Week #42 – Under wraps

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

The theme is under wraps.

A Friend in Her by Angelique Moselle Price
Sharpie on bristol paper
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Pulp . by CS DeWildt

She sits and rips skin from bone, fleshy truth. She devours the orange, laughs, flips her hair. Does she know she is my daymare?

I watch her. I finger the lunch table’s scars: “mike is a faget”, “alicia luvs chris”. Her eyes flicker like a simile that’s like, I don’t know, something else?

We rise upon orders from the bell. Old habits are unmurderable. I watch with dry orbs that linger only long enough to make me sweat, scanning to assure I’m not unwrapped by another. Her sunshine mingles among clouded peers. She hides from eyes that would stare until blindness.

I write sad poems in my room, bold font verses that die with a keystroke whenever someone appears.

“Can I get some help? I don’t get it. How do I balance this?” We ask the same questions.

The answer is easy.

“Put a ‘two’ in front of that oxygen. There you go.”

She smiles and I want to tell her that she has flesh stuck in her teeth. But to tell her is to free that bit of pulp, a tawdry liberation by her purple, tooth-ravaged nails, and then to see it dropped to the floor, or at best, swallowed. My secret no longer. A non-thing. Indigestible roughage. It’s a pathetic parallel. It’s forced poetry.

I read books that put it eloquently. Books with titles you could never have thought of yourself. My book is called Letch. Letch me teach you something about red ink. It’s my seed.

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The Dead . by Marcus Speh

Do dead men sleep better under a tree or in the deep, deep sea? A tree gave shelter, and the variety of animal life under its roots provided welcome distraction. The dead men in the sea seemed scattered somehow, lost in the chemical mess of dihydrogen oxide. The ocean was like one body swallowing another, a mountain of of bodies, sailors lost at sea, children taken by waves, drowned women. There was no particular place for reunion with your loved ones. A dead body in the sea turned into a new creature, not wormfood. It went grey, then green in the face, hair got entangled with anemones, fish built their nests in the hollows of its wounds, sharks took a bite out here and there, creating gory works of underwater art. Flesh in water looked like tailored tissue, blood became ink for the writs of aqueous gods.

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Cold Cuts . by Susan Tepper

Chenille was wrapping the cold cuts in Saran and it was horrible. She’s such a fucking retard, why do they give her jobs that are important? I like my cold cuts fresh. Chenille’s got the cheese wedged in crooked and not even fully covered. Look, I tell her mother Millie, you have to take charge of this. Millie gives me the high eyebrow then makes one of those go get fucked arm movments that were popular during the 70′s. I was a kid then but remember my brother Al doing it to his workers when they installed carpet wrong. It’s the same thing all over again with Chenille. They should put her in a facility Al says. That Millie keeps her around like a freak show. I think Millie gets off on people staring at Chenille. Otherwise she’d keep the kid locked in the house. Even when Chenille isn’t wrapping cold cuts she’s a train wreck. Her lipstick goes on crooked and one side is higher. It makes her look extra wacked. She’s got really thick black eyebrows that stick straight out. Al said that’s from all the shock therapy. Al said Millie should pluck the kid’s eyebrows. Al said that the other day.

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Wrapped Up Inside . by Susan Gibb

Nadine was the odd child who liked layering clothes; kneesocks, tights and legwarmers sticking out from shirts and sweaters that fell almost to the edge of her skirt.

She liked gloves and sometimes wore them with mittens.

There were tams with tassels and saucer-like wide-brimmed hats, all topped with ribbons and sometimes a flower–even one that looked like a Bird of Paradise plant. Her hair underneath was long, very long, likely down to her hips but wound up in plaits and wrapped around her head like a crown.

Her mother thought she was cold. Her father just thought she was fat. Her brother bounced off of her running to the table, the TV, through the hallways in school. He thought it was fun, that she was quite funny. Unlike most brothers, he liked Nadine a lot.

She didn’t have many friends, most frightened away by the heaviness of a mood that matched her appearance. Dark, mistaken as sullen, she was a genius inside of her cave, mumbling out correct answers her teachers would need to bend forward to hear.

One night as Nadine was undressing for bed, laying out the pajamas and nightgown and socks and bedjacket that she would wear, she glanced in a mirror. The mirror reflected her room and her bed, her clothes in a pile on the floor, but somehow, she wasn’t there.

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Animal . by Roberta Lawson

Not the skin or the hair; not nails, teeth; no gentle touch. It must be the gut. The only way that any of them will find what they’re looking for is to go for the gut, and reach inside. To begin: a list of secrets. Let’s say the secrets are a shadow. The lights are out, and now they’re ready. To reach this place they’ll take a journey. Down through the mind, through the channel of the neck, down, down, until the body opens like the belly of the earth. Down until they’re sunk through rock and soil, blood and sinew, until they’re bathed in magma. A mouth opens. Speech begins to come.

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Wings . by Libby Daniels

The little one is watching Scooby Doo again; it’s the mummy episode. She sits on the bed behind him in a t-shirt painting her toenails, orange. There always seems to be cereal in this bed, odd brightly colored bits sprinkled in with the sand. The familiar voices of the cartoon sooth her nerves. Soon the old janitor will spin right out of his mummy disguise, and she’ll feign surprise, here in this bedroom just fifty yards or so from the pulsing ocean. There is a sense of exposure that comes with the salt air, she thinks, and the constant abrasion of sand. Her toes will need one more coat.

