Author Archives: 52250challenge

Week #52 – Threesome

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

The theme is Threesome.

Lola, Salmon, Juneau by Michelle Elvy
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Potions . by Len Kuntz

We shared a biblical kiss beneath a pomegranate tree that dripped pale, limp fruit. It felt like a kiss but I wasn’t certain. Next we hugged hard.

She said, “I would return to nothing without you.” Then she asked if I was scared.

I held her hands as if they were crystal cards. Her jagged fingernails had been chewed to nubs and they scratched my skin.

This was something we had to do, something we had always wanted for ourselves, and now that the opportunity had arrived as surprising as a rainbow during a downpour one of us was having second thoughts and it wasn’t me.

“Tell me a story first,” she said, “then we’ll do it.”

I told her about a blind magician who made lovely potions that could transform hearts. He changed warring nations into lovers bent on fine freedom for every people. The magician had a nasty facial scar but he was kind, laughed a lot, and said, “That’s a good one!” anytime someone told a joke.

This made her chuckle.

I said the magician had a pet chinchilla he’d named Abracadabra. If the dog lapped up the potion, it grew wings and flew around rescuing endangered species.

When I handed her the vial, I was surprised she took a long pull without hesitating. I did the same.

I made a large smile and told my sister the truth. “It’s supposed to work fast. In a few minutes, he won’t be able to hurt us anymore.”

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Dummy . by Susan Tepper

This blouse I just love hangs in Dibly’s window. Ma laughs when I bring up the fact of its pretty silky material. And how that peach color matches my skin. So come Saturday I go to Dibly’s to get a closer look. The saleslady smiles and takes it off the store dummy. Here, hon, she says to me. Holding it out for me to touch. It looks lumpy in her hands like peach vomit. Seeing that window dummy without its blouse is strange. No thank you, I say. All of a sudden feeling shy. I look again at the naked dummy. Then turning away I run out of the store.

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The Sisters . by Karla Valenti

The three of them stood at the corner, the rain slowly melting their umbrellas. A red umbrella, a yellow umbrella and a green-and-white striped umbrella, drippity-dripping into a puddle at their feet. The littlest one poked the tip of her shoe into the swirl of colors dancing on the sidewalk before her and soon there was nothing left of their umbrellas. Then the rain started on their hooded jackets, three bright pink jackets all in a row drippety-dripping as the color puddle beneath them grew. Small rivulets of what used to be their umbrellas sped away towards the drain, its black mouth gaping wide at the end of the street. The streaks of pink jacket followed closely behind. Then, they were left standing in nothing but their summer dresses: one red dress, one yellow dress and one green-and-white striped dress. The rain soon washed those away and the drain greedily gobbled them up. And that was when the sun decided to make an appearance, turning its golden glory upon that threesome standing at the corner, strong, confident and beautiful in their naked skin.

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god . by Matt Potter

In bed late that night, Larry dribbling into his pillow beside me, I wrote two new headings on the pad: Liabilities on the left, including the fees for the twins’ exclusive girls’ school underneath. And Assets on the right. And included Larry’s life insurance.

I hadn’t meant to turn it into a Joan Crawford moment, but when he stood in the hallway weeping into his hands saying, “I’ve lost my job,” I looked down at my Charles Jourdan pumps with the gold pom-poms and immediately went online and bought twenty Versace t-shirts.

Secondhand.

And after I bustled Cashmere and Chambré off to bed, fear in their eyes as they wondered at the strange noises coming from Larry in the toilet, I’d sunk against the 100% goose down pillows with the amazingly high thread count Egyptian cotton pillowslips and I’d started my first list.

           Decant cheap wine into more expensive bottles, I’d written.
Buy cheaper cuts of venison.
Buy lots of lotto tickets.

The litany of tough decisions scrawled on.

           Stencil Gucci on no-name jeans.
Buy cheap chocolate and scrape the name off.

I looked over and watching the saliva encrusting in the corner of Larry’s mouth, my heart sank. I knew a breach of promise suit, charging we were not being kept in the manner to which we were accustomed, would not deliver the desired result.

So I tore up the first list and started the second.

eBay’s been good to me. We’ll see what it delivers this time.

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Threesome . by Darryl Price

You made a fist, instead of a hand.
Sent mortal missiles. Instead of a
Cool cup. So many missed the meaning.

They couldn’t relate their own heads, hearts
Or feet to the perfection you asked
For.You took everything,but called us

Thieves. There was no other way to die
Except badly and by your side. Now
I’ve returned with poems to quench them.

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Dreamcatchers . by Marcus Speh

Two writers sat down for a meal, carefully avoiding any talk of their art. They shared stories of their wives and children, of cars to let loose on the fast lane, of tech gadgets to play with as only boys play, exploring all keys and functions. They mentioned their fathers in passing and how similar they had become to them. They had a laugh, and when the pretty waitress with the blond hair bun and the wide swinging hips appeared at their table, they flirted a little in tandem, kicking gallantries back and forth until the maiden culled one and appointed a winner of their innocent game, which made their three hearts beat faster for a bit and the food that showed up on their table the better. All the while, as they were enjoying a full glass of friendship, they were secretly spinning yarns like giddy spiders. When they parted, with a manly handshake and a hug for the road, each had a good tale to tell.

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Alignment . by Nathan Alling Long

They lived in the same neighborhood, biked the same streets, went to potlucks at the same collective houses. What they remember of summer nights is drinking beer on front porches as joints floated through the air like fireflies, kissing each person’s lips. Talking of Rilke and Descartes until dawn. Walking home in the rain.

Then autumn came. They pulled out old gray sweaters from their closets. They biked with coats and scarves. Evenings became large bottles of wine and steaming kitchens. Fresh bread from the oven. Everyone sitting on the floor, mismatched plates in their laps, the house dog circling the crowd like a shark, looking for scraps.

One night, near solstice, a few stayed up, improvising an epic poem in rhyme. One by one, they fell asleep, on the sofa, curled up on the rug, against each others’ bodies. The candles burned out, the night grew dark.

Then the moon snuck in. It brushed across three faces, the way a moth might glide past your arm. Each woke to the light, and without a word, they began to kiss one another. They had never seen each other in this light before. They kissed and kissed, as the moon trailed across their faces. It was like drinking milk from a distant planet.

Then their portion of the room drew dark, they grew tired, and, with fingers interlocked, they fell asleep. Later, when the moonlight slid across the dog’s tail, it awoke and sighed, then fell back asleep.

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Charley . by Lou Freshwater

My house is on a dirt road that drops off on both sides into deep ditches that always have at least an inch of water in them. I live here with my mama. She has a mess of black hair and she always smells like she’s been soakin’ in spring. She goes to work at night. She works at a bar where the soldiers come when they get leave. We’ve been here near four years now. Since I was nine. Our house is tight and slanty. Long time ago, someone painted the wood blue and I never have been able to figure out why, cause now it looks like the place where the sky got washed away. It has one bedroom so I sleep in the livin’ room cause mama is tired after work and she needs her bed. It’s also cause sometimes she brings the soldiers home with her. They sometimes need a dose of home she says. But I wish they could get their dose somewhere else. When they are here, it makes me feel like I’m the only person in the world, like nothin’ is real. One night, I heard one of them singing to Mama, and when we get behind closed doors, she lets her hair hang down, and he kept goin’ on an on, so I took my pillow and I crawled under the couch and all the sudden I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore, and in that darkness everything felt real again.

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Unforgettable . by Roger Grey

In the park, Nigel sat hunched up on a wooden bench, absentmindedly reaching into bag of grain with arthritic hands and scattering handfuls onto the cement. His eyes remained fixed on the group of happy nubile teens chattering excitedly.

“They must be fucking each other,” he muttered underneath his breath. “Those dirty, shameless bastards.”

He knew he could have done better than any one of them, if only he hadn’t been screwed over. What could it have been like if only he had said yes to Esther? Back in high school, she asked if Nigel wanted to be in a threesome with her and her friend, but he told her he was busy. She laughed and assumed that he couldn’t get it up. Word spread, and he became the laughingstock that never got a chance to redeem himself. With everyone’s incessant taunting over the years, that became a reality.

Nigel frowned at the memory. If he could show Esther now – no, not just her – if he could show just anyone, he would. Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again.

Except now he had nobody, except for the pigeons and sparrows that gathered around his feet. Nigel wondered momentarily how he, once so young and beautiful, could have transformed into something so decrepit and loathsome. He looked up again at the teens. They reminded him a lot of his schoolmates. Nigel narrowed his eyes into dagger thin slits.

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Landscape in Graphite on Paper, 3x3x3 . by Sam Rasnake

1. Clinch Mountain

He always wanted that long drive up Clinch Mountain
where the thick quilts of trees would bend to
hawk in cloud, the road, a hard gash of

stone and time to the wind, with its slow,
steady rumble of tires on asphalt, and far below,
the soft patchworks of farm, river, town – a twist

of the Norfolk Southern and 58, smaller than dream,
smaller than dust. This is my life, he would
say. The arriving – never as good as the going.
– 1974

2. Outer Banks

After a night of winter rain, when the morning’s
deep voice of high tide booms the grey sea –
a relentless Bergman film – to wake the heavy, sunless

sky over stiff tangles of jagged shore with only
the occasional pelican or tern in a cold trough
of long wave to follow – and me, beside an

opened upstairs window, my cup steaming on the table –
one hand to the glass, and with the other
I write, “a view as wide as gifted song”…
– 1999

3. Yamada Rōshi Says, “Even the sky must be beaten”

A blue without fracture, blue that is lost – like
the song playing – its rhythm of such blue ache
in her fingers’ rub of steel and wood to

darkness. Blue in this pen as I write, blue
on the cover of James Merrill’s Night and Day.
The poet is dead – still his words breathe when

I tongue them aloud in my truck, driving west –
but my truck is red. Everything falls away. I’d
thought the sky to be empty. I was wrong.
– 2007

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Sand Like Pearls . by Randal Houle

If I could only capture each grain of sand as it sluices down the hourglass, I would place each grain in an oyster, and cultivate every moment into a pearl of memory. Divorce forces my jealousies of time and my greedy hands grasp handfuls. The moments slip away – mixed now with all the other sand, ever-present but indistinguishable.

The sky grays the world around me, the way every day without them melds into the next. Beyond a thick tangle of thorny brush, the highway beckons. I could have selected a more secluded by-way, but the time to travel would’ve been stolen from my children and I promised we’d go camping this weekend. Gray grass, a worn down trapezoidal picnic table made of untreated lumber, and a gray flame consuming a pyramid of tinder in a concrete fire pit completes our campsite.

One of the children laughs. Orange sparks erupt where I feed the fire another log. The second child giggles through half chewed sandwiches of graham, chocolate, and marshmallow. The fire pit glows and radiates us in full color even as the rest of the gray world fades to squid-ink night.

There is a flash and a crack in the night sky. The children shudder and shriek and laugh and I escort them to the tent where we envelope ourselves in sleeping bags. At each booming bolt, the children inch closer, one on each side. They sleep easily. I could too, but I don’t want to miss a moment.

