“Genesis” by Nicole Robinson

frankenstein
Image first published in Rolling Stone, used here courtesy of Victor Juhasz, artist

1

Among the trash and television when
the eleven o’clock news shuffled the Gulf war home
between the smiles of broadcasters, a little moment
gunned back: my mother threw chairs, not bombs, not bullets.
Luck gave in like a levy breaking, light creeping in. Her screams
became a current I could ride on the linoleum floor
of that apartment. The asphalt of the parking lot
looked different in day, then night was harder,
harder still was imagining a desert storm, all the people
on the screen uprooted, so easily muted.

2

It’s as simple as getting lost
in sky, or tremors of water; it’s all language
spilling. Time kept moving, kept its frame
inside seconds. One war ended.
Others would begin. At thirteen
I moved in with a new family. Silence still
shreds silence, the inside of an answer
I almost understand. How do I rip apart
that sky, climb into memory? It’s easy.
Go to the water, find a shell or a cold
stone with a hole in it. Everything leaks through.
But I will not say it is easy to hold.

3

Some say before us there was just
earth, vegetation, mangos growing, then
dropping, and carrots digging
inside land. Almost like history
I keep promises to myself silent.

4

You can measure things
through seasons. Staple a day
to the sun, a menstrual cycle
to the moon. Eventually
days turn to years
and years turn right back
to you. Memory is black, and truth:
the purple cracks inside.

5

First the sea creatures: everything you cannot
see but know when one brushes your leg
it’s there, sculpted like war,
like 1995 when the U.S. bombed Bosnia
without saying much but its name:
Operation Deliberate Force. I know
hands can open softly like a shell casing,
then fingers send bullets speeding.
Swim in any body of water. You will feel held
like birds who rely on sky, wind patterns that map out
migration. In moments when I’m less human I understand.

6

I built a shrine of stones and shells on my towel, later
watched a bug attempt to burrow there, confused
without knowing. Always we lose the beginnings.
Belonging blurred into the mess of longing.
An eagle over Lake Erie with a fish in his talons
was hungry. We’re all hungry, and I often forget
we’re all forgetting. Even after
the water doesn’t believe in the shore, or doesn’t
not believe in the shore, it lips up and rolls back
and repeats the same reeling motion. If I could
believe in something I’d believe in the shell casing
opened like a flower on the shore.

7

There is water, land, and sky. On the plane
I cannot see what’s ahead of me.
The window is too small.
There is no end, just a runway
and then, sky shifting. One moment
it’s clouds, a little light, horizon holding
its colors tight, then it becomes land, perfectly
straight roads lit up, veins to tap, another
cluster of lights, mapped scars to examine.

 

 

 

Nicole Robinson is the Program and Outreach Coordinator for the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. She is the author of the chapbook The Slop of Giving In, The Melt of Letting Go. She received her MFA in poetry from Ashland University, and currently lives in Kent, Ohio with her partner, Deb, and their greyhound, Bill.

Read an interview with Nicole here.

 

“I Can’t Help You” by Millicent Accardi

I Can't Help You
Image first published in Rolling Stone, appears here courtesy of Victor Juhasz

I can’t help you kick
The drug you call pancakes,
Or the replacement
You call syrup.
Your life has been
One long sweet taste
Of drama. You came nearly
Close to finishing
In many ways:
The swig of strong
Medicine. The twists
And burns
Of what and why
You thought
You were and are.
I remember
The night you screamed
At Dad saying
You were dancing
On his grave and to mom
You wished her
Back on the floor
Near the empty
Aspirin bottle the day
Other sister found her.
As a family, we have
Been through the recommended
Books, the last minute doctors
You gave up on moments
Before the truth was revealed.
We have been close
To finding the border,
Crossing over into sanity.
We have sucked it up
And loved you while
The trail of white water
You left behind churned
Up in our wake. At once
We were glad angels
Loaning you money.
At next, we were worse
Than the yellow devils
Of your irises, reflected
Upon us as you stared
Us down into oblivion
When we asked about
The missing tablets.
This is what it is like to live
Inside a struggle,
Just a kiss beyond
A fairy tale destination.
For which there is no middle
Ground, no training wheels,
No prince, no magic potion,
No deep red apple, no sugar
Plum house, no clever mice,
No breadcrumbs, no red hood,
No glass slippers, no pumpkin,
No wild wishing brook,
No monster or glass coffin
In your woods.
There is no gate to hold onto
As you swing back and forth.

 

 

Millicent Accardi is the author of two poetry books: Injuring Eternity and Woman on a Shaky Bridge. She received fellowships from the NEA, California Arts Council, Barbara Demming Foundation and Canto Mundo. A second full-length poetry collection Only More So is forthcoming from Salmon Press, Ireland in 2012.

