Week #34 – Floating away

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

The theme is Floating away.

Father and Son by Eryck Wenziak
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Settle . by Len Kuntz

After the plane crash, Keith was forced to live with his uncle.

“It’ll be a good change,” the therapist said. “Country living can settle a person.”

On the way out, Keith kicked over a lampstand.

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The farm backed into tree-stuffed woods. Sometimes, if it was windy, Keith thought he could hear his mother’s voice swirling through the clash of limbs and leaves. She had been a songbird, off pitch, but always happy.

He discovered a brook. The water tasted crisp, almost effervescent. It reminded him of the time his father let Keith have a sip of beer.

A fish leapt, slamming down between a pair of rocks. He watched it writhe, its gills meaty-pink.

Overhead, a hawk circled. Two squirrels skittered after an invisible foe. Sunlight streaked through branches in planks of bright radiance. Near the shore, two deer regarded him for a stiff moment, then carried on.

A cone of gnats swirled over the trapped fish.

Keith saw its big eye go even wider as it sucked air.

It flapped in his hands, slick and rough at the same time.

He thought about the fish, how it could represent his parents’ accidental death, or even his own anger.

He gave it a short toss. The fish floated, glinting silver scales in the sun. After some moments, the fish squirmed, leapt and swam again.

Keith watched it disappear. He felt the sun sting his face and, for the first time in weeks, he sighed, letting himself smile.

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Somebody Should Try To Reach Everybody . by Michael Webb

She could always tell the new ones – their jackets hadn’t been thrown up on. They were too ready to believe that they would be the ones to get her to stop, they would be the ones to fix her. She was disdainful of them – others had tried and failed – but she felt a tiny spot of regret, too. They were trying. Somebody should try to reach everybody.

This one, a freshly minted graduate, was feeding the baby while she asked her questions. She had been through this before, but she didn’t let on, wanting the girl to feel useful. She was giving the answers they expected, wanting her gone. He said he was going to be here this afternoon, and she had given him money. She wanted her to leave.

She shut her binder, fixing her with a fresh, clean gaze. “What does it feel like?” she asked.

“What?” she asked her. This was off script, she thought.

“To use. What’s it like?”

“It’s hard to explain,” she said. It wasn’t like you saw things that weren’t there- you didn’t float away into the clouds. Everything was the same- the baby still had to be changed, the carpet was still filthy, there were still stains on her sweatpants. Cruel men still came around, demanding that she pay them with money, or with something else. But after you got some, and you used, and it hit, for a minute, you just didn’t care.

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Hydra, 1980 . by Susan Tepper

At the harbor I notice a small boat that has a wooden hull and a tall wood mast. Reminds me of my boat back home. We’ve come here by ferry from Athens. No cars careen around this island. Hills dominate the landscape. Houses are stacked. We buy lace from an old woman in a shack near the water’s edge. Goats patrol the streets. That night we stay in the only hotel. One big room at the top of a square building. We strangers sleep together family style. It’s November. Warm enough to swim but I don’t.

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True vocation . by Matt Potter

Clapping my hands against my cheeks, I shriek, then throw my arms around the chunky woman beside me. Screaming, we hug each other tight, jumping up and down.

“Amazing!” says Cherie. “Did you feel the emotion? Was it real?”

We nod, gasping for breath. My heart is pumping.

Cherie turns to the class. “Great pairwork! Imagine what that feels like with an entire audience doing it? It’s electric!

The class claps as we sit down again.

I smile. The four-week training course has boosted my self-confidence: no athlete or dancer or ninja is more dedicated.

A normal day begins with hair, make-up and wardrobe, then the gym for weight training and stamina building and the pool to cool off.

After lunch it’s vocal coaching: shrieking, screaming, crying Oh-my-God!-Oh-my-God!-Oh-my-God!, panting and face fanning. Next it’s ‘situational training’, where we pretend to be audience members on real talk shows and practice everything we’ve learned that day.

Every Friday afternoon we’re strapped into chairs and tests are run on our excitement levels. We’re given a grade on sweat, tears and blood pressure and how much noise we make. (Thursday nights are practice practice practice.)

Rumour says we’ll be tested on how we throw ourselves about, but I’m not sure how they’ll do that: a padded room with sensors and a camera, maybe?

I start work experience soon. I get to sit in the audience of a real talk show. I’m working on getting so excited, I piss my pants.

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Wig in the Water . by Garrett Socol

Isabel Regal, the grande dame of New York whose nickname was the Wicked Witch of the West Side, drowned in her own bathtub. The shrew had swallowed a few sleeping pills, then she decided to take a bath. Unfortunately she dozed off in the tub as the warm water ran. Her entire apartment flooded.

The gay male couple living in the apartment below noticed drops of liquid dripping from their ceiling, and decided to investigate. They rang Isabel’s bell and knocked on the door for a good three minutes. When water began to seep out from under the front door, Barrett Cooper continued to bang and ring while Nick Lowell bolted downstairs to alert the building manager. The manager managed to open the door, and the men immediately noticed Isabel’s auburn wig floating across the dining room floor. Along for this little water excursion were Isabel’s brooches, watches, and several vials of prescription medication. One theory was that someone had been in the apartment when Isabel drowned, and the guilty party rifled through her things, perhaps searching for drugs or cash.

