Summer 2020 Issue
The End of the World As We Knew It
by David Adès
DEEP DOWN, at a cellular level, each of us knew we had made a hash of it.
We were given a multitude of choices and chose wrongly, again and again, day after day, to our endless suffering and trauma, all that we inflicted upon one another, upon ourselves.
Until the day choice was taken away from us, as from a disobedient child.
There was no announcement or warning. There was no apocalypse.
The day in question began like every other day: multiple wars in progress, millions of refugees and stateless, widespread hunger and starvation, murders, rapes, assaults, overcrowded prisons, bigotry, hatred, racism, discrimination, bullying, a list too long to enumerate, the endless appetite for torture, death, destruction, the infliction of pain.
All at once, whatever the hour of day or night, a veil fell across the world, a constraint. Between one moment and the next, all was transformed. Within the veil, the constraint, free agency was caged.
We were vanquished and the world flowered.
In that moment every war stopped, every weapon was rendered benign: every gun became a flower, every missile a harp. Every voice raised in anger was silenced, every slur turned into a declaration of love, every would-be-rapist knelt down before his would-be-victim and asked for mercy, every prison wall dissolved, every misogynist wept, every lost and abandoned child was held in a warm embrace, every starving person found an abundance of food.
Seeds of kindness and gentleness bloomed in our hearts.
We turned to one another with understanding and compassion. We turned to one another and knew each other’s trauma, each other’s grief. We turned to one another and started on the long road towards healing. We turned to one another and saw what we could become together, all that we had stopped ourselves from becoming. We turned to one another as the world turned, a new world, a world with boundless possibility.
Some reacted with outrage and indignation, expressed fiery discontent at the summary removal of free agency, at the imposition of constraint, at the judgment implied. They spoke, but the wind carried away their words, their breath dissolved their thoughts.
Deep down, at a cellular level, they knew what we all knew: each of us was relieved, each of us rejoiced, each of us understood we were but children, not ready for the dangerous gifts of choice.
We were vanquished and the world flowered.
David Adès is a poet and short story writer with publications in Australia, the U.S., Israel, India, England, Romania and New Zealand. He is the author of Mapping the World, Afloat in Light and the chapbook Only the Questions Are Eternal. David won the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Short Story Prize 2005. Mapping the World was commended for the FAW Anne Elder Award 2008.
David’s poetry has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize and has been shortlisted twice for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. His poems have been Highly Commended in the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, a finalist in the Dora and Alexander Raynes Poetry Prize (U.S.) and commended for the Reuben Rose International Poetry Prize (Israel).
by Jim Bates
HE WAS STANDING off to the side of the city Greenway looking at the sky when he felt a tap on his shoulder. "Hey buddy. What are you doing?"
Emil turned. It was a policeman on bicycle patrol. "I'm just looking at the clouds, officer," he said, politely. "That one over there reminds me of a bunny rabbit."
Unimpressed, the cop got off his bike and adjusted his crotch. "I see you down here a lot. Where do you live?"
"Nearby," he said and then tried to change the subject. "I just like to walk here," he indicated arbitrarily. The Greenway led from Lake of the Isles, near where they were standing, on the west end of Minneapolis, all the way east to St. Paul, a distance of fifteen miles. People walked and biked on it nearly every moment of the day.
"Let's see some identification."
Emil fumbled through his pockets and then put his tattered shopping bag down and looked through it and then shrugged off his backpack and looked through it. Then he did it all again before finally saying, "I'm sorry officer. I seem to have lost it."
The policeman smirked, "Yeah, I'll bet." He took his radio from his belt and made a call. "I'm bringing a guy in." He listened for a moment and said, "No, he's not drunk. I think he's delusional. Let's see how he does in lockup overnight and then we'll take it from there."
Emil couldn't help but overhear the conversation. "Officer, I promise I'm not delusional. I'm perfectly sane. I just like to walk and be outdoors."
"Too bad, buddy, you seem a little off to me. No more walking and being outside for you today."
He called for a patrol car and they took Emil to the station where he was booked for loitering and put in a holding cell with fifteen other inmates.
His jailer, a heavy set black man with a grey beard said, "Here you go, buddy. We'll come get you for dinner at 5:30. Have fun." He slammed the door shut.