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Gingerbread . by Catherine Russell

Grandma always let me mix the batter. I was at that age when boys were icky and the only males I liked were composed of gingerbread. Daddy didn’t count because he ranked above the others of his sex.

Every so often Grandma would come over to hem and haw over the smoothness of the mixture until the consistency was just right. Then she showed me how to roll the dough onto wax paper with long, smooth strokes of the battered wooden rollingpin. Dented cookie cutters helped me to make shapes – Christmas trees, ornaments, candy canes, circles and stars – but my favorites were always the gingerbread men.

We’d shove them in the oven, and I’d pretend I was the wicked witch trying to bake Hansel and Gretel. When the sweets were done, I’d put them on paper to cool. Later that day, when Mom would get home, we’d sit around the table – three generations of women – and bite their heads off one by one.

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Three Stories of You . by John Riley

There’s a story of you who says to go on, to walk the room, to pretend to contemplate. Promises that if you lift your hand your head will follow. Assures you when your bones reignite there will be day, there will be night, and you’ll know which is which. Don’t worry about the door, this story says.

There’s a story of you who says big things wait outside the door. Let me give you a taste, he says, and lures a city into the vestibule. Streets spread throughout the house. Get on your knees, he says. Crawl the city limits. Don’t worry, you’ll be welcomed. It’s night in the city. All the streets end at a wall. The harbor laps the door.

There’s a story of you who says he wishes you weren’t here. There’s little left to negotiate, he says. It’s time to leave the false starts behind. He introduces you to his regrets, refuses to negotiate, walks you down the hall. At the door he shakes his head before you can beg, slips an arm around your shoulder. We both need a new direction, he says. Walking out the door you tell him he’s the story of you that you like best.

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for all the light that was born . by Piet Nieuwland

for all the light that was born in your eyes
this page opens

on it falls the anticyclonic day,
and a night sky of silky blues

on it falls the vision of a platinum moon,
its blazing stare swallowing paths of moving shadows

in the ocean upon which it swims,
waves of a tropical artery flower splashes of marlin

in the passage of these islands through their naming,
the language of fire sings from the ridges, the pa

crossing our voices,
a silicon bird surfs the magnetic fields of cool, still air,
tasting seeds of wind

from the silence of stars,
an armada of glass palaces fuse,
into a cathedral of whispering eyes

and the space we occupy fills,
with a rosary of vines

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Leading to . by Dorothee Lang

Leading to

A circle. A destination. This day.
The everlasting question: how far is it still?

My expectations. Your silence.
The stones that count down the miles, in red paint.

Another photo of the horizon.
The fact that we are always t(here).

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Redux . by Claire King

The first one convinced me that every vile thought I’d ever had about myself was true. The weight of his judgement crushed me slowly until I was so diminished I begged him to love me because I knew no-one else ever would.

When I found him again I peeled his tongue, word by contemptuous word, until he had nothing left but a scrappy shred of muscle flapping in his empty head, his eyes gaping and bewildered.

The second one could not bear to share me. He locked me in my lonely room where I waited for him to come. When finally he appeared, though, he was angry and threw rocks at my face.

When I found him again I took a poker from the fireplace while he slept and smashed his bones to powder. I sank my dog-teeth into his greasy jowls, spitting out his dead skin as I left.

I told the third one I could never love again. He smiled a sagacious smile and told me that is not the way.

‘You must re-write the end that should have been,’ he said. ‘I will be here when you get back.’ Then he sent me down dark labyrinths to find them again.

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Jacks or Better . by Michael J. Solender

The impish beauty smiled at Jason just so.

He’d seen that gaze from her many times, but tonight the look was confident — omniscient, he thought — that she would be his. He caressed her and guided her closely into his hands.

His buddies were eying him with puzzled looks. They couldn’t quite make out if he was confident or merely blinded. He’d had this look before and was never treated very well.

Her sister, equally stunning, appeared out of nowhere, and before he knew it, they conspired willingly to play.

When sister number three appeared in the very next moment, his greatest fantasy was unfolding before his very eyes.

In one daring move he went for broke.

Watching closely, his golf buddy Charley couldn’t help himself. He put down a wager that Jason wouldn’t have his way tonight.

“Trip queens,” Jason said as he laid down his hand.

“Boat,” Charley said softly, laying down threes over deuces, “Sorry.”

Jason tossed the three ladies into the muck.

“Bitches, all of ‘em.” He poured himself a drink and dealt the next hand.

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Couple Two-Three . by Susan Gibb

My therapist has helped me so much over the past almost nine years I’ve been going to see her. I went at my husband’s suggestion that my extraordinary fear of caterpillars was something that could perhaps be overcome if I understood the seed that had been planted somewhere in my childhood.

I sort of knew where it started; I was eight and my brother, two years older, told me he dropped one down my back. I screamed and hollered and ran around until he admitted he hadn’t and I calmed down. That night getting undressed, I found the big greenish-brown squish stain in the back of my shirt. The doctor was thrilled at this found memory. He felt it had to have been an absolutely traumatizing event that stayed with me. I didn’t think it affected my sex life but Dr. Johnson insisted it did.

“Way beyond fear of real caterpillars,” he said, “it nurtured a distrust of anything caterpillar in form.”

“Huh?” I said.

So that’s why he’s sitting over there in the corner of our bedroom, watching. I wasn’t crazy about the idea but the doctor and my husband agreed it might help if at that moment of giving way to the ecstasy we all shout “Caterpillar!” together as one loud voice.

It didn’t work, at least as far as I’m concerned, but my husband and Dr. Johnson seem pleased.

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Phantom Sister . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Marlena comes to me on the cusp of sleep and wakefulness, when the world blurs grey. She soars through yellow-tinted waves, her bald shining skull pushing through water. Although she never speaks, she makes a gurgling sound, high-pitched like the bottle-nosed dolphins at the Aquarium. I look but never see her face. When I wake up, the bottoms of my feet sting as though I scissor-kicked through 100 laps. Those mornings I call in sick and sleep in the boat’s hold. The gentle rocking hugs me.

My twin sister Maria lives halfway around the world in the Catoctin Mountains. She paints and writes poems about trees. We rarely see each other but the internet tethers us. Maria has the same dreams about Marlena — we think of them as visitations – but she feels the ache in her chest, the left side, a sharp pain like someone has plunged in an icy hand and wrested out her heart. Afterwards she also feels an uncommon, exhausting peace. We wonder if this is how we tangled in our mother’s womb: hands to feet to heart.

I find an old photo of the two of us, a college road trip to Baltimore. Our smiling faces squeezed together, the Washington monument towers behind us. I scan the picture, push send and the image zips to Maria’s mountaintop. Seconds later, she writes back. “There’s a hole between us.” I look closer at the photograph and my soles burn.

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Bedposts . by Nicolette Wong

He runs his fingers down the swollen scraps on her skin, circling the dried blood on her arms and thighs. Then he kneels on the floor and opens her legs to see that flaming morsel, ravished by his girlfriend’s fury after he exited the mockery of their threesome. Sitting on the edge of the bed she looks smaller than she really is, a woman of long, slender bones and composure.

‘I never thought Flora would do this,’ he says, kissing the cuts on her thighs. ‘She smiled when I asked her.’

‘It was me who asked, in the first place.’

‘She said she missed girls.’

‘I asked because I missed you,’ she lifts his head to push him away.

In the heat of his lovers’ kisses, finger-fucking and penetration, he had fondled those small and perky breasts of his ex-girlfriend’s for as long as it took her to trust, to stay still so that he could tie her hands to the bedposts. The moment she looked at him in a haze, Flora took over and seized her with a smothering kiss. The passion was such a perfect drape for the women; there was no place for him and Flora should have this beauty to herself, as she wanted to.
‘What did you tell Flora about me before last night?’

‘That you’re the woman I once wanted to marry. Until you left me.’

‘And you don’t want to marry her,’ she says and closes her eyes.

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Congruent Triangles . by Grant Farley

This is a story of simple geometry:

The angle of the earth to sun, light fracturing
this horizon into shifting hues along
the final lapping of the waves.

The angle of an old man ankle deep in the sea
to a son tripping along the hard damp edge
to a grandson, legs churning a softer, forgiving sand.

Measure the old man:

Reaching, reaching to catch this pink disc,
this circle wobbling to the earth beyond finger tips,
yet still he has the will to lift it.

Flinging it in a brittle arc
to his son with the faint hope
his boy will be there in time.

Calculate the son:

Running to compensate
for the errant toss
of his father.

Taking care in throwing to his own son
so that it is always just within his reach
pushing him a little farther with each toss.

Factor in the child:

Intent only on that pink disc
hovering hovering hovering
until it drops into his grasp.

Then laughing spinning and tossing
just out of reach of that very old man
and finally dashing to snatch it from the trembling hand.

The area of a triangle equals half the product of a base and the height to that base:

The area of their triangle is now filled by this sand
that has replaced the life
of a woman…

Wife to mother to baba
mother to baba to wife
baba to wife to mother.

Do parallel lines fly on forever?

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Buried . by Robert Vaughan

She crushes out a cigarette on the patio. Shakes her head.

“Trent’ll call soon,” I say. “You’ll see.”

But we both know he won’t. The plane went down in the Hindu Kush.

Over a week ago. Still missing. A celebrated pilot in the air force. That’s where we’d all met, Pensacola boot camp in 2005.

Then Debbie and I both got pregnant. Return tickets home. We were lucky to score jobs at the Wal-Mart in Keene.

She still doesn’t know it was the same guy.

Trent.

She lights another Marlboro.

I grab it from her. Extinguish it.

“It’s all I have,” she pleads.

“Debbie don’t,” I say. “Think of your kid.”

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Love Boat . by Mike DiChristina

For our fiftieth anniversary they send us on a cruise.

We’re in bed in our stateroom aboard the Belle of the Caribbean watching “Love Boat” reruns when the wife says, “I think a threesome might spice things up.”

“This is family television,” I tell her.

“I meant for us, something to get us out of our rut.”

“How about a tattoo?” I say.

“I’m serious,” she says. She rolls over and grabs the remote with her well-manicured hand.

“I didn’t see ‘Hot Three-Way Action on the Promenade Deck at noon’ on the activity poster,” I say.

“It sounds like fun,” she says. Her plucked eyebrows jump when she says ‘fun’.

“You wouldn’t know where to start.”

“I googled it. I’d just dive right in.”

“What kind of threesome are we talking about?” I say.

She clicks off the TV. “I hadn’t thought about that,” she says. “Does it matter?”

I snort. “Well, actually, yes, it does matter.”

She slides over and curls up next to me, nibbling on my sunburned ear. “Are there some combinations you would consider?”

“Sure,” I say.

“Assuming you’re there.”

I sit up. “Now I’m not even in the room?”

“You could watch,” she says. “Or run the camera.”

“I could tweet it.”

“We could find somebody onboard. The Pirate Lounge looks promising.”

“Like Johnny Depp?” I say.

“Remember Amy? I think she’d be up for it,” she says.

I meet my wife’s eyes. “Amy? From snorkeling?”

“Amy from snorkeling.”

“I don’t like redheads,” I say.

