Author Archives: Walter

About Walter

I am a writer of sorts

Week #50 – Home sweet home

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

The theme is home sweet home.

Hello Moon by Abby Braman
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Granny’s Mouth . by Martha Williams

Her lips are sealed but I can hear her voice.

Bugger you! Look at you, with your rolling eyes and arse-pokey lips, thinking I’m too stupid to know what’s coming — how I did a sinful thing so you must take my baby. Poor you, the burden on your morning, have a biscuit with your sigh. Thank God you’re never wrong, eh? Well, bugger you.

They didn’t lock her up, nor take her baby. Instead my mum was born and raised within the family, edged from household into married household until Grandad arrived and Mum could land Granny’s nest.

Granny’s laugh, Can’t believe what came out o’ my own mouth, that day…

Now Mum, who doesn’t know her own beginnings, sees Granny sucking biscuity teeth while her shrunken hands pluck, pluck, pluck at her blanket.

“Mother, you need help. St Mary’s have a room.” A sitting‑circle of old folk with their heads on one side, bags of pee bulging at their knees.

I wait for Granny’s reply, bugger that... or for Mum to say we’ll visit every Sunday.
Mum steps closer, “Mother, did you hear me?”

Granny sits, wheezing crumbs. Age has done what no man could; she is placid, “Eh?”
“Granny, you’re coming to live with us.”

Silence.

I stare at Granny, wondering where my words came from… wondering if she even heard? Mum gapes… and Granny turns.

Her eyes bore into mine, as if examining a mirror, and her lips part in a gurgling, thunderous laugh.

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Spaces . by Lou Freshwater

“March snow doesn’t fall, it dives,” Joyce said looking out the window.

“It’s pretty though. And sometimes the flakes are so big and wet they look little tea doilies,” Ellen said, looking, too.

“You always see the bright side, Ellen. Always. It could be snowing rat shit and you’d see chocolate chips.”

“You know, Joyce, I don’t always see the world like that. It’s just that I don’t see it like you do, like some dark closet that keeps shrinking all the time.”

“Whatever. There’s freedom in being a realist.”

“Are you still thinking about moving back to New Jersey? Your life would be so much better if you weren’t always scraping by.”

“New Jersey fucking sucks. It’s like some dredged up dystopian nightmare.”

“My god, Joyce, even if we weren’t born here, and even if I wasn’t raising my two children here, that would still be an awful thing to say.”

“I’m staying where I am. New York is the only place in the world that’s man enough to handle me.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

“How sweet.”

“You know, Sis, you are right, I shouldn’t be sweet, or kind to you, I
should be honest. I should say that New York doesn’t handle you it just tolerates you just like the other toxic chemicals it is forced to process day in and day out.”

“Fuck you,” Joyce said, as she wrapped her arms around herself, and
squeezed her eye shut in order to imprison the tear.

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Back Home . by Jesse Peacock

Eric took a long drag on his cigarette and coughed. He looked angrily at the stub between his fingers; it was burnt past the filter. He sighed and flicked the butt away. His fingers groped in the tight pocket of his artfully torn designer jeans for the crushed pack of clove cigarettes.

It began to drizzle. He leaned forward from the stone wall until he could see the steeple with its cross, outlined against the pewter clouds. He gave it the finger.

He opened the sanctuary door to a blast of stale air. He cast a glance at the casket and the worn-looking woman standing before it. He made his way toward the back row, but was intercepted by a burly man wearing a moth-eaten tan suit.

“Boy, what you doin’ here after all this time?” the man demanded.

Eric shrugged. “Mother said something about a will,” he replied coolly. “Wouldn’t want to miss out on the five bucks he left me, would I?”

“I think you need to leave,” the man drawled.

“Well, honey, that’s just too bad.”

“You disrespectful son of a…” He paused and glanced up to the gaudy plastic form of Christ at the pulpit. “Sorry, Lord,” he muttered. “You git on outta here, boy.”

Eric turned away. A fist slammed into the side of his head; he saw a burst of color as he went down. He lay on the floor, blinking in surprise. And people always asked him why he never went home.

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Ulysses Reconsidered . by Aaron Robertson

Just like Farnese’s birds, whose voices became caught
on an unchanging view of palaces in ruin,
you fell into a dream: one of rivers that ran
with sentimental ease before your family seat.
But left to choose, you changed the eternal for light,
where gifted canon’s robes allowed your mind to turn
from thoughts of chimney smoke and gardens seldom seen,
the limestone of your end betraying words of slate.
The Fleece still hangs unclaimed, yet slowly I’m pulled back
to forest-covered hills and hard volcanic rock,
unsure of how the tide has brought me to this shore.
Your counsel holds no truth for sailors who have come
to crave the open sea, when mesmorized by fame
you never knew the life you claimed to hold so dear.

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Memories of Home . by Susan Gibb

When Mary Brevins died, she took the memory of the sun with her. It wasn’t as big a problem as the engineers had thought since light had been established in all but the most remote sections of the earth and even several light-lanes spanning the major oceans had been completed.

For Joyce Fields, however, it was a major event, for now it placed her in the position of having the last living memory of the sun. The officials came to pick her up before she could get away.

“What do you mean, grass and trees and even buildings change color during the day, or if there were what you call clouds to dissipate the light?”

“Why wouldn’t your sun prevent the snow?”

“Change the color of your skin? Impossible!”

“Okay, so show us which hill it hid behind at night.”

Finally they let her go. Convinced she was simply an old woman in the early stages of dementia. They laughed as they reread the things she claimed were true when she was young before all the technology took over simple functions.

Back home, Joyce Fields sat down in her favorite chair. She hadn’t known Mary Brevins but she felt the loss. She closed her eyes and as she always did, brought up her favorite memories. She recalled a morning when she went fishing with her dad and brother. The way the sun came up and colored the small pond like a paintbrush dipped in water.

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Homies . by Grant Farley

I hop up the wooden steps, my summer feet too tough for splinters, and slip through the back porch and plop down next to Manny on the wicker. Somewhere beans simmer in cast iron. Abuelita‘s face is dark skin folds.

She is Manny’s grandma, not mine. But I’ve sort of adopted her. Her iced cinnamon coffee wobbles in her hand as she heads for us. She always wears a black dress and these thick black shoes that clunk on the hollow floor. She sits down facing us and eases the glass onto the ledge and lets out a sigh.

Then she pats her knees and leans back like she’s going to sing-song one of her tales about funny people, the earth and the sky, animals that talk, and even witches, brujas, as Manny squeezes the sounds into English for me. There is always a lesson for us.

I wait, staring out at a world gone soft through old screens. Under that cinnamon coffee breath she has this old lady purplish smell. But the way Abuelita’s mouth scrunches, I’m figuring our b.o. must be pretty funky after all we had just done. There is not tale.

Instead, she stares at her Manny and then back at me. She’s wondering, finally, whether she wants her mijo hanging out with this freckled bandito.

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Saturday Afternoons . by Meg Tuite

Oh yeah, there were fabrications up and down our pristine block. A perversion of flawless green-as-Ireland lawns, pot-bellied monoliths to dadhood grunting and sweating, pushing lawnmowers like workdays, bald spots of ruddy, brick skin all the way down past plaid shorts, hairy, yellow-tinged legs into some kind of moccasins they got for Christmas one year and squeezed their veined feet in. Back and forth they strained like chronic arthritis, listening to the Cubs losing yet another one, swearing and yelling out to each other while the wives, old china tucked away behind glass, could be glimpsed running around in those sacks they called housedresses, dusting away years of oppressive silence, except to yell out for their kids in unseasoned squeaks, “get inside for dinner,” when six o’clock rolled around and the hodgepodge of beasts would stampede down both sides of the block with baseball bats, basketballs, jump ropes and roller skates babbling in one long wailing narration of summer.

While inside our living room the tick of the clock could be heard in our heartbeats, a cough or clearing of a throat as the four of us lay like kindling around mom with five new books we each got from the library stacked up beside us. Each of us lost in a landscape, family, history unmasking itself every Saturday afternoon. Mom giving us the same answer whenever one of us asked. “I’m not the damn dictionary. Find it yourself.” And then she’d return quietly again to her own private world.

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Matron . by Robert Vaughan

Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley says, “Call me Peg.”

Has a lifetime supply of Aqua Net.
Swims naked in her sixty square foot fishtank.
Dances the lindy, sits under picnic tables.
Whistles a multitude of birdcalls.
Is batshit about Badger games.

“She was a bitch,” her maid, Opal recalls.

Daphne says, “A gem, a true-blue friend.”

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THE KISSING TREE. by Linda Simoni-Wastila

I’ve driven hours now,
down roads wending
through wood and field.
All slows to childhood:
endless red clay, the kudzu’s
slow creep, the pitch of pine
seeps past rolled-down windows.

Past the derelict Exxon, the sno-cone
shack, the trout pond muddied
from goose leavings and algae bloom,
the Baptist church where voices
lift the clouds on Sundays.
The car shudders into the four-way.

Here, the usual kid bicker lessens
from the backseat, you stop
twirling the lonesome dial looking
for stations beaming songs of loss.
Here the ancient oak throws
its heft across the road, shadow-
softened mistle-toed limbs akimbo.

Here, we would kiss, the long trip
Home but two corners
and over-the-train tracks away.
But tonight the moon pounds
the pavement full and unabated and I
turn to your seat, wishing for my kiss.

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jelly beans and gummy bears . by Alexandra Pereira

Kylie loves jellybeans, the red and orange ones. Says they’re the sweetest. I prefer gummy bears, the green ones. I like the taste of green. Yesterday after school we spread out a tablecloth on the large table in the back porch and made houses with our goodies. For the first time, she borrowed some of my green gummies to finish her chimney and front door. She was really inspired and made the biggest house ever. “One day I’m gonna have a house like this one. I’m gonna call it The Rainbow Mansion!” And then she looked at my house and said, “You’re always makin’ green houses. Who wants to live in a green house? That is sooo ugly!” And she squeezed her eyes and wrinkled her nose so that she ended up making a face that was much uglier than the ugly she said my house was. I looked into her shriveled blue eyes. “My bears will eat your beans,” I whispered in my serious voice. And I must have had a scary face because that’s when she looked at me like she had just peed her pants.

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Beloved . by Mike DiChristina

Paul D, a character in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, is one of my favorite characters in literature, a model of hope, strength and resilience.

Still human, still capable of love, after years of wandering through a vicious world, Paul D finds Sethe, a woman he knows from their days at Sweet Home, a Kentucky plantation.

Sethe welcomes Paul D into her house outside Cincinnati, and the two survivors soon become lovers. It is not long before Paul D realizes the house is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s baby. Learning of Sethe’s role in her baby’s long ago death, Paul D runs off, fearful for his life and sanity.

Ultimately, Paul D forgives Sethe for her tragic act.

Returning to Sethe’s home a second time, a prodigal lover, Paul D opens the front door and stands for a moment in the quiet. Thinking Sethe must be up in her bedroom, he turns and climbs “the luminous stairs.”

When I first read Beloved, I wished Morrison had ended the story with that beautiful image.

“Less is more,” I said to my wife as we lay in bed reading.

She slid her always cold feet under my legs.

I went on: “The last few pages put you to sleep – Paul D finds Sethe; he touches her face; he holds her hand; he tells her ‘you are the best thing.’ It’s all there in those luminous stairs. End of story. You have to leave some things unspoken.”

“Shut the fuck up,” said my wife.

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Shape to Shore . by Nicolette Wong

–For Brian

Home sweet home is the water we sink into in the music of your dream. The strings will not give & my lungs are wheezing, from embraces I fail to make towards you in green. Your eyes are crazed, of a water ghost murdered in his past life by a recalcitrant lover.

We used to draw bubbles at drowsy hours. Mine was a string of insanity crawling down the dotted lines, until you snatched it from my hands & held it to the light. ‘Oh baby,’ you said. ‘Go get some sun.’ Your bubbles were light, foaming at the corners & other surprising spots on the scrap of paper. Like love.

Since we parted you have been to home & hell & back. Crashed your bike against the fences to dive into the lake for a mock suicide. Boarded the plane to a foreign land to suffocate from polluted air among strangers. Hopped on an overnight train to cross the border, passport & a dead heart at the control point.

Now you reach out to me in a muddy green. ‘Our homes lie in people,’ you say. ‘Don’t fool yourself.’

I have no choice but to close my eyes & forget about shore. It is the only way I would reach it.

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Calendar . by Susan Tepper

By the time it was spring the kitchen still wasn’t cleaned up. Every dish and pot and pan and bit of silverware filthy with dried on food. Potholders and dish rags and dish towels filthy. The countertops and table. Even the window sills had crud. I saw something that might have been old spaghetti sauce splatters. I scraped at it then sniffed. It smelled like something not tomato. Blood? There was a murder in this kitchen right around Christmas. They came in while we were sleeping and shot Wulka dead. He was cooking meth he knew his days were scattered. He used to say that after he made us promise. Keep quiet or your days are scattered Wulka said. Tootie was afraid and used to whimper in his sleep. We shared a room up top the house. I was scared but being older couldn’t let it show. After they shot Wulka someone hung a cloth calendar of the new year. It could have been his mother. She’s crazy-mean too. Home Sweet Home that calendar says in fancy lettering across the top.

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Insistence . by Maude Larke

Dad said it was better. He didn’t explain why. He never did. But since he was the one going through the bother, Elaine stopped arguing.

The hole he cut in the garden shed wall was big enough for the cat, but too small for the beavers that could wander up from the marsh. The old rubber mudflap that he nailed to the inside curled away just enough so that Starbright could push her nose under and lift it. When he pulled the cardboard box lined with old towels out from under the folded ping-pong table in the garage, he made sure that Starbright was watching.

“See, Starbright? I haven’t touched your kittens. I’m just moving them.”

He walked purposefully out of the back garage door to the garden shed. Starbright walked purposefully behind him. Elaine followed, sulking.

Later Elaine went into the garage to get an ice cream from the freezer. In through the back garage door came Starbright with a ball of orange fluff dangling from her jaws. She stared at Elaine with hard gold eyes, then plopped the fluffball down under the ping-pong table next to two others that were mewling on the concrete.

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Cross-stitch . by Matt Potter

Home sweet hoe, it said in red stitching.

Her ancestors weren’t great spellers but who cares when it’s worth a bucket of money.

Took it to the framers after I found it in her old girl’s shed. “Need this framed yesterday,” I said, thumping the counter. Two hours later had a massive gold frame with flowers and shit all over it. Scratched it up a bit so made it look old and the auction bloke fell for it.

“It’s not spelled right,” I said. In case he didn’t know.

“The mistake gives it its value,” he said.

“Well, the wife’s family weren’t too bright in the upstairs department, if you know what I mean.”

Took it home, banged a nail in the wall and stuck it up.

Janice’s jaw dropped when I told her how much we could get for it. “Enough to never work again and get a nice new pair of these,” I said, squeezing her tits.

And the wife said the same that night when she got home from shotput practice.

But Janice didn’t want to wait. “When am I gonna get my new tits?” she said.

Booked tickets to Bali and got Janice a perm. Told ’em at work I wouldn’t be in Monday.

Went to grab it from the wall but only the frame was there, and a note.

Sold the cross-stitch and have run off with Barb my shotput coach. We’re somewhere on the Great Ocean Road, ya miserable fuck!

Went to work Monday.

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Inside the Heart of the City . by Len Kuntz

The youngest of us has grown fangs and claws and his licorice pupils are dry from staring. We should care more, but our own ribs are poking into our bony arms. We huddle together in somber silence. We’ve been told to stay at home—no roof games or playing with the pigeons.