Emil made it a point to avoid eye contact with the other inmates and shuffled to the corner of the cell. He faced the wall and closed his eyes and concentrated, letting his hunger for the outdoors soar through him like a cool mountain breeze. In a matter of moments his mind had taken him back to the streets where he belonged. Home. Walking free.
Later, when the jailer came to let the inmates out for dinner, no one could find Emil. In fact no one even remembered him even being there. He'd vanished into thin air.
Back on the Greenway, Emil brushed himself off trying to get rid of the stink of the jail. I've got to be more careful. I don't know how many more times I can do that. Then he went back to walking and looking at the sky and the clouds, happy to be outdoors once again. But this time he kept a sharper lookout for cops, because being inside? Well, it just wasn't for him.
Far up ahead, he saw a figure approaching on a bicycle. He looked closely, thinking that might be that cop. "Probably out looking for me," Emil mumbled to himself. He watched as the rider stopped to question a young couple vaping and walking hand in hand. Yeah, it was him, he decided, and that was all the motivation Emil needed. He stepped off to the side of the path and disappeared. The cop rode by looking by didn't see anything. He kept on riding. Emil smiled.
Jim Bates lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories, Resilience, is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.
by Robert Boucheron
AFTER ADVENTURES in foreign lands, in the circus, on the moon, undersea, and that unreported incident in Brooklyn, Dr. Dolittle looked forward to a quiet life. As round in the middle as he was short, he still dressed as though headed to some formal engagement, in striped trousers, checked waistcoat, cutaway, and top hat.
“Well-made clothes never go out of style,” he said.
The doctor resumed his medical practice at Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, where Dud-Dub the duck set up housekeeping. Other animals of his household were stressed from travel.
“We hardly knew if we was coming or going,” the Pushmi-pullyu grumbled.
“Bless you! There will be no more gallivanting all over creation,” Dr. Dolittle said. “We have seen enough marvels to last a lifetime. Here in our own cottage, in our dear English village, we may at last enjoy a normal schedule. Jip can recover from that spot of mange. Gub-Gub will get over that lingering case of swine influenza. And you will have a chance to exercise regularly and empty your bowels, wherever they may be situated, without attracting gawkers.”
He patted the Pushmi-pullyu on one of its two heads, while the other head looked behind—or forward, as the case may be.
“What’s this?” the little man exclaimed. “Matthew Mugg so early in the morning! With a dog the like of which I have never seen.”
“Good morning, John,” said the Cats’-Meat-Man.
On a stout leash, the big man was dragged by a small, muscular dog with a smooth, light-colored coat and a brown patch over one eye.
“This here’s Bruiser. He’s a new dog, all right. I won’t trouble you with a long, detailed, and tedious story about his past, because there ain’t one. He arrived in the village as a puppy in a basket. He’s a cross between a pit terrier and a bulldog. The gentleman as what brought him in the basket called him a pit bull.”
“I have heard of this breed,” Dr. Dolittle said in a tone of disapproval.
“According to the gentleman, a pit bull combines the speed and tenacity of the terrier with the tenacity and strength of the bulldog. It has tenacity.”
“The pit bull is set on other dogs to fight while their owners wager on the contest. It is a disreputable entertainment. I should say that the breeder was no gentleman.”
Matthew ignored this implicit rebuke. Dr. Dolittle made eye contact with Bruiser, and the dog growled. The Pushmi-pullyu sidled away and made itself scarce.
“Just look at those jaws!” Matthew said.
“Indeed. Is that blood on his muzzle?”
“Sharp eyes you have. It could be dirt or the bark of a stick. Bruiser will chew anything, won’t you, boy?” Matthew scratched behind Bruiser’s ears, and the dog wagged a stubby tail.
“He looks perfectly healthy,” the doctor said. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s like this,” Matthew began. “There’s been a disappearance. My youngest, to be particular. When the missus went to the cradle this morning, she cried out: ‘The baby’s gone!’ Now, you might suppose with half a dozen urchins underfoot, one more or less wouldn’t matter. But you might be mistaken. Little Dora was the apple of her mother’s eye, and she was nowhere to be found. Seeing as how Bruiser here was in the same room with the baby overnight, he is the last one to see her alive. And seeing as how you can talk to animals, the missus took it into her head for you to have a talk with Bruiser. Find out if he saw or heard anything.”
