WINTER/SPRING

2016

All the Comforts, by Alex Bernstein   

The Sad Lament of a Cabbage, by Ray Clift    

Secondhand, by Tim DeLizza

Poverty, by Charles Hayes - Editors' Choice

Sparklies, by Simon Hole

Coyotes, by Kathryn Holzman

The Amber Light, by Emily Larkin

The Asterisk, by Charles Rammelkamp

Jesse's Mute Violin, by Rebecca Shepard

Rental Units, by Alina Stefanescu

About the Author, by Jeremy Townley

Orion, by Charles Hayes

Duct Tape Fixes Everything, by Richard Manly Heiman

Fate is a Duck, by Christopher "Irish Goat" Knodel

FLASH FICTION
 
 

All the Comforts

by Alex Bernstein

 

"Oooooh!"  "Ahhh!"  "Glaav!"

 

MURMURS OF AWE erupted from 96 passengers, encompassing eight different planetary species, and 18 languages, as yet another “Moment of Wonder” appeared outside the southern window of Gerrison's Interstellar Adventure Macrobuus.  This time, it was tiny pin-pop flashes of phosphate crackling in the early morning light against the dark red background of Mt. Dosav'a on the lushly popular planet Jove8.

 

Of the 96 passengers, only three did not Oooooh Ahhh or Glaav.  They were: Colcalm, the bus-driver, who's sacred trust was to simply keep his eyes on the road; Merrieux, the young, golden, half-Jovian/half-French tour guide who, while still taken by the light show, remained a consummate professional; and Dick Magrish, 82-year-old human from Budweiser, Michigan, NAmerica, Sol3 (Earth), who continuously wore a sleep mask and earplugs during every highlight of the tour.

 

Over the past three days, most of the passengers had grown to hate Dick, including his own species, Sol3 Homo Sapiens.  They hated Dick because: he was old, smelled bad, and seemed angry all the time.  But mostly they hated him because he refused to socialize with them.  When they stopped for mid-day or evening feeding sessions, he remained on the bus or sat alone, separately.  When they went to view an exhibit or experience the local nightlife, he merely grunted and retired to his sleep cell.  And if they ever pestered him for conversation, he’d bark at them Back off! Stay Away! or Git!

 

Outside of luggage, sleep mask, and earplugs, Dick appeared to carry only three things with him: a thermos of decaf coffee; a bakery bag containing that day’s stale cinnamon roll, and a battered, 25-year-old racing form. 

* * *

 

He dreamt of vipers, slithering, spitting, and coiling around his neck.  He tugged up his mask, and was startled to see a real viper—or almost—it was a small, Caresian boy—a purple, scaly toddler with split tongue and narrow eyes. 

 

"Hey!  Hey!" said Dick, recoiling in revulsion.

 

"Shhmellsh shhweet," said the boy, pointing at Dick's bakery bag.

 

Dick gripped the bag, protectively, against his chest.

 

"Get outta here!" he said, waving the boy off. 

 

The passengers glared at him.

 

"O-kay, bye," said the boy, generously.  And he returned to his family.

 

Dick sank into his seat.  Today was the final day of the tour.  A few more hours and it would all be over.

* * *

 

Mid-afternoon. 

 

"No!" repeated Dick, over and over, as Merrieux held the translucent de-breather near his mouth.

 

"I would remind Monsieur,” she said, “that he signed an agreement to use the de-breather when necessary.  Until Monsieur wears the de-breather the bus cannot go forward."

 

The last leg of the trip was 120 miles through a pure methane atmosphere.  The bus itself actually purified 99.867% of the air into nicely breathable oxygen (for those that required it).  But after several years of protest and litigation, new regulations required all passengers to don de-breathers as appropriate. 

 

Make 'im wear the goddamn de-breather! shouted diverse languages.  Kick him off the bus! yelled a female made entirely of rocks.

 

Dick gnawed on his cinnamon roll.

 

"May I remind Monsieur," said Merrieux, ever polite, "that he has already had two warnings regarding the de-breather.  With a third warning, I am authorized to remove Monsieur from the bus at my discretion.  However, in six years, I have only ever removed two passengers.  I would prefer not to spoil that record."

 

Dick said nothing, gripped his seat handles.

 

"Does Monsieur wish to leave the adventure bus?"

 

Slowly, Dick lifted the de-breather to his face and clamped it on.  Merrieux patted him gently and moved down the aisle.  Dick leaned his head back and pulled his sleep mask on.

* * *

 

Hours later. 

 

"Monsieur?  Monsieur?  We are here."

 

Dick pulled the mask down, and unclamped the de-breather as Merrieux disembarked, leaving him alone on the deserted bus.  From outside the window, colored lights flickered and danced.  Thermos and bakery bag in hand, Dick made his way off the vehicle.

 

They had arrived at K'lyn K'rayva—the legendary Gates of Heaven.  The crowd of passengers had assembled at the front of a sweeping observation deck and were watching as far off Mt. V'anno spewed neon, lava fireworks into the translucent blue of the lake K’rayva, only to be immediately extinguished by the triplet, sister waterfalls—Anaya, Na’am, and N'agari.  Color and warmth pulsated as life forms from eight planets and cultures stood as one, enraptured.