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Combinatorics . by Maggie Sokolik

“So, let me get this straight…”

Jess sat wedged between Leo and Gabriel in the Chevy pickup, her feet straddling the hump.

“You,” she pointed her right hand at Gabriel on her left. “And you,” she pointed at Leo with her left hand. Her arms made an X across her chest. “Since when?”

“I brought cigars,” Leo said, opening the glove box. He lit them one at a time and handed one to her and one to Gabriel. Jess pulled a silver flask out of her Frye boot and motioned with it towards the screen.

“Movie’s starting,” she said.

She stared first at Leo, with his Beatle-boy haircut, aquiline nose, and backseat moves. She looked at Gabriel. Oh, elegant Gabe. Gabe on the beach in the moonlight.

“Just previews,” said Gabriel. “So, what are you thinking about?”

Jess took a sip of bourbon, and asked Leo to roll the window down. She fanned the blue cigar smoke out into the night. It was almost raining again, the mist as soft as hairspray.

“I”m thinking about math class,” she said. “The solution to three factorial.”

“Easy,” Leo said.

“I know,” she said. She felt Gabe’s hand behind her, his soft fingertips inching up under her t-shirt. Leo slid his hand in from the other side, and grasped Gabriel’s hand at the small of her back.

“Easy,” Gabriel repeated. “Three times two times one.”

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A bottle of raspberries . by Gill Hoffs

Somewhere amongst the jagged greenery of Auchterarder lies a bottle of my childhood. It hides intact, leaves rotting beneath. Maybe shrews have scrabbled its narrowed neck and birds pecked its silver lid, hoping for the tender fruits inside.

There must be alcohol now. I shouldn’t like to smell the ferment of my youth.

A bright grey day, cloud acting as net over a whore’s lampshade, glowing misery as I plan escape. Small children, not quite cousins, watch my fingers pluck pink and red, staining hang-nails, forcing raspberry hats through the long clear tunnel, all witness, none quite seeing, as seeds and softness fall in red smears, joined by others but never quite filling that hollow, glassy tomb. I twist the cap tight with painful palms and no intention of collecting the twenty pence offered for safe return. Brown eyes, his family’s, not mine, not yet, watch me hide my precious stash, ignoring my Icarus-real plans for flight.

So did the children’s mother, his sister, scolding me for showing them those forbidden fruits of crimson and pink, scared they will explore with others, sour their stomachs, risk their lives. No-one cared to ask me why, to even attempt to resurrect the rotting raspberries as they stifled and curdled in silence, ignored by all. These rose-red fruit, snow-white nubs left dangling and bare on slender green stalks, do not await Prince Charming’s kiss.

For that’s how this started and never quite ended.

With one secret, soiling kiss.

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Princess, Prince, Dragon . by Beate Sigriddaughter

I’m a busy woman.

It started back when I wasn’t yet able to read, which was part of the problem.

Dad worked as custodian at a mountain retreat. In early spring, mid-week, there were no strangers around, so I got to play on the hillside between the main building, now empty, and the weaving workshop.

Nothing bloomed there. Black skinny branches laced sand without leaves and only a few thorns. I knew about the silky blue flowers over in the forest, but I had to stay put where my dad could see me.

Now I got really busy. I had to do everything myself. I had to be princess, prince, and dragon.

Princesses, I was told, didn’t do much. So, as princess, I typically parked myself somewhere to dream and wait and let the other two have at it.

As prince I waited, too, but I was alert and my imaginary sword gleamed with imaginary sparks beneath the real sun.

As dragon I was furious. Understandable, really, when you’re always considered the bad guy. So I rushed about and roared and fumed and spewed imaginary fire. I was undaunted, though, despite the probability that I would one day be defeated.

Not much has changed. The last straw is that I’m expected to love myself. I mean, does loving yourself even count?

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All three of them
by Chelsea Biondolillo, Chad Smith and Jeff Questad

He hated dirty thrift stores. It felt like a coating of slime had engulfed his body. It was nasty in there, but he was on a mission. She had given him specific instructions. No cheating. Bring three items purchased from a thrift store. He was getting excited as he headed down the aisle. He had never participated in this sort of thing before. He took the ski goggles, red rain boots, and ceramic Easter bunny statuette to the register. He would wash his hands later.

What would she do with/to him when she saw how well he followed the rules? He daydreamed (would he wear the boots, would the statue be a prize?) right past the strange car in her driveway. As he lifted a hand to ring the bell, a masculine WHOOP came from inside, followed by her guffaw. He froze, his hand tightening around the bag, regretting that the goggles weren’t something more useful against this intruder upon their special evening, like a tomahawk.

The raised bed adjacent to the door was gone to seed. There was a tipped pail spilling old hand tools. Sliding commando style along the wall, he took up a rusty three pronged implement that communicated seriousness. Under a window now, he leaped up.

She was reclined, casually undressed. He’d never noticed how blood gathered at the top of her cheeks when she’d been laughing. Her smile was lurid with hope. He folded and sank down.

She’d never been so beautiful.

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Wordkill . by Gary Percesepe

In the room you are the absence of room. You are the nothing in my life that wants to become something. At the circus you are the flyer and I am the catcher but there is no circus. You won’t jump but I wait anyway. Religion helps. Today someone said: If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him. I’d kill your husband if you hadn’t already. I was four the first time I was killed. My brother walked me home a birthday cake; the next week he was asphyxiated. You always remember your first. Next up: my sister. My father lashed her to the banister for protesting the war. She whimpered softly all night. I snuck her Ritz crackers and a bowl of water. I tried to read my father’s knots but could not. She reached a cracked hand up to me. I took her hand and kissed it. Then I left. I died again that night but really who keeps track. You heard your parents’ hateful speech for decades. We had the good sense to avoid the L word for a time. I cracked first. But you could have. That’s the thing right there. There is always somewhere to fall from. We couldn’t remember who saved whom. Then you got ill and wouldn’t tell me. It wasn’t fair but I understood. You wanted me to kill you again. So I did. I had help. I’ve always been lucky that way. Now she’s dead too.

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And Father Makes Three . by Andrew Stancek

The door opens; the father takes two steps in, sees the blonde and his son naked on his bed. The blonde cackles, waves; her breast jiggles. Mirko clenches his fist, pounds the mattress, ready to smash her face, his father’s, to run and keep running.

“Don’t let me interrupt,” the father says. “My home is your home and all that. A chip off the old block, Mirko. I’ll just close the door, pour myself a shot, stay in the kitchen.”

The blonde laughs so hard she gets the hiccups. “Nothing fazes your Dad.” She reaches out for Mirko’s disappearing hardness; he has lost all interest. Another door closes, he thinks, another place I won’t be welcome. His father whistles The Torreador’s Song in the kitchen; Mirko smells bacon. The blonde scratches her thigh, turns over, hums along. “You sure you don’t want…?”

Mirko scrambles for underwear, T-shirt. “Another time, maybe?” he says. He stops, looks at her pose, her amused look, considers the thin wall. Too much. Tail between his legs again, damn it. Tip-toeing out, he hears the blonde calling. “Palo, it’s the two of us after all.”

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Why do PARIAHs fall in love . by Ryder Collins

the PARIAH wants. the PARIAH wants more than you’ll ever know. the PARIAH allows glimpses of her want when the wine bottle hits the kitchen floor, when the wine bottle spirits. when it spins. there is no kissing a PARIAH. there is no kissing.

this is what the PARIAH wants more than anything.

the PARIAH wants in your bed. the PARIAH wants to lay with you and your son. your son is small and vulnerable. like all sons. small and carnival. small and baker. small and eggshells. small and pipe tobacco. he crawls into bed and the PARIAH crawls in after.

you are still asleep.

the PARIAH wants to sleep on one side while your son sleeps on the other. the PARIAH wants the instant family, the POLAROID of children. she wants to shake the film and cast your wife out.

she wants to swap. she wants to flea market.

her loneliness. you love.

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A Book of Three and the Farewell House . by Michael Parker

I.
Ours is a life of many selves, like chapters of a book. I’m living in my seventh skin, after surviving two pulmonary embolisms. I know life is tenuous. On some days, the future is a cloud, as if it is a territory I will never see.

Pain and fear work in us that way, like I’m standing at the entrance of the farewell house: My soul has left me. It stands on the other side of the doorway, mingling with shadows and ghosts. It knows everything, even their silent language.

II.
The willow will never complain that it has no feet and cannot dance. She makes her arms sway to the wind’s rhythm.

“Do not pity me,” she says. “I’m grounded. See how I can bend and honor Earth. See how I can reach and caress the sky.”

And opening the folds of her raiment: “I am filled with robins, blackbirds, finches, and jays. When I’m not singing with the wind, my soul radiates from their joyous symphony.”

III.
In the beginning, one man carried the stories. After a time, a child grew up with stories in his mouth. The story-man was jealous and took the child into the mountain where he pushed him off a cliff. The mountain, fond of the innocent interpreter, was furious. He shook, causing the greedy storyteller to fall to his death. Afterword, the mountain, trees, winds, rivers, and sky promised to never cease singing or whispering the history of things. There shall always be a story.

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Okra . by Michelle McEwen

Baby Sis all of a sudden, wants to grow things– mainly okra ’cause that’s what her man likes. Must be the bump growing in her belly that makes my baby sister think she has a green thumb. She musta forgot that none of the women in our family are green thumbed. Babies, hair, and nails– the only things we’re good at growin’. Baby sis wants to change that. She says she is gonna grow and fry okra until Delroy, her man, grows sick of it. But Delroy ain’t thinkin’ ’bout okra; he got another woman ‘cross town and she, too, got a bump just startin’. Baby Sis act like she don’t know about this, but she knows; she tries not to think of it by talking ’bout okra all the time and how much of it she gon grow: “I’m gonna fill the back yard with it,” she says every morning from the back porch. She talks about how Delroy gonna smile when he sees that yard and move right in. But Delroy ain’t gonna leave that other woman behind for some okra– especially since that woman got a behind bigger than a back yard full of okra and an up-front to match.

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Within You Without . by Martha Williams

There’s a moment when you pray, mouth and eyes open like a lost child. Your back arches, your body engulfed in pain that swells from a slow moan to breathless silence… every fibre screaming that the agony should peak and slide but it burns on, until there’s nowhere to turn but up.

And in the sky you see the moments. The first day; disbelief, joy, the arms and laughs of lovers intertwined. Weeks of sick and swell. Smiles and cards, and hands that reach out when you walk in. So many voices, have they always been there?

The pain subsides and you return to the eyes before you. They watched your waters flow in the night, when you knew time beyond clocks. You’d speak, but it’s coming back and you can only moan. His arms are the last thing to melt into the black beyond pain as you thrash, tear, and spray his flesh with your blood.

Firstborn.

As you make him a father, his face opens like a child.

Around you, happiness falls like rain into a river. For one strange moment, the congratulations stab your belly with the grief of a pregnancy gone; the life within you without. Your hands fall…

…and into them he delivers your child, whose fingers curl around yours with the tightness of a promise.

Your fingers are steady as you type the message that will arch your mother’s back and lift her face to the sky.

