Week # 30 – Urban convert

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

The theme is Urban convert.

The Connection by Al McDermid
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Thrum . by Len Kuntz

At first he saw clouds, pale blue blemishes, and then his sight left him completely.

He phoned his daughter. He thought he might die at any moment. He was an old man, had lived a rugged but fair life.

She drove out that night. He sat on the porch, listening to the crickets bleating. When his wife was alive, after a long day of hard work on the farm, they’d sit in the rocking swing, holding hands but staying quiet, surrounded by green silence.

His daughter said, “You’ll have to live with me now,” and the old man almost vomited because he knew she was right.

***

The condo overlooked Elliot Bay. “It smells like glass cleaner,” he said. “And pigeon crap!”

He wanted to go back, die on the farm. His daughter kept talking about new beginnings, second chances. He thought she might be nuts.

She preferred windows open for fresh air. The street noise below made his ears bleed.

One Saturday she took him to Pike Place Market. He smelled fish and lavender and berries. He heard the fish hawkers and squealing children, birds cooing, a guitar.

His heart thrummed. It felt like a bomb inside his chest, and he liked it. He felt different, alive.

His daughter put his hand on what she said was a statue of a giant pig. “For luck.”

He laughed at that, the irony, how he had traded a live sow for a fake, how small the world really was.

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Story . by Matt Potter

“NO!”

Instantly he’s in the doorway, face pale with concern.

“I was just about to email my story,” I say. “And I’ve realised I got the fucking theme wrong!”

“Oh,” he says. “Can you re-write it to make it fit?”

“That’s not the point!”

This bloody story! I even downloaded Rhapsody in Blue to help – I loathe those blaring trumpets and that stupid circling clarinet at the beginning – listening countless times, pretending – hoping – to be inspired.

And all I kept seeing in my head was the black and white opening sequence from Manhattan.

“Write a story about how you got the theme wrong,” he calls out, safe on the other side of the house now.

“I hate this-is-a-story-about-how-I-can’t-write-a-story stories,” I say. “It’s a hack’s cop out.”

I glare at my laptop. I’m to blame. No one made me mistake v for c. Or c for v.

For two days, I bashed out words with grimacing fingers, wrenching images from my whining consciousness – a weak, lumbering, uninspired piece – and now for what?

I thump my fist on the desk, like so many of my characters, and stare at the keyboard.

Urban concert. All those fabulous images I hoped would inspire me – skyscrapers, bridges, traffic lights, traffic jams, parks and gardens, freeways, taxis, rubbish trucks – all stuck nowhere, lame and hopeless and wrong wrong wrong.

Urban concert?

No. Urban convert. Whatever that means.

The deadline ticks closer, outpaced only by my lack of enthusiasm.

Blank blank blank.

Fuck it.

Send.

Click.

Done.

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My First Girlfriend . by Robert Vaughan

We moved to the country when I turned eight. Fourth grade seemed scary, a stranger among rural kids who grew up together since they were born. My teacher. Mrs. Pompineau, was fond of harsh punishments. Her favorite was to stand in front of class, dictionaries piled high on outstreched arms. I thought she was a heathen.

That Christmas, I attended The Nutcracker. My heart soared when class-mate Cheryl Terlick transformed into Clara. Her blonde locks boinged with every move. She floated, I was jealous when the toy soldier came to her aid. But at school, she was smitten with Tommy.

Soon I discovered the brain of our class, Harriet. Within weeks we spent every lunch together, circling our playground, talking. Her mind was a fascinating pretzel, and she was cautious while I plunged ahead. One day at Eastview Mall, I spotted a mood ring at Spencers. I bought it, Harriet accepted the next day. We were going steady! My heart back flipped, I felt elated. I didn’t have hormones yet, but something else ignited inside me.

“That’s nice, honey,” my mom said. “Now eat your potatoes.”

I noticed the mood ring never changed color: black. It made me nervous.