“Perhaps you could get him to sit,” Dr. Dolittle said. “He seems tense.”
“Strangers get him riled.”
As Matthew persuaded his charge to sit and relax, Dr. Dolittle extracted a pipe from a pocket and lit the tobacco already in it. Puffing meditatively, he turned his attention to Bruiser.
“Hello,” he said in dog language. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“What can you tell me about the Mugg baby? Did you like Dora?”
“She was all right.”
“Is that all? Did she play with you?”
“Sure. We were pals.”
“How did she treat you?”
“Rough. Dora liked to pummel. She butted me with her head, pulled my tail, and put my paw in her mouth.”
“None of those things bothered you?”
“She wasn’t so different from a puppy. Less coordinated.”
“How did you play with Dora?”
“I nudged her with my nose, rolled her so I could lick her tummy, and chased her. Once she learned how to go on all fours, she was a terror.”
“Did you ever bite the baby?”
“No.” Butch was sullen.
“In the course of rough and tumble, did you ever hurt the baby?”
“They bruise easily.”
“About last night. What happened after bedtime?”
“Dora crept out of the cradle while I was asleep.”
“Did she wake you?”
“She was all over me. She wanted to play.”
“And you did not?”
“She beat on me with her little fists. She kicked me.”
“Did you nip her in exasperation?”
“I might have. I was still half asleep.”
“Did you draw blood?”
“Now that you mention it, I smelled something. It could have been blood. The baby must have hurt herself. She started to wail, and that upset me.” Bruiser stood.
“Then what happened?” The doctor was calm but alert.
“I don’t know.” The fur rose on Bruiser’s hackles.
Dr. Dolittle exchanged a meaningful glance with the Cats’-Meat-Man, who tightened his grip on the leash.
“Are you quite certain?”
“Baby went bye-bye.” Bruiser’s lips curled in a snarl.
“Did you by any chance eat the baby?”
Bruiser strained against the leather strap.
“Because if you did, that was wrong, you know.”
“She made me do it!” Bruiser lunged at the doctor.
“You are a vicious cur and must be put down.”
From his waistcoat pocket, Dr. Dolittle drew a small pistol, already loaded, and discharged an unpleasant duty.
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His stories, flash fiction, poems, and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Fiction International, Flash Nonfiction Food, Saturday Evening Post, and online magazines such as Lunate, Spelk, Reflex Press, and The Zodiac Review.
by John Dennis Clayton
I DON’T REMEMBER exactly who it was. Someone recently asked me about any happy memories from childhood I may have had. I struggled to respond. We had been talking about how long forgotten memories from youth can reappear, and how names and events can suddenly pop up that had been buried for years. I was annoyed at being put on the spot and challenged to come up with a happy memory. It felt like they were asking me about happy memories, as if I didn’t have any. Struggling to remember something…anything…, I remembered a photo of a birthday party I went to when I was about six years old. It was a backyard party for some boy in the neighborhood. The image was vivid because I still have that photograph. It shows a group of boys standing around a picnic table. I was standing off to the side, alone, showing no particular emotion.
How do you understand a photo like that? Even if you saw it for the first time or knew no one in it. It was a party, and kids are usually happy at parties. Was this a photo of a happy event with a happy boy in it? Maybe he had just arrived seconds before and was about to join the group. Perhaps he was ostracized. Or, was he merely shy and didn’t quite understand how to behave at a birthday party? My own birthdays were at home with my parents. There were no other family members present, and never any guests. But there I was, in a photo, at a party outdoors.
So, happy memories of childhood had me stymied. That photograph is the only one I have of me as a child, except for my 6th grade class photo, an individual head shot with a blank expression on my face. My parents didn’t own a camera, and I have no idea who took the birthday photo. I’m assuming I was the boy standing there. It was always understood to be me. Anyway, I believe that’s what I was told. But how could I know for certain? There was nothing written on the back, and I have no memory of the striped teeshirt, the yard, or the other children. It’s a grainy image of a boy standing in profile. Perhaps he was truly happy to be there. A camera can only capture a fraction of a second of life. What happened seconds before or after the shutter clicked? If it had been on video or film, I could have seen more of him, perhaps interacting with others. But it wasn’t. It has always been a frozen question.
