“FINE” by Mary Lynn Reed

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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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.

 

“Somewhere Else” by Tom Saunders

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“The Places We Hide,” Image by Dawn Surratt

Liam walked down the hill from the rented cottage and along by the churchyard wall. He felt a pinprick bite on his ear and looked up. A column of gnats hung over him in the evening air like an unclear thought.

Opposite the village green, several youngsters were skateboarding down the sloping concrete apron in front of the pub, aiming themselves at one another and only changing course at the very last moment. The lone girl taking part dipped and swerved with particular grace, redistributing her weight with fluid movements of her arms, hips and feet, her pony-tailed ringlets flying. She reminded Liam of a girl surfer he and Justine had watched in Cornwall the September before. How envious he had been of the way the girl laughed to herself as she splashed out of the ocean and walked back up the beach, her eyebrows and lips white with sea-salt. After dropping her board on the sand, she shook her arms and legs in a shivering dance, shouting out that the water was “Tit-freezing cold.” It hadn’t been easy to look away from the elastic curves of her wet suit, the long zip an invitation – drawing it down like peeling a fruit.

“So all the tales about men in middle-age are true,” Justine teased him later, having followed his eyes. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I won’t wear rubber for you no matter how nicely you ask.”

The village telephone-box was of the old-fashioned sort, the exterior pitted and scabbed with layer upon layer of red paint. Its battered appearance and survival into another time seemed almost stubborn. Perhaps there was a kind of liberty in being overlooked, in being allowed your own history, your own lost world? Opening the door, he remembered the Japanese soldier who, when rescued from a lonely Pacific island twenty years after VJ-Day, refused to believe that the war was over and his country had been defeated.

Even on a summer evening the box’s interior was redolent of urine and wet wool, of shelter on dark, rainy days. There was a dead matchstick, a Kit-Kat wrapper and a wizened brown apple-core on the shelf beside the receiver. On the floor there was a sooty mark where somebody (the parish pyromaniac?) had unaccountably tried to build a fire.

“Oh it’s you,” Justine answered. The disdain in her voice sounded vengeful, a weapon readied in advance.

“Don’t get too enthusiastic, now,” he said.

“I won’t.”

“Expecting a more attractive offer, is that it?”

“And you’d care, I suppose.”

Liam stepped back into the life he used to live. He asked how her preparation for the new teaching term was progressing; if there had been a call or letter from Davy; how she was coping with the bills; if the garden was getting overrun; whether her car was going okay. As he spoke, he listened to what he was saying as a stranger might listen. It was eerie, the feeling of being on the outside, at a distance, eerier yet to discover he was able to talk across that distance. Here was here and there was there.

Justine’s replies were listless, resentful. “Feel easier now, do you?” she said when his questions began to falter. “Feel everything at home is all right so you can go on exactly as you are, go on treating me the way you’re treating me? I don’t have to stand for this, you know. I might be a fool for you, but I’m not a fool. If you think I don’t have what it takes to carry on on my own then you’re wrong. If I have to manage I will, so don’t kid yourself on that score. You never know, keep on as you are and you could well find there’s nothing for you to come back to.”

Liam allowed her to run on, to get it all out. “None of what’s gone on has been about you,” he said when she had finished. “You know that.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“Don’t pretend to misunderstand. I feel bad enough as it is.”

“Do you?”

“You’ve been very patient.”

Her laughter was bitter. “What choice have I had.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you?”

“How can you ask that?”

His certainty seemed to take her by surprise. There was a pause.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You sound different,” she said.

“Do I?”

“Yes. More in control.”

It was Liam’s turn to laugh now.

“Does that mean you’re not?” she said.

“Perhaps.”

Justine sighed to herself. “You haven’t got three wishes. You’re who you are now. Nothing stays the same. You’ll have to come to terms with it eventually,” she said.

“I know.”

“You agree?”

“Of course I do. I’m not stupid.”

There was another pause.

“Are you still there?” Liam asked.

“Yes.”

“You’ve gone very quiet.”

 

 

Tom Saunders, an award winning writer has a novel Inappropriate Happiness and two collections of short stories, Brother, What Strange Place is This? and Roof Whirl Away, , as well as his poetry collection To the Boy, available in print and on Kindle at Amazon UK and USA. They can also be directly purchased from the Reuben Books website. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, appeared in many anthologies, and is an ardent photographer in the UK where he lives.