 

Dick, careful to ensure that no one was paying any attention to him, wandered to the far right edge of the observation deck, climbed over the guardrail, and up onto the embankment.  He ascended a butte of rocks, where Anaya sprayed him like an angry goddess.  He sat upon a wet crag, nestled his thermos and bakery bag into his lap, and withdrew the golden sphere from his jacket pocket. 

 

"I'm sorry, Maggie," he said.  "I’m so sorry.  I know—I said no too much.  All the time.  But I got you here.  Finally."

 

He stared out at, what even he had to admit was, an astonishingly beautiful view. 

 

"You were right, Maggie," he said. "It does remind me of you."

 

He unscrewed the golden sphere, splitting it open, and exposing the sheer, white powder.  And he shook the powder into Anaya.  And when the powder was all gone, he closed the sphere and threw it into Anaya.

 

And then his world was over.

 

And after a moment, he became conscious of a small, purple, snake-like boy sitting next to him, staring, like him, out at the water.

 

"Itsh pretty," said the boy.

 

"Yes, it is," said Dick.

 

And he opened his bag and tore off a piece of cinnamon roll and shared it with the boy.  And they sat there, together, in silence, eating and bathing in the warmth and the color.

 

Alex Bernstein is a freelance writer in New Jersey and the author of Miserable Holiday Stories. His work has appeared at Corvus, BluePrintReview, Hobo Pancakes, McSweeney's, Gi60, The Rumpus, The Legendary, The Big Jewel, MonkeyBicycle, Yankee Pot Roast, Swink, Litro, Back Hair Advocate, and PopImage, among others. Please visit him at www.promonmars.com.

The Sad Lament of a Cabbage

by Ray Clift

 

I AM A CABBAGE, which is a fact that I do not hide from. Death is imminent and as I speak instruments that will culminate in my demise are presently drawn from their usual quarters, brushed, cleaned, sharpened and laid out under the gaze of us fear stricken lot. Soon I will be plucked, shredded, cooked and awaiting consumption into the gullet of a human, and in the time honoured manner of recycling, returned to the earth.

 

Well you may ponder what it's like to be a cabbage? To endure a short life span, nutured from seed, saturated with chemicals and splashed with muddy water onto my proud leaves, allowing the mud to dry and form a crust. My life is in the care of well meaning, but ignorant humans.

 

No change is possible. I live in the now- from bed to dead. Options occur outside of my control. One is to wither and die, brown, unplucked and unable to serve anyone, sinking into a cabbage dementia, and then a quiet slipping off, into a coma.

 

There is an alternative. The death of a peaceful warrior; with our earth cord cut and quickly thrown onto a rough surface, awaiting a form of transportation. There is nobility in that death of the peaceful warrior, with the New Zealand connection.

 

We may long for an escape from our marooned status and seek some peace, but it is interrupted by the presence of my friends, the Kiwi- giant Beans, who shout out loud about land rights, with the missing vowels permeating the air. I am sad to say that I will not miss the noise of my friends' outbursts but it is to no avail, because their time is rapidly coming up. They are like dead beans walking. We jointly agree in the hope of a quick death, eaten, chewed 64 times, and swallowed.

 

While I have your attention let me tell you of my pet aversions. Paramount-- do not call me 'Veggie'. I am a red cabbage. Call me Red if you wish. Also being thrown into the back of an oily truck with others. No seat belts, driven madly along, rocking and rolling on corners and reaching the end in a distressed state, with the Kiwis shouting out about the Geneva Convention. No duty lawyers for us lot. Another one is dogs' pooing on us while we lay helpless, as the turd squeezes out, with the last lump the smelliest.

 

After it is all done the dog scratches away, breaking up the bits and just toddles off with a frozen smile on his face, while we have to wait till the dark to be rescued, by the giant ants, who love to devour anything: And all night long the kiwis are in a rage shouting about dogs and cats ,pissing on their leaves, birds picking at them and caterpillars crawling all over them. We need a bucket load of empathy to rescue us from our ills.

 

Listen while I give you another tip which is for the ears of the cooks. Boil the water first; wash our leaves clean (we like to go out with dignity). Pull-lease no salt in the water. Dunk us in a boiling pot, like a crab. No prayers. We gave up on religion, eons of time ago.

 

A quick ending, which I have paraphrased once more. But is it?  I hope to evolve in my next life as a Seagull. That way I can get revenge which becomes mine alone.

 

Imagine at a beach a fat child, indulged over the years with Hungry Jacks, cons his parents into buying him a cream bun. His stomach still rumbles but nevertheless he opens wide his mouth and accepts the morsel: just when he is about to eat it I am able to drop a pooh onto the cream.

 

He takes a quick kick at me as I goad him. I vaguely remember when I was a red- cabbage.

 

Not all humans are ignorant, some give birthday presents to their cabbages. Birthdays are much more frequent for us. We like surprises, so be imaginative No glasses as we don't have ears to attach them. Clothing is nice; however do not remind us that we are just a head. If you do it speaks to us that a hat brings forth the reminder of our short stature. It leaves us without dignity and is not a surprise.

