Artwork by Christopher J Shanahan, an artist and food industry economist living in San Antonio, Texas. Some of his work can be found at The Optimal Brain. Shanahan says of “The Acrobat”: “I think of circuses as places people go to run away, and performers, such as the one here, always holding out their hands to those who may help them from falling.”
~ ~ ~
The nurse called just as I coaxed the broken-wing bluebird into a box. “Your mother’s in poor health,” she said, “your mother’s dying, your mother’s dead.” I should call the funeral home, the florist, the gravedigger, but first I have to get this bird to the bird doctor, the fellow with the ostrich plume design on his stationery. He specializes in bird repair. They come in broken and leave more or less whole. Some get artificial wings that beat by means of a hearing-aid battery, slung under the bird’s body like an amulet. Some get new beaks to replace those blunted by crashing into windows. The doc shapes the new beak from plastic, fusing it to the old beak-stump with superglue.
The doc is in. The bluebird perks up when I open the box and the doc’s big blond Viking-face peers in. The bird chirps, and then bursts into song. I think the tune is “That Old Black Magic,” but I haven’t heard it in that key before. “Nothing wrong with his beak,” the doc opines. He touches the bent wing and then flexes it. “Not broken, not at all, just sprained.” I’m so grateful. I explain that my mother is dead. “Everyone’s mother is dead,” he observes, “or will be. You could bring her in and I could try to fix her, but reactivation doesn’t always please the reactivated. Think of her happiness. If she returned from death, what would she tell the neighbors?” I agree to think. The doc poses the bird on his thick right forefinger and smiles at it. The bluebird launches into a Gershwin medley, rounding every note with a smile.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and teaches at Keene State College. His most recent books of poetry are City of Palms and June Snow Dance, both 2012. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, New England Quarterly, Worcester Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.
~ ~ ~
Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.
~ ~ ~
We’re all in it together, have form honour that means we look out for each other at our own expense.
Blackout curtains remind me of the way towels can be used to protect a person’s modesty when changing on the beach.
I caught a window in the science lab. It was pushed in by a lad whose teeth stuck out as he inspected the buckled front wheel of his bike. Sir suggested I’d stolen a slice of pond from Monet’s water lilies before remembering to shout. I didn’t sprag.
Whenever there’s silence, we rely on Dinghy to fill it. The lads love him for his ability to wear the ripest armpit on his head while holding another kid’s bonce like a rugby ball. “Sniff up,” he bellows, and they all roll about laughing.
But in science, they put a drawing pin on his chair and he heehawed anti-gravity, touched down like a spit-balled post-it note. They made it up to him by taking him home at lunch, showered him and brought him back a ghoul in talc, then, just for fun, they crocodile clipped his goolies to a power pack and plugged him in. We all got done for that, though it was hardly life-threatening.
Now, Dinghy’s crying because what’s being described as love with fruit was done to him by his step-dad. Words flood out. We all put our arms around him, link hands in a ring to hold him. Listen, the last of the air coming out.
Rachel J Fenton was born in Yorkshire and currently lives in Auckland. In 2013 she was winner of the 7th Annual Short FICTION Competition (University of Plymouth), was the recipient of the Flash Frontier Winter Award for excellence in writing and was short-listed for the Fish Publishing International Poetry Prize. She has received numerous honours in previous years, including the 2012 AUT Creative Writing Prize. More here.
~ ~ ~
I wanted to just keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen it. I knew plenty about bags floating in rivers. It wiggled, and I knew I should stop but I kept walking, and I was reminded of my mother sneaking me down to the edge of the river, showing me all the empty bags left in the mud like used condoms – look at those stories, she would say, people just threw them away like trash! They could have lived. And then she would fall to her knees and pray to her god.
So when I saw the woman leaving the edge of the river, I knew what was going on. I avoided eye contact with all the gypsies, beating deflated pillowcases against rocks as I crawled up the muddy banks and caught the tail of the story. I dragged out the waterlogged thing and took it home, where I set its cold, blue body gently on the page and let it live.
Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Monster Opera, Searching For Suzi: a flash novel, Live From Palestine, and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape, an anthology of flash fiction that was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a co-founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator and curator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series. Find out more about her at www.nancystohlman.com.
~ ~ ~
Derek Osborne lives in eastern Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Bartleby-Snopes, PicFic/Folded Word, Pure Slush and Boston Literary among others. A collection of his stories is due out very soon. To read more or contact, visit him at Gertrude’s Flat.
