“Controlled Delivery” by A.E. Weisgerber

Controlled Delivery
“Grassy Tracks” by Penelope Breen

Ben had to ask a favor. He needed one of Big Ed’s guys for some roll-off job, but when he stopped by Big’s, things seemed none too happy.

“He’s out in the warehouse.” The office girl’s head made tiny shakes and she kept it down in her screen. “Big’s moving boxes around.”

“Thanks, Bree.”

She swiveled to turn on the radio behind her, some droning medical show, and said to the world, “Tell him: no drums.”

When Big uses the forklift, drums wind up where crates should be. Foreman can’t locate orders for a week.

Big’s phone went straight to message. Ben followed forklift sounds and finally yelled, “Yo, Big Ed! Stop jerkin’ off!”

Big, in his bucket hat and Giants windbreaker, turned to look at Ben, then lowered the fork with a heavy sigh.

“How can you listen to that racket?”

Big stayed up in the seat looking down. He accepted a cigarette Ben offered and hit the off switch. “Thanks, Cuz.” Big took a puff and blew out smoke through his lips, his tinny voice followed it to the sodium light. “You know my nephew, that one that’s always asking for money?”

“Yeah. Nicky Cash? He was with you yesterday.”

“He didn’t show this morning. Found him dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.” Big hooked his arm on the seatback, shrugged his shoulders, and faced Ben. “It can hook you. Coke got me.”

Ben, nothing to say, counted boxes.

Big Ed lost his nose to coke. He had a rubber one for a while, some putty-looking fabrication. Docs did that thing where they grew a new nose on his forehead. He was hard to look at for a year or two. His warehouse called him The Fucking Nose. But his sea-monkey-growing nose finally got big enough that the docs carved it out, left a hinge, and flipped it down. It’s still not right. His one leg dangled off the side of the lift. He was wearing old man Velcros. Big was quiet. Ben let him smoke in peace.

Big offered, “What’s going on?”

Ben put the favor on the back burner, put his foot up on the wheel. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Ben leaned forward on his arm. “It’s the doctors. Remember when I had a backache? I was up to three Tylenols for breakfast and three for lunch. Va fanacul, my back was bothering me. You remember that? Right around when you bought out Garcia. You had me keeping an eye on that new fucking guy.” Ben snapped his fingers thinking. “What was his name? Eyebrows?”

“Yeah. I remember Eyebrows.” Big closed his eyes.

“So I went to my doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a pain.’ He says, ‘Take these.’ So I took them. They were okay. I was feeling good. And then I ran out of pills and my scrip was done. I got some kinda flu. I couldn’t get out of bed. I told Lisa not to leave the house I was afraid I was dying.”

“Fucking flu,” Big Ed said.

“Here’s the thing. The fucking thing is, it wasn’t the flu. I went to the doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a flu and my back hurts again.’ He said ‘You’re addicted to those pills. When’s the last time you had one? I can give you something else to get you off the opioids.’ I said, ‘I’m addicted?’ So I jacked him up.” Big Ed opened one eye. “I grabbed him by the throat and jacked him up on the wall and said ‘Do you mean you turned me into a fucking junkie? I’m a fucking junkie now?’”

“Fucking docs,” Big Ed closed his eye.

“No more pills for me.” Ben pushed off the tire and stood up straight, offered the rest of the pack to Big Ed. “I’m sorry about Nicky. How’s your sister doing?”

“It’s a big weight. A child is a heavy thing.” He ground out the cigarette under the ball of his foot, pressed the button. The beeping resumed. Big lifted a drum.

 

 

A.E. Weisgerber’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

 

“Hunting” by Leland Seese

Hunting
“Ellis Island #5” by Penelope Breen

 

The one-time Eagle Scout spent the drive up to the mountains texting with his husband in their condo back in town. At the lodge the busker lit a fire in the woodstove with a single match and half a paper sack. A junkie in recovery started up a coffee pot to flow both day and night. We brought three pounds of French roast for the weekend to fortify the twelve of us. No beer. No scotch. No vodka. No cigars. Nothing that might tempt a single one to sacrifice sobriety. Throughout the weekend, scents of boyhood hunting trips, summer fishing expeditions, wood smoke, pine, and skunk cabbage, and memories. This one learned to field dress a deer from men who later passed out drunk in camp. Another told why God the Father isn’t comforting for those whose fathers beat them with a belt. Two call-ups to Afghanistan left a third one screaming in his bunk bed in the middle of the night. No one brought a shotgun or a rod and reel. Were we the first guests in this lodge to mourn the harm we’d done, or pray for opportunities to make amends, or fill the pot with meatless stew? And though we peppered conversation with our shits and fucks as men up in the mountains do, we shook our fists at all the ways the world had wounded us. Lying on our backs beneath the Milky Way, we trusted myriads of stars to understand as we drew out fears like little demons from the shadows near the dying fire, and let forgiveness stalk us, wild and unpredictable through the forest night.

