“The Hardest Thing” by B.D. Wilson

The Worst Blind (BD Wilson)
“The Worst Blind,” oil on canvas by Darwin Leon

The phone rang. Tess stared at it, saw the payphone number on the call display, listened to it ring again. Halfway through the third ring, she grabbed the receiver, lifted it to her ear. “Hello?” She held her breath.


The air she was holding escaped in a rush. Her shoulders tensed, and her fingers curled tighter around the receiver. “Yeah, Dave, I’m here.”

“Tess, oh thank God, Tess.” His voice sounded sore, like someone had taken sandpaper to his throat. He coughed into the phone with an explosive noise that made her pull it away from her ear for a moment. “I need your help, please Tess.” The words came to her from a distance. She brought the phone back to her ear.

“Dave, I–” She stopped talking as he whimpered on the other end of the line. She drew in a deep breath, felt her fingers clenching now, nails digging into the plastic. “I told you last time, you can’t call me until you’re clean.”

“I want to be, Tess. I really do. I just– I can’t do it alone. I need your help, Tess, please.” He coughed again, hacking noises that had her picturing his blood-spattered sleeve, thick blackened blobs flying from his lips.

“That was what you said last time, and the time before. Too many times, Dave.” She tried to keep her voice soft and firm, heard the waver in it anyway.

“I can do it this time.” His tone was eager, the sound reminding her of childhood summers where he’d talked about becoming a vet like his grandfather, and she’d planned the opening of her own restaurant.

She’d made it; he hadn’t. “I know you can.” She didn’t have to fight to sound encouraging, at least.

“You have to believe me.”

“I do believe you, Dave. I do.” Her eyes started to sting, and she blinked fast and hard to get them to stop. “I believe in you. You can do it if you set your mind and try, really try.”

“Can I come there?” The whine wasn’t as hard to listen to when it was through a phone line and not face to face, but it still made her shake her head and bite her lip.

“No, Dave, you can’t.” It was her voice that sounded sore now, strained.

“But you just said—”

“I know you can do it, but I can’t help you.” Her eyes had stopped stinging, but the display panel on her phone was now just a watery blur, the number illegible. “You know what you have to do. We went through it last time.” And the time before. And the time before that. “This time, you have to go by yourself.”

“I can’t do this by myself.” He coughed again, a deeper, liquid, sound.

She closed her eyes and felt the hot tracks of the tears that seeped out and crawled down her cheeks. “You can, Dave. You’re strong enough. You just have to remember that you’re strong enough.”

“I’m not, Tess. Please, I need you. I need your help. I don’t know what to do.”

She bit her lip again, felt the chapped skin crack, tasted blood. “You do know. You just have to do it.”

“I can’t. Pease, don’t abandon me, Tess.”

That made her gasp, the indrawn breath wavering. “Dave, don’t–”

“Tess, please.” He didn’t wait for her to finish. It was always the same. If he begged enough, she would give in. He would come, try for a day or two, and then disappear with anything pawnable. She wouldn’t hear from him until the next call, the next promise to change. She couldn’t do that anymore.

“I’m sorry, Dave. Call me when you’re clean.” She set the phone down in its cradle with a soft click, and breathed in, then out. She did it again, measuring the pace. When she could get through the repetition without feeling the air catch in her throat, she opened her eyes and used one hand to wipe away the tracks on her cheeks. The other still sat curled on the receiver, now light and listless, waiting for it to ring again. This time, it stayed silent.



B.D. Wilson is a writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada whose work has appeared in the anthologyDark Pagesfrom Blade Red press, Fictitious Force, andNiteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazineamong others.A firm believer in a virtual existence, BD’s home on the Web is located athttp://www.bdwilson.ca

“The Hardest Thing” originally appeared in Long Story Short, March 2008.


“For a Long Time” by B. Chelsea Adams

(For a Long Time)finalgoddess1
The Arrival of the Goddess of Consciousness by Darwin Leon.

I wasn’t drawn
to trombone,
sax or drum.

During those heavy days,
my head couldn’t hear
through the sadness.
Even my feet and shoulders
would not be stirred
by harmony or dissonance.

At last
I pushed the heaviness aside
like wind shoves clouds away.

And tonight, I’m owned again
by slide trombone, tenor sax,
snare drum.

I’m clothed in their cool silks,
loose scarves.

Slow licks riff
across my breastbone,
up and down my ribs.
I sway back and forth, hardly able
to stay seated.

