GLASSES WITH SPACE NEEDLES ON THE SIDE, fiction by Sloan Thomas

sloan art

Eyes wide with earnest, she says, “Weed brings me closer to God.”

I don’t tell her I have heard that line before. Said it before. Was I ever that young? She’ll grow out of it. Nobody can stay so sincere.

She already knows more than she should, but not about what makes a difference. So I let her tell me—as if it’s all new. We don’t talk about the hard stuff. The white guys cooking in the hills—the Percocet patch that is her father’s best friend. We both have perfected avoiding ugly.

It’s a sunny day. The grass on the field is dry. We wear glasses with Space Needles on the side and hide in the shade of the totem pole under repair.

She tugs on her long sleeves. Her habit. “I thought it always rained in Washington?”

“Things are unpredictable.” I say. I wonder if she knows her shorts don’t hide her self-esteem like her shirt does. She talks of her boyfriend—the one that introduced her to good music. “He thinks I’m all his. As if he wrote the chords himself.”

I hold my tongue and do my best to listen. You can’t tell someone they are the ones composing the songs.

We are far from home. Seattle is a disappointment, neither of us can pretend differently. She hasn’t smoked in days—I am sneaking a cigarette. This college tour is entirely funded by some federal grant. It’s clear that she isn’t going to school here. She came looking to fit in.

I want to lie. Work hard and you can be anything. Instead, I say, “All of us feel the same. It’s the joke of being born Indian. Needing each other, trapped in ourselves.”

She laughs—so hard—tears come. “Fuck.” She wipes her face. “I need a head change.”

I lean into her. “Faraway places won’t cure that.”

She leans into me. “Life is all about the patterns of our scars.”

 

 

SLOAN THOMAS writes some and reads a lot. Some of her favorite stories are in SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, Revolution John, and Jersey Devil Press. She has stories in some of those publications as well.

LOVE HOUDINI, fiction by Christopher D. DiCicco

Brian-Selznick

artwork by Brian Selznick

 

I tell her, “If you love me, you’ll count the seconds only as slowly as you think I can handle them.” She laughs, pulls her fingers through her curls, and agrees—only as slowly as I can handle. Which, we both know, means as quickly as possible. I’m trying for under a minute, sixty seconds—to slip the cuffs off, pick the headcage, remove the gag and pull the noseplugs—all so I can swallow enough delicious oxygen to yell, “Tada” to my adoring audience.

Sara Wells sits crossed-legged in front of me like she has since the sixth grade. And really I should appreciate that, Sara sitting there, all grown up, ready to leave this small nothing town, but still here—all because I asked her to hold the key. Or maybe, I’ve convinced her she is the key.

Either way, the key is important.

If I go over a minute, Sara will reach across the grass, pat my struggling chest signaling me to stop. Then, gentle like the kiss I imagine she’d give, Sara will twist the key and let me free to suck in desperate gulps of life-confirming air.

But that’s not what I’m going for.

For the first time this month, I’m going to free myself, and Sara will lean over and kiss me on the cheek, dropping the key back into my hand where it really belongs.

I’ve been trusting her to help me for years, each escape increasing in danger until I landed on this one—and this one, it’s all trust. I’ve been telling her that, reminding her she’s reason I’m alive.

So I have to try.

For her.

I let my lungs suck in, hold and expand.

The burn.

My arm extends. My hand opens.

The trust.

The key drops from my palm into Sara’s own.

“Escapism is not for everyone,” Sara tells me as she handcuffs my arms behind my back. “Some people like to suffer, enjoy the pain sort of thing.”

I nod my head and attempt a smile. With the gag in my mouth, it looks less like gentle understanding and more like a hostage agreeing to anything Sara wants.

I motion with a nod to the noseplugs and Sara grimaces. She hates this part, she tells me, and wishes someone else could be responsible for it.

“It has to be you,” I try saying, but my reasoning is lost in the gag’s muffling.

“Why?” she asks—because she knows what I’m thinking.

I shrug, and Sara stares at the noseplugs.

“You’re asking me to temporarily suffocate you. Do you have any idea how fucked up that is?”

I inhale, attempting to breathe in Sara—and she slams the plugs in, shuts the headcage door with a click, and I’m on, twisting, slithering, contracting muscles and popping pieces of my body until I’m out of the cuffs. My hands rush my face, fingers performing ballet, and the lone pin dances into the lock of the headcage.

And nothing.

Instead, Sara slams the key in place, ripping the gag out, so I can scream, “God damn it, the pin bent!”

“I don’t want to do this,” she tells me.

“One more time,” I say.

She shakes her head no while I place the gag into my mouth.