Her little boy dangles one foot over the edge of the bed, gazes at the screen, the confines of the television world loosely enfolding him like a blanket. She remembers the way she held him in the old aquarium the day before, up in front of her chest like a shield, concrete all around them. How the wide, soft brim of her straw hat plucked at his fine hair from time to time. Not one soul knows they have come here, to this greying house with its long porch along the dune and its frayed awnings ever flapping. In a small, round pool the manta rays, just babies, waved their silken wings playfully and brushed up against the palm of her hand at every pass. An elderly man wearing a badge slept in a fold-out lawn chair beside the pool, unaware.

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17 Days . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Sometimes, under the gauze and yellow salves, under the allografts patching your body like so many potato and corn fields planting God’s earth, I glimpse you, the real you, my twinned soul from before, the brother who rode me on handle-bars, who beat up the bully on the bus, who read me to sleep when we were kids, the way I read to you now, and that’s when I grip your hand, the good one, glad the explosion incinerated the poison inside even if it burned off your smile, because now you are yourself, pure, saved, clean these 17 days.

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At Kristy’s . by Maude Larke

I sit in the orange haze by myself with a whisky sour and watch the couples on the floor, no couple the same with each dance. Something catches my eye, trips my mind open: a particular couple. Dances danced before slip into my eyes. I watch those dances, relax into them, and mistake the warmth of the whisky, remembering the slackness, remembering the moisture – “Hi, honey, can I sit with you?” I have forgotten myself again. I turn in my chair, rise, walk away to sit again at a table nearer the bar, reschool my face, redraw my insides. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a door swing open again.

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Tatoo . by Georgina Kamsika

Under harsh nightclub lights, a stranger points at my arm. “What does that mean?”

Beneath my fingertips lie delicate embossed shapes, personal hieroglyphs. A swirl of black, looping over my coffee-coloured skin.

Gentle curves sliding over and under each other. The happiness of youth, playing in the garden with my brother and sister. Faded photographs of long forgotten clothes, bad haircuts and better times.

Spikes jut out at the edges, digging into the top of my shoulder, thorns creeping around the soft underflesh of my arm. First love, that boy with the floppy black hair and intense eyes. From pulling my hair in the playground to breaking my heart fifteen years later. Pain that scars, never to be forgotten. Faded now, though. No longer bleeding.

A delicate shoot, rising above the rest, creeping towards my collarbone. My future.

“What does it mean? I don’t know mate, it’s just a tattoo,” I shrug and dance away.

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Filth . by Matt Potter

“Get ya hands outta there, ya filthy old cunt!”

I look up, his distorted face hurling more abuse.

Blurring my eyes, I look over the roofline of his fruit and veg store and to the sky beyond. Then back down into the bowels of the rubbish bin.

His anger floats over me as I fossick inside, Wednesday gloves black with grime. Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s pairs, washed and dried, sit in wait beside my front door.

Newspapers, a banana skin, fast food wrappers and then gold! A soft drink bottle, two cans and – lucky me – three iced coffee cartons. We get a refund on those here too.

“Take ya fucking trolley and ya shitty bags and fuck off!” he yells.

Why doesn’t he uproot the rubbish bin from the footpath, if he doesn’t want me here? No one else would blame him.

I straighten my back, and push the bottle, cans and cartons inside the plastic bags in my trolley. Then I stare at him, my arms hanging loose at my sides, my polyester frock – my work uniform – worn and faded. And I flash him a smile, sucking my gums: I keep my teeth at home.

“I could be your mother,” I say.

His jaw drops at the sound of my voice.

Grabbing the trolley handle, I push it up the street. Home is fifteen minutes walk. Once inside, I’ll sort out the takings, shower and change, and play Mozart on my iPod.

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For Schmutzie . by Michael Webb

I squinted as I stepped inside. The faux gold fixtures looked shiny as my eyes adjusted to the light and I felt the waves of steamy heat from the bodies packed in to my old place.

“Hey, girl,” Mike said behind the bar. He was a bald, rosy cheeked Irishman. “Haven’t seen you in a piece. Get you something?”

“Diet Coke, Mike,” I said, my own voice sounding strange in my ears.

“Sure thing,” he said. He didn’t react, which I appreciated.

I looked around the place. I had spent so many hours here, so many long nights and indistinct early mornings. It should look familiar, but it didn’t, the edges too sharp, the wood too imperfectly gouged with scratches where I remembered it as being smooth. Everything was smoother when you remembered it than it was in real life.

I used to tell myself that coming here let me relax, let me be who I really was, let me stop keeping my real self hidden away. What I didn’t realize until recently was that it wasn’t that at all. This was the real me, like I was right now, with the snow melting on the tip of my boot, insecurities and vanities and regrets all mixed up into one.

Mike brought me my drink. It was cold, and he had added a slice of lemon.

“How you been,” he asked me.

“Good,” I said. “Real good, Mike. Thanks.”