~ ~ ~
“I like that idea.”
“And what idea is that?”
Vacation over, they were sitting in the La Guardia Airport departure lounge. He’d been reading Our Town. Assigned reading. She was studying the departure board.
“Thornton Wilder’s idea of, before you die, reliving your choice of any one day in your life. For me it would be the day we met. The day I first saw you.”
She didn’t say anything.
“And you?” he prodded.
“And me what?”
“What one day would you relive?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’d have to think about it. Do you think it’s going to snow?”
Reynold Junker’s writing credits include, among others, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He has published work in the magazines America, U.S. Catholic, Crannog, Italian-Americana, Feile-Festa, West Marin Review and VIA-Voices In Italian Americana. His story “Dancing with the Jesuits” was awarded first place in the Catholic Press Association’s Best Short Story category 2008.
~ ~ ~
I worry we’ll be lost in the forest of crying pines. I want to find the sea, to reach the beach. You say trust me, but I don’t, we argue, sand in my throat. I want to claim the dunes, the bathing shed, the outside shower. I know exactly where Aunty parked her car under this tree, over here where Uncle swam nude at night alone, where the men from Taiwan caught the crabs, where we built a fire with your father, cooked snarlers, drank wine, where my dad knelt in trousers to drink tea…how he hated sand and how silly I looked in my cut away togs with my waxed bruised thighs.
We’re going forward. I can no longer claim to have lain on that bank in my bikini and they’ve moved the herons too so we can cycle through to Richmond close to the road where we waited by the mouth of the sea on school mornings with our net and a milk bottle for the whitebait. Where’s the scout hall, the footbridge, the rubbish dump, the catch-in-the-back-of-my-throat freshly killed meat smell?
All my secret roads are gone and our river’s changed course.
Maggie Rainey-Smith is a published poet, short story writer and the author of two novels. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 for the Landfall Essay Prize and Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener and New Zealand Books, and on Radio New Zealand.
~ ~ ~
Lily crossed her legs. She was a pretty teenager, Elizabeth thought, as pretty as her daughter. Lily let the gun rest in her lap. She opened her hands as if she were measuring something. “In school, I read a story where this robber kills a family in Florida. They were driving on vacation, and he kills them. No more vacation.”
“I know that story,” Elizabeth said. “Flannery O’Connor.”
“Right.” Lily looked pleasantly surprised. “I always feel sorry for him. He didn’t really want to do that. He wanted a new beginning.” She stared at the window and sighed. “But that’s life. Same-old, same-old.”
“You don’t have to do this. You can have a new beginning.”
Lily’s face became sour. “There are no new beginnings. You should know, a smart lady like you. Educated. Rich.”
“I’m not rich.”
“You got more than I do.”
Elizabeth saw what Lily would look like as an old woman – small, constrained, hungry, furious.
Lily raised the gun. “‘If only someone had been there to shoot her every minute’ is how the story ends.” The curtains of the open window trembled in the breeze. “So I guess she does live. She lives to get shot every minute.” Lily smiled.
To Elizabeth the barrel seemed so slight. She imagined the sound of the bullet cutting through the air. She shut her eyes and then decided to leave them open for this last event.
Lily wobbled the gun. “Another time.” She put it down. “See how good I am.”
Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer”, was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Her website is here.
~ ~ ~
Carl buttonholed Joyce in the corridor. “Joyce, I was wondering…” Joyce, reluctantly, took Carl’s report home to proofread.
At teatime, the phone rang. Warren said, “For you, Joyce.” Joyce took the call. “Hello? Yes… I suppose that’ll be okay, Carol.” Joyce agreed she’d take Carol’s kids for the weekend.
Joyce opened her emails. She exclaimed: “It’s from Terry, Warren. He’s been a stranger!” Joyce’s face fell. Terry had written, …I know I can rely on you, Joyce – you’re such a brick. Joyce marked in her diary the weekend she’d be dog-sitting the great dane, Brutus.
Enjoying a latte with her sister, Joyce was stunned to hear Cheryl say, “….and now our rebuild’s happening, we can’t host Carrie’s 21st… I’ve put your address on the invites, Joyce – that alright?”
A ring at the door, her neighbour’s son, Kyle, a lovely boy, holding a basket of dirty laundry. “Mum’s machine’s on the blink again – Mum said you wouldn’t mind. Here.”
