Week #25 – least favorite

Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.

The theme is least favorite.

Without Words by Manja Gattner
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Birthmark . by Len Kuntz

My sister wrote words on her skin using colored markers that streaked like blood. Her penmanship was a tiny scrawl, almost Asian-looking, and to be able to read it you had to get very close, with her permission, and she’d have to stop squirming.

It was hard not to shudder the first time I visited. I thought places like that were supposed to help the addicted, but my sister looked gaunt and ghoulish. When I inquired about the writing, she pulled her sleeves down and started crossing and uncrossing her arms until I glanced away. “It’s better than needles,” she said. Then she added, “You probably don’t even believe it anymore.”

“What’s that?”

“You and I being twins.”

We’d begun the same, then turned opposite corners with dull edges. The sharp edges had just come recently. Before, she was light and I was dark. I had a habit of destroying things: television sets, furniture, other people’s self-esteem. My sis sang sweet choir songs. She wore dresses while my parents glowed, making me no more than a birthmark, a shadow, some gutted placenta.

It was cruel the way I set her up with Devon. He always gave the first gram free, but I paid cash so she’d have five. By the fourth, she was circling Jupiter and I was washing up.

Now it does hurt a little to see what I’ve created, but I figure Sis will toughen up, sober up eventually. She might even sing again.

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Freud . by Susan Tepper

Neal is smearing mayo on his sandwich. I’m going to puke, you say, mustard goes on that Italian stuff. You’re on the down low, he tells me. I can’t be on the down low, I’m a girl. Girl-shmirl. He adds more mayo. Anybody can be on the down low. I don’t get you, I say. It’s mustard for cured meats and Italian cheeses. Who made those rules? he wants to know. The same person who made the down low rules. You have sperm aversion, he says. What do you mean? You hate mayo, you hate sperm. Who says? Doctor Freud. Doctor Freud hated mayo? How the hell should I know? This is getting confusing. Yeah, he says and takes a big bite. Oh, disgusting, I say. Yeah, want some?

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Licking around the rim . by Matt Potter

She pulled the car over to the kerb. And the man in the front passenger seat reached through the window and took the ice cream from the puffy clasp of a fat guy standing on the footpath. He licked around the cone’s rim, smacking his lips – the passenger, not the fat guy – while the driver idled.

It all went like clockwork. Like a perfectly timed drop in a Mafia movie.

I watched this as I waited at the bus stop on Turmstraße. Sure, it was a hot day, but the driver was in the middle of a driving lesson! The car said Fast Fahrschule on its roof.

I dipped my head so I could see the driver. And over my sunglasses, I saw her say something, just as the ice cream began to melt down his hand.

“What, you want some?” he said, in German loud enough for me to hear above the mid-afternoon traffic, licking his hand, tongue dripping white and creamy.

She replied – drowned out by a truck’s exhaust brakes – and he said, between slurps, “What, you want me to starve?”

Meanwhile, the fat guy with the puffy clasp stood on the kerb, waiting. For what, I don’t know. Perhaps a tip.

Perhaps a lick.

The driver turned the car into the traffic, and the fat guy watched them disappear.

I got on the bus, and he watched that disappear too.

After that, I don’t know what he did. Though I’m sure it was something interesting.

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Seventh Hour . by Catherine Russell

Amid the happy chatter of soon-to-be-free students, the girl wished she were anywhere but there.

The other girls in the locker room compared bra sizes like women compared diamonds, while she hugged her books to her chest. Time stretched before her. After changing into shorts and tee, she joined her classmates amid the red dirt, lined up like the condemned before the firing squad. Each team picked players, but her outcome never varied. Consigned to whatever group chose last and banished to the outfield, she stood, waited, and prayed the ball wouldn’t reach her.

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crossed . by Dorothee Lang

they worked in hopeless jobs
counted days like in prison
kept themselves going
by playing the lottery
twice a week
they made their well-calculated crosses,
waited and lived
underneath their dreams
of another life
born from a constellation
of least favorite numbers

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Spiral . by Al McDermid

When I inherited the house I grew up in, the house my grandfather built, I knew the upkeep and back taxes would wipe me out. Even the renovations required to make the place truly marketable were out of the question. So, I sold it for what I could get, leaving most of the furniture.

When the pink slip arrived, I knew that I would not be able to keep the very modest place I’d bought with the proceeds from my grandfather’s house. I hung onto it for as long as I could, but months later, I was still unemployed and my money was mostly gone. I sold the house, leaving more stuff behind.