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What Happened to All the Readers . by Len Kuntz

They’d become such a minority that the world’s remaining readers were set up in communes on a crumb of land the size of Delaware.

This being the future, space was at a premium, and as their numbers continued to diminish, the readers were relocated to an abandoned estate belonging to someone’s deceased, millionaire aunt.

In less than a few years, weary governmental officials shuttled the dwindling bibliophiles to a split level home in Hackensack, where angry neighborhood dogs nipped at cyclone fencing and nightly air raid drills produced unmanageable migraines.

Months later, the further shrinking squad was shipped off to a one bedroom utility that doubled as a pantry for discarded, but well-used, kitty litter.

After a short shedding of weeks, the few readers that remained were dropped into a root cellar which had once hid Prohibition rumrunners.

But even this earthy hole was a waste of space, too roomy, with its hollow nooks left unfilled.

So, alas, the final surviving readers were stuffed inside a box.

Years later a young child stumbled upon the box by accident. Finding a smattering of bones at the bottom and, thinking them exotic drumsticks, the child began to beat the sides of the crate, until, tuckered out from so much physical activity, she went back to her multiscreen lap pad, playing video games, exchanging Facebook gossip while texting, streaming reality television and using Skype, busy but bored all at once.

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Leaving . by Melissa McEwen

Faye-Nell wants to see Fred’s face when he comes home to no dinner and no ironed for-the-next-day work clothes. But she won’t because she’ll be gone. She laughs out loud at the thought of him looking confused –his ugly mouth hanging open. She used to always say in her head, “Close your mouth, fool,” but now she says it aloud, falling on the floor with laughter. If he walked in on her, he’d say she looked like a crazy woman and then he’d tell her to do something with her hair. He is always saying, “I hate coming home to you looking like you just woke up. T-Bone’s wife meets him at the door with lipstick on and fishnets.” Fred is never satisfied. If Faye-Nell was napping when he got home, he’d wake her up to cook and if she complained, he’d say, “There’re plenty women that’d cook for me. You should see the way they look at me at work,” and she’d “Tuh!” under her breath as she got up to fix him something. But not tonight –she’s been planning this for months; circled the day on her calendar and wrote the word “leaving” in capital letters. She traced over it so many times, the letters became fuzzy and thick. But now it’s more than a word. Yesterday she bought a ticket to Pittsburgh, where her cousin Melba lives. She can’t wait to have a whole bed to herself and no man shaking her awake to cook breakfast.

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Joe’s Plan . by Mike DiChristina

Joe called his son Tom on All Souls Day to confirm Thanksgiving.

Sure you’re up for it?” said Tom.

“No problem,” said Joe.

That night, Joe sat at the kitchen table with a calendar opened to November, a clean sheet of notepaper, and a pencil stub. Licking his pencil as he wrote, Joe made two columns on the notepaper: one for food, the other for chores. Then, he transferred each item to his calendar, making a neat entry on the day he would perform the given task.

The next day, Joe started upstairs with each of the bedrooms, washing the linens and cleaning the floors. When each room was in order, Joe closed the door.

Early in the month, Joe acquired non-perishable items, such as canned squash or frozen corn. He bought corn muffin mix and cranberry sauce.

Later, he focused on downstairs. He placed a pillow on the kitchen floor to protect his knees and waxed the linoleum. He disinfected the downstairs bathroom and left the window open to keep it fresh, though the seat was cold.

On Monday of Thanksgiving week, Joe purchased perishables – eggs, milk, bread.

Joe set the table on Tuesday. There were six places. He put chocolates at the kids’ seats. He laid Saran wrap over the table to keep the dust off.

On Wednesday, the store manager walked the turkey over.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Joe was ready. He sat in the dusk at the head of the table and practiced his talking.

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Political Activist . by Meg Tuite

She stuffed her laugh for later when she could truly enjoy it and watched Percy edging his stalk-this-useless-town Saab up next to her El Camino. What an ass! He was the only guy she knew who actually circled the neighborhoods with a boom box on top of his car canvassing; proud representative of this deathtrap town.

Thick knees were what she noticed first when his fat self twitched and wrenched itself out of the car. They were two, vast trees growing like the rest of him. She could count the belly bulges, ring by ring, exploding out of his sweaty shirt that showed how close he was to the political cord. But she had the goods on him. She had dumped his ass as soon as he unhinged his deplorable ambitions: one of many freaks she met who needed to be president and pimp.

Percy saw her standing there with her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face and grew slightly paler. He straightened his tie, shook out his trousers and tucked in his overstretched shirt. His smile spread like the whore that he was, the bullshitter opened his expansive mouth and said “Speak of the devil,” as he trudged and wheezed toward her.

“Devil,” she screwed up her face and smiled. “Now that’s sweet. Am I the one with a wife, three kids and how many girls you been doing on the side, I can’t keep up? Amazing you can still catch them.”

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Grey Skies . by Stella Pierides

Ever since the militia thrust a Kalashnikov into Gamal’s hands, he
stays indoors.

“Use it,” the men had shouted at him.

After their car sped away, Gamal fell on his knees wanting to cry and
pray at the same time.

