“Happy Hour” by Cherise Wyneken


Image result for happy hour

“You look kinda pale, Sugar,” Mr. Bailey said on his way out of the office. “What the heck … soon’s you finish sending out those orders go on home. And that’s an order.”

“I hate going home to an empty house in the middle of the day,” said Luci. “No husband – no kid.”

“If it’s a kid you want, Sugar, there’s plenty guys out there willing to oblige.”

When he had closed the door Luci folded her arms across the desk and put her head down. Am I really all that desperate? She had given up trying to meet a decent husband type man and started thinking about adopting as a single parent or getting pregnant by some guy – like Mr. Bailey said. She raised her head and searched around the desk for the orders. I’ll do these up … then go to the park for a walk and think.

She was so preoccupied when she got to the walking course that she headed in the opposite direction from the arrow. It didn’t matter since at that late morning hour there weren’t many walkers. It was too hot for the retired folks and most of the younger ones were at work or school.

The blue sky was spattered here and there with splats of clouds like the white paint on the black T-shirt she wore when cleaning. The noonday sun was directly overhead, ringing the clouds like neon lights on a movie house marquee. Sunlight filtered through a spreading fichus tree, painting its trunk starlight yellow. Splotches of it dropped onto the grass below and turned it chartreuse green. A fallen, wounded air plant lay on a pile of mulch, gasping for air. From the distant west, thunder grumbled faintly. Luci looked up and noticed a big black cloud peering over the horizon.

I hear you, Cloud. I feel the same way.

Luci had come to the park to think, but she could not get beyond fantasizing how nice it would be to have a husband and family.

Engrossed in her thoughts, she rounded a sharp hairpin curve and bumped smack into a walker coming from the other direction.

“Excuse me,” she said without looking.

“I am happy to see you again,” said Becka – the Caribbean girl she’d met here before.  “As you say in this country, ‘I am glad I bumped into you.’”

“Becka! I didn’t even notice it was you.”

“You looked like those people who walk with earphones – listening to something deep inside.  It’s not your usual time to walk. I hope nothing bad has happened.”

“Not yet. I was trying to figure out how to avoid it. You know – how to meet a decent guy.”

“Some of my classmates have invited me to go with them to a Happy Hour tonight.  Why don’t you join us? Perhaps you will meet someone suitable.”

“Happy Hour? Where?”

“The Bimini Boat Yard. They say it is a good place to meet people. And they have a lovely free buffet.”

“I’m not too good at handling alcohol.”

“I’m sure they serve soft drinks, too.”

“I hate going places alone … but if you’re going … maybe I will come, too. What time?”

“Around five o’clock.” Becka looked at her watch. “I have to go now. I have a class at two. I do hope you will join us.”

Luci finished her walk and went home for a little rest. I might as well meet Becka and have some fun for a change, she thought as the time approached. It had been so long since she’d gone out anywhere, she didn’t have the slightest idea what to wear to a Happy Hour.  In the end she chose a simple pair of tight black pants with a loose black top that hid her stomach roll.  She scrounged through her dresser drawer looking for a piece of jewelry to go with it and found that old gold cross of her mother’s. It wasn’t the usual shape, but had stubby bars surrounded by a circle. It looked like a museum piece to Luci.

She looked at herself in the mirror and laughed. “That’s me. A thirty-year-old museum piece. Past my prime.”

The parking lot was jammed by the time she arrived, so she followed a white-haired couple to their car and waited until they backed out. Early Birds. She waved and gave a little toot of thanks as she pulled into the empty spot. By now Luci was wishing that she never came. What if I can’t find Becka?

Loud strains of some unfamiliar tune met her as she neared the entrance. I’m so out of it, I don’t even recognize the music. Much to her relief she spotted Becka sitting on a bench outside the door. “Luci,” she cried. “I’m so glad you came.”

Luci gave her a hug in greeting. “I almost didn’t.  I’ve been feeling kind of rotten lately.”

“A night out is just what the doctor ordered. The others are inside. Come on. They have a table in the patio.”

Luci followed Becka through the thick crowd. Guys were lined along the wall, each holding a glass in their hands and the passing women with their eyes. Every seat was taken at both bars, with people standing three deep behind. A crowd was circling the free snack bar – as intent on gleaning a meal as hyenas circling a lion’s kill. Small groups idled in the passageways, forcing Becka and Luci to dodge in and out.

“Sorry,” Luci said to a fellow she bumped into.

He raised his thick red eyebrows. “What’s your hurry, Honey?”

Luci took a deeper look at him and realized he was just her height.

Kind of short, went through her mind at the same time she replied, “Meeting some friends outside.”

“Are you going to be nice and share them with me?”

“It never hurts to try.”

He tipped his glass at Luci.  “See you around.”

Becka led the way to a high table surrounded by five high stools. Three of them were occupied by young women.

“Thought you’d never get here. We’re one ahead of you already,” one said, indicating a tall glass filled with an exotic looking pink drink. The waitress placed paper coasters in front of the two latecomers.

“Coca~Cola, please,” Becka said.

Luci couldn’t get her eyes off that tall pink drink. “What do you call that?”

“It’s a Chambord Pina Colada,” the girl replied. “Try it.  It’ll make you forget your troubles.”

“Why not?” Luci said. “Bring me one of those things, too.”

Becka made the introductions, then her face lit into a smile. “Luci here is a fast worker. She already has a fellow after her.”

“Hey, Luci. Tell us your secret formula,” one of the girls said.

“I think he likes ‘em short … like himself. But he has gorgeous red hair. I’ve always liked red hair. I was thinking of dying mine that color.”

“I bet you’d look cute with red hair. What say? Is that him coming over?”

Luci looked in the direction the girl had indicated.

“Oh, no!  It’s him. You’ve got to help me, Becka. You got me into this.” The fellow came right up to Luci.

“So we meet again. And I don’t even know your name.” Becka took control and introduced him around.

“Very glad to meet you all,” he said, extending his hand to Luci.

“Brian, here. Brian Mackey.”

“Would you care to join us?” Becka asked.

“Thought you’d never ask.”

He looked around for an empty stool and brought it to the table. The waitress brought the drinks and took second orders. With each swallow conversation quickened. Quips and smart remarks about people in the passing scene were bantered back and forth.

Luci pointed to a man standing in an empty space in the center of the patio, talking into his beeper phone. “Who’s he trying to impress?”

“Probably his own answering machine,” one of the girls replied.

“Get a load of those two.” Brian pointed to two gals heading for the outside bar. One, dressed in a tight short dress with red polka dots, was tripping along on white high heel pumps. Her partner was decked out in a white tie-died shirt.


Luci took a second look. “How can you tell?”

“Simple. Protruding Adam’s apple. Gives them away every time. Women don’t have them.”

“I thought they looked kind of sexy,” Luci said.

“I wouldn’t touch ‘em,” Brian said. “Even if they were women. They look too much like … you know what.”

