Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.
The theme is Allergic Reactions.
The Sensation by Al McDermid
“And then Jon shows up, hovering like he wants to sit, and you know how Del feels about Jon…”
The sensation starts at the back of head and I mistaken it for a mosquito, though I know it’s on the inside.
“There’s a free chair, so he sits uninvited, talking nervously like he does…”
It crawls into my lizard brain and I smile at the impulse to kill.
“Well, you know Del, always ranting and carrying on, but he just sits there, stone-silent, so we know he’s pissed and…”
It borrows farther into my brain and I imagine newly transformed bees eating themselves free of the honeycomb.
“So Jon is going on about some inane crap and Del just loses it, laughing madly, and we’re all just gaping at him, and he finally stops and says he’s never heard a bigger pile of…”
It spreads itself across the back of my head. I’m ready to pull off a piece of my skull to get to it.
“Brenda then gets all mad at Del and starts telling him off and so Amy jumps and I’m sure there’s going to be a catfight and…”
It wraps itself around my brain, squeezing it into citrus pulp, chasing reason before it.
“Charlene,” I say, and she finally stops talking. “Could you please just shut up?”
“Jeez, if you don’t what to hear this just say so.”
Antlers by Elizabeth Kate Switaj
Mark had wondered what had gotten into his wife. Emily was never that aggressive in bed. When she confessed, he faked a sneezing fit to get away.
—Sorry. Must be my hay fever acting up.
Now, as he watched her sleep, he wondered what to do. One of the reasons he had married Emily was that he thought that a vegan would never fetishize his hunting the way some of his exes had. Trophies, they had asked for: hooves, horns, teeth, anything . . . it disgusted him. He only hunted for what he could eat.
—Why aren’t you sleeping, Mark? What’s wrong?
She snuggled up against him with her head in his lap, and he began stroking her hair. What could he say to her? What about your beliefs? Well, what about them? She wasn’t killing or eating any animals. He wasn’t going to start hunting more because the thought of it turned her on; if anything, he’d do it less. No, there was nothing to say. He loved her. That was that, unless she asked him to put antlers on the bedroom wall.
Mark coughed a few times. Emily turned but didn’t wake. He lay down beside her and put an arm around her waist. He was going to have to get used to the ropes.
Redeye Rabbit by Dorothee Lang
I knew it was just a matter of time. And sure enough, one March morning, I woke up sneezing again, stumbled into the bathroom and roamed the shelf. No allergy pills left.
The pharmacy was still closed, so I went to the bakery. The woman behind the counter looked just like me: Redeyed and sneezing.
“Two croissants”, I said, and pulled out a fiver.
“I don’t have change,” she cautioned. “It’s one crap morning. I need to go to the bank, but I am alone.”
Then she looked at me. Our red eyes were meeting.
“I could go,” I offered. Still not sure where that came from, but there I was, all hard-shell, soft-core boyscout.
She handed me a fifty.
I walked away. She doesn’t even know my name, I realized. Not that the fifty would get me anywhere. That thought in mind, I entered the bank.
My vision was kind of blurred – I didn’t notice the big rabbit with the gun until I queued behind it.
“One hundred,” the rabbit said to the cashier.
“Euro, Dollar or Yen?”
The rabbit scratched his big ears. “How would I know?”
I looked at the fifty in my hand, poked the rabbit, and handed him the note. In exchange, I took his gun, and robbed the bank for good.
“And now?” asked the rabbit once I was done.
“Now we’ll walk out of this sorry day,” I told him.
And so we went, sneezing.
Damn Headache by Linda Simoni-Wastila
Annoying little dog, yipping next door all night. I lug the pseudoephedrine and stew-meat from the grocery bag. There. That should fix it.
Fun by Susan Tepper
Spottie’s black spots are falling off from an allergic reaction. The vet proclaiming: “This is a very rare condition in Dalmations.” Like that would make me feel better.
On the patio next to the pool, our trainer, Ralph, is bent over studying the round pink flesh spots that used to be black dog hair. He throws up his hands having a conniption. “If we don’t get them back he’ll be disqualified!”
“Well you’re the trainer, Ralph, what have you done to my prize dog?”
