Week #37 – Border town

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

The theme is Border town.

Center St. by Guy Yasko
The Blanket . by Susan Tepper

On the business trip to Calgary she bought one of those white blankets with the green and red and yellow border stripes. Henry calling it ugly when she takes it out of the suitcase and drapes it across the foot of their bed. It’s a famous pattern from that region of Canada she tells him. He kind of snorts then leaves her alone to finish unpacking. She kicks off her shoes and climbs on the bed resting her face against the blanket’s soft wooliness. Every night as they walked to dinner they passed a group of prostitutes. It was January and so cold there. The women stood on the corner near the steakhouse turning this way and that. Most of them had on very short skirts with short furry jackets. Cheap looking fur like rabbit. She wondered how they could endure. Their legs exposed in such frigid weather. She could hardly make it into the steak house. She rubs her face against the Calgary blanket. Thinking about those women rubbing their faces into the bodies of men.

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Life is in the Right Always . by Michael J. Solender

Ren hesitated then took the only seat on the train that remained. He hated facing backwards for the ride into town. He found no pleasure in reviewing where he’d been. He could catalogue prior success on the margin of the unread newspaper he clutched. The past, the one he’d abandon if he could, was simply a random series of border towns and unfulfilled expectations.

Arrow-wood station – Next stop is Arrow-wood station.

Ren’s only interest was in the promise of what lay ahead, even if it streaked by at forty miles per hour.

Was this it? Was this all that life had to offer him, a Walter Mitty existence sans the loving wife and a soft bed from which to dream upon? He was thirty for Christ-sakes, when was life gonna start for him and begin delivering?

East Boulevard – Next stop is East Boulevard

His teachers all thought he showed promise. That’s what they said. Even Miss Mars, the toughest teacher at Middleton, said his composition had heft and daring. She tried to get Ren to apply to the baccalaureate program but his mum wouldn’t hear of it.

Them programs are for poofs, she said. No son of mine is goin’ to no poof school. Get yourself an office job, that’s all you can handle.

Why did he listen to his mum? Why didn’t he find his own voice?

Stonewall station – Next stop is Stonewall station.

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Border Towns . by Susan Gibb

It was just over the border on the U.S. side. A little town that yawned out onto a stretch of desert that looked the same on both sides of the fence. The brush low and harsh with spikes and in early summer, large purple flowers. As he walked he plucked a single bloom for her hair.

She waited until the romance of midnight, watching the moonlight paint long cactus shadows on the ground. Her first wall was the easiest. She leaned out the window and landed in a somersault in the back yard. She stepped quietly around the cans and boxes scattered like sentinels. She ducked behind the shell of an old Chevy, once her playhouse, now sitting like a crab with open door pincers reaching out to catch her, eat her up.

He went up to the fencing and squatted, shifted his gun to his side. He pulled at the wires, his fingers finding the patch and lifting it free.

She felt so unglamorous, glad he couldn’t see her for she ran like a spider, this way and that, hopping in places where dark shapes warned. Something snapped in the night to her left.

In the morning the sun rose on both sides of the border. A young woman lay just out of its reach. As the sun burned her skin and the sand grains blew in to caress her, a purple flower wilted in the hole of a fence three hundred yards away.

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Borderless . by Deborah A. Upton

Back in the 70s I drove my wife, her niece, and two in-law sisters
down to the border to shop. We went in a pickup truck. Up front were
me, a sister-in-law, and a niece. In the covered back were my wife
and another sister. We crossed the Rio Grande. They shopped for
Mexican pottery, glass roosters, and a concrete donkey with a cart.

I wandered around. One shop had a slab of meat still with ribs
hanging in the window. It looked dried up. Flies had feasted on it,
many still clung to it.

Being hungry, I went back to the truck. Opening the ice chest I found
no ice. I wasn’t in the mood to eat melted cheese on wilted lettuce,
but that’s all I had.

Later, I loaded the truck, almost breaking my back lifting that heavy
concrete donkey cart. By then, I was fed up with the whole trip. I
told my sister-in-law, the one who had ridden up front on the way
down, that since she was the one with the donkey cart, she’d have to
ride in back on the way home.

My wife glared at me.

Later back home, I found out that sister-in-law had a bad case of
hemorrhoids. And I had been so insistent. I’m just glad I was up
front and couldn’t hear the complaining.

I don’t ever want to go back to the border, especially, with a bunch
of shopping women.

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Bearing Witness . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

In the meeting house this morning, silence. No machines thrumming, no rumble of moving earth. Six others sit in equal quiet. A blue jay caws from someplace distant. I look down to my clasped hands. The query runs through me: Where there are hatred, division, and strife, how are we instruments of reconciliation and love?