Luci glanced down at her cross and black outfit. I guess I did all right. After another round of drinks, she looked at her watch.

“Time to eat?” Brian asked. “I know a quieter place nearby. Want to meet me there?” The girls all stopped talking and looked at Luci.

“Why don’t you go,” Becka said. “Tomorrow is Saturday. You can sleep in.”

“If I can get there,” Luci said as she arose and tottered off balance.

“Those drinks were pretty powerful.”

Brian took her arm. “You’ll do fine.” He walked her to her pick-up and explained where to meet him. “That’s my car over there. The grey Honda. You can follow me.”

The L & N Seafood Restaurant was indeed quieter than the Bimini Boat Yard. Luci refused any more fancy drinks, but succumbed to a glass of wine. After the second glass she found it hard to focus her eyes.

When they rose to leave, she felt the room begin to spin. She held onto the table trying to get her balance.

“You all right?” Brian asked.

“I’m not used to drinking. I don’t know if I can make it home.”

“Just drive slow. I’ll follow you and make sure you get there safe.”

When they arrived at Luci’s place, Brian pulled into the empty parking spot beside hers and got out of his car. “How are you with coffee? I think we both could use some.”

Luci hesitated. Remembering how hard it had been for her to drive in her condition, she relented. “I used to work at Jack’s Café. I know all there is to know about coffee. Come on in.”

She led the way into her apartment, stopping to put a CD into the machine before going into the kitchen.

“What you got there?” Brian asked.

“Just some oldies I copied from Pop’s LP’s before I moved here.”

Brian sat at the kitchen counter while Luci prepared the coffee. She measured some whole coffee beans and put them in the grinder. “If you’re going to have coffee … it’s got to be fresh.”

“Fresh. That’s what you are,” said Brian. “You’re not like other women I now.” Luci looked at him and blushed. “See what I mean? Gals today don’t even know the meaning of the word blush.”

Strains of, “The Great Pretender,” by the Platters drifted through the silence that ensued.

“That’s me,” Brian said. “A great pretender. I come on all sure of myself, but inside I’m a powder puff. Like now. I’m scared to death to ask you if you’d like to dance.”

“Why? Think I’ll fall?”

“Come on. I’ll hold you up.” He took her by the arm and led her to the living room. Then he held her close, moving in synchrony with the slow, half-mournful tune until the song was over.

“I can’t pretend any longer,” Brian said. “I’d like to make love to you.”

Luci stiffened and pulled back from his embrace.

“Come on, Luci.”  He brought her close again and kissed her hard on her lips. “You want it just as much as me.”

Luci tried to release herself. “Cool it,” she said, pushing him away.

They tumbled back and forth – ending in a heap on the floor. Luci extracted herself from their crumpled pile. “I think you’d better leave.”

Brian got up and smoothed his messed up hair. Staring hard at Luci, he tucked his shirt back into his pants. “Yeah. I guess I better.” He headed toward the doorway, then turned. His cheeks were the color of his hair and a wet spot had appeared in the front of his pants. “I’ll see you around.” Then he closed the door and was gone.

Luci plopped into her pushback chair and stared straight ahead. She sat in silence for a while in a daze. Did I really think I could have a fling … just to get pregnant? What kind of monster would come out of that? Another try … down the drain. Nothing but a happy hour.



Cherise Wyneken is a freelance writer of prose and poetry. Selections of her work have appeared in a variety of publications, as well as in two books of poetry, two chapbooks, a memoir, and a novel. She lives with her husband in Albany, CA where she participates in readings at various venues in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

“Love Ends” by Stephen Busby


Love ends when the man says so to the woman, one blustery afternoon on the
far northern coastline the day after they have arrived there. It’s the end, he says
to her as they sit on a bench at the deserted seafront so that at first she thinks
that he means he won’t walk any further. She looks at him again: at the side of
his face which is set hard, determination writ large there along with the fear. He
won’t look at her. He says the same thing again and she sees that he’s never said
it before in the same way; there’s no question in it anymore.

She sees herself sitting alone in some bustling café, ordering her own food, her
own life, sees her own slide towards old age clearly, without pity: it’s feasible, not
inconceivable at all. Here it is, emerging from the fog of mutual recrimination and
unbidden silences which have killed off their two years together. It stands
revealed and she sees that she can cradle it and that she has no choice now but
to do this, that it will have to be held and that perhaps she will even be helped. All
this she sees in an instant as she looks out at the waves crashing against the sea
barrier and a pigeon stands there observing her, its head cocked, waiting. Now
she need not wait any more. She turns back to look at him with a new kind of
curiosity: he’s holding his face in his hands, he who was hers, whatever that has

The man has discovered that some emotion has come. It begins down inside,
wells up in his chest and throat and shudders out, the first of several long
wrenching sobs. So it wasn’t so far away in him, it was just waiting – for the
words and once they’d been uttered they were not so unthinkable after all. He
holds his head in his hands and shakes with it as each new surprise shudders out
of him. There’s nothing he need do, nothing he need hang on to; his body’s
doing it despite him, despite his determination to stay collected on top of
whatever was there. The sobbing subsides a little then – as if nervous that it will
die before it has really gotten going – then begins again with more vigour; the
sobs are being torn out of him: up through his chest; wretched, marvellous,
humiliating and alright, everything alright, all at the same time.

The woman watches him sobbing with this new-found abandon. She’s become an
observer and she has nothing to say to him anymore. She’s pleased for him and
it doesn’t matter very much. She gets up and walks to the edge of the sea-wall.
The pigeon removes itself to a safe distance; the waves continue to crash against
the new-found calm and settled waters right at the centre of her, and some
distance away a small boat struggles to make its way forward amid the heaving
seas, its progress is slow and determined.

Love ends then as soon as a decision’s been reached, as soon as he’s decreed it.
But they’ve just arrived at the coast; they’re at the beginning of the week in the
rented cottage that he’s found: the place where life and love were going to sort
themselves out. There are plane tickets, logistics, monies paid, keys procured,
foodstuffs and deliveries arranged; there’s life: planned, timed and anticipated,
there was a map spread out in front of them, holiday time taken, someone whom
the man knew who’d already been to the cottage by the coast and then there was
the going ahead and making all the arrangements while she looked on, knowing
they were talking about all the wrong things, this life: by turns loving, hellish,
reconciled, cautious and abandoned, split with longing, with ‘unmet needs’ as the
books put it and a great all-consuming fear that each is not being loved enough,
that a life is not contained within a timetable and that now they’re here, yes here:
sitting opposite each other at the table in the little kitchen in the cottage, the old
heating has been made to work, the candles have been lit so as to make the place
homey, she thought, and the week stretches long before them.