Papa was a baker. He stole husks of bread before he got busted. Now he’s out hustling on the streets. Mother we haven’t seen but in an old photograph where her chin is tilted toward the moon.

Below this apartment building, the air is rotten with taxi cab car horns. Someone called it the greatest city in the world, and perhaps this is true, but we are becoming carcasses and I am running out of excuses.

Selma wants to know why we don’t go to school like other kids. Rico wants to know if magic really works. I say I don’t know to Selma and to Rico I say, “Sure it does, let me show you.”

A punch to the gut shuts him up. Little Rico thinks I’m being cruel, but I’m just finding ways to distract him from the hunger pains.

Our room is so small that I can hear Selma saying The Lord’s Prayer. We get free rent if Papa does some things for Manuel, the Super. It beats being on the street.

I saw a sign once: ‘Home is where the heart is.’ I think I know what the author meant. I hope I do.

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Destroy the Evidence . by Chad Smith

The oven door topples off of its hinges as she kicks and climbs out. She growls and quickly slaps out her still smoldering sweater shoulder. Taking a kitchen chair by the back, she swings it over her head and shatters the window. The chair breaks into splinters as she pounds it into the countertop. She snatches a handful of broken window shards and shoves them into her mouth. They crackle and tinkle as she chomps down. The kitchen sink faucet snaps and water sprays out when she yanks it free using her teeth. She punches a hole in the wall, pulls some planks out, bites and gobbles them up. Enraged and cursing, she knocks the kitchen table over. The door explodes from the front of the cottage when she puts her boot through it. On the porch she pulls a post off the railing and starts eating it.

“Great plan Ruth!” she screams. “Build a cottage in the forest made of gingerbread, cakes and candy. You’ll attract all the children you could ever possibly want to fatten up and eat!”

What she hadn’t planned on was the little monsters getting away. They would probably be bringing back their idiot woodcutter father who would demand an explanation as to why she tried to eat his children. Licking the frosting off of the mailbox, she looks at the cottage and moans. It was going to take forever to eat this thing and flee. She wonders where she has left her matches.

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Substitute . by Fred Osuna

It had been two months since he carried her to the hospital and asked for relief for them both: no more seizures or blindness for her; no more heartache and worry for him. After the deed, the doctor’s assistant put her arm around him and leaned into him but he just stood there, mouth half open, gasping silently. Within him, the pain created a tension that coiled in his chest like a bungee cord stretched to its limit. That loss stayed there for weeks, stretched and taut.

Yesterday, he saw a peace plant in a store. It sat drying in dust on the 75% rack, next to three broken bags of peat moss. He paid the cashier $5.49 and took it home. He manicured its errant stems, the brown, withered ones, its torn leaves. He wiped it with a damp cloth. He set it in a glazed clay pot next to the sofa and admired its scrawny handsomeness.

Then he slept.

Just before dawn, he awoke and listened. He expected something, but there were no feet padding down the hallway at the sound of his rustling. There was no early morning litter-box smell, no pukey gift in the hallway, no hairball-hacking yack yack from under the bed. He walked into the living room, settled into the easy chair, and stared at the peace plant. It stared back, living but lifeless, bracts raised as in a shrug: Now what do I do?

Spathiphyllum, he thought, you are no Felis catus.

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The Inheritance . by Derin Attwood

They were modest old ladies, maiden sisters who had always lived together in their Papa’s old house. Neither married, although there was a whisper of gossip about the younger and prettier sister. Their long dresses were buttoned at the neck and covered many petticoats. They were the epitome of Victorian proper manners.

I had tea with them every four months from when I was first able to hold a tea cup. From the demurely dressed teapot to the lace covered plates and saucers, everything was hidden. Even the tables had voluminous pantaloons peeping demurely from beneath long ruffled tablecloths. The conversation omitted mention of male – men, boys, stallions, bulls, stags and rams were banned from the discussion – difficult in a country area.

Their deaths meant little to me, until I was told I had inherited their house. I threw open the drapes that kept the rooms in deathly dimness. I took the furnishings down to be washed, a needed spring clean.

Is it possible to be shocked by table legs? They were pornographically carved, phallic structures standing proud and showing signs of much use.

How they must have laughed at their visitors – so prim and proper – with penises under the tablecloth.

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Bare Branches . by Doug Bond

When they finally dredge the boy up from the bottom of the pond he lifts high on the winch dangling like a forgotten Christmas ornament tucked alone between bare branches. Swinging in a night with no wind, he is lowered in arcs and stutters by a man busy at black knobbed controls towards a father so racked in grief and loosed with bourbon no one stands anywhere near him. Mercifully, the color and catalog of struggle is masked by a sun an hour past setting. Even the search lights turn haltingly away from the sudden clamor of connection for what it was everyone has been trying to find.

I am close enough that pond water waves ripple up close to where I stand apart from the others, watching breathlessly as dank weeds and rivulets of water slip from sloped arms and skewed feet. They are bare, blue tinged and rest limply without the shoes that lie buried as ransom in the muck.

Women hold their children and men hold their dogs and I finally let go my breath into a wailing siren sounding for nothing but for its leaving. And with darkness fully down and the houselights bright across the banks I hop logs and run streaming through low branches thick with webs and wide leaves and pull the heavy air wet into my lungs until bounding up the back steps I go looking for my daughter, but find she is already gone to her mother’s for the night.

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Home and the road . by Dorothee Lang

It was in a coffee break between two powerpoint presentations, with her expecting nothing but the usual small talk, that they came to talk about home. How it takes a while to feel home in a new place. How sometimes, you never reach that point.

“All my childhood memories are in another place,” he said. “When I moved here, I didn’t feel at home at all. It was just the place I lived, currently. Then, one weekend, I visited a friend, and after I left, somewhere along the road, I had this feeling of driving home.”

Maybe it was the combination of the two words that triggered the memory: home and road. “Once, when travelling in India, I went on an organized desert trip,” she remembered. “In Rajasthan, that was. Two days of desert, riding on camels, camping out there. A jeep picked me and the others up at the guesthouse, to take us to the starting point. They had music playing, Take me Home, Country Roads, and Sweet home Alabama. The songs accompanied us through the desert, and in the evening, at the camp fire, we sang them again, in the middle of this huge, empty, sandy landscape: Take me home, country roads, to the place we belong. Which was right there, for that song, for that day.”

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Fishing . by Stella Pierides

If you are looking for a disaster story, stop reading right here. Turn the page, if you can. Make yourself a cup of coffee. This story is not about disasters, or even little unhappiness. In all truth, it is not even a story. You know, it has no plot. It is just me writing and you reading. What did you expect?

I am reminded of a cute little tale, but this is neither the place, nor the time. May I show you my home? Look around you. The Isfahani rug, by the fireplace, is priceless. That globe on my desk was once aboard the Nostromo, in the captain’s cabin. As a child, I used to spend hours tracing with my finger the Amazon, the Thames, and the Nile.

I hope you like the sound of the waves crushing on the rocks below. For me, it is the music of the seas. From your face, I can see you like my home. I am never alone up here. Many like you visit me. Sleepless, they scour the internet and stumble upon my doorstep, expecting sympathy, a little entertainment, even excitement. Well, I say to them, and to you, well, you should’ve stayed in bed, should’ve snuggled up to your wife, should’ve appreciated your sweet home. Why? Because by now, my homemade virus XFauDE.xe has bored into your computer and infected your system. Because, by now, your soul’s essence, together with your passwords, is downloaded onto my computer.

Thank you for visiting!

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Birdhouse . by Derek Ivan Webster

He was waiting for the chickadees. They had left with the cold; went south or whatever. He cleaned their house out over the long winter. The roof was patched and the new paint shiny and white. He had done the right thing, everything he could. The chickadees would come back soon.

He told himself it was a late spring. The little pond was still cold, the goldfish sluggish. But the cardinals were back already. So were the robins. They were so much more colorful, easier to spot. Maybe his birds had already returned. It was so hard to see them sometimes. He had to remember to pay attention. They needed attention. It would be different this time.

He knew better, even before the goldfinches took over the empty house. The chickadees had abandoned him. He wasn’t angry. That had been before; that was what had driven them away. Instead he closed a curtain over the window that faced the pond and the birds. Now he could clean out his house; patch up the fist sized holes in the drywall; make everything shiny and white again. She had loved to watch her chickadees. He wondered if she missed them as much as he did.

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Where They Have to Take You In . by Andrew Stancek

“Why in the name of all that is holy….” Mirko wakes to his stepfather’s yelling voice, cut off by his mother’s soothing one. The scream is related to him, Mirko knows, even if he is unaware of the transgression.

“Two days in your old room, a chance to tell us about living at your father’s, we’ll catch up,” Mother said. At Saturday dinner the Beethoven is so loud the chandelier shakes and Mother keeps grinning. Drying dishes afterwards, Mirko drops the crystal whisky tumbler, giving himself a deep gash on the foot.

“Bloody hell…,” his stepfather starts before Mother’s look and Mirko can almost hear the counting to a hundred before he continues, “Plenty more where that came from. Let’s look after that cut.” Mirko allows Mother to bathe the wound with iodine and bandage it.

He looks around the bedroom stacked now with boxes of sheet music, a bass in the corner, two violins, a cello, batons on the dresser. His eyes finally find the clock. Not quite six. Sunday morning beginning with a bang. Accused, found wanting, sentenced.

At Father’s the bed is lumpy and his stomach usually empty.

He turns over, hoping he might sleep again. Minutes later he splashes cold water on his face, puts a note on the kitchen table. “Thanks for having me.” He makes sure the door does not bang behind him.

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Care Center . by Leah Brennan

On the way to the funeral, Kerry told me about the last time she saw her grandmother. She wouldn’t use a fork and scooped up bits of manicotti with a sugar cookie instead.

“I don’t like this,” the grandmother kept saying, crumbling the miniature Christmas tree between her fingers.

“It’s ok. You don’t have to eat it,” Kerry’s father said.

“Mom,” Kerry’s mother said. “Ma! Do you want something else? Something else?”

After Christmas they moved the grandmother to Care Center, a maze-like network of hospital buildings. Kerry’s father worked with the insurance companies, and her mother brought over bags of towels. Folding them reminded the grandmother of sewing. The grandmother caught scabies and had to wear a metal anklet that beeped if she strayed too far. For her birthday, Kerry’s parents bought her a special clock that displayed the time and the day of the week.

“I don’t like this,” the grandmother said, sweeping a pile of crumbs onto her lap.

“I hope none of us gets it,” Kerry’s mother said as she cleared the table.

Kerry’s parents had begun playing Scrabble every week and were learning Spanish online.

I turned into the driveway of the funeral home, and a man in a grey suit holding an umbrella waved me towards an open space.

I watched Kerry’s reflection in the passenger side window.

“Scabies is contagious,” I said. “That’s why you didn’t visit.”

She nodded, patting her swollen belly.

We unbuckled our seatbelts and stepped into the rain.

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Welcome . by Martin Brick

Christine told Steve she didn’t feel comfortable in the house.

“We’re new to it. Takes time.”

“No, it’s different. I can’t say why.” It was summer, and warm, but she crawled under the covers.

Hank rang the bell, 6-pack in hand. “I’m the neighbor. Welcome.”

They sat on the porch and uncapped the beer. After three Steve felt comfortable with Hank. He asked, “The house was cheap. There something I don’t know?”

“It has a troubled history. In a small town like this, everyone knows.”

“Troubled?”

“The last owner spent 5 years in prison. Unintentional homicide. He wasn’t a drinker, but left a picnic with one too many. Pure bad luck. His wife kept the house, waited patiently, and finally he came back. But he told me the house never felt right after. Couldn’t sleep. Bumped into things. Like a stranger’s house.”

“And people think it’s cursed because…?”

“There’s more.”

From the upstairs window he saw Hank’s daughter. Twenty-two, bikini, tanning. It wasn’t sexual. Five years ago, there were twinges of that, and guilt over eyeing the girl he watched grow up.

But now he just kept seeing the girl he killed. Same age. She had friends, constantly on the phone. Pretty. Fun.

Sees her every day.

The closet pole was sturdy. His belt smooth. He left a note so his wife wouldn’t have to find him.

In the morning Christine got a dress from the closet. Felt cold. “I’m going to change in the bathroom. Just… I don’t know.”

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Home . by Karla Valenti

I watch them as they sleep, the three of them sprawled into each other, their limbs of varying sizes intertwined in the backseat of the car. The oldest rests his head against the window, his arm lays gently across his sister’s lap. The middle one holds her brother’s hand and has lent her other hand to the baby who, in his sleep, has wrapped his tiny dimpled fist around her fingers. Our tiny mess of a car shuttles them through the night, their moonlit sighs mingling with the warm breeze that spills in through the open window, while the road ahead holds steady in its course determined to get us home, seemingly unaware of the fact that we are already there.

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No. 66 West . by Guy Yasko

I am accustomed to sheriff’s deputies, Jehovah’s witnesses and
partiers looking for 66 East.

This caller is different:

— Do you mind if I have a look around? My happiest days were in this
apartment. It had such positive energy for me. Didn’t you ever wonder
about this doorknob? I put it on. Don’t you love it?

I let her in. Her voice echoes off bare walls. There is nothing but
apartment, me and her.

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Earth Day . by Tom Allman

I have sailed the eternal ether sea

between stars

I have pushed out to meet the silence

and laughed

I have touched the mote in god’s eye

and wept

Today is my earth day

intrepid explorer

I have returned home

hero’s welcome

I shall lie beneath her green grass

and rest

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The Past . by Stephan Hastings-King

I remember at the top of the path from the footbridge over the multi-colored river in the basement of the house there was a collection of seashells arranged in transparent polyurethane cubes stacked with an eccentric sense of geometry into a 3-dimensional map of an imaginary sea. Aquarium paraphernalia has been placed around the map to enable a functioning ecosystem.

I remember the cavernous sense of empty gymnasium and the sense that I had interrupted something invisible and secret.

I remember being a commando wielding a plastic gun on the roof of the high school until the police came with weapons drawn. I yelled “It’s plastic” again and again, still not understanding the situation.

I remember becoming other people.

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Home . by Catherine Russell

he kissed the earth,

sweet mother,

to whom all returned

in the end

-dust-

he breathed

Cleopatra’s last breath,

becoming one with

creation

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ain’t no such thing . by Walter Bjorkman

No such thing a home when you are an afterthought the runt the grunt the stepson the one lost in the crowd because you do what you do and you never draw attention to yourself because the few times you did you were quickly smacked down into your place homes mean nothing they are just a place where you are supposed to stay to keep out of the storm and where you are supposed to do the things necessary to survive which put you in a vulnerable position to predators like cooking eating sleeping and taking a crap in safety but the predators live in that same space and shit eat and fuck while caging you into a corner then that ain’t a home no one does those things even if they say you are in a loving home the fuckers turn on you in a second if it means them losing anything michelle would poison barack’s soup if it came down to her or him it is total bullshit when anyone says they will die for anyone else we just hear people say it and they die running to save their own goddamn asses and we dress it up and make it that way after the fact because we can’t bear to face the truth so don’t give me this home sweet home because there ain’t no such thing

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Dangerous Questions . by John Wentworth Chapin

“Dammit, I am good at what I do,” Evie slurred, overly loud. Her wings ached.

“You got one job and you do it, Evie. You do it good, the hive thrives. You do it bad, we all die. You want praise? Pfft. We all bust our stingers around here.” Shirley stubbed her cigarillo out on a dead chunk of honeycomb. “Be happy. The queen crawls around and squirts out your future all day long. You want that shit job?”