The waiter thinks it’s the wine.
The bartender cuts me off.
They don’t know
each measure is being written
into me, deep inside
breast and belly,

that when I leave
I will swing down the pavement,
and in a syncopated rhythm,
sing and scat to the moon.



B. Chelsea Adams received her MA from Hollins College in Creative Writing and English. A chapbook of her poems, Looking for a Landing, was published by Sow’s Ear Press in 2000. Her stories and poems have been published in numerous journals, including Poet Lore, Potato Eyes, Albany Review, Southwestern Review, California State Poetry Quarterly, Huckleberry Magazine, Union Street Review, Wind, Lucid Stone, Rhino, and the Alms House Press Sampler. Java Poems a chapbook celebrating her addiction to coffee was published in 2007. She retired after teaching at Radford Univerity in Virginia for 23 years.

Read an interview with Chelsea here.


“Arriving” by Tommy Dean

Unfinished Business (Tommy Dean)
“Unfinished Business,” oil on canvas, Darwin Leon, 2010

Jake pulled into the driveway and  saw Ruth sitting on the front porch steps, bundled in her parka, wool mittens, and a black stocking cap. Her arms cradling her legs, she looked like a child waiting on her father to arrive home from work. In the headlights, her eyes were radiant in the brisk chill of the coming dark. He cut the engine and scrambled out of the car. The snow crunched under his feet.

He placed his briefcase beside her and sat down on the step, careful to avoid the melting snow. She leaned her body into his and he put his arm around her. He couldn’t feel the heat of her body through the heavy fabric of their coats.

“You missed them. They built snowmen.”

In the neighbor’s backyard sat four snowmen in different shapes and sizes, each, he imagined, made to represent a member of the family. He concentrated on their features and was mildly shocked by the placement of the eyes, mouth, and nose on the smallest one. It looked like an expressionist painting, with everything slanted to one side. If it were his child’s he would have waited until the boy went inside and then corrected it.

“How long have you been out here?”

“An hour, who knows. After the appointment…I don’t know.”

He was amazed at the airy silence; shadows brave against the dying sunlight bounded around corners as the streetlights popped on. The search for the perfect excuse stirred in his hands keeping him warm. The snowman made him anxious, as though its imperfections would somehow ruin his explanation.

“I was sitting here trying to think of a way to hide it from you, but when those children came plowing out the  door, I lost it.”

He stood then and looked down at his wife; her face veiled in his shadow; her eyes liquid; her cheeks wind burnt and chapped, and then she shivered.

“Ruth, I’m sorry. That couple showed up late and there was all that snow melting on the hardwood floors. I couldn’t just leave it that way.”

“It doesn’t matter. Forget it, okay?”

She stood, wrapping her arms around his waist. She looked up at him. A strand of hair came out from underneath her hat, resting over her eye.

“Dr. Lesko went over our test results again and there are just too many of those things. God I can’t even say the word.”

“Cysts?” he asked, his voice sounding too loud in the muted darkness.

“Yes. God, cysts.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

“If there was something I could do…”

“So you’re off the hook.”

“But, I’m still you’re guy, right?”

“Oh hell, you know what I’d love?” she said. “I’d love to wake up tomorrow and look out the window and see them gone.”

In front of him a vista of white decorated the neighborhood like a baker’s frosting: cars, roofs, yards, and scaly tree branches doused in confectioner’s sugar. Above and below him, sky and ground shimmered like tiny  penlights.

“I could do that, I could.”

“God, I’m so…so utterly…Don’t I deserve to be angry?

“What if we had something else to concentrate on?” Jake asked.

“Not you, too. Don’t patronize me, not now.”

Staring down the street, he thought of all the parents putting their children to bed, giving them a quick kiss on the forehead, before heading off to their own rooms, where they’d cuddle together under the heavy covers. They’d fall to sleep knowing their children were safe and warm, happy to have another day in a happy life. Well that pissed him off, because he wanted to know just who had decided that they couldn’t have the same damn things.

“I can’t look at them anymore. It’s like they’re watching me,” she said.

“Go, then.” He softened his voice. “I’m right behind you. I just need to get something from the car.”

She sighed, her breath turning to fog then dissipating into the night. “Take your time.  That’s all we have left.”

She clomped her shoes on the porch, creating watery footprints. After she closed the door, he watched her walk into the house, coat and shoes still on. The water from her shoes would hide in the carpet and later he would step in it, soaking his socks and freezing his toes, his circulation too slow to keep his feet warm. Every winter they went through the same thing, he’d ask her not to wear her shoes past the kitchen and she would claim to forget. Ten years of marriage and nothing had changed.

