Category Archives: John Riley

Three Stories Of You by John Riley

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

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

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

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Auto by John Riley

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

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Grand Island by John Riley

Chained to the steamboat’s smokestack, Emperor watches his son limp down the Texas Deck. The morning’s first light is clearing the mist off Grand Island’s deepest cove.

Vanity had driven him to make his progeny from mud and sticks, Emperor thinks. Now we’ll both come asunder by noon.

“The engine is ready,” Corporeal says. “Tell me, father, are you up for a boat ride?”

Delighted by his own wit, Corporeal dances a jig until his legs collapse with a mushy crack. Falling forward, he grabs Emperor’s sturdy legs hanging above his head. His face smears a trail of mud across his father’s woolen trousers.

“I made your legs from dry cypress limbs,” Emperor says.

Corporeal squints up at him. “Shoddy workmanship,” he mutters, “is the death of us both,” and sinks to the deck. His neck’s dried mud and straw wattle sways as he begins to drag himself toward the steamboat’s ornate staircase.

“You were able to knock me out. To chain me to this chimney.”

“And I’ll be here to see you smolder.”

Emperor watches the cracked soles of Corporeal’s useless feet slip down the staircase.

The silhouette of Grand Island looms. He’d once been content, alone on his boat, in that island’s shadow. Throughout the night, as a loon cried for its mate, he’d struggled to think of what he should have done differently. Only when the loon fell silent, did he relax in his chains

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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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Lying Down With Dogs by John Riley

The baby screen wedged across the bedroom door is there to keep the dog out. At some point the decision was made to bar him from the room, although little of value has been left in the room he can damage. He is not a destructive dog and knows to not dirty the floor or to jump on the bed. I know why he whimpers from our side of the gate. The bedroom’s large windows face west and this time of the year buttery afternoon light spreads across the floor and drifts up the walls, which slowly change from freshly painted white to soft yellow. If he was allowed to stretch out in the light, on the deep-blue and brown and rust-red rug that came from another country, I would join him in the room and stretch out beside him. As he slept I would sleep too, and while the other people left the house to spend their day outside, we would rest together until dark, when he will be hungry and I can watch him eat.

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Resolution by John Riley

Too often, Calvin’s willful head finds its way into his hands. He certainly does not want to feel his fingertips brush against his thinning patch of uncombed hair, but is seduced by the way the bulge of his forehead, the bony ridge that slightly protrudes from beneath the hairline, settles neatly into the cup of his palms. It is a comfortable fit, without need of a finger adjustment, although, if his shirt sleeves are the tiniest bit too short, his eyebrows, which are aggressively bushy, tickle his wrists. This slightly diminishes the consolation. A more critical problem the resting of his forehead in his palms gives rise to is that the ears are neglected. It is quite noticeable to Calvin, who lives alone in a house his aunt willed him, that within seconds of his forehead touching his palms his ears turn from pink to a flustered red with what he assumes is lonely frustration. The problem has not yet risen to a fever pitch, but one can never be too careful where the head is concerned. It is an apparently intractable problem, and any chance of resolving it escapes him. His only choice is to struggle to keep his head out of his hands, and he plans to grow more committed to the effort moving forward.

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Winyah Bay by John Riley

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

John Riley’s stories and poems have appeared in Fiction Daily, The Dead Mule, The Centrifugal Eye, Conteonline, Soundzine, SmokeLong Quarterly and other journals. He lives in North Carolina where he works ridding himself of opinions. He thinks others should do the same.

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