Harriet returned my ring the last day of school, claiming we lived too far apart. The first day of summer I rode my horse all the way to her house. Harriet’s sister Holly came to the door. “Harriet’s not here.”

I hugged Misty all the way home.

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Channelling Damien . by Derin Attwood

Duncan was a strange kid. Weird, the neighbours called him. He collected things. He had a flat pet collection, the dried remains of things he’d picked up off the road after they’d been run over. He had a dried dung collection, a dead insect collection and a wingless butterfly collection. In the country everyone left him alone, and he collected to his heart’s content, keeping them in an old chook house. They were pleased when he moved to the city.

Dunc was a strange guy. He collected dead things, encased them in resin and displayed them in a gallery. The magazines described him as eccentric and called his collections eclectic. It was terribly chic to attend his openings, and everyone wanted to buy his ‘art’.

But then they realised it was just dead stuff and poop encased in plastic. But they still bought it and pretended it was good.

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Steppin Out . by Michael Webb

Dressed in only a towel, Mireyah stood in front of her section of the closet. This was the best and the worst part of the process. Everything was potential now- was there an undreamt of combination that would give her the air of mystery she wanted? Or were her choices nothing but lame ass, farm girl, hokey productions that would mark her as a hick from a block away? She sighed. This was a big deal, as such things were- her first college party. Her first soiree, she told herself. There would be boys there, her roommate Cheryl told her- single, straight boys, she emphasized- lots of them!

It was torment talking her parents into letting her move in with three other girls in a tiny apartment 12 blocks from campus. On top of her moving 1300 miles from home, the thought of her with three other foolish freshmen in the big city gave them the creeps. But she argued the economics like the businessperson she had no intention of becoming until they gave in.

It was times like this, staring at a forest of possibilities- skirt or pants, boots or flats, heartbreak or loneliness, outcast or hipster, that she feared they may have had a point- maybe the city was too much for a girl who used to go months without needing nylons.

“Let’s go, Mires!” Cheryl called from the front room. “We’re late!”

She started picking items. “I’m coming!” she called back.

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Muddy Boots . by Michael J. Solender

Always the left boot first. Ever since he was a kid.

Standing or sitting it didn’t matter. He didn’t know why, he didn’t think of himself as one bound by ritual, yet routine dominated all aspects of his life.

Thick, red mud fell in truncated furrows as he alternatively strengthened and relaxed his grip over the roughened steel toe. Perfectly rounded, the clay shards looked as if they were formed by a potter. Compact and resolute, they swept up easily onto the porch where they could bake in the remains of the retreating sun, soon to rise on uncounted Chinese who gave him as much thought as he gave them.

Three hundred thousand dollars seemed like a lot of money. He didn’t like to think in those terms. Money wouldn’t make his back ache or cake in his boots.

She said she was ready. Her sister would help. Their place in the city had a big garden and he could work it all he liked.

Did corporate farmers offer Chinamen cash for their farms? He wondered.

It was up to him, she said. They’d be close to Julie and the boys. Wasn’t that worth something?

The right boot was easier because his left foot was arthritic. Now with that boot off, blood flowing into his arch, the right boot surrendered the entire day’s tension.

He bent over and swept the clay towards the door with his hands. He wouldn’t have trouble sleeping tonight.

He never did.

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Out . by Susan Tepper

The landlord said we have thirty days to move out. He didn’t say move. Move I could live with. It was the out that upset me. I started crying the moment I shut the door in his face. He’d called the apartment a pig-stye. I felt that was over reaching reality. Sure the walls were a little tainted from all the pot smoking Ziggy did but in truth the place was actually quite clean. The dishes were always washed and put away. There weren’t dirty clothes lying about. I couldn’t help the cockroaches they came with the building. I told Ziggy I felt totally insulted. Ziggy told me to smoke a joint and I’d be less unhappy. I told Ziggy he has gotten us into this mess. I told him we are expected to return the walls to their original white condition. Ziggy laughed and said he doesn’t do paint. He said he was going to find Stéfano and get some really good stuff. That it’s garbage like this that blackened the walls to shit.