With my back to her, I wiggle my wrist signaling her to lock me up.

And she does, one more time.

The cuffs snap into place and she stares hard when she plugs my nose, slamming the headcage door close—one more time.

And then it happens.

She does it.

After the struggle, after the pin clicks and I yell, “Tada”—she’s gone.

In less than a minute.

In front of me, where Sara Wells should sit, the key rests on a note.

And when I read it, when I mouth the word “Tada” for the second time that day, I know it doesn’t matter how much trust the trick depends on—it’s escapism.

That’s the art of it.

Avoid suffocation, and live.

 

 

CHRISTOPHER D. DiCICCO was born in Pennsylvania during the winter of 1981. He is the author of So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds and other stories (Hypertrophic Press). His work has been nominated for Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Indie Lit New England, and has appeared in such places as Superstition Review, WhiskeyPaper, and Bartleby Snopes. Visit www.cddicicco.com for more.

PTSD, poetry by Dennis Mahagin

“… Close your eyes, it’s about to begin …”
-James Dewar

What you think of my screen? Amanda
I can’t trust anything, save for the past. Robin Trower? Bridge of Sighs?
What about the guy who sang, in his band? The name, even now, is coming
to me, standing in for others, maybe a brand of Scotch? He could belt it out,
stay with me; we’ll watch TV; shopping channels especially, they calms me;
before the flashback, before panic, botched surgery, the electric shoals
of spawning ground entropy, there’s innocence, some Perma Grin, barbecue,
stench of French fries, then propane, a whistle, pressure cooker bomb:
at Boston Marathon, the carnage stays on… Oh dearest A., it hangs
up there, wicked which, flying nails, the sirens and skin grafts, concentric
bloody stupor … as blenders and vacuums, say, roar, on infomercials, Home
Shopping Network; chunk of cement tossed off an overpass, will fuck your ass
up; the jack hammer via windshield, bunch of blue sparks, psycho punks
choking on their hysteria, their hyena laughter; … or the aneurysm
foreseen: the best guitar solos are never played fast, think Trower, again,
or May of Queen, red balloon filling with tap water, gullets of pythons, her skirt
up there, on a flat screen, with pleats, Kelly what’s her name, green as the gills
on a show host, looks all of nineteen, and innocence takes on new hues:
Amanda, I’m so glad to sit, to sit here, and chill with you …
I can’t trust a limb, until it’s lopped off, stripped bare, all the blood vessels
and cartilage, nerves hanging there, like poinsettia skins, tinted with taters
and catsup and tinsel. Amanda I trust nothing, till it comes with a certain buzz
say it is electro shock hunting the trip wire, dead solid dread, her bracelets
blinking baubles and bangs, bangs, bangs, bangs, bangs, bangs, BANGS
…don’t ever call it premonition, I’ll clear my throat, change channels,
the name of the singer, it comes to me; dirty hands that shake hold
Old Gold cigarettes: is it James? Sure, stay with me, past the dot
of a TV, flaring out, Star Spangled Banner I can’t spit, flinch, nor swallow
finest Scotch. Yet I remember amber in a shot glass, bright, blooming glow,
sweet sigh on my stumbling streets; every turn of the bridge, Amanda,
kid, be the spell standing in for grace, it’s minute by minute, now Dewar
he sang it well, before dissolving with the blast I get to re live, to re-live,
to predict; re-live, and predict: the past is my screen, the only that exists.
Stay for just a bit, longer girl this world is torn, and up too fast.

 

 

DENNIS MAHAGIN is a poet from Montana.
With each passing day he has less, and less
and less to say. Google his sorry ass anyway
if the spirit must move. We are all but dust.

The Compulsive Scribbler: An Interview with Misty Marie Rae Skaggs

debonaire

SHELDON LEE COMPTON: So what’s Misty Skaggs been up to lately?

MISTY MARIE RAE SKAGGS: well, mostly, keepin’ the wood stove burning. waging war on field mice that have decided to make themselves at home in my kitchen and eat my cereal. and writing. i’m always writing. i’ve been working on rounding up all the short stories i’ve left lyin’ around all limp and pitiful and doing a bit of editing and turning them into a comprehensive collection. i’ve also been dabbling in playwriting. that’s fun. a totally new outlet for me.

SLC: Playwriting? That sounds interesting. I’ve wondered how that would go. What do you think so far? What’s the play you’re working on?