Pews creak. Blue pulses below my wrist, skin thin as hope. The jay cackles again, the same or another I cannot tell, but Franklin rises and slides the door bolt. No one speaks; it is understood the remaining Friends fled South through the excavated tunnels. Decades ago, the Sin Papeles built the tunnels and immigrated North. When they crossed the border, broken and naked, we sheltered and fed them in our safe houses until they ran down our schools, shot the police, and bankrupted our hospital. Their children hold the town captive.

Still, we hold Sin Papeles to the light.

To the light we hold our Friends traveling South. I hold my daughter, her husband and infant to the light. My cousin Lorraine, the kindergarteners I taught. I hold them all to the light.

A shadow in the window. A flutter of blue feathers. Footsteps rustle brittle leaves. Far off, the staccato of gunfire. I smell the smoke before I see it curl past the window. Muriel reaches for me and we grip hands.

We are instruments of peace, we whisper. We are instruments of love.

I hold us to the light.

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Border Town Dawn . by Darryl Price

Border town meant
one thing; we were
caught up good in

the middle of
something dangerous;
and understanding

was at
the very least
a hundred miles

away in either
All I remember

is wanting
to tell you that
when you sat down

and got up again
your butt crack
made an unexpected

Like a bright
moon that wasn’t

there a moment
ago. You’re not
sad about the

fact just surprised.
I’m not complaining.
I just want

to do my duty
as your witness
and,well, your

sometimes friend. Man,
that is some white,
white sand! Okay,

okay, you can’t
expect me not
to notice. Plus

I’m no good at
just saying,whoa.

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Park Street, Soulville, Border Town . by Melissa McEwen

Every summer, Da takes me and my sisters to Border Town because he lived there when he first moved to Heartford. It wasn’t called Border Town, then. Back then, it was known as Soulville because lots of blacks lived on Park Street at the time. Now the locals call it Border Town. It’s where Park Road turns into Park Street. Corner stores turn into Bodegas. Yes turns into Si and English turns into Spanglish. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Portuguese hang in doorways of apartment buildings or out the windows, as do their flags. It is colorful in summer –fruits and flags adorn storefronts. Names they are used to sound beautiful and new to us – Adoracion, Caridad, Guadalupe. Pretty women with pretty curls line sidewalks. This is the real reason father brings us here. Ma says so. Sometimes she comes; sometimes she stays home but tells Da to pick her up some Dominican shampoo from the beauty supply store because the ones near us don’t sell it. It smells better she says and makes her hair thick. But Da says he comes for the food, the sounds, and to see how much it has changed. “Back then, when Border Town was called Soulville, soul food restaurants lined the street. Every face you saw was black and the last names, too – Judkins, Wilson, Jenkins. Everybody felt like kin. I miss those days,” Da tells us every time he brings us to Border Town, pointing out his old apartment building and old hangouts.

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Bratwurst . by Alex Lockwood

How the engineers managed it no-one knew, but there it was: a Wall of Language. It stretched from Thought in the south to the town of Gesture, above the ridge to the northeast. Nothing got through. A holiday was dedicated. People brought offerings when the virgin lights of the Aurora reached the Wall. Only cooked goods: baked pies, chocolates from the store, nothing living. My grandparents made a scrapbook of good news from the paper to remind the Wall how kind they’d been; and they brought bratwurst, a reminder that even if they’d been bad, they’d not been as bad as people on the outside. They hadn’t built the Wall of Language because of bratwurst, though. It was symbolic.

Before the Wall, the holidays were different. People from all round would come and leave their gifts at the Great Weeping Tree in the Field of Commonplaces. We’d put up a trestle and bunting and drink cider and share whatever else we’d brought. Traditional breads. Stories. Ways of life. It was a coming together.

When the Wall went up, my grandparents said, This is the last place. So they paid Town Hall all their money and took chicken-wire and marked out the acre of land they’d bought outside the border. We’ll stay here, they said.

They hadn’t bought the land, of course. A month later, Town Hall began building their Wall at the edge of their land. Eight feet high, completely enclosing, and every brick made of Stillness.