He has a sense of foreboding: what has he done? Not the wrong thing in
speaking – no, not that but the wrong thing he thinks in doing it at the beginning
of the week. The words hadn’t been his however: they’d spoken themselves out
and now they sit here heavily upon the table between them. Well, we have a
week, he says, a week in which to separate. She nods; they’ve become business-
like again. They’ve done the workshops, watched complete strangers expose the
intimate detail of their lives, wondered about self-awareness and learned that
maturity must be earned, that it isn’t some god-given thing. Now a call to
maturity or something like it has been served up on the table and it is not the
most appetising thing. Looking at him, she argues aloud that there’s a gift in it:
this time for talking, understanding, forgiveness, healing even. She’s surprised at
the sounds as she speaks them. Not looking at her, he fears she means a time
for reconciliation, renewal, hope and the birth of something new and he knows he
won’t have it, he must be stronger than he’s been before: he must honour the
impulse which this thing in him knows to be right: to end the constant torment of
togetherness. She knows this is what he fears: that because he’s the one who’s
leaving and not her, that she’ll resort to anything which might mend them, for
she has nothing to lose. He knows that she knows he fears this, they know each
other: they’ve fucked, cried, thrown things across the room and held each other’s
souls in their arms. Suddenly they can smile at this: something’s been shared and
they eat, talk even, cautiously, about everyday things; they see with relief that
they can be ordinary, that there’s washing-up to be done, cupboards to be
opened, drawers explored, an internet to be tested and a bed to be made. That
the end doesn’t have to hang over them like a sword every instant of the day,
that yes they’ll have time together this week to talk, bring understanding to what
has happened and time too to be apart: the coastline is long, it can contain them,
separately, as they separate, slowly as adults, and it isn’t the end of the known
world: there’s dessert to come which they’ve brought with them and the night
doesn’t yet need to be thought about, what’s a week after all – – it’ll be short;
they’ll savour it they say.

Love ends again as they lie in the bed later, listening to the wind, so ferocious and
to the silence between them. Like the shoe moulded through long use to the
shape of your foot they’ve fallen together into the centre of the bed and, as with
every night, are held hugging. This is what happens before sleeping: a way to end
the day, putting little disagreements behind them, feeling the familiarity, accepting
this embrace, their shared defence against the world. He’s lying on his back and
she’s laid her head against his chest while holding him. He has his arms around
her so that she’s pulled against him while lying on her side, one of her legs is laid
over his and she listens to his breathing. With his hand he strokes her back
because she likes this and she shifts her leg slightly against his thigh. He feels an
erection stirring unbidden as it is bound to do, thickening in anticipation and she
feels it too, warm and hardening, how could she not: she knows it, they both
know how it starts, but not, this time, how it stops. He could go there easily he
says to himself: he could shift his leg slightly so that his cock would come more
into contact with her, touch engendering desire which will seek its own satisfaction
in touching while he brings her with his arms closer to him or she presses herself
harder to him (the effect is the same). But something else is hard in him: the
memory of those moments this morning when the end came, sounding so
resolute, so much a surprise.

He feels the cost of it since the beginning: the constant warfare, the
reconciliations and resignation; it’s always been harder to stop than to go on. But
the lovemaking’s almost always been beautiful: in sex they’ve found each other;
there’s been abandonment, an offering-up and a release unknown in any other
tight corner of their togetherness and so they’ve sheltered there, been nurtured
there yes surely, but, he thinks, they’ve escaped there – he knows that he has.
He thinks he knows that she won’t admit this, can’t perhaps and then somewhere
in there, so far away, so tight and concealed in a little primeval masculine place, is
an old fear: that when she makes love it’s not really with him but is rather – in
that womanly-way – so abandoned and so free that she’s no longer there for
him; she’s gone, slipped away somewhere; how hard it is to explain it: like an
absence, as if he doesn’t count (and he needs to), as if he’s a way for her to
reach somewhere private inside: somewhere closed to him, as if it could be him or
any other man which procures this for her, as if he were no more than her means
to an end, that it isn’t him whom she loves but what he gives her and giving her
something is all he knows how to do.

He doesn’t squeeze her more tightly to him and his stroking of her back has
slowed down, his erection’s subsided and he lies still on his back in the bed. All
these are the signs, they both know, which signify sleeping. Soon they’ll extricate
themselves from each other’s embrace and he’ll turn on his side, his back to her,
for he can’t sleep any other way than really alone. And she’ll lie there, equally
alone if not more so, and wide suddenly to the knowledge of separation as the
fact, real and wide open and exposed to it now because it is here – not in some
future celibate life, not in resigned spinsterhood, not in resignation at all: it’s here
in the bed with her and it is presence – for he who’s loved me is still here she tells
herself – and it is absence at the same time; it’s the fathomless pit that lies
underneath all that she’s ever done for company, to occupy and distract herself,
to persuade herself that it – that which was born in her and which she’s never
shaken off – is threatening, finally, to catch up with her and to lay its hand over
her mouth. It’s not solitude really, she knows, it’s not even being alone – for she
is happy there sometimes, so what is it? It’s all and everything which she’s always
longed and yearned for and which has escaped her, everything that was ever
withheld from her and it doesn’t have a name because words came after it, and it
doesn’t have a home – it will never be still, will never let her go. It stabs at her
then: a spear straight into the heart so that she cries out despite herself. The
man stirs suddenly but he doesn’t turn round – so he’s decided then: will he
never turn around to her again, will she never be held, won’t the tears streaming
from her ever be witnessed, won’t there be a sharing of anything again?

Love ends again the next evening when the man shrugs, puts on his coat and
walks away from the cottage towards the sea-front. He’s going out for some air
he says in a way that means he will do it alone. He reaches the public telephone
box down a side-street: love ends a little more when he gets through to the
person at the other end of the line and says that he’s done it: he’s left her, he
says, or he is leaving her, or he will leave her – one of these three, and he says it
with urgency and some exhilaration; he’s jubilant and yet solemn for he knows he
must make it seem and sound a big thing. He feels release when he says this –
just to be able to talk like this – openly again, without reserve, after the two
hellish days in the cottage where he can’t afford to allow himself feeling, he has
only a few more days to get through he says and then he’s free (yes he does use
that word). He’s waited to share this with the person who has now gone very
quiet on the other end of the phone-line, what’s going on, he thinks – has
something gone wrong? Listen, I can’t talk now, the voice says to him, but I’m
really pleased for you, then after a few more moments’ silence: it says again:
really pleased. He can hear the restraint in the voice and with a stab of sudden
fear he says: But aren’t you pleased for us – for us? Then the silence is broken
again: No, the voice tells him, and it sounds suddenly harder: I’m pleased for you.
Just for you.