MMRS: i’ve always enjoyed reading plays, ever since i stumbled across Tennessee Williams on the “adult” shelf at the middle school library. and i single-handedly re-started the long-dead Drama Club at my little, rural, high school in a typical, teenage, overachiever fashion. and when i was a student at Morehead State, i was handed an amazing opportunity by Dr. Ritta Abell to help her in transforming some of Crystal Wilkinson’s short stories into a theatrical performance piece. i really got into it, since i wanted to do Crystal’s amazing work serious justice. i love that lady and her writing and everything she’s done for me as a budding author. sadly, i left school before i ever got to see the production, but several of my dramatic translations were included. i hadn’t really thought much about ever trying to write a play of my own, until i connected with a new writer pal with theater experience via tumblr who insisted that he could just see my stories coming to life on stage. i was really flattered to think that my words could paint pictures so clearly for someone. so i figured, y’know, what the hell? maybe i’ll give it a try! and my aforementioned pal, Tommy Anderson, has been helpin’ me with some suggestions and edits along the way. it’s really just an idea of a play so far.

it is interesting! i’ve found that playwriting requires a big shift in perspective and style for me. so many times in my short stories, there isn’t even a stitch of dialogue. all of a sudden, i have to figure out how to make all the unsaid things become clear through conversation. it’s strange and challenging. but that’s why i’ve been diggin’ it, i think.

so far, it’s a play about a couple about ready to come apart at the seams. it’s a play about a woman and her nozy neighbors, about a cozy kitchen and a sterile hospital. and the plague of havin’ “bad nerves”.

SLC: Interpreting prose to plays seems like it would be challenging, but fun, too. I notice that most of the time you seem to write poetry. But that poetry reads much like short fiction. Do you consider yourself a poet first? If so, what is the primary reason?

MMRS: well, i write about as much short fiction as i do poetry. but the poetry seems to be what people want to publish. i think that the line between poetry and prose doesn’t have to be quite so strict as we make it. a good poem can tell a story just as powerful as a two hundred page novel. and that’s a tricky question for me, do i consider myself a poet first. why do i have to be one or the other? i mean, honestly, it took a long time before i even considered myself a “writer”. to me, writing was som’m i’d just always done. as long as i can remember. i suppose really i consider myself a compulsive scribbler and an active observer. i don’t like labels and i’ve found i don’t fit into many of ’em anyways.

pois text

SLC: I actually agree with you about labels, in that respect. As long as you’re working creatively, that’s all that really matters. It’s been my experience that labels inevitably lead to cliques. And cliques are revolting.

I’ve also had the pleasure of publishing some of your artwork here at Revolution John. Both you and your mother are wonderful artists. Creative people often have difficulty fitting into society, I’ve found, since you mentioned most labels not fitting you anyways. Because of this I’ve had so many different jobs. Have you had a similar experience in the work force?

MMRS: mmmhmm. i think i knew in elementary school that i didn’t fit in anywhere. my teachers used to confiscate my books on the way out to recess and try to force me into some socializing. you know how those creative weirdo types are.

shoo, Lordy. yeah, me and the work force don’t get along.ha! i’ve given up on the nine-to-five bullshit, for the most part. i live broke and i love it. even if it is a little stressful sometimes. you’d be amazed at all the things you think you gotta’ have but you can live without. i kinda’ like depriving myself. it’s like a challenge. make do or fuckin’ forget about it, Misty! sheesh!

but yeah, i have worked a plethora of weird and various jobs over the years. i’ve been a waitress. i’ve been a nanny. i’ve cleaned hotel rooms. i’ve worked the night shift at a truck stop in the middle of the midwest. i’ve produced and hosted a television show for college campus teevee. i even worked at a forensic mental hospital very briefly. right now, my job is writing and making art and takin’ care of my adorable little Mamaw and our home out in the middle of nowhere. i couldn’t be happier.

SLC: That’s great. I took care of my grandmother, who I call Mother, until her children (with the exception of my dead father) put her in a nursing home. It was a great couple of years. You mention teachers persuading you away from books to interact at school. What were those books? Do you remember? What, if any, impact did they have on you?

MMRS: i moved in here to help Mamaw take care of my Great Mamaw. i was with her right up until the end, ’till she passed away here in our living room. i don’t regret it even for a minute. i’m so glad she could spend her last days where she wanted to be. she was still making quilts on her old treadle Singer a week before she passed.