Isabel had been known to knock over nuns when rushing for taxis, and refusing to wait for a table at any restaurant. The New York Post ran with the headline: Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. The police asked Isabel’s playboy son Bobby if he knew of anyone who wanted her gone. “Yes,” he admitted. “Basically everyone she knew couldn’t stand the sight of her.”

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Send It All Swimming, I Say . by Grey Johnson

So, what bastard cuts a girl loose on Valentine’s Day?

The whole episode gave my friend Meg a slamming headache, and she said the bathroom tiles at the Exxon station cascaded like the horizontal hold for the world had malfunctioned. Like a waterfall of pain wrapped a rope around her head, and was keeping her tethered to it. She said the four hundred dollars she spent at Victoria’s Secret, just to keep him entertained, made her queasy.

Well, cotton is the fabric of my life. The girls in that place make me sick, anyway.

She could barely leave, and spent four automatic flushes trying to convince her shirt to stop lifting out of her pants.

Migraine makes you clumsy. What can I say?

Meg’s sister took over for her, since she couldn’t even drive, and they went to Mom’s house for dinner. There she found out, again, that Mom’s hoarding will never get better on its own. Clouds of clothes in plastic bags, like thunderheads at every turn, along with her sister’s loudmouthed children.

Shit. How does she stand it?

Dinner came from the BiLo Deli. The food went on the plate, the fork lifted the food, and one mouthful of that flim-flam gravy sent Meg running.

I don’t know why she ate that crap. I’ve warned her before.

Anyway, Meg said the rim was cool, and she felt oddly elated after.

The creep popped the string, but the affect went afloat, so to speak, where it belongs. ‘Nuff said.

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H2O . by Dorothee Lang

She clears the snow, once more. Her shoes are drained already, her arms are tired. The snow keeps falling since days. She tries to see it as just what it is: a structure of H2O. Strings of molecules, the base of life.

“The rain that falls, the water we drink, it’s the same water that was home to the first fish, that quenched the thirst of the first mammals,” a scientist explained on TV.

She imagines them, all those drops of water that keep moving through time, in different states of being, once being a river, once a cup of coffee, once being used for the laundry, and then falling again, as rain, as snow. The circular thought brings on images of the streets of laundry she has ironed in her life, of the armies of dishes she has washed, of all those days she has woken up to, to fall asleep again at their end.

She keeps clearing the snow, and can’t help it: her thoughts are with Sisyphus now, and she tries to see him, again, as a happy person.

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Ascendant . Bernard Heise

On a whim, while taking a much deserved break from her efforts to hone her latest contribution to the metatextual emancipation of the downtrodden and unwashed, Samantha turned away from the laptop, fixed her eyes on the faded Magritte reproduction across the room, and made a concentrated effort to believe in the absence of gravity. To her delight, she discovered that this indeed lightened her step. She tried again and found herself hovering slightly as she walked, long enough to wriggle her painted toes with glee. Soon, she took to the air with such ease that she began having trouble keeping her feet on the ground. Her heart nearly burst with self-satisfaction and vindication, but then her enthusiasm suddenly waned, for the effect was, in fact, deeply disconcerting. Previously routine tasks like preparing her morning toast and coffee and performing ablutions now required extreme mental focus. It was difficult to keep her fingers on the keyboard. She was no longer able to concentrate when conducting seminars and the students started complaining about her teaching. Then late one night, she awoke in horror to find herself pinned to the ceiling above her bed, shivering with cold, her nightgown hanging limply from her body. At that point, she realized she would no longer be able to leave the house for fear of getting tangled in power lines or floating away into space. Worse yet, she understood that this latest development was probably all the university needed in order to revoke her tenure.

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Disappearence . by Robert Vaughan

“If you’re looking for the river, you just missed it. Easy to miss, most people only see the billboard on that same corner.” He must have noticed how blank our faces were.

“You didn’t see the billboard either?” He scanned the camping gear in the back of our truck. “The one that says ABORTION KILLS in big purple letters?”

“Yeah, I saw it,” my wife said, then sighed, her huge belly protruding. “But we’re not looking for the river.”

“We’re looking for some cabins called Rivers Glen,” I said. “Are they back that way?”

The man stroked his beard. I noticed his eyes were two different colors, or one moved strangely, floating randomly in its socket. “They’re over in Bristol,” he pointed. “’Bout ten miles further up. Follow the river road.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said.

As we pulled away, Karla said, “Why’d you tell him where we’re staying?” She looked back through the cab window, one hand on the baby.

“I didn’t.”

“Yes, you mentioned Rivers Glen.”

“I only said we were looking.”

“Well, we’re not looking to buy, Tim.”

“You’re paranoid.” I wasn’t willing to admit it: he creeped me out, too.

“I’m sensible. You don’t go giving personal details to complete strangers. That’s all we need. Santa Claus to show up at our fire pit.”

I chuckled but knew she was right. I stared out at the stream, packets of fog in dancing patterns, soaring off the stream, their misty shapes disappearing into sunlight.

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Goodbye, Little . Greg Dybec

When little Harry passed, his parents wrapped him in green cloth and carried him down to the edge of the riverbank. Harry’s father brought rope, and for hours they gathered driftwood and twigs, tying and assembling, starting over and assembling again. Finally there was a makeshift canoe, more like a raft, resembling a misshapen bed, all brown, knotted, and disjointed, but it would do.

His mother yanked the green cloth aside, exposing Harry’s forehead, cold and milky, not much different from the day he was born. She kissed it, teary-eyed and heaving, before passing him to the father.