I recently found the photo again and put it under a bright desk lamp. With a magnifying glass I scanned every millimeter of the image. The boy who stood alone, away from the others, was wearing a harness with a leash that trailed out of the frame.
John Dennis Clayton began as an actor on the stage. From lessons in starvation he moved on to photography, which proved more lucrative. In both disciplines he learned about communication, whether through dialog or imagery. He has just completed a novel, “The Backward Boy.”
It Was 1951
by Chella Courington
MURIEL STOOD at the steel sink recently installed and gazed at the Santa Ynez Mountains, long and patched in green. To the right side of the kitchen window were palm trees and blooming aloe vera. Tubular orange clusters dangling from the stalk. Just beyond were two rows of eight tomato plants, spindly vines with lots of deep green leaves. There was almost something of the past about them as she saw or thought she saw a girl, five years old, in a blue seersucker jumpsuit behind the twining, gouging red sandstone with her shovel. Her face slightly streaked with streams of dirt, dust coloring the air orange.
As if she’d wakened in the middle of the night, Muriel felt her mouth dry and sticky. She reached for a clear glass, remembering the July her brother Rusty was at Camp Sumatanga. Seven years older, he was almost six feet and carried her on his shoulders whenever she asked, holding her legs while she balanced holding his head—like being on a moving throne.
July in Southern California was so different from the humid summers on Sand Mountain in North Alabama. Mosquitoes swarmed at dawn and dusk, sucking blood to nourish their own eggs. Vampiric insects.
Muriel filled the glass with spring water, downing it in one continuous gulp as she tried for the ideal eight glasses a day.
She couldn’t turn away from her young self, still slinging sand everywhere, soaring high and sprinkling her shoulders. Then suddenly Muriel saw the small porcelain doll with the blue eyes and lips the color of cherries dumped into the hole. The doll in the white crinoline dress that her mother loved, calling it the best gift she’d ever given Muriel. Once a week she took her to Moore’s Toy Store to fawn over the ghostly white thing, its legs as chubby as its cheeks. “She looks just like Shirley Temple,” her mother would say, holding Muriel in front of the doll. “Wouldn’t you like to look like her?”
So that Christmas what showed up in a shoe box wrapped in silver foil with a striped ribbon and bow?
Muriel shook her stocking, spilling M&Ms over the carpet, hugged the teddy bear Rusty gave her and ignored the shiny box. Goose bumps rose whenever she came near it. Crumpled wads of holiday paper littered the floor and all the gifts were secreted away except for the untouchable.
Rusty was outside, the sound of his new baseball bat heard over the carols on the radio. Her dad was in the kitchen, making eggnog—one quart whiskey to two quarts nog, leaving Muriel alone with her mother.
Muriel sat eating M&Ms, keeping all the red ones for later. Her mother’s cheerfulness gone. Her anger and hurt competed for control as she stared at Muriel in unblinking silence.
Finally she spoke. “Open it.”
And Muriel obeyed because she was five and it was different back then. Children knew there were consequences when a mother’s tone turned cold. Muriel unwrapped the box carefully, saving the ribbon and bow. Her father walked in with two egg nogs and handed one to his wife.
He took a sip of his and proclaimed it needed a touch more nutmeg. Then he left the women in his life to work it out.
Muriel watched his deserting back and said, “Thank you, Mother.”
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, The Collagist, and The Los Angeles Review. Her flash novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, is available at Breaking Rules Publishing. Originally from the Appalachian South, Courington lives in California with another writer and two cats (chellacourington.net).
A Special Place In Hell
by Craig Grafton
“DID YOU KNOW dear that there’s a special place in hell for women like you dear who don’t vote for women.”
“Where’d you come up with that one?”
“Why it’s right here on the internet. It says that women who don’t support women candidates have a special place in hell reserved for them. A woman said that.”
“Let me see that please,” she asked, reaching for his Chromebook.
He handed it to her and she started reading the article. Her husband blathered on. “Well if it’s on the internet it has to be true doesn’t it? Some old bat named Madeleine Allright said it.” He purposely malapropped her name knowing that it would irk his wife. “She used to be our country’s U.N. ambassador or something. She’s one of those intellectual type women. Knows everything about everything and what’s good for everybody. And since she knew what was good for our country and the world she’s gotta know what’s good for women too now doesn’t she? Like it’s good for some women to burn in Hell.”