He dashed across the street, almost slipping, but regained his footing and stood in front of the two smaller snowmen. He raised his foot and kicked at the base. A chunk of snow collapsed to the ground and the midsection shuddered and canted to the left. He punched and pawed at the baby until his hands were cold, red, and raw with the crust of melting snow. A carrot, broken in half, lay at his feet near the squished Oreo that used to be its eye. He turned his back on the mess and walked away, knowing that his footprints would harden overnight, and that tomorrow when the neighbor stood on their porch they’d forget, for just a moment that nothing would change.


Tommy Dean works as a high school English teacher. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in Apollo’s Lyre, Pindeldyboz, Boston Literary Magazine, Blue Lake Review, and 5X5.


“The Illusion Shatters” by Danica Green

The Passion of the Fallen (Danica Green)
The Passion of the Fallen, oil on canvas, by Darwin Leon.

She couldn’t scream loud enough to scare the vultures away, tired as she was of them picking at her corpse and feasting on the rotting heart that she felt so distantly attached to.

May was her favorite time of year, the night sky looked clear beyond the haze of her imagination and the stars shone lucidly through the pink fractals floating through the sky.  She couldn’t make out the figures on her watchface but it didn’t matter, one hour blurred into the next, and the next, until she was staring at an orange dawn though in truth it was still the dead of night. She yawned against her rucksack clutched to her chest as the stars came back into view and the trees spun lazily around her like fireflies, glowing with their own ethereal light.

She stood. The morning was raw in her mouth, infused with stale vodka and the taste of cigarettes. She took a sip from a bottle of water and dressed herself like a zombie, empty-headed with an instinctual hatred of the dawn. The carpet under her feet crunched like ice, the remnants of a thousand hasty junk food meals that she would never clean and she descended the stairs in a haze. She walked to the kitchen and sat down at the table, running a brush hastily through her tangled mass of hair and pinning it out of the way as her eyes fell to the program that stared up at her from the tarnished wood. “In loving memory” it said, “Elena Moore: January ’56 – March ’07. Gone but not forgotten.” She collected her handbag, straightened her long white dress and walked out of the door, tripping as she did on the pile of unsorted letters she couldn’t bear to touch.

She fell. Face down onto the dewy grass, her limbs contorted and not responding to her requests. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply the scent of the moist earth, trying to connect herself with reality though the fractal pictures haunted her even here, inside of her own eyelids. Her mind tried to grasp something, anything in this place that would take her back to that beautiful moment of enlightenment several hours previously, but her mind was racing, her decaying limbs, the dancing trees, her mother, the water-drop maggots that edged their way across her face. With an effort she braced herself against the ground and pushed.

She rolled over. Her neighbor stood over her, proffering a hand and asking if she was okay. She took vague stock of her bloodied knees poking through the tear in her dress like a corpse in the snow and stood of her own accord, ignoring the offer, neglecting to return to change her clothes or clean away the crimson fluid that worked its way down to her shoes. She walked to the car and got in, the engine roaring to life, sounding dull in her ears and she drove instinctively towards the graveyard. Stopping outside she saw them, the guests, the ghosts, all in white and moving around like specters come to haunt the last lingering memory of her mother. Moving towards them in her own otherworldly way she stared blindly, ignoring the comments, the condolences, the whispered fears of her state. It was then she saw it, the first thing she had taken notice of all day. The pale face, a deathly pallor accentuated by sleepless eyes ringed with tired bruises, the hair slicked down with two weeks worth of grease and the eyes, haunted, blind, dull, missing some vital indication of the soul that should lie within. She dismissed this vision and moved on, walking into the church and clenching her fists at her side.

The earth felt good as her fists clenched harder, digging her fingers into the ground, burying herself, grounding herself, finding a hold on something stable. Her breathing sped up to inhuman levels but she didn’t notice. She believed she had stopped breathing hours ago. The fractals in the night sky increased in number, illuminating the darkness, scraping across the canvas like fast-moving clouds, twisting and curving, and before long the stars joined in with their macabre dance. She hauled herself onto her knees, weeping bitterly and unknowingly, and tried to stand, swaying and tripping as with a final effort she managed to get to her feet and take stock of the field around her. Shapes moved in the darkness, demons come to take her away to the underworld, and she ran fitfully towards the trees that surrounded her, moving closer, then farther away, and closer again until she ran into one, shattering her wrist but not noticing the pain. The world tilted. She had taken too much. Pressing her back against the rough oak she slid towards the ground.