“He sure won’t be weeening any prizes this time.” Though it’s muttered sotto vocé, Italian style, I don’t want Antonio’s point of view.
“Stick to cleaning up the rose garden!” I yell.
Antonio flicks those Sicilian eyes. But he doesn’t pick up his trowel and leave, either. Once you hanky-panky the gardener, there is no going back.
Rubbing the dog’s head I say, “What do you think, Spottie?” His tail wags.
“We can’t very well paint him,” says Ralph.
“Paint heeeeem!” Antonio holds his stomach rolling with laughter.
“Take a hike, Antonio!”
“You cannot speak that way to me.”
“I weeeel tell your husband.”
“He would never believe you.”
“He weeeel. When I tell him about your double neeeple.”
Ralph’s head jerks. “Your double what?”
“It’s a small mole, that’s all.”
“Double neeeeeeeeeeeeeple,” Antonio sings out across the patio.
Then Spottie runs around in circles from the fun.
Hives by Susan Gibb
He comes through now and then, the traveling salesman of jokes, lead guitar in the on-the-road band. These visits are a flutter of wings, the routine that overrides her day, fills a night. As the taillights of his ’98 Buick red-streak out of town, Antonia breaks out in hives.
It’s happened that way for over a decade, twelve years she counts on her fingers and ears. She finds the fexofenadine in her medicine cabinet which when opened, hides the hives on the other side of its door. Her face is screwed up in resentment, natural symmetry unnaturally out of square. A mouth tired of singing the song of hello and goodbye, the low notes outlasting the high.
It’s a prescription she refills on a regular basis because she won’t know when the headlights will pull in. Sometimes a phone call, the blare of a trumpet, comes from a phone booth the next town away, the next county, the next state. Sometimes not. Like the meds, the house is kept ready, the dust caught before it could fall. There is always a steak in the freezer, always a six-pack of Coors asleep in the bottom of the vegetable bin.
Antonia hasn’t dated in the last ten years of her now forty-two. Except for tonight; she said yes to the concert with Jim, the pharmacist at the drugstore in town. She kissed him goodnight, went upstairs, undressed, and smiled as she scratched at the hives.
MUMMIES FINALLY REVEAL SECRETS by Catherine Russell
Though resurrected mummies are commonly believed to fear cats because of their otherwordly connections, the true reasons may be much less exotic. “We’re deathly allergic to them,” alleged *Akhanaten – a 3,000 year old mummy – in a recent interview. While he venerated cats during his human lifetime, he currently suspects the allergy to be linked to the mummification process itself.
Scientists and mystics, however, are still considering supernatural connections. “After all,” Professor Eshe deAtman of the Egyptian Science and Supernatural Studies Institute said, “accounts that a cat steals a person’s breath by sitting on his chest bear a striking similarity to the concept of Ammit consuming a person’s heart.” When reminded of the Egyptian reverence for cats, she replied, “Feline mummification involved the bodies being stuffed with sand. The connection to the Sandman legend is obvious.”
The Sandman could not be reached for comment.
*Akhanaten, a servant in his previous life, spoke through a translator because of the advanced decomposition of his jaw from poor mummification. He is currently seeking legal recourse.
Allergic Reactions by Michelle Ong
My heart palpitates when you’re near. My limbs weaken, my chest
constricts, and my lungs collapse. I grit my teeth to avoid scratching
the small bumps covering my arms and hands. When I try to answer your
questions, my tongue swells and my anxiety worsens.
When you’re gone, I feel stronger. I breathe easier. I rub my hands.
Your partner brings me a cup of coffee. He’s gentle. We discuss the
weather that night. The mud on my boots. How I must’ve slipped and
fallen in the rain and brushed up against the poison ivy. They found
my earring near the tree. No, it’s not mine. I’m not wearing any
When you return, my eyes begin to sting. You throw photographs on the
table. I can’t look at them through all the tears. You goad me. I feel
cramps in my abdomen. I feel sick. I ask to use the bathroom, but you
refuse me. I ask for an attorney. I’m left alone with the photographs.
I push them away, but I can’t help looking.