 

My friend (who was beloved by the growers) was given a parcel, which of course he was unable to open. The growers did, and they exclaimed loudly--Look what Granny gave you-- a Cricket Hat. He ended up with four hats: one night my Kiwi- Bean friends, with the help of a strong wind, bent over and pinched a couple: they called out all night-- nice hats.

 

So at the end of the day, and with some of you humans, about to munch on my leaves, smothered in white sauce, I say, treat us with respect. We may have the ultimate vengeance. Be reminded of the human condition called food poisoning Just look into the sky when eating a cream bun. Farewell.

 

 

 

Ray Clift is a published author with Ginninderra Press and also with Brilliant Flash Fiction (UK).

Secondhand

by Timothy DeLizza

 

IN NEED OF part-time summer work, I found a job at a large charity. I was partnered with an awkward Filipino named Ditmas. Every morning we sorted through donated clothing, discarding the worst, and placing everything else into an industrial-sized washer. In the afternoons, we would write thank-you letters to donors. There was no air conditioning, and the first time I met Ditmas he was sweaty and tired. He told me that I distinctly reminded him of someone he once knew. He couldn’t place the name, but he said he’d think about it and get back to me later. I was curious about him, but out of respect for unspoken workplace rules I never asked about his personal life or strayed from ‘safe’ topics.

 

So I was surprised when he chose to confide in me on my third week on the job. We were halfway through the morning sorting. He had looked anxious since the workday had started.

 

“Last night,” he said, “I brought an object back from my dream.”

 

I couldn’t tell if he was putting on an act.

 

“What kind of an object?” I asked.

 

“A book,” he said. “Do you know what this means?”

 

It means, he explained to me, that having retrieved one item from a dream, he had proof that the dream-state he had taken the book from was reality, and this world was a figment. For, unless this world was a figment, how could something cross over, and unless that dream-state was reality (and here his argument was weak) then there was no reality he could find, and life was therefore a figment.

 

I didn't believe him, but I asked him to bring in the book, which he promised to do. The next day he came in and didn’t mention his find until our break. He slipped the tattered leather-bound book onto the table beside me. It wasn’t impressive, but on trying to open it I was overcome by such a wave of dizziness that I had to place the book back down and steady myself. The book was undeniably more real than we were.

 

I spent the rest of the workday thinking of the book. Even after I returned home, it still troubled me. I’ve always been sensitive that my memories of the past are vague and uncertain. That night, studying some of my own history, I found inconsistencies. For example, I studied at Vassar and can see microfilm flashes of old copies of the Miscellany News, where I was either the Arts or Sports section editor... I think. But in that same time period, I was working in southern California, at a meeting where everyone was planning the Delano Grape Strike. Ditmas is there as a boy in the corner, looking proudly at someone else. His uncle, and perhaps a friend of mine? In the later memory, I look like myself but everyone around me is Filipino and sometimes would slip into Spanish and Tagalog, which I can understand in this memory but no longer remember. These contradictions of memory never bothered me before, but seriously considered, they began to worry me. Last week, Ditmas disappeared. Our employer just said that he was gone. They offered no explanation.

 

Seven days have passed. That I still exist gives me hope, but things are beginning to change. The world around me is decaying like a fading memory. My features in the mirror grow plainer, less distinguished. I recall how he said I reminded him of someone; I have a growing fear that the reason he could not place me is that I’m a composite of more than a single friend of his, blended together to create a passing character in a dream. But how detailed I am! I have emotions and aspirations and humanity. How could someone so full of life not be real?

 

 


Timothy DeLizza currently resides in Washington, D.C., where he works as a government attorney in the energy field.  He has previously published non-fiction pieces in a number of law journals and trade magazines.

Poverty

by Charles Hayes

 

WISHING THAT I COULD just travel on out of here like the trains that run these tracks or the river that flows beside them, I trek on, two ties a stride. Or sometimes I line walk a single rail. But not much different from people in hell wanting ice water, I suspect, I know that I am stuck in these Appalachian coal digs for a long time to come. At least I’m out of the hollow for a change. Can’t remember the last time I came down to follow the river. Up there the apartness seems to grow on you until you become two different kinds, like a grafted tree. Part of me homes and takes on the aloneness while the other part is shocked at how funny the words come out when I have to talk to the mail carrier.

 

Shoving my hands in my pockets it’s no surprise that there is plenty of room for them to  make a fist. Or that there’s a hole in one of my pockets. Up the hollow it doesn’t much matter but up ahead, in town, I’ll have to pick my spots carefully. Money matters. Sharing my tack with the coal trains and the following plumes of coal dust only adds to it. People can smell it. No matter how much I dust off. And they become leery….especially with my balled up pockets. But I know a place. Other side of the tracks, different color, but friendly, where pockets are as balled up as mine. And when friends of friends come off the Amtrak, down from D.C. with a little money, they know the score……having once been here themselves. Good times are cheap…………. even for them.