 

“Higher and Harder” by Paul Beckman

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“Flying in the Face of Reason” by Dawn Surratt

She led me down a dark dirt path off the pavement. I’d met her fifteen minutes into the Fantasy Party, we talked for maybe ten minutes, and she said let’s blow this popsicle stand, and I, always ready to follow a redhead, agreed. Our only light was the flash from her iPhone and we ended up at an old barn. “This is what I wanted to show you,” she said, sliding the barn door open and heading towards a far corner. This is the path to a nest of spiders. She began to undress and said, “Nothing turns me on more than making love in the straw knowing there are spiders only inches away.”

I will only follow a redhead so far. I said adios and found my way back to the party where I re-introduced myself to the bartender and chugged a double bourbon with one cube to settle me down. I saw the redhead again and watched her lead someone else out towards the path.

“If I had a drink like you just did, I’d feel like my soul’s on fire,” said a more safe and hopefully sane brunette. “Don’t much like spiders?” she asked.

“Not much,” I said feeling the bourbon mellow and massage my insides.

She said, “Let’s grab another drink and go down by the swings—I’ve never gotten over my love of playground swings. I love Bill’s parties, don’t you?” I told her I’d never been to one before and she said, wrong answer, and then I remembered the invite rules: make everything up including your name, occupation and phone number. This is my First Annual Fantasy Party, the invitation read.

It was a pleasant evening and truth be told it was fun swinging and sipping my drink. “Want me to push you?” I asked and she said, “Maybe after we get to know each other better and by the way, what’s your name?”

“Arnold,” I said.

“That’s the name of my accountant, gynecologist and former divorce lawyer and also the name the Indian man uses when he calls to sell me solar panels. My name’s Henrietta and after the spider episode what gave you the courage to follow me outside?”

“Cleavage,” I said and she said, “You realize you said that aloud, don’t you?”

“The bourbon is the key that unlocks the filter between my brain and mouth,” I said and she found that charming. Then she said, “Okay you can push me now,” and I stopped my swing and pulled back the ropes on hers and pushed her forward.

She kept saying higher, higher, which my brain heard as harder harder so I pulled back and let it rip and pushed her harder and higher and when she was above the top of the swing she let go of the ropes and spread her arms and flew off to parts unknown. I walked back to the party thinking perhaps I wasn’t cut out for Fantasy Parties and went to the bar where the bartender was ready with my double bourbon and one cube, looked around and saw the spider lady and the swing lady entwined on the couch and walked out, glass in hand, looking for a cab.

 

 

Paul Beckman was one of the winners in the Queen’s Ferry 2016 Best of the Small Fictions. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Review, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, “Peek”, weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. His published story website is www.paulbeckmanstories.com and blog is www.pincusb.com

Read an interview with Paul here.

 

“Home Improvements” by Digby Beaumont

home-improvements-sustainedbyfaith
“Sustained by Faith” by Dawn Surratt

They’re eating an early dinner at Little Mo’s Spaghetti House, and he turns away to ask the waiter for more Parmesan. When he looks back, she’s gone.

He remains at the table, picking at his green salad, but she doesn’t return or answer when he tries her number. So he pays the bill and leaves.

Back home, he calls her name, checks every room, turning on all the lights.

In their bedroom, her wardrobe door is open. He peeks inside. There’s the blue dress she wore at their daughter’s graduation, last summer. He presses the dress to his face and inhales.

By the dressing table, he catches his reflection in the mirror. He no longer looks younger than his age, he thinks, rubbing the back of his neck.

Downstairs, he faces the brick open fireplace, feels the solid oak flooring under his stockinged feet, and considers these and all the other home improvements he’s made lately.

He remembers when they first saw the house and met the previous owners. An old couple. The woman had stood at the kitchen window talking to them, but keeping an eye on her husband, outside tending the vegetable garden. After a time, she wiped her hands on her apron and leaned forward, searching. Then she yanked a rope that hung by the door, and a bell rang. It sounded like an old school playground bell. Moments later the man appeared from behind some tomato plants, waving to her, and she went up on her tiptoes as she waved back.

Those people must be dead now, he realizes.

Grey, filmy light fills the living room. He thinks he hears footsteps on the front porch and springs up from the sofa. There are things to say. And time is running out. He steps into the hallway, listens for the key in the lock, then everything goes quiet again.

 

 

 

Digby Beaumont is an English writer. His flash fiction has appeared widely, most recently in Bartleby Snopes, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Camroc Press Review, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review, 100-Word Story, Cosmonauts Avenue and Olentangy Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology. He made a living as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications.

