THE LEBANESE BLONDE, fiction by Tom Leins

I probe the wide gash on the back of my skull with calloused fingers. Blood courses down my neck, soaking my collar. The doorman – a thickset man known as Feral Errol – grabs my bloody jacket and slams me face-first into a piece of rust-ravaged sheet metal.

I reach for the sock full of pound coins in my jacket pocket. It feels heavier than before. So much for an easy job.

*

Two days earlier.

I’m staring at Khalil’s prison haircut through the scarred plexiglass, waiting for him to say something else. The barber evidently made no effort to accommodate the horse-shoe shaped scar on the side of his head, and the hair in the middle sticks up in a thick clump.

He places his hands face down on the table and smiles bitterly. Two of the fingers on his right hand look like they have been bitten off at the first knuckle. Jesus. Poor motherfucker.

Until last month Khalil worked as a tax inspector. He had a varied client list, but he was a straight-shooter. A biker known as Sugar-Lump burned down his office after a paperwork discrepancy, and Khalil – ill-tempered at the best of times – snapped, detonating a nail-bomb in a whites-only pub. I later heard that h included long roofing nails to cause the maximum amount of carnage.

Channings Wood has a big white power inmate contingent, and the prison governor buried Khalil in the Vulnerable Prisoners Unit for his own safety. It used to be mainly sex offenders, but now they keep the fucking crazies in there as well. Some of these guys are so far off the grid they no longer remember what the grid even looked like. Painting the walls with their own shit is one thing, but these guys like biting chunks out of one another in the exercise yard. I look at the raw-looking stumps on Khalil’s hand again. Poor bastard has only been inside three weeks.

He taps his remaining fingers on the table irritably, and I break the silence.

“What you gonna do, Khalil? Pay me in cigarettes and chocolate bars?”

“I have money. In a floor safe at my old office. Take your finder’s fee out of that. Give the rest to Ani.”

His daughter.

“What is there to stop me from scarpering with your loot?”

His hard green eyes soften, momentarily.

“You loved her once, didn’t you?”

The visiting room suddenly feels hot enough to blister paintwork.

I nod.

“Ok. Give me a week. I’ll find her.”

He collapses back into his orange plastic chair. He looks deflated, but something close to a smile flickers across his dry lips.

*

Ani is a mess of contradictions: a neat drink in a dirty glass. We were close once upon a time, but she liked the drugs better than she ever liked me, and I walked away.

Khalil barely knew me – certainly didn’t like me – but I wasn’t surprised when he called me from prison. He knows what I do for a living, knows my reputation for violence. I have never used a nail-bomb, but then again, no one has ever burned down my place of work either.

I waited until after dark and then sifted through the ashes that used to be his tax office. The safe was heat-damaged, but intact. The door gave way with a minimal help from my crowbar.

There was £5,000 inside.

*

I had heard that Ani was working off a drug debt at a club called the Honey Bucket. The place is co-owned by a local businessman called Remy Cornish. I have history with him – none of it pleasant, some of it bloody – but I don’t expect him to be a problem: Remy has been wheelchair-bound since a man named Franco Moretti shot off his kneecaps. In this town violent men call the tune.

*

Unable to drive, Remy now employs a hatchet-faced chauffeur named Mulligan. The driver was having a smoke break in the alley next to the club when I bludgeoned him with a sock full of pound coins. I felt bad about it, but not bad enough to hold back. After I was done there was a lump of his scalp stuck to the sock

The girl at the ticket desk is about as sexy as a jailhouse wedding – I can see why she isn’t allowed onstage. I pull Mulligan’s peaked cap over my eyes and slouch through the lobby, trying to look inconspicuous. She grunts, but doesn’t say a word.

*

Inside the club, the backing track is murderously slow. The five girls onstage look uneasy as they get their grind on. They are naked apart from their wigs and their go-go boots. They are all wearing Cleopatra wigs, apart from Ani – she is wearing a long, platinum blonde wig. It clashes badly with her pubic hair, which is the colour of burned plastic.

I stride through the packed crowd and climb onto the stage, hoisting Ani’s naked, writhing body onto my shoulder. We are halfway across the club when she tries to bite me. It brings back memories. She always was a biter.