Cheryl raced up to Warren at Carrie’s 21st. “Where’s Joyce… and why the apron?” Warren said, “Isn’t it obvious, Cheryl? I’m playing hostess.”
Cheryl was confused, “But Joyce promised…” Warren proffered a cupcake, “Yes, well…she made a promise to Sam as well.”
“Sam – who’s he?”
“She is Joyce’s counsellor – told Joyce to start saying no… ‘cept to her marriage proposal, I believe.”
Cheryl stuttered, “JJJoyce is mmmarying a….w-w-woman?”
“Straight after divorcing me. Have another cupcake, Cheryl – too good to refuse.”
Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting – when time allows.
~ ~ ~
Knot 5, day 1: On the quay she watched him depart, her fingers untying the first knot. He watched her shrink. Made her disappear. A knot slackened inside of him.
Knot 4, day 2: She looked out to sea. Waiting. In the stillness the walls of the house breathed out. She released the second knot. He let the land recede until there was just ocean and sky. Blue on blue. He felt another loosening of the heart.
Knot 3, day 3: She opened the window; birdsong flew through. She danced to its soundtrack and something freed up in her body. She undid the third knot. He dropped the mainsail somewhere in the blue and started fishing, unfurling his fists.
Knot 2, day 4: She turned her back on the sea and painted the walls: lemon yellow, blood orange, crimson. She released another knot. He sat in the blue forgetting. His heart pulsed to the wingbeat of a fulmar.
Knot 1, day 5: She dreamed he’d flung his water and catch into the navy depths. She cleared away his ocean charts and seagoing paraphernalia, released the last knot and cracked open a bottle of ruby-red wine.
He closed his eyes. The boat drifted. Soon he’d drop off the earth’s edge and free fall through space. But for now the sky above was blue velvet on his cheek, the ocean below a lullaby. His heart slowed to the beat of a great whale.
Helen Moat was runner-up in the 2011 British Guild of Travel Writers Competition and was highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Travel Writing Competition this year. Her writing has been published in The Guardian, Telegraph and Wanderlust magazine. You can read her travel inspired pieces at her blog..
~ ~ ~
Knowing I was a sailor he invited me to visit his Uncle Jack, an old mariner who had lost his voice, suggesting that my visit might cheer him up.
I packed my sextant, compass, maps, and set off.
Uncle Jack appeared holding a sign, “Welcome”, and motioned me in. When he noticed my sextant and compass he sat down and began to write, hunched over his pad as if to prevent the words from escaping.
He passed it to me and as I read I realised who Uncle Jack was. He had written of his last voyage, the ice and snow, the albatross he had killed, doldrums, sea snakes, naught to drink and on and on until he had lost his voice from telling anyone who paused to listen.
When I finished reading my heart melted, and filled with compassion for Uncle Jack. I broke into an old sea shanty, not believing my ears when Uncle Jack joined in, tears shining on his face as he sang.
All night long we sang sea shanties, spoke of our seafaring days and drank mugs of rum. Uncle Jack told me he would never speak or write about his last voyage ever again.
Next morning I gave Uncle Jack my sextant and compass and told him I had no further use for them. Reaching the brow of the hill, I no longer felt grief weighing on my wings, and I caught the wind and flew southward.
Teoti Jardine is of Māori, Irish and Scottish descent. He spent twenty years overseas living in Canada, Italy and the UK where he worked as a nurse, a potter and a deckhand. Since his retirement two years ago he has been writing full-time. He’s had poems published in Te Pānui Rūnaka, Christchurch Press and London Grip, and hopes to have a collection of poetry published later this year. He lives with his dog Amie near Oxford in North Canterbury and is a member of the Canterbury Poets Collective committee.
~ ~ ~
There is no hand outstretched, no reassuring words when I fall. My body becomes liquid, like Bruce Lee said, only it’s not quite water. I close my eyes and am back in my room, practicing, knowing that next time the boys won’t knock me to the ground. Next time my hands will move so fast their eyes won’t know where to settle. I will block blows and twist their arms into pretzels, but I will let them go.
My body is seizing now. I am sinking into the floor, spreading on the linoleum. No one is supposed to be here, but I feel pressure. I am water, and I am earth. There is nothing more pristine.