 

* * *

 

Henry, an old half blind World War Two veteran who also lives alone, may not even be open. The Amtrak’s not due for an hour and there‘s not much going on down here around the switching yards. Just some empty coal cars parked by his nondescript old brick building. Having no other place to go, I may as well try the door. There’s no other way to know for sure.

 

Pushing on the front door, I am relieved to see it swing open into a dimly lit and deserted bar, the only light coming from some liquor and beer neon signs and their reflections in the long mirror that backs the mahogany bar. At the far end of the rich dark wood, eating a plate of what smells like refried beans, fried chicken, and cabbage, sits Henry. My long perspective down the bar, like looking through the big end of a hand telescope, shows Henry squinting back at me through his thick glasses. The separation it emphasizes, Henry having his meal and me fresh off the tracks, is unavoidable. Figuring that he can see me well enough but in a hurry to add my voice to his senses, I say, “What’s cooking Henry, think you can start me a tab for a meal and some drinks?"

 

In his cantankerous way, not being a slight, just his dislike for the niceties that he considers a useless drain on his remaining years, Henry pushes himself up, goes over to his Warm Morning and returns with a plate of cornbread, beans, and cabbage. Muttering to himself as if self directing, he places it atop the bar a few feet from where he is sitting. Getting back to his plate, he finally speaks to me.

 

“You smell like cinders.”

 

My first bite of cornbread already halfway to my mouth, I pause and watch him sit back down.

 

Eyes averted, grinning at his plate while his bald head slightly shakes, Henry is having a little fun.

 

Certainly not the first ribbing I’ve experienced, I smile until he looks around and sees that he got me.

 

“When the tracks are all you got to grace your place from,” I say, “that will happen.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” he says while mopping up his plate with his last bit of corn bread. “Ain’t no chicken left. I ate the last piece. Eat up, I’ll carry you.”

 

Standing and taking his dishes to the sink, Henry reaches into the cooler and comes out with a bottle of Stroh's, opens it, and slides it over by my plate.

 

With an ear for the Amtrak, I finish my plate and nurse my beer while Henry putters around the bar, chuckling and muttering about the smell of cinders.

 

* * *

 

At first light, back on the tracks going upstream, feeling hungover and tired, I almost piss myself when a muskrat streaks out from under the rails, crosses my foot, and goes over the river bank. My lethargy suddenly gone, I wonder at the wild poverty of this land. Maybe having little to nothing just comes with the territory and all things are as they should be. Trying to get my mind around this thought with miles yet to go is difficult. But as the sun finally breaks the ridgeline and the leafless limbs begging from the sky, I figure that after all that is, my poverty is not cowed. I am just poor.

 

 


Charles is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests centers on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia.

Sparklies

by Simon Hole

 

I LIKE sparkly things. Can’t help it. They draw me in like a moth to a flame. I’m not talking about diamonds and expensive things like that. Sure, I like that kind of sparkly, but it’s easy to avoid jewelry counters. No, most of the sparkly things that catch my eye are much more mundane than that and can be downright embarrassing. One moment I’m walking thru Dollar General or Macy’s or Winn Dixie, my eyes carefully glued to the floor as I’ve learned to do. And then I spot a sparkly and I’m stuck.

 

It might be the foil from a discarded gum wrapper or a strand of tinsel from a Christmas tree or a bit of a glass from a broken bottle. (Clean up on aisle 3!) I tell myself to keep going, but I can’t. My legs freeze. I tell myself I’ll just look at it for a moment, turning my head from one side to the other, really seeing the sparkle. But of course I can’t just look. I tell myself I’ll just bend over and have a closer look. But I always pick it up; I always hold it in my hand; always spend several minutes turning it this way and that way, seeing how it catches the light. Sometimes it’s not all that sparkly and I put it back down. Usually it ends up in my pocket.  

 

If anyone sees me and asks what I’m doing, I tell them I’m an artist and I’m using found objects for a sculpture. Ha. If they could see the room where I keep my sparkly things, they’d wonder just how big an instillation I have in mind.

 

So yes, I like sparkly things, and no, I really can’t help it. But hey, everybody has their own little something, their own little bit of strangeness. If it were just an unnatural attraction to sparkly things, well, I could live with that. I could say I have a touch of OCD.  People would understand.

 

Some would.

 

Maybe.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not just sparkly things. There’s this sound I make, deep in my throat.  It’s a harsh, gravelly sound. If I had to try to spell it, it might be, “Kaughw.” Or something like that.  It happens at totally random times. I never know when it’s going to come. I can walk around all day with my jaws clamped together, but when the sound comes, it comes. And no, it’s not Tourette’s syndrome. I’ve been tested for that, and besides, it’s not as if I’m telling strangers on the street to fuck off. Although the way they step aside and pretend I’m not there, I might as well be.

 

Needless to say, I’m a loner. My mother flew the coop when I was a very little boy. Dad took to drinking and stepped in front of a bus when I was 10. Social services must have placed me in like a hundred different homes, but none of them lasted more than a few weeks. Friendships? Not hardly. And women? I tried paying for one once, but when she pulled down my underwear, a long black feather fluttered to the floor. She laughed so hard. I pulled up my pants, grabbed the feather and left.