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Mexican Love . by Michelle McEwen

Grandma Zabeth has border town blood— that’s what the kin say. I don’t know what a border town is so I don’t know what they mean. Once, I asked Aunt Jo what a border town was and she said it was a town close to the border. When I asked what a border was, she said it was the line between Texas and Mexico. When I asked what color the line was, auntie moaned— said if I shut up about border towns, she’d give me her tangerine incense. I used up that incense yesterday, so I’m back to asking about grandma’s border town blood. Today, Uncle El came over to sit on the porch with mama. When mama went inside, I asked Uncle El about grandma; he said she was brought up in a Texas border town. At eighteen, she could’ve left but she stayed and fell for this married man, Eli, from Mexico. “That Mexican love almost killed her,” he said. After Eli broke grandma’s heart, she chopped the Eli from her name— became Zabeth instead of Elizabeth; she didn’t want Eli at the beginning of her name anymore. I pictured Grandma setting her name on a workbench, bringing down an ax between the I and Z. Grandma wanted Eli’s babies but he had five with his wife and didn’t want more. Mama was back on the porch when Uncle El said this. “Why you tellin’ her that,” she said then swept me off the porch with her broom.

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Rich . by Len Kuntz

Riming the volcano of garbage are vultures—fifty or more, their black plumage inky in the smoldering sun. Big as toddlers, they cock their crocked necks as if they know my thoughts, but they do not, no one does.

Last week my son fought one of these evil birds. Marco had discovered an uneaten sandwich in the heap when the creature swooped down. Thank God Marco had the bent-up umbrella he always carries, sometimes using it as a bat (“Look, Papa, I’m A Rod!”), a dancing cane, (“I’m smooth like your favorite, Gene Kelly!”), a golf club (“Now I’m Chi Chi Rodriguez. How do you like those apples, Papa?”) I watched him beat the bird, heard their tangled screaming. We were in the middle of sorting recyclables from other’s people’s discarded waste. My wife implored me to intervene, but I knew that would only make Marco soft, and soft does not survive here.

We used to live inside the dump, among the maggots and rats, until the missionaries came. Now we have rows of tin boxes to make our homes. Still, a narrow, dirt road is all that separates our make-shift town from the dump.

Miles below sits Puerto Vallarta. At night, she shimmers, a bejeweled gown. A cruise ship glows with its windows white as America teeth.

When I was young like Marco, I often plotted an escape. Now that I am wiser, I watch my family sleeping and feel embarrassed to be this rich.

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Close To The Borderline . by Michael Webb

She always knew where to sit- the rules were just there, hanging in the middle of nowhere like the law of gravity, ready to remorselessly pull you down. Her place was down at the end of the table. She took a seat across from a girl she knew faintly. Stephanie? Sarah? Something with an S. She had her face buried in a Harry Potter book, so she wasn’t going to have to remember.

At the head of the table, closest to the center of the cafeteria, were the alpha girls- perfect hair, designer clothes. In the middle was the border zone, the outpost of girls who want to be at the head of the table, but weren’t popular enough to be a queen bee. Then, down at the end are the girls who could only wish they had enough of that magical something to be worthy of even the middle. No one talked about the system, but everyone knew what it was.

She wondered sometimes what she had done to merit this. She knew she wasn’t as pretty as the goddesses. But had she done something, or said something, that made her unworthy of a seat in Middleville? She knew her place, but she thought she deserved a seat in the DMZ between life at one end and nonexistence at the other. She stared at the cover of the other girl’s book, suddenly not feeling like eating at all.

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Scoop . by Matt Potter

“Do Afghanis eat ice cream?” I ask.

Her muscled biceps chaff inside regulation short sleeves as we tour the distribution point. “Yep, they love it.”

I’m unconvinced. Actually, I am not sure of anything here. I’ve left my assumptions at the front gate, beside the green wire fence that is being built around the refugee camp perimeter.

“Do they even know what an ice cream scoop is?”

We leave the open boxes of ice cream scoops and she swaggers, walkie-talkie on hip (I walk) past boxes of spatulas and cutlery sets and wooden spoons and serving spoons. I peer at the saucepan sets and chopping boards and springform cake tins as we pass those too, and stare open-mouthed at the walls of electric kettles and toasters and drinking glasses and tea towels stacked opposite.

But those ice cream scoops call me.

“What about the other groups coming here?” I ask. “Were they asked what they wanted in these houses?”

She turns and looks at me, like I’ve suddenly come onto her radar.

“They’ve been living in motels and barracks, some of them for more than a year,” she says, as if I’m an Introduction to Refugees student at the local community college. “They’ll get their own houses here and they’re gonna love it.”

I look at the set of her chin. And decide now is not the time to suggest, in my Activities Coordinator role, that I take them shopping for kitchen utensils they might really use.

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TIJUANA . by Marcus Speh

Four sex shop owners met to discuss their dire dominions. Teri considered herself lucky: she had re-opened her establishment among beech trees in the park and the customers were flocking to her.

It’s like a fresh breeze, she said.

