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.”
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 Quarterly, Structo Magazine, The Collapsar, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska Star, Alternating Current, The 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.
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.
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.
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)
Read more about the inspiration for Heather’s story here.
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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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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).