My father’s fist pounds my chest. The pills tickle the ground as he kicks them away. His “Why, Son? Why?” jars me, makes my legs heavy again, not like air, not fluid, and I open my eyes. The world is solid, bright. There are boys waiting for me at school. They’re still there, and I need more training. I studied Jeet Kune Do, practiced all summer. I thought I was ready, but when I saw them today, I turned home.
I want to tell Dad why, explain, but he won’t stop. And when I sit up, coughing, stomach upside-down, I begin to cry. I become a lake, a river, a stream, an ocean that will one day be able to move anything, anyone. I just need more time.
Jen Knox is the author of Don’t Tease the Elephants. She works as a creative writing professor and editor in San Antonio, Texas. Jen’s writing was chosen for Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions in 2012, and she was a recipient of the Global Short Story Award. Some of her work can be found in A cappella Zoo, ARDOR, Bound Off, Burrow Press Review, Gargoyle, Narrative, PANK and Prick of the Spindle. More here.
~ ~ ~
A passer-by found Kate slumped, tongue thick, clumsy, hands turning, turning the wheel, eyes flying apart in small, bright pieces. Your shell lay broken over the hood of her Camaro. The parking garage’s concrete blocks were splashed with drying blood that painted the unfinished portrait of a young man.
Dangerous men had forced Kate behind the windshield now dotted with carnage, told her to confess if she valued her breath. They placed her on point after they broke you, leaned you over the chrome bumper, and pressed her foot to the pedal.
You’d heard too much. The final lesson of this life was taught by men who laughed as they ended yours. You’d turned the corner in the wrong room in a moment perfect for dying, ignorant that the clock was ticking this last hour.
Had it only been someone else, a deaf man, one who walked with a white cane tipped red, a drunk splayed on the sidewalk cadging strangers for change…. If only, my friend, you had not overheard their plans. Your jokes would still welcome me over long-distance calls, your redhead’s skin still sunburn on trips to Michigan’s dunes, your mother not weep for her lost only child, your son grow up without a parent.
Only mute Kate knew their faces as she collected despair in small, speechless increments, her mother sipping Chianti and laughing her smoker’s laugh with those who had killed you. Your first girl could have won tardy justice for you. Instead, Kate fashioned prison sheets as a noose, fixed them to the bars, and purpled her face in shame.
Joani Reese has poetry, flash, creative non-fiction, and book reviews published or forthcoming in many online and print venues. Reese is a poetry editor for Connotation Press. Her second poetry chapbook Dead Letters has been recently published by Cervena Barva Press. More here.
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He often walked the bridge at night to escape his solitary life and when he saw the limp body lying in the gutter he deduced someone had tossed it from a speeding car. She was so small and the old man couldn’t resist taking her home.
It took many hours to make her look like new. He bathed her body, shaved her matted hair and attached a wig to her head. Carefully he applied new face paint to hide the crack and chose a pretty dress and dancing shoes for her to wear from the spares he kept in his cupboard.
“Hmm, something’s missing. Ah sì, sì, underwear,” he said but reasoned no one would care if she wasn’t properly dressed. In the corner of the room a boy with stick-thin legs sat watching and waiting until Geppetto left the room to make a telephone call.
“Run away,” the boy whined. “My father’s wicked, he squished little Jimmy with a cricket bat.”
Geppetto, coming through the door, laughed softly. “Oh Santa Maria, if he tells anymore lies he’ll get a big nose. Ignore him, my Dolly Twinkle Toes. I’m harmless, just a poor widower with time on his hands.”
Dolly couldn’t answer and lay on the bench staring at the ceiling through glassy eyes.
Geppetto covered her with a blanket and, patting the boy’s head said, “It’s your bedtime. Off you go,” knowing the birdcage in his shop window was a profitable way to display his new toy.
Natalia Spencer studied prose poetry and flash fiction under the tutelage of American poet Dr Carrie Etter and has an honours degree in Creative Writing. In 2012 her flash fiction was published in the anthology Kissing Frankenstein and Other Stories. She is also interested creative non-fiction and prose, biology, religion and history, and writes under the name of Talia Hardy.
~ ~ ~
Ellie walked into the water, watching how the water swept out, in long, smooth arcs, before gathering height and folding over, the foam feathering into the wind. She could just make out her stepfather, Greg, bobbing out beyond the breakers on his surfboard. She heard the roar just before the wall of water scooped her off her feet, pulled her under. The churning and bubbling filled her ears, as the sea ran through her nose, her mouth, her eyes. She was just about to inhale when an arm wrapped around her chest.