They wrapped Harry up tightly and lowered him into the raft, placing next to him his favorite stuffed bear and a full bottle of formula. Together the mother and father cast their son off, and he floated calmly away into the black womb of the gentle water and screaming crickets.

They said things like, That’s the proper way and His great escape was soothing. They held each other. For a moment they felt full, staring off into the distant twilight.

The flashing lights behind them lit the river like a midnight carnival; reds and blues bounced off the water’s slow ripples, illuminating the shore. Harry’s raft hadn’t made it very far. It had veered left and crashed up onto the bank, spilling his bottle and bear and unraveling the green cloth around his body. The cops poured down the hill to join the festivities.

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Dream Boats . by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The Inauguration Day Windstorm had blown out half the downtown lights to celebrate its twenty-first birthday. Two old friends flecked with gray snow and white hair sat on the boulders that kept the Sound from sweeping away Myrtle Edwards Park.

Look at all the branches floating around, he said.

When I was a little girl, at summer camp, we used to glue shells and a candle to driftwood. We called it a dream boat.

He laughed. Great name.

She blushed. Awful name! But our counselors said our wishes would come true if the candle burned out before it sank.

Did it work?

I live alone in an effiency studio and work at Tully’s. What do you think?

You still paint; I don’t have time anymore.

I’ve never had a show.

You do art walks.

Amateur hour in Edmonds. The truth about the dream boats is that they were teaching us to let go of our dreams—literally, physically.

Not a bad skill to have. I thought I’d be famous by now, but . . .

You gave up.

I like my life.

But don’t you ever wish you could be more?

He reached out to her, but she kicked off her shoes and slid down into the water. A minute later, she scrambled up the rocks, carrying a dream boat.

I’m going to re-light it when it dries.

What if the person who made it doesn’t want his dream anymore?

Dreams are all I have.

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To Keep a Hold on California in Crisis . by Susan Gibb

What could a fourth-grader do? Global warming seemed like something only God could handle yet Mrs. Charmish told the class that it was up to each of them to do something about it. To prevent the polar ice caps from melting and turning New York City into an aquarium. To keep California from breaking off and floating away. Since his little town was smack dab in the center of Kansas, Jimmy seemed safe from major destruction but California was where they made movies!

Jimmy researched the web, read an article his father pointed out in Newsweek. Much was already in the works, like electric cars and wind-power and changing the diet of cows. He needed something original and on Saturday night, sitting in the tub, he thought of it.

“My plan,” he said confidently, “involves drilling all the oil out that we’d need for centuries and storing it in huge tanks. Then capping the dry wells, mainly those on the coastlines and Alaska, with a large rubber stopper. And when the ice melts and floods, simply pulling the plug.”

“Also,” he added quickly, “we’d build bridges every ten miles from California onto the bordering state lines so when it dropped off, it would float like a dock on the ocean instead of just floating away.”

Mrs. Charmish shook her head in dismay and gave his report a D-minus. Jimmy was mad. It had all seemed so simple to him.

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Winyah Bay . by John Riley

Effie reckons the river her sister keeps asking about, the Great Pee Dee, was named after some Indians. She knows it runs, the Great Pee Dee, north of Florence, close-by the farm their daddy worked. There’s a college in Florence named after Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, who sure taught the British a thing or two, that wasn’t there when they were girls. She doesn’t know what sort of lessons they have at the college, but it’s probably as big a waste of space as her sister is, spending day and night slumped in her wheelchair, slobber bib yellow and crusty, asking over and over what happened to the Great Pee Dee, never just the Pee Dee, mind you, always the Great Pee Dee, instead of sitting there quiet like a good girl and watching The Price is Right. Hope to die, when people start losing their minds they get stuck on the craziest notions. Worrying about a river, and here it is 1976, when everyone knows rivers don’t mean a thing no more, what with the big trucks roaring up and down the superhighways and airplanes flying stuff all around the world day and night. It ain’t like when they were girls and rivers did people some good and they’d sneak away from their chores to watch rafts of pine logs drift south on the slow current and wonder what it’d be like to float all the way to Winyah Bay.

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It’s True What They Say . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

…and when I open my eyes I see what a perfect shot, the arrow stuck in the side of my neck, a fountain of blood sinking the snow like maple sap, and Dave barrels through underbrush, his breath heaves white clouds, he’s lost his hat, there’s a bald spot in back I’d never noticed because even though he’s my little brother he’s five inches taller, and he sinks to his knees, shit, shit, shit, oh shit, then fumbles in his camo for his cell and I laugh, you idiot, you fucking know you can’t get a signal this side of the mountain, but he jabs at the stupid buttons anyway, and then Pa grasps my fingers, odd because he’s never held my hand and he’s dead ten years anyway, and he says with his eyes, it’s time to go, and below spins green and white, this brilliant heat fills me, and I turn to Pa and say, hey it’s true what they say on those tv shows, those people who die and come back, and when he smiles I know I’m dead and it’s okay this peace falls over me, a kind of grace I feel after I mow the hayfield all sweaty and happy, and when I think of Marisa, the swell of her belly, and I wait for the tug, the one that yanks me back to Dave blubbering over me in the cold bloody snow, I wait and wait, but Pa grips me harder and…

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Beach Reverie . by Joanne Jagoda

When the sun hit his face he closed his eyes and was back on the white sandy beach with her. He could feel the hot sand and smell her apricot body lotion. Her eyes were green like the sea at dawn. They watched violet sunsets getting wasted on icy beers at beach cafes. She would slowly lick the salt off the rim of the chilled glass and laugh at his attempts to speak Spanish. He could taste her tongue in his mouth tart from the limes. She led him to her apartment down a cobbled path.