“Now we are three.”

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Triangles . by Kim Hutchinson

The video looks old and grainy, but the voice reaches out: Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.

The triangle is one of the basic shapes of the universe, noted for its strength, its unbreakable nature. Buckminster Fuller built a dome from them for the ’67 Expo, but it burned in ’76. The outer skin is gone now. Sunshine, rain and pigeons travel through its bones.

Triangles are also dangerous. If you carve one of flint, it becomes an arrowhead, an instrument of injury or death, Cupid’s weapon of choice.

If you shape one from wood and leave one end open, it becomes a boomerang.

In a bright new video, a young man stands on an old stone balcony with his beautiful bride. Every day he looks more like his father, who stood there with his beautiful bride thirty years before. He kisses his new wife once once. The crowd cheers.

He kisses her again. Perhaps remembering his parents, he signals no more.

Two is enough. He knows from experience that three is not a lucky number in love.

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Rock Scissors Paper Do the Write Thing . by Doug Bond

Neither of the three of them could remember who first suggested the idea, in fact for a short while they even fought about it, but the point is, after years of discord, their silly feud was finally over, and to commemorate the joyous event they pooled their money and went out for dessert.

Triple-decker layer cake! Mmmmm! Rock got so excited he fell into it, splattering them all with frosting. “Oh, man I am such a dolt!”

“No biggie!” said Scissors, promptly trimming away Rock’s offenses, cutting the remaining cake into three perfectly equal portions.

Paper was the last one holding a fork, so wrapped up the leftover bits in case anyone got hungry later.

Suddenly, out of nowhere they were intruded upon by a newcomer, Pencil, who threaded between them urgently demanding protection from Rock. “Help! There are some who want to break me!”

At Scissors, Pencil screamed, “Keep me shaved. I mustn’t ever be dull!”

And lastly, turning to Paper, who had discreetly crumpled into a ball, and was looking to duck into a corner waste can, “Lay yourself flat and yield me your emptiness!”

Paper obliged, with Rock and Scissors servicing their new friend as directed, and the four of them engaged in this way, creative and uncontested for a full 52 weeks before any of them noticed the inscription running along the length of Pencil’s wood, stopping just short of the eraser. It said, “All the best: ME, JWC & WB!”

~~

Back atya MichelleJohnWalter. Youguysarethebestandmywordprocessingprogramsaysthispieceisexactly250wo
rdslongsohopethatscoolwithyouandjusttomakesureyouknowYouGuysRockLove
Dougaguywho’sreallyenjoyedthis52-250thingImeanthatReally!

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There Is Only So Much Liquid . by Meg Pokrass

A few nights ago, on her fortieth birthday, Janelle was drunk from absinthe at the Beachside bar, lit like an oil lamp from within — ready to hit the water in the dark and swim for it before another birthday. Who would know?

Two men were kissing sweetly and playfully by the door. Her eyes felt stuck. She wanted to say something — to ask if she could join.

Today at the ocean the sun feels half-cocked and crazy, clouds covering and then uncovering her, so warm and still. A woman on the beach should have silky fresh-pressed child’s skin — pearly. Janelle’s skin is wrinkled, lasso lines around her eyes, orange-tinted from tanning fluid. At night she feels twenty.

The heat is something awful, she has cotton-mouth… and suddenly, her dad is walking toward her on the sand — limping because of his bad toe. He is dead and so she smiles, it is good to know him. He looks annoyed, as though she’s still a child with the flu, vomiting and sobbing.

He says, “Janelle, stop retching. There is only so much liquid.”

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Fuzzy Boots . by Molly Bond

The night was brisk and cool. The stars hung over us, watching, breathing, blinking. I was jogging to keep up with them; they were moving at an uncomfortable pace. My velcro sneakers stood out from their white boots, the latest fashion, bought in a haze of frenzied shopping. The sidewalk was too narrow. I was being pushed off the edge, forced to walk in the dog-crap-laden weeds. I attempted to step ahead of them, but Susy pushed me back with her newly tanned arm. I looked up at her and listened as she instructed me to walk behind Becca and her, her voice sticky with bubblegum, in the tone one uses when addressing a badly behaved dog. I gazed at Becca, who seemed to be purposely ignoring me. As I stared, memories slapped me, grazing my skin.

Lying in the soft
white sand on the beach,
hair whipped by the salty wind. Sitting around
as far apart
from the popular group as possible
during lunch
and still feeling like
the coolest
kids around.
The three of us, sitting
on a cliff, watching the city
squirm below us.

I took in Becca’s painted face, her plastic nails, her disgustingly fuzzy boots. Susy’s hazel eyes, streaked with triumph — mocking me, egging me on. Unwelcome tears drowned my face, and I tried to wipe them away with my sweatshirt sleeve. “You are alone in this world,” a voice echoed through me. “You lost them all.”

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Clockwork . by Fred Osuna

5:17 a.m.

Bill is up before the sun. Mug in hand, he sips coffee on the open tailgate of his truck, one leg swinging like a metronome. He waits for the sunrise and for the old woman across the street. At any moment, she’ll come outside to pick up the day’s newspaper. He can see it resting beneath the blooming crape myrtle, its plastic wrapper glistening with dew.

1:51 a.m.

The paperboy sits in the back seat. He rolls, bags, and tosses the dailies as his father drives slowly through the neighborhood. As they round the corner by the community fountain, he takes aim at the old woman’s tree and throws. The paper hits the slender trunk with a thwack.

1:45 a.m.

The old woman lies in bed, restless, tossing uncomfortably, waiting for the sound of the newspaper. Upon hearing it, she falls asleep.

5:31 a.m.

The old woman rises, dons a robe and peers through the blinds. She can see Bill’s cigarette tip glowing red in the dark. She waits for him to leave. When she loses patience, she walks out to the crape myrtle and picks up The Post. Turning to go inside, she sneaks a look back at Bill. He waves, slides off the tailgate, empties the cold remains of his coffee cup onto the grass, and goes inside to start his workday with a shower.

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Blessed . by Alexandra Pereira

She doesn’t care what people think,
waving her arms in the air,
majestically and nonchalant.
The warm breeze kissing her unshaven
underarms, as she kicks wet sand
in the air, unaware of its presence.

She doesn’t care what people think,
as she struts like a Persian peacock,
along side turquoise waves that bow
to her aura, offering sweet myrrh
and frankincense.

She doesn’t care what people think,
as she shakes her hips, looking down
at an outspoken belly button.
Tenderly, she rubs the hot skin the
afternoon sun has blessed,
and thinks, “I hope they’re boys.”

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Rock, Paper, Scissors . by Catherine Davis

Picture point A. Hesitant, curious, shy. (A is a Modigliani in a Van Gogh starry night.)

Point B emerges on the horizon; now A is aquiver with visions of a dance. (B is handsome Hiawatha lately of the forest.) And voilà – points A and B conjoin. A solid line through space and time, spinning, stretching, drawing so close as to be barely distinguishable.

Enter point C: saunter, slither, blast. See what you get. (C is a Siren, with luscious blues and overripe lips.) A and B are intoxicated. Much ado, and so on.

A triangle is considered a stable structure. Ha.

A triangle is a structure, in fact, only insofar as it remains a triangle. When two of its legs fall off, it becomes a line, with a redundant point hovering somewhere off in the margin. It’s a new order.

Picture point A. Off course, wobbling, confused.

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Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown . by Guy Yasko

— Strike three!

Some you win, some you lose. Only these days it’s more like “You
lose.” Period.

— How much?
— Eight for the beers and fifty for the bet.

I slide three twenties across the bar.

— See you tomorrow, Chuck.
— Don’t think so, Bill.
— Oh, you know you’ll be here.
— Fuck you, Bill.
— See you tomorrow.

I hate myself.

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Three-handed Bridge . by Christopher Allen

Anthony was five, the walls in the army base apartment a fatherless beige. He played on the floor with his brother, James, and his mother, a cool-eyed grass widow. They had no Hotwheels, Legos or plastic army men. The mother was grooming companions.

‘Bid, Anthony. No talking across the table.’

‘But I don’t know how.’

‘Baby,” said James. At seven, James was already a savvy bridge player.

The mother sighed. ‘How many points do you have?’

‘That would be talking across the table,’ Anthony said. “And actually we’re on the floor, so I can’t be talking across the table.”

‘Smart aleck.’

A cold hand stung Anthony’s cheek.

‘Young man!” the mother shouted into the kitchen where Anthony had retreated. “Come back and finish this game. Quitters never win.’ She shouted until Anthony felt sorry for her and came back. His father was not quitting in Vietnam, so Anthony would endure his mother’s anger and learn her adult game.

And he was quick about it. He sponged up meanings for finesse, rubber and dummy. Finesse was something you did with a queen to get a king. Though statistically it didn’t work often, Anthony became especially good at finessing. A rubber was what you won for winning two games in a row (though he never saw the ones he won). And In three-handed bridge, the dummy was the fourth pile of cards on the floor, which he always wanted but seldom got.

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Three are the Fathers . by Joanne Jagoda

It hasn’t been easy growing up as a test tube baby. As soon as I was old enough to realize no dad showed up at my soccer games or was there to read me stories, I started asking questions.

“You’re extra special Billy,” my mom assured me. “I wanted you so badly that I put in the order for a handsome, tall and smart boy who likes music and sports and look what I got… perfect you”.

“But Mom,” I protested, I’m short, can’t sing and never get picked for a team. Maybe they got the order mixed up like when they put tomatoes on my burger and I hate tomatoes.”

She’d laugh, tussle my red hair and blink away tears. Even though Mom does her best as mother and father, when I turned ten, I got in my head that one day a magic genie would appear to give me three chances to find MY REAL FATHER. First I was sure he was the owner of Moran’s Super. Then I was convinced he was my pediatrician, Dr. Goldberg. But I settled on Mr. Purdy, our laughing, red-headed mailman. When he recognizes me, he’ll give me a man-hug and ask polite questions about my life. Then he’ll come to my soccer games, take me for pizza. I’ll go for a one night sleep-over at his house where I’ll meet his daughters, then spend Christmas in Hawaii, and summers together. Now if only that genie will hurry up.

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Then There Were Two . by Martin Brick

He rented the tux to make in convincing. Actually shelled out the cash, committed to his third of the limo, and everything. Then he got “sick,” on prom night, and told everyone he hated to miss it, but couldn’t get out of bed. Cory and Dawn came by his house for a photo, but he refused.

So there were two. For the best he said, though he found himself crying like some little girl.

It was always the three of them: Cory and Dawn and Ted. All the same age and living on Hyacinth Court. They used to take naps together. Three three-year-olds lying together on a queen sized bed while their mothers drank tea and played cards.

When they were 8, maybe 9, Cory showed him pages ripped from Playboys out of his father’s closet. Ted remembers most Cory’s comment: “This is what Dawn will become.”

In September she had some kind of boyfriend they both disliked. Some good-looking-but-boring-business type. She told Cory and Ted she was thinking about losing her virginity. They negotiated that delicate matter, dissuading her without appearing jealous. Ultimately nothing happened, she dumped him, and in October they pledged to go to prom as a threesome, just like when they were 3. More like siblings than anything.