Read an interview with Millicent Accardi here.

 

“The Miracle” by Heather Harris

Temple
Image courtesy Victor Juhasz, artist, first published by Sleeping Bear Press.

did not come when I asked for it, when
with head bowed and arms outstretched
hands resting on shoulders practically
crumbling beneath me I begged for the
suicide march of his cells to stop, no –

it came a year later when that pane of
stained glass splintered in my hands, I
ran to the bathroom to see a light blue
fleck floating precariously in the white
of my eye.

The miracle was when
with the lightest touch of my fingertip
it lifted out clean.

 

 

Heather Harris was born, raised, and currently lives in Akron, Ohio. She has been other places in between, but this has largely proven to be irrelevant.

Read an interview with heather Harris here.

 

“Trust Because” by Nicole Robinson

Trust Because
Image first published in Mother Jones, appears here courtesy of Victor Juhasz

the sun is not stitched in with rays,
because words are a tongue
and have their own mysterious sex,
because I rarely allow another
to make me come, because unlike a willow
tree, I don’t understand how
to give in, how to let the breeze be
the only one with control, because
if I could give in and trust
I’d want to trust the redbud tree
that snapped in the windstorm, its branches
stretched out, the way its leaves have stayed
green for days without any connection
to its roots, until my soul shifts
into the coup in Honduras, some other School
of Americas tragedy, I’d want to trust
a little girl that’s there now, jumping rope
and singing without knowing what a coup is
or why the shouting sounds so angry until
my soul shifts into the woodpecker
beating his beak against bark,
the sound of it, something round,
a hole to hide out until I can find the world.

 

 

Nicole Robinson is the Program and Outreach Coordinator for the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. She is the author of the chapbook The Slop of Giving In, The Melt of Letting Go. She received her MFA in poetry from Ashland University, and currently lives in Kent, Ohio with her partner, Deb, and their greyhound, Bill.

Read our interview with Nicole here.

 

“The Edge of Water” by Kevin Jones

The Edge of Water
Illustration by Victor Juhasz

That November after Iraq, after all the surgeries on my leg, after I could get around with crutches instead of a wheelchair, after the bruising was only a memory and the concussion toned down to a few minor headaches that only bothered me in bright sunlight or movie theatres, I found myself in California again.

I was having a beer with my best friend, Greg, and his new wife, Chelsea. Greg was the creative director of a PR firm. He’d told me the name once, but I couldn’t remember. He seemed to jump companies every other week and all of their names sounded the same to me. The bar was his idea. He said that I needed to get out more and that he wasn’t going to allow me to spend my entire convalescent leave in my hotel room with the shades drawn. He was talking about his new hobby, real estate.

“You should look into getting something, Paul,” he said. “The market is totally stacked for buyers right now.”

“Right, stacked.” I stared down at his wedding ring. It looked like he’d won the Superbowl.

“I know you don’t have a lot of cash,” he said. “But I can put you in contact with some people. Pull a few strings, get you a good deal.”

“I’m still stationed in Hawaii, why would I want something here in California?”

“Investment. Besides, you aren’t going to be there that much longer, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said, sipping on my drink. Greg loved dark beer so we’d met at a British pub downtown. They didn’t have anything Mexican so when the bartender asked what I wanted I told him “Anything that isn’t the color of mud.” What I got was something that looked and tasted like overpriced Budweiser.

Greg kept trying not to look at my leg, at the brace I’m only allowed to take off in the shower. He was trying to be casual about it, but when you’re deliberately trying  not to look at something it’s that much more obvious. Chelsea wasn’t any better. With her slick, pageboy haircut and designer clothes she looked like someone out of a silent movie: Dorothy Parker in Prada. She kept staring at me and I wondered if she was going to say something. I wore a beanie to keep my head warm but you could still see the shrapnel scars on my neck. When I’d had enough, I looked directly into her eyes, smiling, and she quickly dropped her gaze to my arm resting on the table between us.

“That’s an interesting tattoo,” she said, touching the inside of my left forearm. Exposed from where I’d pushed up the sleeves of my thermal shirt was the black silhouette of a winged skull with crossed tridents behind it, the words Aut Vincere, Aut Mori in Latin below, USMC in Old English script above.

Victory or Death.

Greg looked out the window, watched rain spatter against panes, run into gutters.

“He’s got a bunch,” he said.

“Really?” Chelsea looked at me with new interest. Diamonds hung in her ears like stars.

“One or two,” I said.

“One or two?” Greg laughed. “Christ, what have you got, really, fifteen or sixteen now?”

“One less than I used to. The surgeons took care of the one on my leg.”