Jenna was thinking about selling pizza and porn. She’d had a Margherita the other day – that means no meat, she said – and when the pizza was thin and tasty, clients might feel inclined to take a flick home with the food. Especially couples, Jenna assured herself. Sarah had said little the whole time and when they asked her why she kept quiet, she said crustily that she was going to sell her concern to Tony Tonic, the adult movie star.

I feel a little sad about it, she said, I’m going to miss the free merchandise, but this man’s got a great name in the industry and I heard he cannot get it up anymore.

You don’t say, said Teri, his tackle is famous.

He feels useless now and a freak he says, Sarah said and sighed.

The last one, Marge, smiled cryptically: she was secretly in love with Tony Tonic, would double her profits by taking over Sarah’s shop and have a baby by January.

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Dream Island . by Stella Pierides

Strolling along a track in the river Evros Delta, in Alexandroupolis, on the border between Greece and Turkey, I could see millions of birds feeding. The lagoons, marshes, and lakes provide a heaven for birds seeking milder weather. The terns, warblers, waders, egrets, oystercatchers, shelducks, eagles, pelicans, cormorants have found their Eden. This spectacle, together with the eerie quiet of the landscape, was my reason for coming here.

My heart fluttered when I heard a sudden splash. Expecting a big bird, I turned slowly. A human arm momentarily caught in a reed bed, showed out of the water. The flow of the river pushed it past the reeds, sweeping it along on its journey.

I froze. Here, in this idyllic, serene waterland, there is neither space nor tolerance for those fleeing poverty and war. I’d read that

on this border alone, hundreds of aspiring immigrants lose their lives every year.

Easing myself on a stone, I remembered my grandmother’s story. When I asked her what happened to those trying to cross Evros escaping the aftermath of the 1922 war between Greece and Turkey, she said that in the middle of the river, there is Dream Island. Lapped by gentle waters, protected by olive, lemon, and fig trees, and warmed by a kind sun, it welcomes those seeking refuge. Run by angels, who pick up the drowned and the suicides floating past, it is the real heaven on Earth. The birds on the lagoon are their souls.

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Tying the Knot . by Robert Vaughan

It was the morning after the dinner and I still lay in bed. I’d cut my thumb off the night before while carving the roast. I ended up at St. Vincent’s with my hand dripping all over the passenger seat of our Subaru, the bloody appendage throbbing.

Fortunately Dexter had popped my missing thumb into an ice bucket. It sat on the adjacent seat. Apparently his Army medic training came in handy after all.

Florescent lights. Shots. Stitches. Good meds. The rest is fuzzy.

I wasn’t really in bed, not ours, anyhow. I’d slept on a futon on the floor, passed out from combining Percocet and this new Cabo-Choc wine our friends brought from Wal-Mart.

I held up my thumb, bandaged, the pinkish tinge seeping through the outer layers of wrapping. It smelled putrid. I could just barely hear Dex chatting with our friends in the kitchen. Wah- wah- wah. Charlie Brown’s teacher.

My head pulsed, felt like a cooked coconut.

Our friends, Tina and Louise, were recently married. They were awfully patient. About my thumb, I mean. Not about getting married. Well, who knows, they might have been patient about that, too.

Dex met Louise in boot camp. Our dinner was to celebrate the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell.

Just before they’d arrived last night, I asked him, “Why didn’t we attend their ceremony?” It was just over the border, in Somerset, ten minutes from our Rhode Island beachhouse.

He’d said, “We weren’t invited.”

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The Last Stop . by Joanne Jagoda

Clarice waitressed at the last truck stop at the border where the men came for showers, hot food and diesel before the grueling trek through the mountains. When she arrived at work each morning, she went into the back to change. She never brought her uniform home because everything reeked of her mother’s cigarettes. Mama coughed half the night, and if she saw her spitting brown juice into pink tissues one more time she was going to scream.

She forced the uniform down over her wide hips and could barely close the buttons gaping over her full breasts. It had belonged to Steph, an itty bitty size six bitch. She begged Irv, that cheapskate, to replace it but he refused. He said the men liked eyeing her over their ham and eggs, and it was good for business.

She dreamed about getting out of this crummy place and mama’s stinkin’ house. Across the border she could breathe and start over.

Wiping the sticky counter, the door tinkled and a stranger came in, beer belly hanging over his jeans. Acting all manly because he just got out of the shower outside, he reeked of cheap aftershave.

“Hey Sugar. Give me your Special.” He devoured her with hungry eyes as she poured his coffee.

Clarice weighed her options. His pockmarked face repulsed her, but if she gave him what he wanted he might take her across the border. Then she could ditch him.

