Pips

by SHEREE SHATSKY

My grandmother tumbles dice from her lucky red martini shaker. The crowd at the Delray Beach American Legion Hall call my grandma the Queen of Craps. She rolls snake eyes.

“Crap,” she says. “A pair of bloody pips.” She shoves the dice at me. “Blow on these quick. For luck.”

I cringe.

Dice remind me of teeth, with cavities. My teeth. Especially a roll of two fours. My mother asked the dentist, “What are the odds of eight cavities in two teeth?” Dr. Dave suggested floss to reduce the probability.

I think about what Dr. Dave said before he filled my cavities. A little pinch to numb the area, keep real still and toward me came a needle as long as the Midnight Train to Georgia. Out of the chair I escaped, hustled back by the dental assistant, a mask cupped over my nose and mouth.

I thrashed and gasped and fought and sighed and ran after a woman draped in glinting gold lamé, Gladys is her name and she turns and tells me she counts Pips among her best friends. God’s lips to your ears child, this is your movie, your show, your world, yours and yours alone.


SHEREE SHATSKY writes wild words. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals,  including Cowboy Jamboree, Wraparound South, Fictive Dream, BLACKCACKLE at Entropy and Saw Palm with found poetry at Heron Tree and Harpy Hybrid Review. Ms. Shatsky attended the University of Iowa Writers Workshop summer session 2021 and was selected  by the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program as a Spring 2018 mentee for flash fiction. Her work was twice-nominated for Best Microfiction 2020. Sheree calls Florida home and is a Tom Petty fan. Read more of her writing at shereeshatsky.com.

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On David and Bathsheba

by DAVID P. BARKER

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When I saw you there

Bathing in your home.

I did not mean to.

I was not peeking.

I was just getting air

And I saw you.

The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I knew instantly that you were something I must have

Someone I must possess

And I am King.

Don’t I deserve what I want?

So I sent for you.

And you came.

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We made love that night.

I know it was wrong.

A sin.

For you were Uriah’s wife.

Uriah the soldier

The soldier in my army

Fighting battles for me

While I am here

Laying next to his wife.

I should feel some sort of regret

Or sorrow

At the vows I know I convinced you to break.

For I am a convincing man.

I convinced an entire people that I should be king.

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I slayed a giant when they called me an underdog.

I killed two hundred Philistines and offered their foreskins to my king as proof of my loyalty.

I united Israel.

And last night you came to my bed.

Last night we praised God together

Even though we are sinners.

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You told me you were now with child. My child.

Uriah’s been at war,

It can’t be his.

I brought him back.

I told him to be with you.

For him to cover our mistake.

To cover our sin.

To take our lie but make it respectable.

To save you.

To save me.

To save us.

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But he wouldn’t.

Bathsheba, he wouldn’t do it.

He refused. He said his brothers are still in the field. Still risking their life.

How could he lay with you when they’re sleeping in the mud?

So I had to do something.

I had Joab put him in the front of a battle.

Told Joab to let him die.

I know that’s another sin.

But I love you, Bathsheba.

What wouldn’t a man do for love?

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I know he was your husband

And I am sorry.

I know you loved him

But that was then.

You told me you loved me.

In the moment where we became a union

You called my name out to the heavens.

Ahinoam called my name like you did.

Maacah never looked at me with the passion you looked at me with.

I know you are the one I’m supposed to be with.

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I’m sorry for the sins I had to commit to get us here.

But we are here, Bathsheba.

And it is all I want.

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DAVID P. BARKER is a writer and teacher from Indianapolis, Indiana. He loves good chili, good root beer, and the ferocity of a Mid West thunderstorm. He lives with his wife and five pets. 

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Urban Shaman

by TIM FRANK

By the white cliffs of Dover near a choppy sea, a painted shaman wore a cloak of mobile phones that rattled like the displaced pebbles on the beach, and as he swirled and twisted on the balls of his feet he bashed a bucket with a handful of reeds blessing babies from the city, mapping out their fate, spreading joyous supernatural vibrations, but then out of nowhere as if appearing from the waves and stepping onto the shore with alarming authority, an old lady with her grandson in tow stood precariously on a dried-out tree branch and yelled “He’s a liar!”, shocking the parents and stunning the babies who all suddenly woke from their peaceful slumbers and cried out into the dull canopy of the sky, so the shaman drew the grandma aside and whispered, “Easy lady, I’m just trying to make a living here,” and he unfastened a phone from his garment and gave it to the boy, “Phone the future, kid,” he said, “the world is yours – but maybe top it up first though, okay?”


TIM FRANK’S short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Menacing Hedge, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.

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Boss of Bosses

by JOHN B. RILEY

The one thing my father told me that I want to believe is that when he served his time at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary he had the honor of being housed in a cell block with Don Vito Genovese, the mafia kingpin who ran the Greenwich Village Crew when he was a young man and rose to become the boss of New York City. While in prison Genovese put a contract out on Joe Valachi, who he suspected of being a snitch, and Valachi turned to the FBI for help. He spilled his guts to the feds and later testified before Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Valachi’s testimony was the first public acknowledgment by an active member that the Mafia existed. The entire Valachi episode was later made into a book written by the hard-drinking New York-based writer Peter Maas, and then became a major Hollywood movie. My father’s bourbon and water tinted jaw would clench and his yellow eyes would shuffle toward the corner of the room when he told me what it was like to see the old gangster sitting alone in a six by eight cell stacked full of cigarettes and all sorts of contraband, and how when he put on his black suit to go to trial—much of the Don’s time was spent with lawyers—he looked like a new widower on his way to his wife’s funeral. There was pride in his walk, my father said, and on Sundays, he always had more visitors than he was allowed to see. I know that Genovese finally ran out of appeals and died in prison in 1969; I don’t know if my father told the truth about serving time with him. His word was no man’s bond. A forger, lying was more than second nature. It was an essential part of the job.