At seventeen, he is no stranger to guns. His old father keeps three
well-oiled specimens under the carpet-covered divan. These Persian
carpets with boteh paisley motifs, hide three weapons against the
enemies of the state.

“May God forgive you, Father,” Gamal repeats to himself. But he
himself cannot forgive his father.

“He knows our leader personally,” mother explains to him, as if she
feared he’d forget. “It is tribal loyalty.”

That’s no excuse for supporting a killer, he says to himself. Deep
down Gamal knows it is not out of loyalty his father supports the
regime. It is out of fear.

Now Gamal is expected to fight on the same side. The thought of the
dictator makes him sweat. So he stays indoors and watches the sky from
the inner courtyard: normally a beautiful square of blue, fringed with
overhanging cherry blossom, it now tells him the news of the city.

The last few days, the sky has turned grey. Black billowing clouds
carry an oily smell to Gamal. Ash snows on jasmine, geranium, and on
his mother’s beloved cacti. He is hiding ‘his’ gun under his mattress.
He dreads his friends coming for his father. He knows he’ll have to
act, then; he’ll have to choose sides.

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Green Flash . by Al McDermid

I stood on the beach, staring out at the flat sea, thinking this was how Magellan first saw it. The movement of the water lapping at my feet was almost imperceptible.

A band of gray clouds hung over the sea, but the horizon was a straight line. As the sun broke through the clouds, angelic shafts of light cast a blinding slick upon the sea. The clouds then thickened, pushing the perfect red yoke of a sun toward the now burning sea.

“Hey,” I heard Josie yell from behind me, “c’mon, or you’ll miss it.” I turned to see her heading up the beach, to the iron stairs bolted to the nearly sheer cliff.

“Miss what?” I yelled back, but she didn’t respond, so I ran to catch up. I reached the top to find her sitting in the grass at the edge of the cliff. I sat next to her and asked again, “What am I missing?”

“Shhh,” she said, smiling, “watch.”

So I watched. The clouds and the sea had turned lavender, separated by a strip of yellow ochre. The ragged clouds higher up were bright splotches of bittersweet lavender and pink—higher still, the slightest sliver of a moon.

Then, as the last light of the drowning sun ranged the spectrum and ducked beyond the waves I saw it, the green flash.

We didn’t speak, and then, as the night and stars enveloped us, I finally took her hand.

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Keep a Lid on It . by Fred Osuna

“Oh,” she responded. She used the most nonchalant and casual tone she could muster, not looking up at him, nearly swallowing the syllable.

He’d commented that she was going to miss his birthday, after she had told him that her family was leaving town for a drive up to Raleigh on the coming weekend. He’d wanted her to know when it was. He noticed her slight reply. He wondered if she was pretending not to hear him now, in preparation for not acknowledging the anniversary of his birth later. He thought to mention it again, to make sure she’d heard him – maybe make a little eye contact – but decided against it.

They parted soon after that moment. She went in her house; he walked across the lawns to his place next door. They each closed their front doors. The sun dropped reliably. Eventually, all the windows on the street went dark, each small house cloaking its occupants in a world unto itself, soundproofed and emotionally remote.

The following weekend, they met in the yard again. He asked how the trip to Raleigh had been. She described their roadside breakdown in terse detail, how they’d been stranded for nearly two hours before someone stopped to give them a lift into the nearest town. When the tale ended, she paused, waiting for a consolation from him.

He heard the purposeful break. He knew that the neighborly standard demanded a statement of sympathy, but he could generate none.

“Oh,” he said. “Hm.”

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The Secret Life of a Travel Guide Writer
by Stephen Hastings-King

Through a stone doorway left by a disappeared building I look across 200 years onto a patchwork field of alternating shades of green and yellow arrayed around a winding segment of electric blue river where the exiled court of Louis XVI was to have come to turn in a glittering irrelevance centered on wars of position for make-believe commissions in non-existent armies and the hatching of conspiracies. But the machinery never came.

I write from the restaurant on the other side of the parking lot. I am the customer for this and many other afternoons. The waitress looks like Lana Turner. The only other person is the owner and cook. While my lunch was being prepared she led my hand under her dress and whispered: Take me with you.

In between writing these words I look out the window at the movements in the sky above the patchwork field from 1792. Sitting in a continuous barrage of radiation from solar flares, I feel like I’m at the same turning point in many stories that I already know.

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Not Here . by Martin Brick

Private Moore’s wounds bothered him, naturally. Even when the painkiller was administered his legs felt strange, bigger, heavier, not really his. So he appreciated when anyone talked to him. Anything to distract him from thinking about the feeling of his body.

The chaplain knew that was part of his job. Nothing heavy. Sure, the wounds and losses steer soldiers toward questions of an existential nature, but his job, as he saw it, was to postpone those thoughts. Keep them comforted, thankful, aware that people care.

And Moore appreciated the chaplain for this. They talked baseball. They talked small town burger joints. They talked open Kansas fields and capping jackrabbits with at .22.

“I’m glad to see you’re doing well,” the chaplain said, wrapping up.

“Father, something’s bothering me.”

“Alright. What is it?”