He was totally smitten, and she said she had never met anyone like him. They hung out for the two weeks he was on Spring Break, and they were making plans for her to come to L.A during the summer. They would live together in his apartment.

On their last night, she asked him for a favor. “ Mi Amor, take this package to my grandmother in East LA. She needs these documents to help her get a green card.”

He was proud she trusted him.

The German shepherd at the customs line started barking. He was yanked out of line and taken to a back room, stripped; then his luggage was torn apart. They found the “letters” containing tiny cellophane bags of cocaine.

The horn blast to return to his cell woke him from his daily beach reverie.

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Haunted . by Al McDermid

Instant, searing pain, then . . . nothing, followed by a vague awareness. He stood gaping, too shocked to speak, watching his body slump to the floor, and finally, surprise at the realization. ‘She shot me! The ungrateful brat actually shot me.’

What had happened? It was after hours, in the kitchen of their restaurant, his vision, his skill, built with her money. They’d been arguing. He’d made his play and she’d found out. She’d threaten to push him out and he’s slapped her. And then . . .

He floated above the scene, near the ceiling, looking down, watching her remove his clothes.

“Who’s in charge now, bitch,” she spit as she knelt and began cutting with one of his best knives. “Take my money, then think you can push me out? Did you really think me that stupid?”

He howled with rage, at being dead, at being killed, at being killed by her, knowing she’d get away with it; a kitchen offered many ways to dispose of meat. His silent screams went unnoticed as she continued to cut.

‘Okay, reality check,’ he thought, ‘I’m a ghost. I can haunt her. I can haunt her into the grave. Then, when she’s dead, I can torment her ghost.’

He looked down with new purpose, but she and his body were indistinct and far away. It was his last thought as his ghostly essence dissipated through the ventilation ducts.

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Haze . by Fred Osuna

There are cat whiskers grazing my face. I can’t open my eyes. I slide my hand under the sheets. It’s cool there. An impression. This is where she would be.

The phone vibrates beneath my pillow. I pick it up. I look down.

Y R U sad, it reads.

I sit alone in my bedroom.The ceiling fan whrrs overhead.The curtains billow and rest.

The phone rings. Hello. No one replies.

I move to the sofa. The lights are off. The cat nestles into a pillow beside me. The sun comes up. I hear garbage cans being thrown, empty, into driveways. The truck passes and turns the corner.

The door opens. She looks past me, doesn’t move, doesn’t blink. I sigh. I close my eyes.

Now she is sitting on the floor, cross-legged, head bowed. She looks up. Where are you going?

The sofa floats past her, my legs dangling. The cat stirs, returns to sleep. She rises from the floor, comes to rest beside me. A feather.

We breathe deeply, lean into one another, glide through the window into the drifting night mist. A cicada chorus envelops us: now as one, now not at all.

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Drinking It All In . by Doris Dembosky

At 6-foot 2-inches in her stocking feet, Mildred was noticeably tall. In her stacked heel Oxfords, she was taller yet. By the time I met her, Mildred was angular, hard-edged, and in her late 40s. She wasn’t one for friendships, but as her next door neighbor, I knew her better than most.

Mildred was not much of a drinker. Maybe she’d have a sip of sherry before lunch just to stimulate her appetite. Maybe she’d have a tot of whisky before bed to help her sleep. Maybe she’d have a social drink over the holidays, but as she often said, “I really don’t drink.”

When Mildred did drink, she was a lot more fun. Her flushed face seemed friendlier; her judgmental eyes kinder; her brittle self… softer.

Just one sip and Mildred was ready to shrug off her ever-constant cardigan and smooth her dress down over her hips.

A second drink would see her reaching out to strangers, drawing them close and confidentially cooing, “Call me Millie.” Her tight, beauty parlor curls seemed to have more bounce. Her blunt hands appeared more girlish.

At two drinks, anything was possible. Kneeling at the altar rail, she was liable to wink at the priest as he served communion. Later in the church fellowship hall, she’d be quoting the New Testament instead of the Old.

Dancing by herself to music only she could hear, Mildred seemed to grow shorter as she floated away in a haze of soft and pretty.

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The Willow . by Catherine Russell

The willow grew near the brook, and the girl had often climbed its branches in her youth to gaze into the cool clear water. Despite her father’s prohibitions, she found her only solace in its branches. The constraints of rank and privilege had always weighed heavy on her young shoulders: she often spoke to the tree and confided her deepest thoughts to its silent branches.

When she grew older and her father died, she fled once more to the willow’s embrace. She felt her father’s presence there – scolding her even as she searched the waters for a peace she no longer possessed. The branch she perched upon broke, giving beneath her and falling into the crystal blue water.

She knew she should swim. Instead, she opened her arms wide – her tresses a golden halo, her dress spread like angel wings. The water caressed and carried her, and while it bore her up she sang snatches of old tunes. When the weight of her clothing pulled her down, the songs of her childhood ceased – along with dreams and guilt.

The tree, ever her friend, had provided her escape.