As I reach the lobby I feel the back of my skull crack. I turn around to see the ticket-taker scowling at me, upturned shotgun in hand. She is scowling and looks uglier than a boneyard dog. Oh, fuck.

*

I wriggle free of Feral Errol’s clumsy grip and cosh him across the face. The coins leave his nose smeared halfway across his cheek.

On the pavement, Remy looks enormous in his medium-sized wheelchair. The girl with the shotgun is next to him, trembling.

“Give her back, young man, and I promise I won’t kill you.”

I laugh, despite my busted skull.

“If I leave her here she will be turning tricks in a fairground fuck-truck by Christmas.”

Now it’s his turn to laugh. It sounds more like a wheeze.

“Kerry – shoot this bastard.”

I run at her swinging the sock full of pound coins. The first shotgun blast narrowly misses my head. The second stops me in my tracks – damn near blows a hole through my fucking thigh.

I lay back on the tarmac, writhing in a pool of pain.

All I can think about is Khalil’s £5,000 – hidden in a pillowcase back at my rooming house. Man, I was nearly rich.

I close my eyes and I laugh until I pass out.

~~~

Tom Leins spent two years working as a film critic for esteemed (but now-defunct) UK movie magazine DVD Monthly. Since the magazine closed down in 2009 he has contributed to a variety of websites, not least Devon & Cornwall Film – which showcases ‘Sex, Leins & Videotape‘ – his increasingly sporadic DVD column. Over the last decade Tom’s short stories have been published in magazines and on websites all over the world. He is currently working on an increasingly demented series of ‘Paignton Noir’ novels including: ‘Thirsty & Miserable’, ‘All Is Swell In The Grinding Light’, ‘Once Upon A Time In The Projects’, ‘Exile On Winner Street’ and ‘Tropical Malady’. Broadly categorised as ‘Psycho-Noir’, the books blend Psycho-Geography and Noir to disturbing, sometimes entertaining, effect. An experimental novel about the amateur wrestling industry – entitled ‘Hardcore Got Stale’ – is also on the agenda.

from 555, five sonnets by John Lowther

Note on the Text

555 is a collection of sonnets whose construction is database-driven and relies on text analytic software. I crunched and analyzed Shakespeare’s sonnets to arrive at averages for word, syllable and character (inclusive of punctuation but not spaces). These averages (101 words, 129 syllables, 437 characters) became requirements for three groups of sonnets. I collected lines from anywhere and everywhere in the air or in print in a database. The lines are all found, their arrangement is mine. Values for word, syllable and character were recorded. Typos and grammatical oddities were preserved; only initial capitals and a closing period have been added as needed. The selection of lines isn’t rule-driven and inevitably reflects what I read, watch, and listen to, thus incorporating my slurs and my passions as well as what amuses and disturbs me. These sonnets were assembled using nonce patterns or number schemes; by ear, notion, or loose association; by tense, lexis, tone or alliteration. Every sonnet matches its targeted average exactly. Think of Pound’s “dance of the intellect among words” then sub sentences for words—it is amongst these I move. The dance in question traces out a knot (better yet, a gnot) that holds together what might otherwise fly apart. I espouse only the sonnets, not any one line.

*

 

Music is the diarrhea of the intellect.
You were soft and round like a dumpling.
Paint a picture for us.
This seems like a silly piece to create a forgery of given the other options out there, however, I have seen enough silly things by now to doubt it’s authenticity.
Darn.
You promised.
The passages of centuries are often required to acquaint more slowly evolving creatures with such prerequisite states and conditions.
Probably good if you’re renting, landlord doesn’t care, and you know what you’re doing electrically.

*

 

I just had some pineapple chunks in a can from Charles Manson’s ranch.
For it is very probable that the refrigerated parts grow warm by such stripes, and excite a heat in the seminal matter, and that the pain of the flogged parts, which is the reason that the blood and spirits are attracted in greater quantity, communicate heat also to the organs of generation, and thereby the perverse and frenzical appetite is satisfied.
Embracing the inner pink and living with intention and absurdity.
I’m a sick boy, there should be more.

*

 

Young men switching.
Who will see the fire.
That’s your dilemma.
Put your back into it.
I must operate on you.

What a freaking train wreck.
Chose cinema over potatoes.
The stars and shells dangle.
You seriously need a shrink.
Stop trying to figure me out.

Bend your elbow so your forearm is at 90º to the ground.
Every quest finds its alibi in the meaning of meaning.
Solutions have been based on a maximum entropy model.
What the invisible hand gives, it can also snatch away.
Abstraction is everybody’s zero but nobody’s nought.

*

 

Let’s shag ass.
I love syphilis more than you.
I’m sorry, I forgot to speak all soggy and soft because I was speaking of the child.
Adults are obsolete children.
I will pay you to sit over my face and shit right into my face.
Plainly, all is not well in this brave new world of childhood.
It does worry me that he seems to avoid copulation.
The fantasy of sovereign agency and omnipotent power precedes, is necessary to, and continues to underlie the acquisition of actual agency and power – the alternative is learned helplessness.

*

 

Don’t text me.
Just do what feels good.
Heartbreaking.
No, it’s not PR.
Love live heresy.
Watching guys shoot meth into their cocks.
A lot of it is just real estate porn anyway.
I can’t get my dog to stop eating cat shit.
This problem is not unique to cyberspace.
It was posted by a chiropractor, or someone masquerading as a chiropractor.
Drowning in plurality, we lose the capacity to grasp anything like a system.
I need a shit.
Freedom’s just another word for lack of awareness in face of overwhelming omnipresent constraint.