Except Cory never saw it like that. He glowed on Prom night, Dawn on his arm. “It won’t be the same without you,” Dawn said. “No, it wouldn’t,” they all knew.

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Pebbles . by Kelly Grotke

He picked up the three pebbles that lay on the desk, cupping them in his hand and rattling them around like dice as he stared out the window.

She’d accused him once of caring more about things than people. It was an argument. He thinks of this as he shakes the pebbles. But it wasn’t true, no. Why had it come to be about truth and right and wrong and would you just stop it, stop, stop it now or I’ll….and then you….and in his gut, even here and now, he could still feel the bends and distortions of time that had begun pulling at their words until language itself threatened to unravel, even now and how much later is that than before, he wonders, and have I been gutted.

He had cared about things. Not more than people, no, not more than her. But by then there’d been neither time nor will to explain, and in truth he only understood himself much later. Remember this, the things said to him, this will be the future and the good, forever and ever, and we will walk upon the beach and the sun shone bright and warm on your hair and the smell of your skin yes and I touch you and the happiness and let me in, please let me in and now my soul is shaking again like these pebbles from the shore of some distant ocean and everything falls from my hands.

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3 . by Stephen Hastings-King

1.
2 is another.
3 is made from 1 and 2.
4 is 3 which is 2 and 1 and all their modalities
5 is the current produced by 4 which is 3 and 2 and 1 and all their modalities.
6 is 1 atop then the other atop then the other then the other then the other.
7 is transcendent.

1 is another.
2 is itself and its inverse.
3 is 1 and its inverse and a mirror.
4 is 1 and its inverse a mirror and intersections of geometries.
5 is 4 as arrayed in a cube.
6 is 5 in a series.
7 is prime real estate.
8 is endless
9 is 6 reversed.
10 is 1 and another.
3 is a fragment of 8.

1 is another. A commons as a circle is the center of town.
2. The center of the center, a hole.
3. A hole is a field of possibilities.
4. It is the custom of the inhabitants to gather periodically and try to remember.
5. Because it has long been this way the men wear derbies and overcoats, the women Victorian dresses.
6. They stand together at the edge.
7. Hands folded behind them, they wait.
8. They feel the air bristle with maybes.
9. But nothing ever happens.
10. It is strange the way momentous things disappear.

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Bee Branch does Ulysses . by Meg Tuite

It was their monthly Ulysses meeting at Kildare’s in Bee Branch, Arkansas. Michelle, Walter, and John sat behind frosty mugs of Bud with their stained, unabridged copies of the tome in front of them. No one else was going to show up.

Michelle had been the mucilage who worked for over a month to recruit twelve brave or ignorant souls. Some joined to escape screeching kids and spouses for a night. Others hoped it was a single’s club or a dip into a steamy Danielle Steel novel – banned! After they realized, in the first few gatherings, that most were middle-aged and morose, and meetings consisted of staring blankly at each other over beer, trying to come up with the meaning for all kinds of gibberish, they quit.

Walter and John hung in there for the beer and Michelle’s company (both had a desolate crush on her) and would chime in while she scoured through her bible-sized dictionary. “Hyperborean,” Walter slurred, “Single’s night in the church basement. Hyper-borrring,” and both men snickered. “Untonsured. Yeah, a doctor yanked them out with my adenoids when I was five,” said John. “Scrotumtightening sea. Your ex’s nickname, John?” Walter tittered.

Michelle looked up from her book at these two plastered devotees. She wasn’t going home yet either. “Excuse me, while I head for the squirting dugs. And order me another stout one of you poxey bowsy‘s!” she bellowed as the two men howled. Michelle got up to hit the can.

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Same Room Different Planet . by Tom Allman

The bespectacled eyes of two lonely people met across a long, musty cardboard box. On the last day of the comic book convention he was looking for Mutant Revenge Team #6. She was looking for Love, and a Brave Teen Trio Omnibus.

Neither thirty something exercised regularly, preferring the armor of Nerdy T-Shirts to protect their bodies. She wore way too much purple eyeliner and he often forgot to comb his hair and floss. Fate, just like in Moth Maiden’s latest issue, was about to intervene.

“Do you have Ninja Marmoset Hipsters #1,” she asked coyly? He flinched, clearly no Casanova.

“Of course I do,” he scoffed.

She’d soon coaxed him to a nearby restaurant then to her hotel room. She arrayed today’s comic haul on the bed and excused herself to the bathroom. He checked to make sure that they had Cartoon Channel on the cable.

She soon emerged wearing only a smile and Wonder Wench undies. He craned his neck to see past her and catch the end of Star Wranglers.

“Now, for all your fantasies to all come true,” she purred. His jaw dropped and he nearly shouted.

“You have a Mutant Revenge Team #6?”

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Bowl of Tears . by Michael Dickes, ed. Cherise Wolas

As far as she knew, her father had never cried. She had seen it coming, but never becoming real, until yesterday.

Yesterday, he spoke of the weather. Yesterday, he spoke of the doctor. Yesterday he spoke of things disappearing. He spoke of her mother. He spoke.

Yesterday, he spoke and then choked. He choked on tears, real tears rimming his eyes, real tears running down his face, real tears falling as he bent over to cry.

She knelt on the floor beside him. She knelt down to catch his tears. To catch his tears in a bowl. She cradled the bowl in her hands to see that they were real. So he could see that they were real. So they both could know that all of it….was real.

There, on the floor, beside him, she cried also, for her mother, for his wife and they wept together into a bowl of tears.

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Three Oceans . by Walter Bjorkman

CHILD
A dream of eerie, oddly-shaped fish dominated my sleep some nights as a child. Afraid and rapt with wonderment, I could not tear myself away, awaken on will as with other frightful ones. I was slowly suffocating, descending deeper into waters that somehow remained just as clear, and although each non-breath seemed to be my last, it went on and on, intensifying in its awful fascination and constriction on my lungs, until some external factor woke me.

YOUNG MAN
I worked the waters of Miami’s gritty river for ten years, sometimes in the cramped hold of a millet-filled ship, where the grain for the hungry Haitian poor was piled everywhere. It got into my lungs, it provided slip-relief, like sawdust, from the oily floor. I also worked the gleaming docks of the shimmering Biscayne Bay where Americans came to bathe in the false hope of the Caribbean, hoping for some days of freedom.

Working in the spacious cruise ship laboratories with their white surgeon’s suits and fresh paint, I couldn’t help but wonder about the disparities — the Chief Engineer, a man of distinction, the scow captain a man of disrepute.

Then the pure joy of stopping by a Mami-Papi comedor, soaking in fresh-fried maduros where this conflict of Miami faded away into nothingness.

OLD MAN
Now I think of neither but see an azure sky casting diamonds on red coral specks in the sands, and dream of the white foam of a wave receding from your breast.

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The Dirt . by John Wentworth Chapin

The coffin-sized pit in his basement wasn’t freshly dug. “If I was burying Cub Scouts, I wouldn’t have let you down here,” he joked, his voice thin.

It was pretty logical, but I was too creeped out for logic. Six months together! I said, “The truth.”

“The truth? You shouldn’t have come down here, you shouldn’t put me on the spot like this.”

I backed away toward the stairs, gripping the railing behind me, waiting for him to grab an axe; instead, I saw self-righteousness melt into tears.

“You think I’d hurt you? I’m the same person,” he blubbered. “You loved me five minutes ago.”

I didn’t answer.

“I dug it four years ago, the day I found out I was positive.” He waited for me to speak, like this was some answer. “I laid down in it. Pretended I was dead. It… it was good.”

“You’re not going to die,” I reminded him. “Not now.”

“Duh,” he said. “You said you’d love me no matter what.”

I let go of the railing. “It’s spooky! You could have told me.”

“Tell you I think I should break up with you, just to spare you eventual doom?” He gasped for air and pulled away when I touched his neck.

I climbed into the pit and beckoned, arms open. He wiped his eyes and breathed deeply, then climbed down. I put my arm around him and imagined our future as I held him in the dirt.

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Juggler . by Michelle Elvy

I used to be a juggler. Got pretty good, too. Started out small, used three beanies my flatmate Stefan gave me. Stefan was a lively juggler, could use anything at hand. I once watched him take a salt shaker, a wine glass, and a roll of toilet paper and toss them in the air. I held my breath, expected them to come crashing down on the floor, but he kept them suspended for five minutes. All while belting out Nina Hagen.

So I started juggling with Stefan every Sunday in the Stadtpark. I was terrible at first. Man, you gotta breathe, he’d laugh. Sure enough, breathing helped. I could even ride a unicycle. We started busking and we breathed and balanced our way all over Germany. Made some money, got another partner in our act. Beate was gorgeous and could swallow swords. But she left us eventually for a poet named Peter in Paris, and after that the chemistry was gone. Stefan went back to Hamburg, I flew home to Pennsylvania. Found myself in a cubicle wearing polyester shirts and simultaneously drinking whisky from a flask I kept hidden in my bottom drawer while suffocating.

Now I’m back in Hamburg, wondering what happened to Stefan after all this time. I go to the Stadtpark on Sundays and juggle. I’m not so good any more but there’s a girl with red shoes who keeps her distance but always watches. I’m going to talk to her one of these days.

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This week’s photo was taken in June 2006 in Juneau, Alaska. It rained constantly while we were there but there was something about the life and the light that captivated us. We traveled through Southeast Alaska that whole season and sailed passed icebergs, glaciers, and whales. We collected thousands of photos and memories. But somehow it was a portion of this unassuming picture of my then four-year-old looking out the window of the Juneau Public Library which became the banner for 52|250. I like it here on this last page of 52|250; there’s something about the young child looking out, the brightly colored fish between her and the murky wet cityscape. Maybe it’s this: maybe it says goodbye in the right way. And onward!
— Michelle Elvy

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Filed under Wk #52 - Threesome

Week #51 – Unintended consequences

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

The theme is unintended consequences.

Marr4 by Kim Pollard
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The Writer Aged . by Martin Porter

His life flows like ink from his fountain pen,
The type that sucks up the blackness by capillary action
Effortlessly, until one day
A blockage might occur in the feed
Or the sac begins to perish
And decay.

He wears his hat at a more jaunty angle
But fails to conceal the less distinct nature
Of his hairline, the smudged boundary
Between lip and chin, the creased parafiltrum
And the lines on his face drawn
With time’s fine nib.

He knows he is in the wrong stanza
Of a poem he writes, but
It is his readers who create the character,
He has lost control, is not who he imagines himself to be
And nor are we, drifting along his script,
And he is aged.

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Owl . by Susan Tepper

All night until the owl starts braying they play Monopoly. Rudy wins Park Place and Boardwalk over and over like a mafia don. I am so tired. I just hang on the wicker couch in the porch. They play on in the living room under the dim chandelier until the owl. Porky counts six from the owl. He says it’s over and flips the board. Rudy punches him and my sister Alma shrieks. My cousin Blink says shut up! shut up! I want to sleep in the woodshed but the vicious dog from next door hunts rabbits in there. He could be in there right now snooping. All the bedrooms are occupied by elder folk. We kids are supposed to sleep with blankets on the floor. I won’t. Bugs creep along the floor at night. Mice sometimes. I will stay on this stinking wicker couch until my back breaks in half and everyone notices I am two parts.