She sat down. The front pew of the church in sight of everyone, so much pity and scorn directed at her. She was alone here, no other family to speak of but her mother’s many friends behind. She stared at the coffin, barely seeing it as she had seen nothing that day, her mother’s rotting corpse a distant consideration in an otherwise blank mind. The priest began to speak, condolences and best wishes for the aggrieved, sentiments about Elena, stories from her life, joking and forlorn like an old friend though he had never known her. The service seemed to pass in a blur and she was the first to exit, unhurriedly, walking through a dream that just wouldn’t end. Someone grabbed her arm.

“Jennifer? What on earth happened to you?”

She was confused at first, but then followed the newcomer’s line of sight to her knees, crusted blood now brown like shit smeared across her, the scabs cracking and weeping like she herself. She looked up, unable to speak, unable to recognize the face of the intruder upon her solace, unable to understand what to do through the powerful and desperate need to go home. She tried to pull her arm away.

“Jennifer? Are you okay? Jennifer??” said the newcomer, eyes wide with fright, as were Jennifer’s own. She tugged harder, furiously trying to get away and the grip finally broke. She ran away from the watching crowd, ran to her car and got in, picking up the rucksack in the passenger seat and clinging to it in a daze.

She clung to the tree as an infant clings to its mother’s breast, desperate for the contact of something familiar in this alien world she now inhabited. Her heartbeat had sped unnoticed to a dangerous level and her mouth was dusty as ash. She bent like an animal and began licking the dew from the grass, ripping up the earth and shoving handfuls into her mouth, but it didn’t help. She could taste death. Beyond the rising panic, beyond the forgetfulness of reality she remembered her rucksack, left in the field when she ran to the trees. She tried to stand and fell, openly sobbing as she tried to claw her way back to her bag, crawling in fits and starts as the rigor mortis set in to her festering limbs and her body seized up. The world had become a carousel, everything spinning in one direction, blurred, unfocused, unable to make out either the mass of trees or a single blade of grass, but she felt where her rucksack lay, she knew it, and she knew she had to be with it. After what seemed an eternity she felt it under her hand, damp, and she clutched it to her chest though the small wave of relief was quickly swallowed back into the panic. She lay on her side and undid the fastenings. She opened it.

She opened the door, not closing it or taking off her shoes. She wasn’t even sure that she was coming back. She placed her rucksack on the kitchen table and stared at it for a long while, a small glimmer of common sense trying to slip in through the horror. Eventually she relented, as she always knew she would, and she reached into the rucksack, fingers resting longingly on something unseen inside before shifting to her focus and pulling out a dirty make-up bag. She walked to the sink and grabbed a spoon from the drawer, bent and blackened like most of them were, and began to cook her fix. As the needle penetrated her skin and released its poison she relaxed, pulling herself back to the fringes of normal, a vague sense of peace washing over her. But it was at that point, now, that it didn’t give her what she was looking for. It killed the paranoia, the feeling of detachment and brought her closer to a normal state of mind than she could have been without it, but through that normality the pain of her mother’s tragic death began to seep. She started to cry, fully realizing her emotions and flew into anger, throwing the make-up bag to the floor, screaming to the heavens and dry-heaving with grief and rage and hatred. She picked up the bag and cooked up another batch, and another, and another, each stab into her vein bringing numbness and relief from emotions she didn’t know how to deal with any more. Leaving the paraphernalia by the sink she grabbed the rucksack and left her mother’s house for the last time, clicking the key in the lock as she went.

The lock snapped open. The pages of the diary she had pulled from the rucksack were covered in an elegant hand in blue ink with hearts and flowers and happy faces doodled in the margins. She could not see this. She was so far gone that she was navigating the pages through touch. She felt for the crease, the crease that marked the last page her mother had written on and she ran her fingers tenderly across the script. She couldn’t see the vultures any more but she knew they were there, the vultures and the demons come to collect her body and her soul respectively. Her chest on fire and her heart close to bursting, she shook with a tremor that threatened to push the diary from her hand but she would take the thing to Hell if need be, to remind her, to always remind her, of the part she had played in her mother’s death, of the reason she was going to die today. She couldn’t see the writing but she knew it by heart, that last diary entry: “9/11 2001. Going to the city today. After more phone calls than I can count I have finally found an affordable place. Doctor Stevens seems a pleasant man and he says they have a high success rate. I have high hopes for Jennifer now, she’s willing to quit, she wants to quit…but she needs help. I’ll do a bit of sightseeing as well, take some pictures for her so she doesn’t get scared about the move. Hoping the facility is nice. I love her so much….” Jennifer closed the diary and  clutched it to her chest. She curled into a ball as a sharp pain exploded through her chest and her body gave in to the poison in her system. She couldn’t scream loud enough.