JOHN B. RILEY has published poetry and fiction in Smokelong Quarterly, The Ekphrastic Review, Better Than Starbucks, Banyan Review, Connotation Press, Fiction Daily, The Molotov Cocktail, Dead Mule, St. Anne’s Review, and numerous other anthologies and journals both online and in print. He has also published over thirty books of nonfiction for young readers.

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Zeitgeist Without Music

by CYRIL WONG

This is our farewell before a live studio audience; we gave what we most needed, which made the only difference; we were ragged fingernails digging into the back of a world that had turned away; if it turned around for an instant, would we meet the facelessness of society, or of god; we never stopped touching for the sake of touching; when necessary, we were full of fuck; still the world did not turn, and still we shouted, we fucked; our bodies were our voices, the ones nobody would hear in centuries to come; there will be others, we console ourselves, which is, of course, no consolation at all; we keep giving even now, until flesh melts to ash, our names evaporated tears; we switch off televisions, close our books, and shut our eyes because we are ready; we take a couple of steps into the glow, the audience merely in our heads, nodding facelessly in the dark; then the houselights come on, too glaring so everyone forgets; all the people easing from their seats and shuffling to the door, scratching parts of themselves or bringing watches closer to their eyes.


CYRIL WONG is a poet and fictionist in Singapore.

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Blood Ceremonies

by HOWIE GOOD

1

Some 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar ordered a gang of Mediterranean pirates to be crucified, a slow, agonizing form of death, but just before the crosses on which they had been nailed were hoisted, Caesar, in a rare act of mercy, personally cut their throats.

2

Sometimes I recite like a prayer the plain honest names of the streetwalkers who were mutilated in the London fog by Jack the Ripper: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly. I was only seven years old when I saw the movie, but I remember it was in black and white and that no one felt safe. Do not look behind you! The two atom bombs were dropped that summer. There was a glittering in the sky, and it went all over the world.

3

You have the soulful brown eyes of a temple monkey and a mouth like a torn flower. Just beyond the edge of your vision lurks a hooded figure whose obscured face is set in a malicious grin. When you start down the stairs, you may think you know where you’re going, but you don’t.


HOWIE GOOD is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, including most recently Famous Long Ago.

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The Golden Needle

by SCOTT NEUFFER

Days after arriving in California, circa 2005, Manny Cash had a surfboard and his first sexual fantasy of a man. In his dream, Manny saw the hills of California smooth and golden like his new friend Jack’s long body, like the straw of his blonde hair, his lips and their dry redness. Manny was horrified by his longing. It wilted under his father’s faraway gaze. His father was a real estate investor, his mother a teacher. They’d made a decent middle-class life for themselves back in Nevada. His father wasn’t religious but still protected the traditions of their small town, the invisible tethers of that prison.

Manny split his time between Nevada, Utah, and California. Jack was his new roommate in San Luis Obispo. A surfer, Jack had a tall and slim body, a bit lanky but aligning in idiosyncratic grace. Manny was first surprised by his friend’s physical beauty, studied the squirm in himself wondering if it were envy. It was closer to fascination, he realized. Then this fascination took root and began burning strangely in his mind, a tingle in his loins. This had never happened with a man before. Manny had always fallen in love with women. All he knew of this new phenomenon was that other people spent their lives trying to keep it buried. Religious leaders denounced the act. Their followers circulated petitions. Above all else, their goal was to never let the love be recognized by law.

There were moments when Manny thought Jack could read his thoughts, when Jack’s smile opened, his eyes betrayed interest, and that pale, godly forehead scrunched in speechless tension. One such moment was their first time surfing together. Manny was still an amateur, somewhat athletic in his early twenties, and Jack drove him to one of the wildest waves in the area, a point break that sloshed and frothed like the spume of a dragon. Within minutes, Jack was out past the break. Manny struggled in the whitewater. He couldn’t make it past; the waves slammed his board into his face, repeatedly. On his last try, he was tumbled to the seafloor, jerked by his leash. He was spinning around underwater when he felt a solid hot thrust pull him up.

“How much have you surfed?” Jack asked, his hand still clutched on Manny’s arm. His grip rubbed the wetsuit raw against Manny’s skin. Seawater streamed from Manny’s nose.

“Not much,” he said. “Not enough. I guess.”

Later, Manny lay on the beach with his wetsuit peeled off. He watched Jack catch a few waves, slicing through foam as he cut back and forth. Jack, then coming out of the water, looked at his roommate with that scrunched stare, as if resisting something inside. His face relaxed and cracked in a quick smile. The two undressed, redressed, then headed home with their boards.

Manny had a new dream that night. A fugitive surfer danced along the golden hips of California. Manny’s longing ballooned in that sun, floated on the point of a golden needle. He found the flower of Jack’s ass, both ripping and sewing the flesh. The balloon popped.

“Do you know of the Rapture?” Jack asked the following night when they were drinking beer and watching television.

“I know about the end of the world,” Manny answered, “but not much about that term.”

“Delilah believes in it,” Jack said, “when the righteous souls are called back to Heaven, and the sinful are left behind.”