A drone raised his honey-soused mandibles. “Shut your trap about Her Holiness.”

“Mind your own beeswax,” Shirley warned. Goddamned uppity drones. “You got freedom to fly, at least, doll.”

“I’m not complaining, Shirl. Well I am, but not about the work. Why do we do it? We don’t see no payoff. No one does, not you, not Her Fatness. We just continue on, year after year, pollen, babies, honey. What’s the point?”

“I puke up honey and squeeze wax out of my ass for a living. If I don’t work, I don’t eat and then we all die. I don’t want to die. There’s your motivation, babycakes.”

Evie stroked her thorax drunkenly. “What if I refused? What if I wanted to sleep in one morning?”

The drone gaped. “She’s thinking about herself,” he half-whispered.

Shirley eyed the drone warily. She’d have to eat him before he spilled the beans about Evie to the hive.

She’d have to keep her eye on Evie, too.

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Ol’ Ornery’s Home . by Michelle Elvy

Twila was an ornery thing. No one liked her though she’d lived in our neighborhood forever. They said she was crazy, possessed even. We believed it — her wild orange hair and wandering eye were enough to make us know it was true. We played a game to see who could look her way the longest: if her eye wandered your way and caught you, you had to pay up with your week’s ice cream money. Jimmy and Terry collected a lot of my ice cream money back then.

One day I skinned my knee, slipped off a stone at the creek. I was hurrying past Twila’s house, my eyes stinging from salty tears and afternoon sun and the dirt I’d rubbed into them with my muddy hands. I hobbled past quickly but just as I was near the corner, almost safe, she called me back. It was the first time she’d ever spoken to me. No use pretending I didn’t hear either.

“Boy, where you goin’ with that knee?”
“Ummm…”
“Come on inside,” she said, raising an eyebrow over her Evil Eye which in that moment did not seem so evil.

So I wandered up her porch steps and went inside, where she bandaged my knee in her mothball house without saying a word. Then she sat me at the table and cut watermelon into small triangles and didn’t scold me when the juice dripped down my arms to elbows and pooled on her polished wooden table.

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52|250 thanks Abby Braman for her watercolor Hello Moon. Here is what she has to say about this haunting vision:

This piece was painted a few months ago — I didn’t have anything too specific in mind when I created this. I was listening to one of my favorite bands, Elliott Brood — a dark folk band, and the ambiance of the song just put images of seedy motels out west and dead bodies in the back of someone’s trunk in my head. Not that this piece is super ‘dark’ but I used a bit of that influence from that specific song I was listening to, and Hello Moon was the end result. I enjoy the feeling this piece gives me (and hopefully the viewer), an eerie, yet serene vibe. The kind of vibe that makes you think, “ this is awfully creepy, yet I’d like to walk around in this painting.” It was painted in water color paints on water color paper. My artwork tends to lean towards the dark, yet beautiful atmospheric side.

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Filed under Wk #50 - Home sweet home

Spaces by Lou Freshwater

“March snow doesn’t fall, it dives,” Joyce said looking out the window.

“It’s pretty though. And sometimes the flakes are so big and wet they look little tea doilies,” Ellen said, looking, too.

“You always see the bright side, Ellen. Always. It could be snowing rat shit and you’d see chocolate chips.”

“You know, Joyce, I don’t always see the world like that. It’s just that I don’t see it like you do, like some dark closet that keeps shrinking all the time.”

“Whatever. There’s freedom in being a realist.”

“Are you still thinking about moving back to New Jersey? Your life would be so much better if you weren’t always scraping by.”

“New Jersey fucking sucks. It’s like some dredged up dystopian nightmare.”

“My god, Joyce, even if we weren’t born here, and even if I wasn’t raising my two children here, that would still be an awful thing to say.”

“I’m staying where I am. New York is the only place in the world that’s man enough to handle me.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

“How sweet.”

“You know, Sis, you are right, I shouldn’t be sweet, or kind to you, I
should be honest. I should say that New York doesn’t handle you it just tolerates you just like the other toxic chemicals it is forced to process day in and day out.”

“Fuck you,” Joyce said, as she wrapped her arms around herself, and
squeezed her eye shut in order to imprison the tear.

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Filed under Lou Freshwater

Week #48 – Tainted love

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

The theme is tainted love.

tainted love by David Ohlerking II
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Blind Date Haibun . by Al McDermid

You didn’t scream and carry on. No, you where much too angry for that sort of display. Your words instead came out as pure liquid nitrogen, moving slowly, as if trudging through sludge. Still, despite this glacial speed, I duck just in time to avoid the brunt of the F, though its serif does tear a gash in my cheek as it passes, distracting me enough that I catch the full force of the U as it slams into me.

Catching my breath, I ask,

“Was it something I said?”

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TAINTED LOVE . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Tainted love is stained love, a dirty jeans love, mucky
under nails and knees from garden dirt and worms
slippery, slickery things compost-heaped, grubs chewing love.

Tainted love is tinted love, a greyer pink love, edges purple
from necrosis, halitosis, the lack of osmosis, a hypoxia
of the heart hardened boundaries kind of love.

Tainted love is skinny love, skinned and thinned weak
broth love, fight veneered, resentment adhered, salty-teared
nicotine-laden cloud love, breathed in and cancerous.

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The Taint of Love . by Susan Gibb

The man who said he was her father smelled of bourbon and Aqua Velva. He slicked his hair back in the way that men with blue-black hair often did.

The man who said he was her father said he was sorry, not only for the loss now of her mother, but for taking off on them years ago. The man said he had loved her mother very much, was crazy about her at the time. That he had been too young and scared to be a family.

He sat beside her at the funeral service, his arm set along the back of her chair, his other hand holding hers in her lap. At the cemetery, his fingers settled in the small of her back to steady her. She was barely aware of him and yet glad to have him there. He took her home and assured the neighbors he’d get her to school on Monday, that is, if she was ready to go.

A month later, the man told her they’d be moving to Houston where he knew he could get a job. He told her he’d heard the schools were great there and she’d make new friends.

She went with him, the man who said he was her father, because he told her he loved her and held her when she woke up crying, and he hugged and kissed her every day, and because she had no one else and no place else to go.

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When He Calls . by Robert Vaughan

Eight years later, the telephone rang. I heard that familiar husky voice.

Hung up. Backed away from the kitchen, my heart leading the way.

Shrunk down the hall toward the bedroom. What could I say? I was done, finished.

Thought I was resolved.

My husband came into the room. “Who was it,” he asked. Then he looked at me, bent over the dresser. And he knew. “No way.”

I nodded.

“Get the fuck out. Seriously?”

The phone rang again.

“You want me to answer it?” he asked.

I shook my head no. Picked it up, jittery. “What do you want, Dad?”

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Traveling Mercies . by Len Kuntz

My daughter enters the room with unborn child showing inside sweater like a tub and I am think, This is all wrong, my baby having baby, one just sixteen years and the other creature floating in fluid, a strange alien astronaut, same as ones I have seen in American television programs when handsome actor doctor says it’s girl or boy, “Look, right here’s the evidence.”

My baby is pawing her baby, a basketball player dribbling wrong who will be called for traveling. I know American basketball rules. Holding ball too long inside palm is named traveling, a penalty. And who should pay this penalty? My daughter has no boyfriend. Some lewd man just shoots his seed in my poor baby. He holds knife to her throat and it leaves a mark like this > from the pressure of the tip, an etching of his crime. Abortion is fine, I say, it is legal in such cases, but my daughter says, no, life is life.

I am crying, weeping hard as my daughter comes across the room. I think she will slap me. I have told her how hard it’s been to make something of ourselves in this country, and now this. It is a bad sign. The child will be evil. That’s what I said, such a cruel bastard I can be.

But now my baby walks up. She takes my tear-soaked hand, places it on the mound that is moving and jerking inside my palm, and says, “See?”

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The Secret . by Michael Webb

“So, do you want to know my number?”

Her brown eyes flashed eagerly at me. Her bracelet shone in the dim light of the restaurant. I felt like she almost wanted to tell me. I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that she had asked me, I wanted to know. Some questions you knew could never be answered- what if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? But others you didn’t know could be asked, until they were. And once they were asked, the possibility existed they could be answered. I had told her my number. I thought about inflating the total before telling her, but I didn’t. My number seemed a little low. I didn’t expect her number to be zero- that seemed impossible. I didn’t know what number I wanted hers to be, either. Was 5 too many? 10? How many should she have? Would the thought of others who had come before make what we had different? Would knowing I wasn’t the only one imbue the act with some sense of corruption, some taint of ill repute? Would I compare? Wonder if I was better? Was there any difference between assuming the number wasn’t zero and knowing what the number was? It was stupid, but now that I knew I could know, I wanted to know.

“No,” I told her.

“Good,” she said. “I would have lied anyway.”

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The Deepest Cut . by Matt Potter

Smoke is pouring outta my ears! (And outta my mouth and nostrils, but that’s normal.)

The Fast-o-matic Supermart has changed their coupons. Now you can’t swap them for plastic surgery. So all those tubes of New Orleans-style Cottil-i-Lard dog sausage were bought for nothing.

And New Orleans-style Cottil-i-Lard flavour is not my favourite.

“Next election is gonna be real interesting,” I said, wearing army fatigues as I stood in the check-out line swapping coupons for rubber sheeting.

“Why’s that, Maureen?” said LaVern, patting her hair.

“The little people have had enough and there’s gonna be a revolution.”

“All ’cos you can’t get discount face smoothing anymore?”

Where that LaVern leaves her brain, I got no idea.

“It’s more than just my face, LaVern,” I said, handing her the coupons. “Even my thighs have crow’s feet.”

“It’s a free country,” she said, popping the coupons in the cash drawer and pushing the rubber sheeting towards me. “No one ever made you smoke.”

“If the government wants us to smoke so they can take our taxes, they should give us free plastic surgery so we can get rid of our smokers’ wrinkles.”

LaVern leaned over the conveyor belt and said under her breath, “Sounds like socialism, Maureen.”

Ever since LaVern went to that community college last summer she uses these big words.

“Have fun looking socialism up in the dictionary,” LaVern said, as I stuffed the rubber sheeting in my titanium-dipped carry-all.

I love this country but it’s going to the dogs.

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Green Carnations . by Susan Tepper

Itchy and Squirmy were the two ugliest twins you’d ever want to see. Ugly, and dirty. Plus they had big feet. My Aunt Luna says you can tell plenty from a man’s foot size about his others. Well I don’t want to know nothin’ about their feet or their other parts either. For the prom Squirmy bought a girl a wrist-corsage of all green carnations. Who does that sort of thing? The poor girl. She was so mortified. Kept trying to hide her carnation wrist behind her backside. Useless. People were everywhere in the big gymnasium. Sooner or later someone would get behind her and make some loud wisecrack. I figured she had to be pretty nuts. Pretty nuts to even think of going to the prom with Squirmy. My best friend Abbie said the girl was new in town. And love is love. Even so I said. Even so.

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Becoming . by Roberta Lawson

She always did want some kind of God figure; a something-so-overwhelming that she might dissipate into mere molecules in its presence. She always did want to be simultaneously smaller and larger. Deep down she’d always wanted to worship. Not God himself but some eternal spirit that changes shape each minute, hour, day, that zooms beyond time itself.

He’ll be that person, that metaphor, he’s promised her. She can respond only to this, to what he offers. She wants to hand something over, to surrender. Control. This is larger than control. You might think this is about her body, but this stretches far beyond flesh, wraps round and round her. Them. He wants her kneeling. She wants to climb inside his pocket. She’s bigger than this whole room. He’s enormous. She is that dispersing, glimmering sum of molecules. They’re melding now; into some snakey, shifting glob of energy, a sort of fluid dance. She sinks down. He’s taller still. He’ll tell her what next. He’ll tell her who – what – she’ll be, next.

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Rash Decision . by Derek Ivan Webster

She made that face when he said it, the one that reminded him of his mother. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his tone even. What came out was script swiped straight from the old man.

“Who in their right mind wants to come home to this!” he bellowed.

She watched him from the couch. The baby was nursing on her lap; the fullness of her breast burst free of her shirt and smothered the sleeping pinkness. He could remember when such softness was meant for him: her warm weight pressed against his face. She had not touched him since the hospital.

“Got it out of your system?” He didn’t respond. “Good, then you can change the diaper.” She held the wrinkly bundle out. The baby looked peaceful wrapped so tightly in its blanket. He knew exactly how long that would last.

The little body writhed, its screams rattling the changing table. The pad was already drenched with piss. There was a violent looking rash between the legs. The warmer stood empty and overturned to the side, the last wet-one used. Another deep breath as he watched his baby wail against the world.

A hand touched him on the shoulder. He felt the fingertips reach past his collar and trace the skin of his neck.

“We need you, you know,” she said. He knew. He opened his hand and she gave him a wipe.

“She’s beautiful,” he nodded and decided to let the rash air itself out.

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Writer’s Block . by Kevin Balance

I love you. You don’t love back. I give you these verses. You put me on the rack.

You take my thoughts and spin them to all the wrong words. You take those words and order them in all the wrong sequences. I can’t to write a sentences saves my life. I list three actions and you spit back running, to love, parallels. I describe a scene, blushing red, and you spit out a dangling modifier. I give to you and one spits up disagreement.

Back to the masters I go. Read, reread, mimic, write. Oh Laura. Petrarch. Deep breath. Recompose.

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99.99/100 . by Maude Larke

When 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999% of me
says “it can never be”
and this one fragment of a nail paring

of a sliver of a % says “but . . . ”

Is it best to root out the sliver?
How is it best to root out the sliver?
Who is best to root out the sliver?

And will that return the whole?

100

You are an exhaustion of questions
but I am adamantly empty of answers.
My eyes are eternally lowered
and street corners are for flinching.

And who can say that there ever was a whole?

Find a way to sweep the parings.

Make it so.

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After Pausal . by Nicolette Wong

–for Todd Tam & late-night music

I dip a feather quill in dragon blood ink for protection from you: my sketched giant, eyes flaming inside a streetlamp & a knife in your pocket, a stabbed life to the edge of the ring notepad. Your anger is rising like the smoke above my fingers. Pull the knife now. Slice the fish on the table to match the fine traces of your prison.

Every time the blood splashes an anonymous face would break, & turn into a skeleton holding onto the lamppost in fright. I cannot stop these characters’ changes, just as you cannot find your tainted heart in that open book in your hands. A dot upon another until it turns into a tornado. Let it swirl; let time elude and fade.

You have forgotten your identity, even your lost love. All night I draw to the music for which you are created, red ink on my skin & your lapsing rhythm. The cruelty you are living has nothing to do with your soul. It is a flower blossoming in someone else’s loneliness, on a night locked in broken sounds and distance.

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End of Story . by Kim Hutchinson

A young contessa stumbled across a bridge to a land of wonder, where the colors of the land and sky were deeper, the water sparkled brighter, and the horizon went on forever.

It was a land of all sky.

A troll lived beneath the bridge. He saw she was pretty and clever, if not always contessa-like, but she would make a fine trophy. And, she could spin clouds into gold.

For a troll, cloud spinning is a dealmaker.

The troll threw a sparkle of sunlight in her eyes so she thought she saw a duke or a prince. In truth, what she saw was a reflection of her.

She was lost.

The troll put her to work spinning while he collected more trophies. Soon her shoulders hurt and she was lonely in the dark shack, but there was never enough gold for the troll.

When she tried to leave, he chained her about her waist.

The troll hated all things, but for a motivated troll a victim can be too compliant, so he hated her, his own creation, especially.