She pushed her chest out. “Hey baby,…”

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Trade School . by Kim Hutchinson

The thing about a border town is, it’s all about trade. Markets and positions. Proximity. Rules. How to comply. How to avoid them.

If you grow up here, you get that. You also get that the top trade tends to be rough. The trick is to play rough, but around the edges. Don’t get caught up in the game.

I don’t dance because I’m kinky or anything. I’m saving up for school. I’ll start next year, maybe. I’ve got the grades. An MBA should be a breeze.

With my experience, I can teach those academic types who live over near the bridge about the market. I live down by the tunnel with two other dancers. Same street. During the day, we entertain company from the other side. Some days it’s downtown boyz and others it’s Bloomfield Hills types. You know, prep schools and shit.

When I start school, I won’t do day parties anymore. I’ll make less, but I’ll be okay. The rent’s cheap, and the tips for dancing are good. It’s all good. Nothing but sunshine ahead. Next year, everything changes. Time to get serious, stop playing around. It makes me tired, anyway. Like I’m a little tired right now, when I need to sparkle tonight. Got to shi-ine! The customers like it when you shine, and they tip big when you give them what they want.

Pass that pipe, will you?

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In Between . by Stephen Hastings-King

Behind me are two doors. Each opens onto a room which is more event than space. Entering puts a sequence into motion that is every time the same.

In the first snow falls through the ceiling and weighs down with moisture the flock of paper birds pasted to strings so they hang in the air. One by one they drop away. Each leaves paper carnage behind. As the birds fall the room expands: mountain reliefs, islands and lakes; the holes in Appenzeller and Emmentaler cheeses; the craters of the moon and distributions of stars.

The second room is a diagrammed hierarchy of names that includes the word “room.” The visibility of the diagram varies with observer investment; if you think only about the word room and not about any particular room you may be able to see the branches that in the distance form fractal trees that include actual trees and cauliflower, floodplains and cardiovascular systems.

In between I listen against a door and never hear a sound.

I spend a lot of time in between looking through a window. Once I ventured outside to explore the white plane that extends in the same way indefinitely everywhere and found that nothing except position differentiates one place from another there and that the light moves very slowly right to left so everything seems to run backward. I was lost for I do not know how long. I have not gone out there since.

Someday I will leave this place.

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Port of Call . by Al McDermid

The former U.S. Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines was separated from its port town by a large drainage canal we called Shit River. On the base side, one found hot water, wide streets, cheeseburgers, bowling, all the comforts of home, a piece of ‘the world’. One the other side, Olongapo City; us and them, divided by a river of shit.

Floating in the river was a fleet of small boats, where young girls dressed as prom queens begged for coins with wide wire scoops; their brothers dove for the coins they missed. In those days, crossing that bridge was like crossing into another reality, and all of your senses were assaulted at once. From the stalls that lined the first block came the smell of who knows what kind of skewered meat roasting on small braziers.

And straight ahead was Magsaysay Avenue, an ignominious strip of bars, nightclubs, live rock, massage parlors, hotels, restaurants every night fermenting with corruption, love, militarism, sex, hustling, drunkenness, everyone looking for a good time, or a short time, or a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, or a peso, a ticket to America, a blow job, or drugs to banish the clap.

After the base closed, Magsaysay was not even a ghost of its former self. The clubs that weren’t gutted were boarded up. Gone too were the prom queens, along with the slums on the river where they lived.

All gone, banished to the memories of aging sailors.

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At the Border between Cause and Effect . by Randal Houle

Last we saw Tom, he had swiped a package of snickerdoodles from the Lake City Walgreens. You may think it a small thing, but I disagree. Soft on the inside with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar outside, and these slightly larger in diameter than your fist, but you’re right, not a major crime to be sure.

The air outside is thick with fog. Small shampoo and conditioner bottles spill from an ice bucket. When the fog clears, there is a view of a large rock painted white and he remembers something about the town’s name. All the signs in the motel are in French and English. He lives on the border between cause and effect – an object in motion stays in motion, unless something acts upon it, or him.

You mustn’t judge: me for telling the story, or Tom for his actions. Neither are you responsible for suggesting he try the cookies. You didn’t say that to him, not directly. Nor did I tell you to tell him, although I nudged you a little and that caused you to ask the question that made him think to do it.

Look, the snickerdoodle package remains unopened. I tell you, he has big plans for this one. Don’t think him crazy. There, he crinkles the package in his hand, just at the edges where the cookie tapers. He won’t touch the cookie, not yet. He still needs it. Why? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

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On the Brittle Edge of Understanding . by Kelly Grotke

They left that morning before the dew had vanished in the blue summer heat. She’d tied her friend to a fencepost behind the house where the two brothers lived, talking all the while and telling him to be good and promising treats and walks and all manner of good things if he would just please wait there for her return, because cultural knowledge is passed on in elusive little ways after all, and a child’s mind is like a border town in which improbable scenes can and most certainly will take place.