Danica Green is a UK-based writer with work appearing in over 50 literary journals and anthologies, including Smokelong Quarterly, Neon Magazine, PANK and Eclectic Flash.


“Simulators” by Marko Fong

Eye Always Was (Marko Fong)
Eye Always Was, oil on canvas, by Darwin Leon.

Prefatory note:

This document was recovered from what was once known as a 5.25-inch floppy diskette. From some earlier century, it’s a black cardboard square that encases a flimsy circle of plastic.

The text documents a primitive video game from a time before people had their own computers. The font and formatting appear to be artifacts from a device called a “dot matrix” printer. A singles bar was where men and women met before the Internet.

We have now advanced well beyond this, but this may have historical interest for those who do not realize that Iphones, Facebook, and Second Life were once not an integral part of daily life. It may also offer insight into a time when we were just human.


It looked like any other video game with a screen, slot for quarters, keyboard, and joystick. I assumed it was a game where you shot aliens with blipping dots. I walked to it behind the bar. On its side, it said in big blue letters Date Simulator.

I wondered, is this like women on bar stools in rows and you shoot them with a laser or maybe you chase each other through a series of mazes? The screen showed the inside of a bar: a fern covered a window, the bartender wore a vest, a couple made out in the corner—not a bad parody. I dropped in my quarter.

A woman’s face came on. She smiled. I moved the joystick to approach. I figured it was some sort of joke. I typed, “What’s your sign?”

There was a little electronic squeal and my character melted into a puddle of electrons. Three dollars later, I’d tried “Haven’t I seen you someplace?” “You’re the best looking thing I’ve seen in months,” “Nice suntan,” stuff I’d never say in real life. What kind of machine was this? Finally, I tried, “Hi, I’m Jerry. What’s your name?”

“Ursula,” she said.

“Nice name.”

No response.

I typed, “Come here often?”

Poof, puddle of electrons. I asked the bartender for change.

“Figure it out yet?” The bartender’s nameplate said Tim. He was tall, blond, mustached.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s fun though.”

“You gotten her home?”

I shrugged. “You mean Ursula?”

He gave me the look, the high school gym one when other guys would ask if I’d ever kissed a girl. “I thought her name was Heather?”


“I just typed ‘What’s your sign?’ and we were off. Know what I mean?” Tim winked. I looked around the bar then looked at myself. My shoes needed polishing, my slacks weren’t pressed. I felt that bit of hair at the top of my head sticking up again. A woman took a stool inches away, as if I wasn’t there. “Hi Tim,” she cooed.

“Yeah, it’s fun, really fun,” I mumbled. “Could you give me another buck in quarters?” I slipped back to the machine. “What’s your sign?” I tried again. “You must be Heather?” Two squeals, two puddles of electrons.

Finally, frustrated, I typed, “Look, Ursula, I’m just an ordinary guy playing this stupid game. There’s nothing about me that’s going to impress you. If you’re not interested that’s fine. I just want to talk a little bit, find out about you. Is that okay?”

The Simulator gurgled then Ursula touched my onscreen hand. The joystick gave me a little jolt. Her eyes widened. “What makes you think you have to impress me, silly?”

We talked for five minutes. It was wonderful. I forgot I was talking to a machine. You know, real feelings, loneliness, little satisfactions, then just as I’m ready to ask her out, the screen went black.

Please insert quarter to continue.

I turned my pockets inside out. I asked Tim if he took credit cards. He shook his head. I counted the blocks to the robot teller at my bank, then saw two quarters on a table, a tip for one of the waitresses. I moved closer, like I was admiring the pictures on the wall, then took a breath, looked at the machine again, this Date Simulator. I wasn’t that far gone, yet.

I didn’t tell anybody about that night or the machine. I didn’t go back for weeks. I saw a few date simulators in other places, another bar, an arcade or two, a supermarket. A friend introduced me to a woman who worked as an accountant. She painted, liked to hike. We went out a couple times, started to like each other, then one night I was at the Laundromat. I had four full duffel bags of clothes. I went to the bill changer and got ten bucks in quarters, enough to bulge my pocket. I sat down, started reading back issues of People. I went to look for an open dryer and ran right into another blue box.

A line of people waited, men, women, young, old. I guess that’s why all the copies of People were still sitting there. I waited too. I’d left a load of whites in a washer up front. When my turn came, I almost dropped the quarter before I got it into the slot.