 

As you might guess, I sometimes get very depressed by all this strangeness. But then I remember the time my case worker left the room and I peeked at my file and learned a bit background that no one had ever bothered to tell me. A fondness for sparklies, “Kaughw” sounds, the occasional black feather…

 

I guess these things are to be expected when you’re one quarter raven on your mother’s side…

 

 


Simon Hole lives in Rhode Island where he taught fourth grade for 35 years, publishing essays focused on life in the classroom. Since retirement he has been gardening and writing short fiction.

Coyotes

by Kathryn Holzman

 

IN OUR JEANS and sneakers, we were noticeably out of place in the elegant hotel lobby with its art deco sconces. A young Indian movie star emerged from the elevator, her sari glimmering gold. “She is going to introduce Hillary,” her proud father announced. She looked down bashfully. At that very moment, the presidential candidate’s limousine snaked down Broadway towards Lincoln Center.

 

We didn’t have tickets for the Women’s Conference and decided to wait outside the stage door to get a glimpse of celebrities which included not only the ex-President’s wife but an actress who played a conniving President’s colluding wife on cable TV. Such encounters are, after all, the reason for visiting New York. What a story to tell my book club! Larry took photos of the fountain while I watched people’s faces and wondered what it felt like to be somebody else.

 

TV satellite trucks lined the curb. Several bored Secret Service men repeated jokes that they had heard on late night TV. A young man with dreamy, dark brown eyes, curly hair and a Yankees baseball hat approached the small gathering nonchalantly, standing not very far away from us, maybe 25 feet.

 

A woman wearing zebra-patterned leggings with boots turned down at the ankles and a black sleeveless top talked into her blue tooth as she waited for the traffic light to change.

 

“The headhunter assured me he was well connected. He said that my resume had been circulated widely. Nevertheless I don’t have a single interview and my bank account is almost empty. I’m spending all day on Facebook trying to create the illusion of a life. In the middle of this shit, Ralph said to me last night, ‘In eight months in New York I’ve achieved all my life goals’ and I said “Fuck you.”  

 

The light turned green and the woman stepped off of the curb. Police cars slowed to let her pass, honking deep horns impatiently. She moved on, clearly annoyed.

 

The men at the door came to attention. Traffic shrieked to a halt; cops blew frantically on their whistles. A large black limousine pulled up in front of the TV vans, police cars stationed in front and back. The young man reached into his backpack.

 

While the driver prepared to open the passenger door, a very young cop with “Antiterrorism Squad” embroidered across his shiny and obviously brand new jacket shouted out a warning. “On the right!” The agent at the stage door hugged the young man in a startling embrace as the young cop scooped up the red backpack and placed it in a bulky reinforced container labeled “bomb squad.”

 

“Show’s over. Clear the area,” The ATS guy, a boy really, younger than my own son, looked me directly in the eye as if swearing me to secrecy about the incident. More cop cars and sirens approached the Conference. Attendees continued to enter the theatre unaware of the disruption in the rear.

 

Excitement over, we decided to take the subway to Rockefeller Center to see the Today Show studio. A burly man, dressed in camouflage, overflowed the subway seat in front of me. His arms and shoulders, flabby yet powerful, stretched the fabric of his military attire as if the contradictions of his desires threatened to tear him apart. Was he a soldier, AWOL from his post? Had he just been rejected by the army recruiter for being too heavy, too soft to defend his country? Was he determined to fight?

 

The train squealed around dark corners without warning. This time, I was alert to danger

 

Before I could decide a proper course of action, the man lumbered out of his seat at 51st Street, carrying a shopping bag crammed with Lord knows what.

 

That evening, Larry and I watched the news in our unbelievably small hotel room, lavishly stocked with overpriced goods for sale. A glamorous newscaster, skinny as all get out, never mentioned the incident at the Conference. The night’s top story was about a coyote prowling the Upper West Side.

 

 


Studied at NYU and Stanford. Wrote poetry and Co-ran Backroom Readings in NYC.  Published  in  numerous poetry journals. Now writing short stories. Recently published in Calliope Magazine.

The Amber Light

by Emily Larkin

 

UNDER THE FLICKERING amber lamplight, she seizes her courage and says, 'I love you.'

 

And you know what I say? Guess what I say to the incredible person in front of me.

 

'What?' Pretending I didn't hear, or understand, is a pathetic attempt to buy myself an out. If I feign confusion, maybe she will somehow take it back.

 

A packet of opened jersey caramels pokes out of her jacket pocket, and I stare at it. Slowly, I  glance back at her face. Defiance is marked in the lift of her chin, and her eyes narrow.

 

'I love you,' she says again. Her voice is crisp and over-pronounced. Every second makes the air thinner, harder to breathe, and my stomach clenches. Why did she do this?

 

I answer myself immediately: because she is brave and honest enough to risk those heavy, heavy words. We have known each other for fifteen years and have loved each other in some form for each of them. She knows my faults and still values my company above all.