Chelsea looked down at her amaretto sour, back up at me. She had brown eyes with long, thick lashes that made me think of someone else.

~

My team was coming back from patrol. There were five of us in the Humvee: Ortiz was driving; Alexander, Weatherford, and Simone were in the back seat. I rode shotgun. It was surreal, the drive. We had just spent three days in the ass end of the city looking for insurgents. Sixteen hour patrols, trying to scrounge up any source of intel we could find, any sign of where the bad guys might be. Kicking in doors when people wouldn’t open them for us, staring into the faces of children and old men. People we terrified with our helmets and goggles and rifles. Now, here we were, after all that, stuck in traffic.

“Just like L.A., right Sergeant?” Ortiz said. “Just like home.”

“If this is what L.A. is like it’s no wonder y’all can’t fucking drive,” Weatherford said, reaching over the seat with his huge, dark hands and smacking Ortiz on the helmet.

I turned around and looked at him. “I’ve been to D.C., Weatherford,” I said. “It’s no fucking picnic either.”

“Too true, too true,” he said. “But I’ll sure as shit take the Beltway over this bullshit any day of the fucking week.” He reached into his IBA and pulled out a cigarette.

“Let me have one of those,” I said. He looked at me.

“Thought you didn’t smoke.”

“I don’t. Mission’s over, we’re in one piece, I feel like relaxing. That okay with you, Lance Corporal?” I was fucking with him by pulling rank. When there weren’t any officers around I never made anyone call me Sergeant. They were my friends, my team. Ortiz was the only one who addressed people by their rank, a habit he hadn’t broken yet, born of his time in Boot Camp and the School of Infantry the year before. More than once I’d told him if he didn’t relax I’d shoot him myself.

Weatherford handed me a smoke, then his lighter. “It’s your lungs, man,” he said. “But I will collect later.”

“Deal.”

Alexander said, “Don’t talk about being in one piece. You’ll jinx us.”

Weatherford snorted a laugh. “Fucking superstitious bullshit.”

“Whatever, dog,” Ortiz looked over the steering wheel at the crowds and traffic all around us. “It’s bad luck to talk about how good things are when we’re not back at the FOB yet.  It’s…” He thought for a minute. “Tempting fate.”

I took a deep drag off of my cigarette, coughed once, exhaled.

“See,” Weatherford said. “I knew you didn’t smoke. That’s a waste of a good cigarette right there.”

“Fuck you,” I said. “I’ll buy you more when we get back.”

“Damn straight.”

We drove another few blocks and traffic slowed to a crawl. There was some kind of accident up ahead. People shouting, waiving their arms. Some guy in a polo shirt and shitty slacks had a cell phone up to his ear. I finished half of my smoke, rolled down the window, and tossed it out into the street. We stopped at the edge of the intersection and that’s when I saw the woman.

“Heads up,” I said.

She walked out of a nearby building and made her way towards us. Everyone in the Humvee turned to watch. She looked left and right, nervous, taking small, hesitant steps across the pavement.

“Sergeant…” Simone’s voice from directly behind me. I could hear him adjusting in his seat to bring his weapon around and point it at the woman.

“Wait,” I said. “Just a second. She’s alone. Something’s up.”

I’d never seen a woman travel without a male escort in Iraq the entire time I’d been there. I had my own rifle turned outboard, the barrel pointing out of the window as she approached me. Plastic bags blew across the street like tumbleweeds. I kept the muzzle aimed at her chest.

Her body was hidden behind the black folds of her burka and all I could see were her eyes, dark brown against the pale mocha skin of her face. They were beautiful, with long, dark lashes and an intensity, an energy I’d never seen before or since.

“This is insane,” Alexander said. “She must need some kind of serious help or something if she’s coming to talk to us in public like this.”

“She must need food,” I said. “Or water. She must have kids.”

“Sergeant?” Ortiz motioned at the road ahead of us. The traffic had cleared. It was okay to go now. “We can tell Civil Affairs or whoever when we get back to the FOB. This is their kind of shit, not ours.”

The woman continued towards us, walking into the street now.

“Just a sec, Ortiz,” I said, reaching down to get a bottle of water and some rations from my pack. “COIN.  Hearts and minds, remember? Let me give her something and we’ll go.”

Then she detonated.

~

“Well,” Chelsea said. “You look pretty good, considering.”

“Considering what?” I said.

“You know.” She nodded towards my crutches, the brace on my right leg. I could sense her discomfort, wondered what she’d tell Greg in their car on the ride home. “Greg told me it was bad. You were lucky I guess.”