Delilah was Jack’s girlfriend, whom Manny hadn’t met. All he knew about her was she came from a wealthy family in San Francisco and was a Christian conservative. Religious talk had always bothered Manny, but not with Jack. Jack had a slacker kind of faith that seemed as natural as rain.

“Are you two going to get married?” Manny asked.

Jack inhaled sharply through his nose, held the breath.

“I don’t know what kind of feelings I need to have in marriage,” he said. “The attraction comes and goes.”

As Jack returned to his beer, Manny saw a spark in his friend’s eyes. The spark of wildfire leaping in the landscape’s frumpy shapes. If he wanted to, Jack could burn the whole state.

“Sometimes, you have to work hard to stay in love,” Jack said.

That weekend, they went surfing at the same beach. Manny didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time they surfed together. Jack would get offered a job in San Diego and leave the Central Coast.

“Sharks will be out,” Jack said.

Manny had made it past the break this time. They both sat in the swelling glass before the break, straddling their boards. The sun was melting on the horizon, but rather than looking liquid, it looked hard, concreted in dark, golden red like clinkers in a furnace, like brimstone.

“Would you ever fuck a dude?” Manny asked with a nervous, dipping laugh.

Jack’s face scrunched again. His straw hair burned in the sunset despite its wetness. Then his head dropped.

“No,” he said. “But you’re a good dude, Manny. I like you, bro.”

His answer, coupled with the word “like,” stirred an uncanniness in Manny: the weight of a secret dissolved: the certain brightness of air in a twisted mountain range one can never leave. Manny’s longing flashed then melted away with the sun’s last rays.

“Here we go,” Jack said, chesting his board and paddling. “Getting dark, let’s go.”

Manny didn’t want to be left behind. He felt heavy and awkward on the wave coming into shore. As they were packing up their boards, Manny imagined Jack spreading his ashes on the Pacific—years in the future, Jack bound by duty, the virtues of friendship and death.


SCOTT NEUFFER is a writer and musician who lives in Nevada with his family. He is also founding editor of the literary journal trampset

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The Crescent

by A.E. WEISGERBER

The train was running late to Union Station, and Claude worried. It was Holy Week. On top of the delay, there’d be cherry blossom tourists and protesters jamming the station. Even with medicine, Claude felt queer enough to book a roomette.

Skies were overcast, and as he lay there facing the window with the world slurring by, he could adjust his gaze so that sometimes he looked at his own face, and then pushed his gaze through the glass and saw the mounds of kudzu, the streaming whip of landscape animating the shadowed caves of his face.

After a while Claude got up to do some carving. He addressed the foggy mirror over the sink, “God gave you a good day now. You take it.”

The sunny side of a slow sickness was having time enough to say goodbye to friends. Claude enlisted in the early 80s with his boyhood friend Faro, both with enough engine sense and experience to qualify as Airman from the get-go. They got A1C promotions about four years later. No one leaves the Air Force, so their ranks rose slowly, and Claude topped out as Master Sergeant after 15 years. Faro clocked a bunch of hours flying the RC-135, that spook aircraft with the same frame as a 707. With a growing family, Faro left the Force to fly commercial. While Claude still flew materiel and enlisteds to the Gulf, Faro kept saving lives. Remember that 707 that landed in the Iowan cornfield? Survivors still sent Faro holiday cards, and organized a fundraiser when his grandbaby needed help. It’s a shame his mind slipped.

Claude smiled to see that gal Diana Johnson running the snack bar. She didn’t approve of granola bars and sealed cups of yogurt. She’d worked the Crescent since old times. She knew. Claude asked for a cup of ice chips.

She nodded. “You know eating ice is a sign of anemia?”

“I just like it.” His hand lay on his Bible on the counter.

Business at the snack bar was slow. “What’s the good word?”

“I thought something from Isaiah. How’s this: ‘Your sun will never set, and your moon will wane no more…'”

Diana closed her eyes a moment, tapped her lip, then pointed skyward to punctuate her response, “‘…The Lord will be your everlasting light,'” she smiled into Claude’s eyes, “‘and your days of sorrow will end!'”

They laughed together. Diana was a beauty. Her face was luminous as sunlight through a satin-smooth eggshell. Sunlight aglow on the shockwaves of her heart.

“I’ll never trip you up,” Claude said.

“What’s going on in the book today?”

“Can you keep a secret?” He swiveled it toward her.

Diana raised an eyebrow. “You know I can.”

Claude popped the book’s button strap, and opened the cover to show a figure nestled with his tool kit. She tilted her head at it, then laughed.

“You’re like a kid.” She was delighted.

“So’s it. Look here.”

Diana pulled the book closer. She marveled over the set every time. The gouge was snub and short, keenly sharp, straight-edged, and hard-cornered, its low inner bevel directed the pushing force into the blade. A little slip-stone wrapped in chamois and a tin Singer box to keep an oil cloth and a small, rolled strop. She lifted her chin to ask if it was all right. Claude nodded yes.

“Oh, that’s fine.” She held a carved wooden goat in her palm. “Mr. Faro’s going to want him.”

“Sweet ain’t she.”

“It’s sure something.”

A customer came up and asked Diana for a coffee and a wrap sandwich. She rang it up, put the coffee in a double-cup. The customer kept his eyes on his screen, and a knocking noise hissed from his earbuds. He wandered back to his seat with his change and meal.

Diana returned her attention to the figure. “That walnut?”

“It is.”

They had developed this comforting routine conversation over the years. The goat was intended for a creche Claude started years ago. He was donating it to the hospital’s little artifacts museum. This one had pretty little knees buckled under, resting. The horns were roughed out to a little curl.