Love ends on a windswept beach where two people are running along the water’s
edge, where the little waves are lapping at their legs. Are they running together or
separately, it’s hard to tell because the woman goes on running for a long while
after the man’s stopped, standing with his hands on his hips, breathing hard. He
looks at the diminishing figure of the woman who has reached the end of the
beach now, where the rock-face suddenly rises up out of the sand and where she
has begun to climb – where there are foot and hand-holds carved into the rock,
and up she goes: higher, quick and confident. She climbs way up to the grassy
ridge above and sits there, looking out at the sea and grey sky; she doesn’t look
over towards him. The man sighs and walks to the rock-face, climbs up and joins
her, taking care to sit slightly apart. Do you remember… she says as she looks
out to sea, and she does then remember: other beaches, walks and holidays they’
ve had. She begins to remember it all and to speak it, as much as she can, from
first meetings through hands that touched, shared secrets, terrible wrenching yet
temporary separations, through lovemaking in new places – those woods high up
in the hills, where you got stung by those nettles and I kissed you better, that
awful restaurant, that retreat we both signed up for and where it was so hard to
sleep apart?

Slowly he begins too: he remembers and finds that gradually he’s freed by it, that
despite his caution there are no taboos to what can be remembered, whether or
not it all happened in exactly that way. He begins more cautiously – with primary
facts, dates and places as if afraid to wander too close to some edge with her:
the edge that is his experience of all these things and how they were felt, because
the gulf between his experience and hers has been so risky before. How did they
each live all these things then? This they’ve never discussed before – they’ve
never needed to because back then they were there inside it but some of it
festered there and infected them, he sees this now, and it ought to have been
shared. Now it begins to be spoken and he sees that there’s dignity in this, there
in the wind overlooking the northern sea: this speaking out of their time and their
life and their love. I remember the hotel in Sweden, he says, the wallpaper we
laughed about and that awful bed, we couldn’t sleep. She looks at him and smiles.
And I remember the shower, he goes on, where we made love (he’s looking out
over the sea now as he speaks this) and where you sang afterwards, after I came
out and I was in the corridor and I could hear every note, the whole hotel must
have heard us. And everyone at breakfast watching us when we came in. The
wind takes their words and carries them off out to sea as if to say: yes this, and
this, and this too – it all goes back into the waters and it wasn’t as important as
you thought, it was just experience: hard-won and bitter – yes sure but how
easily it is all shed now and given to the sea.

The man looks at the woman as they’re speaking. He’s constantly surprised by
her poise and her calm acceptance these days, now that they’re at the end of
their week. Has she really accepted it then? She no longer tries to approach him,
seems to have broken through something and – even now – is reciting what she
remembers without much emotion at all. He’s always known the many ways she’s
stronger than he, perhaps they all are: this supposedly gentler sex, and that
most of his problem may be the awe in which he holds them, he cannot see this
clearly somehow – it feels foggy when he goes there but there’s something in his
attitude isn’t there, something which means that in elevating her he’s
subordinating his own specialness and this isn’t right. But it’s hard to celebrate
who he is with her because there’s something there in her which would constantly
pull him over closer to where she sits, to her terrible emotionality, to the style of
sharing oneself which isn’t his but to which he’s always deferred. Now he watches
her profiled against the sky, the wind blowing hard and some gulls dipping and
floating in the breeze behind her. She isn’t proud, she isn’t hardened or resigned,
nor is she begging for anything anymore. She’s someone whom he once loved
fiercely with as much of himself as he could muster and whom he could still reach
out to, but he won’t.

Love ends on their last night in the bedroom when he, exhausted with it all, with
the week now almost behind them, with the constant see-saw of his thoughts
and half-decisions and regrets all so wearing, when he would simply retreat into
sleep. But this time, this last time, she won’t take his body’s refusal as final. She
moves more purposefully against him, she knows how to arouse, how to touch,
where to caress. She turns back the covers and moves slowly all over him with
her hands and her mouth and her hair and she’s whispering – it’s hard to say
whether to herself or to him – that she realises now how she’s never fully
appreciated his body before, that she sees how beautiful he is and she touches
and rubs and strokes him again. Then she sits up on her knees over him so that
he can see her full beauty: her full, brown and rounded body and she pleasures
herself. They’re both smiling but he with more sadness and his erection is hard to
sustain. Can desire come coupled with sadness, should he force himself toward
hardness, should he love her one last time, and how much might sex be removed
or removable from the rest? She won’t leave the decision to him and lowers
herself down onto his hardness for he is hard and it’s sufficient, and there is
wanting now in both of them, and when he’s slipped inside her – up so that they
are touching each other as fully as they can go – something else responds in him
and he’s there, more there than ever, as is she, and they’re looking into each
other and moving with a gentle pushing acceptance and sometimes a stillness in
which to savour, and a constant caress – of her back and buttocks, and she
sometimes of his hair and his face and his mouth which she leans forward to kiss.

Love ends finally in the train after their flight or on the station platform where
they’re standing, silent now, opposite each other. It ends in the cold climate which
separates them for they’ve not known how to experience these last hours
together – so unlike other journeys, other goodbyes. And how do you say
goodbye to someone whom you love – whom you always will (does love like this
ever die)? They stand there on the platform, their destinations very different,
minutes before the next train – his train – must take him away. She feels only
numb and – and this surprises her – a little bored: with him, with the situation,
with herself; now there’s just the longing to be alone, in bed at home, somewhere
safe, to move on to whatever’s waiting to be begun. The absence is all around
them as they stand there: it’s in all the people milling by, in the public
announcements filling the smelly station air. The absence was always there, I think
it was – and the constant covering-over of it lest its presence become too
palpable, probably it was this that won out, at the end of the day. We never said
goodbye on that platform, neither of us spoke. We kissed then I turned and
walked slowly away.

Love ends like this. It just walks away.



Stephen Busby is a traveler, writer and photographer based in the Findhorn Community, northern Scotland. His recent prose has also appeared in Cezanne’s Carrot. He also runs workshops and events on transformational themes in various countries.



“Dolls” by Nick Sansone

Middle of the shift the security-sensor beeps as the frosted-glass door swings open, and, preceded by a humid blast of wind, a customer-bald, middle-aged, no point to card-enters the shop, regards the display carousel of weighted testicle parachutes by NassToys ($14.99 each plus tax), and then churns on past the checkout counter.

“Welcome to Fantasy Adult,” I say.

The customer looks back and nods, then disappears behind the tall shelves of DVDs in the She-Male section. When the sensor chimes again a few minutes later, this time a regular comes in:  Greg D. Davis, Rental Account 13227, a man who, since I have known him to frequent Fantasy, has tallied an impressive list of felonies and misdemeanors against the store. He once came in, drunk off his ass, ranting about the lack of BDSM titles.

“Four f-ing racks of pegging and splosh, but only one rack of bondage. Demand drives the market, for fuck’s sake, and I am demanding,” he said. Had he not been using an axe as a walking stick, steadying his uneasy balance by gripping the blunt top of the blade, I may have wondered (as I did later), why he bothered to censor himself, only to then use at the next opportunity the same word he found too obscene to utter a second before. But the situation what it was, I only wondered how long until the cops
responded to the silent alarm.