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Nueva York . by Dorothee Lang

They change style overnight

Reinvent themselves, merge

aaaaaaaaaTradición y future

Check in and out of clubs, hotels, lounges

Always on the hunt for

aaaaaaaaaLa look muy chic -

They walk down avenues, cross paths in perfect timing

aaaaaaaaaToday: fashionista ultraclásico

aaaaaaaaaTomorrow: fantasía urbania

Their secret code: la nouveau parfum malicieux

Their destination: unbranded

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City Girl, Country Bumpkin . by Susan Gibb

“Mourning doves are just country pigeons,” she argued, “and squirrels are no better than rats.”

What could he say? They’d been over this same ground a hundred times, a thousand times. He had wanted to move to the country and he couldn’t budge her until they’d both lost their high power jobs in the city. They had to make some fast decisions before their savings ran out.

They bought a falling-down farmhouse in upstate New York. She hated it. Together they fixed and replaced and painted, though their furniture never really suited the rooms. Electricity flickered in storms and she used up all the long-tapered candles. Then something changed.

For the first time she saw the sun rise without scaling the sharp edge of buildings. She heard growls and yips in the night. She learned you could make morning coffee yourself, and have pancakes drowned in syrup that came out of their neighbor’s maples in spring, boiled down to an amber thickness as priceless as gold.

She grew out of her pantsuits and stuffed her new curves into size-larger jeans. She wore plaid flannel shirts, and Pradas were traded for workboots. Her nails never grew long enough to warrant a manicure at a salon.

“Listen,” she said, “hear that?” and he told her it was nothing, just mourning doves. “Damn birds woke me up again,” he said. She smiled and scattered dried corn for the squirrels.

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The Great Outdoors . by Catherine Russell

All my life I’d lived in a giant sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers, flashing neon, and asphalt highways. Most days were spent either at my apartment or my office or somewhere between the two. However, I’d always dreamed of open skies and wide spaces. So when a friend of mine invited me to go camping, I jumped at the chance.

My parents had never been the outdoors type. The most time I’d spent outside as a child revolved around the spinning wheel at the elementary school playground. As an adult, I was too embarrassed to admit to my friend that I’d never camped in my life. Determined to camouflage my inexperience, I loaded my truck with a self inflating tent, copious quantities of trail mix, and a case of water. I looked forward to learning my way around the campfire over the next few days.

Unfortunately, the weekend away didn’t include the mosquito repellent I’d forgotten to pack or bathroom facilities. I did learn that poison ivy makes lousy toilet paper. When I returned home, I kissed the plaster walls of my tiny apartment, had a long soak in the tub, and thanked the gods for calamine lotion.

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Where home is . by Stella Pierides

He scours streets, bus and tube stations for newspapers. Two years
since he arrived in London and he is still amazed at how many
newspapers lie discarded around. Although he cannot decipher the
writing, they are ideal for keeping warm.

He stuffs them inside his pullover and feels like a king: he needs for
nothing. He is warm and fed: the city overflows with leftovers. He
beds down whenever he is tired, wherever he finds a warm doorway from
where he can look at the sky.

He loves summer best. At night, sneaking into Finsbury Park, he heads
for his favourite bench, near the lake. It is cool and the sky is full
of stars. Not as spectacular as the sky in his village, in the
floodplains of the Mesopotamian Iraqi marshes, where the stars shine
like diamonds on black velvet, but it works.

It illuminates the memories that follow him like his shadow: the rice
fields and the boat he made himself from reeds, the water buffalo; his
father, punting through narrow channels. The Garden of Eden.

Then he counts the stars, looks for patterns, for directions; for a
sign that it is safe to return home. His heart, filled with nostalgia,
trembles like a bird. Often though, he counts his blessings: here,
among the floods of people filling the channels of this city, he can
blend in and feel safer than in the marshes of his homeland – till it
is time to return.