When the store where I finally found work closed, I knew I was cursed. I took what money I had, bought a van, which seemed a better plan than waiting to be evicted from my rented apartment. I donated the last of my furniture to Goodwill, then loaded up my clothes, books, and vinyl collection.

When the van broke down, I managed to get it off the road. At least it was in a good spot. I put out a sign and sold the books and records. Once these were gone, I packed what clothes I could into my old sea bag, walked to the nearest southbound on-ramp, and stuck out my thumbs.

When a blond in a Mercedes stopped to pick me up, I thought my luck had finally changed . . .

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CHAIR ON HIGH . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Three sabbatical applications. One slot.

The Department Chair taps the manila envelopes into a pile then splays them over her desk like a short deck of cards.

She sips her Tazo Lotus and Zen tea. Dinner. What she’d really like is a porterhouse rare and a Tanqueray martini with extra olives. But like most nights, she’s in her office catching up on administrative detritus. The Dean expects her decision tomorrow morning. Who to choose?

Dr. R-W: The rising star: three graduate students win prestigious dissertation awards, eleven first-author manuscripts, an impressive NIH grant portfolio. Up for promotion to Full Professor in two years but already can check ‘Distinguished’ in service, scholarship, teaching. All while popping out two kids.

Dr. S: Emeritus. Proverbial dead wood, but so agreeable with the Chair – on everything. Smiles a lot. Does as told. Tremendous talent greasing the Dean’s wheels. Aims to re-energize flagging research.

Dr. W: Highly productive, well-connected, funds half the programming staff. Asshole prima donna — he threw a pencil at a post-doc, who’s now rumbling about suing the university on charges of bullying and harassment. Her greatest headache.

She leans back and stares at the empty cup, looking for an answer, but the tea’s bagged not loose. She weighs the data: expedience or merit? Seniority or promise? Hell, she never got a sabbatical — she deserves a break.

She types the recommendation. Tonight she’ll treat herself to a congratulatory dinner after all – work will be more pleasant next year.

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Those Dutch Girls . by Alex Lockwood

Worms. No, beetles. What am I talking about—spiders! When you helped Simon dismantle his garden shed, those great black horrors holding to the rotten wood. Or those white striped disc-like jumpers, flat as communion wafers, and fast, my god, in that guesthouse in Zambia. Worse than the attempted break in, I remember you said, worse than the stories from the other charity workers about the rapes and HIV. Kept you from sleeping, those spindly fuckers. Or that time the foot-long stick insect got up inside the back of your t-shirt, and you just thought it was an itch?

Ok, now I’m thinking. Wait. Of course. It’s not bugs, but the water. Sharks. Jellyfish, purple gelatinous globes hanging in the sliver of warmth where the sun just reaches down. But you navigate your way around those. Those, you can see. It’s sharks, isn’t it. From out of the black. The invisible deeps, sure, but even the shallows, you’ve seen the nature documentaries. Four feet is all a shark needs. Remember that time in the sea off Bundaberg, wading out? How about those Dutch girls from the zucchini-picking—now, they were liberal—their nipples cold and hard and all you could focus on was the water past the boats, looking for a fin. Even though other times you’d take your boogie board out at sunset and felt no fear. Its coming and going, catching like a breath. Is that what you dread?

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American Birthdays . by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Cherry was America’s least favorite pie. Her mother made it every year for her father’s birthday because “daddy doesn’t like cake.” America had to wash the bowls, the wooden spoon, the plates and finally the Pyrex dish. Her brother got to “contribute” by climbing the tree in the yard and picking the cherries.

One year, America complained that it wasn’t fair. Her mother said, “Just be grateful we have a sink you can reach from your chair.”

Another year, America asked for apple pie for her own birthday. Her mother said, “Just be grateful you have friends here” and served chocolate cake with buttercream roses.

Yet another year, America asked why her family had moved to a country that made war on theirs. Her mother said, “Just be grateful you were born here.”

The year before she left for college, America asked if it could have been American weapons that made her be born without legs. Her mother said, “Just be grateful. If we got the visas three months later, you might not have had arms. Six months later, you might not have been born.”

For her first birthday away from home, America tried to make an apple pie, but it burned. She bought red velvet cake instead and told herself she was lucky that she didn’t miss the last accessible bus back from the store.