She was my neighbor. She was very pretty. She asked me to go into the
woods with her. She wanted to play a game. I closed my eyes while she
climbed a tree, but she slipped and fell. She broke her leg. I didn’t
know what to do. I couldn’t carry her back. She was in so much pain. I
helped her fall asleep.
Allergic Reaction by Derin Attwood
My eyes are red and hot, my nose is stuffed. My tongue is beginning to swell. I’m acutely aware of my lungs. They feel spongy and sore. My lips feel massive. My head feels thick. My eyes feel very heavy.
I know if I look in the mirror, I’ll be slightly flushed, but I’m not looking for a mirror. I am wondering if I have put my tablets into this handbag.
I’m generally so careful before leaving home. I have a mantra. Check lippy, grab sunnies. Find keys, house remote (to get past the security system), licence, cell phone, money and pill box (shake to hear the tablet). All into my handbag and off I go.
It’s so simple. Till today.
Do I call an ambulance or go home fast. If I call an ambulance and I don’t react badly this time (and that has happened), I’ll feel stupid. I’ll be angry at myself for wasting St John’s time.
With cell phone in hand, heart in mouth, finger on emergency, I walk to the car.
There’s a tablet in the glove box. Thank goodness I have a backup system.
I lie back, give it time to work.
Twenty minutes pass, half an hour.
Pulse is normal. Eyes are focused, breathing isn’t too laboured.
I can drive.
I’m safe. I’m alive. I can breathe without thinking of every breath. I’m scared again.
Write by Matt Potter
I pasted a sample paragraph of my writing on the website Who do you write like?.
The response was immediate. I suddenly saw myself in long beard and flowing tunic, dispensing wisdom and loaves and fishes.
Switching off the computer, I caught my enigmatic smile on the blank screen.
My wife hurried past, holding an empty tray. “What’re you smiling at?”
She disappeared, no time for an answer, door slamming.
I sat, considering this new enormity. I could found my own religion. Some man – prophet, seer, philosopher – develops a system of thinking and wham! they’re building worship centres and theme parks and re-naming interstate highways after him.
Makes you think.
My wife hurried through again, tray stacked high with plates.
“I pasted a paragraph of my writing on the website Who do you write like? and it said I write like The Bible.”
She glanced as I followed her into the kitchen. She put the tray down, filled the coffee machine with tap water, spooned coffee into the two-cup filter, stamped it down vehemently, snapped the filter holder into place, flicked the on-switch, and stood, waiting for the first hiss.
She looked me in the face. “So I guess you’ll be starting your own religion, then?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I did the same thing and it said I write like the Dalai Lama, so I thought we should move to Tibet. Coffee?”
Normally I’m allergic to bullshit but sometimes it can be a sneaky bitch.
White Birch by Randal Houle
Trees. There is a tree every four feet. Stands of pine span for acres, and every once in a while, a deciduous tree — that is one that sheds its leaves every year — bursts through the holiday green like a gay uncle during Thanksgiving dinner. We have every kind of tree — and I have climbed them all. Except for white birch.
I might have been nine or ten, but more likely six or seven, my family crammed into a small compact and dad drove us to a relative’s house four hours away. The manicured lawn presented two climbing targets: a weeping willow and a birch tree, which I mistakenly called a bitch tree. I had climbed the willow before. That left the white birch.
My shoes slipped. The papery bark peeled off where my hands held onto the eight-inch trunk. I shimmied. I ran at it. I even jumped up to catch a lower branch — all efforts failed to get up that tree. Even as I walked away, I looked back and tried to scout a yet-to-be-revealed-to-me way up the white birch.
My mother caught me staring at it through the window. “What is wrong with your eye?”
My left eye had swollen to the size of a baseball — except baseballs are not red. Later, I explained to the Doctor, “I tried to climb the white bitch.”
“You’re allergic,” the Doctor said. “Stay away from White Bitches.”
You came for the carpet by doug bond
When the buzzer rang I freaked. Ohmygod, he’s really fucking here. It
was so hot you were wearing a tank top and jeans, told me you were in
your moving clothes.
You walked right in and looked at the shit on my walls, said “You’ve
got nice shit on your walls.” And then, “So where’s the carpet?”