 

 

Leland Seese’s poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Nassau Review, The East Bay Review, and many other journals. He lives in Seattle, where he and his wife are foster-adoptive-biological parents of six children. Much of his work as a pastor involves work with homeless and immigrant communities.

 

“Glass Splinters” by Tyler Anne Whichard

Glass Splinters
Black Hand” by Penelope Breen

When his mother died, he didn’t cry. I guess he couldn’t find it in him. His eyes that teared up in every argument we ever had were dry at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that, too. Some people are just like that: all the mourning happens on the inside, and that’s fine. If anything, it’s worse for the people watching. My eyes followed him at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that. I felt like Noah building his arc even when everyone told him it wouldn’t rain. I had heard the same voice he had; we both knew a flood was coming.

~

One night, I found him alone in his room and he held his arms out to me with a look that reminded me of the glass his friend Eric shattered three parties before; I’m sure if someone looked hard enough, they could still find splinters of it in the corners of the room, under the lip of the lower cabinets.

The pretty girl he danced with went home and everyone who couldn’t drive fell asleep in random places throughout his house. I kept him on his side the entire night in case he got sick from all the alcohol and came to terms with the fact that I would be picking the splinters of him out of me for a very long time. He fell asleep and I wondered if he found what he was looking for there.

~

On the last night of a summer trip we went on, he sat outside in a little rocking chair; it was balanced against the wall so no one could tell it was broken at first glance. If it was sat in the right way, it didn’t give way beneath you. It was around two o’clock in the morning when I woke up and found him there, crying silently. He never spoke about his mother, but I knew who the tears were for.

“You’re always the one to find me,” he said with a breathy, not-funny sort of laugh.

“I’m always looking for you,” I said – only, come to think of it, I can’t remember if we ever said anything like that out loud. If we didn’t, I don’t know why. I remember I wrapped my arms around him as he buried his nose in the silent place between my collarbones.

The rocking chair didn’t give out – I guess it knew a thing or two about timing.

~

At the last party I ever attended at his place, I stayed up on the couch talking to one of his friends, confusing them as my own for a night. I didn’t go up to his room.

At one point, one of his little brothers came over to me and told me he hoped things worked out because I was the best thing for his older brother, even if he didn’t know it. I guess I’m the type of person people are meant to stay with, only no one does, and I don’t really know what that says about me. I didn’t go up to his room after hearing that, even though I wanted to. I knew who was up there with him, and he knew I knew.

I hope she kept him sleeping on his side. He wasn’t one to lose his alcohol, but it was best to play it safe and he snored on his back, anyway.

I drove myself home and slept for two days.

 

 

Tyler Anne Whichard is a 21-year-old aspiring writer working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The r.k.v.r.y quarterly literary journal is the first official publication of her work. Her hobbies include staring at blank Word documents, binge-watching Korean dramas, and pouring too much creamer in her coffee in the morning.

 

“When We Could See But Did Not Know” by Heather Adams

When We Could See
“Foggy Bridge” by Penelope Breen

Mark was six- or maybe seven-years-old when he started climbing on the fences. He walked along the top railing with his arms spread out and looked down at his feet, smiling. I can picture just how his smile was and his shoes were muddy from where he’d been running in the field.

“You’ll fall,” we told him, his father Clive and I. “Watch out.”

“Watch this, Mama,” he said, hopping from one foot to the other on top of the fence, like the ground was a hot and burning thing he didn’t want to touch.

In the distance, a chainsaw whined and buzzed and close by squirrels skittered on a branch and acorns fell. The wooden fence creaked under the weight of him, but he kept going. And we didn’t know how soon we would start losing him.

The older Mark got, the more he was two different people. Some days he wanted everything and talked all the time and needed to be moving every minute. And other days he was emptied out and didn’t see the point in anything. Still, a losing like that doesn’t come all at once. It comes at you in little pieces. You’re asking don’t you want to get up and go outside and you’re saying settle down, just settle down. The whole time looking for the middle, settling-in place he needed.

The last time I talked to him he was twenty-three and about to be married. I went to see him out at the lumberyard where he was working because I knew something was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He was moving slow that morning like he was underwater.