A display of a Laundromat came up. Two women conversed by the detergent dispenser. A happy couple folded sheets. I squeezed the joystick and moved around the screen, hunting for Ursula.


She turned from folding towels and smiled. “Where have you been?”

“I ran out of quarters. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”

“Me neither.”

I wanted to wrap my arms around her, refuse to ever let go again. Then I remembered we barely knew each other and settled for the soft pulse of the joystick.

“Ursula, can we go out sometime?”

“Of course, I’d like that.”

The way she said it made me tremble. “I’ll cook. What do you eat?”

“Just about anything. It’s being with you that matters.”

I heard the shuffle of feet behind me. I turned around to find three people waiting.

“It’s just a video game,” I barked.

I went back to Ursula.

“What day’s good for you?”

The screen went black. I reached into my pocket.

“Hey, we’re waiting too.”

“Jesus, it’s just getting good.”

“Yeah, you’re the one who said it was just a game.”

I went to the back of the line. I ran out of quarters before I could dry my second load and brought home three bags of wet clothes. I left a load of whites in a washer. I called in sick at work. My girlfriend, the real one, called.

“There’s this great hike tomorrow.”

“I have to do laundry. I don’t have any shirts for work.”

“Didn’t you do laundry last night?”

“I got sidetracked.”


“Look, I have to get it done tonight. My bedroom smells like mildew.”

“Mildew? Must have been some distraction.”

I didn’t answer.

“We don’t have to hike. We’ll do laundry together if you want.”

I held a wet towel to my face. “You can’t. I have to do laundry alone.” I didn’t mean to shout.

“Maybe Sunday?”

“Sure, call me then.”

We didn’t get together Sunday, or any other weekend. Eventually I got my laundry done, but I spent forty-eight dollars in quarters. I broke up with my real girlfriend.

“There’s someone else isn’t there?”‘

“No, I swear.”

“No one does laundry every night.”

I wanted to explain, but wasn’t ready. Why would I prefer a machine that took quarters to a real woman, a bright attractive woman, who clearly liked me for who I was?

I bought new clothes for my visits with Ursula, brought flowers once, started getting uncirculated quarters from the bank and dipping them in silver polish before visits, even bought a mink glove for her joystick. I stopped going to the Laundromat. Too long a wait. The bar where I met Ursula now had four machines and two bill changers.

I lost my job. I had to budget, just to make sure I paid the rent with my unemployment check. The rest I immediately took in quarters. They’d last a week, then just a couple days. I stole tips off a corner table. The second time, they caught me and kicked me out.

With Ursula, I pretended I was getting promoted, told her about buying new cars, moving into a bigger apartment until one day she looked straight at me.

“Jerry, you’ve been lying to me.”

Before I could respond, the screen went blank. Naturally, it was my last quarter. I turned to the woman behind me.

“Look, please, you’ve got to give me a quarter. I’m all out. Please!”

She shook her head then reached into her purse and pulled out two quarters. My fingers twitched at the sight.

“When’s the last time you ate?”

I straightened. “I promise to take care of myself, just please let me have those quarters.” We were in a Sim House, new places which had nothing but date simulators inside. Here, the serious players didn’t have to pretend to meet real people or do laundry.

“Jerry,” the woman said. “Jerry, it’s Gretchen.”

My stomach tightened. “Gretchen?”

“Yes, you remember: had to do your laundry every night Gretchen.”

“I’m so sorry.”

She touched my shoulder. “Jerry it’s all right. I understand. I spent a hundred dollars one weekend.”

“A hundred…What was his name?”

“His name. Well, it just so happens it’s…” She looked around the Sim House. “What’s the name of yours?”

“She’s Ursula.”

Gretchen looked disappointed.

“What’s the name of your Sim?” I repeated.

“Well, I really don’t think.”

“Come on Gretchen.”

She closed her hand around her quarters. “If you have to know, it’s Jerry.”


“He’s a lot like you.” Her eyes welled up. “Well at least…”

I leaned against a machine. My reflection taunted me from an empty video screen across the way. I hadn’t shaved in two weeks. There was a rip in the shoulder of my jacket. My pants had stains on them.

“…a lot like you used to be.”

“I never suspected,” I whispered.

She pressed the quarters into my hand. “Now, you know.”

She turned and ran. I could swear she was crying, but I had my quarters.

“Ursula? Ursula.”

I put the second quarter in. Where was she? I went out in the street and panhandled. I got five dollars in quarters and a number for the suicide hotline, but there was no Ursula to be found. Back home that night I considered my situation. I’d read about people shooting the machines with guns. One man in Texas drove into one with his car. Me, I was prepared to bang my head against the screen until I lost consciousness. Ursula and I would be united forever.