After awhile, she was still beautiful, but when she looked in the mirror she didn’t recognize herself. She was haggard and sad and angry.

Now, she was reflecting him.

Moon after moon, she tried to look at the troll with love. He stared back in hate. Finally, the poison in the air grew so thick that it blew up the little troll house by the bridge.

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Specificity . by Alex Lockwood

How specific were we with that kiss? Did we give it full stretch? When I bit your lip and gently suckled, did you comprehend my offer of tender analysis into your illness, while not drawing speculative conclusions (or blood)? Yes I’ve read Illness as Metaphor; but do you know Kissing Specificity, its sequel? I’ll loan it to you. But before that: when I held out, and then, oh, lusty speculation! oh abyss! pulled your belted waist close. Was I not unambiguous: expect nothing but that we are stars to gravity, pulled and pushed in the Milky Way. And what did you make of the timing? So you tripped and bit your tongue, did I not immediately lick it for you, as I would your wounds from smashing the glass ceiling, as I would rush to paint your garden fence (or ‘wall’, or whatever ‘name’ you have for your ‘resistances’—mine is ‘battlement’, both castellated for long sieges and a set of complicated ballet steps). But forget that. Did we nail it? That moment after the baiser longue where you rested your forehead on my chin, and I nuzzled the crown of your head, freshly bleached. No other denotation is available, as I see it: you offered a temple of riches, and I a ledge for you to rest on your lovelorn migration. A fair transaction.

I make it sound what? Ob-verse? No, no, no. You’ve got me wrong. Let me unblock your cloggy understanding. Come, again.

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A Fairytale of Love . by Beate Sigriddaughter

“I love you,” Elaine wrote. “I always have.”

But when I wouldn’t give her my phone number because her frequent unplanned hour-long phone calls had exasperated me in the past, she once again broke off all communication.

What worried me besides my limited cell phone minutes was this: Eliane insisted that in 1991 when she visited me after a spat with her girlfriend, the two of us made love. I happen to know we didn’t because I had really wanted to. I am convinced that if we had made love I would have noticed and remembered. Instead I remember sitting on the swings up in the park by the city dump after she left, flinging myself high into the blue New Mexico sky, regretting that she had decided to go back to her unnerving girlfriend without ever giving me a chance.

Now, twenty years later, she wants to shame me into remembering things her way. “I take it I wasn’t very memorable,” she challenged me. How was I expected to respond? “OK, OK, you did make love to me,” so as not to hurt her tender feelings?

What really worries me is of course how many other people make up stuff about me against my will. How many folks imagine and insist on my reality the way it never happened?

I’m living in a fairytale, I guess, though this isn’t how I imagined fairytales.

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Last Days of Summer . by Martin Brick

August day, exactly 23 years after, and identical weather. Struck Lewis as the world saying, “Oh, we remember.”

Nadine’s mother remembered too. “I didn’t expect to see you.” He wondered if she knew, if that’d be something she’d even care about now.

“Too early,” Lewis mumbled. “Barely 40.”

He’d never spent many daylight hours in the cemetery, but after dusk it was where a young man with no car and a girlfriend within walking distance could find some space.

They joked about the dead, about hallowed grounds, about concepts like souls, until only a week of summer remained. So they committed, there on the grass. She laughed; her blush glowing through the dark. They’d been afraid all summer – of what? – of pain, consequences, getting caught, and probably somewhat legitimately, damnation. Why test it in a graveyard?

But they pledged to repeat every night for their last week.

He walked her out, keeping the pastor’s house distant. But they spotted someone on the back porch. The priest’s housekeeper, smoking a cigarette. She saw them, and Lewis knew her face was stern, turning love to shame.

So they never went back there. Never made love again. Lewis told Nadine at a reunion how silly that seemed, what they lost from fear. He had a few drinks in him. “6 amazing nights, gone.”

The funeral party left the cemetery, and he saw the housekeeper smoking again. Could she still be alive? She still looked stern, but smug, as if thinking, “we got you.”

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Naughty . by Catherine Russell

The secrecy, the excitement of sneaking behind her husband’s back, gave her a rush like nothing else – especially since she knew full well her lover could kick his ass in a New York minute. But what would be the point? He’d only be accused of picking on a cripple – no matter how resourceful the cripple might be. Besides, divorce was out of the question; Daddy wouldn’t hear of it.

But when loverboy stripped off those fatiques and leather – YUM. She just couldn’t help herself. She loved bad boys, and he’d been very naughty.

That evening, Hephaestus munched popcorn and mulled over suitable punishments as he watched the VHS of his wife’s antics. Oh to hades with it, he thought. He’d had dalliances of his own. Besides, judging from the tape, the love of Ares was punishment enough.

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Burnt Buscuits . by Doug Bond

Herb Bernstein was a tool-head, a sparkplug, wiry and overcharged. On
any given weekend you could see him folded under the hood, lubricating
this and tightening that.

Every now and again his wife Bea, would hear the engine screech, then
tire flung gravel pocking the tin shed. When she drew in for breath,
her chest cavity swelled to jumbo size.

Normally she kept the kitchen windows shut, but with the oven on and
the first batch burnt, Bea had them pushed wide open. It was hot too,
unseasonable it seemed to her, this early in spring.

The noise was something she’d been learning to get along with, but if
she had a bone to pick, it was the grease and the grime on his clothes
and his nails always black. It looked like torture, all that bending
and torquing, but she knew Herb took great delight in his labors. He
could keep at it for hours at a time. This was “his thing,” he had
told her when they met last Fall. Bea had learned to keep inside, give
him space.

Setting the second tray of biscuits down, Bea strained to lean over
the sink, and pressed her face towards the open screen. “Herb! Please,
Honey…Come on in for some lunch?”

Clanking a menthol cough drop against his molars, Herb looked straight
over the dash, his jaw creased, foot on the pedal, mumbled “Fatty”
under the growing roar of the engine, and dropped the shift into gear.

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Tainted Love . by Guy Yasko

— Would you mind turning that down?

— In a minute. I’m listening.

— 80s pop was all about record company hegemony and falling microchip
prices.

— I don’t care. I like it. Try the broccoli.

— Broccoli, the easy-to-ship vegetable, the logistically-friendly
vegetable. You need something like that when you’re getting rid of local
producers.

— Do you enjoy anything?

— I enjoy you.

— Do you really?

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The Morning After . by Andrew Stancek

“Punk kids,” Mirko’s father says. “The country’s disintegrating before our eyes. Never happened when I was young. If it did, they caught the animal right away, put him in jail, threw away the keys.”

Mirko’s father is hacking slices of bacon off a slab with the dull blade of a pocket-knife, throwing them onto a sizzling pan. He slurps black tea improved by a healthy dose of rum. Last night the men in the neighborhood started up a Protection Association in response to the kiosk robbery. Mr. Zajko, the vendor, is in hospital concussed, incoherent. Mirko’s father had been a major during his military service and is now one of the group’s officers.

“Jail? Too good. In America they have the right idea. You steal a horse, they hang you. That’s what I’d do with these punks.”

Mirko’s head throbs. Duro and he didn’t even bother counting the money, just shared a bottle of slivovica. The bacon smell is making the room rock. A few weeks ago he was living at mother’s and his biggest worry was a math test. He can feel the noose rubbing his neck raw, the swaying in the wind.

“Dig in,” his father says, putting in front of him a heaping plate of bacon, potatoes, fried onions. Mirko runs to the bathroom.

“Something I ate last night,” he calls out.

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Jade . by Mike DeChristina

George was the dessert man at the prepared food counter. He was short and round, and sported a black caterpillar mustache. His buddy the butcher called him ‘Vanilla Pudding.’

After his Saturday shift, George went home to clean up. On the way to Ming’s apartment, he stopped by an ATM to extract five crisp twenty-dollar bills.

George had continued to visit Ming even after she fell ill and there was no chance of any carnal pleasure. Ming’s thirty-something daughter Helen opened the apartment door and wordlessly returned to the kitchen to read her books.

George and Ming watched a dancing show on the TV in the bedroom. He sat in a chair next to the bed, while Ming lay with her eyes closed, fingering the synthetic jade necklace George had given her years before. George left his twenties on Ming’s night table before kissing her hot white forehead.

In Ming’s final weeks, George and Helen gave Ming sponge baths. They laved Ming with warm soapy water. George held his breath to avoid breathing in Ming’s stench. After drying Ming off, they changed her sheets and pulled a nightdress over her body.

Ming died in March. For several weeks, George stayed home on Saturday nights. One Saturday night in April, George walked over to Ming’s, stopping at the ATM along the way. George knocked on Ming’s door. Helen opened it. She wore a pretty blue dress, her hair swept up, revealing her long white neck, upon which hung Ming’s jade necklace.

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tainted love . by Alexandra Pereira

“Good morning, sir. May I help you?”

“Yes, I would like some love.”

“What kind of love, sir?”

“The kind that makes me happy.”

“And would you like happy-love-occasionally, sometimes, or most of the time?”

“What? Look, lady, I’m tired of being miserable! I want always, happy-love-always!”

“We don’t have always, sir. Humans weren’t programmed to be happy always.”

“Fine. I’ll take most of the time then.”

“Uh…one moment…Sorry, it’s unavailable. The woman before you took our last one.”

“Guess sometimes will have to do, then.”

“For how long? One week, month or…ah…let me see…yes, we still have years-”

“Years.”

“How many?”

“As many as you can give me.”

“Impossible, sir. We don’t sell love for eternity but what we offer is good compared to what’s in the market nowadays.”

“Look, I’m a simple man. Don’t complicate my life.”

“We’re not here to complicate your life, sir. We want our customers to be happy, but I can only give you three, four, maximum five years. The woman before you also took the maximum we had.”

“I’ll take five. How much?…That’s outrageous! Don’t have that kind of money!”

“But you want love and love’s expensive and can be very difficult to find.”

“That’s why I came here, but I want the lasting kind, not any of this bullshit!”

“Then you’ll have to try the Dream On store next door. Maybe they can help you. Here we only sell tainted love.”

“Never mind. I’ll just find that woman. Ah…What was her name?”

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The Mess . by Walter Bjorkman

–after Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

“I don’t even know if love exists, has anyone ever had a definition that fully satisfies, or a love that does? If they say so they are liars.”

“Something doesn’t have to be defined or definable to exist.”

“Now you are pulling in existential crap that can be used to justify or destroy anything or everything. Next you’ll be saying how do we know that everything, including me, isn’t just your imagination and nothing exists but you.”

“It could be true, even if you say how come we both have the same knowledge, of the events in Europe or the color of the street lights or that my dad is screwing his secretary; I could say that is because I imagined you to think that way.”

“We could go back and forth like that forever, but I can tell you why that argument is bullshit and everthing is as real as the taste in my real mouth of that really bad meatloaf we just ate.”

“What?”

“If you, or I, are just imagining all this, why the hell are we sitting here just washing down lousy food with lousy coffee in a harshly lit diner at two am, paid for with our last two bucks, arguing about if I love you or if there even is such a thing, instead of fucking away in extended bliss in a bed of fluffed down while listening to Sarah Vaughan?”

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Doll Parts . by John Wentworth Chapin

I knew Courtney Love was hot even before she finally brushed her hair and took a shower sometime after Kurt Cobain shot himself. One look at that mouth and you know she gives kickass head when she’s not passed out or saying stupid shit. Someone that talented should be a fucking superstar, but what’s so hot about Courtney is she’s so damaged. If I met her I’d be cool and sort of a dick to her and she’d eat it up, and we’d end up with her straddling me in my back seat, probably. And she’d be pissed off about it, too, because I’m a nobody and look how far she’s fallen. She’s always had one foot on a pedestal and the other in a gutter. Every Courtney episode is just so screwed up and it makes her all the hotter. It’s not like I’m fixated on 1994 Courtney or rehab Courtney or Golden Globes Courtney or whatever – I accept all of her. You know, I bet no one else does – not anyone who isn’t drawing a paycheck off her. She would hate me for being nothing and I would love her for being famous but nothing. I’m the one who could make her happy. I’d probably have to treat her like shit a little, but that’s okay, because I want to see what she does next, even if I’m already fucking her.

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Sunken Treasure . by Michelle Elvy

When Jackie and Jim first rolled round in the sack, they were teens, mere beginners. All limbs and movement, no tact or grace. It didn’t matter, of course: enthusiasm and energy made up for lack of finesse. One night Jackie lay next to Jim, sweaty and heaving but confused. “There’s got to be more to orgasm than this.” Jim left the room quickly, returned with his mask and snorkel. “What the hell are you doing?” she said as he climbed up the foot of the bed with his snorkel gear dangling. “Free diving,” he grinned, snapping the strap on his head, “Going in deep, looking for treasure.” He found it alright, but it took a little roadmapping and a lot of giggling along the way. They spent years mapping each other’s bodies, diving and snorkeling and learning how to breathe deep.

Ten years later, Jackie’s holding her breath. Jim’s gone and Ralph’s down there looking for treasure. She’s not sure he’s ever gonna find it at the rate he’s going. She considers asking him if he needs a GPS, bursts out laughing. Then the tears come and Ralph’s out the door. It occurs to Jackie then and there that the years with Jim were good ones, even if in the end she needed less finesse and more constancy, more companionship. At some point it turned sour and the fights were as frequent as the orgasms. But it was real, and she misses real.

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We thank David Ohlerking II for his artwork. Here is a bit of the story of its creation and the process:

“This is a painting of a particularly difficult now-ex girlfriend. My teacher made me keep it even though I wanted to be all dramatic and throw it out. The image was made by scraping paint around after it was brushed on. The scrapes were intended to reflect the heaviness I felt in my arms from the constant threat of controversy inherent in the relationship. I’m much better now.

The painting was made with oil paint on Masonite. The paint had stand oil in it which is a syrupy form of linseed oil (boiled in a vacuum to reduce it.) The stand oil allowed for the scraping tricks. It was initially painted from life up on an easel, then after some terrible argument I went home and painted over it, laid it down on the floor and scraped the form into it.”

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Filed under Wk #48 - Tainted love

Week # 47 – Blind Spot

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

The theme is blind spot.

She knows by aLnym (Aljoscha Lahner)
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Corner . by Susan Tepper

On the corner the man with the dog sells pencils out of a cup. They are lined up yellow and perfect. The erasers up and the point part down. Each with its pink unused eraser. The kind I like to chew. I’m dying to steal one. How will he know? I ask my brother Tom. How will he know he’s blind? Tom says the dog will know. That the dog is trained to protect the man. The noon heat is killing me. Fumes from the cars are thick. I’m not going to mug him I say. I just want a pencil. Then pay for it Tom says. No I’m thinking. I want it free. The blind man doesn’t need money. Look at his shoes I tell Tom. Real leather and shiny. We have sneakers. He has more money than God. Tom says he’s going to let the dog bite me. He says it will leave a large gaping wound. Probably in my leg. Will it scar? I say. Tom says for sure. For sure and then no one will want you Rachel.

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The Line . by Karla Valenti

There is a place not far from here, a tiny spot of space where people like to go to forget. It’s always quite busy, as there are many with much to forget. Sometimes you have to wait for days before you get a turn but people don’t seem to mind because it gives them time to collect their memories. You can see them as they stare ahead, their eyes open to their past, trying to recall each moment so they can let go of it once and for all. As their turn approaches, they seem more desperate to remember and so they spend more time away. They seem to get heavier as they get closer to their turn, as if the weight of their memories was becoming unbearable. Sometimes they cry. When their turn is up, they step on the spot and close their eyes. For that one instance, they are blinded to their past, they have no memory of who they were or how or why, they only know to be. And then, the moment is over. They always look up surprised to be there and then they simply walk away. They never look back at the long line of people waiting behind them for their turn to forget.