Later that afternoon, the phone rang at the house and I took the call and got to the bridge as fast as I could. A girl stood there, crying and screaming and biting her hand. She wasn’t his fiancé. I’d never laid eyes on her before and I didn’t know what kind of trouble Mark was in. He wasn’t around anywhere, not that I could see. I looked out over the bridge and past the trees and the rocks. Either the girl stopped her crying or I stopped hearing it because everything turned quiet when I saw him. Mark was way down at the bottom of the gorge, blurry and far away and not moving.

When he was part of the air, I wasn’t there to see him. By the time I showed up, he had become part of the ground with the dirt wrapped around his shoulders like a coat and I looked away without seeing the rest. But I could picture what he must have looked like before, when he was part of the air, his arms spread out and him not wanting anything except to fly, the ground a hot and burning thing he didn’t want to touch.

 

 

Heather Adams, winner of the 2016 James Still Fiction Prize, has published short fiction in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Clapboard House, Deep South Magazine, Broad River Review, and elsewhere. This story is based on her first novel, Maranatha Road, which is forthcoming this fall from West Virginia University Press.

This flash fiction first appeared in Pembroke Magazine (Vol. 47, 2015)

“Pest Control Methods” by Beverly Lucey

Pest Control Methods
“Encountered Humans” by Penelope Breen

“…Treatment and prevention:… relies first on an accurate identification of the pest species. Only then can an effective strategy be tailored…”
~advert SimplyOneCall Pest Service in Northern Ireland

Inside Dee’s head, a wasp buzzed. The mic looked like a hive. Every time she adjusted the violin under her chin, drew the bow, and pulled it toward her for a solo spot of Yidl Mitn Fidl, the apiarian tone echoed in the back of her skull. Everything felt very wrong. This audition was not going well, either. Only a few Klezmer Bands existed in Idaho. Maybe it’s more surprising that there was one, rather than more than one. But its name, Meshuggah, described how Dee felt of late. Crazy.

The clarinetist/leader shook his head. “Sorry. You’ve got a hesitation there, like you’re listening to something else other than us. Anybody ever mention that to you before?”

“What? I didn’t quite get that. There’s a background sound. You don’t hear it?”

Good thing her day job at the museum was a quiet one. She wondered if stinging insects slept until dusk.

“We need focus. You don’t have it. Thanks though. Wish it worked out. Sorry.”

Sorry. Now that’s a song she’s heard before: sorries from a local dinner theater, a couple of Coeur d’Alene quartets who did weddings, and Tag.

First time it happened, Dee thought a mosquito had woken her up. Instead, it was Tag whispering, “I got a job in Branson. Don’t get up. Wish it worked out. Sorry.” Dee pulled the striped pillow over her head like a lid so she wouldn’t let even one minor protest escape. She figured four months must be the life cycle of a sax player. Just the natural order of things.

Relationships have lives of their own. People said that. Easy for someone else to say, but at thirty-four, her cycles were getting mired and sticky. Tag left, but the tone in her head stayed to remind and annoy, like a monotonous drone, the way early TV stations near Mobile, AL sounded after sign off. TV broadcasts had a cycle of their own, back then. Dee’s mother slept to it on the living room couch for over ten years, after Dee’s father left. Dee would find her there and turn off the set, just as the birds started singing.

The urge of her women friends to live alone, bewildered Dee. Her one marriage, a decade ago to Jimmy Musca, lasted three whole years. A stand up bass player was less likely to roam. Harder to bum a ride to the next gig.

After Jimmy, Arjun moved in. At least he built Dee cabinets before he disappeared. When Hervé left, he took her pannini maker with him. Men went like that. Mostly musicians, a few writers, an engineer. Then Tag. Taggert “The Bullfrog” Radoscz. Gone. Only the buzz remained.

Sometimes it sounded like Tag just noodling with the mouthpiece late at night. He’d said, “By blowing the mouthpiece and reed, the reed will tremble very fast. Such a reed does tremble some hundreds of times in a minute. Can you hear it? Feel it?” Back then it was sexy. Now it’s a maddening haint.

When Dee looked up, the Meshuggah guys were just standing there. Had something happened? Oh, right. She hadn’t left. She’d been dismissed, but hadn’t managed to put her instrument back in the case. Dee thunked the side of her head a couple of times, as if to dislodge seawater in her ear. This time, instead of quieting down the sound, she got zapped from the inside. Her inner ear felt hot and stabbed. Bumbling with the clips on her case, she tried not to cry. They would think that she really was disappointed not to be able to play Jewish jazz at temple single mixers across the Northwest. She merely wanted nights full of music instead of a dial tone in her head.

“You OK?” the accordian player said. “You remember what door you came in?”