I told you I’d go get it, asked you to wait. By the time I’d yanked
the edges out from under the bed, I was a stinking mess, but thought
I’d fling my streaked hair back, tell you, “It’s all yours now.”
Instead I stood there slinking to the side as you practically galloped
past me to grab it. You did check out my tits, I saw you, or maybe it
was a sweat splotch, I’m not sure.
“So how the fuck are you going to get that thing home?”
“Piece of cake! I used to be a mover. Carpets are the easiest. You
just roll ‘em and ride ‘em up on your shoulder.”
It came loose so you grabbed and rustled it into a tight little
package. I couldn’t help thinking of you doing me the same way.
You said, “Kind of shaggy?” And then began sneezing. I counted eight,
maybe nine big blasts.
By the time you’d gotten through my door your nose was dripping a long
thin string down your tank top. I buzzed the gate. You just rammed the
carpet roll to swing it open. You timed it perfectly.
Rash Decisions by Michael Webb
“I’m itchy,” she says, breathless, panicky. I’m swimming out of the depths of full sleep, I’m not totally sure what she’s saying. We were up late, watching Monty Python tapes and laughing, newlyweds. The urgency in her voice brings me out of it.
“OK.” When your bride, pregnant and uncomfortable, says she’s itchy, you hop to it. Feet on the floor. Wallet, keys. Billy Joel tape. Shoes. Shirt.
No, wait. Pants. Then shoes. Jacket. OK, showtime.
Slate gray skies, with fat New England snowflakes blanketing everything. An angry, not-messing-around snowfall. Accumulation already on sidewalks and streets.
Out to the car. Scraping snow and ice. Tape playing, heater running. “Running On Ice”. Apropos.
Car is ready. Roads slick, but empty in eerie morning quiet. Drive with increasing anxiety as I grow more alert. What could it be?
Round corner, into drugstore parking lot. Accelerate in, fearing the long drive back to her already. Car jumps the curb, smacking into brick outside store, denting fender and chipping brick. Reverse, pull car back into position. Walk in, purchase pile of itch products, heedless of need.
Back home. Roads greasy with slush. Taking corners more carefully now, but still accelerating. Instincts taking over-woman in danger, man must fix.
Park car, storm into apartment. She is in bed- deep, restful breathing. I jostle her.
“Hi,” she murmurs.
“What about the itching?”
“Oh, it stopped.”
Vienna 1929 by Kelly Grotke
“It’s a shame,” she said softly, shaking her head. “I can’t make any sense of it, no one can.” She turned to look out the café window, watching the Saturday street as her companion waited in silence. “Did you see the front page of the Neue Freie Presse yesterday?” she continued. “Noble not only by birth but in spirit, it said. And then all of his accomplishments, his work with children after the war… frankly the tone of the thing left one with the impression that he’d quite sensibly left the sinking ship of Austria by dying when he did. But what can you do.”
“I heard the Reichspost blamed it on gas poisoning – a faulty heating system, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I heard that too, but no. Elli found them. Clemens sent her and the maid out for a film over in Leopoldstadt, and by the time they returned, it was over and not even the best doctors in Vienna could do anything to bring them back. Marie had been ill. When I visited them last month on Alserstrasse, she mentioned she was having a minor procedure, but maybe there was more to it, I don’t know; we’d been friends for years but she didn’t say. She looked worried, yes, but not this…and Clemens wasn’t like that, even after the political disappointment.”
Dr. Clemens Peter Freiherr von Pirquet, some twenty years after coining the term ‘allergy,’ committed suicide with his wife by ingesting cyanide on a late winter evening.
Over Breakfast by Matthew A. Hamilton
She suspected her husband of having an affair. She didn’t want to hire a private investigator or follow him around herself. She simply wanted to confront him with it. She’d be able to tell if he was lying. After twenty years of marriage it wouldn’t be hard to do.
She waited for him to come down for breakfast.
“Morning, sweetheart?” she said.
He poured his coffee and sat down at the table, flipped open the paper. “Morning. What’s got you so high today?”
“I need to talk to you about something. Can you put the paper down?”
He folds it in half, puts it on the table. “Is it going to take long? I need to be at work in an hour.”
She placed a plate of muffins on the table, butter and jam. “Nope, shouldn’t take long.”