 

Her gaze is unflinching. 'Don't you dare say “what” again, or I'll scream it.' She draws closer and my heart begins to thump.

 

The amber spotlight highlights the tips of her bronze hair, and brings out the hint of gold in her familiar, stubborn eyes. She insists she is right, even when I know I am. She has to beat me at everything from poker to cross country, or she pouts. She teases me for chuckling at myself, but cackles at her own jokes until I join her.

 

She is my best friend. The thought makes my stomach churn again. I can't let that change. My last relationship was not so much broken as fractured beyond repair. We can no longer occupy the same space or time. Moving cities wasn't enough, so my ex travelled to New Zealand to change time zones. After she returned I saw her at the Hub, browsing through a racks of skirts next to the suits. I ducked behind a mannequin, and then hid in the men's fitting rooms for half an hour.

 

I need my friend. If we were cut off from each other, I would carry half a soul.

 

No one else would listen to my theories about the end of the world...

 

Or catch the midnight train with me, to watch waves crash against the cliff.

 

Or drag me to a fast-food counter, and dare me to ask the staff taking my order if they would like fries with that.

 

No one would race me to the archway during a lightning storm, or pass me jersey caramels in class; retell dreams with the same vivid detail she does, or pick up on my four neutral voices and what each means.

 

I can't do it. I can't say the words she's waiting for, and shatter my safe, existing world, and I can't not say it, and shatter her.

 

While I am leaning against the streetlamp, she takes action. She takes my face in her hands and, before I can think or protest, kisses me. She is warm, and one moment melts into the next. Delirium tastes like salted caramel. The second our lips meet she has taken away all my worries and doubts, and all I know is that I am kissing her back.

 

 


I am a 22-year-old Australian writer, and completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in creative writing last year (graduating with Class 1, Division 1). This year I have begun a Doctor of Creative Arts at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and I hope to write and lecture at universities for a living. I am fascinated by the magic of storytelling, and the transportive power of words. I admire The Zodiac Review for its commitment to emerging writers, and for supporting unconventional writing.

The Asterisk

by Charles Rammelkamp

 

“THEY’LL PUT an asterick by his name in the record books,” I pointed out to the others in the locker room. Some of us were changing into gym togs or street garb, depending on the status of our work-out. “And he probably won’t make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, if he makes it at all.”

 

“Asterisk,” Tavon Short corrected me.

 

Of course, I knew the word was “asterisk,” and I’d just been mispronouncing it for my audience, the way you sling the word “ain’t” or say “he don’t,” just to blend in with the crowd. It wasn’t about good grammar; it was about camaraderie.

 

But Tavon was sensitive to being patronized. He knew when somebody was being condescending. He’d experienced it all his life, in classrooms, from potential employers, practically any person whose complexion was lighter than his.

 

Of course, I hadn’t meant it that way, or at least I hadn’t really thought I meant it that way, that I was “smarter” than the jocks, that I was “better” than they were. But I could see how it might be taken that way. Tavon was good at spotting bullshit.

 

“Right,” I said, “‘asterisk.’” I smiled ingratiatingly (or was it just more condescension?). “Tough word to say after the root canal on my front tooth.”

 

“You mean that little starfish thing they use?” Rocky McCluskey said into the uncertain silence, and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad.

 

Tavon Short avoided my eyes lest I flash a look of complicity at him.

 

 


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. (See Charles' other fine stories published in Zodiac's Spring '13, Fall '14 and Spring '15 Issues.)

Jesse’s Mute Violin

by Rebecca Shepard

 

WHEN LEA DROPPED Jesse’s violin it was November, and there was frost on the shingles. Their father had once told them that frost was dust that got shaken down when winter began to stir, stretching out and brushing off the accumulation of the last nine months. Lea believed him, Jesse did not. Lea believed everything, though not out of naiveté. She chose to believe. Jesse preferred the unspoken, which is never to be believed or disbelieved, as it is never articulated.

 

The three of them lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the upper west side. When they got older, both Lea and Jesse would be mistaken for Columbia students, but for now they were in the eighth and sixth grade respectively, and they weren’t mistaken for anything. They were pretty white children on the subway, a dutiful daughter buying milk and eggs at the corner shop, a charming boy practicing violin on the balcony. They had wavy brown hair, crooked noses, and perfect teeth.

 

It wasn’t that Lea meant to drop the violin, exactly, but that she wanted to know the consequences without the actual event. That is, she wanted to break the violin without having to break it. A decade later, she would say the same thing about marriage.

 

Jesse was at swim practice. Her father was at work. It was four o’clock, and already starting to get dark, the purple night train of winter pulling into the station. Lea stood in their room, the one they had shared when their mother was still alive and the one they had shared after—no difference, no change, the most shocking thing about grief—and turned the violin over and over in her hands. It was shiny. It was light. It could be a toy; one only knew it not to be by believing it was so, by taking the object seriously. Her brother had held it thousands of times. She went out on to the balcony. Cars were lined up perfectly along the street, like dominos. There was frost on the hoods. A bum was sitting on the stoop across from their apartment building, drinking something out of a brown bag. His hands were black. Lea wondered if they got cold in the same way. The man she would marry and want to leave without actually leaving and want to stay with her whole life without actually staying would be black, and he would never hear about this moment.