“You all right?”
Ellie breathed. The air gurgled down her throat, rushed into her lungs with a sharpness that made her eyes water.
“Relax, would you?” Greg towed her back in on his board. He blinked at her through the rivulets of water streaming down his face.
“I’m fine.” Ellie realised her bikini top was askew, tried to adjust it with trembling hands. “Thanks.”
“Here.” Greg retied the straps around her back, moved his hands back toward the front. His thumb brushed, slowly, against her nipple… a strangled sound escaped her.
“Relax,” he said as his hands fell away. Ellie crossed her arms over her chest, looked back up the beach. Her mother was lying on her back with a magazine over her face.
“Mum said to tell you we should go soon,” she said abruptly.
“Sure,” Greg said, hands on hips, and soon enough they did.
Ellie went to her room and cried.
Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore in Auckland. She is currently working on two novels and has recently completed a Creative Hub fiction writing course. Her interests include reading, writing, running, and the outdoors.
~ ~ ~
The knocking will not stop until I answer the door. I am being summoned to court, for it seems a young lady of noble birth is requesting my questing. I have not been addressed as “Sir” in years.
Admittedly, I am a mess. I reek of cheap ale and cheaper wine. Once prodigious feats of scholarship have been reduced to translating pornographic ballads into Roman so I can sing of the bodacious birks of my bloen without fear of the cudgel.3
A royal maiden is detained by a beastly captor of some sort, and suffers under a constant, if unspecified, threat. Minstrels praise her almond-shaped eyes and olive skin. I cannot remember the last time I had solid food.
The redomestication of my hair and beard makes me look and feel twenty years younger. The queen herself flirts, though most chastely.
Putting my martial accoutrements, not to mention my life, back in working condition, has caused delays. The princess writes, chiding me for my dilatoriness and threatening litigation if my forbearance continues. She would do well to remember who is in need of a savior.
Finally, I have become her knight in polished armor.
Years of trials and battles become legend, and when I finally arrive at the stronghold what do I find? No beast, no damsel. But I return a hero, and I am left wondering the secret motive and hidden motif behind all this.
Bob Carlton lives and works in Garland, Texas.
~ ~ ~
Rest. Skewed. It was an odd text to get. Plainly I should have understood it at a glance, but a glance didn’t suffice; nor did a prolonged stare. Texts are immune to prolonged stares.
Was it a predictive text problem? Seemed a bit too clever even for an iPhone’s brain. Seemed too enigmatic for prediction.
Take a word at a time.
Rest. Who was supposed to rest? Me? Or did it mean he was having a rest? Needing a rest. Or that all the rest of them, whoever they were, were resting. Or were skewed.
I wasn’t sure where he was so I didn’t have any idea whether there were others needing to rest – or be skewed.
And skewed? Did he mean skewered? No, he was usually pretty careful in his choice of words. So skewed. He’d skewed off the road. Or the rest had run off the road. Who the heck had run off the road? Was there a road?
Maybe he was under stress and actually had meant skewered.
Figuratively? Which meant what?
What had he been doing this morning that might have got him skewered?
Going to the supermarket for a bottle of olive oil. Seemed difficult to get skewered in the olive oil section. So, skewed: an old lady had run into his trolley and sent him skew-whiff into the sauces.
In which case, how to reply?
Over a long cup of coffee, I reflect.
And tap out the message:
Mike Crowl is a 67-year-old writer, pianist, composer and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, with most published material these days appearing on one or other of his blogs. Current projects include typing up weekly letters he sent to his family in 1968/9 when he was at the London Opera Centre, and writing a set of songs in which dogs of various shapes and sizes are the focus.
~ ~ ~
I don’t save the dog when the river sweeps her up.
At age six, I walked into the Pacific with my hands thrown into the salt-speckled air. I crooked my neck up, bellowed at the grey sky. “I am catfish,” I screamed, “I am love.” I threw myself into the waves. The waves ate me up. My father and mother dived in after, from different directions, their fingers latching onto opposite arms. They pulled. I went two ways, water and grimy ocean flecks sloshing into my mouth, throat, lungs.
Finally, they moved as one. I lay on the sand sputtering sick wet, bruises forming on my round child arms, wrapping them like seaweed, the left dislocated.
She is my neighbor’s, brutish man who drowned her puppies last week, said he couldn’t afford food for both bitch and litter. I gave him 200 dollars and whispered the soft-bellied dog away.