He grabbed a muffin. “Well, what is it?”
“Are you seeing someone? You come home late, you didn’t use to do that, and you don’t seem happy with me anymore.”
He nervously stuffs a piece of muffin in his mouth, chews slowly. “No, honey, why would you think such a thing? “It’s just work, been really busy these last few months.”
She pulled out one of his shirts. “You’re lying!” she screamed. “See this? This is not my lipstick on the collar.”
He couldn’t talk, couldn’t move. His throat closed up. His tongue swelled. And before he closed his eyes she whispered in his ear, “Almonds. In the muffins.”
Cinnamon by Kait Mauro
“So, Anna, do you know why you’re here?” she asks.
“Because my mother doesn’t understand the difference between having a plan and planning.” I tell her. I try to be matter-of-fact, I try to match her professionalism, but irritation glimmers at the edge of my voice.
“Hm,” she says. I can tell she isn’t really concerned. She scribbles a few words on her clipboard, looks up at me. “And what makes you feel this way?”
“It’s the cinnamon.” I tell her. She looks at me, raises her eyebrows a little, the universal signal for ‘please continue.’ So I do, “I’m deathly allergic to cinnamon so I make sure to always have some with me. Here,” I reach for my purse, pull out a thin, sealed tube, hand it to her. “I like to keep my options open, see?”
“Anna, if you’re having suicidal thoughts…” she begins, but I cut her off. If you’re planning to kill yourself, you’re having ‘suicidal thoughts.’ If you simply have a plan but no direct intention to follow through, then you’re just thinking about suicide. This is the difference no one seems to understand. She’s looking at me like I’m crazy.
“It’s only about keeping my options open. If I am going to be here, and I have no intention not to be, I want to be here by choice, by my choice, everyday,” I tell her again. “If you’re not in control then you’re the victim.”
More scribbles on the clipboard.
Anaphylaxis by Christian Bell
I told my wife, don’t eat the crab, remember what happened July 4th, but she shrugged, couldn’t resist. Then she complained of feeling hot, lightheaded. Then the hives came. Then she had trouble breathing. So I gave her Benadryl, rushed her to the hospital, told the scared kids, I’ll call. I went through two red lights, wanted some credit , but she wasn’t watching. Inside, the breathing’s better but still labored. She’s seen immediately. Doctor came by, asked, why’s she eating crab if she’s shellfish allergic? He had thick black glasses. His chiseled physique and perfect tan threw his career choice in your face. We didn’t know, I said, omitting, do you think I’m stupid? He asked about vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety. He mentioned anaphylaxis. He asked about drug, bee, nut allergies. The nurse administered epinephrine. My wife had an electrocution moment. Then she’s fine. The nurse hooked up an IV, said, you should be fine. Before calling home, I said, you look good now, but damn that was scary. Why am I having problems now at 39? I shook my head, looked at her. She was scared, like the first time she was pregnant. I refrained from saying, I said don’t, and did you see me maneuver through traffic. I remembered our wedding reception. I tasted the crab cake, pulled her from greeting people, said, you have to try. And she did. Now, I said, forget crab, we’ll try other things. I wrapped my arms around her. Then she cried.
I know everything’s broken, but still I pretend by Ryder Collins
We’d always hear them coming, sneezing and smashing. We’d hang old bottles we had no use for from the burnt up trees outside the gate. They couldn’t resist. We’d hear the glass breaking; we’d sound the alarm. We’d defend our town and what was ours.
We always won cos we outnumbered them; we always won cos we feared them. We had rules and we maintained them and everything was always right.
Neat and proper and we all knew our place.
Rumor was the balaclavas they wore were melted on their faces in some strange initiation. Rumor was most of them were allergic to the wool. Rumor was their only mission was to smash all the glass in the world. They sneezed and smashed and laughed like hell.
Rumor was what gave me something to look forward to, day in and out in our little settlement.
Sometimes, late at night, I’d rummage alone through the wasteland by the gate, shifting through what’d been left behind. Things we had no use for cos we didn’t understand any of it, what its use was or how it’d been made. I didn’t ask any questions of the huge mounds, though; I was always only looking for glass. I wanted to feel its smooth surface. I wanted to test its cohesion. I’d find once jagged pieces rubbed down by the years; I’d carry these pieces with me under my smock and remember the impulse to run.