 

If she dropped the violin, nothing would really happen. It would break. Jesse would be angry, but he wouldn’t shout. He didn’t know how to shout. Their mother knew how to shout. She could shout gracefully, the way a car skids out of its lane into the side rail to avoid hitting an animal that’s already hit, already dead in the center of the road.

 

Their father did not know how to shout, either. He would only shake his head and sigh and buy Jesse a new one. Jesse would learn to love his new violin. It would grow shiny under his touch. Lea dropped the violin and it splattered in the frost.

 

 


I am a writer and Classicist from Boulder, Co, currently tutoring Latin, working in a wine shop, and working on a novel and various translations. I have published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction online and in various literary magazines, as well as co-authored a novel.

Rental Units

by Alina Stefanescu

 

THE YARD is a mess of gold and orange leaves I notice while staring out the window with a coffee mug in my left hand. Though the coffee is too hot to drink, the colors make it seem hotter. The colors make it smell scorched.

 

Vivi says a few leaves on a lawn does not qualify as an atrocity, but she has a high threshold for evil. She defends battered women in trials against their abusers. Mostly, she loses. The women go back to their husbands. Then Vivi comes back to the house we rent and the relationship that also feels rental.

 

I don’t ask her to marry me anymore because I know the words she’s excised from her lexicon. I know the words by heart and husband is one of them. I know what husbands have done to Vivi’s idea of marriage. Instead, I ask when we are going to buy our own house.

 

She brushes brown hair from her eyes and stares at the leaves. There is Jimi Hendrix in the background. I don’t want to think about buying, she says. Vivi can’t think about investments right now.

 

When we kiss, it’s like autumn crinkles underfoot and we are somewhere outside admiring the view of ourselves. The colors burnish the yellow freckles in her eyes. Steam from uncovered coffee makes us look good and slightly foggish.

 

We hold hands and wait for the coffee to cool. Today I will rake the lawn. Vivi says don’t bother. She still won’t buy a house. It’s not about yard work anyway. Really, it’s not.

 

The truth is that Vivi is actually blonde and the leaves are one way for me to miss a color out loud.

 

She dyed her hair after the eighth husband swore to boil her in hot oil. Two months later, Vivi was fine.

 

Three months later, the eighth burned his youngest child in hot oil and Vivi was not fine. The jury said it was an accident.

 

Vivi lost her client. The wife went back. Vivi dyed her hair after she was disinvited from the funeral.

 

She took a two-hour bath and I took a two-hour bath. We did this at the same time but separately. The house has two bathrooms but Vivi won’t use the pink tile bathroom (the one with the bigger tub) because it reminds her of childhood and family prayers. Also, a pink rosary.

 

The water she leaves behind is tinged with brown hair dye. Vivi is a natural blonde but there is nothing natural about husbands or handwritten death threats on Las Vegas postcards. There is nothing fair about how men get away with it.

 

Sometimes Vivi’s face narrows like she needs to tell me something important. Like the thin face of a tulip before it cracks open wide to let light inside its bulb. I can’t describe her face because the metaphor gets muddled— there is light and how it touches an open flower but there is also the tulip bulb which is not related to electricity or innovation. There is the natural and the industrial getting mixed.

 

Vivi doesn’t say anything when her face looks like she wants to speak through untidy metaphors. She wants to make love and there is light in our naked bodies on the bed but not a good natural light like hair color. It is an artificial light that gets things dirty and then she draws the bath again.

 

Her silence hides things including the sound of a voice asking for a towel. Her silence hides a polite please. The gurgle of running water hides her silence as well as whatever she asks when she isn’t going to talk about the husbands. When she wants to admire the leaves without mentioning the house. When she thinks the mail truck will bring a green wool sweater but it leaves a handwritten threat instead.

 

It’s not a question of trust or anything personal. Not about me or Vivi or the house we can’t buy without putting money down on what it means. Though I know it’s about the husbands and their battered wives, it is hard to comb through gifts and eliminate the pink ones. Hard to hide things that might hurt Vivi when these things appear soft, pouffy, and innocent.

 

Today I will call her mom and tell her about Vivi’s new hair color. Her mom will say we should marry and come visit soon. I will tell Vivi we talked about politics. Then Vivi will laugh and roll her eyes which means thank-you. She will bathe and I will bathe and miss her across the house we will never buy because there are husbands. The leaves will turn browner every day.

 

 


Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small native species. She was a finalist 2015 Fiction Southeast Editor's Prize, and her syllables are forthcoming in PoemMemoirStory, small po[r]tions, Rivet, and Kindred. Her chapbook, "objects in vases" will be published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com.

About the Author

by Jeremy Townley

 

AUTHOR OF THREE previous novels, winner of the National Book Award for True Confessions of a Brilliant Mind, Michael Robinson teaches Creative Writing at the University of California and lives in San Francisco. Or near San Francisco, anyway, across the Bay in Oakland, or Hayward, actually, close enough, just a little south and east, a giant strip mall excuse of a city. With the incessant clatter of street construction beyond his apartment walls, most days he’s lucky if he writes anything at all.