“Yeah, I’m lucky.” I said. “My leg? The docs at the combat hospital told me that it’s always going to look this way.” The skin was covered with long, erratic scars still prominent despite hours of skin grafts. “You’re right, Chelsea, I’m lucky. Lucky that I was ducking down behind the door of the Humvee when the blast went off. Lucky I only got “light shrapnel” over the entire right side of my body. Lucky I wasn’t looking directly at the explosion, like Ortiz, who lost his eyes, or Simone, who’d taken his helmet off right before we stopped and was killed instantly.”

Chelsea looked down at the floor. Greg leaned across the table towards me.

“Dude,” he said in a low whisper. “Relax. People are staring.”

I looked around and noticed that the bar had grown quiet. I took a large drink of my beer and felt my fists unclench, my heart beating in my temples. Chelsea looked at me, said something, but I couldn’t make it out. For a moment, everything became muffled, like I was underwater, and I wondered if it was the swelling in my brain coming back. The doctors told me to stay away from alcohol, but that was over a month ago, and I was only on my first beer.

“What?” I said to Chelsea in what I hoped was a quieter voice. Around the room people drank and laughed and shimmered in my vision. After a moment sounds became clear again.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

I finished my beer, stared at the empty glass, wondered if I should order another. Greg beat me to it. “Two more,” he said, flagging down a waitress as she walked by.

“It’s okay,” I said to Chelsea. “It’s just…”

“What?” Greg leaned in close, almost whispering. “It’s just what?”

“I ordered them to stop,” I said. “Ortiz, my driver, he hadn’t even been in the Corps for a fucking year yet.” I looked around the room, noticed a woman with long, straight hair the color of snow sitting at the bar across from our table. I watched as she drank a glass of white wine, waiting, hoping for her to make eye contact with me, but she never did. It doesn’t matter; I wouldn’t have known what to say to her. I remembered the blast, the way Ortiz’s eye sockets looked like they were packed with jelly, the sounds of screams that took me a long time to realize were my own. “Simone’s wife had a baby while we were over there. A girl.” I looked at Greg. “He never got to hold her, to meet her. All because I ordered them to stop.”

“You didn’t know.”

“I should have,” I said. “It’s not like it was the first time I’d been there.”

Back in my room at the Naval Hospital in Hawaii, a Purple Heart still sat in its box, unopened, on my nightstand.

“You need to think about the future,” Greg said. “About what you’re going to do next when all of this is over with.”

“I can’t think that far ahead.”

“Start.” He took another sip of his beer. “You talk to your dad lately?”

“He sends me an email every now and again,” I said. “You know my dad; he blames the president for what happened to me.”

“He may have a point,” Chelsea said.

I looked at Greg. “You know we’ve never been that close.”

“Yeah, well, I read somewhere that traumatic injury can change that.” He laughed. “Didn’t you used to go to the beach together?”

“Yeah, when I was a little kid. Jesus, I’d forgotten about that. When my parents were still married, we used to rent a cabin near Bodega Bay at the end of summer each year. What made you think of that?”

The last Labor Day weekend we spent together as a family before everything imploded, my father rented a cabin on the beach for us. It was so cold there, and I wondered how that was possible when it was still summer. On the last day, he took me down past the sand dunes and we walked along the shore, my feet numb and pink in the icy water. We went into the surf together and I held onto his leg as the waves crashed into us. I was small, just a kid, and I was afraid that the current would carry me out to sea. I don’t think my dad realized that, just by being there, he was saving my life. That just by letting me hold onto him, at the edge of the water, he was keeping me from washing away with the tide. It’s the last good memory I have of my father, and I can’t even see his face in it. Just the waves washing over us, my arms wrapped around his leg, and the sea stretching on forever to the end of the world.

“We spent a weekend up there about a month ago,” Greg said. “I remembered you used to talk about it.”

“It’s been years.”

“Call him. Let him know how you’re doing.” He dropped a bone colored business card onto the table in front of me. “And call this guy. I’m telling you, he’ll hook you up with a good deal on a house.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Hey.” Greg leaned across the table and squeezed my arm. “There are other things you can do with your life, that’s all I’m trying to say.”

Even with all of the physical therapy I’d been doing, the doctors told me it could be months, maybe years, before I ever ran again, and that my military career was probably over. I’d never really thought about reenlisting, but hearing that I couldn’t made me realize that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

It didn’t feel right, me sitting there, enjoying a cold beer in a bar while people I knew were still overseas. Still patrolling at night, kicking in doors, looking for bad guys. Today, four civilian contractors were found on the side of the road next to their burned SUV, shot in the head, execution style, left to bloat and rot in the afternoon sun. Last week a truck full of Mississippi National Guardsmen were killed when their convoy drove past a car rigged with explosives. The week before that, an Air Force jet got the wrong coordinates and dropped a bomb on someone’s apartment, killing an entire family. They sent a Civil Affairs team to apologize on behalf of the United States, but there wasn’t anyone left to talk to.