She’d skipped yesterday but here they were picking sides again for another day’s war, two tiny generals and we have become their armies, but it was summer and she wasn’t bored yet and besides they’d all been told to be nice to them for living alone with their mother and coming here after some great tragedy that no one would ever explain. So into the woods now, half north, half south and they’d meet in the middle for the ambushes and taking prisoners and sort out who won after the major battles had ended or when they just got tired because no mortal can play even a great game forever.

Hiding low in the underbrush, she saw one of the brothers untie the dog and yank him toward the woods, a prisoner. But then the dog broke free and only hours later when he still hadn’t come home did she begin to cry and regret her initial enthusiasm.

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Adult Dark . by Martin Brick

“Kids,” my aunt shouted from the back of the house. “Time to come in.”

“Aw nuts. Already?” I complained but started back.

My cousin Lefty didn’t move. “Come on, we’d better…” I began, but paused, looking to him for guidance.

He was right-handed, so his nickname was just the beginning of things that didn’t quite make sense. Another was that he was younger than me, but clearly in change. But since I moved from the city to rural Indiana he helped acclimate me to wide-open playgrounds of cornfields and woods.

“First,” he instructed, “don’t say ‘aw nuts.’ Who are you, Charlie Brown? Say ‘shit.’ Say ‘damn.’”


“Second. When were we told to go in?”

“When it’s dark.”

“Right. And is it dark?”

“I don’t think it’s dark.” I believed this. It didn’t seem dark. That was the other thing that was hard to get used to. We were right on the border of the time zone, so it got dark late. Mom would say, “It’s bedtime,” when just five miles to the west it was an hour until bedtime. Didn’t make sense.

“This is adult dark. When you’re inside drinking coffee, talking about sick people from church, sure it looks dark.”

“It’s not dark if you’re in it,” I told him.

“Exactly. You’re learning.”

“Boys. Come in.” This time it was my mother. “It’s dark.”

We both giggled. We’re far enough into the corn that she couldn’t see us.

“You going in?” Lefty asked.

“Shit no,” I told him.

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Border Crossing . by Catherine Davis

Last we spoke, we dashed our cells onto highways, into the paths of semis. This wasn’t going to be like that. Fanning the pages of the album backwards, thumbing our noses at what hadn’t played out, so long ago.

Here is Del Rio. There is Ciudad. In de Chirico stillness at the edge of town, edge of the country – alone I wait, I worry, I want. From this poor motel room it’s high-pricked sensation: a deep lazy backbeat underneath the jangling thrill, the winding, rise-and-fall chirring of the cicadas, and the maraca sizzle of a thousand rattlers’s warnings. An awning flaps, if only in my mind.

The heat warps my view, revealing the true meltedness of it all. As it was then, so it is now: without warning, he appears on the rise at the end of the road.

I watch the sexy strut of dissolution coming onward. My sultry almost-cowboy hitches and rolls his lizard rhythm down the road, pacing this eternal inevitable path. The jingle-jangle of desire pulses against the lassitude of the dust. His shadow is long.

“I’m here,” he says.

“You are,” I say.

“You’re here,” he says.

“I am,” I say.

From the doorway, he watches with orange-flecked eyes.

“Slouch toward me, rough beast. Ignite my womb.”

“You don’t…”

“Now, the full catastrophe. Come on, before we cross.”

The dust on his face is fine. Of salt, of chalk, with a mineral bite. Lips like they ever were, like no others.

We’re going down, down.

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Slap Shot . by Doug Bond

On the road it all got bent. First lost to State and Tech was a bitch too. Fuckers were a lot tougher than we knew. Their big-dog enforcer, Trennier, I remember him from the MHSAA semis couple years ago. He was a UPer, one of those back ass old iron towns on the border. He skated dirty back then. Now he was outta control.

Trennier had been doggin’ me all over the ice, every shift. We got a power play late in the third. I saw a chance to nail him on the boards and came flyin’ in hard. There was this sick look on his face, ugly gapped smile opening right before I hit him. I’d no idea that shit, Bjorstrom, was right behind me. Cracked me flat on the glass just as Trennier ducked.

They say I was down, crumpled, almost five minutes. Blade cut on my arm’s throbbing while Bjorstrom’s helping me off, apologizing non-stop. He tells me I can ride back down to Detroit with him and his girl. “We’re seniors. Fuck the bus!” She’s got her daddy’s Cayenne. He points her out, couple rows up.