“Sizz, hisss, thrummmmm,” Dee said, as if clearing her throat. She rubbed hard at her eyeballs, impressing an image onto her lids like a rubber stamp. A picture of her brain dangled in front of her face. It looked like the mic, or maybe a sponge. Within the porous mass of interlacing horny fibers she could see little winged things crawling in and out of the colony. Busy, busy. Taking over.

“I think I’ve been stung,” Dee said. “Did you see anything? Sssssss. It hurts.”

The trumpet player said, “I’m a doctor. Do you have allergies? An epi kit?”

“I’ve got anti-itch gel,” said the drummer.

“I’ll walk you to your car. I’ve got to get back to the lab anyway, ” said the piano player, slamming the lid down over the keys. The crashing distracted Dee just enough so that she could look him straight in the eyes. He had nice warm honey eyes.

“Maybe I was wrong. Never mind. I don’t feel it now.” Her head was quiet for a change.

Their cars were parked next to one another in the lot. “I was just sitting in tonight,” he was saying. “I’m not the real piano player. No time. Sorry if you didn’t get it. If you wanted it, that is. It was hard to tell.”

“What’s your name?” Dee’s brain cells were behaving.

“Cooper. I’m tenure track at the university three months now. It’s a nicer place than Chicago.”

“What are you?”

“Entomologist.”

“Perfect. Tell me what you know about wasps, sometime, will you?”

“Funny you should ask. I’ve got a grant working with paper wasps. No drones. No queens. No workers, as such.”

“No?”

“Nope. They’re sort of hippie insects. Just males and females working together, raising their young. It’s cool.”

“Cool.” She felt a breeze on her face from the lake working like a balm on her brain.

“You sure you’re all right?” He put a soothing hand on her shoulder.

“I’m better.”

“Could I call you?”

“Yeah, sure. Give me a buzz.” As Dee wrote her number on the back of Cooper’s hand, she couldn’t help but picture making him breakfast: oatmeal, honey, and her very special jam.

 

 

Beverly Lucey has had work appear in Zoetrope All Story Extra, Vestal Review,  Absinthe Revival, and Feathered Flounder. She was the winner of the Fiction Contest for Estonian Public Broadcasting  (2013) Print anthology:  Friend. Follow. Text.  #storiesFromLivingOnline  (fall 2013 release) “Voice Mail for the Living” in the anthology Up, Do Flash Fiction by Women Writers, (spring 2014). Landmarks: 2015 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology (UK).

 

“FINE” by Mary Lynn Reed

fine
“FINE 11-16” by Pat Zalisko, Acrylic on Canvas

You have so many things to rant about you can’t figure out where to begin so you decide to just jump in like this typing without stopping Just now you were thinking about acting Not acting like an actor but acting like a survivor That’s what survival is right it’s just acting Here I am standing on this ledge and I should jump I should really jump but then someone comes around the corner and says Hey, how ya doing, how was your weekend, and then you’re talking like everything is cool and you’re telling this guy about a movie you saw without mentioning that you wept through the whole thing clutching a beer and a tub of popcorn with the windows open listening to the pack of raccoons that lives in the woods behind your house the pack you have nightmares about sometimes the nightmares that usually involve burglary and danger and fear but Yeah that movie was great and the actress was amazing She should have won that Oscar she was really robbed You just don’t see great acting like that anymore and yeah thanks You have a good day too Hello Hi yeah it’s a beautiful day Yeah everything is just fine Yeah I can’t wait to get started on the next thing The next really important thing we all need to do Let’s get to work let’s get that thing done because that’s why we’re here This place is the best and we are all doing Just Fine.

 

 

Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, Whistling Shade, Jellyfish Review, and Smokelong Quarterly, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland.

 

“Black Ice” by Izaac Bacik

black-ice-acrylicmixedmedia36x36
“FLUX V-11B” by Pat Zalisko, 36×36, Mixed Media.

I remembered being here last Tuesday, and that’s why I didn’t have to look up to know that the wispy sound of scrubs swishing towards me belonged to the nurse, a far too chipper woman who had a glow to her skin that indicated that she still had dreams.

“Sweetie, can you follow me back to a waiting room?”

Stretching as I stood, I shuffled across the dingy dark blue carpet until I crossed the threshold into the tiled and sterile medical portion of the building. Everybody looked up from their desks as I passed through the halls and waved, not out of kindness or due to friendly dispositions, but because I was a far too familiar face.

Dr. Graham was already waiting in our usual room. I sat across from him and awaited a verdict.

“Your tests are still coming back positive.”

“Well yes, that’s because I’m still using, I already told you that.”