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A Private Person . by Stella Pierides

I’d dreaded meeting him since I heard his news from an acquaintance.
Now he was standing behind me at the checkout.

Hugging me, he asked the usual questions he always rolls out at school
reunions. I am fine, I answered; I am also fine, he told me; his
company was booming – picking up more clients than he could manage.
Fiddling with his shirt button and looking me in the eye, presumably
not realising I’d heard about his terminal illness,

“I am not coming this year to the class get-together,” he said, “I’m
having my house redecorated.” He cleared his throat, “so much to be
done, I’ve got to be there.”

I nodded, and as we parted, I clasped his hand with a feeling of
relief, and held it longer than I should have.

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The Sisyphean table . by Guy Yasko

I see you start with the pickled vegetables. That probably means one
of two things: either you like them or you don’t. Are you trying to
get them out of the way, to clear your palate for what you prefer, to
justify pleasure with suffering? But can you be certain you’ll get to
the pleasure? There is a small chance that you will die before
reaching what you like. Unlikely, yes, but would you want to go out
with an unpleasant taste in your mouth? In any case, a proper host
will replenish your supply. Deferment of pleasure then becomes
infinite. You fill up on what you dislike, or even if you do like
something, you’ll pickle your tongue and you’ll lose your taste for
any of the more delicate entrées. And in any case, as a proper guest
you’re too polite to say that you don’t like something. Don’t tell
me. I know already: it’s all simply wonderful. More wine?

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Skin . by Quenby Larsen

“This must the least favorite part of your body,” said the manicurist, rubbing a rose scented cream into the woman’s hand. The manicurist’s eyes traveled up to the woman’s neck and rested on her face. “In fact, your whole right side is damaged.” The manicurist gave her some cream to take home.

The manicurist was not exaggerating. On the back of her wrist was a long purple scar where she had surgery to remove a ganglion cyst. It looked like some kind of backwards suicide attempt. There was a puckered white patch on a knuckle where she burned her hand ironing her husband’s shirt on his first day of work. Her pinkie had suffered third degree burns from the hot glue gun when she was helping her son make Gandalf for a Tolkien diorama. There was a slash on her neck where another cyst had been removed. There was a sprinkling of hypopigmentation on the right side of her face, a result of pregnancy that no amount of makeup could hide.

She used the cream. It worked. She looked nothing like herself.

She freaked out. She slashed the back of her wrist and the base of her neck. She burned her knuckle with an iron. She covered her pinkie with hot glue. She dotted her check with household bleach. She took herself to the emergency room and said she had been tortured, and no, she did not know her assailant.

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Rats . by Kim Hutchinson

She stood by the rescued greyhounds at the outdoor market, petting the dogs and talking to the lovely young woman with the beaming smile standing next to her.

“You have to meet someone.” The young woman reached into her jacket. A furry white head with two bright eyes and a pointed nose peeked out. The rat nuzzled against her owner’s sweater and dove back into safety and warmth, leaving only hindquarters and a long tail on display.

“You have the most interesting pets!” she said with sincerity, even though rodents were usually one of her least favorite forms of wildlife.

“She’s a domestic white rat.”

“Two words I’ve never used in a sentence.”

“Domestic and rat?” the young woman laughed.

She liked this young woman. They’d met two weeks earlier, when the young woman had been walking her pet chicken on a pink ribbon leash.

The rat peeked out again. She had to admit, it was cute. And clean. Not what you’d expect.

The young woman told her about the rat’s affectionate nature and intelligence, and how easy it was to litter train. Her husband smiled and punctuated her story with supportive comments.

As she listened, she noticed the glow on the young woman’s face, how happy she and her husband seemed to be. She thought of all the religions and texts and sermons and self-help books in the world, and she wondered if the real message in them might be just to love everything, even the rats.

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Alchemy . by Kelly Grotke

I hadn’t thought about it, until you asked. Late in the year, since it’d already begun to snow. Winter. Dark blue night, coats and coverings and everyone hurrying against the threat of cold, retreating like turtles into their shells. One of those nights, and we’d planned to meet downtown after work. Drinks first in one of those chattery little places near the harbor – don’t ask me which one, they come and go and yet they are always there and that night so were we. So yes, catching up first since it’d been awhile, months maybe, then back out into the streets for some holiday shopping – grandkids, I think. She was like that, always had been – things done alone go lost and disappear, things done together were like tiny anchors thrown down in some raging sea of time. I’m joking. Yes, well, anyways. You know the department store at the end of the boulevard, the one that does the holiday window displays? She was a wicked storyteller, truly wicked. So there she was whispering in my ear as we stood together at the back of the crowd, me grinning and giggling like a child as her words circled round the golden glittering holiday tableaus, warmed by the light of all the base matter emerging beneath. See that one in the center? she said. Smiling now, just as I am smiling. Hard to believe he’s the least favorite by far, but my my, things do change….