~~~

John Lowther’s work appears in the anthologies, The Lattice Inside (UNO Press, 2012) and Another South: Experimental Writing in the South(U of Alabama, 2003). Held to the Letter, co-authored with Dana Lisa Young is forthcoming from Lavender Ink.

THREE POEMS by JD DeHart

 

Simple Variations

I was a nose
and two eyes and a mouth
I was a gender
and a race and a class

I was a language
and a code and a system
a culture and a mass
and a movement

Once, but only once,
I thought was a cult, then
thought I was magic, had
something like destiny,
a bubblegum word at best

Now I am just a voice
trailing off, not liking the
sound of itself recorded.

 

Automobiles

Kid stuff, the revving engine
in the drive way. I love to take
out the car. The car never
gets taken out.

I was the kind of kid
who made mad car noises,
rocking in his seat.
No I wasn’t.

It’s always raining or about
to rain. It’s always damp
or cloudy. Or I’m just not up
to it. I’m not sure how the
gearshift works anymore.

The car has won awards, but
I never have. Maybe it’s envy.
The car’s red, not green, so
the envy must be in me.

Maybe one day I will grow up.
Or maybe I will finally
take the car out again.

 

Murk

You cannot see the bottom,
neither can I. Should we dive
is the question. I’ve got all
kinds of questions.

I never know the answers or
feel like I have an answer
until I hear someone else speak
more questions. Should we
dive is still the question.

There’s a leaf floating, a sense
of a bottom, or maybe there isn’t.
Maybe this tiny pool takes us
through the center of a quicksand
universe. There’s no pushing
through to the other side.
It’s not possible.

I have no choice but to dive.