Back on the bench I can’t stop looking up at her. Ski jacket curves in tight at her waist; big open eyes, drinking schnapps with her friends. She sees me and before I can look away mouths something to me. I don’t figure out what it is until later. Man, that girl sure knew how to straighten a guy out.

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Sunrise . by Guy Yasko


He wakes with the sun over the dashboard. He checks the mirror: still sleeping. He decides not to pee.

He looks across the river. He’s never been.

No papers, no money, no reason to go. Just be looking at this spot from over there.


The dogwalker watches the tug churn upriver. The low morning sunlight flashes back east. A nova? He looks: just a car window on the other side.

He thinks about the last time he crossed — mostly for the duty free:

Six bottles and only two of us. Let us go.

The dog pants and pulls against the leash.

Out of gin.

— Time to go, Coco.

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2511 A.D. . by Catherine Russell

Bordering the wastelands, the survivors huddled in wrecked buildings, trying to save the detritus of their once towering civilization. The solitary stragglers of the West found each other by taking mutual refuge in the hollowed and burnt shells of skyscrapers, department stores, and libraries. Fortifying what was left, they scrounged what remained of their past to take solace in tales read ’round the warmth of oil drum fires.

Over time, even these sanctuaries fell to the hordes that surrounded them. Soon, only one solitary stronghold remained to shelter the last of the survivors. Those inside struggled to save their own flagging humanity.

Outside, the infected raged.

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Border Town . by Matthew A. Hamilton

The box was full of balloons the color of synthetic gloves, each one packed with cocaine. Maria picked one up, then realized they were all tied together, like a string of sausage. Someone cut one off for her. She inspected it, said she couldn’t swallow it, that it was too big. She was slapped in the face and told it was easy, that girls smaller than her have done it. She was told that by doing this, she would keep her mother and brother alive, that she would make lots of money. This gave her courage. She slid one into her mouth. Surprisingly, the balloon was easy to swallow, like a snake swallowing a mouse.

Maria was loaded into a van with ten other girls. They were driven across the border into Arizona. The girls all held hands and prayed. Suddenly, nausea set in and Maria’s chest tightened. She turned cold and began to perspire heavily. She squeezed the hand of the girl beside her and closed her eyes, thinking of her mother and little brother

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Disorienteering . by Fred Osuna

We leave at dusk in a borrowed car, two of us, driving from Boston to the border, our only stop a package store in New Hampshire for liquid provisions. At night, on these New England roads, there is no light, no pink sodium-vapor glow, no guideposts. Just dense, thick darkness, all shades of black marshaled together, pushing back against the paltry spark of our headlights.

Once we cross into Québec, there is nothing.

Our instructions: drive two miles due north and bear left at the crossing. In the murk, we see no crossing, no markings, no turnoff. We are unaware that miles in this country are not a standard unit of measurement.

We soldier on into the alien midnight.

We ascend on a narrow, rutted, winding road, iced and bumpy, moving at 10 mph or less.

The heater fails.

Another hour passes. I can see my breath. Gene pisses in his water bottle and passes it to me, a hand-warmer to help loosen my Ivy League death grip on the wheel.

Around 4 a.m., the road winds downward. I feel we’re heading south. As the sun begins its soft glow, I see a sign to our destination. 1.5 km from us, it sits, glowing at the base of a network of runs, all converging like a natural pointer saying, HERE IT IS!

In the distance, Gene spies the border arcade – the one we apparently missed – while I imagine the comfort of walking on hot coals, a shower, French toast.

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Border town . by Katie Welch

“Over there” – she nods, lifting her eyes for a second –using them instead of her hands, and then she is back hacking at the soil. Brown lumps of clay, tough and unyielding.

She ignores me. She doesn’t want to know me, she needs me to go and stop reminding her of its presence. She’s fighting with the soil, pouring her anger and grief into it through the fork as she searches for bones.

I don’t want to fight, I just want to know.

She stops digging and sighs, the sound heavy with irritation – yet short and sharp like a slap aimed at me. Only I dodge it and remain.

Her gloved hand wipes the sweat from her cheek leaving a trail of dust that shimmers in the vicious sun. I watch it, beautiful patterns iridescent on the cheek of hatred.

“They won’t shoot you” – the words are spat at me, then she laughs, short burst of hysteria, energised by the anger and absurdity. “Why would they shoot you” she questions?

“I don’t know, that why I’m here “ I reply.

I feel pathetic. I’m sweating. She’s back digging, shaking her head at me. I should go, but I’m stuck, rooted.