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Detritus . by Zoe Karakikla-Mitsakou

The house is dusty. Piles of small deaths lurking in the corners; sneering at cells that have trickled from my body and are forcibly suspended in rhythmic spasms before they land on the fragments of our lives. There are no arachnophobes among the blind. The visual representation of a spider triggers a primal part of our brains into action, an evolutionary reaction to a primordial threat; in the absence of the visual stimulus, fear is also absent.

My father’s bones were exhumed, thrown in a bone crusher and buried as dust and flakes in a mass grave with no names. I walk over the tomb in silence as my eyes flicker in horror between the priest who, after drowsily saying a prayer I know my communist father would have hated, holds his hand out in expectation of a monetary reward; and a small fleck of grime caught in the breeze, dancing its way to oblivion: is this a crumb of someone from that grave or me?

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Smells Like Burning . by Chad Smith

Stanley had a crush on Sarah. They were in Ms. Goldman’s freshman chemistry class together fifth period. That day they were working on homework at Sarah’s house while her parents were gone. Stanley was in heaven.

“Break time!” Sarah woke Stanley from daydreaming, “I want to show you something.”

She leads him to the closet in the hall. Inside the closet, they sit down on shoes and close the door. There is no light. Sarah pulls Stanley’s tee-shirt off. He doesn’t resist. Suddenly a spark and the closet lights up. Sarah had flicked a lighter.

“I read it was recently discovered kids born and raised in California have higher levels of fire retardant in their blood than kids in other places do. Chemicals used to keep our teddy bears, clothes and cribs from going up in flames have been leaking into our bodies.”

She sticks her tongue out over the flame and rolls it in and out of the fire. Sarah puts the flame on Stanley’s bare nipple. He’s startled at first. When he sees it doesn’t hurt, he reaches his hand out and holds it in the fire. No marks.

“Somebody’s got to do something about this!”

“Actually, I think they have done us a huge favor,” the flame goes out and it’s black again, “When we go to Hell after we die, we won’t burn.”

She pulls him close and kisses him. Her tongue spreads his mouth open. She grabs his hand and puts it on her chest.

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Unintended Consequences . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

You sit there bleary-eyed morning tired and coffee growing cold. The headlines blur. Your mother’s chitter-chatter segues into wall-paper and you try to remember where you parked the car, whether it’s pulled in nice and tight in the garage or whether you left it curbside, afraid the garage door lifting at god-knows-when would wake mom, but you can’t remember, you don’t remember much of anything, not driving, not stumbling up the stairs, not sleeping. Nothing.

But you remember this: mom already on the couch with her Scotch and week’s worth of Tivo, she assumes you’re with Brad and Mac, and you are, but not at the movies, you’re chugging beer and smoking blunts in Lorraine’s basement while you listen to Zeppelin, Morrison, Hendrix, the stuff your mom plays when she feels old, and for the first time all week you stop worrying how you bombed AP biology and how you missed the Berkeley deadline and what the hell you’ll do about college, you don’t have the dough for Stanford but damn if you’ll go to San Jose State, and then Lorraine pulls you from the couch, so alive, warm, so smiley, and you pile into your Mercury and barrel down the street, windows down, the air smells like sea, the night goes forever.

The milk smell makes you nauseous. Your mom says, “Pity about Stacie, some drunk ran over her dog last night,” and you remember the crunching sound when you took the corner at Beloit and Anderson, tires squealing.

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Honest Intentions and All That Hooey . by Susan Gibb

One night I woke up and caught my boyfriend cheating at a game of cards. I was devastated.

“It’s only Solitaire,” he said.

“It’s only Solitaire!” I cried.

“Yes!” he said.

“That’s right!” I sobbed.

We argued long and hard till dawn broke through the window, sharing its light with the walls, the floor, the cat playing with her empty food dish, but not with us. We could not see each other’s point of view. I fed the cat, packed my things and left. I mean, come on, how could I stay with such a man?

Life kept on kicking me hard after that, toppling everything I dared to touch. I was being so careful, so conscious now of playing by the rules. In fact, sabotaging my every effort at my job (I gave a rave review of a coworker that put her in a supervisory position over me), my new apartment (gave up the second floor for the first and was broken into three times in a month), and in love (answered his questions honestly, i.e., “No, you’re not the one with the biggest…”) losing each new man almost immediately.

It took a while, but I wised-up. I lied through my teeth and am now happily the head of my department, ensconced in a fully paid-for apartment on the Avenue, and am sleeping with the married CEO of the company.

Let’s just say I learned how to play my cards.

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Firewood . by Nathan Alling Long

One day I slammed my bedroom door after a fight with my parents, and there I stood alone in my room, the sound of anger echoing off the walls. Ugly, ugly, I thought, and I vowed–tenacious and absolute like all teenagers–to never show anger again.

And like that, I stopped. I transformed into ice calm, a person unflusterable.

For years, I was a monastery, a fortress made of bones. I sat cramped for hours in a pick-up, an October wind spinning up straw dust into my eyes. There were snowstorms with bare hands, fasting through spring, the hot summer on a bus that smell of chemicals and urine. I let old aches burn without salve.

Things were once distinct like that, certain, discrete. Now things morph into other things: the days, feelings, the songs I like and hate. Red lights have a hint of orange, the sky is never a perfect blue. What happened was this: the human touch.

We were talking in a field, the fire of night above us. The cold wet dew was settling into the grass, and all our words took us to mountains. Then his hand brushed against my arm. The monastery dissolved and became a playground. As we touched, the space between the world and my body wriggled and slid away. Then we fell into a well of warm liquid. Afterward, I smelled like his body. The doors, once softly shut, were now unhinged, dismantled, offered to the fire.

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Isolation . by Georgina Kamsika

Yesterday, a stray dog had wandered through the aisle – everyone smiled. When I followed on its heels, people frowned and turned away. A little boy made a retching noise before his mother shook him to be quiet.

Today, the bodily contact was more physical contact than I’d had in weeks, months. Yet the guy leaned into the aisle as far away from me as possible, his mouth gaping in a rictus.

It’s not my fault, it’s not even communicable.

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Guidance Systems . by Grant Farley

Pasadena, 1959

“Who will live and who will die?” His wife asked as they lay in bed.

“Is this one of those psychological puzzles? If seven people are on a desert island and one has to go…”

“No. You will choose who enters. Power of life and all that. Does your brother die?”

He sat up. “Eddie lives too far away. He’ll never make it.”

“So it’s a matter of geography.”

“No…well, in a way, yes.”

“Amy’s little friend next door?”

“Christ, I don’t…No.”

“Then innocence is not a factor.”

“She’s not family.”

“Not family.”

He stared at their moonlit comforter. “It may never happen.”

“Who do you suppose is at the other end of your bombs?”

“I design guidance systems, not bombs. You know that. Anyway, they’re our bombs. All our bombs.”

“…our bombs, then?”

“A military target.”

“Perhaps there’s another scientist over there being told the same thing.”

He moved his hand toward hers. “Why are you doing this?”

She moved hers away. “Why are you doing this?”

“By ‘this’ do you mean providing a good life for you and the girls? Defending our country? Or building our bomb shelter in the event…”

“They are the same.”

“What has gotten into you?”

“I will not go into your shelter.”

“Yes, you will.”

“No. Look at me. I will never go in.”

“Why does it have to be like this?”

“Are you still building it?”

He paused. “Yes.”

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Implications . by Robert Vaughan

The moment I opened the door, I knew something was wrong. He paced in the kitchen, told me how, not why.

“Let’s sit down,” I said. I turned off Entertainment Tonight. My hand shook as I set down the remote.

“She came at me with a knife. I had to do it. She was gonna kill me.” He covered his face with his hands.

“Where…is she?”

He stood up as if to go. Sat back down. “I buried her.”

Shocked, I knew what we had to do. “Does anybody else know?”

Shook his head no.

“We have to call the police.”

“NO-” he protested. “Mom, please.”

“I’m sorry, Mark. But you told me.” My voice shook. “Now I’m implicated.” I waited for him to respond, but he just sat there, head hung. “When you’re ready, make that call. Don’t force me to.”

While he dialed, my heart nailed itself to the cross. Everything we’d worked for, poured ourselves into. Gone. I couldn’t breathe. Our only son.

After he hung up he said, “Do you have any chocolate milk?”

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Unintended . by Darryl Price

The wash of something blue into the red of something
momentarily melting and beautiful but not for long. The promise
of a living blackness to come. Black that will darken
every doorstep, conceal but not restrict every attempt at dancing.

The movement of all living things rushing together towards another
chance to see another day through to its flashpoint. Forgotten
starfish crawling into each other’s history,making starfish history keep
with the times, with its arms, or are they all

legs?But not alone. Never alone.No. All things continue
to consume the universe and the universe continues to regenerate
itself through the daily cannIbalism like a coat of many
colors turned insideout. You can easily wear it either way

and it becomes the season you are in.Consequences happen
so fast that your reaction time seems like a joke
in comparison. You might die tonight. The notices will all
have mouths of their own, teeth stuck in your dreams.

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Partners . by Len Kuntz

Silence is an instructor telling me now, what you’re doing and with whom. I am not so dim.

My organs sag like wilted crepes. I am suddenly jowly everywhere. I am a rain-soaked picnic while the tarp above the table sounds like a wet harpsichord about to burst its water belly.

We agreed. We promised to make our partners happy.

I know what you’re doing.

It’s happening right now, isn’t it?

I kick off the lights. I put on music. The moon is trying to call me out for a slow dance and, after a skip of hesitation, I decide to go.

I’m not as busy as you.

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Conviction . by Matt Potter

“Cancel everything!”

Their jaws drop. Tears well in my father’s eyes.

“You’ve turned this into a circus!” I say. I fold my arms and glare.

My mother lays her pen on top of the seating plan. “And disappoint your father?” she says. “When that’s all he’s looked forward to throughout his illness?”

Dad sniffs. I don’t look at him.

I jab the plan with my finger. “You’ve put all my anorexic friends on the table nearest the buffet,” I say. “And all my bulimic friends on the other side of the room away from the buffet and the toilets.”

“There’s no point wasting good food,” says Mum.

Flicking my veil behind my shoulder, I stomp out of the room and into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me.

I slump on the bed, twisting on my bottom so my head hits the pillow and my feet, in their dental assistant-like white, rest at the other end, beneath the cross on the wall.

Mum taps on the door and stands in the doorway.

“Sirên,” she says, using the Christian name I’m giving up. “This going away party is the last time we’ll be able to do anything like this. Soon you’ll be in the convent. Have a heart and let us do this the way it should be done.”

She looks at me doe-eyed.

“At least while your father’s still with us.”

I roll my eyes. People think being a Christian means you’ll put up with anything.