“Some sorrow is never meant to end,” Diana nodded respectfully.

The whole set was being carved from blocks of the tree Claude Junior’s car smashed into.

“Phantom son syndrome.”

“He’s no ghost.”

“So they say. How’s yours?” Claude asked.

“The same. I’ll be seeing those grandbabies soon. He might move to Atlanta before summer is up.”

“You won’t be able to keep them from the mountains. You know what with city life.”

“I sure do love that little goat.” Diana smiled. “Did you want anything besides ice?”

Claude tidied things. “No. That’ll do.”

“You all right?”

Claude smiled.

“I’ll walk by on break to see how things are going.”

Diana leaned on the counter to share a confidence, while pointing with a glance to a quiet girl in a suit jacket at the end of the car. She held an empty cup and looked out the window with her eyes closed.

“That girl’s had trouble this morning. That was the delay. She’s trying for a new start in the District. When I go on break I might tell her to visit with you if you don’t mind taking her under your wing.”

Claude played it cool. He whispered, “That’s fine.”

As he and Diana finished, he said, “I’ll be coming back home after Easter this trip. I’ll find you then.” He touched his right brow with his right fingertips, smiled, and left with his kit and cup of ice.

Claude picked his way down the aisle of the club car, leaning on seatbacks between steps. He still did prechecks wherever he went, making sure things looked loaded and balanced, equipped as though people’s lives depended on it. He sat on the less full side, where a copy of Smithsonian Air and Space lay within reach. He thought that if he saw an advertisement for the memorial in New Orleans, he wanted to put Faro’s name on a brick. Maybe even his own.

Faro’s uncle Ricky owned the Gaspenny Scenic Railroad when Claude was a boy. Those old engines were a work of art. They had no faring, no sheath like these diesels. The GSR was a trucks and gear train; a helical gear ran jack shafts out to two or three trucks. Not pretty, but nothing else beat those inclines. Good traction, slow speed.

Claude chose a table, his back to the window to prevent queasiness. He set out a cloth and then his kit, the little goat, and patted his breast pocket to retrieve reading glasses. He settled into the meditation of work.

At some point, Claude sensed someone near. The girl introduced herself. Her name was Canese Halbemond. “Diana said you wouldn’t mind company. May I share your table?”

“Sure you can,” Claude said, rolling up his cloth. “Happy you’re here.”

She sat and sighed. She said she was from Richmond, and lay a small claim to a wedge of table space. She placed with precision her tablet, phone, and empty cup. Then she pretended to steady herself to give her shaking hands some cover. Her phone lit up, but the caller ID said DO NOT ANSWER.

Claude asked, “On your way to New York, or Washington?”

She looked up, eyes pooling.

“Washington,” Canese answered. “I have an interview.”

Claude offered a paper napkin. They both saw the warning repeat on her phone.

“That so?” Claude smiled. “Who’s the lucky outfit?”

She answered, “The clerk’s office,” then turned her phone screen-down. “At the Senate.”

“Lots of fine folk there.”

Her attention strained.

Claude squared up his tools, mirroring Canese’s, then clutched his elbows to his sides, arms tucked in and close. He waited a moment for the stabby feeling to pass. “What kind of job?”

He let Canese talk, then resumed his carving, unrolled the cloth again, hands steadily forming ridged horns with short, sure turns of the knife. It kept his mind off his pains, and gave Canese an excuse to share or not.

The light of another notification spilled from under Canese’s phone. “I’m sorry my mind is such a mess.” Her hand stayed gripping he edge of the table. “He’s in the District 1 office. I mean, the job.”

Claude thought for a moment. “Harrison’s?”

“I hope so.”

“He’d be glad to have you.” Claude talked about the world he knew. “I’ve spent plenty of time talking with both Harrison and Mr. Hybl about railroad trivia, if you wind up working thataway. They’re both on the transportation committees. Too late for folks like me, but you have a whole world and future to look out for, specially over in Norfolk.”

The idea of a future, Claude thought, that’s what she needs. He continued to chat about the Navy base in Norfolk, where coal, still hauled out of the mines, pottered over to Norfolk and got loaded into bulk ships for export. The coal breathed. The train breathed.

Claude shifted. “Canese, I don’t like to pry, but can I help you?”

She kept her eyes on her phone. “I really need this job.” She looked at Claude. “I can’t go home.”

“I think you’ll be all right,” he said.

Claude’s old-time patter was calming. He talked trains. He mused on the Gaspenny tracks being dismantled, how there is an art and a science to managing mineral deposits in boilers. They were sensitive and dangerous, and each locomotive was an individual creature. Every part was machined. Nothing was standard from model to model, so parts that got worn out or broke were milled by the fellas in machine shops. Now, with diesel engines, it’s more like a car.

“Wherever there’s a crane can lift thirty-forty ton, there’s a shed can swap in a new engine. Know what those skilled machinists do now? Haul inner tubes back and forth for weekend float trips.” Claude looked around at the half-empty car. “And seats on the Crescent sell for less and less.”

“I suppose they do.” Canese studied Claude’s decorations. “May I ask why you’re in uniform? I get a little spooked.”

Claude’s still fit, but hung loose about the shoulders. His weight had stabilized until long-term wasting began. He’d made do with pecking some new holes in his dress belt, but after a while gave up pretending and bought some trim elastic-waist pants.

“This dog don’t bite.”

“Diana told me your name and I forgot.”

“I’m Claude. My mama said she was overawed with the Lawd when she had me.”