Moore leaned confessionally close. “When the nurse changes my bandages…. I, uh, my body reacts…”

“Oh,” the chaplain responded non-judgmentally. “That’s not something to be ashamed of.”

“But, it’s not intentional. I’m not trying.”

“There is a difference between what we do, and what we think, and how we act. I mean, sin is thought. Sin is intention.”

Moore looked unconvinced. Fell hushed. Even more close-lipped when a blue scrub-wearing young man approached and checked his chart.

“I’m just about done here, Doctor,” said the chaplain.

“You’re fine. And I’m not the doctor. Just here to change this soldier’s dressings.”

The chaplain looked back at Moore. “If I were you, I wouldn’t say anymore to anyone.”

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It all starts with respect . by Guy Yasko

Another one. She files it with the others, all unopened, all in
alphabetical order: AT&T, Bank of America, Clerk of Courts…

She closes her eyes, then opens them to the row of eggcups above the
desk. Time to rotate? No, not the first yet. She moves the bunny to the
end, then reverses herself. Several delicate adjustments return the
display to harmony. She meditates on the arrangement and rotation, then
corkscrews away from the desk.

She hesitates at Linda’s door, then peeks in: laundry unfolded, book
open on the bed. Chaos.

– Wayne! Wayne, honey.

– Yeah.

– Wayne, i need you to be a father to your daughter.

– What does that mean?

– The pastor said she was late for bible studies.

– What do you want me to tell her?

– That it all starts with respect. Respect for us, respect for herself,
respect for others.

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The Ring . by Doug Bond

He couldn’t remember when it was exactly, the date she took off the
ring and put it away for good. A couple years for sure, maybe four? He
did remember the way she shimmied it off her finger spitting out the
words “This isn’t mine!” and how she buried it under the tangle of
earrings and cheap jewelry she kept in a small bowl by the bed.

There was nothing he could do about it this time. Nothing.

The afternoon when it first had been placed in his hands he’d felt a
strange mix of unease and relief unwrapping the small blue velvet box
out of plain yellowed paper. The ring had an almost magical way with
light, dancing as if trapped inside. It was certainly far nicer than
anything he could have afforded. The gesture from his mother-in-law
had felt like a blessing, a way to set things right.

She had offered it to him a couple weeks after they’d given her the
news of their engagement. For thirty years, the ring had been sitting
untouched in the recesses of her upper dresser drawer. Letting out a
little laugh she had handed it to him with an eyebrow halfway raised,
“That’s not much of a proposal, not in the traditional sense. Not
without a ring.”

He’d planned on buying one. That’s what he told her. On credit. He
just hadn’t really worked it all through.

Imagine that, she said, thirty years in the dark for such a lovely ring.

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The Heart Snatch . by Harley May

I scanned the page, reading the words over in my head before I picked up the phone. It clinked against my wedding band and my chest felt wet. Maybe if I read the words aloud and spoke them. That might make me less nervous. I put the phone to my ear, imagined him on the other end, and filled the empty room with my shaky voice.

“This was a lot of fun, but I can’t keep it up. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” My breath came out quicker. “By anyone, I mean me.”

That sounded bad. “Not that I want you to get hurt. That’s not it at all, but you’re a man. Men don’t get as invested in this type of thing. I know me. I’m still a woman. We aren’t known for separating matters of heart and snatch. So, that’s it. This was fun, but I’ve got to stop before I fall in love with you.”

Too much. The last bit was too much. I scrolled through my phone and found his number, muttering, “Don’t to mention love. You don’t love him. You won’t get that close. Just say what you need to say and hang up.”

I dialed the number, closed my eyes, and saw the words in my dark mind under my lids.

“Hey you,” he said on the other end. “It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.”

After opening my eyes, I sighed. “I’ve missed you, too.”

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Control Quatrain . by Kim Hutchinson

That blond stepping on the elevator, she just smiled at the other guy.

She won’t smile at me, won’t even look my way. All she sees is black.

Keep it cool, under control. Don’t let her see your insides. If she did look, she’d just see an animal.

Look away. Listen to your tunes. Leave the bitch alone.

***

The chicks in here are crazy. That girl just grabbed my ass.

If only you weren’t married. She sways on her spikes, pretending to be drunk. I know she’s holding her first drink. She’s young, too young. But she doesn’t care.

Now she’s shimmying to the beat. Her short skirt floats up, her shirt plunges low. Dance with me.

Keep your eyes straight ahead, your beer in your hand. Tell her you don’t dance. Go home. Never come back.

***

DADDY!

Wham! The trap of the sink over my head nearly splits my skull. I pull myself out from under the cabinet.

She’s in the doorway, her teddy bear p.j.’s covered with juice.

Take a deep breath. She’s only two. Keep a lid on it.

Remind yourself that you wanted this.

***

I got the big job! she announces. She’s almost jumping up and down.

I’m happy for her. I really am.

That’s wonderful! I say as soon as I’m sure she won’t hear my fear. I smile. Let’s go out and celebrate.

Pick up your keys. Don’t look ahead, conjure trouble. Just love her. Maybe she’ll stay.