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The Blind Spot . by Susan Gibb

She was beautiful once, a few years ago. Street life has since pock-marked her face, dotted her arms with bruises that scream purple, mellow to yellow and green, or fester if the needle was dirty.

She takes out a comb and makes a part in her hair down the middle but just a few inches down it catches on knots and her arm, painfully heavy, drops away, leaving the comb there like a butterfly perched on her ear.

It takes a long time but she gets it untangled. Spits on the ends to curl them around her finger, slowly drawing it out to let them hang there to dry. She pulls out a small round mirror, peers between cracks, presses down with the palm of her hand to level the shards back into one single image. Or at least as close to one as she can.

Her hands flipper through the large plastic bag, come out with a scratched and dented tube of lipstick. The color flares up like a lighter. She leans close to the mirror and paints on the memory of lips. She finds a clean sweater, changes her jeans, and goes out to stand by the curb.

He comes by at the usual time and she hopes to catch his eye. Last Friday evening she recognized him, thought he might have recognized her. He stares, slows his step but doesn’t stop. She smiles but he keeps walking by.

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From the Balcony . by Christina Murphy

He liked to sit on his balcony and watch the people go in and out of “The Blind Spot” bar across the street. He felt he knew many of the regulars, who came a few hours after sunset when the bar’s sign flashed neon red letters that lit up the street.

He had worked in construction but was retired now. His knees began to give out after thirty years on the job, and when he could no longer climb ladders, he knew no one would hire him. It was a young man’s job, and he had too many years on his face to be the type of guy anyone wanted these days.

His hands were gnarled from his years on the job pounding nails and laying shingles and lifting heavy coils of copper in the hot sun or the cold of winter. Often the flashing red of the bar’s sign would show upon his hands and look like blood in the cracked skin of his knuckles. He’d swig down another beer and wonder what had happened to his life.

About 11:00 o’clock he’d call it a night. He’d fall asleep with the music still echoing from the bar and the red light flashing against his bedroom wall, forming bits of letters that took on odd shapes. He liked to believe the letters watched over him as he slept, filling his dreams with images as his mind surrendered to a darkness he’d accepted and no longer feared.

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Loneliness . by Robert Vaughan

The two lovers recline, sweaty, exhausted, bodies entwined.

He clears his throat, says, “That was great. You’re really something, ya know?”

She arches her back, moves her leg off his. Whispers, “You too.” Now is not the time to get into it. She forces a smile, says, “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be here,” he says. Pats her butt as she stands up.

She stares into the bathroom mirror above the sink. My god, how you’ve changed. It’s not the deepening lines. Or her marble green eyes, getting weaker, fuzzy. It’s not the minute scar on her neck, her last melanoma removed.

Nothing will appease the growing pit in her stomach. It gnaws at her from the inside out. No longer a blind spot, it defines her.

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Sightless . by Len Kuntz

It begins like a migraine, with a trail of effervescent spots throbbing black across her corneas. Her left hand tingles, goes numb. A branch cracks inside her skull.

And then she’s blind.

At first she thinks it’s a power outage. She crumbles to the bathroom floor and waits for the lights to come back on, but they don’t.

So, she moves forward in life. She makes the kind of moves a newly sightless person would–ramming into coffee tables and chairs. She accidentally sticks her fingers into other people’s cupcake cream, into other people’s nostrils, into light sockets.

Her husband cackles. He says she’s turned into a funny woman, that he might be able to stand her this way. Instead of beatings, he can play pranks now, rearrange the furniture, tell Helen Keller jokes. It’s not a fair exchange, but the heart always saves itself somehow.

Being blind teaches the woman-the wife-someone’s daughter how to listen better.

Now she doesn’t even have to use a monitor to hear the baby breathing all the way down a hall, to know that the infant is just as frightened as her.

She can hear her husband crushing peanut shells and whispering “something-something six o’clock” into his cellphone.

She hears a plane above their roof. Hears a bird pecking in the feeder at the sink window. Hears a dog’s distant yelping. Hears her mother’s voice telling her, at age ten, to be careful who you trust, that boys don’t always have the best intentions.

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Stiletto . by Michael Webb

“Didn’t you see how she was looking at you?”

I drove on, the road nearly empty, my brain processing friction, velocity, angles, momentum, speed. The calculus of a body, moving through space. Leaving point A, heading for point B. “52nd Street” blared from the stereo.

“Didn’t you?”

“Who?” That seemed safe.

“That woman. Jessica.” My wife spat the words out.

Nick’s assistant, Jessica. Jessica with the doe eyes and low cut top and too high heels.

“How was she looking at me?” There was only one place conversations like this ended.

“She wants you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m married, for one thing. ”

“Oh, she does. She wants you. You don’t know. You don’t understand how women are. You don’t know what we’re capable of.” That was true.

“I don’t think she’s like that.”

“We’re all like that,” my wife said firmly.

“I doubt it. Not her, ” I said softly. I accelerated a little bit more.

“You never think women do anything wrong,” she told me. “Never. I wouldn’t trust her with you for one second. I’ll slit her throat if she touches you.”

I thought she was wrong, but I had been married too long to say that.

“Would you?” she said, rubbing her nyloned foot. Her heels were high, too.

“No. Of course not.” I pulled through a stoplight, glancing around for cops.

“You know you love the knife,” Billy Joel told us.

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Wife . by Lou Freshwater

On the day she died my mind was flooded with images of her, mixed up, no order, just chaos taking up space as if to hold back the absence which was beginning to take its own form and which over the next days and weeks would strike me down, not until I was on my knees but well after, grinding my curled up and hopeless body with the gravity it alone controlled until the pain and loss felt as if it was breaking my bones not by snaps, but by a slow ache and giving in to the pressure. In these days I wanted to escape the images, and there were so few ways to help me do this. Even drugs and alcohol only softened the edges, blurred the center, slowed the herky-jerky slides of her living a life she no longer had. We, no longer had. But years have passed now, and those images have changed or disappeared. What used to be a scene has broken into fragments and blips of her on a screen I can’t control or manipulate. I feel a crushing guilt about this. I wished her away. I begged her to stop coming. I could not take the pain I should have been able to endure. And now, as time unfolds in front of me, I wonder what will be left of her. Will I be able to see her when I need to, or will she completely retreat into an unbearable blind spot.

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blind . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

what world is this

when in the parking lot

a man squeezes breakfast

from catsup packets

the girl squats

by Xerox boxes

she calls home

and you send back

your triple-slam

with eggs too runny?

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The Right Time . by Nicolette Wong

The barricades pierce her heart in a blind spot of hope undone. Like a dead bird in the air falling to the battlefield, between distorted faces and arms entangled in blood, dust of broken will that would forever be fooled by a grand promise. Her voice breaks against children’s laughter, ambient music in her studio and the stillness I am trying to hold, over the phone.

‘He called the whole thing off. The photo shoot. The banquet,’ she sobs.

My friend is a sturdy woman with wide shoulders, wavy brown hair and a jolly gait. I imagine her falling flat on the floor, a crucified victim surrounded by curious children. The paint on their hands would dry in an instant when they saw the light had gone out of their teacher’s eyes.

‘Did he say why?’ I ask.

‘He loves someone else. A young man he met at work.’

The man who left purple roses scattered over my friend’s drawing table, to go home and sit between his mother and sister in front of the TV screen? Now he must find his private sphere so he can lock lips with another man who ignites the fire in him, tearing apart the composure he has feigned for years. He will emerge a glistening man, fresh-faced with joy and sanity.

‘I don’t understand why it took so long for him to tell me,’ my friend says.

‘I’m sure things happened at the right time,’ I say.

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Dinner . by Al McDermid

I didn’t notice it sitting there, in the middle of the table, when I first walked into the kitchen. I should have, but I didn’t. I poured my coffee as usual and stood in front of the sink drinking it, looking out at the not entirely unremarkable red brick wall of the neighboring building. Flecks of peeling white paint suggested traces of an ad that no one had cared about for fifty years. It obviously predated the construction of my building by a very long time. Were I inclined, I could have reached out and touched it. Instead, I thought about today’s trial, and the almost certainly guilty scumbag I’d be defending, and how, were he a successful criminal, he could have afforded his own attorney.

I finished the coffee, set the mug in the sink, turned to leave, and there it was; fat, pink, and severed. Its eyelids were closed and I wondered if the butcher had done that as some perverse gesture of respect. I didn’t know why he would have but I’m glad he had, though I couldn’t fathom why it was there, this head minus its hog; the roasting pan should have tipped me off.

I glanced at my watch, picked up my case, and left for work. Thinking about dinner would have wait.

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I Took My Blind Spot . by Darryl Price

Out for riding and

Oh she did jump the
Overgrown hedges
So beautifully

Such that the little
Purple flowers thrilled

Themselves several
Shades deeper in the
Quickness of her flight.

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What You Don’t See . by Kim Hutchinson

Spot the Chihuahua was born blind. The kids called him Spot because they thought it was funny and, well, he wouldn’t know any better, would he?

You would think that a tiny blind dog would be on the timid side, but not Spot. He confronted Dobermans and Great Danes without hesitation, just a little confusion as to why their prime sniffing area was so high off the ground. He chased squirrels halfway up trees, following their scent and footfalls, and he wouldn’t let Mr. Kane, the cranky old neighbor, anywhere near the yard, even to return a lost ball or Frisbee.

When it came to catching flying discs, he was the block champ. Nobody could figure out how he did it, but he would leap four feet in the air to catch one and never missed. He was never happier than when he was trotting up with a teeth-marked neon-colored circle of plastic in his mouth. Blue ones were his favorite. We could never figure out why.

Maybe that’s why he developed a fondness for chasing cars, something to do with the Frisbees. It was always the left rear wheel he was after. A couple of times, we found him blocks away, shaking and barking in rage and frustration at the left rear wheel of a parked car.

Spot weighed less than ten pounds, but he just couldn’t see the point of being afraid of anything. I’m glad he never saw it coming, the second car.

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Rain . by Jesse Peacock

I’m hypnotized, watching man fail against nature. The slim black blades frantically arc from one side of the foggy glass to the other, but they can’t compete with the relentless drumbeat of water surging from the darkened sky. The water comes much faster than the wipers can sluice it away.

I can’t stop myself watching the battle as I change lanes, lazily flicking my turn indicator. I don’t see the headlights behind me until it’s too late. A horn blares and my car flips. When it’s upside-down, the wiper blades work against nothing. My hair hangs loosely against the roof of the car.

I lose some time, because the next thing I know, I’m lying on rough asphalt, the rain pouring so hard into my open mouth that I gurgle. Some of the rain is hot on my face. Some of it is freezing. The red and blue lights flash against my closed eyelids.

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Bluebird . by Guy Yasko

I wake to the rain on metal roof. I want coffee and breakfast, but i’m
not ready to be wet, not yet. I move up to the driver’s seat. Why not? I
check the mirrors. There’s nothing to see; too many raindrops, too many
blackberry bushes.

Dexter’s books are on the dash, some half-open, spine-up. I peek. The
feeling of excitement disappears in the teachings of Don Juan. I fall
asleep.

When i look up there is a woman at the door. She doesn’t knock. I crank
open the doors. Rain drips between us.

— I was looking for Dexter.

— Not here. Check his place?

— Not there either.

— Well, come in out of the rain at least.

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Not knowing what I know . by Doug Bond

The smiling parents turn their back, both at the same time, for just a
second to look at the high school boy who caught the Frisbee at the
very last moment and rolled over like a stuntman on the sand. That’s
when the toddler’s little legs get pulled under and I see it.

There’s a soundtrack playing in my head when it happens and it happens
this way all the time. Sun skitter, dogs, kites, laughter. Slow motion
pink pale splashing and the wave washing away from shore. It’s a
disease, this jolt I’ve grown close to and the wonderfully deep
screaming that looses inside.

LOOK NOW! HELP! PLEASE! Someone tell them. I can feel my mouth
opening. I’m about to…but the wave really only came calf high and she
runs giddy-scream backwards and mom and dad, still smiling, hold her
tightly, not knowing what I know, that someday, it will come to her,
in a place they know well and I won’t be there to make it not happen.

It could be a canoe, the one they will leave at the edge of their
pond, the rope swing, a rifle on the wall, an unlocked door or the
drunk man in the Buick down the street. Let me tear out my eyes,
beautiful girl, and place them where I know that you’ll need them,
like I should have know for my own little boy, who like you, was
staring straight ahead and couldn’t have seen anything other than
light.

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Witness . by Andrew Stancek

“Nobody will ever give us a chance. Even a demolition job, damn it,
all brawn, no brains, we get turned down. I need cigarettes, Mirko,
sauerbraten, beer. Your father gave you a hundred crowns. But how
often will that happen? ” Duro blew on his hands, spit the cigarette
butt out of the corner of his mouth.

Whom is he trying to convince? Mirko thought. “You’re sure he doesn’t
deposit every day?”

“He’s a cripple, Mirko. The bank is a long walk for him. Every three days.”

Mirko took a deep puff. Stealing an apple or a kohlrabi walking past
a fruit stall was child’s play but this was armed robbery. Prison, not
reform school. Maybe he could still go back to mother’s, smile at his
stepfather, gorge himself. Duro was bound for prison now, or later.

“Where do you want me to stand?”

“Street corner. Whistle if anyone’s coming.” Duro marched to the
newspaper kiosk, pulled the mask down, hefted his wrench, knocked at
the side door. “Evening paper delivery, Mr. Zajko,” he called out.
The door opened.

“Little early today, aren’t—.” The wrench smashed down on his head,
Duro leapt in and out in seconds, stumbled toward Mirko, stuffing
bills into his pocket.

A blonde pranced out from behind a tree across the road. Mirko last
saw her snoring in his father’s apartment. As Mirko ran by, she
rubbed her eyes.

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Sweet Revenge . by Tom Allman

Delores’s Family told her that she was being paranoid; which proved that they were out to get her! Her Cat, Mr. Puss, confirmed her worst fears. “Darling, your loved ones mock you whenever your back is turned.”

Delores decided to have a third eye grafted into the back of her head. She took a “ME” weekend and had it done on the sly. It was neatly covered by her mop of auburn hair. “I’ll show those eye-rollers and tongue-sticker-outers,” she fumed.

The duplicitous feline told the rest of the family what Delores was doing. “He’s been so helpful and given us such good advice since the operation,” they all said.

When she returned home they followed her around striking lewd poses and making “do you want your face to freeze like that” expressions. This was the last straw.

Terrible and irrevocable things were said, dishes and collectibles hurled. This home was now broken. His job complete, Mr. Puss lay in a laundry basket grooming the area where his testicles had been and savored his sweet, sweet revenge.

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The Red Dot . by Kevin Balance

In the forest through the trees camouflaged by a dark bower of ferns sits a big red dot plumb on the ground as in a landscape in a gallery at the musee des beaux arts. Some even look right at it but still march idly on. Working not with his eyes but with his trowel and spade the peasant finds this spot that transports him to anytime, anywhere. He begins to see things from the corner of his one unpatched, glass eye. He becomes a Tiresias in Greece, a Soothsayer in Rome.

Over summers and winters of ignored augury a history begins to form. A myopic paradox builds on itself—grows stronger and more verdant with each penned text. An archetype is born squarely on the big red dot. The circle holds strong for a long, long time until the rogue muse frays its edge. And in that fray a bartering occurs: eyes for eyes, archetype for evolution. So with an unseen splash our play begins.