Canese smiled. “I can’t forget you now.”

“Most of my friends call me Chief. You’re welcome to it.”

“Why’s that?”

“Everybody who ever was a Crew Chief is Chief.”

“Well, I don’t know any Claudes.”

“Yes m’am.” He nodded. He relaxed his arms a bit, moving an elbow onto the table.

“Why a uniform today?”

“I’m visiting a friend at Walter Reed and the uniform brings him back.”

“Is he ill?”

“He got the dementia.” Claude picked up the little goat and held it, then stood it square on the table. “Too many crashes. He recognizes me more than not when I look like old times.”

Canese fished for something in her bag and stopped. She looked at Claude square on. “I finally walked out on my fiancé this morning and he’s not happy. The police had to get involved, but they say until something happens, their hands are tied.” She closed her bag.

“He in custody?”

“He was when the train pulled away, not that it matters. He said his brother and he would be waiting for me at Union Station with a shotgun and a Bowie knife.”

“He said that? Well, what did the police do?”

“His brother’s the police.”

“By God.” Claude said, “We get to Union Station, you stick with me.” Claude shifted his body to wrestle a pain.

Canese studied Claude’s face for the first time. “You’re not well.”

“I’m all right.”

It was the back pains that finally brought Claude to the doctor, horrible pains like the old days when he’d have to ride in the jump seat on a long haul, sitting and standing and hunching over. In hindsight, it was a combined dislike of doctors, hospitals, and needles that killed him. Plus losing his son, Claude Junior, and then his wife Marcy.

Canese thought for the first time in months about someone else’s troubles beside her own. Claude said his medicine dose kept pain at bay for eight hours last week, but now he clock-watched come six. He’d hoped to take the next dose while visiting Faro, where he could lay down a while in some cool darkness.

“His nurse Ginny is kind,” Claude added. “She looks like you.”

Diana walked through to her break. She paused to whisper an encouragement to Canese, then passed a warm smile to Claude, and continued on her way to the crew car.

Claude fished an ice sliver from his sodden paper cup. He remembered when china and flatware were standard. The Southern Line was the last holdout against Amtrak. The Crescent’s death blow was airplanes. Delta got in the kitchen with Dinah; that was that.

Claude finished the little goat’s horns and told Canese he’d like to go put his feet up if she’d promise to wait for him at Union Station. She said okay. Claude packed his kit, but he liked the feel of that little goat in his hand and tucked it into his jacket pocket.

By the time the Crescent arrived to Washington, Claude managed no rest. He had to wait an hour before his next pill, right about when he’d see Faro. He felt sheeny cold. His first sight on the platform was an officer in riot gear, led by a German shepherd, as they disappeared behind a false plywood wall.

He stepped off and crossed the platform, looking for Canese, and was about to push through the heavy glass-paneled door into the station when he heard her call his name.  

Canese swept toward him on the platform, her raincape flowing behind. She asked if Claude knew the taxi-stand was relocated for construction. She had gotten the intel from Diane.

Canese said, “Let’s walk together there. There’s a protest brewing this weekend and the main hall might be crazy.”

“I’ll see you to a taxi. I usually take the bus.”

Canese looked at their shoes. “I wanted to thank you for listening to me. You have enough trouble without mine butting in.”

“You got a lot going on.”

“This world!”

He nodded. “Blue skies ahead. Let’s walk.”

Canese checked the time on her screen. “Buses still run on the half and the hour?”

“Yes.”

She showed the time: 10:02. “You’ll have a little wait. We could share a car?”

“I’m set in my ways,” he said as he touched his fingertips to his right brow.

They walked a bit, then Canese excused herself to respond to a text, she mouthed to Claude that it was her mother. She raised her index finger to indicate she’d need a minute.

A pain in Claude’s gut sunk his face. He breathed deep and concentrated on his surroundings. The Main Terminal was packed with noisy crowds. He fiddled absentmindedly with the carving in his pocket. The hall was nine stories high, sounds caromed around up there and came back down sounding dizzy. The Headhouse centurions were perched high and watching from their marble clappers, ancient guests unable to decode the modern melee before them. The ticket counters, large as any airport check-in, were quiet, most of the ticket dispensing now done on screens.

Claude remembered how Union Station percolated with the hubbub, a constant skein of travelers and rails crossing paths. When the station got landmarked, the rail head transformed into three stories of retail. Used to be people dined on the train. Now, rather than benefit from the momentum at arrival, travelers rested and ate in the terminal, when they weren’t protesting. Anywhere he looked in the Great Hall, janitors, students, children and parents each held a screen at eyeball’s length, the way grunts at mail call used to, mentally cordoned off like the red tape around the RC-135s he and Faro flew, everyone together and separate.

Claude hadn’t realized Canese was done with her call. He felt her watch him hanging onto the railing.

“You look pale. May I?” She pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. Canese pointed out the entrance to an elevator, tucked behind a cutout in a false chickenwire-and-plywood wall. They took it down a flight.

Busy as the main hall was, things were quiet in the basement level food court. Not a lot of people want ice cream or Chinese suppers at 10AM. On past trips, Claude might grab a shake in a can or an ice cream, but now even those were ill-advised. Claude stood near the bottom of the wood and iron curved staircase; his precheck eyes scanned the pink marble floor of the food court, and up to the mezzanine’s edge of shops.

“Wait here if you don’t mind and we’ll walk to the taxi stand together. I need to powder my nose.”

Claude could see the entrance to the lounges along the far wall.