Another time, though I wasn’t there to see it, so don’t quote me or anything, Mr. Davis came into the store drunk–a persistent theme–and gave the new girl Amy a roll of red duct tape, on which he had inscribed in black permanent marker several times around the spool, this love note: RAPE TAPE. (Amy had made the error of telling Mr. Davis a vulgar joke, I won’t repeat it, and he mistook her jocularity as a sign of encouragement. She quit the following Monday.)

Most troublesome for me, however, is four days ago Mr. Davis gave my girlfriend a lace bra stuffed inside a cigar box. “Why would you take that?” I asked once Sarah told me where she got her new bra, and why her breasts smelled like a bar. “You can’t accept gifts from that psychopath. Give him a week and he’ll be bringing you severed fingers in glass cases or some such shit.”

Management, the immaculate assigner of days off, the all-knowing dispenser of paychecks, has barred people from Fantasy for less serious offenses. For instance, people who get belligerent about our policy of no returns, incredulous we won’t take back their defective (read: used) vibrator. But because Mr. Davis drops an inordinate sum of cash each week, buying a Melinda Muse replica blow-up doll by Doc Johnson ($199.99 each plus tax), as well as any new title in which the starlet has appeared, when Mr. Davis misbehaves Management only whaps him on the nose with a rolled up magazine, says NO!, then forgives, such is his magnanimity.

“How’s it going tonight?” I ask Mr. Davis as he approaches the counter.

He bends the brim of his hat, a floppy, worn ball cap with the faded logo of a basketball team embroidered on the front. “Feeling fine as frog’s hair,” he says. He isn’t an elderly man, fifty-four according to the birth date listed on his account, but the wrinkles enclosing his lips like an unsolved equation give him the appearance of a longer life. Or perhaps just a harder life. My thoughts derail. In the context of my hyper-sexualized environment, I make disturbing leaps with the word harder, and like an Etch-a-Sketch I have to shake my head to erase the carnal /images of Mr. Davis. My mind, ever the survivalist, focuses on some diversionary stimuli: the magazine racks. A lanky man with gray hair and a slightly ridiculous ponytail thumbs copies of Gallery and Swank. He knocks one onto the ground, checks to see if he was spotted, then slinks away from the mess without picking it up. Jerk.

“Is Sarah here tonight?” asks Mr. Davis.


“When she work next?”

I shrug.

“All right. I guess I’ll just give her this next time I see her.” He pats his pant leg, and I snap to attention, but I say nothing. Anything beyond the standard greeting, and I risk being drawn into a conversation. I want nothing more than for the weirdo to be gone. “Onto other business… I’ve got a quick question for you.” He takes a while to ask, his breathing short and ragged.  Years of smoking, I figure. The rectangular outline of a pack of cigs bulges in his shirt pocket. “Did you get in any new Melinda Muse movies?” Melinda Muse’s fan-base has grown considerably ever since she won Best New Starlet of 2006, and Adult Video News described her as their favorite gap-toothed whore. But to Mr. Davis’s credit, he has obsessed over her long before she became popular, boring me on multiple occasions with recitations of her features: her luxurious, whiskey-colored hair, her radiant, gleaming eyes, her big gorgeous, grin. I swear I thought he was going to break into poetry. Over a porn floozy.

“Yeah. We got a few. In New Release.”

“I know, but which ones?”

With a few keystrokes, the motions made unconscious through countless repetitions, I search the database, pull up her new titles and read him the list: “Invocation, CumCocktails 12, Cock Caroling Cunts, Pacific Rimmed, and You Do Me So Hard. Pacific Rimmed is checked out though.”

“Damn,” he says. “That’s the one I really wanted, too.”

Of course it is. Had I named any other title, then that would’ve been the one he really wanted. What is unobtainable is always more desirable.

“It’s due back in a couple days. I can put it on hold.”

“I’d appreciate it.”

“Yeah, no prob.” I grab a pen and pad of Post-Its from beneath the counter and jot a note to hold the movie for Mr. Davis when it is returned.  Leaning forward to write, I see soldierly rows of Eros and Wet Glide and I.D. lubricants stocking the guts of the display case. “It’ll be set aside for you when it comes back.”

Mr. Davis, the deranged bastard, pivots on his heels and totters off without saying thank you-but then again he never does-hustling towards the New Release DVDs, humming or wheezing, I can’t be positive which.

This is technically my day off. But earlier Management ambushed me with a call at 7:45 in the morning. Still drugged with sleep, I rolled over and pounded on the alarm clock until I realized it was the phone ringing. “Huh?” I answered. I knew it was a mistake before I identified the voice. No one ever called this early unless someone died.

I drifted in and out of consciousness, catching only snippets of what was said. “Hey…we…thief…,” the voice rumbled through the receiver.


Louder this time, the voice repeated, “Hey…we…thief…”


“Wake up!” Distilled into a whip-cracking imperative, I finally recognized the voice as the fascist bark of Management. I rolled over onto my back, elbowing Sarah in the face; she stirred, then continued lightly snoring.


“Hey, it’s me. We caught the thief. Or thieves to be more accurate.  Dorsey and Derrick are no longer with us.” Management spoke of them as if they were dead. And to Management they were. He would mail them their final checks as though sending flowers to a funeral. “Look, I know this is short notice, but I called last night and couldn’t get hold of you”-last night when I was cognizant enough to read the caller ID before answering-“Can you come into today?”


“Great. See you at nine.”


“Oh,” he added, just before hanging up, “I need you to work a double.”

The receiver clicked. For awhile I lay in bed, phone at my side, watching little white spots float in front of my eyes, translucent comet tails trailing them, until the busy signal began pulsing loudly enough that Sarah protested and shifted beneath the blanket. I put down the phone and slipped out of bed.

“Where you going?” Sarah asked.  “What time is it?”

“Good morning, doll-baby.” I stretched across the bed and planted several kisses on her forehead, cheek, lips and nose. “Got called in.”

“What? You should’ve said no. We’re supposed to get groceries.”

“Yeah, I know. Management fired half the staff, though, and he needs warm bodies.” Grabbing a folded pair of khaki slacks off the chair in the corner of the room, I say, “Which reminds me: don’t pick up your cell. They’ll be calling you next.” Sarah’s phone vibrated on the nightstand. “See.”

Since we began dating, I have been protective of her. In the little ways as well as the large. Sarah was a friend of my last girlfriend, Monica Kidd. She roomed with Monica for a while once she moved to Orlando from Riverside, CA. I had only met her a couple times before Monica drowned, swept from shore by a riptide at Daytona Beach. Sarah carpooled with me to both the wake and the funeral, drawn to one another by our mutual loss. “I need to find a new apartment,” Sarah had said as we drove back from the service. “I need to find a new apartment and a job.”

“Fantasy’s hiring,” I said.

“No offense, but I don’t want to sell porn.”

“It’ll pay the bills until you find something better.”

“I guess.  But so will flipping burgers.”

“We don’t make you wear hats. Come in and fill out an app. And you can crash at my place until you get set up with a place of your own.”