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Genus Octopoda . by Mike DiChristina

Anne-Marie squinted as she read the sign next to the octopus tank at Sea World.

“Convergent evolution,” she said.

Jimmy rapped the aquarium glass, but the pink octopus remained motionless, tucked in its cave, its unblinking eye catatonic.

“We evolved on different paths. Humans and octopuses. Octopi?” said Anne-Marie.

“Octopussy?” said Jimmy. He slipped his hand into the back pocket of her cargo shorts.

Anne-Marie said, “We both have eyes. Evolution found a different way in each case.”

Jimmy stood behind Anne-Marie, wrapping his arms around her waist. He pressed into her sun-warmed body, nibbling her ear, tasting lotion. He slipped his hands into her front-facing fanny pack.

“Wow,” he said.

Anne-Marie continued reading.

“Eyes have different anatomy, same result: sight. Like bat wings versus bird wings. Different anatomy, same result: flight,” she said.

“A poem,” he said.

“The octopus did us one better, though,” she said, “No blind spot.”

He covered her eyes with his hands. “We have a blind spot?”

“Back of the eye. Where the optic nerve enters the retina.” Anne-Marie ducked away and flip-flopped toward the stingray tank.

“I never saw any blind spot,” Jimmy said, following her.

“Your brain fills in the blanks. They have cool experiments that prove it,” she said.

He leaned over the railing and scratched a baby stingray’s back.

“Where next?” she said.

“Squid?” he said.

Anne-Marie said, “Or we could go back to the hotel and make our own eight-legged monster.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Jimmy.

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Blind Spot . by Katie Welch

He is my blind spot, the part I’m oblivious to, the part I refuse to see.

He has robbed me so many times, over and over and over again, but still I see nothing.

Merely a mirage. A shimmer on the horizon.

I can hear him; his smooth talk, like an eel, cool and shining and so slippery you cannot get a good hold, you just watch as his words slip away back into the depths of the air.

I can smell him, his stale cigarettes; his signature perfume. I never touch him though, that is forbidden, he pulls away if I dare to inch forward.

I ran away, but he tracked me down, and still I don’t see the damage and destruction I allowed. Others point it out, slam it in front of me, showing me pictures and telling me truths. But I am blind to this, because deep inside he feeds me, a part of me that I am blind to, it is a meeting of our darkness, tentacles reaching each other through the distance, a tugging, a needing a longing, a destroying.

Perhaps I am his blind spot too, perhaps he only sees the outer me, the smile, the lies and the perfume bought in airport lounges.

Perhaps I need a special mirror, attach it to my emotions so they can reflect from all angles.

I could buy one, but I don’t. We are a car crash in slow motion neither of us can escape from.

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Interview (Inner view) . by Alexandra Pereira

“My son, you ask? Oh he’s a hell of a guy. Loves ping pong and squash but hates washing the car and helping his mother with the dishes, whenever he visits. Not a manly thing to do, but being an only son he’s gotta help around the house sometimes, heh heh. But Claire and I will do everything for him… Oh ya – my wife and I have a great relationship. Wonderful woman. And we’re so lucky to have a great son. I mean Rory means everything to us… Claire… Claire had… well, she couldn’t get pregnant easily so we went through a difficult time — very difficult. But all that’s gone now. Rory came and grew up and went to college and has made us very proud… No, he’s not finished his course yet. Not easy studying to be doctor. I mean Rory’s extremely intelligent, he’s just ah… had bad luck with some professors, that’s all. Otherwise he would have finished ah… ’bout three years ago… Ah, ya… it’s cost us a hunk of money, and we’re not rich, but we’ll do everything for our little Rory – well, he’s really not that little anymore, heh heh… Naw, that’s just lack of sleep. He’s been real tired. You know, staying up late, studying, and all… Really? Nah, couldn’t have been our Rory! Rory’s studying in the east coast, Pennsylvania, not Nevada.”

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Coming Clean . by Deborah A. Upton

“Are you blind?” Deanna yelled, tension pulsing in her neck. “How can you sit there in one spot all day long,” she was looking at the worn-out recliner her husband sat in, “and watch that damn depressing crap?”

She didn’t wait for his reply. She let the wind help her slam the back door on her way to the garden plot, where she fell down on her knees. As her body shook, she dug into the freshly turned soil, filtering it between her fingers. An earthworm fell to the earth, landing on the pile forming on the ground, and immediately went to work. Deanna paused to watch. She wasn’t used to seeing such industry in her garden, except by her own effort. She watched as the worm took dirt into one end, knowing it would eventually come out the other. She didn’t mind that kind of crap, though, because at least it was productive crap.

Suddenly overwhelmed with anger, she burst into sobbing, hysterically. How dare him to be so blind to my need, she thought. He’s not even as good as a worm. Unable to control the sobbing, she purged herself of the anger from deep down inside. It felt good to come clean.

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A Time to Remember . by Catherine Russell

The hunter stalked the high school dance like a panther stalked its prey.

Through the foilage, he peered at the festivities within. He brushed aside golden curls and watched the roiling sea of taffeta and tuxedos amid a riot of streamers and tinsel. A lone banner declared it was ‘A Time to Remember.’

On the building’s west side, the social outcasts grouped together, casting furtive glances at the dance floor. Spiked punch did little to alleviate their anxiety. One awkward teen looked especially forlorn as the object of his desire crossed the makeshift stage to accept her crown.

Perfect.

Outside the gym, the camoflauged youth pulled a gleaming silver arrow from his backpack, fitted the deadly instrument into his bow, and waited. The crowned couple descended the stage and danced amid a wide circle of admirers. The King spun his partner westward, and the hunter loosed his arrow – into the heart of the unsuspecting girl. She stumbled, fell from her partner’s grasp, and was caught by her most unlikely suitor.

Amazed, he pushed his horned-rims up the bridge of his nose and helped the girl to her feet. “You fell…”

She looked into his deep brown eyes and smiled. “Yes, I did.”

Then the King pushed the outcast away, grasped the girl once again, and resumed the dance. It was too late. Eros’ shaft had hit its mark.

The god slung his bow over his shoulder, zipped up his hoody, and smiled.

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Garden . by Stephen Hastings-King

Above the arrangements of leather belts cast iron wheels and saw blades hovers the rotting hull of a boat manned by ghosts in flannel who endlessly repeat the same slice of a long-ago winter voyage; in every photograph groups of them gather to peer at the strange electrical flash originating beneath the surface of the water between them and a section of Labrador beach littered with heaps of ice like walruses sleeping.

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Good with the big picture . by Matt Potter

Get the angle just right and you can create a pile-up.

I’m the Good Samaritan of Highway 57. Twice I’ve been cited for a Medal of Bravery but I’ve turned it down.

I don’t want the scrutiny medal-giving brings.

I live atop a cliff behind a clump of trees, in a Frank Lloyd Wright knock-off bought in the last property bust. From the balcony you can see for miles across the ocean, and even in winter, as the sun sets, it’s a million dollar view.

But there’s no welcome mat in front of my door and I work long hours in Emergency at the large hospital twenty minutes up the coast anyway.

Have you seen my photo in the paper? I always have a serious expression on my face, am usually in a white coat and probably look completely unapproachable but there I am, and pasted in my scrapbook: Local Doctor Saves Another Life.

I keep it in a secret cavity the Frank Lloyd Wright wannabe designed, under the kitchen floor. Dragging it back from the bushes atop the cliff without gouging the lawn is a challenge, but neatness is next to godliness in my profession.

Catch the glint of the afternoon sun in the large mirror and rush hour on Highway 57 somersaults to a halt. Half an hour later I’m working miracles with battered bodies and there I am in the local newspaper again.

My ex-wife had four children after we divorced.

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sightless . by Walter Bjorkman

monk lips bleeding green
trees burnt to ash
of black shadow

No, you will not
suffer – my yellow
matchbox hands will

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The Scientist’s Wife . by John Wentworth Chapin

Steven blurts it out: he cheated on her, broke into the lab, time-travelled back, fixed it. Technically, no cheating… they wouldn’t even know he broke in at work. Now it is all fine…except his conscience: fancy dinner and confession.

“You’re ridiculous. Time travel is impossible, Steven.” Her lobster tail is getting cold, drawn butter congealing.

He persists. “For the sake of this $200 meal, let’s pretend it’s not…. So are we good?”

Luann sighs, sucks a claw. “You think I care if it physically happened? If it temporally happened? You didn’t just fantasize. You screwed her – so you cheated. Pour more Perrier Jouet, asshole.”

“But it never happened! The universe has no record of it!” Steven looks triumphant: NASA-nerd triumphant, like when he beats a video game. She has no patience for it.

“Do you remember it?” Luann asks. “Did you get off?”

He nods.

“So there’s record.”

“But I made it so I never even met her!”

“Plus, you are a work-breaker-inner and coverer-upper.”

Steven’s brow furrows and he considers the diagonal weave of his napkin as it curves at a fold.

“Okay, Mister space-time engineer. You didn’t meet her. You didn’t boink her. But I’m a therapist… and I know you will. Or did. Or whatever.”

Luann tries to enjoy her lobster. She knows her husband: he’s sneaking back to the lab and this meal will never show up on the Visa bill.

Steven knows she knows: time travel is better than bulimia.

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The laugh which was always there . by Michelle Elvy

When Henry Watson’s 1980 Buick LeSabre skidded off the road, he expected to see his life pass before his eyes. They say that happens, the whole birth-to-this-minute flash. Instead, he saw only parts of it, some parts he’d never seen before, like when his daughter found him masturbating in the closet — he’d felt mortified, almost zipped himself. What he saw now, in the moment the LeSabre careened round the corner and dived into the muddy ditch, was not the look of disgust he’d assumed (which had covered his face) but something else entirely – amusement or possibly even understanding. The masturbating turned into blending malts in the kitchen with the lid left off: there was his wife in the corner, long before cancer ravaged her perfect body, her mighty laugh exploding at the eggs on the ceiling and the malt powder on his checkered shirt, her soft hand caressing his unshaven face. There were other moments, too: a sudden and violent slap across the face of his three-year-old son which he’d regretted for thirty years, a blinding sunrise in Athens, a scowling man outside the shop where he purchased his coffee every morning for thirteen years, the whitetail of a buck gamboling away yesterday as he lowered his Browning and didn’t fire, a waterfall somewhere in upstate New York – roaring like his wife’s mighty laugh which was here again, too. The laugh which was always there, even as he lost sight of everything and the world went black.

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We would like to thank aLnym for this week’s art. We asked the artist about this piece and this is what he wrote:

This is the first piece of a set of paintings for my portfolio. When I paint I don’t watch the colors which come to me. I basically just watch the saturation and dark- or lightness of the color to match into the painting. The work is a process of painting layers over layers… a technique and style. already present in other pieces, but not as clear. Therefore this work is an important cornerstone for me.

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Filed under Wk #47 - Blind spot

Week #45 – Broken shells

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

The theme is broken shells.

Staten Island Ferry Terminal by Walter Bjorkman
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Black Water . by Mike DiChristina

I met Iboni at the Global Oncology Summit in Geneva in 2005.

Everything about Iboni had a fine edge: her naked shoulder blades above a scoop-backed blue satin gown; her nose and chin in profile; and, when she turned to meet me, her thin-lipped smile and Queen’s English. A turquoise snake pendant coiled in the little hollow at the top of her breastbone.

Iboni was Egyptian, educated in the UK, her father imprisoned in some hellhole outside Cairo.

We talked of the Nile and its cataracts, of Akhenaten and the lost city of Amarna.

She touched my arm. “Thank you for not mentioning King Tut,” she said.

Iboni sat across the table from me at dinner, a candelabrum forcing me to watch her flirt with a handsome German doctor through flickering flames.

“Iraq,” someone said.

“Bush,” said the German, fire dancing in his glasses.

“America,” said Iboni.

Accusations swirled around the table.

“Blackwater.”

“Abu Ghraib.”

“Imperialists,” hissed Iboni.

I dropped my fourchette into my moules provençales and stood. I leaned forward, my fists on the table.

Iboni glowered at me, her aquiline face immobile, her black eyes burning like oil slicks.

I stalked out of the ballroom, through the lobby onto the Quai du Mont-Blanc to stare at the choppy black waters of Lake Geneva.

Years later, I am watching the video feed from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The revolutionaries show the scorched tear gas shells stamped Made in the USA and I remember Iboni’s ebony eyes.

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after the shock . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

water tumbles stones,

shells, metal, glass — sand glistens

a roar of silence

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shell . by Martin Porter

his father unfolded the concertina
map, laying it in dunes on the table
he googled it, name in box, click
of a button, eyes on the screen
and zoomed in to see

every grain of sand,
a hermit crab caught, mid-
scuttle,

the met report told them it was
comfortable yesterday
comfortable today and
it will be…

i gently rest my finger on the sand,
raise it to my face, observe
the Single Fragment of Shell adhered
and rub it, abrasively, across my open palm

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Mother Cried . by Maude Larke

Mothers cried inside me today. I sat between two megaphones and waited for the harpies. And my nerves pulled themselves apart like babies yanked from mothers’ arms, my nerves shrieked like mothers and cold, floating babies. My insides stretched their talons, a mock combat with mock pain and the mock spectators, mute. I put another head in one hand and said “stop” to the external.

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Dinner at the Harmony Restaurant . by Matt Potter

I ripped the glasses from his face and throwing them on the floor, stomped them into the polished floorboards.

Eight blank faces looked on. So I picked up the platter of anemone shells and tortoise shells and quail egg shells left over from the Mauritian bouillabaisse and tipped them over his balding head.

Still no reaction. Least of all from the tippee.

Balling my fists, I banged them on the retro-formica tabletop. The taste of pufferfish balls in an oleander-infused reduction with a seaweed and pomegranate side-salad tossed in a geranium-rottweiler vinaigrette rose in my throat.

“I resent subsidising the meals of those who had three courses AND A BOTTLE OF WINE when I only had one course and paid for my drinks along the way,” I said, looking at him as the broken shells slid down his face. “Especially when they earn more than double what I do.”

Recognition flickered in the eyes of those who, like me, have to watch their spending.

I slapped thirty-two dollars and seventy-five cents down hard on top of the hand-written account.

“I am NOT splitting the bill.”

And walking out the door, I made a mental note to contact my Anger Management Coach as soon as possible.

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Good Children . by Len Kuntz

I was oldest and prettiest, but he did not want me. He preferred plain things that could be uprooted and made ugly.

He took turns with my younger sisters. When they returned to our room, neither ever spoke until dawn, and then it was as if nothing had happened and we were all three good children with clean skin and flower-scented hair. We’d talk about the cute Beatle and make breakfast.

Our father did not drink. It would have been better if he had, for then it might have made some sort of sick sense. Back then, I was always trying to force logic at madness, but I only came away with soupy sounds swishing in my stomach well.

The last time I saw him was in the kitchen. He came up behind me after I had opened the refrigerator. Cold, sour air wafted over my dress front while Father’s bitter breath slaked down my neck.

I dropped three eggs.

He said, “Oops. Best clean that up.”

I waited but nothing happened. Walking past, shells stuck to my socks, the yolks like glue.

That night he had a heart attack. We had prayed for such a thing half our lives and there it was.

Now I watch my grown sisters with their husbands. I haven’t told mine.

I wear thick slippers to bed, but even so, I still feel those broken egg shells from time to time, jagged and brittle, clinging, clinging and never letting go.

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Walking On Seashells . by Susan Gibb

“It’s like walking on seashells trying to talk to you!” she said.