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Urban, Convert . by Christian Bell

Urban

The guy living to my left screams at his girlfriend. He plays his music loud. The songs are never familiar, just bass thumping and siren-like wailing. I’ve seen his girlfriend in the hall. She’s pretty and nice but looks worn down, her verve brutalized by this guy, this harsh city. She needs sunlight, someone to say nice words to her so she can lift her head, brighten her eyes. I want to invite her into my apartment for coffee and hearty soup. But I’m afraid of this guy, his voice, his muscles, his tattoos, his t-shirts like blood-spattered inkblots. I’d invite her over, explain to him, it’s not what you think, I’m a soup-making guy. But he looks like a guy who wouldn’t believe.

Convert

An old friend knocks on my door. We shake hands. He hands me a religious pamphlet, says he’s converted. Have you considered eternity, the coming day of reckoning, he asks. That’s heavy, I say, stunned by who he has become, then ask, how are you, did you and Gina get married? He says, face stiff, I’m great, and no, Gina’s gone. The pamphlet is glossy, the cover picture a Hubble-like supernova. I’m not sure what religion he’s pushing. You want to come in, I ask, catch up on old times? I can’t, he says, I have to knock on doors, spread the word. As I’m closing the door, he says, I’m pure now, no longer drinking, and I think, another friend, long gone lost.

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THE WATCH . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

After the wolves killed the sheep, then Damien, I fled the backcountry. Without cricket and tree frog song, the silence grew too deep.
I packed light: food for a lifetime, clothes and boots, food, and all the guns. One photo of my love, sewn into the pocket over my heart. The audio of our poetry.

On the last night, I siphoned 30 gallons of ethanol to power the ATV, and sloshed the rest around the perimeter of the house, the shed, the still. The timber flared with a loud wumph. The wolves gathered, mesmerized by the flames. Their low snarls trailed me as I drove from the forest, the evening star obscured by smoke.

It took three days to reach the City. From the top of the watch tower, I watched the horizon. The tinny pop of guns from the last of the resistance punctuated the low whine of advancing tanks. For some reason, these noises comforted me.

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Fanatic . by Al McDermid

He sat down with no ‘hello’ or nothing and said, ‘I need to talk.’ Not, ‘we need to talk,’ like when someone wants to lay some serious shit on you, which I guess is fine since I can’t imagine what ‘we’, I mean, he and I, would need to talk about. Sure, I had a thing for him before, didn’t we all? I swear, have you yet seen such a beautiful ass. No, neither have I. So, yeah, I’d drooled over his finely sculpted glutes, but we were never, you know, ‘we’, which doesn’t matter, since he didn’t say ‘we’ need to talk, but ‘I’ need to talk. And that’s exactly what he meant. He must have just snorted a triple doppio. You know how converts can get. I swear, I could have been a cabbage, my head could have turned INTO a cabbage, right there, and it would have made no difference. He didn’t even look at the girls here. And I was where that lavender low cut, the one that really plunges, but, not even a glance. Yeah, he obviously REALLY needed to talk. What about? What else? New York fucking City. Yeah, he said it just like that, every time he said it, on and on, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, the energy, the clubs, the girls, the BOYS! No, I didn’t know that about him either, but yeah, whatever. Finally, I had to ask, “So, why’d you come back?”

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City Lights . by Doris Dembosky

Mary had dressed carefully. No curls, no lipstick, no eye shadow. Her skirt fell below her knees. She remembered not cross her legs.

The Mother Superior scanned her application. “I see you were raised Lutheran, and you are a recent convert to Catholicism. What attracted you to our faith?”

“No Catholics lived in our town. Everyone was Lutheran. We had this little clapboard church. In the winter, the church was cold. We had only six or seven in the choir. None of them could sing, and very hymn had six verses. There was no joy… no mystery. And then several years ago, I saw The Nun’s Story on TV and realized that I should have been born Catholic.

Mother Superior’s face registered no response. “You would like to be a novitiate, but what draws you to the vocation?