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Q. E. D. . by Martin Brick

My projections pointed toward Stephanie. She was younger, but females develop sooner. Some of the class had already made the leap. When summer ended girls returned full heads taller than the boys, and with discernible breasts.

Some of the boys developed too. Taller, with specters of deeper voices. These were the boys who took an interest in, or at least fared best with, the developing girls.

So Stephanie seemed feasible. I imagined us hitting puberty together. She was popular enough to warrant attention, yet not so popular as to utterly dismiss me. Academic enough that we might actually talk.

But she went and had a freak growth spurt. Over Thanksgiving she grew three inches and a figure. I honed my diet according to our Know Your Body textbook, but to no avail. Puberty still lingered on the distant horizon, while Kenny scooped Stephanie.

Then I developed The Master Plan: Miss Mandible.

Fact: I was already the “teacher’s pet.” Leverage that favoritism.

Fact: I was already the class pariah. No risk in falling further out of favor.

Fact: According to classmates, Miss Mandible was attractive (with “sweet tits”). Miss = single. No pictures of boyfriends on her desk.

Fact: I did not anticipate puberty until April. By June, as I passed into the next grade, any conflict of interest would disappear.

Fact: She told me, repeatedly, I was too mature for the class. Seemed like a veiled message. And with no one to compete against… Clearly reasonable. It was all there.

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What to Bring to Critique Group . by Randal Houle

“Don’t start with the weather, dialog, or use excessive conjunctions,” he said.

Light gray clouds floated overhead and Coldplay oozed out of the coffee shop speakers and the barista asked me four times to confirm my order (black coffee) and the coffee tasted like cheese whiz (like it does when you buy it late night at the local 7-11) and I just wished the day would commit one way or another.

“Well, where should I start?” I asked.

The Novel, my novel, was the subject, but I was having trouble finding the verb. Our critique group featured one of the most knowledgeable yet-to-be-published writers on the planet.

“In Media Res, start in the middle.” He sat up, smiled.

Ooh, it was so simple. I wanted to brain him with my 500-page manuscript. I brought it every week just in case the spirit moved me.

“Of course, how could I have forgotten, the middle,” I replied, not bothering to write down the comment.

“In the end, it may not matter, I’m not such a fan of this genre. I’m more literary,” said the guy who has to explain every week’s submission.

I wondered if I could reach across the table. I might have to get behind him somehow….

“I don’t know how you come up with half that shit,” he added. “What’re you writing there?”

My grip tightened on the pen. Bring 700-page mss. I say, “just a little reminder for next week’s group.”

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The Clinic . by Matthew A. Hamilton

Bob walks in the Doctor’s Hospital of Manila, goes to the information desk.

“I’m looking for Dr. Cortez,” he says.

“Second floor,” the young girls says. “Make a right at the elevator, then take your first right. Room 205.”

“Thank you,” Bob said.

There is a pile of people waiting next to 205. Bob walks in.

“May I help you?” the receptionist says.

“I’m from Peace Corps,” Bob says. “They called you.”

The receptionist hands him a sheet of paper. “Yes, sir, please fill this out and we’ll get you in as soon as we can.”

“Looks like lots of people out there, though,” Bob said. “How long’s the wait?”

“We can get you in as soon as the doctor arrives, sir.”

“Are you sure?” Bob asked.

“Yes, sir. We have a good relationship with Peace Corps.”

“Thank you,” Bob said.

Thirty minutes pass, then an hour. The nurse comes out. “Sir,” she says, “I’m sorry, but the doctor will be late. Do you want to come back tomorrow at twelve?”

“Sorry,” Bob says, “but I have another appointment at twelve, but I can make it early morning tomorrow, say eight?”

“Sorry sir, the clinic opens at eleven. But if you don’t mind waiting now, it will be another hour.”

“I’ll wait.”

After another thirty minutes, the nurse returns. “I’m sorry, sir, but the doctor is ill. Can you come back tomorrow?”