in regards to teachers and their persuasion, that’s putting it euphemistically. i used to like to read at recess. i’d climb way up into the highest piece of playground equipment and have this little fortress where i’d read and people watch. hahah! my sixth grade teacher would catch me heading out to the playground with a book in hand and there was no persuasion to it, she’d straight up take it from me and tell me to “go be a normal kid and have some fun!” she just couldn’t believe that for me, a book and a half hour to myself WAS fun. the most fun. i got in trouble in third grade ’cause whenever i would finish my work before the other kids, they’d let me go to the library and get a book to read. well….the librarian decided that there was no way i could be reading four to five books a day, so i proceeded to get all little kid offended and summarize ’em all for her. she told me i needed to start reading longer books and leave her alone. hahaha! that’s how i discovered Louisa May Alcott and Judy Blume and other early favorites. then in middle school/high school i had to bring a permission slip from home before the librarian would let me read books off the “adult shelf”. those books meant the world to me. that’s where i discovered writers like Flannery O’Connor and Toni Morrison. after that snooty librarian turned me away from her desk after i tried to check out The Bluest Eye, i made it my mission to read through that whole shelf before i graduated. out of curiousity and spite. ha! i did it, too. i read that damned library dry.

book stack

SLC: That’s a cool origin story. I’m sure all writers probably have one, but that’s a nice rebellious one. I like that. So, as for reading, what are your reading habits these days? I try to read more than I write lately. Do you have any reading goals?

MMRS: hmm…i reckon my primary reading goal is to always be reading. it’s kind of a compulsion for me. if i’m not in the middle of a book, i feel a little lost. i can’t really afford to be picky about my reading material, either. i think that being broke has actually helped broaden my tastes. i rarely ever buy books brand new. but i’m constantly adding to my second hand library via junk stores and flea markets and yard sales. you never know what you’ll find if you take the time to dig around! i read anything that looks interesting. fiction, nonfiction, poetry. there’s always a book or two in my life.

and in my purse. really though, i have a “purse book” at all times. it’s what i read when i’m waiting in line or at the doctor’s office or whatever. right now it’s The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen. it’s been pretty decent so far, that’s my purse book. i’m usually all caught up in least two books at a time. today i also started reading Alice Munro’s short story collection The Love of a Good Woman. and the last book i finished was The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball. that one was nonfiction about Edward Muybridge, the father of the moving picture. who also happened to be a murderer. i’m all over the place with my tastes.

SLC: You mention that finding reading material is kind of hit and miss for you. I can relate. Due to limited library volumes and money, I often have to wait until Christmas and birthdays to buy books. I end up doing as you said, sort of reading a mix of things. We know reading is directly linked with better writing. How important is reading various kinds of books to your writing? For example, at one point the only library books I can check out for my Kindle were Japanese authors. This led to me becoming obsessed with Japanese short fiction and then writing a lot of stories with that inspiration sort of leading me. Do you have this experience?

MMRS: i feel you on the birthdays and xmess schtuff, that’s usually when i get new books too. i’m also really lucky to have tons of smart, literate friends and we all kind of swap around what we’re reading and share. i love that. getting a good recommendation and a hand-me-down read someone’s excited to share.

i feel like reading various kinds of books is pretty vital for any writer who wants to grow. i’ve found that plenty of people i meet in the literary world have tastes that are intensely specific. that gets on my last nerve. these types, they like a few authors or they like literature that comes from certain regions/lifestyles and that’s ALL they read. i can’t imagine. that’s crazy limiting. i think once or twice a year you ought to force yourself to pick up a book you’d “never” read and then read it. it’s good for you. life ain’t always about getting what you want or your personal preferences. and there are as many different perspectives as there are people on this god-forsaken planet. me personally, i want to hear as many of those points of view as possible. variety is important to my life, not just my writing. i’m kind of a bumpkin, really. born and raised out here in Elliott County. i’ve never even seen the ocean. as a matter of fact, i’m so country i call all seven of ’em “the ocean”, collective like. and i may not be the least bit well-traveled, but i’m sure the hell well read. it’s been my way of seeing the world so far. and i think by reading a wide variety of subjects and styles and genres, i make myself a better writer AND a better person.

SLC: What are you working on now? What’s on the shelves that we can buy from you lately? What are some things you’re writing now. Any projects, or are you still drawing up a floor plan for one or two?

MMRS: no book deals for me, i’m afraid. i’ve been working on putting together a short story collection to send out for consideration. as well as some poems i’d love to see in chapbook form. but i do some self-publishing, ’cause i was a teenage zinester and i think it’s lots of fun. i have a poetry chapbook available, all about prescription drug abuse in Eastern Kentucky. i’m also publishing in journals and whatnot as often as possible. i just got a piece accepted by Still, which i’m pretty damned proud of. and one of my poems made it into Quarried, the thirty year anthology for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. that’s really exciting to me, seein’ my name in print with so many amazing Appalachian writers. you can pick that up through Dos Madres Press. and i recommend you do pick it up, it’s fantastic. plus, i’m painting and writing flash fiction pieces that go with each individual painting. i don’t typically write those down anywhere else, i like for ’em to be truly one of a kind. i try to stay busy. oh! and you can always keep up with me at the blog – http://lipstickhick.tumblr.com

 

LOCKBOX, fiction by Jon Sindell

 

I was raised to be modest, but you really have to know how I look. I have wavy, chestnuty hair to my shoulders, a knobby little nose that I hate but Johnny loves, eyes a sort of agate green, and a turndown at the corners of my weirdly wide mouth. My body’s fit from pilates and two–step, and Johnny says I look nice in jeans, which is nice to hear at age thirty–eight. I take pilates mainly for him.