We stayed for a few more beers and then Greg took me back to my hotel. The next day I flew to Hawaii where the Naval Hospital released me back to my unit. To the Rear Detachment. Everyone else was still over there. Still fighting.

~

During the next few months in Hawaii, where the entire world was a shock of green and blue, and high, wet heat that made my uniform stick to my skin, Command made me see the chaplain once a week. I nodded a lot. I told him I was fine. I said that I looked forward to my leg fully healing so that I could get on with my life. I said that even though the doctors figured out that my leg would heal, I knew my time in the Marine Corps was coming to an end.

“So, what are you not telling me, son?” The chaplain said. “What are you still afraid of?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It already happened.”

“You ever talk to anyone else about this? About what happened?”

“No, sir,” I said. “I’m okay, really. I’m fine.”

~

Today, at the barracks, in my room, there are a dozen emails on my computer. All of them from my father. All of them unopened. There are letters from Simone’s wife. Pictures of his daughter. A description of the funeral I couldn’t attend because I was still in the hospital. This morning, someone in Admin told me that Ortiz is doing better. He’s living with his mother in Baldwin Park, trying to learn Braille so that he can go to college. He turned twenty last month.

I open one of the emails from my father and it’s a photo of him and me when I was a kid. We’re standing on the beach. I’m all elbows and knees with a red pail and shovel in my hand, my father next to me with his arm around my shoulder.

I pick up the phone. I try to dial but I can’t. My hands are shaking.

 

 

Kevin Jones‘ work has been featured in The New York Times, Ink Pot, Prime Number, and the anthologies Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform and Boomtown: Explosive Writing from Ten Years of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA Program. A former Marine, he lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast where he teaches writing and literature.

Image courtesy of The Joe Bonham Project and Victor Juhasz, artist

Read an interview with Kevin Jones here.

 

“Eyes Right, Confessions from a Woman Marine” by Tracy Crow

woman on helicopter
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz, artist

When I was twenty-eight, younger than my daughter is today, I was facing the likelihood of a court-martial.

I followed a Marine sergeant down a polished corridor, past the clacking of typewriters and murmurs behind the closed doors of Military Police Headquarters, and pretended to be unafraid, as if I had nothing to hide, as if on the way there that morning I hadn’t seriously mapped out a plan for desertion. Inhaling and exhaling in the same forced rhythm of a runner pacing through a psychological wall, I was committed to a marathon of sorts, and so I was breathing in and breathing out, matching foot speed and cadence with the young Marine ahead of me: a machinated force, we were, matching left foot and right, left arm and right, until he pulled up short in front of a closed door. My toe stubbed against the heel of his boot. Acting politely unaware, he pushed open the door and stepped aside for me to enter. He wore well his role of consummate Marine, refusing the eye contact I was desperate to interpret.

“The captain will be with you shortly, Ma‘am,” he said.

I forced a smile. “Thank you, Sergeant.” After he disappeared behind the closed door, I heard those machine-like limbs working their way back down the corridor.

This was March 1987. The year Prozac made its debut. Gasoline was eighty-nine cents a gallon; the cost to mail a letter, just twenty-four cents. Televangelist Jim Bakker had self-destructed, much the same way I had, by way of sex-scandal.

 

** The remainder of this archived essay has been removed at the publisher’s request. The book from which this essay has been excerpted may be purchased at Amazon.

Read our interview with Tracy Crow here.

Tracy Crow is an assistant professor of creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the nonfiction editor of Prime Number magazine. Her essays and short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals and been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. Under the pen name Carver Greene, Crow published the conspiracy thriller An Unlawful Order, the first in a new series to feature a military heroine.

Excerpt reprinted from Eyes Right by Tracy Crow, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright (2012) by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.

 

“God’s Forgottens” by Maureen Lougen

Zues
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz, artist, first published through Sleeping Bear Press.

This ain’t a place miracles ever happen. This ain’t a place anything good ever happens.

Even the cops don’t like coming here, and they gotta come here, least once or twice a month. We get fist fights, knife fights, heads cracked by pool cues, shoulders broke by slamming chairs. Hell, two or three times a year there’s always some damn concerned citizen talking about shutting the whole place down on account a the drunks and drugs and fights and body bags that spill out into their nice clean world. But the clientele we get here, don’t nobody want ’em nowhere else, so we don’t never get closed down.