“They’re never crowded.” Canese looked at Claude more closely. “I don’t like leaving you alone. Chief?”

Claude gripped the dining area railing, concentrated on a movie poster. He remembered watching old Sunday television matinees. His favorites were The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Flying Leathernecks, Abbot and Costello in Keep ’em Flying. That time in Iwo Jima when Forrest Tucker left the boys and went back behind the lines to resupply the ammo, and while he stops for a cup of coffee, the Japs bayonet his buddies? That made an impression.When Claude joined the service, it was during that post-Viet Nam, Jimmy Carter malaise. After Carter, there were ten years of all-volunteer troops. Thanks to that and a head filled with Victory at Sea, Claude and Faro were some of the quality new enlistees in what became a military dead ball era.

Claude asked an odd question. “What kinds of pictures did you enjoy as a kid?”

“Like films?”

He grimaced and nodded.

“I don’t know. I like The Office. Riverdale. Whatever is streaming.”

“What are those all about?”

“An office, a school.” She shrugged.

“You go ahead.” He kept his hand on the railing, knuckles a little pale. “Don’t be late to a date with your new boss.”

Her shoulders relaxed. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll keep an eye peeled.”

“Thanks.”

“Sic semper Tyrannis, Virginia.”

She laughed. “Stay free, Mountaineer.”

He watched her rain cape billow as it threaded food-court tables toward the ladies-room door. Claude set down his travel bag at his feet and looked upward to the main hall. He marveled at the newly gilded coffers. Up in the five bays of its dapper arches, lemon-lit curtains of light shone down through the dome. One circle quailed on a wall, making a kind of natural movement, like seeing branches sway when there’s no breeze. Undercurrents were lively.

He thought of circles and light. There was one time he watched a clarity-measuring disk get lowered into a Lake. It didn’t disappear until 150 feet. The water surface dazzled above depth, like the stratosphere he’d glimpse as Crew Chief, and contemplate the deep dome of heaven’s blue firmament on early morning runs to Al-Bakr. The sky at times was an eternal pool of deepest blue, ground in the deep black of time and space. Claude would consciously push his sight through his flight visor, the windscreen, the thin air. He’d like to fly again.

“Got any spare change?” Someone said close-by.

Claude remembered he wore his dress uniform. Best to be a peace maker. Claude gave the man a five.

“Bless you.”

“Look for those blue skies, son.”

What did Faro used to say? For five dollars you get to watch a monkey screw a coconut. Claude thought he might ask Canese to call Ginny, the nurse at Walter Reed, to let her know he’d be late to Faro.

The beggar shambled off.

Claude thought Canese reminded him of Ginny. It was more than their shared galaxy of freckles. Ginny left the Colorado Springs Academy to finish at Vanderbilt with a degree in nursing. She was quiet, a deep pool. He tried cheering her up one morning when she was especially blue. She was lonesome being the listening ears in the Alzheimer’s wing. Her eyes limpid and glassy, Ginny looked at her feet. She said, Claude, just that once I was walking alone. It took a moment for her truth to dawn on him. He told her he was sorry and wished he’d been there to walk alongside. Having a wasting cancer was obvious, and sympathy flowed easily to Claude. It wasn’t fair other’s hurts were hid.

No, Claude wouldn’t be going anywhere until he was sure Canese was okay. Faro would be waiting. The goat would pep him up.

Claude’s back throbbed, a little pain clawed at his navel, so he leaned on the cool railing. His skin was dry and he was feeling light.

It was then another character, Claude had noted him resting in the shadows by the currency exchange kiosk, walked slowly in the direction of the men’s room. Casually, Claude kept his eyes on the figure. He passed Hangar One Steaks. Wincing, Claude pushed upright from the railing, and picked up a discarded brochure from the National Gallery on the near table to look busy.  It advertised an Italian exhibition, and its cover depicted a tree growing out of a reclining King David’s stomach; the faces of his children and their children were in circles like fruits of the tree all growing upward to a clouded God. Claude wondered if the hot mulch of his intestines held pictures of the dead and wounded he flew medivac out of Beirut. Those dreams sometimes returned when he visited Faro, but lately Claude’s dreams were full of frantic radio calls, soft cockpit alarms, dust falling through adrenaline. Claude snapped out of his reverie as the figure zagged toward the ladies room.

His gut tight, Claude slid his bag to his shoulder and set down the pamphlet.

People could be like steam engines and C-130s, drawing energy out of the natural world. The energy here shifted to overcast. toward that boy who slipped inside the ladies room.

Below the clatter and chatter of the main hall, Claude’s heard radio static. He looked for aid. Scissor-gates were locked down. The sandwich shop was changing over from breakfast service to lunch, and a cook poured boiling water on the grill, the Norfolk tidewater flats. They’d hose down the coal to keep it from catching fire. He signaled to get the cook’s attention. No go. No police uniform in sight.

Claude went to check on Canese.

He listened hard at the door. One after another came the click-roar of a hand dryer. As it cycled off, he could hear growling or crying. Claude’s head-up display was pinging. He thought of Ginny’s assault, of Forrest Tucker, and bayonets.

He counted two and pushed and things were in bad kilter. The boy pressed Canese’s neck hard to the wall. Her coat was slit and hanging limp, phone and wallet spilled across the counter, hair half-undone, right cheek a wet welter. She was breathing hard and Claude could see the angry sinews of her attacker’s neck.

“Woah now, son.”

The dryer roared.

“Move in and away from the door! Do it, old man,” the boy said as he elbow-jabbed the big silver button.