I stare at it, a mirage in the distance, the heat rising from the buildings, I can see the waves rolling upwards into the sky and wonder where they crash and land.

If I step over the invisible painted line that divides mine from yours, will I die?

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Skin . by Martin Porter

In the beginning was the word
Stretched across the frontier like a hide
Between creation and the void.

Vapid, she approaches, a wall of face powder
Held in place by skin, stretched so tight
A push of a pin might tear her apart,

Dilated pupils flashing inside a shell of cosmetic,
Countenance with the dreary glow of the brand.
You cannot tell if she is angry, absent, or just bored,

She is her own existence. She knows the words
That describe her are what really count,
Not her false biology,

And she knows that the search for ultimate meaning
Is pseudoscience, fake knowledge and empty,
With the boundary stretched either

Between something and something
Or her make-up and some unstable vacuum
Waiting to collapse, but she knows not which.

She knows not which. She positions herself on some edge
And a single prick explodes her into the world
To promulgate knowledge like the black hole.

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The Gowanus. Expressway, not canal . by Walter Bjorkman

The Gowanus. Expressway, not canal,
a blue steel turned green turned paint gray
turned green paint gray steel elevated road
that whisks other people to the pancake streets
of manhattan in the morning to return them
to their grass-green supper lives
too far away to imagine but close enough
to drive to, that in its cradle
against new york harbor
keeps one group
safely from another
except for the daring on each side
that would tryst and fist under its never
green shadows – groups that never walk away unsated
in their hunt for desires not felt on either side of the crescent
called Gowanus where you hunker down over a sheet laid out
on the dirt in the cave formed by the concrete support
that you climb up and over and under the green gray girders above
down into where highway and park workers keep their implements
door locked three times shut die-casting your future in money and blood
if this next roll doesn’t come up eight

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The Other Side of the Wall . by John Wentworth Chapin

The hunched woman brushed her gray hair and wrinkled her nose. She muttered loudly, “I’m glad they put the wall up. When it gets a little humid around here, I can smell those damn people.”

“No, you can’t, Mama,” Linda said.

“I can and I do and you mind your own business,” the old woman retorted.

Linda sighed and folded laundry. So unnecessary.

“It goes under the ground, but not deep enough,” the mother continued. “Their rain soaks in and poisons our trees. Look all the way down the wall.” She pointed with her chin. “Weeds won’t even grow next to the wall.”

“Papa,” Linda mused.

“Don’t,” her mother warned.

Linda didn’t have to glance out the window to know that the ground along the wall was barren. They poured industrial-strength pesticides along the wall to keep the ground dead and make hole-diggers and runners easier to spot. Her father had crossed the border, even before the wall; they never knew how, whether stowed in a van or on foot. He promised to send money and bring them over. That was nine years ago, and they had never heard from him. They both knew he was dead. Each kept it to herself for her own reasons.

“Keep the bastard up north. We’re better off without him,” her mother grumbled.

Linda hoped he was happy and rich.

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Two Cups of Tea . by Michelle Elvy and Lola Elvy

Ruby loved dragons so much she talked to them during the day, dreamed of them at night, and learned to ride them like the wind. Hers was a world of scales and sky, feathers and fire.

People said Ruby got her imagination from her mother Agatha, but Agatha knew better, for she was a novelist who had written nothing in a decade. Hers was a world divided: then, now; fiction, reality. Where characters once danced in her heart, a dark space and blank page burdened her mind.

One day Ruby told Agatha about the dragons. “They roam the woods,” she said to a raised eyebrow and a whistling kettle. “They wait for me in the trees.” Two cups. “My favorite is the amphithere – he’s iridescent blue with a golden-tipped tail.” Cream and sugar. “He flies and breathes fire, but his most powerful weapon is his tail.” Biscuits, too. “They say he can strike you dead with one look, but that is not true. I’ve seen his eyes. They don’t carry death.”

Agatha lingered on the warm tea and the sunshine in her daughter’s face. Wished she could remember what it felt like to feel so alive with ideas. She sighed as Ruby drained her teacup and flew out the door.

When she glanced out the window, her eye caught something shimmer at the edge of the wood. Golden leaves? Blue branches? She watched Ruby enter the forest, hand held high in a friendly greeting.

And Agatha’s heart danced.

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We would like to thank Guy Yasko for his painting for this week, Center St. Here is what he had to say:

This is a view of my hometown. I wasn’t happy with the way the shadows were working out and stopped working on it. Fortunately, that left the building in the middle a ghostly shell of a building — which it is.

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Filed under Wk #37 - Border town

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