Johnny knocked me head over boots when we met swing dancing twelve years ago, country swing. Johnny steps lightly and feels the music, and it flows out of him and into me and back into him in a circuit of warmth like when we make love. We danced all night, and again the next day — and at the end of the week, I tossed every picture of my old favorite beau. I married Johnny before the year’s end.

My man has never been cruel to me, ever, and I give him every breath that I take. He tells me, “Without you, hon, I’d be dead.”

I know that’s not so, there’s no quit in Johnny. We’ve had hard times, but got through them together. It’s just his way to give credit to others. He’s a true Texas gent. Not the bad old kind who’d open doors for you in public then whack you at home, but a modern gentleman — loving, sweet, and courteous, but respectful of my worth as a woman. Every night I thank my stars.

 

But there’s a part of Johnny I never can get to, a part he keeps locked up in a box. I say that poetically, but there’s a real box, too. It’s in the garage, inside a drawer full of odds and ends of hardware, inside a rutted old metal lockbox you’d never think of opening, wrapped in a red cloth: a beautiful little cherry–wood box with mother–of–pearl inlay that Johnny made himself, he’s a wizard with wood. It was sweet of Johnny to keep it so hidden, but that’s how things go. One day you need hardware to hang your anniversary picture, you mistake a lockbox for a box of fasteners — the devil maybe gives you a nudge, because who would lock up a bunch of nails and screws — and you find the key and there it is, inside the box inside the box. A picture of her. The One, his friends called her, when their lips were loose from tequila and beer. The Wild One, they said, and their laughter hid stories. The one not like me. The one not nearly as good as me, they assured me, good men that they are.

I sucked in my breath and studied her face, framed by chestnuty hair. Agate–green eyes, a knobby little nose, a weirdly wide mouth turned down at the edges.

I put the picture back in the box, wrapped the box back up in the cloth, put it back in the lockbox and closed the drawer.

I put the moment in a lockbox, too — never, ever, ever to open.

 

 

JON SIDELL wrote the flash–fiction collection The Roadkill Collection (Big Table Publishing, 2014) and the long–story collection Family Happiness (2016). He curates the San Francisco–based reading series Rolling Writers.

3 POEMS by Debasis Mukhopadhyay

 

The pretty secret of the Butterfly

At last she’s dead
She’s only peace
Survived by a daughter
Who wonders
Who will tell her now
The secret of the butterfly

At bottom and head
Patterned wounds
Stopped screaming voiceless
When you knocked the wind out of your sails
Are you still dragging them with you, ma
The daughter might ask
Watching the blue of the sky
That stood on fence yesterday
Just like today
Ma, du hast es besser
No tumbledown castles
No useless memory and wasted poems
Ma, you have got it better

And she would jump again from the window
She’s only death
* Author’s note: The poem is written with Samantha Hunt on mind. A poet from Birmingham, U.K. who recently passed away. The poem borrows its title from the work of Emily Dickenson & uses the famous epigram of Goethe “Amerika, du hast es besser”.

 

 

Mourning

And so they found you dead
The theatre closed
How did you get this way
Mourning

Old times
When you used to hear
How would your life change
Mourning
Timeless now
The rat takes the cheese

There’s something else
The dog is barking
Buried in me
And you are ready to take its place

 

 

This is an edited extract

Nothing sailed or there was no sea
Awake in bed our fingers to find them
We learn to exchange swaddled flowers for subtle knives
Nights devolve into a song of ribs

We then sleep too deeply to remember in dream
We made a deal by not giving in to either side
We had a stake in
That blood spills correctly in merriment of love
And it gets everything it asks for

 

 

DEBASIS MUKHOPADHYAY lives and writes in Montreal, Canada. He has a PhD in literary studies from Université Laval, Quebec and poems published in several magazines in the USA & UK including Yellow Chair Review, Thirteen Myna Birds, Of/With, Silver Birch Press, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Foliate Oak, Eunoia Review, Snapping Twig, Fragments of Chiaroscuro, Words Surfacing, The Curly Mind, I am not a silent poet, With Painted Words. Follow him at https://debasismukhopadhyay.wordpress.com/ or @dbasis_m on Twitter.