Claude eased the door closed. “I’ll give you everything I have. What do you need, son.”

“You old hillbilly. You come to watch me slit this friendly slut?” He jabbed the dryer and it kept yowling. The stale air heated and circulated the smell of a birthing room.

He waved Claude over to the sinks, jabbing. There was a bright red line along Canese’s throat. She was trembling.

Claude kept his eye on her fiancé, talked real low. “I’m retired Air Force. I’m carrying my service revolver.” And, with his eye on the knife while the assailant kept watch on Claude’s left hand, Claude slowly reached into his pocket, gripped the little carving like a pistol, and held it pressed into the seam.

“I want you to let the young lady go. And you,” he motioned by pressing the little hilt of black walnut in a sweeping motion toward the door. “We can walk out of here together, you hear?”

“Hell no.” He pressed harder on her neck. Her face flushed red. He seethed at her: “See what you made happen? You have to kill him, too?”

“You got more to lose than I have, son,” Claude was steady and sure. “I will blow a hole in your watch-pocket if you don’t let the girl go. She’s not the one for you. Right now.”

The boy’s carotid artery was pumping, but he relaxed pressure on her neck, enough for her to turn sideways and begin coughing. For no good reason, he swept the knife up through her hair and a flurry fell along the floor like tides of brunette tinsel in the hot currents.

Claude snapped his fingers softly while Canese was coughing, hoping to draw her toward the door. She was in shock, pupils dilated. She unfroze and lurched past.

The dryer cycled off and stayed off.

“I’m sorry for you, son.”

“I don’t need your sorry,” the killer said. The ceiling vents made breezy sounds, like rain on a canopy. The plumbing offered an occasional bubbling, a low gurgle like a full pot of water boiling, soft inconstant slices and bubbles of sluicing water. Claude measured the boy–and the hunting knife he held flat and balanced in his right hand–to be six paces from him. One of the toilets was running.

“I want that gun.” The boy stabbed lazily toward the floor.

“I can’t give it, son.” Claude slowly increased his distance from the knife. “I’m going to leave you be.” He turned to open the door and pass through sideways. He could hear gathering at the staircase, then someone’s phone screen caught Claude’s eye.

Behind him, a muttered curse preceded a sting in the center of Claude’s shoulder blades. A few stories down, the Silver Meteor deposited lobbyists and lawyers, tourists, and protesters with flappy placards from New York, all come for cherry blossoms. Claude emerged from the far side of the great hall, with transit trains and bus lines and blood cells hurtling forward with him like a discus or some dogwood flower of time. As Claude made toward the rotunda, he tasted metal one last time. The marble steps were pinkish.

There’s an area of the brain that generates the sound of words, its own headhouse, with its own skein of arrivals and departures. Claude pressed out through its heavy oak- and glass-paneled door on his way to Faro. He looked to the left, and his eyes traveled down the arcade of arches, an allée of marble headstones, formal and organized. He moved forward to the triple-flags of the taxi-circle, the scent of exhaust and muck whipping lazy as Sunday drivers.

Canese’s fiancé checked Claude’s pocket and cursed. He pulled the blade from Claude’s back and ran. Claude heard the cook from the sandwich place holler. Canese pointed, cried out. Everyone was on the move. Curious faces cogged around the balcony, as calls for aid faded into low gear, the rattle of tracks shimmying under binloads of coal, the soft clapping of whispers rebounding in the ceiling of the headhouse. Claude could feel himself in a harness, in a cockpit, all the instrument panels vibrating overhead, currents pressing steady against the windscreen.

Claude lay on the bathroom tiles on his side, with the open door resting against his legs. He could see the reflections of the ceiling light on the door, like the big silver button of the hand dryer. It was like being back on the C-130, and he felt warm from the armpit level up but cold below that.

The sun was low and touched the runways of asphalt leading to Union Station. Faro turned and gave Claude a wink as he strapped in to his old Crew Chief seat, looking ahead toward the heavens. Faro nudged higher, kept thrusting left to circle the monumental Armed Freedom statue with her plume of eagle feathers, her laurel wreath, her aegis. The earth sank behind her, the Capital shrinking and distant. On the tile floor, Claude’s eyes filled with the fair-weather high mists and there was a roaring at the top of his head, incredibly loud, like that 4-engine turbo-prop attached to the uninsulated tin can, its blinking panels, switches, and circuits.

He waved Marcy and their son forward. They were flying. He told Faro he felt like an ancient ship, the full belly of its sails pulling him home.


A.E. WEISGERBER is from Orange, NJ. She is a 2018 Chesapeake Writer, 2017 Frost Place Scholar, 2014 Reynolds Fellow, and Assistant Series Editor for Wigleaf’s Top 50. Follow on Twitter @aeweisgerber or visit anneweisgerber.com.

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Luna Obscura

by BOBBY PARROTT

Luna Obscura

The moon is the most irrational of bodies. The sun is less cold, but the furnace of the sun is a proud furnace, full with the yellow roaring of immensity, not of release. Most planets are temporal enough, yet there runs through Venus, for instance, a near-subliminal undercurrent of penetrability. Mars, her only flipside, pushes forth an impetuous tumescence. The moon waxes deadly ovoid, turning only its best slice earthward.

Humanoids get their bodily features from apes, their skittishness from insects, their no vacancy eyes from the moon— the nameless, deranged one, the one most willing to purloin— You can’t squeeze pearls out of an asteroid . . .

The forlorn chef melting into his silver teapot, the moon is what happens when the dwarf star dances with the horse nebula.