“Thanks,” she said, and Sarah laid her head on my shoulder, a cruelly tender gesture. As roommates, Monica and Sarah shared a bathroom, and the scent of her hair, a strong whiff of mango-kiwi identical to the scent of Monica’s shampoo, wounded my heart. I pulled over and cried.

Management lectures me. “I’m going to need you to come in tomorrow, too. If you can. I haven’t gotten hold of Sarah yet, but she’s scheduled for tomorrow morning, so it’ll be you and her and me. One of you is going to need to pull a double with me.” Management reads my face for a reaction. I betray none. “Anyways, I went through some of the old apps and made some calls, left some messages, so hopefully we can get some fresh people in. Welcome to Fantasy Adult,” Management says, a conditioned response to the sound of the security-sensor, and it stops the conversation dead. A youngish-looking woman scampers in with her boyfriend or husband or cousin (who can tell?) lagging several steps behind. “IDs?” Management asks. The couple reaches into their wallets, presents their licenses, and Management, the grand centurion of smut, allows them to pass.  “Let me know if I can help you find anything,” he says as they head off towards the novelties, brushing past a few other customers, including Mr. Davis, who is still loitering in the New Release section.

“Now what was I saying?” asks Management.

“I have no weekend.”

“No need to be so dour, this is OT. And I really appreciate your help. So thank you.” An immature giggle erupts from somewhere in the region of the anal beads and butt plugs. “If there’s anything I can do to help you out, you know, let me know.”

“How about a raise?”

Management chortles.

“Ban Mr. Davis. That guy is a freak, and he’s been hitting on Sarah.”

“No,” Management says, and the finality with which he says it stuns me. “You’ve only been working here, what, two, two and a half years? I’ve been here for eight.  And Mr. Davis has been coming here even longer. You don’t know him. He’s a good customer. And a good person.”

“He gave that one girl rape tape.”

“An ugly rumor.”

“Fine. Whatever. But he gave Sarah a bra, and that is a fact.”

Management shakes his head and closes his eyes. “I’m going to have a smoke. I’m telling you to let it go.”

It is 9:47 p.m., two hours since he arrived, when Mr. Davis, the creepy old sleaze, finally comes to the register to checkout. He palms a stack of four DVDs in one hand and carries a Melinda Muse blow-up doll with his other. Winded from the weight of the doll, he plops the items on the countertop. “Find everything you need?” I ask.

“This ought to do it.”

I grab his movies and scan their barcodes with the pricing wand. The titles pop up on the monitor accompanied with a perky boop.

Mr. Davis cracks open his wallet. “I’m disappointed Sarah wasn’t here tonight. I brought this for her.” He removes a folded slip of paper and slides it across the counter. “Take a look.” I had planned to let it go.  Management said to let it go, and he was right. Mr. Davis isn’t going to steal Sarah away from me; she’s mine. But, no, this is too far. Enough.

I push the paper back at him, and I unleash: “I don’t know what this is, and I don’t really care, but I’m damn sick of you screwing around with my girlfriend. I know Sarah took that bra from you, but only to be polite. That’s just really weird.  And for the record, she threw that thing away once she got home.” Mr. Davis winces. I neglect to mention that Sarah trashed the undergarment at my insistence. She needed the bra she said. It was nice, had good support, good for her back, and did I know how impossible it was for her to find a bra in her cup-size? I won’t go anywhere near you if you wear that thing around me, I said.
So don’t even bother. “And I’m not about to let you pass her notes like you’re in middle school. I won’t.” I pull the blow-up doll over to the pricing wand and ask, “And what’s with these dolls? That’s just really weird, too.” I finalize the invoice. “Total’s going to be $314.29, sir.”

Through my whole reproof, Mr. Davis stood there, staring at me, motioning to speak, but I kept stomping on his protests. It had to be said.

He picks up the paper from the counter and tucks it back into his wallet. “I didn’t know she was your girlfriend. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just like her is all. She reminds me of my wife.”

“You’re married? And you’re flirting with my girlfriend? What the hell?”

“My wife is dead.”

The words pin me in place, like a note to a corkboard.

Mr. Davis removes three hundred dollar bills and a twenty. He lays them on the counter individually, as though he were dealing a hand of cards. “She was murdered,” he says, placing the final bill in front of me. “Six years ago a man named Richard Marketis broke into our house and killed her.” He seems reluctant to continue, his words mouthing air like a goldfish in a tank, but when he speaks again the story spills from him with the scripted familiarity of song lyrics. “I was at a Magic game,” he says. “I had season tickets. Never missed a game. Marketis, that evil son of a bitch, broke into our house sometime during the fourth quarter. Bethany was sleeping on the couch. She never slept in our bed without me. Said it was too lonely. I know what she means.” He scratches at his face trying to dab away moisture covertly. “She was asleep on the couch and this miserable fuck woke her up while he was digging through our drawers. ‘Greggy’ she called him. That’s what the bastard said at the trial. The last word my wife spoke was my name, and I wasn’t there to answer her. I was at a goddamn game.” He sniffles and swallows and shifts his weight from one foot to the next. “He panicked and he strangled her.” Mr. Davis is no longer looking at me, seems to have forgotten I am here, because when I say I’m sorry, he says, “What?” as if he were rousted from a daydream, as if he were back home watching, unable to defend his wife as her murderer forced out her last breath.

In the months after Monica died, I often found myself standing on the shore of Daytona Beach, the hoots and taunts of children at play mixing in my ears with the faint scream sailing from a fleck offshore, only to have someone speak and find myself holding up the checkout line at the grocery store, or parked at a green light.

“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “I didn’t know.”

“I know.”

I peel $5.71 from the register and give him his change.

“Keep it,” he says.

The gesture nearly cripples me. “Thank you,” I say, taking his money, knowing guilt will only prevent me from spending it until I’m low on beer. I want to apologize more, but felt a third would be insulting and gratuitous. I detested the meaningless condolences from friends and relatives who had never met Monica, but felt bad for me, because that’s all they gave me: the obligatory sympathy, and then they left for the spread of free food, unwilling to let me share why I cared for Monica.  “Do you have any pictures with you?” I ask Mr. Davis.

“Of course,” he says, brightening. He reopens his wallet, pulls out a photograph with furry, worn edges, and passes it to me. In the photo, Bethany sits on a red porch swing in front of a flower box filled with azaleas outside a big window with wooden shutters, a crape myrtle in bloom behind her. “I took this picture when she wasn’t expecting it. I never could catch a genuine smile any other way.” Bethany stares at something out of frame, resting her slender arm across the back of the porch swing, baring a large smile that displays her crooked teeth, and the rings with familiarity. I know that snaggle-toothed grin: Melinda

“She’s beautiful,” I say.

“She was.”

As I return the photo and bag his items-the doll, the skin flicks-I tell Mr. Davis, “I made Sarah throw the bra away. She wanted to keep it.”

“Thanks,” he says.