“Pulled me hard,” I said.
“Dad,” I said.
“Yes,” I said.
I had no reason.
The dog is slicked in slime, head bobbing up and down the thrashing river. I stumble down the bank. The dog’s eyes are sharp orange lights, and they say, She can’t be stopped. She is catfish. She is love. She is more than you will ever be.
She closes her eyes, and I turn away, hope she is floating, dreaming her children, towards some back-in-time sea, enveloped in the water’s noise, so great it becomes silence.
Reem Abu-Baker lives in Denver, Colorado, where she recently received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Colorado. Her work has appeared in Word Riot.
~ ~ ~
You now say it was always going to happen, he slipping himself inside her, although you never made any such prediction beforehand. Gossip comes naturally when you call her a bitch and him an adulterer, while she calls their child a miracle, and he fights to save his marriage.
Before the hurricane they were merely two faces among hundreds sharing the building in which you worked, faces you acknowledged when passing without ever knowing either of their names, or whether they knew each other. When the roof was ripped away you saw her fall to the ground and cut her forehead. But you couldn’t hear her scream above the raging wind and sheets of iron smacking into one another. You saw him drape himself over her, smearing the blood from her wound across his white shirt, before grit caked your window.
The hours you spent under your desk as the building crumpled around you, you remember well, as you do them, miraculously, being found the next morning, battered and bloodied, in a haven deep in the debris. But you cannot stomach any suggestion they, with all hope lost, found succour in each other, cocooned from a savage world. A hand grasped for reassurance, an embrace that brings comfort, a kiss that stirs the loins. No. You believe that, weeks before the storm, once outside for a cigarette, she took his hand and guided it inside her blouse. This you did not see, but now you are sure it is so.
Kim Thomas is a bloke – let’s get that clear – although was once asked, in writing, by his doctor’s receptionist to make an appointment for a cervical smear test. Usually most accommodating, he politely declined on that occasion. He recently rekindled a long smouldering interest in creative writing. A growing weariness with his profession – the law – has had something to do with that.
~ ~ ~
Tuesday nights, Ally went to the hallowed Fences, the place his church – mostly fat-assed middle-age men and Ally – played softball. Sometimes he played right field when Mr. Omar was getting his chemo, but usually he warmed the bench, rubbing his mother’s baby oil into his new glove.
Tonight’s opponent was First Baptist Robertsville. Mr. Omar was dead, so Ally was limping to first (the third pitch had clipped his hip). He’d never been on first before. It felt safe: like an enormous communion wafer, but plump as a tick, kissed with muddy cleat prints.
The next batter hit a left-field line drive, so Ally limped on, love bursting – for the Fences, for all these Christian Americans playing this American game, for this grinning second baseman waiting for him to Slide! Slide! as the crowd was yelling.
Ally’s left cheek hit sand as a waft of saddle soap and leather brushed his other. Two beefy, hairy legs wrapped around him, pinned him to the ground. When he tried to stand, the second baseman from First Baptist Robertsville tightened his leg-grip – like a boa. A Baptist boa.
“You’re out, faggot.”
Ally felt the legs give his slight ribcage one last, long squeeze. Everyone saw; no one helped. But this was the freeing thing.
Released, Ally limped off the diamond. Past his glove dripping baby oil on the bench, past the batters’ cage and beyond the fences, he floated down the hill and off the earth.
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen’s award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, A-Minor Magazine and Blue Five Notebook. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.
~ ~ ~
I saw the ladder from around the corner.
Fucking landlord can’t leave well enough alone.
The garbage bins were still on the curb. I wheeled them up the drive, around to the garage.
He was on his back at the foot of the ladder. His eyes pointed straight into the sky.
I nudged his midriff with the tip of my shoe.
I wedged my toe underneath him and tilted him on his side. Slid his wallet out, took the big bills, slid it back.
I left a couple twenties for the rescue squad.
Guy Yasko was born in Chicago. He makes his living at the intersection of Japan and the anglophone world.
~ ~ ~
She was a cold fish, Ngaire, never had much of a word to say to anyone. From the morning she started, she ploughed diligently though the accounts each day and left on the dot of five. Civil enough, but she never joined us for lunch in the park or her share of the ham Mr Hansen always put on at Christmas. Her desk was clear, her filing up-to-date, but she might as well have been a robot. Rumours swirled: she was a murderess, a former nun, Mr Hansen’s secret love child.