Mary had known this question was coming. There was the expected answer (living a life of faith, devotion, and service) and there was the real answer.

The real answer had to do with the isolation of living on a farm in North Dakota. Mary wanted to move to the city. She wanted a Gothic church and a professional choir. She wanted incense, confession, kneelers, dusky light, and priestly celibacy. She dreamed of a costume romance: the seductiveness of a nun’s habit.

When Mary answered, “I want to live in the city and serve the poor,” Mother Superior rose. Crossing herself, she said, “Good luck and good day.”

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All Evidence to the Contrary . by Kelly Grotke

The mind creates reasons, maybe this was one. See if it sticks, see if it can survive the exacting standards of a child dredging the bottom of a pond with a branch. Interesting? Or is it pitched back where it came from and you watch it sink down again to the bottom with all the rest. Because you have to figure it out for yourself, don’t you, and she wouldn’t have listened anyways even if they’d told her back at the house that you will never, ever, not in a million billion years find a pharaoh’s mask hidden in the dark bed of a Midwestern pond. A year or so later it was Indians. They’d gone one day to a high crest above a river and she’d seen the carvings on the rock. She’d find them in the woods someday, she was certain. Because in all that living moving solitary space there must be someone like her, before her, really it was just a matter of time and so out into the world she went, after school and on weekends too when she wasn’t locked in her room reading and sometimes even with friends. Years later she’d married a man because he seemed to be from the world somehow but it turned out his wilderness was much deeper even than her own and she’d shown him all the paths and places and secrets but he told her there was no one there. No, it hadn’t worked out.

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Imaginary Lake . by Stephen Hastings-King

That morning a lake appeared out back. Where grasses were concentric waves shudder across a silver surface of water.

He leans against the door takes a sip of coffee and thinks about submerged fragments of Pharaohs and disappeared fishermen on the floor of the lake at Aswan and why he moved from the city to this constantly shrinking hat of a place where bodies of water come and go in the night.

He remembers the grid-space of waveforms produced by the humming of overhead trolley lines: he only noticed the sound when he returned from a period in the country, like the neighborhood was welcoming him back.

Wrapped in electrical intimacy, he leans against the door and looks out across an imaginary lake.

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King Street Station . by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Despite the newly bright bricks and the working clock, Cassie couldn’t help but take a deep breath before entering King Street Station. She had always tried to hold her breath when her family cut through it on the way to Mariners games but had never succeeded, not even the summer she was disqualified for staying underwater too long at the start of the 50 fly.

This time, she didn’t breathe until she passed the Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out The Watchtower. They had never been there when the station smelled of mildew, feet, and piss. They came with the scent of paint, bleach, and plaster.

When she passed through the mahogany doors into the waiting room, Cassie inhaled again but sharply. The restored ceiling reminded her of Rome, where she and Angie had gone to celebrate leaving the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

—Mormons, she whispered, fuck it.

She was still staring at the ceiling when Angie embraced her from behind.

—You have no idea how glad I am to see you.

—So Salt Lake wasn’t great?

—The lake was fine. My family . . . well, you warned me.

—You won’t be going back then?

—No, I think my conversion’s complete.

The two women held hands as they passed through the Compass Room, discussing where they should have dinner.

—I’m fine as long as they serve booze, said Angie.

Outside, January’s first rain had begun.

—And hot drinks, she added.

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Meditations on a Shrinking World . by Randal Houle

“I’m not buying.” I wave off the dealer, an urgent skeletal black man. It’s not enough to keep walking, he matches my pace and quizzes me. “Are you a cop, ar’you a narc?” I look him in the eye – not a stare down. Respect the dealer, and they’ll respect you. “I’m cool, I’m cool.” I don’t break stride as I say this.

Urban Meditation #1 –

“There are two kinds of people in the urban jungle: those that move with purpose, and those that rot in place.”