His reasoning and argument was discombobulated and incoherent to say the least but he didn’t care. It would get his wife’s goat and after all that’s what he wanted it to do.
His wife finished reading. “Christ on a crutch,” she squawked. “Women like that do give women a bad name.” She closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side. “All this political nonsense why it’s the height of stupidity. Why in the world the press would take that old fool seriously is beyond me. Anybody in their right mind can see that it’s nothing but just another political propaganda piece. Makes you realize how really effed up the news media is today.” She handed him back his Chromebook, picked up her own chromebook, and went back to surfing the net.
Her husband was obviously disappointed with her response for it actually reflected his thoughts too. He needed to change his strategy if he was going to torque her off.
“You know I bet that there’s a special place in hell for men too who don’t support men candidates,” he continued. “I’d like to see them do a story about that. Only they’d do it differently of course. I can just see them now reporting on some male politician getting up there spouting to the press that men must vote for men or burn in hell. They’d run it as a male chauvinistic pig sexist story. You just wait and see though, I betcha that they’ll run a story about some African-American saying that African-Americans must vote for African-Americans or else they’ll burn in Hell. Or some Hispanic saying vote Hispanic or burn. Hell those Hispanics are all Catholics you know and the Pope’s got them scared to death of burning in Hell. That will get all of them to vote straight, straight Democrat that is. You know there’s lots of stories out there they could do like that, gays for gays, transexuals for transexuals, muslims for muslims. The press could even report that a muslim man wouldn’t get his seventy two virgins if he didn’t vote for a muslim. Don’t have to worry about women muslims though because they can’t even vote in their own countries and muslim men won’t let them vote here either. Yeah there’s a gold mine of stories out there all right just waiting for the press to milk them.”
“Knock it off will ya!” his wife shrieked. “That’s enough for God’s sakes! You’re just being silly now and you know it. So just drop it dear! I can’t take any more of your blathering. It’s bad enough that the news media is stupid but I shouldn’t have to put up with to a stupid husband too now should I.” Her eyes shot darts at him hoping that her burning glare would be warning enough for him to back off. She wanted to go back to her own world on the net, choosing what stories she wished to read, undisturbed by him.
But nooooo! He being a man, he couldn’t resist. He couldn’t let this die just yet anyway. He had to get it just one more cutesy inane remark even though he knew that he knew that it was suicidal to do so.
The death wish took control of his brain as he blurted out, “You know I should hold a press conference and announce: “Old generic white men like me should only vote for other old generic white men. That way they can’t accuse me of being racist or sexist if it's okay for women to vote only for women, blacks for blacks, gays for gays, etcs for etcs, can they now?”
“Enough dear,” she repeated again through gritted teeth, the steam rising from her head, her jaw firmly clenched, her eyes glued to her computer.
But it was too late for him to stop now. The runaway train of truth had been set in motion and the wreck of collusion, or was it collision, was about to happen. “Yes we old white men deserve our special place in hell too you know.”
“Why that’s nice dear and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But I’m sure there’s already a special place in Hell reserved just for you dear.”
“Yeah and I know where that place would be.”
“And where would that be dear?” his wife asked, rising to the bait.
He knew he shouldn’t say it but he said it anyway. Said it with a big old grin on his face.
Why right next to you of course dear.”
He bolted from his chair and flew out the door and was far down the street when his wife slammed it shut and locked it. He suddenly had gotten the urge to take a walk, a very, very, long walk indeed.
Craig Grafton has previously been published in The Zodiac Review and elsewhere. He has written a number of stories like this one and is looking for a publisher. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Anita Haas
He fishes a pen from his pocket and scrawls on a napkin;
She will live.
They told him to keep his cell phone handy at all times. Just in case.
We’ll cook dinner together again; test new recipes, add more spice.
She’ll scold and romp with our cats again.
And they asked him to wait …
We’ll revisit Venice, London, Paris, drink vodka in St. Petersburg, sake
Tears blur his vision. They fall and smudge the letters;
We’ll listen to flamenco and jazz, watch Bogart movies.
… to wait here, outside the Emergency Room.
Just like before.
His heart skips as a nurse approaches.
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.