ANOTHER VIEW, fiction by Tony Press

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photo by Chris Bilodeau

 

Jack had grown up on Dassin Street, which rhymed with Basin, which was synchronistic when he heard about Basin Street and the music scene in Memphis until he found out that the Memphis street wasn’t Basin at all, but Beale. There was a Basin in New Orleans, apparently, but it wasn’t the same. And even earlier a snag had occurred when a substitute teacher in fourth or fifth grade explained that the street name was probably French, and the proper pronunciation “Dah-seen.” He was troubled for days, perhaps longer, but in his senior year of high school he snuck into the film Never on Sunday and was thrilled by what he saw, including the charismatic lead actor – and director, too – Jules Dassin. It was good when things came around.

Things didn’t always, of course, such as his address here in Southern California. He had a tiny apartment on a hill above the coast, and an Audio-Visual credential from Gateway Tech back in Racine, which had gotten him his job at the NuArt Theatre in Santa Monica, but his new address was 225 Vista View Drive and he was sufficiently versed in Spanish to know the street name was seriously redundant. You might as well name a baseball team the Los Angeles Angels. Such a world, this, on a Spring afternoon in 1965.

That the substitute teacher had been wrong about French pronunciation, a fact Jack had learned only last week from Angelo, a fellow acting student, that was okay. Fitting, even, in some fashion he didn’t need to comprehend.

So there he sat, on his small balcony on View View Drive, finishing up a postcard to his mother and listening to the Angels Angels on the radio radio, when the telephone rang. He’d only had the phone a few weeks and not many people knew his number. As he walked toward the kitchen he realized he wasn’t sure that he knew his number.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Jack, it’s me. How’s L.A. treating you?”

Evidently his brother Roy knew it. Jack made a mental note to remember to ask him to recite it before the call was finished, but then realized it was printed on the telephone itself. He erased the note.

“Given that it’s 76 degrees today, it’s pretty damn good.”

“Holy, holy,” Roy said. “That’s, well, let’s see, that’s only about thirty degrees warmer than here. So, not so different. We’re actually having a pretty decent April.”

“Yeah, and go Braves, too, and all that. What’s up in the wilds of Racine? Must be something big for you to spend precious dimes on your little brother.”

“It’s Sunday, little man. It’s probably always Sunday in ‘La-La Land’ so you don’t even notice. But you’re worth it, as long as I keep it under a buck.”

Jack took a step to the fridge, which was as far as the cord would allow, to fetch a Pepsi. The church-key was on the counter so it was easy to open the bottle as he nestled the receiver under his chin.

“I heard that,” said Roy. “What kind of beer they got out there?”

“It ain’t beer, just Pepsi. Besides, you can’t get Leinie or Point or any of our stuff out here. Unless you count Schlitz and I know you don’t.”

“Another reason I’m sticking to Wisconsin.”

“So?”

“Well, there’s this thing. I’ve been working for Gene, you know, clearing brush down where the river hits the lake, and he’s got a couple of new guys on the crew. One’s a girl, actually.”

“Is that a county contract? Gene’s moving up.” Gene and Roy were four years older than Jack, had graduated from Horlick High School the day before he finished eighth grade. He’d been chasing them for years but his move west had changed the race a little. Probably neither Gene nor Roy knew anything about any competition, but it was there.

“Yeah, Gene’s doing okay. He’s got three trucks now: Silver Man Landscaping, painted on all of ‘em. He’s even about to buy a house, so that part’s good. But there’s this deal.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Weren’t you listening? It’s a girl. What else do I need to say?”

Jack took a swallow and pressed the chilled bottle to his forehead. He’d learned some things from his big brother, he’d always admit that, but Roy and women had never been a walk down Easy Street.

Once at a rec center dance in the summer, when Jack was in seventh grade and Roy in 11th, a girl walked in front of the brothers in a flouncy and probably too-fancy-for-the-occasion dress, and Roy whistled and called:

“Hey, dreamboat.”

The girl spun around but Roy said: “Not you, shipwreck.” Jack felt like he’d been punched in the stomach, so how bad was it for the girl? Well, that was a good eight years ago, and things do change. His brother remained taller, and sometimes mouthy, but he’d learned to pick his spots a whole lot better.

Jack returned to the conversation. “Maybe a little bit more information would be helpful.” He wasn’t accustomed to Roy asking for advice.

“Yeah, well, she’s not like other girls. I mean, she’s tougher than nails, and swears like Uncle Kenny used to, but … .” Jack pictured Roy’s face scrunching as he sought the next words. Sometimes it took awhile. Roy rallied:

“But she’s really hot, too. I mean, it’s crazy, ‘cuz she’s kinda fat, not gross but not skinny like I like ‘em, and her hair is pretty short, too. At first I thought she was a guy. Not my style, right?”