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Five Oranges . by Virginia Watkins

It wasn’t until it was too late that I noticed that I was undeniably floating away. And, since I was already floating, it made sense to just sort of go with it. I don’t know. What could I do? My husband was clearly tethered – to his jobs: work, children, bank accounts. To hold me there, he would have to let go of something. My children might have come along, if I’d let them, but I didn’t know until it was too late. I reached for them, but it looked halfhearted – I could see it in their faces – my own relief, gratitude. To be taking off. To be floating away. Without them. My fingers reached across, over the edge, but the basket was so small, and it only held five oranges. How long would five oranges keep them happy? They ignored my weak attempt, tried to reach farther, past me to the basket, itself. But I pretended not to see them. Took the idea of them, heavy in my hand, and set it on the basket floor. And saw at once that an idea has no heat, no weight, no noise, no mess. And as fast as I had pulled my fingers back, I reached for them again. As quickly as I’d looked away, I searched for their faces, getting smaller by the second, by the inch. Five oranges was more than enough. Grab on! Too late. I was floating away and began dropping the oranges. Softly. One at a time.

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Pillow . by Roberta Lawson

In another life, she was a sea-wave. His face creases up a little when she tells him this. He humours her. How did that feel? He sounds like a therapist. She thinks of clear arcs of orgasm washing over her. Of silver horses endlessly rippling forward. Of being a blue-green fluid arc – of just being – salty-fresh, imbued with oxygen. Of endlessly being and becoming – rippling, sparkling; reaching up and diving back under.

How did that feel? He repeats, a little impatient.

She sighs. It felt like nothing.

Nothing he would understand.

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Why Don’t Men Stay . by Melissa McEwen

She talks to herself — and most people do — but she does it all of the time. You got some nerve doing me like that she said to the mirror once, perhaps pretending that her reflection was one of those men that did not stay. I was peeping through the cracked bedroom door. Why don’t men stay? she sang to her mirrored self. I was peeping through the cracked door and her fingers tugged hard her un-braided hair. She sung to her mirrored self for most of the day. This incident happened after Marvin, but before Oscar. She was seeing this singer who calls himself Maggie, but his birth name is Yusef. He is known around the neighborhoods as Magnet, Maggie for short. I remember he had thin wrists like a woman (but he hit like a man). That one, too, got away from her even though she wanted him to stay. He said she was too passive for him and so he ran off. When he comes around sometimes, my Mama spreads her legs easy for him. I pray in the morning and at night that some man’s love for her someday will be more than spread legs and Oh, baby!

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The Lost Island . by Nicolette Wong

My grandmother’s childhood was floating away on a boat. The moment she looked back at her brother on the shore, a bony figure waving goodbye in frantic pantomimes of love, she knew her fate was sealed. There would be no going back.

The strange woman by her side had chosen her because she was fair, the fairest child on the island. In the years to come she would grow into a solitary teenager who haunted the wood and cry by the sea until the well within her ran dry. Tall, erect and sparkly, she would break into Baptist churches in the colonized land to steal water before dawn, and tread between trampled bodies of soldiers before the first killings of the day began.

On this day she remained a small girl rocking to the waves in fright, and her tears made a magnifying glass through which she saw cruelty on the woman’s face. The middle-aged woman had travelled through mud and rain, in search of sweetness to bring into her barren household. A looming presence at the dinner table, waiting to receive the love that would forever elude her grip. The wind was in her eyes as she turned to look at the child.

‘My husband doesn’t like children crying,’ she said. ‘Dry your tears before we land.’

My grandmother never did what she was told. After all, she was headed for war times.

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Long night (all at sea) . by Annette Rohde

The moon, set low in the night sky, reflects its light on the deceitfully smooth ocean. The waves, gently hitting the side of the boat, are my unwanted companions. My weary body lying on the hard deck faces the stars; a cool sea breeze fresh upon my face provides little relief. It’s so serenely surreal. I feel as though I am not going to last the night.

I need to stay awake and keep centred; it’s the only way to get through this.

My eyelids grow heavy as I become one with the rhythm of the sea. Thack. Thock. Thack, thack, thock. Thock. Thack, thack, thock. Thock, tha…

No, stay awake!

I search the stars for the Southern Cross, then comb the sky for other constellations. My head spins again as my eyelids grow heavier…

Stay awake!

I focus on one star, hoping it will fall so I can make a wish that I will be back on land soon. Maybe. Just maybe …

Cold splashes jolt me awake. I dry retch and clutch my stomach. My head dizzy, it takes a moment to remember where I am.

I must keep still, become one with the boat’s motion, imagine I am floating and still and relaxed. Stay awake!

As the sun appears over the horizon, I look towards the cabin where dad is soundly sleeping and sigh with some sense of relief. Soon he will wake so we can sail back to land, the cure for my sickness.

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My Man’s Voice . by Michelle McEwen

You ever hear you some singing on the radio on one of those a.m. AM stations with a lot of static? You ever hear all that static, but you hear this singing coming right through all clear? My man’s voice is like that— rough but sweet, barbwire and roses. When he picks up the phone, folks, even kin who should know better, on the other end always got something to say about his voice — especially if it’s someone with the wrong number. The other day, some wrong-number-woman called and my man picked up. He said hello and his hello was like a whole soul song floating across the line; the woman tried to keep him on. She asked what he was made of— honey? “You must be with a voice like that.” I heard her ‘cause I was right up under him. I told him to hang up, but he just smiled and kept talking like he knew her from way back. I heard her laughing at everything my man said, so I snatched the phone out his hand and hung up. My man gave me his what-you-wants-to-do-that-for face and I told him it didn’t make sense for him to be talking to that woman when she had the wrong number. I stared at him then — whisk in hand and ready to use it on him — and said, “She had the wrong number, right?” He aw-baby’d me and said, “Yeah.” And upstairs he flew to wait on his dinner.