“It’s just, if you’re talking about taking fifty or sixty milligrams every other day just to stave off withdrawal, I’d probably want you taking ten milligrams of an analog five times a day. You know when you start to feel it wearing off you can excuse yourself and take another five, it’s all about self-awareness.” Dr. Graham pulled at the cuff of his starched and ironed coat and sighed as he picked up the puce colored office phone. “I think we need a third opinion, I want to talk to a specialist.”

As Dr. Graham dialed I stared straight ahead at the wall, uncomfortable with anyone being so enthused about something that, for me, was a really big problem. Once a doctor starts talking about specialists, that’s when you know you’ve made a mess and it will take you a while to dig your way out of it. I looked up at the clock, slightly off-center on an off-white wall. As hour three of my visit approached, I wondered how many other students spent two days a week in the health center and required third opinions and a four-inch thick folder of records. Dr. Graham sketched while he was on the phone, the pen scratched through the paper and hearing it against the soft plastic counter top made me slightly nauseous, or maybe it was just about time for another dose. I wiped the salty grease from my hands on my wrinkled basic t-shirt.

“Well kiddo, here’s the deal, I really need you to see a pain management specialist so we can raise your dose, and then we’ll keep you on that heightened dose, five times a day, for the next few months. After we get you stable we can lower it and start to wean you off of it completely.”

“A pain management specialist?” I wasn’t in any pain. I felt my lip twist and my nostrils tighten. Dr. Graham’s manicured and tanned brow rose in response.

“A pain management specialist, yes, they tend to deal with opiate addictions–they’re certainly better equipped then I am. I did my residency with this doctor, you’ll like him.”

We both knew I didn’t get a choice in the matter, and whether or not I liked him wasn’t worth addressing. Dr. Graham’s cufflink met the clipboard nestled in the crook of his arm and the dense clicking sound confirmed it to be plastic, not the polished brass that it so expertly mimicked. I glanced at his sketch; it was me reaching for a carrot.

“What’s that carrot represent?”

“It’s your transition, and the path to the carrot is your sobriety!” He smiled.

My throat tightened and I felt my tongue flick against my gums. The sticky oral sound of my disgust was sharp in the small sterile cubicle. I reached into my pocket to rub the pill hiding in its folds between my fingers, just knowing it was there comforted me.

“Well, you know, not to make light of it, but I was just sketching … and it’s just how I think … and it’s just I don’t really get interesting special cases that often.”

The light reflected off of the shrinking black rim of my green irises and played in the pool of my black pupils and I knew my lack of amusement was clearly conveyed. “You don’t say,” I scoffed. We were practically drowning in sarcasm; this room was too small for my defensive attitude.

“Let me walk you out.” Dr. Graham’s shoulders slumped, one with concern and the other in defeat.

“Would you like to see me Thursday?” My voice was soft but I held it firm. He reached to touch my shoulder and I arched back. His fingers brushed my jacket and fell to his side in limp defeat.

“Oh, look, it’s snowing out!” Dr. Graham looked out the window with the same smile I would imagine he used to have on frosty Christmas mornings. I nodded a goodbye as I made my way out. While I waited for the shuttle, I watched my past flurry to the ground and melt on the pavement through the industrial glass window. It isn’t that I was particularly unhappy; it’s just that nobody pays much mind to the snow unless they’re thigh deep in it. I would have seen that coming. I could have shoveled myself out. It’s the ice, what you can’t see, that will cause an accident.

 

 

Izaac Bacik is a 22-year-old student pursuing degrees in sociology and creative writing at UNCA who predominantly focuses on poetry and short creative non-fiction pieces and essays centered around identities as autistic and transgender. This short essay deals with surviving coming off of drugs in order to begin gender transition.

 

“Two Cats” by Noa Sivan

two-cats-11-16
“Two Cats, 11-16″ by Pat Zalisko, 65″ x 48”, acrylic on canvas

One morning my hair started to fall out, just like they said it would. I needed to shave my head, so I got up and went to the hair salon down the street. It was supposed to be a quick operation, except a beautiful Norwegian woman—clearly of Viking descent, but hunched back like she’s ashamed of her lanky body—arrived at the same time for her appointment. There was some mix-up with the schedule and the hairdresser didn’t have time to attend to the both of us.

I was about to give up my turn. Not because she was beautiful, but rather because of some sense of fairness, as she had claimed to book her appointment a week before. I just called that same morning and told the hairdresser it was time.

But this is Granada, Spain. Things have a way of taking care of themselves. A man, supposed to be after me, dropped by to cancel.