“Big brother, you falling for a dyke?”

“Ha, ha, but I wondered. But no, she’s no dyke, never has been. Believe me, I can swear in a court of law she’s not. She just looks that way.”

“So what’s the problem? I think I already asked that.” Jack slit open a package of Twinkies and bit into the first one.

“I don’t know. I just, I just think she might be the one.”

“That’s great!”

“I know, it is. It should be, but I’m scared. Man, I haven’t said that out loud in my whole life. But it’s true.”

Jack knew he had never heard his brother say it, or anything close to it, so it might be so. Stunning as that was, the fact that Roy was less than 100% cocksure about a girl – that was the breathtaking part, never mind that he was, sort of, asking him for advice about love. Jack paused for a couple of deep breaths.

“I’m no courtship expert but maybe you should be telling this to her, not me. Honesty can be an okay policy. I think I read that in a book or something.”

“Yeah, good idea. You’re getting smart for a kid. Yeah, I think I might do that. Yes. Thanks.”

“Anytime. Good luck with it, and stay warm out there.”

“You, too. Say hi to Marilyn Monroe for me. Over and out.”

Right, Roy, I would, but she’s still dead, three years and counting, he would have said had he not heard the quick click from Roy’s end.

Jack hung up the phone. He hadn’t been sure of getting one but he was glad that he had. He walked back outside, sat down on the hard wooden chair, learned that the Angels Angels were leading by two going into the eighth inning, and thought about Angelo. They were meeting for drinks in Westwood in two hours. He liked his brother’s expression “hot,” and saw how it applied to Angelo. Hell, it could have been invented for him.

Roy had actually been open with him. Amazing. He wondered if there ever would be a time when he was open with Roy, open about the most important part of his life. He tried to imagine a similar call. It wouldn’t be soon.

He was in California – Southern California — God’s gift for a soft life. He worked in a decent place and he might one day be an actor. He looked beyond the railing toward the rolling Pacific. He wrote one more line on the postcard for Mom: The relentless string of pretty days continues.

He went back in, kicked off his sandals, shed his shorts and shirt, and turned on the shower. He would wash his hair and then he would shave, shave for the second time today, just to be sure. He wanted to look good, maybe even warm, for Angelo.

Toweling off he realized he wanted to look cool, too. Hot, and cool, and warm, all at once, but not cold. Such a language. And didn’t language begin with the lips?

 

 

TONY PRESS tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in January, 2016 by Big Table Publishing. About 100 of stories and poems can be found in many fine journals. He lives near San Francisco but has no website.

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, creative nonfiction by Peter Cherches & Bradley Lastname

 

I’ve known Bradley Lastname since 1985. I first met him when I was in Chicago to do a performance, “Love Me Like a Bitter Pill.” Lastname, as you’ve probably guessed, is not Bradley’s real last name. A writer and visual artist, Bradley has long been a legend in the neo-dada and mail art worlds.

I invited Bradley to send me an unfinished piece for my collaborations project. I communicate with Bradley by email and I always get a response by snail mail. He sent me a piece called “Art School Confidential: A Story I Never Knew How to Finish.”

But was it a story or an outline of a story? I suppose it’s a story in essence, but the prose read more like a description of a story. Of course, Bradley being a conceptualist, this made perfect sense.

The three sheets he sent included illustrations on two of them, to go with the story, drawings of a parakeet on a perch progressing, or rather regressing, from a fully formed bird to a simple schematic, two intersecting ovals.

Bradley’s story, or synopsis, began, “The professor of art is a failed painter and terminal alkie who usually comes to class drunk & verbally abusive…”

To give a synopsis of Bradley’s story, or a synopsis of his synopsis, the lesson this particular day is on “HOW TO DRAW A VENN DIAGRAM.” Here’s where the birds come in. The professor “starts by drawing a perfect parakeet, and gradually deconstructs it until he produces the Venn Diagram in panel #6,” i.e., the two intersecting ovals.

A student asks the professor why he doesn’t just draw a Venn Diagram without the preceding five panels, and the professor “lets loose with a torrent of obscenity that would even make Lenny Bruce blush.” And that, pretty much, is the whole story, minus the ending.

Bradley writes, “I came up with 2 possible endings, but wasn’t really satisfied with either one.”

The first ending: The student, who has been told to go fuck himself by the professor, lights a cigarette lighter in front of the professor’s face, causing the professor’s high-octane breath to catch fire, killing him in the conflagration.