“Could you spare a dollar?” the homeless man holds his hand not far from his heart. His head sags a little. My heart goes out to him. I open my wallet, pull a one-dollar bill, and give it to him. His hand stays in place. Without so much as a thank you he says, “I see a five-dollar bill in there. That would help even more.” After another five and a couple twenties, I walk away.

Urban Meditation #2 –

“Be rich at home, and poor abroad.”

Sunday morning, I walk to the store for breakfast supplies. A man yells on the other side of the street. I decide to ignore it. Half a block ahead, also on the other side, another man yells back. The first pulls a pistol and fires. Blood sprays the changing leaves. The murderer runs away. I maintain my pace.

Urban Meditation #3 –

“Don’t get involved.”

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Urban Spelunking . by Martin Brick

They were just kids, old enough to know better, young enough to be susceptible to dares.

Bryan moved from the “wilds of Montana” and always talked about adventure – swinging from ropes in the haymow, canoe trips, even caves. Cody and Nick got sick of hearing about it, said the city had plenty to offer. But they said such while throwing pennies at the grate of Cody’s air conditioner on a pointless August day.

They had to move fast. The city workers left the cones up, and the little barricades, but essentially abandoned the manhole during lunch. All they needed were flashlights and a piece of chalk to mark their path.

Nick was the most scared. He kept talking about animals.

Bryan urged them on, saying there couldn’t be anything in the sewers worse than Montana. He’s talking bears, mountain lions, wolves.

Cody said there were alligators and giant python. People flushed their pets. You know where those end up. They eat the rats, grow huge, and treat the sewers like concrete everglades.

They walked for over an hour without seeing one hint of an urban reptile. But when they returned, the manhole was closed.

“This isn’t the right one,” Cody claimed.

“Yes, it is.” Bryan pointed to the chalk mark.

“We’re trapped.”

“Did you hear something?”

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Urban Decay . by Guy Yasko

His walk is a catalogue of resentment. The old places are gone. There is
no one left to go to them.

Josef swings wide to avoid the sidewalk café tables, but not wide enough
to miss the conversation:

– We close on the 11th.

– Condo?

– Yes.

– Assholes.

No one hears.

The joggers are faster in front of the Paris Star. Their eyes focus on
points far away, anything but the words “Danseuses Nues”. Mothers tug
stalled children homeward. Even the dancers themselves make a beeline to
the door before ducking in. Not Josef: “Let them see me.”

At the bar, he argues hockey. He has one beer and leaves.

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Feathers in Motion . by Doug Bond

My grandson reads me his report on the Farallones Marine Sanctuary.
He’s nervous cuz he knows I’ve got my own ideas. Starts reading me all
the names: gulls, murres, cormorants, auklets, pelicans, shearwaters,
diving Brown Boobies. I laugh at that one but don’t let him see.

I’m all for this conservation stuff, but find it hard to believe they
was ever hurting, those birds. In my days out there, that’s all there
was, all I saw day in day out…birds, birds and more birds.

“Grandpa, it’s one of the most sensitive marine environments on earth!”

I tell him, “Fine work, boy!” and scootch him into the kitchen to get a cookie.

My nose starts twitching, just thinking again of that freezing pile of
fish stinking, bird-crapped rocks. Damn Navy stationed me out there,
’40-’42. I ran a secret radar station for them. There were only a few
of us. We kept the lighthouse on, foghorns working, and the radio
beacon going.

Twenty-six miles of ocean between us and ‘Frisco, foggy most the time,
but winter, the air crisped up and there it was, the great city,
alive. The nights with the moon full were the worst, could almost hear
the parties coming down off the hills.

After Pearl, we were all itchy and red triggered. They started in with
blackouts and then there was nothing left to see. Just the silhouettes
of black edged birds, protecting their eggs, feathers in motion,
beating back against the cold west wind.

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A Question of Choice . by Kim Hutchinson

The contrast can be summed up in a sip.

Country coffee never changes, long burnt and bitter, consumed with tense smiles and ritual conversations, customs of conformity and stagnation.