“You mean eggs,” he said, “it’s like walking on eggshells.” He snorted to make his point, left the table and went into the other room.

And somehow that ended the argument this time.

She heard the television blare up. People laughing. She couldn’t imagine what in life was so funny anymore that an entire audience would laugh. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself down. Her nerves zapped with electric anger. She stuck her hands in the dishwater and watched as they sizzled and spat. It was getting harder and harder. She stopped scrubbing dried pasta off the plate and swore she’d give that one to him at the next meal.

The next night was the same thing. “How the hell do you think my day went?” he said. His eyebrows were set in that mean way they had of placing themselves whenever he talked to her lately.

She poked at the cioppino she’d thought would please something inside him. “What the fuck’s this?” he had growled.

“You don’t have a clue what it’s like out there,” he went on. He worked on a mussel, fork and knife teasing it open. It slid from the plate and flew off. He sat staring at his plate, building up steam, and then shoved the plate off the table and banged out the door.

“Broken shells,” she whispered as she picked them up off the floor. “Seashells.”

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New Pets . by Robert Vaughan

“You want another one?” he asked in a voice meant for church. He always sounded expectant, as if he was waiting for me to become a better person.

“I’m still eating this,” I said, sticking out my tongue to reveal the cantaloupe lifesaver. I noticed my nails, how long they’d gotten, more like claws. I noticed my shell ring. It was half missing, not a good sign.

We were in his Camaro on a sticky July night. We’d just made out, bodies gnashing. My lips still tingled, my skin burned from the entire day at Stimson Beach. “You going to invite me in?”

He shrugged. His shaggy locks fell over his forehead like a wig that was too far forward. “Sure. But I have to warn you. I have something new.”

My brain raced as we walked toward his porch- another woman, lost his job, STD? We stood in his cluttered living room, he flipped on a light. Might have been better in the dark.

“I have a new pet,” he said. “Follow me.”

Great. I hate cats, not crazy about dogs. Birds nauseate me, hampsters scare me. He was leading me toward the bathroom. “Don’t tell me it’s a freaking turtle.”

“Shhh,” he turned around, finger held to those lips. Switched on a flashlight, slowly opening the door, as if a dinosaur might eat us.

I swallowed, hard.

And there, floating in the bathtub: a yellow-striped baby alligator. Those lifeless eyes glared at us, eyes I will never forget.

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LATECOMBER . by Chelsea Biondolillo

She sure is wailing; shrill as a gull over the surf.

This little girl, maybe six, just fell on the sidewalk and skinned the holy hell outta her knees. The little caps—I can see them from here—are slicked bright red.

She was running like crazy up the wooden steps from the beach after her grandpa had hollered at her. Her grandma was taking pictures from the railing. You can see the humped black rocks, majestic with that poetic looking surf around them just fine from up here, so most folks never even go down the stairs. They snap one, two, three shots and pile back into their cars and head south for the Trees of Mystery or something.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not staring: I come to watch the waves. The girl was just in my line of sight, poking around the tide pools. She gathered pieces of shells, sea-smoothed wood, pebbles. All the good stuff got snatched by beachcombers at sunup, but she didn’t seem to care: picked up the shards just like they were whole. It was them shells caused her so much agony. She caught her toe at the landing, and didn’t want to let any of her handfuls go. She had to drop hard on her knees to catch herself. Even now, while her grandma fixes her up, I can see her little fists, closed tight around them. She’s looking over that railing, like she’d go back down and do it again.

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V . by Susan Tepper

For my birthday he gave me a necklace. A shell necklace that hangs just below the bones in my neck. At the V. He likes to kiss that part of my neck. He says only the really beautiful girls have the V. He says the fat girls have it but it’s hidden under fat. He says it’s a shame but their own fault. He says they should eat less. Now that got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about turning fat. I do eat quite a lot of food.

What if I turn to fat? What if my V disappears? Won’t he love me anymore? I want to ask my Aunt Star. She has opinions. But Ma says she’s off with some man for the night. I go up and hang the shell necklace on my lamp shade. Then I go outside and sit on the porch. Grandpop is smoking and rocking. He passes me the pipe and I take a few puffs. I ask him if Grandma had the V. He said what V and goes on puffing. Then I go back up to bed. I look at my necklace on the lamp shade. It looks so innocent.

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Promises . by Nicolette Wong

It was our last voyage into the familiar shore, small tins and scoops tinkling in our hands and songs. The fiddler crabs had retreated into the setting sun. Broken shells were all we could find, between grey glistening stones and our shadows on the sand.

‘Do you think these shells moved onto their next lives?’ April asked, holding a semi-transparent one to the sky as if it was a magnifying glass which would give her a glimpse of heaven. She was in a white, spaghetti strap dress, the kind I always longed to have. She was eight; I was seven.

‘I don’t know what lived in these shells before,’ I said, ‘Maybe they found new lives.’

‘My brother smashed a snail once.’

‘Did you watch?’

‘No, I ran away screaming when the hammer dropped. He cleaned up the mess and told me the snail would reincarnate into something else. A different animal.’

I picked up my tin and missed the fiddler crabs we used to catch. April liked to shake them in the tin until they faded from the shock. I watched mine bob up and down in the water for a while, then let them go.

On our way home April made me promise to visit her in the years to come. I heard her family never moved away from the island.

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Ma Deuce . by Derek Ivan Webster

One after another they jangled as they skittered across the ground. The hours of blasting percussion had all but stolen his ears, yet the sharp metal tinkle of brass on stone still wormed its way inside his helmet. The belt ran empty; the mechanical feed continued to whir. He unclenched his glove and let his thumb off the steel butterfly. The silence, once it finally arrived, was uncomfortable. It was nearing noon and an unrelenting blaze flooded down from the white-hot dome of the sky.

Kenneth leaned forward to seize the next belt from a line of a half-dozen metal canisters stacked in a neat row beside him. Four of the green tins were already empty. His knees trembled slightly as he fed the brass track into the hungry Browning. He had been seated behind the beast most of the day; his feet tingled and the back of his pants dripped with perspiration. He smacked the charge handle and let it spring forward with an unflinching metal assurance. He licked his lips. He should have brought a second canteen.

Somewhere on the far side of the scorched valley his opposite number waited. A shower of exploding gravel had met Kenneth’s last attempt to leave the cliff. A scope; he had a scope. Kenneth retook the handles of the Browning and scanned the naked crags, at least a mile away, with his open sites. He thumbed down the butterfly. The shell casings returned to their skittering dance. Kenneth continued his search.

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Written . by Stella Pierides

Even though Nikolas was born on an island – which he left at 18 to study abroad – he hated the sea. He never swam in it, or even walked by this unpredictable medium. Water was not his element. It introduced a level of uncertainty for which he was constitutionally unprepared. You can imagine his surprise when his publisher asked him to write a novel set by the sea, with boats, swimmers, fish and sand in it. Add the whole damn lot, he had said, even sea shells. Even sea shells. Nikolas, despite bearing the name of the patron saint of the seafarers, felt his heart sink. However, not wanting to miss a deal in this climate, he bought a ticket for one of the most advanced, and at the same time exotic islands on earth, which was bound to inspire and inject vigor in his writing. An island so far removed from his everyday life that it was bound to help him overcome his hydrophobia: Japan.

It took a lot of courage for him to stay in the quiet fishing village. He forced himself to walk next to his imaginary foe, learned to breath-in deeply the salty air and watch the sunrise over the horizon. In fact, when the tsounami surprised him, he had been standing right next to the sea, lost in thought, marveling at two tiny sea shells in the palm of his hand.

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Roaring . by Jen Knox

The piercing came before the crunching, which preceded the sticky, pastiness of the yolk. Crying out, Ann hurled down a hammer fist, which ended up hurting her more than it did the marble counter top. The pain was coming from both extremities now. The limp body below her seemed to feel nothing.

She plucked tiny pieces of glass from her heel. The frying pan was still on its hook. “Thank you, Jess,” Ann said, “Thank you for passing out before you turned on the burner. This is the last night I’ll put up with this shit. Hear? The last night!”

Ann plugged in the vacuum and flipped the red switch. If they would have purchased the two-hundred dollar version Jessica wanted, it would be releasing a soft hum. This one was roaring. After all the glass and egg shells were sucked from the floor, Ann pushed it up near Jessica’s ear. A pasty cheek quivered but did not move.

With clean, tingling feet, Ann closed the bedroom door, pushed herself under a thick blanket and tried to drown the noise of her thoughts. She settled herself into the rhythm of the roar, thinking that as soon as next week she would finally leave. It would be best for both of them, she was telling herself, when a delicate arm draped over her; tiny fingers tucked under her ribs, holding onto her gently, insistently.

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Did You Get Two . by John Riley

“106 miles,” she said.

She stared at him. “106. Did you see the sign?”

I was on my knees on the backseat. My head didn’t touch the roof. This was before safety belts. My door lock was pushed down.

She said, “You’ll have less than nothing. I’ll see to that. You’ll be a beggar. 106 miles to the goddamn hotel. I hope it was good. Was it good? Did you ever drive 106 miles to get inside it?”

He clung to the wheel with both hands. “It’s not only my fault,” he said. “You had too many expectations.”

I held on to the hand strap and leaned against my door. The moon had been out but now it was gone. It was hot in the car. I could barely breath. She had made us close the windows so her hair wouldn’t get blown out of place. She got it set just yesterday. I cracked my window an inch. She didn’t notice. I sucked in a mouthful of air.

“Expectations,” she said, and began to cry. My insides filled up with hot water. I needed more wind on my face.

He kept both hands on the wheel.

She cried for a long time, snuffling, trying to hide it from me. Then she said, “Did you get two rooms? Tell me you got two.”

He didn’t answer. I slipped my fingers around the door lock.

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Dynamite . by Michelle McEwen

I’m a Cancer so I have a hard shell ’round my soft heart— that’s what the horoscopes say and I believe ’em. What I don’t understand is that I’ve been a Cancer all my life, but I ain’t always have this hard shell. Always had this soft heart, though. I used to be a giving woman— gave without thinking, without worryin’ about myself. Long as I was shelling out love, I was fine. Didn’t matter if I got hurt, I’d give and give. Wasn’t ’til I met this bullyin’ Virgo that I started growing this shell. He hurt me like I ain’t never allowed myself to be hurt before. He only thought of hisself and kept me cryin’ over all them other women. He’d say, “If you don’t brown my biscuits how I like ’em, there’s a woman over on Jackson Boulevard who’ll brown ’em right!” I shoulda told him to gone on to Jackson Boulevard. He told me about all his women: Brenda who was into women, Shelby who had meat on her bones, and Tina who worked the way a man oughta. Of course, there were more and I knew (still know) all their names. They ain’t know about me. He said I wasn’t important enough to know; said I’d never be until I brought home more bread, cooked better, and got me some hip fat. He chewed me up; spit me out— that’s why I got this ol’ hard shell. Gonna take dynamite to break it.

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Shell . by Catherine Russell

The girl ran inside, the rain drops spattering her coat where they missed her bright red umbrella. She retracted the canvas, shaking off the excess, before placing it in the stand near the door. Approaching the tiny window, she signed her name and took her seat.

Within minutes, she was called and shown to her room, a lone cubicle of bare white walls. Soon only a thin sheet of paper shielded her from the cool vinyl bed of the exam table. Upon the doctor’s appearance, she bared her body and soul, her tears falling like the rain outside the window.

The probing instruments and cold steel exposed her, transported her to a different place, a different time. The thin shell of her life shattered with the memory.

The exam over, she covered herself with cotton garments, dried her face, and walked outside.

As she walked, the sun played upon her flushed face and swollen eyes. A passing motorist noticed and thought her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

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(b)order . by Dorothee Lang

a steady two or t(h)ree
percent of growth per (y)ear,

that had been the brief plan
of the general future

the concept of exponential scales and continental drift:
still hard to (g)rasp for our minds, even now

truth was, we still tried to (read)just the moment
when everything started to change
beyond our (b)order

when we had sat there, listening
to the close,
distant breaking
of (s)hells

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Wagons, Indians, and Pioneers . by Matthew Dexter

We became blood brothers. Back when AIDS wasn’t all over the news, in the eighties, when we pierced our index fingers with a shared needle, sterilized and blackened with a non-childproof lighter of course, and three of us became one, promising never to lose touch.

After the ritual we smoked stolen cigarettes and cigars from your father’s basement office in Alpine, New Jersey. That same desk is where we borrowed the porno magazines: Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. Smoked them atop the abandoned swing set beneath the green Conestoga wagon canvas tent of abandoned playground equipment in your backyard. We flicked fluorescent ashes into broken seashells.

Haven’t seen either of you bastards for two decades, but sometimes I stick my ear against the pink spiral of the conch shell on top of the toilet, hold it against my head, listen to the wind in your backyard as the bathroom closes in, shut my eyes and stick my lips against the spiral of the Eustrombus gigas, release a trumpet sound, a high-pitched battle call–can you hear me during one of your recent heroin stupors in the Florida Keys? Will you ever answer me again? If the siphonal canal of the queen conch could talk it would tell you that the kingdom if still alive, we don’t have HIV. The purple spire and protoconch are still intact. Tell me you’re still alive. We’re still brothers, goddamn it all.

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Through the Looking Glass: Humpty Dumpty 2011
by Kim Hutchinson

Humpty Dumpty sat on a fault.
Humpty Dumpty had a great shock.
All of the king’s men
Now have to take stock.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘safe,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘safe’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’!”

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all. Words have a temper, some of them—particularly verbs—adjectives you can do anything with—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability!”

“Would you tell me, please, what that means?

“Now you talk like a reasonable child. I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject.”

“But does ‘safe’ mean free from harm?”

“It means that it’s generally regarded as meeting the legal standard of safety by the current panel of experts upon evidence published and compiled by the industry in question, but the standard changes depending on conditions and the ability of said industry to meet it.”

“That’s an awful lot for one word to mean,” Alice began, but she didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence, for a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end.

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In Sidon . by Kelly Grotke

In Sidon, there is a mound of ancient debris high as a fifteen-story building, chiefly comprised of broken shells belonging to the family Muricidae.

Long ago and far beyond the realm of fact, a dog, possibly even the dog of Hercules himself, was walking along the Mediterranean coast when it happened upon a cluster of these shellfish or shellworms, as they have also been called in earlier times. Whether for hunger or play we shall never know, but the dog bit into this peaceably beached assembly, crackling the creatures’ coverings between its teeth and thereby dying all the pale fur ‘round its muzzle the most sublime and wondrous shade of purple. And so it was that the color later reserved for royalty and priests was first worn by a dog.

To make one gram of this precious dye, over ten thousand of these modestly-sized, unambitious sea dwellers had to be sacrificed, which makes of the mound in Sidon a great tomb and memorial to those beings whose color blends so minutely with the fleece that not even all great Neptune’s waves, not even his entire sea, could e’er part them. A true wonder of nature, and an inspiration for human industry.

Ernest Renan viewed the mound during his sojourn excavating in the Levant at the behest of Napoleon III. One can imagine him wearing a purple cravate, if not precisely murex-purple, since it was a time of great freedom and equality, with the color available to master and servant alike.