Tonight’s being quiet, all things considered, and I can tell some of the fellas are gettin’ antsy. We got all the regulars tonight. Knife and Chainsaw – don’t know as I know anybody’s real name – are at the pool table, with Godzilla holding up the corner, waiting his turn. Mercy (’cause he’s got none) and Harley are playing cut-throat poker. Crank’s sharpening darts on his boot and Shirl is at the table closest to the door, being available to her own brand of clientele as they come and go, and the rest of God’s Forgottens are taking up space across the barroom floor, smoking and drinking and doing things their Mamas wouldn’t approve of.

It’s gettin’ late and just as I’m thinking this night might end and no blood on the floor, in walks Soccer Dad. Young guy, thirty if that. Clean hair, trimmed nails, clothes that seen an actual washer and dryer. He’s so far outta where he oughtta be, he might as well be on a different planet. Half the place turns to look at him, like wolves who suddenly notice supper. I’m feeling generous –  and I don’t want the cops back less’n three days after the last go-round – so I go over to tell him that if he don’t want to be tomorrow’s ‘identity withheld’ he better turn tail and run.

Especially since he’s headed right towards Godzilla.

I don’t know Godzilla’s right name, and that ain’t even a name he give himself. I call him that – not to his face – ’cause he’s huge and seems near always in a bad mood. Right from when he first set his butt on my barstool, it was like he rolled in off the thunderclouds what was hanging over the street that night, and the dry lightning flashing red to blue, cloud to cloud and back again, like it was Heaven and Hell playing keep away with the thunderbolts.

I took him for military, Godzilla, right from the jump.  It was his boots that looked it, sure, but it was more than that, too. Something hard to describe, but something – or a lot of somethings – one old soldier recognizes in another. Not that Godzilla’s anywhere near to the years I got collecting behind me. Not on the outside. On the outside, couldn’t be he was any more’n twenty-five. On the inside though, I could tell he was old. Same as everybody else ever set up shop in my place, Godzilla was seen too much, done too much, lived too much, old.

Being fair, he’s got niceness in him. Might be he’s bad tempered most of a day, but he’s never mean to somebody isn’t mean first. A person nice to him gets nice given back, sometimes outta two hands. One time he asked was I okay after the old woman laid me open with a beer bottle. For a whole coupla nights after that he did any heavy lifting it was I needed around the place n’wouldn’t even take a drink on the house for it. Shirl sure done got her a special place for him, even with her being old enough to be his Mama, or even his grandmama. Godzilla holds her chair and her coat and the door whenever it is she needs it, and it ain’t that I think he ever bought himself any of what it is she sells, but if it ever was he did, I’m thinking it’d be his for the asking.

But those that mess with him get messed back. He don’t like being crossed, he don’t like being touched, hell, sometimes he don’t hardly like being talked to. Since he’s been coming here all this past summer, he’s broke two arms, three noses, and six fingers. Other people’s. That I know of. Don’t get me wrong – they all had it coming. Just didn’t none of ’em see it coming. Nobody, not even Mercy, messes with Godzilla.

And Soccer Dad is headed right for him.

“Hey Buddy -” I try. I put my hand on his shoulder, meaning he should leave while it’s still in its socket, but he throws me off and keeps walking.

‘Your funeral. I think and follow close for ringside seats.

Godzilla’s paying nobody no mind but the pool game. Soccer Dad grabs his arm and pulls him around and Godzilla comes up swinging and I’m thinking the game is on. Soccer Dad don’t even flinch – he don’t care, he stands there glaring at Godzilla, and Godzilla’s car-sized fist stops dead just before it wallops him.

“What the hell? Soccer Dad demands and Godzilla’s face does something I ain’t ever seen it do – it goes soft, like that day Eyeball found his Mama’s wedding ring he thought he lost for a week, jammed up under a loose board under the pool table. Godzilla goes soft and looking like he don’t know what to do and drops his hand and don’t even try to look Soccer Dad in the face.

Mercy ain’t having none of it though. Tonight’s been quiet and he don’t like quiet and could be he’s taking Godzilla’s idleness personal. He shoves Soccer Dad but no more’n asks, “Who’re YOU?” before he’s on his face with Godzilla’s foot in his armpit and his arm twisted back around the wrong way and Godzilla saying, “He’s somebody you walk away from. Understand?

And it ain’t until Mercy snivels ‘Yessir’ practically that Godzilla lets go and goes back to stand in front of Soccer Dad, looking soft and worried and like he got caught after curfew.  By now they got the attention of the whole barroom, only neither of them don’t notice or don’t care. Soccer Dad don’t say nothing, he only just keeps glaring, like he can burn an answer outta Godzilla. It was then I seen the resemblance. Soccer Dad don’t have more’n a couple-three years on Godzilla, near to as tall, that same dead-on stare I seen Godzilla blasting folks with, and it’s on me to figure Soccer Dad is Godzilla’s brother.