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Evidence . by Katherine Nabity

He watched something white fall from her hand to the water below. He joined her at the rail, sea spray catching on his arm hair.

The packet of notes was folded into a tight square. She had written on both sides of the paper and the running ink was quickly turning the parchment sky blue. The waves tossed the bundle back and forth in a game of keep-away.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Nothing.” She smiled. He’d seen that smile last night when he said that she was the best friend he’d had in a long time.

And he knew too late. This invitation to sail with her had not been extended in friendship.

He wondered how long it would be until a gull swooped down to steal her writings from the sea.

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Down The River . by Erin Zulkoski

The river was frigid. Branches, empty cans, and used condoms float past me.

I lost my jacket when I became snagged on a tree branch. My shoes are gone.

My skin is blue-grey, as are my lips and fingernails. I’ve been face-down in this river for two days, my body dumped there by teenagers that had hit me with their car as I was going for my morning jog.

I was running on the wrong side of the road. Their vehicle crested the hill and struck me from behind. I landed in a heap near the river bank. Maybe that’s when I lost my shoes…I’ve heard of situations when people are hit by cars and the impact takes their shoes off.

The kids panicked and did what they thought was best–roll my mangled body into the river.

After dumping my body, they got into their car and sped away. When asked about the damage to the car, they told their parents they hit a deer.

My disappearance didn’t raise many questions. I was new to the area. I think the police did search for me, but after two days floating down the river in fast currents, it was called off and I was put in the missing persons file.

This is fine by me. I will continue floating away.

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The bird’s eye view . by Stella Pierides

Leaves and branches rushed past, a spade, buckets, a car, crates, tyres, a barrel. She clung to the rough, furrowed bark of the Eucalyptus, terrified that it might not hold on to its place for long.

She felt the torrential rain lashing her and the waters indiscriminately, feeding the swollen rivers. A desolate water land covered fields and low-lying areas. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a book floating past, opened upside-down, then another, then several specimens, as if the entire Amerold town library was being carried away by the flood. Her heart tightened. She had spent her youth in the library, growing up through its books. She used to wash her hands before opening them. She had become Miss Bell’s preferred reader, and she had even been allowed to stay on reading during lunchtime.

Scrunching up her eyes, she tried to make out the titles floating past, as if her life depended on it. The water kept rising. Brushing past, a raven flew to perch on the tree’s highest branch. She felt her hold loosening.

Feeling the bark for a better grip, she remembered the story of Noah’s Ark, the raven and the dove sent out to see if the flood waters subsided; and the book she’d read about ravens’ intelligence. She sensed the storm lessening. The bird was scanning the vast expanse; she was not alone. She sighed with relief and dug her nails into the tree bark.

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Island . by Kim Hutchinson

A woman stands on a rocky outcrop at the edge of the lake of legends. She stares at the distant island, a black hole of tales resting on a bed of crystals, a place from which stories did not escape.

The woman seems neither very young nor very old. She is not tall or short, thin or fat, nothing to distinguish her except that she is bent, weighted down.

She tries to let go of her thoughts. Thoughts, she tells herself, are just emotions with stories attached. Let go of the story and know the emotion. Stop thinking and feel.

She remembers her grandmother’s house, drawers full of newspaper clippings tied up with string, collected stories, stories that had nothing to do with her grandmother or anyone else she knew, but clung to as if they held answers.

She wondered how many others had stood on this spot since the ancient ones, the original inhabitants, had discovered the seven islands that mirrored the Seven Sisters.

The woman placed a small wooden raft on the water. On top was a plain manila envelope stuffed with history, documents, photographs, love letters and momentos. She lingers, hesitating, then lights a homemade fuse and sets the little raft adrift on the outgoing tide.

The flames grow bright as the small flatboat of stories floats off on its journey to the crystal island.

The woman watches, hearing the voices of all who stood there before her rise, then fade away.

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Downstream . by Tom Allman

My body is stuck in an inner tube bobbing slowly down our little river. My mind is moving somewhat faster. I zip past a paddle wheeler whose cub pilot is marking twain. Then, after shore leave in the Big Easy, I ship out to the Heart of Darkness to find the White Whale.

My bony old butt scrapes a rock and I have to paddle like an upside-down turtle back into the current. Under full steam again I scoot by Gilligans’ Island and render honors to Darwins’ Beagle. Soon though, I arrive at my ultimate destination, my tiny kingdom somewhere in the Pacific.

This is where my dreams always end, in a hammock under the bluest sky you’ve ever seen. Every morning the children gather flowers to weave into my crown. In between sunrise and dinner I manage to fend off European invaders and a giant squid. This is the somewhere I’ve never been that is more familiar to me than my own skin.

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Monologue . by Chelsea Biondolillo

Some girls remember their first time in all kinds of detail: like what song was on the radio and if the guy was wearing cologne and what underwear they had on. I hear them talking in the locker room while they put their eyeshadow back on after PE and recurl their hair.

