’t do it. A cop came in. Sam’s heart fell into his gut, continuing to pound. His partner’s ride pulls away. He paid and got out of there.
Sam ran back home. Because of his nerves, because of the cold.
New text. Instead of reading it, he threw his phone on the ground,
breaking it. His ex-friend said he’d never talk to him again, so he sealed the deal. He began thinking about military and started to watch “Act of Valor” on Netflix to get his mind off cops and crime.
“Sure beats my act of cowardice,” he said to himself.
# # #
Chris Wilkensen is a young scribe from Chicago who teaches English as a Second Language in Korea. After graduating college amidst a recession, he stopped stalking the American dream of a white-collar career and began writing fiction. His work has appeared in The Stone Hobo, Curbstone Collective, The Path, Linguistic Erosion, and Pulp Metal Magazine, among others.
Eight by One
A collection of musings by Marc Carver
I found a quid on the floor
I had only asked the world for it
twenty minutes before.
The man walking past me
asked him to touch him for luck.
I grew a fist and touched his hand.
Passed on the luck.
TALES OF MEN PART ONE
The Egyptian man in the hot tub
asked me if I enjoyed a drink.
I said I did.
Are you a heavy drinker?
I don't know what gave him that idea.
I am, I said again.
"It is my job you see." I told him
He went to ask me more
I will tell you the next time I see you
I told him.
I have no intention of ever seeing him again.
I opened the draw
and heard the bottle fall.
At first I felt paralysed by fear
as I heard the glugging sound of the bottle emptying.
It was lucky I had some emergency drink I thought
I can't remember ever doing that before.
The next morning there was a big stain on the carpet
looked a bit like blood
and to be honest with you
I would have preferred it to have been my blood.
I want a woman so bad it hurts.
Not that I want to be with them.
I just want them to fill up the space in the house
which is empty when they are gone.
You have to weigh up the grief
the grief to the loneliness.
ONLY IN THE MAKING
We drove past the roundabout
there was a big tree lying on its back
roots torn from earth
"Get up you lazy bastard," I said.
"No sleeping on the job."
Later, I thought how lucky he must of thought he was,
the road had come through there years ago,
all his brothers sacrificed for progress
but not him
he and two of his friends stayed in a sunny spot
with only the punishment of watching cars all day long.
He was lucky
but today god told him his luck had run out.
A few days later I saw the men there who were cutting
no coffin for him
only in the making.
LOVE AND HATE
I drove back to the mcdonalds
'cause i had some cheap vouchers.
The homeless guy still sat there.
I saw him there three days earlier
this time he was bent over
as if he was going to be sick.
Inside i got my cheap burger
and looked at the man's fingers who sat close to me.
On one hand he had love
so I had to look at the other just to make sure
eventually I saw it
he had a faint H on the first finger
but nothing on the others
must have run out of money
As I sit in McDonald's
for the third time this week
I notice an old Indian woman
looking at me.
She has no food
and all she does is look over at me
then begin to laugh.
I look a few times to make sure
she is looking at me.
There was a time when it would of upset me.
Not any more.
I want to be the oldest guy in town
to have an ASBO
I want to walk down the street
and people to point at me
"There he goes, he is the one, must be nearly
fifty and has an ASBO order against him."
I want to walk around town with my pants
down below my arse
the way young kids do.
I want to shout at old women
and generally make a nuisance of myself.
Two days later I saw it on the news.
The government are going to abolish ASBOS.
Now, I will never be the oldest guy in town
to have an ASBO.
# # #
I have published some seven hundred poems around
the world and have written seven collections of poetry
but all that makes any sense to me is that I continue
and when people tell me they like my work then I know
that I am doing something right. -– Marc Carver
by Anton Frost
Is the universe allergic
Does it ever pick up
on my signals,
the way I look at it,
even when it's not looking back?
Does it ever notice
the way I leave it little gifts
throughout each day?
A small act of bravery
on behalf of an injured sparrow,
a smile at every passing stranger?
An improvised song
belted out in my empty
Am I going to have to say
what I mean?
The universe results in so much
allows so many love stories
you'd think it wanted
the same things,
# # #
Anton Frost’s work has appeared in Verdad,
Grasslimb, ditch, The Bacon Review and elsewhere.
He lives in Michigan.
by Jeffrey Winter
You go loping down a sunbaked, dust-stained access road,
Smitty trotting alongside with bowed head and bouncing ears.
He whines and curls his spine around your leg:
There are gas pumps up ahead.
One way or another, he knows this means cold water.
Today is a Wednesday.
You move on weekdays during working hours
and sometimes on weeknights.