Allergic Reactions #1: the Sun by Darryl Price
Well I too woke up and outside there was the shining sun
literally smashing itself against the window like a crazed yet determined yellow
bird but it just couldn’t break through the little rows of shuttered
blinds like it wanted to. It would hit and fall and recircle
and try again over and over again. Okay, I said, I guess
I’m up. You can knock it off now. I stuffed the rest
of my sleep under the pillow for later. The usual things followed.
I opened the door and there the sun tried to stick its
huge foot in but it still couldn’t enter the house altogether. I
got in the car and the sun immediately clamped down on the
silver top and beat it with its fiery fists until I turned
on the radio. This seemed to scare it away to some distance.
However it continued to glare at me from behind several boulder shaped
clouds. These clouds in turn were trying desperately to roll away and
gather against some other part of the sky. The sun hung on
with all ten fingers. I rolled down the window and none other
than the wind reached a hand in and tossled my hair about
and then swam on beside the front tires like a friendly dolphin.
The sun poured on the heat and finally the wind went beneath
the pavement and stayed there. I pulled up to work and got
out just as the sun settled on a corner of the old
building like a vulture looking disinterested but nonetheless a little bit hungry.
Parasite by Stephen Hastings-King
Once the expression finishes repeating it writes itself again. I write it again.
From the repeating on my monitor it travels through every node in every network.
And every node repeats it. Everywhere is the same.
I do not remember how this started, if it started, if it has not always been this: encounter is exposure and threshold is in the crossing.
But when I stop repeating I have reactions that will not stay in frame. Relations to my skin scatter before zones of red and running.
Sometimes I think of Danton in his bath. All my intimacies are allusions.
Once the sentence is finished repeating I write it again.
I write it again and again until I fall asleep.
Last dream I saw Brahma dreaming. I breathed my sentence into his ear.
Hypothetically by Martin Brick
Allergic Reaction by Shelagh Power-Chopra
one whale town and its jiggery, sunken gait and sallow wooden fences,
strewn with aged buoys and weak neighbors who walk the oyster shell
driveways and brush the tips of beach plums with their soft
fingertips–wasn’t like them to miss an opportunity to gab on the
broken curb, smoke pouring from gristled lips in front of the bar and
we’d know who gutted Stripers that day, what ya got for dinner? What
ya got for home? Or how may Quahogs were raked and whose girl had left
or abandoned the day, left the mix of salt and sunshine dim,
forgettable, still and heavy in the still tide. Now, there’s Massy
coming towards me, thin, ropey calves and shaded jaw, herring for bait
in hand but a rash on the forehead, spreading towards his cheeks and
Kern is whistling now, making fun of him, rashes from eating old
shrimp bait and jabbing me with his elbow, nodding towards the old
tackle box we all seem to share. Tonight, I want eels, cooked in
butter and shallots with a risotto and I want Roan to swim up on the
shore after dusk, in her striped bikini, throw a damp towel down in
the watery, rocky sand and throw the conch shells she’s collected on
my lap and we’d watch nothing on TV, nothing at all, after all summer
is here and should remain, should remain forever.
Love it or leave it by Guy Yasko
hand. He notes its colour. It isn’t right; it’s too yellow — not
surprising for a fruit from the Gold Mountain. This peach has a smell –
not all of them do in this country — but that too is wrong: acid and
cloying. But the wrong smell retrieves the right smell, the flatter,
sweeter scent of a proper Chinese peach. He lingers within his memories
of Wuhan streets and the greengrocer’s wife before he recalls his last
encounter with an American peach. He decides it is unwise for him to
hold the fruit so long in his hand and returns it to the bowl.
Allergic to Love by Kim Hutchinson
The day she moved in, he developed a rash in an unmentionable place. The sex stopped then and there.
Later, he started breaking out in hives when she kissed him. That led to a lot of awkward flinching. Soon, kissing stopped, too.
In fact, everything stopped: ear nibbling, hand-holding, backrubs, footsies. You name it, it was off the list.