You know, I can’t get my hair to curl right no matter how much hairspray I use? I’ve tried, and it always falls flat by second period. I don’t get foundation either. It looks too thick on me. So when they’re at the mirrors, I don’t have anything ‘constructive to contribute,’ as Mr. Taske says.

When they start blabbing about their boyfriends, I just get dressed and hustle out behind the art building for a quick smoke before English. What am I supposed to say when those Barbie girls start gushing about how they finally “went all the way” with some dumb football player?

Someday I might just blurt out, “I think mine’s name was Cary, and he pushed me down in the woods.” Wouldn’t that shut them up? I’d like to tell them that: tell them what it feels like to float away while a thing’s done to you, so you don’t have to really remember it. I’d like to watch them turn away from the mirror for a second and see something other than their own glassy eyes. But that’s what Mr. Taske would say is ‘disruptive social behavior.’ It’s not helpful, he says.

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Homeless . by Matthew A. Hamilton

His cheeks crack
in the razorblade wind.
His mind, full of craters,

jumps

into a bottle
of bourbon.
His shark eyes
roll over white.

He takes his last breath.
His body nestles inside the
stairs of a subway entrance—
a corner of dancing nightmares
he calls home.

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The Approximate Feeling of Being Ten . by Martin Brick

The idea was to party with Angela, but she got angry because I spent Sunday watching football with my dad. But she burned a whole day shopping with her sister. It snowballed from there: I don’t call enough, doesn’t like my college friends… Next thing you know it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m single.

Mom and Dad invite me to the Wolski’s with them, but I’d be the only person without an AARP card.

Home alone with beers, until midnight approaches and I consider champagne. I go to the wine cellar, but get sidetracked among my old stuff in the basement. There’s my old runner-sled. Way too inviting. I suit up and hit the hill out back. The snow is compacted, so I fly. And laugh like I haven’t in years; pure elation.

At the bottom of the hill I spy the river. It’s quiet. The center is slow-moving water, the edges, thick ice. The river doesn’t know arbitrary markers like New Year’s, that say you’re supposed to be with a crowd, people to affirm your happiness, someone to kiss at midnight. The river is kid-me, throwing sticks just to watch them float, oblivious to the politics of pleasing others.

Which is probably why I walk to the edge of the ice and hammer with my sled until a chunk breaks off. Large enough to ride raft-like, slow down the silent river, me and the cold and the winter constellations and the silence and the approximate feeling of being ten.

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Rock, Roll, et al. . by Catherine Davis

She looks for the obit, can’t find. Over and over, looks. Nothing. Nothing except something touching her shoulder.

Follow me.
Corridors, doors, along and along, no time to notice that this last is the stage door – she was so suddenly there in the blare and glare.
You can sit here if you’re quiet. She was. The next night too, and so on.
You can dance if you don’t get in the way. She wasn’t. Anything but in the way right to the Pyramid Club. Go4, YMG, OMD, XTC, Human Sexual Response, she can.
Byline: gossip, so the usual. Bars, huge stars, passes, releases, buses, backstage and blow. Mostly the music – she can dance. Sex, of course, don’t be dim.
A compromised sort of salvation, but she liked it. Called her Pokey, to disguise her true role as goddess-object. Eventually tired of his toe licking, she walked her combat boots out of there.
Years.

Christmas card written on Thursday: I wanted to write you while I still could – news from the doctor isn’t good. The death Friday. Call from the daughter, Sunday: was so very fond of you.Wondering. But what?
Daughter said death had nothing to do with his illness. News not that bad. All she would say.
No obit.
Something touching her shoulder – was it Friday night?
She takes their picture to the shrine in the next room.
Only rock and roll, reminds herself now. She liked it. So? It wasn’t enough.

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Signs . by Guy Yasko

I missed the significance of the death rattle. I knew Mary was dying — of course — but i missed the signs. “The end is nigh.” I should have known. Birth was the same: a series of steps which i was able to piece together as a whole only after the fact. At least i had a child at the end of it. I never worried that i had missed a sign that midwives or obstetricians pick up. Who cares? But with death, i felt that i had missed all of them — and that it mattered.

Why? What was to be done? Hold on tighter? I told myself i wanted her to float away, to skip over it all. The problem is that death is something to be lived through.

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Escape . by Randal Houle

It floated downstream. I tracked it from inside a blackberry bush lining the shoreline. The lazy river carried the body like an Irish funeral, on shoulders of tears.

The body, he is after all a man, bumped into a collection of overhanging branches and held there for a moment. The tree had spent its decades-long life bending low to the river, as if to sip the cool water. Now it only held the strap of my dear friend’s suspenders. The man’s body, though my friend had left it, either said goodbye or “come along, it’s not far.” I shifted. Twigs cracked behind me, leaves rustled, and dogs growled. My grip tightened on a piece of bamboo, a hollow we were going to use in the river.

I could nearly feel the dog’s breath sniffing around the brush for me. There wasn’t much more to think about. I pushed through to the tree. The bush sided with the mob, held my every movement. Hatred and malice like thorns dug into my clothes. My friend’s eyes were wide open to the world and I bade his silent but urgent call. Leaving my shirt with the bush, I jumped. There was a splash, and the water was cold, but I moved under the corpse, for after all it is a corpse, and floated downstream.