Two Childhood Friends
by Michael Hogan
I RETURN HOME after sixteen years to discover that they are both firemen. They will retire with good pensions in a few years. They get to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. My mother watches them and taps her feet. They have investments in real estate. They are comfortably overweight.
At the Hibernian Club we drink beer and shots, and remember how dangerous we were as kids, how we terrorized the neighborhood. Our impact was lasting. The wooden benches at the park still bear the scars of our immortality.
Two men in firemen’s suits who get to chop down doors with double-headed axes, who get to wear outrageous hats, speed through the neighborhood, clomp around in big boots.
Sixteen years and nothing has changed. They tell me I should stay, give up teaching, join the Department. I do not even tell my wife. The idea is so absurd. But at night, when I hear sirens my hands reach for a polished brass pole, my feet stretch towards asbestos boots.
Michael Hogan is the author of twenty-six books including the Irish Soldiers of Mexico which was the basis for an MGM film starring Tom Berenger and three documentaries. His work has appeared in numerous journals including the Harvard Review, the Ohio Review, kayak, New Letters, and others. He lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with the textile artist Lucinda May and their Dutch Shepard, Lola.
by Kathryn Holzman
At the visitors’ center at Denali, the ranger sells bear-proof containers and tell us to watch a film about bear safety before heading out into the tundra. Sitting in the dark theatre, we watch a triad of campers brandish their hiking sticks while repeating “hey bear, hey bear”, as they cross a rocky stream three abreast
puffing themselves up to appear larger than they are.
The plane drops straight down from the sky. Below us, the blue green Caribbean Sea yawns. Flight attendants scurry up the aisle, shaking loose the bilingual pleas of passengers. Your cold hand squeezes mine, cutting off circulation. The steady voice of the pilot fills the cabin: “Sorry about that folks, we’ve hit some turbulence.” After landing, we drink margaritas and dangle white feet in the pool.
The writing on the wall.
We never seriously consider naming our son Compromise, although we tell friends it’s a possibility. You, the poet, have no desire to have children. I make it a condition of staying in the relationship. We for debate for a year. After our son is born, I return to work half-way through my maternity leave.
Watching the grandkids
“You can’t control me,” the 5-year old, limp on the couch, dares me. As usual, her hair is a mess. The four neat braids her father tied in the morning half unraveled. The lock of hair she’d cut with scissors as she hid behind the couch falls across her face, too short to be restrained. When I try to take the scissors away, she mouths the words: “What the fuck?” Her brother giggles.
Despite the scientist’s warnings, tourists queue up to board the cruise ship. At a pharmaceutical meeting, conferees shake hands and jockey for position at the bar. Underpaid nursing assistants go from patient room to patient room offering comfort to elderly patients no longer able to care for themselves. We, their grown
children, wave through the windows.
Funerals are replaced by parades of cars, waving goodbye. We sit on the couch, zooming with our son and his family. A truncated limb here, the top of a head blurring there. The girl makes goldfish faces and the boy launches paper airplanes over a pile of sofa cushions. Our son says his signed divorce papers languish somewhere in a queue awaiting the re-opening of the courts. Before the screen
goes blank, a message flashes: Weak internet. Connection lost.
The air clears
No one hugs their sons or cuddles their grandkids. Pollution levels drop. A record-size hole in the ozone layer closes. The pyramids appear out of the smog and fish swim in the canals of Venice. In the afternoon, we play gin, just the two of us. One day, our president tells us, we will wake up and this will all be over. We wait
for our miracle.
Kathryn Holzman lives and writes in New England with her husband, a digital artist. Her short fiction has appeared in both online literary magazines and print anthologies. She is the author of a collection of short fiction, FLATLANDERS, Shire Press 2019. Her first novel REAL ESTATE is being published by Propertius Press in Fall, 2020. Links to her work can be found at kathrynholzman.com.
Creation: A Flash Epic
by Fred D. White
IN THE BEGINNING, so to speak (time-space had not yet been created), the Empress of the Universe realized that getting a universe started proved to be more complicated than she imagined. First she proclaimed, “Let there be something rather than nothing!” but nothing happened—or, I should say, nothing continued. “Hmm,” she grumbled, “so much for assuming that words alone could pull this off.” She then took a deep breath and exhaled forcefully, so forcefully that it produced a blip in the Nothingness. Alas, that blip was barely perceptible. “Thank goodness no other beings had been watching; I would have been so embarrassed!” She chuckled at that irony: did she not want to create a universe because she could no longer endure being alone? Of course, she had no absolute way of knowing that she was alone. Who could say for sure whether or not countless other Empresses/Emperors-of-the-Universe wannabees lay coiled up in the Nothingness wondering how to get their own universes going?