So it took everyone back when she showed up late one morning, cradling a hefty cardboard box. “What’ve you got there then, Ngaire?” Sheila asked.
Ngaire actually smiled. I just about fell off my chair. “See for yourself.”
Sheila peeked inside. “A pig! Oh my god, Ngaire, you’ve brought a pig to work!”
Well, we all had to look then. Sure enough, two curious, piggy eyes peered back.
“Kunekune,” said Ngaire proudly. “I found her injured on the side of the road. The vet says she’ll need regular feeds if she’s going to survive. I’ll have to bring her in for a bit.”
Well, that was the start of it. Sheila dug out an old dog basket, Mr Hansen brought a bucketful of veggie peelings and the new receptionist started crocheting a pig-sized blanket. The invoices got paid late for once, but no one cared. That year we had turkey for Christmas and Ngaire and the pig both came.
Janis Freegard’s work has appeared in many publications, including Home: New Short Short Stories by New Zealand Writers, 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories 4 and the Listener. She is a past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award and was runner-up in the 2012 NFFD competition. Her latest publication is The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, US). She lives in Wellington and blogs here.
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In the jungle God speaks from the trees and his voice drips down her spine. She forces through the invading green, feeling herself snagged and stroked until she is wet. The pounding of her heart and the rasp of her breath are counterpoint to the ceaseless scritch and screech of creation. It assaults her from beneath her skirts and above her head. The throbbing is a part of her now. She keeps her gaze fixed on the white of his shirt, devouring the evidence of his exertions, the hidden beauty. At her back, the steady step of her husband.
Later, crouching in darkness behind a tree, she waits. Her skin will burst if he does not touch it. She licks the salt of her palm, works her avid tongue between her fingers. Like a worm, she thinks. In Eve’s apple. He does not come, of course.
In Santarem, the next night, they dine. Her husband is loud, expansive. She can barely eat. Her gaze strays to the rows of canoes that line the riverbank. “Van Meer is gone to Manaus,” he says, thumb resting on his breast pocket. She lays down her spoon with great care. “Thence homewards I do believe.” He smiles at her through pipe-smoke. On her plate a split maracuja, pendulously spherical, oozes seed. In the heat its sweetness has an underlying taint of rot.
Cathy Lennon is based in the northwest of England. She has only recently begun sharing her flash fiction and short stories with others. She has been published in print and online, including in the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day anthology (UK) Scraps. She is on twitter: @clenpen.
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“Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-f..,” The glint of gold stopped Luke mid-shuffle.
From a crack in the concrete outside the exercise yard a dandelion sang its delight, the yellow defiant against the prison wall.
“Johnson, move it!”
Luke resumed his mindless shamble. “Twenty-five, twenty-six…”
Restless that night, Luke felt sleep slither from his grasp and deny him oblivion. That flower. Yellow. A shard of memory: his daughter asleep on her yellow SpongeBob pillow, her hair a riot of black curls.
From the time the cell door clanged behind him he had allowed no feeling, no memories. With his rare visitors he would sit blank, uncommunicative.
His fortress now breached, memories surged in. Alicia climbing into a cuddle chuckling Daddy. The delicious fragrance of the baby’s neck. The acrid smoke belching from the overturned car, his wife trapped, her screams piercing his drunken stupor.
Anguish burst through, swamping him. Relentless waves of agony racked his body.
Next day the dandelion was a feathery globe of tiny parachutes. As Luke watched, a gust of wind whirled the seeds high into their future, their message to him resonating. Anything can take wing.
A swirl of wind snared memories. The blustery afternoon in the park, Alicia tossing red and yellow leaves high. The baby absorbed with the daisies between his chubby legs. Remorse stabbed; he had missed the marvel of those first tottering steps.
Then a curling of hope, recalling her wonder. “Daddy, look – anything can fly!”
Judy Nieuwendijk lives, for now, in rural South Auckland with husband Fons and grandson Nicholas. Sometime soon Judy and Fons will be nomads, wandering back-country New Zealand in their bus. For the first time in her life, Judy has time to write the many stories and experiences of a rich life, delighting in seeing the jumble of words tumble from within onto the laptop screen.
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Please also see this month’s Book Feature with authors of new short story collections Latika Vasil, James Claffey, Catherine McNamara and Berit Ellingsen.
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Coming in December: stories from the underground.