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Under the mulberry tree . by Alexandra Pereira

The mulberry tree in Mr. Rodrigo’s garden was enormous. It was the only one in the neighborhood and stood right in the middle of a flowerless garden. Every July, huge, plump mulberries inundated its branches. The kind you don’t see in supermarkets. Pedro wanted me to see it, so that afternoon he grabbed the end of my white dress and pulled me towards the gate. Mr. Rodrigo was on holidays somewhere in southern Spain, so the coast was clear. I was new in the neighborhood and impressing me was mandatory. As Pedro climbed onto a lower branch and up unto a higher one, eating the succulent fruits as he went along, I stood below, watching him in awe. “Maria, looka this one!” he shouted. “This a one is fo you!” And like a little chimpanzee, he quickly swiveled down the tree and stood with his nose nearly touching mine. “Eat it”, he said. Between his fingers was the biggest mulberry I had ever seen. I looked at his stained red mouth, “C’mon, eat it”, he insisted, gently parting my lips with the warm berry. “Good, uh?” It was the perfect combination of sweet and sour. “I geta more,” he whispered. I smiled. The liquid started trickling towards my chin. “I can’t get dirty, Mamá will be angry.” Pedro’s hot breath touched my nose; his eyes scanned my face, suddenly stopping at my mouth. “Don’t wanna your mamá get angry,” he said, and wiped the excessive nectar with his kisses.

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Green Tombs . by Martin Porter

“When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”

- Martin F Shaw (Oxford Book of Carols, 1928)

lamina thin
the green leaves of freesia
are already risen

hidden in the trowel deep trenches
are the baby-corpse
and the congealed lump
of the deathly unborn
waiting for the passing of winter

in this land of no winter
life springs at seeming random
spontaneous from the ground
enriched by dung
the coloured frocked bells ring out
the heaving seasons

autumnal Easter
or the occasional july frost,
the hope of a sultry christmas
in this a foreigner land

here is an alien
digging trowel deep
placing corms and
layered bulbs
embryonic folded adult
in a different soil
waiting for the everyday
to return resurrected

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Mummery . by Derek Ivan Webster

She placed strips of lace about the wrists. Pearls were strung and restrung around the neck. A base layer was powdered atop the features and subdued umber colors were chosen to highlight the lips and eyelids. The skin was dry and cracking in places. The flesh beneath was hard and resistant to the application of lotion. More clothing would be needed; perhaps a fur stole.

She lifted the head and sprayed perfume across the soft white pillow. It didn’t take much, just a whiff, a familiar smell. She returned the head to its rest and flattened the surrounding linen with a dusting brush. There would be no wrinkles. If anything had been made clear it was that.

She stood back to survey the results of her care. It was much better now. Less natural. More real. There was something still missing. Was it the stole? Could she place a cigarillo between the lips? Would it stay? It somehow seemed in poor taste, so she abandoned the thought. She left the shiny black case in the gloved hand.

She felt like a priest preparing her queen for an immortality beneath the pyramids. There should have been cats to stuff and golden relics to stash away at the corners. Whose fault was their absence?

She meant to say something; this seemed the moment to speak. The sense of responsibility quickly passed. It was to be a closed casket. Her mother’s request. She shut the heavy lid and went to change her clothes.

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Richie Under Wraps . by Joane Jagoda

Hey Richie, when ya’ going to bring her ‘round?

Richie, you a Homo or something?

When he heard that word he wanted to puke. Dribbling down court, high tops thumping and pounding, Richie grabbed the ball and took off. Huffing, he wiped his face on his sleeveless undershirt, sweat stinging his eyes. His twenty first birthday was coming, the big one. The guys were taking him drinkin’ to O’Brien’s. He made a quick decision.

“Hey you dorks, I’m gonna’ bring her Saturday.”

Tony yelled on the run, “Richie, she a dog? Wow wow?”

They howled. Someone shouted, “does she have hair on her upper lip?”

Richie shook his head and grinned, his gut clenching. The teasing made him play harder. “There see that.” He landed a perfect three pointer.

The guys crowded the bar, joking, downing shots waiting for the birthday boy to show up. Eyes on the door, finally he walked in spiffed in a clean shirt, tight jeans with his flat-top perfectly bryl-creamed, Old Spice aftershave filling the air.

At first hidden behind him, he pulled her forward, put his arm tight across her bare shoulders and smugly said, “Meet Sylvia.”

They were drooling. She was a drop dead gorgeous brunette in a red sundress. They stood with their mouths open then crowded her teasing and flirting.

When they left holding hands the guys stared, watching her whisper in his ear.

“Richie ya’ promised me twenty bucks, but I did so good I want thirty.”

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Little Fire . by Michelle McEwen

When mama made me, she say her and daddy went at it all winter long just like two skinny forest sticks rubbin’ together to make a fire. “We made a fire alright,” she says, “you!” I like when she says this ’cause I like thinking of myself as a fire. Mama says when she told daddy that their winter foolin’ was gonna bring them an autumn baby, daddy just shrugged and told her autumn wasn’t no time for baby havin’ what with all them leaves to rake and him getting ready to start college. “Can’t be mindin’ a baby and studying at the same time,” daddy said and closed the door on mama’s face. Mama didn’t pay daddy no mind, though. She said daddy could go off to college, but she was gonna have me anyway— her little fire that’s what she called me. And she hid me well, hushed up her growing belly with layers of winter clothes and kept out of her folks’ way ’cause she knew her mama and aunts would drag her to some place in an alleyway where they did away with babies. So there I was, quiet, inside of mama. There I was— a fire burning under mama’s winter school clothes, then burning under her spring blouses, then under her loose summer dresses, then under her autumn jacket ’til the time came. And no one found out either ’til mama was hunched over the kitchen sink— hollering from the little fire in her belly.