Now, if time-space already existed, I would say that the Empress of the Universe spent the next billion years trying to come up with another way to create something out of nothing. At one point she tried generating matter out of her own ethereal substance. Alas, that didn’t work, apparently because it wasn’t possible to generate nature out of supernature. The experiment made her feel like an idiot despite her conviction that experimentation was essential. She tried conjuring up a mental image of what creation would look like in all its complexity; but abandoned the effort after it gave her a splitting headache.
Then a bizarre idea struck her: she clicked her heels together—smack! The energy thus generated caused a shudder a trillion times more powerful than that preceding blip. Lo and behold, a quark flitted out of the Nothingness, bringing space-time with it. The Empress of the Universe said, “Why, hello there, little guy; are you the universe?” To which the bewildered quark replied, glancing around, “It rather looks that way, doesn’t it.” For several moments (the expression, vague as it was, at least now had meaning) the Empress of the Universe scrutinized the quark, wondering about its nature. Was it divine like herself? They were, in a sense, related. What would happen next? Was she even in charge at this point, or was the quark? But the quark seemed oblivious as it spun on its axis for whatever reason.
After watching the spinning quark for a while, she said, “Listen, can you do anything besides spin?”
“It’s my nature to spin. What did you have in mind?”
“Well, a full-fledged universe.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You know, one that’s filled with suns and planets to go around them, and all kinds of living things on those planets, and—”
“Whoa, whoa, back up a bit. You expect me, a quark, to pull off something like that?”
“Don’t you get it? You’re the first physical thing to emerge out of the Nothingness! You must be the catalyst for all the cosmic stuff that makes up a universe! Minuscule as you are, you have much greater power than I could ever have, paradoxical as that seems.”
There was a long silence as the quark struggled to digest this information. “Just tell me one thing, Empress of the Universe: Who, or what, brought you into being?”
“I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’m beginning to suspect it has something to do with something beyond my comprehension, some alien consciousness that lies . . . outside.”
“Outside? Outside of what? There’s nothing here for anything to be outside of,” rejoined the quark.
“I think you may be mistaken. I sense some ineffable transcendent force behind all of this. You, me, the language that we’ve been using to communicate, the narrative that seems to be unfolding all around us, even when we’re not speaking. To tell you the truth, quark, it’s giving me the creeps.”
The quark continued spinning in silence. It did not have the capacity to philosophize. On the other hand, it felt unstable, as if something within it wanted to burst out, to proliferate.
The Empress of the Universe waited, wondering what would happen next. Surely there was some purpose to all of this. Purpose . . . Now where did that concept come from? What could possibly have planted it in her head, along with those other bizarre concepts, like time, space, eternity, matter, universe . . . These concepts were making her dizzy.
Meanwhile, the quark had begun spinning faster, and faster still. Soon he was spinning so fast that the infinitesimally tiny space within him began expanding exponentially, producing countless copies of itself in the process, and—as if by magic, quindecillions of quarks coalesced into a trillion octillion atoms, which in turn coalesced into quadrillions of stars swirling around hundreds of billions of galaxies. The Empress of the Universe watched in astonishment as all of this unfolded.
“It’s quite a spectacle, wouldn’t you agree, Empress?” I said.
A professor emeritus of English (Santa Clara University), Fred enjoys writing across a spectrum of genres. He has published poetry in Allegro Poetry Magazine, Analog, The Cape Rock, Euphony, Rattle, and South Carolina Review; fiction and humor in Better than Starbucks, Fiction Southeast, The Citron Review, Clockwise Cat, Deep Overstock, and (most recently) Fictive Dream; essays in Gemini, Pleiades, Southwest Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Writer’s Digest. Fred’s most recent books are The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus and Writing Flash. He lives in Folsom CA, with his wife, Therese (an attorney), and their two incorrigible but loveable cats.
END OF SUMMER ISSUE 2020