“Tell me you got amnesia.” Soccer Dad snarls at him, like Godzilla ain’t got inches and attitude on him and it comes on me that Soccer Dad is only what he shows to the outside. There’s death under the clean clothes and trimmed nails, I can tell. “Tell me amnesia is why you’ve been back five months and didn’t even let us you were alive.”

Godzilla’s throat is bobbing like he can’t swallow something and he won’t look at Soccer Dad and his head tilts like he’s trying out excuses in his brain until finally I guess he finds one that might pass muster.

“Up ’til now, I didn’t know I was alive.”

Whatever that means, it means more than anything to Soccer Dad ‘cause he gets a look as soft as Godzilla’s. He wants to say something, he wants to say a lot of somethings, but he ain’t gonna say ’em here.

“Let’s go.

He turns like that, like his word is law and I guess it is, ‘cause Godzilla follows him. He even puts some hurry into it like Soccer Dad might just go on and leave him behind, never mind what he just went through to get him.

I follow ’em to the door and a little beyond, ’cause I know this ain’t something I’ll ever see again.

Godzilla follows Soccer Dad to the curb where they need to cross and Soccer Dad puts the back of his hand on Godzilla’s chest, saying with no words to mind the traffic. And Godzilla, who I know can crack glass just by looking at it, smiles.

The whole barroom is quiet, hushed like we all just maybe witnessed a miracle, and I don’t know, I think maybe we did…’cause one of God’s Forgottens got remembered after all.

 

 

Maureen Lougen started writing in fourth grade. When other kids were actually doing their schoolwork, she would pen a juvenile blend of her favorite TV shows on scraps of paper instead of paying attention to the teacher. She lives in a little town that’s seen better days, about a quarter mile from Lake Ontario. During the summer, the town smells like dead fish. (Which might explain why she’s still not married.) She shares her aged house with her too-smart-for-his-own-good son, a beagle that needs a C-Pap machine, a beagle-basset that suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and two cats that hate each other. An avowed busybody and Nosy Parker, Maureen steals her ideas from other people’s lives and plunks them down in the middle of her stories just as they are. It’s just easier than doing research.

 

 

“Target” by Maria T. Groschup-Black

Target
Image courtesy of USAF Art program and Victor Juhasz, artist.

The ending is always the same: Two shots to the chest, one to the head. He falters.

Two to the chest, one to the head. I’ve hit him. Why doesn’t he stop? Six to the chest and reload. He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t bleed.

I wake up. I am sweating; my heart is pounding. The beat echoes in my head like the rhythm of a bass drum. Every muscle is tense. I pull my lover close and whisper “I had the dream again.” I used to have that dream a lot, but I don’t sleep much anymore.

I get up.  I pour myself a drink.

Some say the dream is “insecurity.” Some say it represents a “lack of skill.”  Others say “fear.”  For me, the dream is much more.  Targets don’t bleed.  No matter the interpretation, they all say it is a common dream among police officers.

I’ve been on the force for twelve years. Twelve years is a long time. I am callous. I am indignant and arrogant. I shout at the television.

“You weren’t there, Asshole!  What do you know about my job?”

My lover tells me to calm down. I pour myself a drink.

A suspect high on drugs and alcohol resists and beats an officer with his own nightstick. He is shot. The public calls him “Martyr.” They call the officer “Murderer.”

And I? I pour myself a drink.

I get ready for work. My lover whispers “come home to me.” These words say it all. Without them my night is empty. We’ve been together a long time.

“Come home to me.”  She says.

“I will.” I promise.

I come home.

“How was your night dear?” She asks.

“Nothing special” I say.

I could tell her the stories, but I don’t talk about work anymore.

I want a drink. I go to a meeting.

I am angry. The public I have sworn to protect has turned its’ back on me.

“Walk in my shoes!” I shout.

They question my every step, my every method. They ask me to protect them, to solve their problems and to counsel them. I protect them. They want me fired.

“Walk in my shoes!” I shout.

I need a drink. I go to a meeting.

I go to meetings a lot now. I tell them I am angry; I am indignant.

“You did this to me! You, the public I serve and protect! Who will protect me?”

I tell them I am powerless and go home.

I wake up. I am sweating; my heart is pounding. I hear each beat echo in my mind.

Babump! Every muscle is tight.

Babump! I scream.

Babump! I pull my lover close.

Two shots to the chest, one to the head. He falters. Two to the chest, one to the head. He stops. He bleeds.

And I? I pour myself a drink.

I don’t sleep much anymore.