“In the second ending,” Bradley writes, “the parakeet in the first panel springs to life and flies off the easel and pecks the professor’s eyes out.”

So now it’s my job to finish the story. Immolation or “out of the inkwell” retribution? For me it’s a no-brainer. I choose door number two. The first ending I find gratuitously violent. Sure the professor is a prick, but does he really deserve to die such a violent death? Plus, though Bradley may not have thought it out this far, surely the student would have to pay the consequences of his actions. I’m sure Bradley wouldn’t want to condemn the poor student, who acted impulsively, to life in prison.

The second ending is highly preferable in several ways. It better integrates the drawings into the story, first of all. And eye-plucking has a long and honorable literary pedigree, Matthew 5:29 and Oedipus, for instance. And he is an art professor, after all, so this is poetic justice. “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

Wait a minute, there’s the same dilemma: eye plucking vs. fire. Am I being tested?

 

 

PETER CHERCHES is a writer and jazz singer from Brooklyn. He’s the author of Lift Your Right Arm (Pelekinesis, 2013) and two previous volumes of short prose. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

BRADLEY LASTNAME moved to Chicago in 1978 and began creating a body of work that raised dada, existentialism and the absurd to a new level. His work…2- and 3- dimensional collages, paintings, sculpture, poetry and prose…has been published, shown in museums and galleries, and presented in one-man shows, throughout the U.S.

BEING SHEILA, fiction by Meg Pokrass

pokrass phgoto
photo by Eugene Baranov

 

 

Prayer:

Dear God, you say, I want to be Sheila. That is, I want to have sex with Sheila’s husband, Timothy, but I don’t want to do Timothy as me, I want to do him as Sheila, because she is gorgeous and rich and lucky, and besides, Timothy would never lust after someone like me, I’m inferior.

The Thing:

The thing is that you don’t believe in God (you never did really) and you don’t really believe that becoming Sheila (aside from Timothy) would solve your main problem, the problem of the dying cat, Stanley. Stanley is dying in your living room of liver failure. The vet says it’s time to have him put to sleep but you aren’t ready to do so. Right now he is sleeping on your lap, and you really love that cat more than you have ever loved a human being. You wish you could marry the cat and die with him.

Being Sheila:

Sheila wears long, light blue dresses (moo-moos?) with plant motifs and has legs up to her ears and buys unusual sandals that must cost a thousand dollars and her hair is like silky perfumed dog hair… sort of like what you see on the head of prize-winning Irish Setters (you’ve seen them at the dog show where you go to visit your doctor who retired and breeds dogs). Red velvet-cake red like Maureen O’Hara’s hair was fifty years ago, impossibly natural looking, and you really dislike people like this. Yes, you do want to make passionate love to her husband but you wonder: Does he get bored with how perfect his wife is?

Stanley:

The cat is the only thing holding you back from really living, from having a real boyfriend again, but his time is done and he will no longer be able to help you with the fear of jumping back in to the world of the broken heart and unreturned calls and unrequited fantasies. Your old boyfriends are all married or gay or gay and married.. and some even have grandchildren, and for the last 15 year you have spent all of your evenings and holidays with Stanley who does not snore, does not make sounds really, but gives you this huge warm kind of love.

 

 

Meg Pokrass’ third collection of flash fiction, The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press) will be released in 2016. Meg’s stories and poems have appeared in McSweeney’s, Five Points, The Literarian, storySouth, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, The Rumpus and over 230 print and online literary journals. Her work appears in anthologies such as Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton) and ROADSIDE CURIOSITIES: Stories about American Pop Culture (University of Leipzig Press). Meg co-founded The Flash Fiction Collective reading series in San Francisco and serves as an associate editor for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing. Meg teaches flash fiction to university programs and works with students privately by request. See more about her at megpokrass.com.

A Brief and Untimely, Personal, Movie Review, fiction by Patrick Trotti

 

shutterislandtvshow

 

Except I wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio and my side kick wasn’t as cool as Mark Ruffalo and my girl wasn’t as beautiful as Michele Williams and my doctor wasn’t nearly as creepy and quiet as Ben Kingsley. But then again I was an out of shape guy with a bush of fluff on the lower half of my face and exact opposite on the top of my head and my best friend wouldn’t be able to pick out Mark Ruffalo if he walked past him on the street and my girlfriend might’ve been better looking but it was mostly just text messaging and emails; a Catfish without the dramatic conclusion and my doctor is an Indian man who’s last name is so long that I can tune him out for most of our session by just spelling out his name and trying to pronounce it in different ways.

 

 

PATRICK TROTTI can be found online at  www.patricktrotti.com.