So the hairdresser, a Swedish pixie in her forties, who has lived here longer than any of us, the misfits who failed their families according to northern European standards, encouraged me to stay. She’s sorry about all the mess. It was her fault, really. Her boyfriend absolutely begged her to take another day off. Apparently, they don’t have enough sex. Can I imagine that?

The Norwegian woman got settled in the chair. Now what are they going to do with that thin, blonde hair. The hairdresser touched her head and moved it from side to side, looking for answers. Then, she embraced her shoulders, shaking them gently to make her smile. A solution was found.

The hairdresser hovered to the back room to mix some color to dye the blonde hair even blonder. On her way she took down a book from the shelf and gave it to me. It was a photography book about nature in Andalusia. I slouched on the couch and flipped through the pages.

With her back to me, looking at me through the mirror, the Norwegian woman asked if I wanted to adopt two cats.

She’s hardly spending time at home, two months on and two weeks off, and she’s got a couple of dogs, too. Her circumstances have changed in so many ways, do I get the picture? The dogs are fine with their regular dog-sitters, but the cats are suffering.

I put the book face-down on a double spread of a lake just an hour away from Granada. I’ve been there once and I wanted to get back to that page.

The Norwegian woman continued: it’s a catering job, oil drilling rig in Norway. She was lucky to have it, they just keep making cutbacks.

Every two months she lands in Oslo and a helicopter takes her to a drilling rig in the middle of nowhere. She looks after the 118 workers who live on it. There were 120, but two of them drowned in their sleep; an explosion, god rest their souls—their nook just fell into the water. But there’s no need to worry, it rarely happens.

She has three shifts a day: prepares the food, serves it and cleans afterwards. It used to be easier, but now the catering company is so stingy, it’s ridiculous. They laid off half her staff.

It’s only two hard weeks every two months. Still worth the money and the long vacation in between. She recovers pretty quickly, but the cats make it more difficult than it should be.

She looked helpless in that black gown, tight around her neck. A floating head with no body, just awareness. I promised her I would think about adopting the cats. She nodded: poor cats.

The hairdresser came back with the color and wore her latex gloves. She assured the Norwegian woman it’d be amazing. I returned to the book. Andalusia’s nature is breathtaking, but what’s the point of having it around if you can’t go there.

When it was finally my turn I hopped on the chair. The Norwegian woman touched her new hair, beaming. She looked so pretty. The two women kissed each other goodbye and she waved at me. She’ll take my number from the hairdresser; maybe I can meet the cats.

I ran my fingers through my hair for the last time. Thick red strands fell on the floor, defeated. I didn’t want to shave my head anymore. I wanted to take those two cats and name them after the two rig workers who drowned in their sleep. I wanted my circumstances to change in so many ways. Then, the hairdresser took the book out of my hands.

 

 

Noa Sivan was born and raised in Israel and is currently living in Granada, Spain. She is a graphic designer and a writer. Three of her pieces were published in 2005 in an anthology edited by award winning Israeli author Yitzhak Ben Ner. In 2013 Sivan published a digital book of micro stories called “Semantic Satiation,” that was translated into English by Yardenne Greenspan. In 2016 she started writing in English. Her stories were published on the Jellyfish review, Eleven Eleven and FRiGG. Sivan’s first story, “Plaza Trinidad,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

“Lighting Up” by Jeff Rose

lighting-up
“Lighting Up 11-16” by Pat Zalisko, 48×48, acrylic on canvas.

A pack of cigarettes, Kools. What the black guys smoke. Pack open, cellophane wrinkled, one butt poking out. The pack is on the “coffee table” with a bottle of whiskey, a pistol, and a stone. Usually there’s a coffee there, too. Having coffee is touching base with the routine back home.

Three soldiers sit around the table in their low-slung, sandbag bunker where almost everything is that drab green. Black girls smoke Newports but there are none here. No Newports. No black girls. The girls are back home. Cedric’s girl is the furthest thing from a soldier–fiercely individual, not hardened or armed, unique choices in clothing, funny in the way a drill sergeant isn’t.

Cedric leans into the coffee table, moves the whiskey bottle, moves the stone Orlando pulled from the river bottom to bring home and show to people, grabs the ready-to-go butt. The bottle is half-empty, the stone is rounded from the water-borne pebblets that scour everything but the mud from the Mekong, the butt is filtered. Nobody smokes the unfiltered Kools.

The small room is hazy with smoke, Orlando is puffing now, Cedric getting ready to, Leonard just done. The half-finished bottle is like Cedric’s tour, what will he do after, he wonders. His girl smokes Newports. But he doesn’t talk about her. The married guys talk about their wives. The single guys get Dear John letters. The wet sandbags smell like a bad day at the beach.