 

 

Maria T. Groschup-Black worked for 18 years in San Diego local law enforcement, first as Deputy Marshal and later as a police officer for the S.D Harbor Police. She currently resides in Spring Valley with her spouse of 10 years and their 3 children ages 10, 7, and 6. Her credits include articles written for and sold to Police Chief Magazine and Fire Chief Magazine. When not at work, Maria spends her day repairing the damage caused by three rambunctious boys while squeezing in a few moments of time for reading and writing.

 

“Dissolving” by Tania Hershman

Shakespeare with Champagne
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz, artist

When she had had an afternoon drowning in the feeling of being the imaginary lover of an imaginary man, she took herself out to the nearest place that would fill her with liquid and she drank forever. When the last had gone, swindled away in a nonsense moment, she swayed back into the virtual streets and bound her cells for home. There, thinking he might find it comforting to hear the music he was used to, she weighted his voicemail with old 50s songs, crooning into the receiver. When hours passed and he did not answer, she curled herself up with her own double helix and dissolved back into the air.

 

 

Tania Hershman is a former science journalist turned fiction writer. Her first book, The White Road and Other Stories,(Salt Modern Fiction, 2008), was commended, 2009 Orange Award and included in New Scientist’s Best Books of 2008. She is currently writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty and has been awarded an Arts Council England grant to work on a collection of biology-inspired short fiction. She blogs about writing at TaniaWrites.

Read an interview with Tania Hershman here.

 

“Coffee” by Stephen Ramey

Coffee
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz, first published by Sleeping Bear Press.

He looks out over the city and thinks of death. Somewhere down there in the pit of this valley someone’s dying, curled into a ball in that dead end alley next to Ralph’s Surplus maybe, or leaning lopsided with a Lucky Strike still smoldering between veed fingers.

“Donut?” the counter clerk asks.

He pulls his gaze from the window. She’s pretty in a homely way, with curling brown locks that look entirely unmanageable, and a determinedly defiant jaw. Her skin is caramel brown.

“A dozen?” she says. Her eyes are bright somehow, like the lull in a storm when you can see lightning so clearly without having to endure its lash.

“Coffee,” he says.

“What kind?”

He squints at a menu that makes no sense. “Black?”

“Half,” she says without batting an eye. “My dad’s white.”

An intense embarrassment overcomes him. His tongue twists, looking for words.

“I’m just joshing with you,” she says. “You want sugar in that coffee?”

He nods mutely. She turns and drains coffee from a stainless steel urn into a Styrofoam cup. He watches her move, the way her hand goes to the swell of her hip. She’s been on her feet too long. Her hip aches, there in the hollow beneath the ribs.

He can’t help but think of the pain his wife endured in those final months after they gave up on chemo. He can’t help but recall the pain his son expressed this morning. Another argument, another slugfest, only this time he’d landed a punch, a real one.

“One lump or two?” It’s the clerk.

“No,” he says. It’s the shortest answer. She fits a lid to the cup; she slides his coffee across the counter.

“A dollar-fifty-nine,” she says.

He digs through his pocket for change. Three quarters, a dime, six pennies. It’s not enough.

His thoughts go purple, a throb like the swell growing on his son’s pudgy cheek. Death, he thinks. Death of flesh, death of love, death of dignity. He’s stared into the black eye of a gun a couple times, but hasn’t been able to make that coward finger squeeze.

“I can’t…” Words fail him. A rope constricts the pit of his belly, fibrous strands poking from a smooth weave. Coins clatter to the counter.

The clerk slides them onto her palm. She opens the register, deposits them.

“It’s okay,” she says in a voice gone quiet. “The shit isn’t worth what they charge anyhow.” Her teeth are far from straight, but they remind him of his wife’s.

She touches his hand. “Rough day?”

He looks at her fingers, the knuckles weathered, fingernails chewed to stubs. She has her own problems. Still, he can’t help it. He nods. He meets her gaze. For just an instant it’s like staring into the barrel of that gun, only it’s light inside, not dark. He thinks of that time he helped his wife plant a black walnut sapling where the elm came down. He thinks of their gloved hands touching.

And then the moment is gone. “Thanks,” he says. He takes the cup, feeling its warmth, thinking how muted it must be compared to the boiling liquid inside.

Life he thinks, turning from the counter. The clerk swivels her attention to the next person in line.

 

 

Stephen Ramey lives in an 1870s Victorian home on the edge of New Castle, Pennsylvania’s Historic North Hill District, overlooking a Pizza Hut and two wonderfully  complex church buildings. His short fictions have appeared in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Bartleby Snopes, Pure Slush and Caper Literary Journal, among others. He edits the annual Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink and blogs about that process at http://www.stephenvramey.com

Read our interview with Stephen Ramey here.