Urban coffee, consumed in conversation and not, flavored and not, sweet or strong or both, is vibrant, tasting richly of ideas, growth and hope.

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There’s Always a Bigger Dog . by Boudreau Freret

A young man blocked a doorway with the door partially open. When he saw I wanted by, yet refused to yield, I waited a little longer then made an obviously playful gesture: I pretended I was going to shut the door on him.
The young man’s eyes widened and his mouth followed suit.

“Dude, I’m half your age-“

His first mistake.

Panic spread across my friend Mike the Marine’s face. Let it go, his eyes shouted to me. Just walk away.

“- and I’ve been shot before.” The kid emphasized the word shot, then waited as if the matter between us was now closed, resolved in his favor.

His second mistake.

“Shot?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He lifted his shirt to reveal a scar about the size of a pencil eraser just below his sternum, dead center of the celiac plexus.

“Really.” I said softly.

“Yeah.”

“I see.” I looked up from his scar and into his eyes. “Well, I’ve been shot, too.”

Without blinking, I slowly began to raise my shirt and revealed an entry scar. I raised my shirt higher and revealed another. Then another. And another, still. All stragglers that had spread from the main cluster.

When the fist-sized main scar was unveiled, the color ran from the kid’s face.

I turned to show the exit wounds, and when I turned back, the kid was gone.
My friend Mike the Marine laughed. “I guess he thought yours was bigger.”

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Admission . by Matthew A. Hamilton

Carlos lifts his hands for the security guard and enters the market. He searches for boys without hope, without opportunity.

Today Carlos finds Michael, a boy with sleepy eyes and a nervous twitch.

Carlos offers him a smoke.

“Thanks, “Michael says.

Carlos looks at the soccer ball stenciled on Michael’s T-shirt. “You like soccer?” he says.

“Yea,” Michael says.

“You good?”

“Yes.”

“How would you like to make some money?” he says. “Be a prince of Mexico City?”

“What do I need to do?” Michael says.

“Practice. If your good enough I can see about making you pro. Pay’s ten dollars an hour and all you got to do is kick a ball around for a few hours. That sound good to you?”

“When do I start?” Michael says.

“Now,” Carlos says, “if you want.”

Carlos opens the van door for Michael. There are ten other boys inside. Michael climbs in.

They drive out to the desert. The boys are hustled out of the van. In front of them are four men, blindfolded and on their knees. Behind them are six men carrying automatic weapons. Michael smells piss and shit.

Carlos walks over to Michael and hands him an ax. “You know what to do,” he says. “This is a test. Pass and you will be part of the family. You will be part of the cartel. The city will be yours.”

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Urban Planning . by Bernard Heise

“Damn you!” he roared, as if just learning that he couldn’t create a stone that he cannot lift. A flick of his finger sent the unfortunate urban planner through the atmosphere, his body tracing an arc like a shooting star. Then Yahweh turned to the next one. “And what about you, can you fix it?” For there was indeed a problem. When Yahweh had irrevocably stipulated in Revelations that New Jerusalem would be 1400 miles high, long and wide, he did so because of his aesthetic fondness for the perfect cube. But now that construction was well underway and the Second Coming was nigh, he realized that only those apartments on the faces and especially at the corners of the cube would have a view. The rest of the chambers within the cube wouldn’t receive any natural light at all and his own throne, which was obviously at the center, would be as dark and poorly ventilated as Mother Teresa’s armpit. “No, Lord, I cannot change the laws of geometry,” squeaked the quivering voice. “Then you are dead to me!” Yahweh shouted, bringing down his giant fist on the distinguished professor from Yale with a crash that toppled buildings in Santiago and sent tidal waves over Fiji. “Bring me more! I need more experts!” Yahweh cried, wiping the blood on his beard. Jesus slipped into his sandals and left the mansion, a sheaf of resumes in hand. In moments like this it was better not to hang out at home.