 

“Twisters” by Len Kuntz

Twisters (Bamboo Sprout)
“Bamboo Sprout,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

I am six almost seven when the twister comes do you see it do you see it my brother asks it must be as far away as dickinson or fargo the hill we live on gives a view of the flat land and on it this afternoon with the sky gone gray as night this twister is a manic marauder a cone-shaped thing aladdin’s angry genie unleashed will it take us I ask you’re such a scaredy cat my brother says but he doesn’t realize I’m not really afraid he sleeps downstairs and can’t hear their fights mom’s muffled shrieks her squeals mirror glass shattering atop their dresser pipe or fist hitting the wall going through it on the other side of mine my little indian warrior clock with its big brown eyes coming free of its nail breaking off one pony tail when it hits the floor and bounces dead as I always knew hate you hate you I hate you she screams and so he hits her my father does hits or slaps I’m leaving you you’re a monster oh yeah I’ll show you a monster last night was the worst every evening is bad but last night the floor shook bombs exploded I expected smoke expected flames to burn their room to cinders but breakfast came and mom was at the stove frying flap jacks wearing a head scarf and jackie o sunglasses smoking silent as a hollow log saying stop your gawking and eat go on you let it get cold and I’ll whoop you sure as satan and now in the distance the cyclone is swiveling its smoke hips and I imagine it sucking up barns and buildings and houses with screaming children and astonished parents milk cows and chickens hogs farms being rolled up like rugs the moss place folger’s farm chicory square all of them slurped up that massive funnel of dirt while I wait our turn kenny says we better get downstairs come on you stupid turd I shake him off fine go ahead and die see if I care he might mean it he might know more than I think there the twister jerks pivots like a spastic ballet dancer made of dust moving through smolinski’s plot swiveling mowing pulverizing breaking things apart wherever it finds them a motorcycle comes flying this way hurled a mile through space like a chrome asteroid this is it this is it this is deliverance this is god acting saying I’ve heard your prayers this is his wrath that I’ve read about only at the bottom of bell street where the coolie sits the twister veers east without warning east east why east I’ve been waiting my whole life my short life willing eager to give it up and there you go god there you go you do not exist don’t tell me any more lies there you go no different than the gray ghost vapors my mother blows out of her nose when she smokes mom dad and me the fight between three maybe not tonight but tomorrow tomorrow the twister will reappear a different cyclone but just as savage and cruel and it might finally be the one that takes me the one that ends it all.

 

 

Len Kuntz is author of The Dark Sunshine and an upcoming story collection I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You.

 

“Painting the Elephant Gold” by Kay Merkel Boruff

Cover Image
“Sandstone Formations,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

Hell, we just wanted to see the show.

~W. C. Williams

The hay is mown and rolled, my summer dreams asleep. The child ascends to dance. In the grayness of gray, each step an entrance, I arrive at the window, you have just walked out the door. Wings shining, eyes bright, you smile your love to me. Wind chimes catch the breeze. Honey bees nestle flowers blanketing fresh dirt. Morning washes over me. Chords from the sonata float with the clouds. Luna moth circling through blue spruce echoes greetings. Trees sway, speckled light refracting on lichen and moss. Smooth rocks celebrate the dawn. Breath lifts me—I am floating, flying. I am once again with you.

The red dirt road snakes among chinaberries, ocher fruit of poisoned passion. I am the child dancing in winter. Day rests on the window sill. The strength death brings frees me. The powerless is the powerful. I resume the baci, the ceremony of embarkation, my altar stacked with hai blossoms and bhat, blessings from the monkey king, music for the dead, light for the living. I set my sights home, home to the red dirt: to the state of grace in wornness, to the Wabi-sabi, shards of pottery, cracks in gold paint, dissonance in the moonlight: May I be a well filled, a song sung, a dream remembered.

 

 

Kay Merkel Boruff lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 & was married to an Air America pilot who was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Falls Record News. In addition, she has work in Suddenly, Grasslands Review, Behind the Lines, Fifth Wednesday, Adanna, Stone Voices, Turk’s Head, and Paper Nautilus. Letters of her husband’s and hers were included in Love and War, 250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. NPR interviewed Boruff regarding her non-profit Merkel & Minor: Vets Helping Vets: A Class Act Production. She attended Burning Man 2012 and then climbed Wayna Picchu in Peru on her 71st birthday.

Read more about Kay’s writing journey here.