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Auto . by John Riley

Son?
Yeah.
You alone?
Yeah.
Shit.
Not my fault.
Where’s your mom?
Out.
Did you get the wallet I sent you?
The one with the cowboy on it?
I made it in the leather shop.
No one cares about cowboys.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Bow wow.
I got out last week.
You heading our way?
That was the plan.
What stopped you?
’57 Thunderbird. Creamy white. It was cherry.
Sounds yummy.
It should have been locked up.
People are fools.
It wasn’t my fault.
There you go.
It was cherry.

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She tells me I am already gone . by Lou Freshwater

The new nurse wheels me into the theatre. It isn’t easy to navigate
the small space between the stage and the front row of seats. She
turns my chair until she’s able to fit me into place at the end of the
row. Sixty-years ago I was an actor. I controlled the emotions of
rooms like this. Now I cannot even control one hour of my life. I am
trapped in this body with hunched shoulders. Rusted wire hands covered
with skin that tears like nightmare rice paper. Watery eyes, washed
out eyes. Bones that never stop humming with ache. Muscles that hang
there, dying, saying no. A mouth that is always dry, choked with dry.

Without moving anything except my eyes, I am able to see a woman. She
is perfect. Her hair, straight and blond, like light. She tucks it
behind her ear, and I see the small pearl earring she has chosen. Her
sweater scoops just below her collarbone, that most beautiful part of
a woman. She looks at the man next to her. She smiles and looks down
at her fingers and she begins to move her fingertips around her thigh,
like she is tracing letters there. She looks towards me. But she does
not look at me. Then she looks at everything around me, but not at me.
Usually I get the small smiles women give old men, like we’re stuffed
animals, no longer predatory, not really alive. But she won’t even
give me that.

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E-Harmony Connection #54421 . by Meg Tuite

We met at The Corrale. The adrenaline was rising with his hair that puffed like a pastry every time he swept it up with his hand. I ordered Cuervo and a pina colada chaser. I was in an island disaster kind of mood.

He asked hot questions.

He was volatile, vacuous, a smile crumbled around his lips.

“Who would you rail it for, Gumby or Pokey?”

I took a swig of Cuervo.

“Pokey. No question. Got a bad rap. Gumby’s everywhere. Just because he’s politically Green?”

Zefron ordered another Kahlua. Things were plummeting in the right direction.

“If you were a whirling dervish, which way would you twirl?”

“I’d whip myself all the way back beyond infancy.” I felt something move down there, where it counts.

“Ever had a Mickey Mouse watch?”

I sighed, nodded. Zefron lifted his arm: vintage.

He grunted crackerjack love my way, flicked his tongue. Time to quit the Corrale.

E-Harmony to the 10th degree.

Green, phallic creatures were plastered all over this fruitcake’s lemon Smart car. Zefron threw me against the car, submerged me in the gorge of his pharynx. I pried myself away. “Why?”

Zefron’s eyes swung both ways. “Opposites attract. Gumby-loving groupies collude, but to crave the likes of Pokey? Exquisite.”

We were destined by chemistry and plastic figurines to give it a go. Zefron opened the door to his flaming Gumby mobile. I stuffed myself in, couldn’t wait to see what radioactive wallpaper Zefron had glowing in his pad.

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Tattoo Park . by Annette Rohde

The park was quiet for a Friday morning. The sun warm, leaves golden and grass still slightly damp from an early autumn shower.

It felt like home away from home.

She sat on the park bench, frail and forlorn, crouching over and clutching her chest. Her strikingly transparent blue eyes welled with tears, her aged leathery skin covered in tattoos of names and dates; just like mine.

There was a new tattoo on her chest. Her husband had died two days before.

I sat beside her and handed her a cup of tea from my thermos and a slice of cinnamon teacake still warm from the oven. Her eyes warmed with gratitude as she looked up at me, “this was one of our favourites!”

We meet in the park each week to share tea, cake and stories of our tattoos. For each person or pet we have loved, we point to a tattoo. On our birthdays, we both get a new tattoo. I feel as though I have known her all my life, her memories now mine and mine are hers.

This morning I wait for her in the park but she hasn’t arrived. She had one tattoo left, the first tattoo she ever had. She seemed to find that one too hard to talk about.

I arrive home to find a letter from her. She tells me about the first tattoo. It was to remember a daughter she had given up for adoption.

The date is my birthday.

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Dance Revolution . by Mike DiChristina

Z was President-for-Life, but inside his plump body he was a dancer. Sporting his trademark Napoleonic bicorn and gold lamé tunic, Z went viral on YouTube whenever he danced in public.

On La Fête Nationale, Z delivered an impassioned speech from the palace balcony and then tap-danced to the roar of his minions, helping them overlook the perpetual State of Emergency and the recent disappearance of a Nobel laureate.

At the following week’s UN conference in New York, Z stole the show by slipping out of his titanium-reinforced limo to breakdance with tattooed American youths on the sidewalk. The Daily News dubbed Z the “(Mentally) Ill Duce.”

Back in the Maghreb, when the French ambassador stopped in for a sanity check, Z leapt off his throne and executed thirty-two consecutive fouettés, matching Baryshnikov’s legendary Swan Lake performance at the Ballet Russe.

M. L’Ambassadeur pronounced Z a superb dancer before departing to Paris for “les consultations.”

At Z’s last cabinet meeting, as the citizens of his emirate rattled the palace’s gold-plated gates, Z hopped onto the table and performed a grand jeté that left his ministers speechless. When the crowd surged into the compound, Z and the Royal Dance Instructor were whisked away in a helicopter from the palace roof.

Z trained for months in his Alpine redoubt. Finally, the call came from America. Z jetted to Hollywood, where, dressed as a gaucho, he stuck his nose between the breasts of a fawn-eyed goddess and tangoed on Dancing With The Stars.

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Earth’s the Right Place for Love . by Andrew Stancek

Mirko has not been sleeping and sees danger behind every post. As he is opening the front door of the apartment building he senses someone behind him. He turns around as she says, “Hi there,” in an exaggerated sultry voice. Mirko can feel the handcuffs tightening around his wrists, the slap of the policeman arresting him, hear his mother’s wail in the courtroom as he is sentenced.

“Long time no see,” he forces his voice not to shake. “Dad isn’t home yet, said he’d be late tonight.”

“It’s you I want to talk to,” she says. “Invite me in?” She follows him. He puts the loaf of bread on the counter, the salami in the fridge. When he turns around she has her top off and is climbing out of her skirt. “I don’t like old men that much,” she says. “We don’t have to talk. No one will know.”

She is thin and her breasts sway as she walks to his father’s bed. Mirko’s mouth is dry but he follows, unbuckling his belt. He is on the bed next to her, finally naked when they hear the key in the lock. Mirko freezes but she laughs, puts her arms behind her head.

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Death in the Afternoon . by Guy Yasko

— Bobby! Bobby! I’m home. You call Liston yet?

— Bobby?

Must be gone. Curtains closed. Sunlight through curtains, like when
you’re sick.

— oh.

No color. White? Blue? Not breathing.

What do you do when someone dies? Call 911? He’s already dead!
Chrissake. Have to call anyway? Bureaucracy of death. Police? They’d
know.

You have a drink, that’s what you do. Mark the occasion. What though?
His stuff? Not me, not now. Not even. Stuff from Sandy: Calvados. What’s
that, Spanish? Good enough.

Got what he wanted — or did he? Spite? Escape? That’s it? Ran away from
me, now life. Fuck him. Me, this what I wanted? Don’t know. No. Not
really. Waste of my life, too. Gone now.

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We are walking outside together . by Doug Bond

He was 4. I was 40. The day was bright and we were two gentlemen at
home with a day of things to do. And then that sound I thought I
heard. One I’d never heard. And the phone ringing. His mother in Park
Slope. And the big eyes looking up saying, “What’s happened? What is
it Daddy?”

Why I thought we should walk down I don’t know. I felt crawly sitting
in front of the TV. Felt it right to go see what we could see. That’s
I think what I said, singing, for some reason, “The bear went over the
mountain….” And he answered, “…To see what he could see.”

The Promenade. A front row seat it turned out. Hard candies in my
pockets I put him up on my shoulders. On my shoulders. Time ran in a
direction it never ran before and then he said, “The building fell out
of the sky.”

We ran, walked, ran, double ran, back. Gina was already there. Furious
for what I had let him witness. We had only been separated since
earlier that summer. There was still so much anger, waiting in
reserve, tinder.

We worked with him. He drew us pictures. Black crayons, red arrows,
tiny lines in different colors arcing down the sides. Gina and I took
turns holding him. Holding each other.

He is 14. I am 50. He runs in screaming with his mother, hopping up
and down with the news. We are walking outside together.

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Speed Racer . by Stephen Hastings-King

This time he is a race car driver who struggles with recurrent sing-song strings of rhyming words that run through his mind disrupt his focus and interfere with his reduction to a volume in motion but then meltdown Piltdown the scene changes quick as a flip book and now he remembers race car drivers in television shows full of espionage open cockpits and aviator goggles, the whine of engines and implications of lubrication but cannot access the mythology so remains trapped within himself hurtling around a cartoon racetrack before a crowd of make-believe prehistoric men.

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La Gioconda . by Cheri Ause

In the early hours of the morning on the Saturday before Independence Day, the Jolly Roger, a place widely known for its “Brews, Blues, and Bar-B-Q,” burned down. By 8 A.M., most of the town’s population of 512 had come and gone, murmuring condolences to the owners and shaking their heads over the heap of charred timbers still smoldering on the bluff overlooking the Pacific.

“Not sure how it started,” Mel announced to the small group of folks keeping vigil at the edge of the street. He stood outside the yellow police tape the sheriff’s deputy had strung around the gravel parking lot an hour earlier, his eyes fixed on the blackened rubble. “Not sure of the cause yet,” he said to no one in particular.

Not far away, Carol leaned close to Leona, who owned the Sea Trader gift shop across the street. “We’re going to be fine,” Carol whispered, pulling her sweater closer around her. “It’s Liz worries me.” She nodded toward a thirty-something woman standing off by herself at the far end of the parking lot. “Running this place for us is all she’s got since she gave up that crazy notion of opening that cupcake shop in Portland.”

A handful of locals ducked under the tape for a closer look and were quickly joined by three or four tourists. “Sheriff says there’ll be an investigation,” Mel called after them. “Don’t want to be getting too close.” His voice faded beneath the clicking of cameras and cell phones.

Liz stood not far from the only corner of the building left standing, the last scorched remnant of the former juke joint still displaying its painted flames and the words “Smokin’ Hot Ribs!” Her blue eyes luminous and distant, she slowly stroked the white tips of her short dark hair, a twitch in her cheek tugging irrepressibly at the corners of her mouth.

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Unintended Consequences . by Catherine Russell

Frank drove with seeming carelessness to his job in the big gleaming building downtown. Every time he sat behind the wheel and drove the silver lined streets to his office, he was reminded of how far he’d come. The ghosts of his past were banished to the shadows – places he no longer frequented. Highrises lined the boulevard like silent sentinels.

One day after lunch, filled with benevolence for all beings, he decided to return to work by an alternate route. With the characteristic care and foresight that helped him rise among the ranks of his peers, he placed the extra food he’d ordered on the passenger seat, drove to his former haunt, pulled alongside a vagrant, and offered the crumpled brown bag along with his own wide grin.