I slip the receipt inside one of his bags. “Have a good evening,” I say, though I know he won’t. With a grunt, he shoulders the burden of the doll and pushes open the door. The security sensor beeps so long I think he’s just flat-lined. And I watch as the night claims him.




Nick Sansone is an MFA student at Emerson College.  This is his first published short story.  His poetry has previously been publish The Wilmington Blues, The Phoenix, Mi-Po, and the Orlando Sentinel.

“letter to joe w/enc.” by Victoria Pynchon


I enclose
two dollars and fifty cents
of pre-paid envelope to stuff
with any goddamned thing
the way the moon pried
open last night’s sky
or Catherine’s smile
split the morning light

or even love, which is just
the way we hold everything,
grief and fear as well as
joy, the mystery squirming

in our embrace.  Hey! walking
the dog I saw for the first time
this morning the way
pine cones grow,

straight up, perched precariously
at the center of each branch,
army green, they looked
like soft grenades that might

explode at my touch.



Victoria Pynchon has previously published her poetry in Poet Lore, Kalliope, The Ledge, and Transformation; her short fiction in the sadly defunct Kudzu and her literary non-fiction in the Southern New Hampshire University Journal.  She blogs at the Settle It Now Negotiation and IP ADR Blogs.  Her professional articles on mediation and negotiation have been widely published in the legal press and law journals since she abandoned the rights and remedies business (litigation) to enter the interests and consensus community (mediation).  She founded the r.kv.r.y. literary journal in the Fall of 2004 in gratitude for all those who had so freely given to her in the preceding ten years of sober life.

(Letter to Joe w/enclosures was previously published in Kalliope)


“The Spool Table” by Carol Wissmann

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We laughed together—sharing that knowing that comes from living through the same era.

I still have it, I said. It’s here in the den, doing duty as a desk for the telephone.

The physical distance between us diminished, tied together, as we were, by the telephone lines. Time turned backwards.

Where the ubiquitous spools originated, I knew not. But every self-respecting hippie had one. They came in all sizes—perhaps reels for the miles of cable that now linked us. Industrial bobbins that, when turned on their sides, served as tables from kitchen to bedstead.

I remember it! she blurted. Her recollection mingled with mine.

I even painted it,”
I continued, with barn-red paint, left from painting the dog-house—my attempt at interior design, I suppose.

We shared another laugh.

Oh, and for years I kept that mille fiore candle on it,
I recalled.

Ah, yes! The candle of a thousand flowers, the most beautiful in my collection of many. Coupled with the spool table, no hippie-home would be complete without candles, lots and lots of candles lighting cost-cutting nights keeping electricity at a minimum.

Oh my God, she fairly screamed. Her voice sent the phone lines vibrating.  I remember the candle, too!

We talked on, reliving memories—the spool rolling easily back and forth between the two of us. Occasionally our times together had been tangled, like chain snagged and caught in twists and knots. But on that night on the telephone, the thread between us unraveled as easily as a ball of dropped yarn. And line strung from some long-ago spool, now connected the shared memories of two old friends.




Carol Wissmann has been a freelance writer for over 60 business, trade, consumer, and university periodicals. A frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, she shares her business and sales expertise in her popular “Profiting from Periodicals” workshop, tutors students in English composition, and dabbles in semi-retirement from her Gig Harbor, Washington home.

“Implements of Poetry” by Anne LaBorde

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(Harlow’s heart
A corset
…The Silk stockings
I Used to wear

Pouted lips

Crooked crescent-moon fingers
A platinum blonde
Body suit
Black flowers
…All the broken love
And your mother’s
Favorite apron)



Anne LaBorde is a writer whose essay Kleenex appeared in the very first issue of r.kv.r.y. 

“When Something Happens” by S. J. Powers

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There once was a woman who turned forty-something when something happened. It happened after her shift, happened as she was laughing with her co-workers one late Friday night as she gingerly walked through the coffee station to the bar, half ran through pitch black, tripped over a mound of black rubber mats, and Splat! like that, a decade of waiting tables was over. Cracked ribs, fractures of the spine, not that a diagnosis mattered. The woman couldn’t sit, let alone lift; she could barely eat, let alone serve, though she could crawl from the bed to the ashtray. Lying in bed, ashtray to belly, the woman lay smoking and smoking, sucking down the drags of delicious poisons as if she could exorcise her pain through insufflation.

For one long week, the woman lay immobile, unable to tend to herself or her husband, the sheets needing changing. The stench of pain rose from her ribs, her loins, her pores, though her husband did not mind or notice. He was not a noticing kind of man. He was having trouble on the job and could focus only on who was doing what to whom, aware that his attempts to make a better impression, gain more respect, garner a more prestigious title, were being undermined by one slick, overly competitive, overly-after-shaved co-worker.

On the following weekend, his eyes blinked opened from this state of catatonic concentration on his standing in the world, his worth in the eyes of his brothers, his parents, his bowling buddies, and as an afterthought, his wife. When he realized his belly was empty, he asked about the likelihood of dinner.

She sighed.

In the early days of their marriage, she threw pots and glassware and stormed out of rooms, shaking pictures off the wall. Married now for many years, her anger turned into habitual crankiness caught in the cage of her ruined ribs. It churned in her gut, ached in her chest and lodged in her back complaining of her years of abuse. She begged her doctor for better meds and left his office clutching a scrip for a mild narcotic in her shaking hands. The new pills, small but potent, acted like magic brooms sweeping away annoyances like husbands and what was left of her appetite. Since the accident, she’d lost weight, muscle mass and strength. She would never again balance a heavy tray of plates in the air like a well-toned dancer in the Royal Ballet. But he could stand now.  She could walk. She was mobile enough to ignore her husband’s ignoring her and not care.

The pills had many effects, but did not sweep away her craving for nicotine. When one day her friends from the restaurant came by to see her she found herself smoking half a pack of cigarettes in a few hours. Chubby Laura and near-sighted Paula extolled her new thinness while skinny, twenty-something Susan blew her nose into Kleenexes and coughed up half a lung, passing her cold into the chest of the forty-something woman, the bug morphing within twenty-four hours into bronchitis.

Now coughing against her cracked ribs, every movement took her breath away,a single curl of smoke like needles in her heart. Now every searing puff she inhaled gave way to visions of her mortality. When she gathered her strength, she got off the bed and hunted up the lighters, matches, and packs of smokes hidden in the house, her car, and, her husband’s car. She dumped them in the garbage and took the garbage to the dump, sitting in a state of anxiety and exhilaration as she watched the last shred of tobacco being crushed into pulp.

Now I am a non-smoker, the woman announced, and as such, her husband warned her, there were certain precautions she would need to take lest she fall back into ‘old habits.’ Old habits indeed, she scoffed. What euphemism. She was an avid reader, an active listener, an ‘A’ student in college, excelling in logic and interested in the social sciences. She knew quite a bit about addiction she liked to call it as she saw it, enough to know for instance she should stop drinking coffee and start drinking tea. There was no getting around it, she needed to stop doing everything she associated with nicotine.