There’s a .45 semi-automatic pistol on the table, the drawn-back slide ready to bolt forward and ram in cartridge when the catch is released. When you pick up a .45, your index finger slides onto the trigger while your thumb slides up the grip to loosen the catch. When Cedric holds his girl, one hand slides down to her backside, the other up her back to unzip her dress.

A geologist who’d been drafted says Orlando’s stone slowly washed downstream from an origin in China, just like Communism. He said something about flecks and colors and density. Orlando is from L.A. and sees only concrete. This round stuff has him baffled.

Cedric nestles the unlit cigarette between his fingers, thinks of his girl, and holds the whiskey bottle up into the shaft of light that osmotes through the entryway like everything else. The golden color of the low sun and the nervousness of Cedric after patrol make the whiskey shine like a jar of wedding bands. He’ll be wearing one soon, he thinks. Then he hopes. Then he prays. Then he takes a long pull and hands the bottle to Orlando. Leonard shifts on the ammo box under his butt and eyes the bottle.

The coffee table is an expanded metal surface produced by the war machine. It’s basically a rectangular steel sheet ventilated during manufacture by a thousand punches then stretched laterally and longitudinally. Cedric used it for a shrapnel guard on a Swift boat. Because you can see through the table, in addition to the shell-holes that is, you can’t put anything under it without it being seen… and because it can easily be seen by an officer coming in the entryway, the marijuana is kept inside a sock casually laying under the table. Too obvious, thus easily overlooked. Had the American military understood schemes like that, they would have won the war years ago.

Cedric puts the cig between his lips, Orlando hands the bottle to Leonard, the three cots that line the three full walls soon will beckon. The pistol has been on the table since Osgood left without it when he was transferred to Khe Sanh. When asked which way Khe Sanh was, Osgood had spun the pistol to point toward it. It seemed like it would now be bad luck for Osgood if one were to point the pistol at someplace else. Oz is a short-timer and in a month no one will worry about which way the pistol points.

Everyone in the Army keeps the cellophane on their cigarette packs. A hit to the chest might create a pathway to the lungs and that’s a bad thing. If you hear a sucking sound coming from the chest, you take the cellophane off the pack and press it over the hole. It’s supposed to help, somehow.

Movement from under the table, a two-foot snake has found the marijuana, its tongue flicking at the drab green sock. There’s no triangular head to the snake, so there’s no problem. Snakes are no problem really, but a triangle-head means poisonous and that could be bad news on a bad day and the hell with the snake and the hell with Oz… if that slithering thing meant bad business, the .45 on the table would be pointed at it. Come to think of it, the hell with Osgood, says Cedric. He spins the pistol so it points back home, toward his girl.

Cedric adjusts his cig to the perfect spot, a notch in his upper lip, a notch created from smoking since age twelve. He thinks about how harsh and metallic his environment is, he thinks about the silky curves of his girl. He leans toward Orlando, moving slowly, reaching for the cig Orlando has in his mouth. With soft fingers, he grips Orlando’s cig and holds it steady for Orlando while Orlando inhales. Cedric waits for Orlando to set his chest tight, inhale complete, he pulls the cigarette away. Lining up the business ends of the two cigs, Cedric takes a draw and both cigs are glowing. He carefully places Orlando’s cig back between Orlando’s lips and nods to him. As he exhales, the thought comes to Cedric that he will design ladies’ dresses when his tour is done.

 

 

Jefferson Rose is a published short story writer and essayist and was the first humorist for the ITV television and F1 magazine partnership where he wrote a weekly column on one of his early loves, Formula One Grand Prix racing.

 

“Weightless” by Glenn Miller

weightless
Image by Dawn Surratt

Through the front glass, I see only sky. Since we separated from the runway and left Janelle standing beside the small terminal, smiling and holding the video camera and that silly balloon, I’ve kept my eyes straight ahead at the sky.

“These seats are comfortable!” I shout over the engine’s roar. My voice cracks. I sound more sickly than I really am. I should be happy, I know, because I’ve made it to another birthday and because a private flying lesson is a great gift from my wife.

But I’m not happy. I’m scared to death.

Carl the pilot taps the side of his headphones. “You don’t have to shout,” he says.

“Sorry!” I shout. “I’m just nervous!”

As the plane climbs, a pocket of air collapses below us and we jerk downward. My stomach contracts. I feel like I’m going to vomit, but it’s a false alarm. I learned during chemo how to tell a false alarm from the real thing. Still, I’m nauseous. Sweat beads form where my hair has begun to grow back.

