Category Archives: Wk #45 – Broken shells

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
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.


“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-

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
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
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

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by Catherine Davis

Pas de cinq mille, in B minor.

(The stage will be crowded.)

Instruments: violin, cello, blue guitar, tambourine.

~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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]

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

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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