Weekends you hide away
(The more people about,
the more opportunity for misunderstandings).
Your hulking hiking backpack latches on your sloping shoulders –
an incubus that works from the rear,
a symbiont that feeds you
and then feeds on you.
You love to remove it, feel your shirt
detaching from your back and starting to cool.
Your shirt is drenched and gamy;
its odor comforts you like the smell of a home.
(Brew-Thru, it says on the chest.
You don’t know what that means.
But the Outer Banks sound like some paradisiacal
final resting place for the affluent.)
Seventeen years carrying the purling tremors in your abdomen
across a landscape on a permanent loop.
Seventeen years of stealing shoes.
Seventeen years of avoiding eye contact with children.
You tried to go mad in your late twenties,
tried talking to yourself before admitting
that you had nothing to say and were only
pretending. You hate the resiliency of your mind.
You still taste those aborted words on your beard.
Smitty talks to everyone, in his way.
Up ahead, in the gas station parking lot
a group of young men, teenagers, cavorts and guffaws.
They are the music pounding rhythmically from their cars.
They are their age, while you are ageless.
They will join fraternities in a few months, while you
were born into one.
You affix the sanguine grin
that the inevitable interaction requires;
you wrap the leash twice around your knuckles
then pull your red bandanna down over your forehead
to dry the sweat.
You are ready to dance if you must dance.
You are ready to be cuffed with mock affection,
patted on the back
a little too hard.
You are ready to absorb the laughter as you apologize your
way through their bare shoulders to the ice chest,
eyes peeled for surveillance cameras.
They are the clear clumps of ineffectual anti-perspirant
clinging to their armpits.
When they’re done with you, they go back to
reconnoitering and rating passing asses,
and you are transformed into an anecdote
for a party that night.
Smitty does not feel shame the way you do.
His obliviousness seems willful and wise.
He eats ice like Alpo and shuffles back and forth like a child
as you fish more out of the wet, soiled plastic bag.
His jaws crunch like big black boots in snow and
eddies of red dust whirl about his cracked forepaws.
You cannot leave Smitty out here alone, something tells you,
and so you forego the bathroom for a dry ditch farther down the road.
A figure similarly laden and gaited
passes behind you as you manage,
with a muted groan, your final few squirts.
It does not look at you; it moves on.
You move on, too, tottering on ruined knees,
tossing someone’s stiff, discarded sock ahead
for Smitty to chase after and return to you.
He sets it before you with that wide-eyed obsequiousness
that reminds you that you could once produce tears.
The sun prods you with its hateful fingers;
a sprinkler sings its sibilant song in a nearby yard.
You don’t dare look.
You will be murdered this autumn.
It will happen behind a strip mall where you have curled up,
your heels against the seat of your pants,
for warmth. It will happen on the night of the first frost.
For a moment the blade, as it punctures your side,
will feel almost familiar,
like a cautionary kiss from the approaching winter.
Your belongings, such as they are, will be left
fastened to your back.
Nothing on your person will be removed.
Smitty, asleep and twitching, dreaming perhaps of
a row of 7-Elevens stretching out forever, will follow you,
disemboweled but still resolutely unabashed.
You will both be found the next morning by Tanya,
a surly trainee who resents the frequency with which
she must visit the dumpsters
and is contemplating slipping the occasional bill
from the register because, really, who would notice?
The man who will kill you will look like your twin,
down to the thin white latitudinal scar on his chest,
for which he also has no story.
He will be apprehended six miles away, in Walker county,
asleep in a dry ditch with a red handkerchief levitating over his face
with each foul exhalation.
His mammoth bag will be left behind,
to be picked up later and gutted halfheartedly by the authorities.
The photograph of a mad transient, cuffed and grinning,
will appear somewhere in the newspapers.
A few senior citizens will write the editor to protest the
grisliness of the image (blood and specks of viscera covering the shirt,
an elongated reddish-brown handprint over
the Brew-Thru logo), but no one will be too terribly put out.
On the evening news your mug shots (yours from a shoplifting charge
some six years previous) will be presented side-by-side,
and none of us will bother peering through the tangled hair and dirt
to note the resemblance. Anyway, we expect you to look alike.
To us the two of you will have been the same person.
To us it will have been a suicide.
# # #
Jeffrey Winter currently resides in Fredericksburg, VA with his wife and two small children.
He recently graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in English from University of Mary Washington. He will be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing this fall. Jeffrey spends his free time writing poetry, reading, and wrestling with his kids. And occasionally with his wife. He has been published in Pif Magazine, Denver Syntax, and Black Heart Magazine.