 

~~~

 

JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. He has recently been nominated for Best of the Net, and his chapbook, The Truth About Snails, is available on Amazon.

Five Poems by Ray Shea

 

Compulsion / Shame / The Infinite

 

  1. Compulsion

 

It was a boundary

crossed and recrossed

until it was just a habit.

 

It was the worst thing in the world

until you’d done everything

worse.

 

 

 

  1. Shame

 

The one who looks like Gollum

hovers wide-eyed

and wet in the doorway

 

the black-light basement shuffle &

party & play &

slip & slide

on spent soldiers

 

the one who looks

like Gollum works his scaly fingers

trying to get a hand in

 

silence or acquiescence, a steamed silhouette

of body shame double-wrapped

in a bear size towel but

 

one more wave-off

from another twink face

and even Gollum starts to look good.

 

I was once like you, he says

as he reaches under.

 

 


 

III. The Infinite

 

My God, it’s full of empty

no matter how much death

you spit or swallow

or take lying down.

 

Think positive no don’t

think positive no don’t think

a little like Vegas oddsmakers

 

think that they always said they were clean

if they spoke at all and Asian guys,

you know, statistically,

at least you think you read somewhere once

 

you think preliminary think this is routine

think this is just a sore throat think

this is just another tested-neg to wave

in front of tricks and hookers

 

but if they close the door

when the timer goes off

you know the blood that drains

from your face is poison.

 

 

 

So much science so close to home

but it still takes three months

for the darkness to reach you.

 

 

Sing It For Me

 

 

At the Kubrick exhibit

we saw the best

bits of Lolita.

 

We read the scribbled

script note that all work

and no play makes

Jack a dull boy.

 

We saw Dave Bowman

unscrew the covers

from Hal’s memory bank.

 

Dave
Stop
Stop will you.

 

That’ll be me

pulling the plug

on your grandpa

one of these days.

 

I’ve talked about doing it

so many times

I’ve talked it into

a tidy abstraction.

 

It’s just a thing

I’ll do some day,

a bland fact of life

like trading in my car

or getting a new tattoo.

 

                                                                        I’m afraid, Dave.

 

This takes too long.

He shouldn’t have time

to be afraid.

It should be like

flipping a switch.

 

My mind is going.
I can feel it.

 

I’ve read

that the shutdown

of the dying body

is like taking a big ship

out of commission.

 

The engines spin down,

great boilers blow off steam,

parts cool and

creak and

groan.

 

Pumps click off,

one,

then the next,

then the next.

 

Heating systems

dwindle and fade,

electricals

blinker out.

 

Everything in

its proper order,

in its own time,

til all that is left

is the captain

on the bridge

 

pausing once more

to gaze down

the length of

the dark main

deck before putting

on his cap

and departing.

 

He taught me to sing a song.
If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.

 

I’d like to hear it, Hal.

 

Sing it for me.

 

 

Marching in Circles

 

So I was in AA in France.

We marched around in circles.

Just marching, marching, marching

was all we could do because

 

the French, they have wine

and they’re giving it away.

They give away cabernet. In bottles.

So all we could do was march, march,

 

march around in circles, to try

to stay away from the cabernet.

 

It was the most boring fucking

AA meeting I’ve ever been to.

 

The French are like Louis the Fourteenth,

the Sun King, like Louis the Fifteenth,

Louis the Sixteenth, the French have a lot

of Louies, they have an awful lot

 

of Louies, they always get a new Louis,

the French. Every few years or so, every

hundred years they get a new Louis.

 

This is how the French tell time,

because they count off a century

with another Louis. But then they had

the guillotine, which is why the French

 

can’t string together any sober days

because they don’t know which Louis

they are on any more and only a couple of

Napoleons is not nearly enough.

 

We marched and we marched but

when I got back to Texas I ended

up six years back on the whiskey

 

losing my head over

some goddamn woman.

 

 

 

Things I Learned from the Twilight Zone Marathon

 

 

That beauty is in the eye

of the beholder

but not the nose.

 

That poorly translated cookbooks

are unreliable guides

for living.

 

That when all the meds

you take still don’t let you

shake the feeling

that you’re in an alien zoo

it’s not the pills’ fault.

 

That if you feel like everybody

in your world has disappeared

they weren’t ever there

to begin with.

 

That you should never trust anything

that looks like people,

like dolls, like mannequins, like Satan,

like robots, like people.

 

That you should always trust dogs.

 

That if you hate

your life and you think

you will never escape,

jump off the train at Willoughby

 

(unless you’re in Brooklyn on the G

and then you might as well stay on

till Greenpoint).

 

That no matter how old you are

your friends will always

run off and play

Kick the Can without you

if they get half a chance

 

but that if someone thinks

bad thoughts about you,

wish them into the cornfield

and they’ll never break your heart again.

 

That though your dreams will have

their own nightmares, it’s actually not

too bad here, I mean if you look

real close all the kitchen drawers are fake

 

but there’s plenty of time to read, Shatner

is still looking hale and boyish,

and if you win at pool then you can play it

until the sands of time run out

 

of your shoes onto the hospital floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thelonious Monk
(film erasure #3)

 

A sense of a multitudinous

narrative forgotten

destroying this young woman

myself.

 

I’ve misled you. I’ve given

profoundly complicated

testimony under oath.

 

In therapy surrounded

by a thunderstorm of things

of oceans and vines

my own expectations.

 

I have a thousand names

like the cats

like Thelonious Monk spinning,

always spinning.

 

~~~

 

Ray Shea’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, The Weeklings, Fourteen Hills, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. A native of Boston and New Orleans, he lives and writes in Austin, Texas.