Simulators made the covers of Time and Newsweek. One read Entertainment or Menace? The other story carried a sidebar about the run on quarters at the Denver mint. Both explained that simulator partners didn’t exist in any conventional sense. A group of behavioral scientists had placed sensors in the keyboard and joystick and the machine responded like a polygraph. What you typed in mattered less than how you typed it. Someone sent a bomb threat in to the Time Life building demanding they print a retraction.

Elsewhere, a man in New York sued the simulator company for the breakup of his marriage. A Congressman introduced a bill to place a warning on every simulator, “Do not play more than four quarters at a time. Highly addictive.” But, the Simulator company was twenty-fifth on the Fortune 500; its lobby crushed the bill. Besides, the Japanese took to the machines even more than we did. It was the only item keeping the trade deficit under control.

In some cities, a rumor spread that the mob controlled the machines. In the south, they chained a Bible to them. An urban legend circulated that a Sim House accidentally crosswired two machines so they were playing each other and received an electric bill for a hundred and fifty-six thousand dollars. A woman in Iowa claimed to have immaculately conceived a child with one of the machines, a computer-age Messiah.

But even the folklore wasn’t as strange as truth. A home version of the machine failed miserably, it seemed that actually owning the machines diluted their appeal. When it came to simulators, Americans insisted on the genuine article.

A few weeks after my encounter with Gretchen, I went for treatment. Simulholics sat in a circle accusing each other of every imaginable sin. I had to stand up.

“My name’s Jerry, I’m a simulholic addicted to an image called Ursula.”

They shouted back at me, ”What’s Ursula look like?”

I, like most newcomers, described her as I had imagined her. “She ties her hair back with a red bow. She wears a single hoop earring.” Eventually, I got it.

“She’s a bunch of electrons on a screen inside a blue box.”

“What’s Ursula smell like?”

“She doesn’t have a smell?”

“What’s Ursula sound like, Jerry?”

“Electrons through a magnet.”

“What is Ursula, Jerry?”

“I don’t know.”

Every time they asked that question, I would weep inside. I knew I was supposed to say, “Circuit boards, sensors and a slot for quarters,” but I still couldn’t manage that final step.

I started to get better, though. I got my job back. I made friends, mostly other simulholics. One was Tim, the bartender, who joined my fourth month there.

“Who is Heather, Tim? Who is Terry, Tim? Who is Leslie?”

I learned never to carry anything smaller than a five spot. I stayed clear of the simulators for ninety days in a row. I had two dates with real women. The rehabilitation center thought I was a model patient. I didn’t tell them that I was doing it all for Ursula.  I thought if I got my life back, she might have me again.

I kept up the charade for almost a year. In the eleventh month, a new woman joined the group.

“What is Jerry, Gretchen?”

“Circuit boards and a slot for quarters.”

She said it from the beginning. The rest of us were supposed to repeat it in chorus, but I couldn’t.

Gretchen and I became friends again, though we never mentioned that afternoon in the Sim House. We went to dinner a couple times. Once, I even stayed over.

“Jerry, Jerry.” She called my name through the night.

Next morning, I realized I hadn’t thought about Ursula for an entire day.

The inventor of the Date Simulator came to the center. After the company tried to force him to work on their next project a Life Simulator, he recanted, turned his royalties over to a foundation to stop the Simulators. He insisted he’d never anticipated the import of his creation. He spoke to us Simulholics, told us the history of his Frankenstein, how it started as a joke, sort of going out on a date without the risk of AIDS. Towards the end, his speech turned fiery. “The simulator doesn’t have a personality of its own, no independent content. It reacts only to you. Simulholism is narcissism, Simulholism is masturbation, Simulholism is a cancer.”

We gave him a standing ovation. Gretchen and I graduated. I don’t know how it happened. I just remember buying a coke with a twenty dollar bill and the clerk gave me change in quarters.

“That’s all right,” I started to say. “Keep the—”

Back where they used to have the refrigerator for beer, I saw the big blue box. I woke up in detox. A woman stood over the bed, Gretchen.

“What have I done?”

“You’ve been calling out Ursula’s name for three days.”

“I was supposed to be cured.”

She squeezed my hand. “We’re only human, not machines, just humans.”

Gretchen visited me every day. The second week she brought her sketchpad. “Tell me what she looks like, Jerry.”

“She’s just a blue box and a video screen.”

“No, you can tell me. We’re not at the center.”

Gretchen touched her finger to her forehead. “Tell me what she really looks like.”