The moon—ancient progenitor of spring, libido’s blossom: eclipsed, forgotten, all but erased, its textual vesicles of primordial snow, the telegraph wire that once connected heaven with the radio in your car, now a bulbous filament flailing in slow motion for its lost connection, throwing blue sparks onto pink highway. The moon was John Lennon’s favorite dog. You could hear it in his chords.

Stellar Inertia

Scholarship is the transport my head steps off when I come here, yet my limbs’ marrow smooths words beyond algebraic. A system of trees shades my firmness, winter’s eraser an orb floating through Galileo’s intestinal web of over-exposed stars blinking my circuits discrete, pings in packets of nerves that, in branching waves pray open my stomach’s transparent pines I protect from holiness.

Claustrophobia collapses my want, space travel, the fiction of my earth-elixir driven to a new move by love, the bark-texture my shed skin, my slither toward luminescence an inertia, a blur. Gone my stubborn craving, the girth of my headless torso hooked on heaven’s hypnotic draw but purpled into clouds of hush. How kneeling in the intersection of my ordination helps me feel a portal I cannot spell, its screaming smashups my indelible robe of light.


BOBBY PARROTT’S poems appear or are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, RHINO Poetry, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Poetic Sun, Clade Song, Rabid Oak, and elsewhere. Immersed in a forest-spun jacket of toy dirigibles, he dreams himself out of formlessness in the chartreuse meditation capsule called Fort Collins, Colorado.

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12; 13; 29; 37

by ALINA STEFANESCU

12

The local weather-mammal describes a heat wave descending upon Birmingham, an ozone alert. I promise ice cream, ducklings, a trip to the park.

At the creamery, the kids debate which flavor to sample first. The small room is crowded, an older couple complains about kids breaking in line. A student outfitted in the local university logo glances down at her wrist; she checks her steps, measuring them against calories. “We are all daily dehumanized in this economy,” she says to another girl, presumably her friend, who is wearing shorts and shiny yellow stilettos.

“If I used the word dehumanization in my therapy session, my therapist would probably dump me,” the girl in stilettos replies. In her description, the therapist resembles a lover, or the lover’s need for agreement on a certain discourse to characterize events.

The ice cream is scooped into cones and eaten slowly. A large black trash can introduces itself as a recycling bin. The sun’s obscene brightness lays a reflection of the shiny yellow stilettos to rest against the trash can. Without legs. Only recycling bin and stilettos. No one feels connected to the perceptions others make of us. An old man carries bags filled with aluminum cans away from the bin, down the sidewalk. “My hands are too sticky!” M. cries.

We head to the park on foot, dripping ice cream. Reflecting back on his own childhood in his diaries, Robert Musil recalls the boxing matches at school, how the matches spilled out of schoolyards and into public spaces, how he once received a blow to his kidneys that put him out of action. He traces the fights among schoolboys to a marital mindset. He stares at the German child’s socialization in order to understand the German adult, the passion among the middle classes for redemptive war that might restore lost honor or pride. “Every life has something of the sort, and in a biography, it is either overlooked or painted in loving detail, harmlessly, as typical of youth,” Musil writes. “But, in the end, it seems perhaps to have shaped the nature of people today, their capacity for boundless indifference in their treatment of their fellow human beings?”

At the park, a small crew of children draw circles in the sand and try to keep their circles from overlapping. This one is mine, a boy says. He uses a twig as both pen and pointer: to create the space which belongs to him, and then to enforce how others relate to this space.

Seven teens dressed like ninjas pause to ask the small mammal-crew for cash. They are thirsty. The children in the sandbox ask their parents for money to save the ninjas. My kids want to go home or play in the sprinkler. “Everyone else in my class is getting a puppy,” the littlest says as we pass the gas station. The street smells like a wound of piss and scorched asphalt.

 

13

The danger of the lyric essay is clouds – or the emergence of cloudiness which offers semantic meaning without context. The danger of the narrative essay is oversimplification, or to render reductive, linear, overly consequential – it is to pack things too tightly into a form that feels like it follows when what follows is never quite clear. But the problem with any essay is how many people one must become in order to write it.

 

29

The question of fidelity usually arises in the context of the lover’s absence. Sexual fidelity implies an awayness, a not being-near.

Who are you when I’m not here? he asked me, leaning against an oil painting purchased on our travels through Romania.

And who am I when I imagine you away from me?

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37

A triad of turkey vultures floated in circles above the wooded area between streets; we cannot keep our minds from joining them. When we ask if the scent could be a dead hog, our professional neighbor in flip-flops shakes her head no. Most likely it’s a leak in a gas pipeline. Decades ago, oil company engineers began adding sulfurous chemicals to natural gas, relying on vultures to circle them, making leaks easier to find.

That’s why it would be tragic if they disappeared, the son adds.

Why would they disappear? the neighbor demands. Vultures eat anything. Her cheeks redden; she asks the son where he got this idea. In my dream, they disappeared after the bees, like incandescent dominos: first the bees and then the vultures were gone.


ALINA STEFANESCU was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her partner and several intense mammals. Recent books include a creative nonfiction chapbook, Ribald(Bull City Press Inch Series, Nov. 2020) and Dor, which won the Wandering Aengus Press Prize (September, 2021). Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize (April 2018). Alina’s poems, essays, and fiction can be found in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, World Literature Today, Pleiades, Poetry, BOMB, Crab Creek Review, and others. She serves as poetry editor for several journals, reviewer and critic for others, and Co-Director of PEN America’s Birmingham Chapter. She is currently working on a novel-like creature. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com.

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