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All the gaping mouths without a voice . by Michael Parker

(In homage of the 33,771 Jews exterminated by SS Troops in Kiev, Ukraine, September 28th, 1941)

“Mammy, why do they throw sand in our eyes?”* a girl could be heard screaming from the 30-foot-deep ravine, Babi Yar. (*The Holocaust: A history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War, Martin Gilbert, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York. Page 203.)

It was late in the night of the second day of the grand extermination. The German SS soldiers were cleaning up, bulldozing dirt and lye on top of the dead and the living.

It was a gravedigger from the local cemetery who heard her voice. And though he knew death well, and though, possibly, like his other fellow-Ukranians, he supported the Nazis’ “resettlement of the Jews,” maybe it was this innocent question from the mouth of a girl (who could be the age of his own daughter), that caused his heart to turn. And knowing as well as the backs of his dirt-engrained hands that he had witnessed things so terrible, he ran (stumbling, crying) back to his gravedigger’s shack, opened up the cemetery’s worn, leather-bound log book, and wrote down word for word the little girl’s question.

Maybe, too, he questioned seeing her last moment on the ledge: her mother’s arms tightly wrapping her into her naked body, her free hand holding her little head deep into her abdomen to shield her eyes from the machine guns, from that moment when they would jerk madly and petals of black-colored blood would blossom and burst from the bodies of her dad, brothers, sisters, and friends. She didn’t want her baby to know they would fall like baby birds with weak wings from their nest to their death.

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The Avoidance . by Robert Vaughan

As a rule, people avoided him. Whether he was bowling, in line at the ATM, or drunk-dialing his iPhone waiting for the M103 on Houston Street and Avenue A, they steered clear. Bar patrons even ignored him during a drag show at Barracuda.

Over time, he’d developed a “laissez faire” attitude. His mantra was “let it be,” and he’d chant the chorus repeatedly like a koan. He grew a tortoise- like shell, masking his pain. Home alone, he’d put on a wig, sculpt layers of make-up, using centerfold cut-outs for inspiration. He’d croon along with his favorite ballads, performing to cheering fans.

One summer night in 2007 while preparing his routine, CNN leaked the news: a senator was caught in a public bathroom. An idea came to him: what if I try his tactics with a twist?

He decided to give it a whirl in the toilets at Grand Central Station. He stopped by Wigs and Plus on 14th Street where the owner, Sunny, would sell him a cheap hairpiece “for his mother.” Then he’d prop himself in the furthest stall from the door on Sunday morning. Wig in place. Like a parishioner. Or a TV evangelist. Or a congressman.

On the way home, he’d stop at Magnolia’s for a cupcake. “It’s all about service,” he’d say to no-one in particular while he devoured his dessert.

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The Ties that Bind . by Catherine Russell

The love of Pharaoh’s daughter demanded a heavy price. He struggled to breathe, but the tight wrappings constrained his chest, sealed shut his eyes, and stopped his mouth – the scream from deep within his soul would never escape.

Her name echoed in his mind. She had condemned him – as she had her other lovers. The daughter of Pharaoh preyed on men, lured them with her charms, and bound them with her beauty. Those foolish enough to love her always paid with their lives.

If he could have moved his lips, he would have smiled. Even now, he suspected his lover planned her father’s demise. With marriage and the Pharoah’s death, she would have all she desired. The loose ends of her past would be tidied away, under wraps, where they could not rise to haunt her bright new future.

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All the Peace and Fraternity of the Free World . by Kelly Grotke

It’s a true story, I read it in Life magazine soon after the war, in between the ads. One of the ads was for some new packaging that would keep Mr. Lobster moist and happy all the way from Maine to your table.

I suppose I remember that because of the contrast, y’know? All that post-war confidence fizzling up like champagne, champagne and lobsters, that’s what the world was going to be and we were going to lead the charge into some bright new future of peace and prosperity.

The story was about a fellow who liked lobster, he liked all the good things money can buy, and he wasn’t middle-class American respectable about it either. Kept a few mistresses, sure. So far so good. Our countries were friends. I dunno. Seems like somebody was getting fucked. I mean, they had laws down there but this guy’s laws were so crazy that you could be put in prison for saying the summer there was awful hot. Defamation, right?

So yeah, he’s heard that someone said a few words against him here or there, so he has the guy picked up. Tells his men to have some fun with the poor bastard for a couple of days. And afterwards he has the body dropped off to the family, all wrapped up like some bloody entrails in butcher’s paper. And then he goes to the house. To comfort them.