Which was just about everything.

At a restaurant one night with her husband and one of his clients, the waiter offered them wine, which she brushed aside, only to turn to the client, a British man who only smoked when he drank. He offered her his opened pack of cigarettes. Refusing, she explained: her addiction to nicotine was like an alcoholic’s to booze. One cigarette would open a Pandora’s box of hundreds more.

The Brit, eying her skeptically, lit up. The woman shut her eyes, turned her head away, and breathed in the pungent smell coming from a pack that was stale from disuse. Old and welcoming, it called to her nose, her mouth, her lungs, her hands, every cell, molecule, atom standing at attention:Hello my not so old friend.Pushing down sensation, she forced herself to remember:Not smoking, her bronchitis had healed and her allergies vanished. Everything smelled better, looked better, felt better.  Everything of course but the non-smoking part.

With the non-smoking part came food, for now that she’d given up one pleasure another took its place. And eat she did, until her stomach felt like it was going to burst through her skin and still she kept feeding it and still ever more, as if with no more cigarette to mark the end of a meal, there was no end.

The woman understood that the psychology of addiction to substances was as complex as the psychology of food. Instead of feeding her addiction, she fed her gut, filling her ever gnawing mouth-need as reward for abstaining from the one thing in the world she wanted more than anything else. And thus she ate and ate, all the while understanding one other thing – theory did not change the fact or the face of her hunger which seemed to swell with every passing hour. She didn’t know what would. She could not imagine what would end the miserable nagging nicotine desire, eradicate the loss she felt, or the memories of how she felt smoking – so much like herself,the self she’d always known.  Who was she now?

Stepping out of the shower one morning, the woman glimpsed herself naked in the mirror, glimpsing the truth of what she’d become.  She was fat.

Lying in bed, her muscles had grown soft. In a matter of a few weeks, they’d mutated into fat – fat arms, fat ass, all ten fat, nail-bitten fingers. Was it her imagination that friends who had always been fat eyed her knowingly and grinned?  Seeing the bulk of her, her husband went from one pack a day to two. Quite rapidly, his face had thinned and his suits hung, the folds at his waist vanished, his feet floating in size ten shoes.

She decided to hit the malls, and hit them running, though in truth she did not intend to run. She would walk, gain her strength back, lose a few pounds and kick a few endorphins her way in the process.For without her cigarettes, or the benefit of the athletics of waitressing, her serotonin levels were low.  Very low.  She walked for hours, popping back pills, walking until her legs felt rubbery and her feet complained; her lungs expanding, deflating, and expanding again,she walked past stores, food emporiums, fussy children, slutty teenagers, women wearing black polished toenails and carrying Gucci bags.  She walked round and round the mall until she felt something like the first flush of love. and her feet glided over the marble floors.Now, walking through the stores, strolling up and down the muzaked aisles, she fell in love with new clothes, new music, new power tools, crystals, candles, tarot cards, self-help books.  Her facility at addiction-trading so remarkable that soon salesclerks were calling her by name and others had memorized her credit card.

But where to go with it all?  ‘Things’ had already overtaken every closet, every storage unit, every surface, her husband silently sidestepping the bags piled around the house. Soon she herself had difficulty locating the floor, the couch, the beds, the kitchen cupboards. When her husband apparently had trouble finding his things, he took notice.

“What’s this costing me?” he asked. “Where’s my grey shirt?” She ran out and bought him ten shirts. “I can’t find my watch, my shaving cream, my shoe polish.”  She ran to the mall and bought him twenty more of everything. Filling the house, she began on the attic, the garage, her neighbor’s garage….

Eventually the news that something had happened to her reached her old college friends who dropped by one afternoon, wishing to help. They stood tall, lean and robust, huddled next to boxes and bags piled everywhere, their judgments in the furrowing of their brows, the slit of their eyes. The lawyer suggested yoga, the social worker meditation, the project manager cleaning help. They all advised tofu and cucumbers for lunch. In the college dorms, they’d once sampled a few marijuana cigarettes, now her college friends worked in environmentally protected, smoke-free offices where they accumulated sick days and pension funds. What could they know of her plight? When she told them that their understanding of addiction was not what they saw on ‘reality’ TV, they soon left.

Left to herself, the woman suddenly felt older than her forty-something years. She looked at the stretch marks on her stomach and thighs, at her baggy-kneed stretch pants, overstuffed house, depleted bank account, and knew it was time to get help. Plucking a hypnotist’s name from the phone book, she stuffed all ten fat toes into a pair of boxy gym shoes and headed downtown where help was plentiful. Jesus Saves. Palms Read. Bodies Massaged. The signs shimmered in the heat.

Summer sales in full bloom, she eyed a pair of silver sandals for her swollen feet, envisioned a fitting pair of wings for her husband (would that he would fly away!)  People under shady umbrellas on the patio of a café, sipping cool beverages and munching on shrimp salad and croissants: she could taste the bite of the shrimp, feel the creamy chocolate froth of a shake on her parched, peeling lips. Unable to turn her gaze away, she hungrily watched the waitresses balancing their heavy trays on their powerful, bronzed arms, their sturdy, tan legs bustling them indoors and out, and though it felt like another lifetime ago, the woman had clear memory of what it felt like to have muscle and might.

She recalled the chaotic rhythms, from kitchen to dining room, coffee to bar, station to station, rushing on strong, sturdy legs, arms pumped, trays whirling over customer heads, and a soft pad of bills in the pocket of the apron tied twice around her once tiny waist at the end of the night. She saw herself working with her friends, talking and laughing with them after their shift, her remembrance not of a job, but of a gathering of sweat laden arms, flushed hard-working faces, and a friendship, a camaraderie, fulfilling as dope.

She turned onto Main Street, the hypnotist’s office just a few blocks away, into a throng of people moving in the opposite direction, and backed herself up against the brick and mortar of an office building, fighting the instinct to turn, grab cab, head home. She was forty-something and something had happened to her, though sometimes she wondered if what happened was fate or simply folly, the universe as chaotic as it often felt. If there was a reason she fell, she could not infer it, though in time she would understand that there was one. Sometime down the road she would find a new career (women’s clothing store owner), a new love (a fine woman) a new life (the gay life). But for now, the woman only knew that she was fat and that her credit cards were maxed. That she’d suddenly become old and bloated and that her back ached as she now pushed through the traffic pushing against her, the air stifling hot and filled with tyrannical fumes, everyone, it seemed, with a lit cigarette in their upheld hand.

S. J. Powers is currently completing a collection of short stories entitled I Will Tell You This. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications such as Another Chicago Magazine, Green Flash, Happy, Khimairal Ink, Off the Rocks, SmokeLong Quarterly, StoryQuarterly, SWELL, and elsewhere. She has received two Illinois Arts Council prizes and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.