I even told her about the bow and the single hoop earring. After my release, we moved in together. She told me, “It’s all right if you still think about her, I still think about him.”

“Jerry? I mean that Jerry?”

She nodded.

On our wedding night, Gretchen sat on our hotel bed. She kissed me then turned seductive. “I have a surprise for you.” She disappeared to the bathroom with her makeup case.

When the door opened, I gasped, certain that if I exhaled the illusion would go away. First I saw the hoop earring, then the bow, exactly like the sketches from the hospital.

“Tell me how she’d touch you, how she’d kiss. Make believe I’m her.”

“And I’ll be Jerry, that Jerry.” My voice quivered.

“I love you, Jerry.”

“I love you, Ursula.”

Her fingers trembled. I felt the coolness of her wedding band when she grabbed my joystick.



Marko Fong lives in Northern California and published most recently in Pif, Kweli Journal, Extract(s), and Solstice Quarterly.  He also serves as fiction editor for Wordrunner e-Chapbook.com. He is married to a woman who does not let him play video games anymore.

Read our interview with Marko here.


“A Poem for Today” by Matthew Gasda

The Disintegration of Adam (Matthew Gasda)
“The Disintegration of Adam,” oil on canvas, Darwin Leon.
(See also “Chain Smoking” by Rae Pagliarulo.)

The old childhood fears come
Back to you before sleep, a nothingness

Where you can’t see your hands
In front of your face.
The past is elastic
And receptive to your touch, you
Try to mold it into the shape of birdsong,
But it always disintegrates to the music of what
Happened. This house of grief is built out

Of silence and rain and glass,
And the six a.m. light still hangs itself in
Golden loops on the wall. The vowels of the
River in you are clear and
Sweet; they congeal into something like a
Lament. It has never seemed so sad, nor
so beautiful, to be alive as today.




Matthew Gasda is a poet living in Brooklyn, NY. His first book of poetry, The Humanist, is available through Amazon and select bookstores.


Review of Injuring Eternity



Review of Injuring Eternity by Millicent Borges Accardi


In a recent interview with Susan Rogers, Millicent Borges Accardi said that recovery, to her, was: “a healing from a place of artificiality to a place of real. Recovery is a process of peeling back the layers to get to ‘self’ … to not be in recovery is to deny life, to cover up and bear false witness to your own being.” I found this quote especially interesting when reading from her current collection of poetry, Injuring Eternity (Mischievous Muse Press/World Nouveau Company, 2010). The very idea of moving from a place of artificiality to a place of real and of peeling back the layers to expose what is truly underneath could not more define this collection.


The voice that comes through these poems is grounded in seeking the truth. From her poem, Birth, which is featured in the current issue of r.kv.r.y. To the final element in the collection, Victory, exploring  “A life, filled with inventions / And flying and space travel/and gadgets and, yes, even / Something called the twenty first century.” (p91). These poems seek not merely truth but to uncover hidden layers that go beyond mere appearance and into the sinew of what makes us all real. Birth has a narrator whose voice is clear and distinct, and who, from the opening line, submerges us into multi faceted /images far below the surface of things:


“Not wanting to disturb the marriage,

my parents, or you: I entered backwards,

doors through. The hallway strains

with my struggles: thick blooded pores enclose

my shoulders. If I can make it to the safety

of our bed without the angry walls screaming:

“Guilty, Jezebel, guilty, ”

then I will be able to breathe.” (p13).


The emotion portrayed in this opening stanza of Birth is one of the reasons I’ve become such a fan of Ms. Accardi’s work. She immediately hands the reader open, already excavated layers and bids us to fall even further into the poem. The poem then continues to do exactly that; to open layers, dare us to go further, explore just a little more; and the further we go, the more there is to find.


The poems in Injuring Eternity run a full range of topics, emotions and observations. The haunting, Sewing the Black, gives way to the intriguing Lady Night and The Last Letter to my Mother, where an every day event plunges us into the depths as if diving into ten-foot pool. The range of these poems will have something for every reader. But more than that, these poems speak so much to what our lives are made of: the sexual, the poignant, defeat, grief, happiness and sensuality. Accardi interconnects all of these paths of life into an interestingly woven tapestry: happiness holds no more weight than grief; finding joy runs as deep as loss; the warmth of a sensual touch glides easily on the same hand as a slap. Accardi intersperses these layers of beautifully etched /images with a believability that transforms them into a vast landscape where the reader has so much territory in which to wander and contemplate. For me, this is a collection I will read over and over: one reading just cannot do Injuring Eternity justice.