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Stylus beneath glass . by Doug Bond

The first time I saw the tall buildings of Manhattan I was nine years old riding in a car on the Whitestone Bridge. “Look at that zigzag crown,” my father said, pointing to the one he worked in. He spoke of gargoyles and aluminum trim, stainless steel, and a lobby clad in marble, onyx and amber. I imagined dozens of shiny elevators shooting a thousand feet to the sharp point needle sticking straight up into the sky.

We were in traffic on the way to the airport to pick up a Grandmother arriving for the holidays. An Etch-A-Sketch lay against my lap and I began drawing that jagged skyline, dark lines on the gray screen, a stylus beneath glass scraping through a scrim of aluminum powder.

Up, across, back down. Angular thin boxes, two with tall spires and the flat topped Twin Towers further down. Being further away from us they looked shorter, but weren’t. If you turned it upside down and gave it a shake, you could make it all go away, an easy way to start again.

The day the plotter stopped working, the knobs caught and wouldn’t turn. I bashed on the bright cherry red frame until the glass cracked and tiny silvery balls spilled out along my hands and up onto my arms. I tried to fan it away, but bits still clung to my clothes except for the finest powder which I watched falling through the air in a light gray dust to the floor.

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Spiral . by Stephen Hastings-King

When collapse is a wave that curls the floor under itself I give myself to it and fall through a white void where the only differentiation is a black square that recedes at a speed greater than that of my descent; it trails long thin clouds that buckle and collapse in the viscosity of the air, gardens of absence I hurtle through, the boundary conditions of an empire of scatter where waveforms and their collisions open onto plains and cities and languages and the ways each dissolves into possibilities. In one of them I sit in a chair and read “When collapse is a wave that curls the floor under itself.” I look across a white room at the black square on the wall then back at the page. I give myself to it and fall into the white spaces between the letters. Aerial, I turn to watch backward sentences recede. Beneath them trail long thin clouds that wave slowly back and forth in the viscosity of the air. I inhale them. When I look up again from the page and across the room at the black square on the wall I hear collapse approaching. When it is a wave I give myself.

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drifting in pictures . by Walter Bjorkman

there I stand brave and tall
chest flooded with pride
holding the backend of a raft
Bobby Lange, I recall holding the otherside
on this buttered toast of beach for the public
in his poor man’s heaven, my Dad called it

He would finally arrive
with candied treats melted and warped
from his two-hour drive – late fridays
we heard him come before he did
— but I have told this story
too many times for me before

now this one on the last blanket
that last summer day I didn’t know
would hold no more, not with my Father beside
on the same day we built that raft to get out to the rock
playing dive-bomber one-hunded yards from the shore

the runt of the pack, I was the first u-boat
preparing to be attacked -
jump from one end and traverse underwater
the twenty-four foot long edge to survive
children’s depth-charger feet, unknowing
that by next summer someone would die,
not I

three years later a visitor in the bungalow
He built what was our lifetime ago
– once me in a big old tin bucket
having my first swim at two (and a half)
while my Father sawed and hammered and smiled

now that heaven not ours but a cousin’s
two fast weeks for me, not a lifetime in three months
the raft is found smashed flat against the fifty foot sand cliff
we would slide or tumble in a ball to get down
a dead-grey driftwooded dry raft, I now eleven and a half

lift it up to bring to the ebbing tide

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The Last Birthday Party . by John Wentworth Chapin

The boat crashed into the concrete bank and the little boy shrieked, delighted: “Do it again!” His father tried to put it in reverse with the remote, but the engine only whined. He directed the boy to turn the boat around.

“You broke it already?” she said.

He said nothing.

“Come back to the party. We’re going to do cake soon.”

“It’s his birthday. Let him play.”

“Mommy, look!” the boy shouted, nudging the boat away from the edge.

“Careful, sweetie,” she called, her tone shifting to warmth. She hissed five minutes and disappeared over the embankment.

He joined his son at the water’s edge and toggled the remote. The propeller spun a moment, urging the boat forward, then stopped. “That last crash might have been one too many,” he said.

The boy took the remote and carefully pushed one lever forward. The engine caught and reached full speed, leaving a tiny wake. The boy grinned up at his father: two rows of white baby teeth.

“Turn it around now,” the father suggested. The boat continued forward and then the engine died, stranded fifty yards away in the middle of the pond. The man sighed; he took off his shoes and rolled up his pants legs.

“Can I come?” the boy asked. The father looked past his son up the embankment and nodded. The boy held onto his father’s hand as they waded together out into the shallow, frigid water. The boy giggled, splashing his father and howling at the cold.

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Stay . by Michelle Elvy

I keep you here
behind the wild green of my eyes
in the sticky black of my lashes
under the chewed pink of my nails
in the dry back of my throat
behind the bitter red of my tongue

And sometimes when your
RRRRRRtastesmellfeel
lingers in my world
I think you are real
and then I wish I could
unsift you through my fingers
back to when you were more than

RRRRRRashbonedust
— back before you
floated away on the full moon’s tide

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We thank Eryck Wenziak for his picture for this week, Father and Son:

I took this at 6:00 a.m. on a public beach during this past summer. My son and I were fishing, and after I snapped it, he looked at me and said: “Daddy, let’s call this ‘Father and Son.’” When I look at this photo, I’m taken to another place: one of peace and thanks for having a wonderful, healthy son that I can share such memorable times with.

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