“You might as well face it,” he joked, “I’m allergic to love.”
For years, they sat on opposite sides of the TV room. She sprawled out on the couch, and he flopped in his easy chair, snoring by the second act of the movie.
Last Friday, she woke up at five and he wasn’t in bed. On her way to the bathroom, she passed the den, where he sat in front of his big 22-inch computer monitor. The size was a point of pride. He mentioned it often.
On the screen, a familiar woman’s face was contorted in orgasm.
He turned, stuffing his erection back in his gym pants. “It’s just a porn video,” he said, “It’s nothing.”
She knew better. She always had. She’d seen the breakouts, blotches and blistering skin.
An hour later, she came out of the bedroom with her packed bags. This time, all she could feel was sorry.
A Pinocchio-sized zit had popped up on his nose.
When she left, his computer was still turned on.
This Is . . . by Walter Bjorkman
Twenty one of age, watching a health and safety film in the mess tent preparing for his job as assistant waterfront director. Better made film than those old safe sex and don’t smoke pot ones, and that’s what made it worse. Outdated information for a rich kids’ camp these days, like how to suck out the venom and tie a tourniquet, but required viewing nonetheless.
Film shifts, hospital scenes of therapy and surgical procedures. Close-up of a bare back. Broad needle heads straight for the bottom of the spine.
He gets up, stumbles to the back of the tent and collapses in a heap. When he comes to, he is asked what happened. He can only wheeze “I don’t know”.
Two years of age, crawling down the hall towards the living room, warm sounds of clinking cups and saucers and friendly chatter invite, golden aromas of walnuts and cinnamon fill the air.
Forty-eight and eighty-eight years of age, likely looking one last time at photographs; there is one of a young tot with one shoulder now drooped lower than the other. The mother says to the boy “They never found out what caused that. I never felt so guilty in my life as on that afternoon after the spinal tap, as you looked up at me with those eyes. The ladies meant well, but I should have told them never mind, I needed to be with you. I had heard your screams through two closed hospital doors.”
Reaction by John Wentworth Chapin
Thomas walked out of the emergency room and around to the main door of the hospital, a spring in his step. He rode the elevator to the seventh floor alone, a familiar path. His arms still itched, despite the Benadryl and prednisone. He pushed past the door with the biohazard symbol on it and entered.
Jim was asleep in bed, a morning news show on TV droning overhead. He looked even thinner, if that was possible. His ears seemed oversized, hanging loosely from his head. Thomas stared at his dying friend for a few minutes before Jim woke with a start. Blue irises peered out of a pool of wet red, not an iota of white. He had been so damn handsome.
“What happened to you?” Jim croaked, his voice still scratchy from an extubation the week previous. They thought he would die.
Thomas’s lips were swollen like trial-sized toothpaste tubes. Fingers of angry red welts crossed his face and neck. Thomas said, “Allergic reaction to penicillin. Spent the night in the ER. Nothing serious.”
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m trying not to itch it. But it’s fine. I thought you’d like to see me like this,” Thomas said.
“You look awful,” Jim said. He smiled and closed his eyes.
Crush by Michelle Elvy
When the new girl Mary showed up in geography class, Ted felt his throat go dry. When she sat in the wooden chair next to him, cold sweat crept down his spine. And when she led him to the creek after school to show him how she caught frogs bare-handed, his heart soared. That night at dinner, he blushed when his dad mentioned the new girl, said something about knowing her uncle. He felt a red flush creep up around his ears and into his cheeks, but hoped his dad was too busy burning the steaks and his mom was too busy keeping his sister Sal in her highchair to notice. He refrained from reaching to scratch his back where he itched from the grass, a reaction he always got from new spring shoots. Once, when he and his best friend Mike rolled down Sotter’s Hill in their underwear, his mom had to take him to the doctor for antibiotic cream. But this time he didn’t scratch, and he didn’t mind. All through dinner he recalled lying in the grass with Mary, how he’d taken his shirt off in the hot afternoon sun, how they’d found the softest spot at the edge of the trees, how he’d kept as still as he possibly could and never run out of things to say as the breeze whispered across his shoulders, her neck and knees.
He went to bed itching to go to school the next day.