“I guess I’ll have to,” Bob says.

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Billy the Bunny . by Walter Bjorkman

Billy the Bunny never caught a break. It was a tough kindle of rabbits to be brought up in, especially as the last, and runt, of the litter.

The eldest, Peter, well none that followed reached his level of belovedness, so falling short of him was no shame. But then to be preceded in rapid succession by Thumper, Bugs & Roger, well Billy just never had a chance. Not that rabbit parents did much tendering anyway, or for very long — they were off fucking like hippies after a month or so.

But in the eyes of the public, Billy the Bunny was off the radar. He resorted to taking a gig as a model for the cheapest, hollowed-out stale chocolate Easter bunnies found in last-minute CVS gift baskets, but that paid only for services, no royalties, and the association with such a travesty was too much to bear.

So that leads us to the tragic 1974 Halloween night that found Billy crossing Brooklyn Bridge on his way to Bug’s toney Brooklyn Heights party, carrying plastic leaves of grass and muttering something about all along the watchtower, and joining the Jehovah’s Witness protection program. He was promptly arrested for public sanity, taken to Bellevue, and wound up in a ward with the cast from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Bob Dylan was his only visitor, but wouldn’t give him a smoke.

His current whereabouts are unknown, but no one cares.

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Family Circle . by John Wentworth Chapin

They all held Christmas back in Pemberton. Only old Mick Turner and FJ – one of the middle sons – still lived in Pemberton, but the far-flung Turner boys and their broods descended upon Pemberton like locusts. The clan had long since outgrown the pine dining room table with its single leaf; FJ set out four long plastic folding tables on the lanai. The old pine table sagged with aluminum trays of meat and soft vegetables. The Turner boys loved the homecoming and their women graciously tolerated it. Family is what it is.

When the hour grew late and the supply of whiskey dwindled around the circle, each prodigal Turner boy lamented his state. Each past holiday was farther back than the distance between the previous two. One brother spoke of his desire to return to Pemberton, to give the finger to the fast lane and come home. The other boys grumbled in agreement: FJ had it good here. FJ grinned and nodded into his cup.

Old Mick Turner struggled not to weep: all this flesh from his own, longing for home. But in two days’ time, he would be alone again with this loathsome sponge who reminded him daily of his failure to have loved enough as a father. FJ might drown or disappear, something painless and eternal, but such freedom was a hopeless dream for Mick.

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The Chair . by Michelle Elvy

“It’s time to move the chair,” said Grandma matter-of-factly. I knew what she meant: time to put the old green easy-chair on the curb, the one with the saggy seat and fraying arms, the one which smelled of oil and sweat and Old Spice and also old age and even faintly of forbidden cigarette smoke. I knew it was time to take it away but dreaded it. That chair had been Grandpa’s favorite. I came home from school every day and found him sitting in his chair. After short happy days at primary school, I would climb into his lap and read him books about farm animals. In later years, I scratched my homework notes sitting cross-legged at the coffee table while he concentrated on crosswords. “Maisy, what’s the world’s tallest building?” he might ask. The Chair was as constant in my life as Grandpa. Prom dates were cross-examined, college friends were greeted from The Chair, occasionally asked, “seven-letter word for hairy?” Once I was lectured about smoking from The Chair, but I knew Grandpa occasionally snuck outside to grab a Pall Mall – I’d discovered his pack hidden in the coffee table drawer way back during my algebra years.

In the end, the hospital trips were dreadful, the funeral was bitter. But removing the green chair was my least favorite task. I rescued Grandpa’s last pack of Pall Malls from the coffee table drawer, half-carried and half-pushed the chair across the lawn, and chain-smoked his cigarettes ’til dark.

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52|250 would like to thank Manja Gattner for this week’s art “Without Words”. She created this piece after six months of intensive learning for her school exams. We asked her to describe her art. This is what she said:

News, headings, words, letters. They are everywhere and they reach you everywhere.

Making this room out of paper or, better said, covered with paper (which is by the way my desk and its surroundings), I often felt very tired, completely overwhelmed by all this information – that is what this piece represents for me.

And yes it took ages covering everything in paper but it increasingly became a passion, I even became a little addicted and above all I didn’t stop having new ideas for little items I could cover next. I ended up spending the time I should have used to prepare for my oral exams in my constantly expanding room of paper.

In the end, everything is said, there are no words left.

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