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Pose . by Jen Knox

 

(in response to an impending Texas law)

Legally-bound to pose for a picture, she was at a loss. For this moment, everything that led her here was erased. She knew that if she looked, everything would change. These were the odds. To now, she’d been vocal, fighting for a choice she never thought she’d have to make, alone, in a cold room. There was a simple image available, black and white; a simple sign outside, held by a sweet-looking elderly man she didn’t know; a simple guttural, emotional protest, both from within and imposed. There was all of this, and so she looked like she knew she would. This was her “choice.” The clustering of shades and the curved lines seemed to evaluate her. And it was here that she drowned, here that she realized no matter her choice, she would now live in that murky place where nothing was right because there were no rights. For this moment, she was in a cave, watching shadows, expected to make a decision as the shapes began to change meaning, if only ephemerally.

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our dog is like Frank O’Hara . by Vaughan Gunson

our dog is like Frank O’Hara
     lover of gregarious freedom!
we don’t want to train him — he’s untrainable
half wild, like a Coltrane solo
he takes free rein, takes it where it will go
he barks at everyone he sees     with no malice
he just wants to say hello
& tell everyone     he loves them
he can jump up in the air in crazy yelping pirouettes
he’s a bit of a show-off

he’s too quick footed for the big slow dogs
who can’t pin him down     there’s no easy walk
trotting along beside in regular rhythm
it’s all full tilt, nose down, tail up, pulling forward
choking against the collar — sudden stops
deviations     instant enthusiasms
abandoned for the next delicious scent     tiring
& exhilarating, like keeping up with Peter
when his brain’s exploding
T.S.Elliot mixed with obscenities

he sleeps close to us on the bed
any noise, 2am, 5am, & he’ll leap off
& run around barking in circles     it’s idiotic
& pisses us off
he wants to lick your ears in the morning
loves it when you scratch his head
he hardly eats, but likes to clean your plate
flies annoy him    (he’s mostly content)

he escapes often, being small & agile
always finding a new way to get out
we’re lucky he hasn’t been hit by a car
we would miss him a lot
     because he’s full of the genius of life
our dog
a destroyer of shallow boredom
like Frank O’Hara.

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Keeping it under wraps . by Walter Bjorkman

It was a plain white papered bundle, held together by twilled white cord in a cross pattern, square-kotted and slip-bowed, tucked tightly high up under his arm. The train approached the station at quarter to nine, late evening. As the steam whooshed out from the undercarrige, the worsted-suited man rose up the steps, grabbing the railing with his free arm, the package securely cradled in the other.

He immediately turned right into the last passenger car and moved swiftly down the aisle towards the last compartment, opened the door to see the small, balding, mustachioed man he knew would be there. Sitting beside him was someone totally unexpected, a young, urbane, dark and stately woman in a large hat and veil. The strangers exchanged glances and nervous nods, as the package lodged now deep into his breastbone.

The pudgy man arose quickly at the next stop and lurched across the compartment as the train screeched to a halt. This left the strangers alone for the rest of the trip. Both read the entire way, the woman buried deep into the stock pages, the man holding up a folded newspaper in the one free hand, never letting go of his load.

Both got off at the last stop, the woman walking towards the dimly lit parking lot as the man got on a bus, still hanging on tightly to the now crumpled mass. He arrived home, placed the bundle on a table to open it but was tired and went to bed.

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The Truth about the Law . by John Wentworth Chapin

I hear the undying screams of the children outside. The pitch never rises or falls; as one voice falls silent, another joins in. This persistent caterwauling threatens my resolve, but I am determined. I have worked it out carefully, mulling doctrine. I know right from wrong. I’m seven; I’m not an idiot.

God is all-knowing; there is no way to escape His notice. I can’t hope for a sneeze or a turned back. Even if there were a volcano in the Philippines right now, he’d pluck the memory from my mind. It’s obscene. He already knows I’ll do it. I am stealthy and efficient.

There are all sorts of sins, but they have one thing in common. Whether you pinch your sister or slaughter a family with an axe, you can be forgiven: just apologize. You don’t even have to be contrite. Clearly, God is desperate for our entreaties. His law is unavoidable but woefully deficient. My aunt says I should be a preacher – I know the Word – but I plan to be a lawyer. Apologies mean nothing in court.

I unwrap her birthday presents on the front hall table while outside she gnaws her filthy hot dog and smears mustard on her flouncy birthday dress. As long as the cola-soaked miscreants scream, her parents will remain in the back yard, and I am safe in here with God’s eye and a diminishing pile of toys shrouded in paper mystery.

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Secret . by Michelle Elvy

You saw me
and I saw you
and we smiled
but we said nothing
because we weren’t supposed to
see anything at all

I loved you
and you loved me
and we fucked
but we said nothing
because we weren’t supposed to
be anything at all

Now I see you
and you don’t see me
and I still want you
but I say nothing
because it’s not supposed to
mean anything at all

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52|250 thanks Angelique Moselle Price for providing her artwork “A Friend in Her” for this week’s theme. Angelique has created a large body of work done entirely in markers. She has mastered this medium with remarkable skill resulting in an energetic and riveting execution. She has invented a method that makes her work stand out in its originality and vibrancy.

Comment on “This Week’s Art”

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