“Alright,” says Carl. “Now we’re going to bank.”

“No! No banking!” My skin hurts.

“Don’t freak out on me, chief. We have to bank at some point. Can’t fly straight forever. Remember, it’s your birthday, so just enjoy. Okay?”

“Okay!”

“No. Need. To. Yell,” Carl says, his voice rising. There’s a sharp crack of static after every syllable. “Relax-ckk,” he says.

I breathe deeply. Cold air, tinged with the smell of fuel, invades my lungs.

I imagine being in the car, on our way home. Janelle will drive. She will point up at the sky and pat my knee, which will still be shaking. Then we will hit a pothole, and I will bite my tongue.

I hear a ckk in my headphones – a ghost of a sound.

The more I study the sky, the more immense it becomes. I could fall forever there. My fright would shift – from the fear of crashing to the fear of being trapped in perpetual terror.

The plane bounces again – another air pocket.

I think of ways to get back at Janelle for planning this, but not much frightens her – not heights nor speed nor water. And she’ll eat anything…crickets, snake, brains, heart.

I think of telling her the cancer has returned. Or maybe I’ll dress up as a zombie. She hates zombies.

When the plane’s engine slows, I look at the instrument panel and spot a gauge showing two horizontal lines twisting away from one another.

We’re banking right.

“Enjoy the view!” Carl yells.

But I’ve shut my eyes. I slip toward the door and feel weightless for a moment.

Then something sputters and dies.

The engine.

“Shit-ckk,” Carl says. I open my eyes wide. Carl is fiddling with knobs and turning the ignition key. His hands are white.

“What?”

“Come on,” he mutters.

We begin to fall.

I’d be panicking if the view wasn’t so astounding. Now, instead of blank sky, I see earth through the windshield. The sun has broken through the clouds, and a shaft of light expands until it bathes the valley in warmth. The fields below are a series of plush carpets in green and gold.

The airport is in the distance. I wonder if Janelle can hear that the engine has died. I wonder, too, if Carl will radio the tower. “Mayday, mayday,” I expect him to say, not that there’s anything they could do. Our fate, I know, is up to us – only us. Still, it seems the normal thing to do.

“Should we call someone?” I ask, noticing the stillness of the ride now that we’ve lost power. Air flows around the plane, enveloping us in an unwavering hum.

“Yes.” Carl’s eyes are moist. He nods, but makes no move toward the radio.

I zero in on it. It looks just like a car radio. I click one button and then another until I hear static, followed by a beep. “Good,” Carl tells me.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I ask, looking upward through the windshield. “Can anyone hear me?”

A tinny voice answers. “This is control. Carl, you’re losing altitude. What’s your status?”

Silence.

“Carl!” the voice snaps. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Um, we’ve lost power,” I say. “But we’re dropping fast.”

“The engine died!” Carl adds.

“Can’t we just glide?” I ask, imagining a peaceful landing softened by thick alfalfa.

“Of course,” says the voice. “But you’re a lot better off with an engine. You need speed, Carl. Come on, this is standard stuff, for Christ sakes.”

“I tried.” Carl turns the key again but there is no response.

“Drop your nose!”

“I said I tried!”

“More! Do it now, before you run out of room.”

When Carl doesn’t move, I reach for the wheel.

“Now!” the voice commands. My fingertips touch the hard plastic. I look up. The terminal and its short runway are impossibly close. How did they get that close?

For a moment, I’m back in the hospital. Every morning, my room was full of flowers, the only scent that didn’t nauseate me.

“Tell Janelle,” I say. “Tell her I’m okay.”

Leaning forward, I press on the wheel, hard and fast. The plane’s nose sinks. Air rushes by, faster and faster. The windows rattle. Then there is another noise.

Sput-sput-sput.

The engine rumbles to life. The propeller’s blades spin. Carl cheers so loudly that I have to shrug off my headphones. I feel the wheel being pulled back. I release my grip. Carl is re-animated, poking at gauges and rocking in his seat. His smile is wide and he moves his lips, but all I hear is the engine.

Carl banks the plane hard. Again, I slide toward the door. This time, I keep my eyes open. We’re in a low pivot over the runway.

Rising toward the opening in the clouds is a shiny, silver orb: my birthday balloon.

I look down to see Janelle. The camera is at her feet, in pieces, and her hands are raised, high above her head, stretching toward me.

 

 

Glenn Erick Miller’s writing has appeared in The Citron Review, Red Earth Review, and Agave Magazine among others. He is a recent first-place winner in the Adirondack Writing Center’s annual awards and is currently writing a novel for young adults.