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Onca Ole and the $5 Bill . by Walter Bjorkman

Onca Ole was a young farmer from Högbobruk, Sweden. One day in 1924 he jumped on a boat headed for America, where he landed in Brooklyn. Brooklyn sounded like it had a brook, perfect for farming. He got on the trolley and rode all the way to Coney Island, which he decided was not an island. There was no farmland anywhere. On the way back to the trolley, a loud man on a wooden sidewalk by the beach said he could guess Onca Ole’s weight within five. The carny guessed 200 and Onca Ole laughed all the way to the bank as he said “nay, jag ar 91 kilogram”, grabbed the man’s five dollars, put it in his shoe for safety, and went to Yellow Hook, were he took a room for 25c a night.

The only contact Onca Ole had was Ivar, a Norwegian who liked to drink and loved other people’s money. When he heard of the $5, he convinced Onca Ole to go out drinking at the soccer club. Ivar got so drunk he threw up all over the floor, and Onca Ole had to clean it up. The manager thought he did it so well, he hired him on as the club’s janitor.

Onca Ole retired in 1965 after forty years working in a 64 story office building in Manhattan, starting as a janitor, and working his way up to chief engineer, then building manager. Always keeps a $5 bill in his shoe.

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City Streak . by John Wentworth Chapin

Darlene’s dad had sent her down here from the county to keep her from the drugs and the pregnancies that had trapped her older sisters. She missed him, but there wasn’t really a place for her there anymore, and that was okay. She liked thinking of herself as the One Who Got Away.

When school was about to let out for the summer, she needed to find a reason to stay in the city, so she got a job around the corner sweeping hair at the little crummy salon that churned out little fat women with pinked curly hair. They had daughters they fought with and daughters-in-law they fought with worse. Darlene listened carefully; clearly, unless she figured out things for herself, she was in trouble no matter whether she was out beyond the bus line with her father or here in the city. The old women were miserable, and the young women were miserable. They all nestled up against convention and obligation, and it beat them down.

As far as she could figure, the only way not to be one of them was to be something else. She played with the coloring chemicals at the salon after hours; weird hair was enough to keep immediate trouble at bay for the short term. Keeping the world at arm’s reach over the long term was going to take more than some colored streaks and unconventional cuts.

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Urban longing . by Michelle Elvy

‘Come on down,’ she said and he did. Hopped right on a plane after a two-month romance which began online. The electricity pulled him right round the globe, from the safety of the frozen north to the uncharted waters of the South Pacific.

It was good, too. They surfed on virgin beaches by day and watched phosphorescent dolphins by night. He was lulled to sleep by the sound of midnight waves and her deep sea voice. She was soothed by his big man laugh and laughed at his big city stories, the ones with Lenny, Scanio, and Bruce.

But soon the red curry sun and coconut cream love wasn’t enough. He found himself longing for home.

‘You could come with me,’ he said, ‘skate down my favorite hill with a view of Manhattan, see the world from the Staten Island ferry, eat lemon ices.’

She puckered her lips, thought — how could you not love a place called Bliss Park?

‘Yes, I think I could,’ she whispered.

He told more of his street where polka and soul sang on the same summer breeze, where a foghorn came through his early morning window — the same foghorn Walt Whitman heard when he was writing. He described all that he longed to share with her.

She wrapped her blue shawl tight around her shoulders, leaned into him. She loved these stories of Whitman and polkas and Italian ice. But they belonged to this Brooklyn boy, and she belonged here.

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52|25 would like to thank Al McDermid for this week’s art. We asked Al about his photograph “The Connection”. Here is what he had to say:

Street photography is defined by wikipedia as “a type of documentary photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other settings.” I discovered ‘street’ photography shortly after joining Deviant Art, decided to give it a try, and started shooting people doing what people do. I’m not sure what I was after when I shot ‘The Connection’ since I didn’t at first realize that the two subjects were looking at each other. Street photos are like that; sometimes to get what you’re after, sometimes you get lucky. It’s part of the fun.

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