 

Author of three previous novels, three renowned, widely read, critically acclaimed, prize-winning novels, Michael Robinson, Mikey to his friends, all of whom dislike him, is an award-winning author of three previous novels. Dirty Mike, his ex-girlfriends call him, though he’s only ever had one, for seventy-two hours, give or take, Lisa, who cocktails over at the 8 Ball and refuses to serve him since she caught him in the act, right there in the middle of his living room.

 

Former adjunct lecturer of writing at Hayward Community College, Michael Robinson, Mikey, Dirty Mike, now works, when work he does, which has been less and less since Lisa dumped him, on the graveyard shift at the 7-11 over on Fourth and Alder, chain-smoking and scratching his three-day beard.

 

Michael Robinson is the author of three previous novels, each one more brilliant than the last, even if he hasn’t found the right publisher for them, any of them, he’s still shopping them around, as he tells anyone who will listen, often even those who won’t, teenagers and single mothers and men with mullets and Metallica t-shirts who slink through the fluorescent 2 a.m. glare, jonesing for smokes and beers and Slurpees. Nails yellowed, eyes too, Michael “Dirty Mike” Robinson can often be found alone in his apartment perched atop the coffee table modeling fishnet thigh-highs, black light throbbing.  Empty Bud cans litter the carpet. In the corner, a lava lamp roils.

 

 


I have published in Collier’s, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals. I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and I teach at the University of Virginia. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.

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PROSE POETRY
 
 

Orion

by Charles Hayes

 

ORION, YOU WERE my friend as I stood alone under your woodsy winter stand. My breath you lit so a halo of significance I could pretend, and a less anxious peace I might find.

 

Now instead of snow that runs to leafless limbs begging upward, balmy nights and azure waters kiss the sand and verdant green. And turning my weathered face to the jewel pocked sky, I find that you have come along as well. Loyal to the grave you will be.

 

Only now my hunter you no longer are, your bow, a provider’s tool

is gone. A staff instead you hold forth and where now you stand among this warmth, I find a Heavenly Shepherd with my years.  

 

 

 

Charles is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests centers on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia. (See Charles' excellent story, Poverty, above.)

 

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

by Richard Manly Heiman

 

Next time you get sucker shanked in love, I mean, really take it hard in the gut, Schlag in den magen as the Germans say, and you reel backwards and pivot to avoid the hammer blows only to smash your knee, then forehead into the turnbuckle during the long, sickly-slow drop to the canvas and you try to get an elbow, a forearm, anything up under your dead weight but you can’t and through a happy red mind fog you hear 6…7…8…

 

The next time that happens, here’s what you do: Take every picture you can find of that Judas / Jezebel you said you loved. Every letter, note and postcard. Put them in a pile on the living room floor. Sit down with a roll of duct tape, a bottle and glass—tequila or Stoli will do—with all those words and images in front of you. Then, infinitely slowly, rip each scrap of remembering into pieces. Then tear them again. And again. Until you can can’t shred them any smaller. Then hold each shard up. Examine it carefully. If you’ve followed the procedure correctly your blood alcohol content should be roughly 0.15 by now.

 

Now, picking up the duct tape, try to stick all the little fragments back together again. Let me know when you call it quits.

 

 

 

Richard Manly (Rick) Heiman lives in the California "Gold Country" where there is little gold left and no water from which to pan it. He works as a substitute teacher and writes evenings, weekends and when the kids are at recess. Rick is pursuing an MFA with Lindenwood U. His work appears, or will, in Mulberry Fork Review, Pilgrim, After the Pause, Bop Dead City and other publications. His website URL is poetrick.com.

Fate is a Duck

by Christopher "Irish Goat" Knodel

 

After years of casting rhyme

at journals of much renown,

I moved on.

 

I began exploring the other,

less acknowledged strains of verse.

I found ekphrastic poetry.

 

I searched for the perfect scene.

Travelled the world for inspiration.

I found my muse in a pastoral piece.

 

A female duck on the water.

 

It was beautiful. It was perfect.

I described her every attribute.

I cast her into the perfect prose.

 

I published my piece.

 

One journal sent me a letter.

I smirked at the title:

Waterfowl Quarterly.

 

As I read its missive,

my world collapsed.

Fate had used a duck.

 

Two hundred lines

about a female mallard.

Her story told, her image described.

 

Her beautiful green head.

Her blue-tipped wings.

Her almond chest.

 

I read the note again:

“Although we loved your poem,

the mallard you described…


…is male. The females are brown."

 

 

 

Chris ‘Irish Goat’ Knodel is an author, coach and ultra-distance runner in San Antonio, TX. He is a freelance journalist and writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column. He is often joined on the trails by his wife (newly moved to the ‘dark side’ of ultra-running). He can be easily spotted by his kilt, tattoos and six inch, flaming-red, Van Dyke goatee.

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END OF ISSUE WINTER/SPRING 2016

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