Frank noticed only the indigent’s beatific smile as the man descended upon him like the angel of death. When he awoke on the pavement in the pungent clothes of his attacker, he remembered nothing else. Without memories of his former life, without home, without family, he consumed the contents of the crumpled brown bag and wondered where he’d get his next meal.

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Confession . by Stella Pierides

The lake sparkled. Puffs of cloud travelled on its surface. The mountains were wrapped in haze, as if wishing to hide from view.

I walked on the pier listening to the water swishing through reeds and lapping to the shore. I thought a big branch floated ahead. Shocked, I realized it was Johannes, our local war hero gone missing.

He was still dressed in black, as always since he returned from the war. Facing down as if obsessed with the bottom of the lake, he rose and fell with the water. He’d been my hero too, though whatever else transpired between us in the past was no longer there.

He had come back another man, spending his time by the lake fending off imaginary enemies. Youths teased him and asked him about the war. But he never answered them.

The mountains across the lake now looked as if sitting in judgment. I found a piece of wood and, leaning over, tried to pull him towards me. A water snake slithering away frightened me and I swayed to avoid falling in. I stood there feeling guilty, as if I had violated him with my branch.

Once the water settled, I saw he was now turned sideways, the way he shyly used to turn whenever I tried to catch his eye, before he went away. At that moment, I saw shades of dark red, and dusky purple on his face, and I thought, I must confess, that these colors suited him.

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Air Freshener . by Marquita Cabrera

“I can’t sleep,” I say.
“Why?” asks the bull.
“I got too much on my mind.”
“You really should shut your eyes.”
“I just told you I can’t sleep.”
“Well, just try,” the bull says.

I flick off my bedroom switch and watch the curtains sway as the wind from the open window hits the edges. I roll over to my right side and close my eyes. The bull rolls over facing my side and grabs my hips. His fierce nostrils spray hot air on my neck. I immediately open my eyes, sit up, and stare at him. “What are you doing?” He stares back with an amused smile on his lips. “I’m rocking you to sleep.” I scratch my head and look around for anything I can hit him with. I look back at him. He still has that amused smile on his lips.

“I was just helping you out,” the bull says.
“I was on my way to Lala Land, thank you,” I say.
“What’s wrong with cuddling?”
“You’re aggressive. You don’t strike me as the sensitive type.”
“You need to stop being racist!”
“What? That doesn’t even make sense,” I say.

We turn to opposite sides of the bed. The bull faces the open darkness next to the dresser. I face the window where the wind continues to blow the curtains. He plays with his nose ring while his horns puncture the pillows under him. I rest my eyes again. The cool air feels good.

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Fuggedaboutitkid’s Gal . by Walter Bjorkman

Eddie always knew what the time of day, week, month and year it was, but never knew if the right time for anything was now or later or then. Marzy had a hard time getting past knowing the week, but she knew when the time was right and always took the right action.

Unless Eddie was around, then she became the man’s putty she never wanted to be and she let her guard down, just once.

Chalky, the third wheel on this tandem bicycle, knew neither the time nor when the time was right, and as a result had been caught in situations like trying to smuggle two endangered snakes in his pants, the day after Richard Reid tried to bomb a plane with explosives he carried in his shoe.

Now they were railbirds at the Big A and as Fuggedaboutitkid rounded for home, Chalky was pounding his ass with a rolled up Racing Form as a whip, urging “getem! fuggedaboutem! getem! fuggedaboutem!” in increasing furor as the longshot whisked towards the finish line to top off an $18 thou triple that would erase all his gambling debts and set him up in the snake business for life, all with the tip that Marzy had given him and which she didn’t bet herself because Eddie liked The Dreamer, hoping to pay for the wedding he thought it was the right time for. The nag finished dead last. Marzy smiled, for the wedding which Marzy knew it was not the right time for, would have to wait.

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After the Fall . by John Wentworth Chapin

Pop-pop and Lily were in the garden again. His hands were knobby and mottled, ugly things, but she took them without hesitation when he offered them to lift her out of the dirt or onto his knee, setting her there like a giggling princess. Pop-pop couldn’t talk since the stroke, but his gestures were broad with warmth and love.

Dee, Lily’s mother, watched from the porch, hiding her rare cigarette from her father and her daughter. She was as ambivalent about Kent III’s as she was about her formerly monstrous father charming his granddaughter. For a long bit of her childhood, he’d come drunkenly into her bed and made a mess of her life; it started after she quit ballet and ended around her first period. She had to count the years on her fingers, but she remembered the markers.

She forgave him, she supposed. It had been easy to do so at the hospital when he was gray and papery. Now, it took a cigarette to steady her when she watched him touch Lily, another drag to quench the fire when Lily shrieked with delight. Dee trusted him, but she couldn’t look away. Yearning, horrified, resigned.

Perhaps he was hollow, without memory behind his now watery eyes. Perhaps this was a peace offering. Perhaps it didn’t matter. They were a family, now, these three: child, widow, widower.

Lily aped a pirouette and collapsed giggling onto Pop-pop’s lap. Dee inhaled.

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The Gift . by Michelle Elvy

Jane bought Jerry a new phone for his birthday because he didn’t want to share any more. They had shared everything in their life together, and she really didn’t need her own phone, but when he said sharing had turned to controlling, she thought she’d try something new, let go a little.

Now Jerry texts and telephones all day while Jane wonders when he’ll start talking to her again.

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We greatly thank Kim Pollard for Marr4, this week’s art. Here is some background from her on how it came to be:

Marr4 was somewhat of a happy accident. I was contacted by the former owner of a local ranch that has fallen into disrepair. He asked that I take photos of a collapsed barn on the property that was once cherished by his family, I was given permission by the current property owners to traipse around and take some photos of the barn and yard. The fallen and decaying building was so pretty and sad at the same time. I got some great shots and ended up feeling almost as nostalgic as the former owner and his family after they viewed the photos.

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Lola, Salmon, Juneau by Michelle Elvy

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This photo was taken in June 2006 in Juneau, Alaska. It rained constantly while we were there but there was something about the life and the light that captivated us. We traveled through Southeast Alaska that whole season and sailed passed icebergs, glaciers, and whales. We collected thousands of photos and memories. But somehow it was a portion of this unassuming picture of my then four-year-old looking out the window of the Juneau Public Library which became the banner for 52|250. I like it here on this last page of 52|250; there’s something about the young child looking out, the brightly colored fish between her and the murky wet cityscape. Maybe it’s this: maybe it says goodbye in the right way. And onward! — Michelle Elvy

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Juggler by Michelle Elvy

I used to be a juggler. Got pretty good, too. Started out small, used three beanies my flatmate Stefan gave me. Stefan was a lively juggler, could use anything at hand. I once watched him take a salt shaker, a wine glass, and a roll of toilet paper and toss them in the air. I held my breath, expected them to come crashing down on the floor, but he kept them suspended for five minutes. All while belting out Nina Hagen.

So I started juggling with Stefan every Sunday in the Stadtpark. I was terrible at first. Man, you gotta breathe, he’d laugh. Sure enough, breathing helped. I could even ride a unicycle. We started busking and we breathed and balanced our way all over Germany. Made some money, got another partner in our act. Beate was gorgeous and could swallow swords. But she left us eventually for a poet named Peter in Paris, and after that the chemistry was gone. Stefan went back to Hamburg, I flew home to Pennsylvania. Found myself in a cubicle wearing polyester shirts and simultaneously drinking whisky from a flask I kept hidden in my bottom drawer while suffocating.

Now I’m back in Hamburg, wondering what happened to Stefan after all this time. I go to the Stadtpark on Sundays and juggle. I’m not so good any more but there’s a girl with red shoes who keeps her distance but always watches. I’m going to talk to her one of these days.

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The Dirt by John Wentworth Chapin

The coffin-sized pit in his basement wasn’t freshly dug. “If I was burying Cub Scouts, I wouldn’t have let you down here,” he joked, his voice thin.

It was pretty logical, but I was too creeped out for logic. Six months together! I said, “The truth.”

“The truth? You shouldn’t have come down here, you shouldn’t put me on the spot like this.”

I backed away toward the stairs, gripping the railing behind me, waiting for him to grab an axe; instead, I saw self-righteousness melt into tears.

“You think I’d hurt you? I’m the same person,” he blubbered. “You loved me five minutes ago.”

I didn’t answer.

“I dug it four years ago, the day I found out I was positive.” He waited for me to speak, like this was some answer. “I laid down in it. Pretended I was dead. It… it was good.”

“You’re not going to die,” I reminded him. “Not now.”

“Duh,” he said. “You said you’d love me no matter what.”

I let go of the railing. “It’s spooky! You could have told me.”

“Tell you I think I should break up with you, just to spare you eventual doom?” He gasped for air and pulled away when I touched his neck.

I climbed into the pit and beckoned, arms open. He wiped his eyes and breathed deeply, then climbed down. I put my arm around him and imagined our future as I held him in the dirt.

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Three Oceans by Walter Bjorkman

CHILD
A dream of eerie, oddly-shaped fish dominated my sleep some nights as a child. Afraid and rapt with wonderment, I could not tear myself away, awaken on will as with other frightful ones. I was slowly suffocating, descending deeper into waters that somehow remained just as clear, and although each non-breath seemed to be my last, it went on and on, intensifying in its awful fascination and constriction on my lungs, until some external factor woke me.

YOUNG MAN
I worked the waters of Miami’s gritty river for ten years, sometimes in the cramped hold of a millet-filled ship, where the grain for the hungry Haitian poor was piled everywhere. It got into my lungs, it provided slip-relief, like sawdust, from the oily floor. I also worked the gleaming docks of the shimmering Biscayne Bay where Americans came to bathe in the false hope of the Caribbean, hoping for some days of freedom.

Working in the spacious cruise ship laboratories with their white surgeon’s suits and fresh paint, I couldn’t help but wonder about the disparities — the Chief Engineer, a man of distinction, the scow captain a man of disrepute.

Then the pure joy of stopping by a Mami-Papi comedor, soaking in fresh-fried maduros where this conflict of Miami faded away into nothingness.

OLD MAN
Now I think of neither but see an azure sky casting diamonds on red coral specks in the sands, and dream of the white foam of a wave receding from your breast.

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Bowl of Tears by Michael Dickes, ed. Cherise Wolas

As far as she knew, her father had never cried. She had seen it coming, but never becoming real, until yesterday.

Yesterday, he spoke of the weather. Yesterday, he spoke of the doctor. Yesterday he spoke of things disappearing. He spoke of her mother. He spoke.

Yesterday, he spoke and then choked. He choked on tears, real tears rimming his eyes, real tears running down his face, real tears falling as he bent over to cry.

She knelt on the floor beside him. She knelt down to catch his tears. To catch his tears in a bowl. She cradled the bowl in her hands to see that they were real. So he could see that they were real. So they both could know that all of it….was real.

There, on the floor, beside him, she cried also, for her mother, for his wife and they wept together into a bowl of tears.

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