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Glass . by Lou Freshwater

Her bulldozer of a husband died five years ago. But she stayed with him for years and she was his wife and their mother and their grand-mother, and she performed with the gentleness of a floating feather and the kindness of the spring breeze which carries it. She smiled, and never did any harm. She loved, but never too deep. After her husband’s reign ended when he dropped to his knees in the kitchen as life choked out of him, she didn’t change much except for the big white oceanfront house that she built. It was lovely and airy and stocked full of food the grandchildren loved to eat and toys they loved to play with. She passed the time by collecting smooth sea glass along the shore. It wasn’t long before the first large vase was full with the dull colors of glass made quiet by the grit of the sand and the surges and groans of the salty seawater. After that, she began to fill more and more vases, giving them away and starting again. One morning she was on her walk, gathering up the sea glass that had been brought to her, when she was hit by the sharpest pain in the tenderest part of her foot.

She felt the warmth of blood and she ground her teeth and she looked down at the jagged broken shell pushed into the sand by her weight, and she looked at the sea, and she screamed her spite.

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Hole Shells . by Leah Brennan

I brought you shells from Hawaii. I hope you like them, but maybe you don’t care. They look good here, though. Like they belong.

Each shell has a hole near its edge. Special predator mouthpieces drilled through the little walls and pierced the animal inside. That’s what the tour guide said.

I thought about threading them onto a black cord, but what would you want with a necklace? They would just hang together in a neat row, most of them hidden.

Pick a shell, any shell.

The night after you were buried, we stayed with you, huddled together in the dark on the cold patchy grass. We told stories about high school and poured a beer into the ground.

At your matzevah, your mother told us to leave a stone each time we visited, and now your grave is adorned with pieces of the roads we’ve travelled, favors from our weddings, a red CHS pen from our ten year reunion. You were there. Here is your souvenir. Your shells.

Hawaiians call them puka shells. Hole shells. They are supposed to bring good fortune, and sailors wear them to ensure safe travels.

But, I know how you always felt about superstitions.

In Hawaii, I knelt on the ground to sift through the sand for something to take home to you. You, who sailed down the Niger River on your homemade boat, your body pulled from the water by fishermen, you knew there was nothing to wait for, that every piece counted.

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Mirko’s Morning . by Andrew Stancek

Mirko walked past the broken streetlight; wet sand and cement dust crunched underfoot. He should have worn gloves, he thought. October, must be below zero.

Father woke him up, stumbling in around five, supported by the blonde from across the road. He fell. She groaned pulling at his arm, tumbled on top of him, swore, laughed her parrot squawk. Father was snoring already, sprawled on the floor littered with empty rum bottles, shards of a broken plate, peanut shells. The blonde kicked off a high heel, limped to the bathroom, ran water. She came out wearing only her skirt; her pale breasts swayed as she stopped at Mirko’s bed.

“Hey, Tiger, you want some?” she slurred. “He’s not waking anytime soon.”

Mirko did, but next to his snoring father? He shook his head.

“Your loss,” she cackled, stumbled to the bed in the corner, hummed a tuneless song, and began snoring, too.

More excitement than reform school, Mirko laughed to himself, pulling his pants on. At seven he was meeting Duro at the construction site, hoping they’d pass for sixteen, get hired on for demolition work for the day. Three days ago Father promised to buy groceries. The two hundred crowns Mirko stole from Mother was running out. They might have to rob the kiosk, do it right this time. He began the trot towards the all-night café. Damn, it was cold.

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It’s All in the Taste . by Derin Attwood

Ques and Dahnya, aliens from the Tadpole Galaxy, had travelled for thousands of light years to get to a memory from a long dead traveller. Ques had sifted his dead memories and now demanded the same banquet experiences.

Dahnya, with menu in hand, knew the impossibility of his feast. At the top of the list was The Taste of Sound. Impossible! She listened to the sounds of the earth. All good, but how could they be a taste? As she flew from country to country, she had an idea. From a lonely shore, she collected two large conch shells and took them to Ques, sitting high above the earth.

“When you hear the sound, breath through the shell,” she said.

She blew through the conch shell. The deep mournful sound washed over the alien, he put the shell to his mouth and breathed in deeply. The essence of the sea, mingled with some sand and a large crab, invaded his mouth with such force, Ques was knocked off his spacely perch. The crab grabbed Ques’s uvula just before being swept down his throat. He swung out through Ques’s mouth and reclaimed his shell as it fell towards the sea.

Ques was so horrified at the pain of earthly eating, he slid into his spaceship and left the universe for good, which was a relief for Dahnya. The next thing on Ques’s list was The Taste of Pain.

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none of that . by Vaughan Gunson

I try to stuff it down
this poetry thing

the light of a
child,
a rainbow stretched
to black

it wants everything
if it could
if it might be good,
which is
always in doubt

like leaving home,
leaving to follow
the stars across the Pacific

always in doubt.

it’s been said before,
& once more:
it’s not the time for poetry
(when has there
been a time?)

we need something braver,
something harder
—poetry
can be a wayward
& glorious coward

& you can take
one too many steps
over the body in the street,

the street where there are no
camellias planted

none of that.

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Letter to the Editor . by Stephen Hastings-King

To the Editor:

Some time ago, I began to write you letters with the idea of helping your newspaper become a more complete map of our little shared world. But as my work progressed doubts began to take shape.

In the beginning I made microscopic descriptions of architectural features and furniture. Then I began to include people, their personae and activities.

Then I realized that even though I am making this map I am part of it in the same way as the box scores and photographs of roller derby queens, advertisements for hardware stores and stories about distant forest fires.

Completeness is an unattainable goal.

At night when the ceilings are galaxies of shadows I think about seahorses swimming past scallops shells in shower-curtain oceans.

Somewhere there is a photograph of my father standing in a field of corn. I remember the photograph. Not the field. Not the corn. Not the father.

I am full of holes.

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Keepsakes . by Martin Brick

“Mommy, shells!” the girl called with elation, bringing them forth for viewing.

“Those are pretty.”

“I want to take them home.”

The girl’s older brother moped several paces behind, still upset that they took lunch at some seaside crab joint instead of McDonald’s. Just because of Mom’s childhood memories of the place.

The father lagged still further behind, upset that the son didn’t even touch his lunch, just picked at bread. Upset at his wife, who refused the doggy bag. “Where will we put it? It’ll just stink up the car.”

The son threw stones, aiming for innocent seagulls.

“These shells are broken,” the mother told her daughter. “Let’s look around and find whole ones.”

“But I like these.”

“You’ll like the others too. Start looking.” She tossed the broken ones into the sand and the daughter all but dove for them.

“Just let her keep the broken shells,” the father interjected.

“But they’re not pretty. I want her to have nice keepsakes.”

“She’ll put them in a drawer and they’ll get broken anyhow.”

“No, I’ll put them in a shadowbox or something. You saw the ones I have from when I was a girl.”

A gull squawked and lifted angrily after suffering a direct hit.

“I guess I just thought you bought those, or they were gift.”

“No. Those are mine.”

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Magdalena . by Tom Allman

Magdalena followed the receding tide, her tiny feet leaving no rumors in the hard sand. She gathered only the most beautiful shells and presented them to her waiting Abuela. Her grandmother told her that the only things that a woman truly owns are her dreams. She told her that she should lock her dreams in the shells and hide them under her bed.

When Magdalena showed the first signs of becoming a woman her parents started their negotiations. Her father was a landowner and had several head of cattle; there were many suitors. Magdalena sat in her room, with her shells, wondering at the commotion.

The morning of her wedding Magdelana’s Mother and Grandmother explained what her duties would be. Magdalena excused herself, retrieved the hatchet from the hearth, and went into her room. The older ladies heard a gentle sobbing then the crash of hatchet on conch and chambered nautilus. Wiping away the last tears of a little girl, she stridently emerged and announced that she was ready to be a good wife.

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broken shells . by Darryl Price

They do not come to life to live for a purpose. They often can be seen slowly carrying around their little sunken empty heads like practically torn in half purses full of pretend money. No amount of cash now is ever going to stop them from being stepped on by the big disposal’s iron toes. They are not completely blind. This is the sad act. Things have long ago run out of their ears and into the out of print bins. They aren’t even dead yet. They just are missing something, something like a wall, or a hip, but what is it? What’s that name? There’s a word for it.. They’ll never be done up pretty all the way again or refurbished and thrown back out to sea. No one will want to move in upstairs again. It’s best to leave the whole thing over to some friendly fishy ghosts. Who knows they may end up playing cards for a century or two. Give the place some semblance of a huge wave having been through there once upon a time.

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Popillia japonica . by Guy Yasko

I look at her, admiring how she has aged. Better than the sunset.

She watches the roses.

— Goddamn beetles.

— Another gin and tonic?

No answer.

I want one. I go inside for more ice.

When i return she is picking beetles from the roses. She tosses them on
the patio and crushes them underfoot. Brown stains spread from broken
shells.

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THIRTEEN WAYS OF NEVERMORE: ARKANSAS, 12/31/2010
by Catherine Davis

Pas de cinq mille, in B minor.

(The stage will be crowded.)

Instruments: violin, cello, blue guitar, tambourine.

~ ~ ~

I
Scene: MIDNIGHT all day. Bleak December. A chiaroscuro, snowing blackbirds.

II
Swirling FLIGHT. [Andantino > vivace > agito > furioso ffff]

III
Action: NO ONE hears them cry out – in this un-startled ear of night. At least, no one admits it, afterwards.

IV
Always there are shadows, ghosts rise and fall. It happens all the time. This is only a part of the PANTOMIME.

V
Primary characters: an INNUENDO, perhaps: being slight of brain, they follow the wrong leader. Or, not understanding signals, they mistake the red beacon and fly against a GREEN LIGHT.

VI
Costume: Extravagant black plumage, with RED-tipped wings.

VII
Secondary characters: the THIN MEN, who prefer golden birds. To embrace the beauty of light or the beauty of dark, this was never their question.

VIII
Pre-Scene: Beebe was already knee-deep in BIRD SHIT. (Hm, recreate or not?)

IX
Abruptly: in a denser air, between issue and return, not a FEATHER flutters. Sudden, utter stillness. [Mysterioso]

X
Now, five thousand: plummeting. Keeping time, time, time. PLUMMETING, each a singular instant.

XI
The breast, the bone, dashed bodies on stone. Maybe ASPHALT. (In sixes, dancers crash to floor.) [Sforzando piano sfzp]

XII
Easy as EGGSHELLS. Broken beaks, broken bells. Wingless and withered, by the blunt force of earth. Crimson blooms on each breast, spreading. Spreading, until: fade to RED. [Morendo]

XIII
Where do I begin?

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The Allure of Tides . by Doug Bond

At the north edge of
open skied spaces,
stands a blue eyed woman
hard and distant as snow
feeling for the warmth,
of an unflustered hand.

A stranger who enthralls
in her short waisted
red coat saying it’s absurd
that anything of ours might
go still.

Each unbuckled strap
brings an empty wash
of sandy water filling
where once we stood
holding back the rain.

Knowing loss, my heart
does what it pleases, lifts
her up into starfish
covered pools,
almost as unreachable
as over-written
intimacies.

Still, the net of it all
is nothing, just a
turn of a season, one
in exchange for another

traceless except for
the sound of sun washed
oyster shells rustling
under the firmer footfalls
of lovers,

holding themselves
tightly to the pearl.

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Shells by the Shore . by Joanne Jagoda

I have my ritual on this day. When I hear him leave, I shut the bedroom door, walk to the dresser, open the top drawer. I feel around for the red velvet bag that used to hold my beaded necklace. It’s not there. I panic. Fear washes over me. John must have taken it.

“You have to move on. Don’t keep those broken shells. They only make you upset.”

That sonofabitch. How could he. They’re all I have. I know he blames me. I yank the drawer and dump it on the bed, bras and underpants in a tangled pile.

There it us… under my panties. I clutch the bag like it’s a holy relic, pouring the shards in my hand, caressing them, hearing their familiar clacking. Fourteen precious pieces, cream and pink. I count them twice. I close my eyes.

The morning is warm and Hawaiian perfect, a cloudless cobalt sky. John is at his meeting, and I’m on a lounge chair in my floppy sunhat lazily watching the gentle waves break. Billy is running back and forth collecting broken shells in his yellow bucket. He doesn’t mind they’re not perfect.

“Careful honey,” I call. “Don’t get too near the waves.”

A rogue wave, they called it, crashes in and pulls Billy. A man dives in but Billy is gone, swept away. I am in my own bad dream, but can’t wake up. I hear disembodied screams.They are coming from me.

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downtown readings . by Walter Bjorkman

The cupola shadows of the streetlamp were lifted from the figures on the still seedy but now chic lower east side corner. Writers and poets slowly departed the bar where a reading had just been held, where tales of voles and cancerous moles and assorted other stories of love, life and artifice had delighted the writer audience, now all feeling the glow of a luminescent light from the near moon night. One shadow remained in one writer’s mind, from decades before and a cultural abyss away. The figure roams the street measuring imaginary spaces in real places with an imaginary tape measure. What is the distance between here and there? It measures distances seen only by him, sensed by no one else. Half a stoop step. One eighth a lamp pole. A car handle to its antenna. In the office across the way those decades ago, well meaning people had no answer. The office is now a discarded shell of its former self, as is the concern of the bemused bureaucrats. The writer looks at the empty podium, standing in the exact place where the figure those years ago found an answer, a catatonic stare out his front window, a screaming ambulance run to Bellevue, a death as alone as his mind.

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Blue Crabs . by John Wentworth Chapin

“You gonna eat?” she asks. They pick crabs alone at a wooden picnic table at the end of a pier. Some inept guy with a double outboard tries a third time to back up to the dock beside them.

“No appetite,” the husband says. He’s hardly eaten since he caught her cheating.

She guffaws. “You have plenty of appetite for that beer. The last thing you need is a DUI.” She’s right. Not less than three months ago, he got probation for assault: he broke four of the guy’s teeth when he caught them. Now he wishes the two had run away together.

The wife slaps the table and stands. “You bore me. We’re leaving.”

It happens fast: her high heel catches on the picnic bench, and she tries to catch her balance, hopping on the other high heel. When the heel becomes free, she goes flying where she’s leaning, and in a second, she’s in the creek. Mr Outboard backs churning engines toward where the wife disappears into the dark water.

The perfect murder, and it’s not even murder; Mr Outboard hasn’t seen a thing.

But there are no witnesses. No police or judge would believe this to be an accident, not after last year. The husband shouts over the thrumming engines, and the boater shuts them off, confused and then alarmed as he sees where she has now surfaced, bedraggled and sputtering angrily. The husband considers helping her more but chooses to finish his beer.

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No Plan . by Michelle Elvy

“I thought you don’t smoke,” he said, taking in her sunbleached hair, the scar through her left eyebrow, her slightly crooked nose. Surprised at the rush of feeling he felt as he formed her name in his mouth: Mo. They were sitting on the dock, halyards clanking in the distance on a soft evening breeze.

“I don’t,” she replied as she exhaled long and cool. “But I like the pretty pink ashtray. Where’d you get it?”

“Don’t recall,” he lied. “Some beach in Mexico.”

Fact was, he knew precisely where he got it. It had been the last day of his Mazatlan honeymoon, the one he had planned for months because that’s the sort of fellow he was. The flights, the tours, the resort, the scooters. Everything had gone according to plan, too, from dining to surfing to spelunking in places whose names they could not pronounce. Then, on the last day, the plan fell apart when she said “I can’t” one week after her “I do”. No explanation, either, just a lonely flight back with a suitcase full of shells collected for a future that did not exist.

Mo stubbed out her unfinished Camel, said quizzically, “So? what’s the plan?”

And then, he was suddenly on his feet, hurtling the shell out to sea and shouting, “I got no plan!” And the ashes were still floating away on the breeze when Mo stood up beside him, took his hand in hers and whispered, “That’s alright.”

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Walter Bjorkman provided the picture for this week’s theme.

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