Sharla R. Yates lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her flash and poetry have been published or forthcoming in Albatross, Lynx Eye, The Boiler Journal, Hartskill Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Poetry City, USA, Shadowgraph Quarterly, and Pretty Owl Poetry among others. Her poetry manuscript What I Would Say If We Were To Drown Tonight was a finalist for the 2015 Villa Paper Nautilus contest.
Two Truths and a LIE
I’m attracted to men who are Taken. Claimed. Off-The-Market.
I slept with Harmony’s boyfriend. Harmony, who ate with her mouth open, eyeing everyone like she wanted to punch them in the throat, who scavenged for attention like a dog chained for too long, held too little. Harmony, who drove forty-five minutes to check out some boys from Job Corps fishing on the South Umpqua even though I asked to go home. Harmony, who blared Steve Miller’s Band through broken speakers, and who wore her jeans so tight that her belly hung over them like rising dough in a bread pan, who would glance at me during arguments with her parents and smile because trouble was the only thing we had in common. Harmony, who slammed the sliding glass door and stomped back to the car because Nate had turned off the porno when it made me uncomfortable.
Harmony had left me behind alone with Nate.
So that’s how it began.
I liked that Nate apologized to me when he wouldn’t to Harmony. I made him apologize a lot. For being late. For kissing too hard. For calling me from County.
“Call her,” I said. “She’s pregnant.”
I hung up the phone before he could finish saying sorry.
If I knew your husband was cheating, I wouldn’t tell you.
I’ve made that mistake before. I told my sister, Sharon, that Dan had pressed himself down on me, squeezing my breasts while moaning, and I had to force him off. Dan had said with brewery breath, to keep it our secret. When I called Sharon, told her what had happened, she listened in a hushed stillness. I heard distant ambulance sirens on her end of the line and imagined her standing outside Whole Foods; empty cloth bags wadded under her arm, cellphone pressed to her ear, her nostrils flaring like an angry kid. For two years, she never returned my calls.
I understand why she chose Dan over me. Husbands are hard to come by, especially third husbands.
I wouldn’t tell you if your husband was cheating because once he squeezes my inner thighs, and his thick tongue enters my mouth, I’ll wish it was over.
My husband was married before.
Sometimes I need him to remember. I ask him questions about what she was like. I make comments about how strange it is that he once was with someone else. I reminisce aloud about how much time has passed since I went to church that Sunday. Remember that Sunday?
Someone hands me a bulletin and asks me how I know the deceased.
I say, “I thought there was church service today.”
From the back of the room, a home video plays on a white projector screen. I wonder why I’m still here, but figure I have to wait to catch the bus anyway, so I might as well stay. In the home video, the twenty-something woman, whose picture is in the bulletin, uses a handheld camera. She turns it on her friends and herself, making faces. She knows already that she has terminal cancer. She’s talking about the Chemo, what to do with her expensive bra collection.
She takes a drag on a cigarette and says, “My mom’s going to be so mad at me.”
Then someone behind the camera chuckles.
After the video goes black and the music clicks off, it is possible to hear chair legs scraping the floor and every sniffle and cough. Her husband stands and addresses the crowd.
“I’m here to remind you how much she loved you,” he says. “That’s what she would want. She would want you to remember how special you were to her.”
I think I want to be loved that much.
Months later, I would learn her dying wishes. He was only twenty-eight. Finish school, she said. Travel the world. Get out there and date somebody.
We were engaged a year later.
We keep her ashes in an urn at his mother’s house until the time we can spread them in the Thames. Another demand— go to London.
There are still times I ask him to say something to conjure her ghost into the room. I want him to say that she was the best person he had ever known, the smartest, the funniest. She shimmers in those moments. Translucent glory: red hair, a white mink coat, gold fingernails. She laughs as if she just heard the most delicious joke.
Have you heard the one about my widower and his new wife?
I was just dying to introduce them.
Amanda Boyle is a short story writer from New York. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Her stories have also appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Sweet Tree Review, Critical Quarterly, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.
About half a year after I died, I saw Greer at the supermarket. Greer and I went to high school together. I’d always had a bit of a crush on her.
Grocery shopping, after my death, was a calming force to my mom: here were concrete things to collect from a list, and a sense of completion at the end of it. She could even do it alone. At first, my parents wouldn’t go into town without the other. A teenage son, and so sudden. I heard—sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken—the comparison to Greer’s death. Her parents had had warning, time to come to terms with their daughter’s fate.
I walked behind my mom; she rattled her cart sharply around corners.
“Richie, hi!” I turned around, half jumping because no one called out to me anymore. Greer was walking towards me, smiling and waving, wearing a light blue bathrobe over a t-shirt and sweatpants.
Greer had been unpopular and while we were friendly because our mothers were friends, I never felt comfortable enough to ask her out. She was a “weird” girl, whatever that meant. Then she was diagnosed with leukemia before senior year, and it was like that was just another weird thing about her in the eyes of our classmates, like her mother’s heavily accented English, or that she was the only girl that did crew for the school shows. After the diagnosis I distanced myself from Greer even further, but I pretended it was for the same reasons as before. She was half homeschooled that year and the teachers were very understanding and people were kind of jealous about that. She graduated, and went off to college, but had to leave before first semester finals, and she died after New Year’s. Some of the people that’d made fun of her in high school made Facebook statuses about her, using these words that who even used, like that she had a “vibrant personality” or that she “gushed with life” even when she was sick.
“Let me see it,” Greer said, pointing to my chest. I let her open my flannel shirt to see the bullet wound, the blood all over my t-shirt.
“Did it hurt?”
“Yeah. But it was quick.”
“Jealous,” she said, letting go of my clothes.
“I heard my mom talking about the accident, and I went to your funeral.”
“No way, I was at my funeral too. I didn’t see you.”
“I sat in the back,” she said.
“Yeah, I sat up front, by my parents. I didn’t stay for the whole thing.”
“I saw your parents walking out and your girlfriend. She’s really pretty.”
“Thank you,” I said. I didn’t know yet how to refer to Emily. Calling her my girlfriend didn’t seem exactly right as we weren’t still dating, but we hadn’t exactly broken up either, so she wasn’t my ex.
I realized I’d lost track of my mom, she might have left the store. I started walking towards the cashiers, Greer followed. “It was like your parents didn’t notice that your girlfriend was there, I noticed. And she was standing right next to them.”
“Uh, well, they had a lot on their minds,” I said.
“I wasn’t judging them, I just noticed and you said you left early, so I thought I’d let you know.”
I spotted my mom at the cash register, and stopped to wait by her. “Okay, thanks, I guess.”
“You seem to want to hang out with your mom, but let’s hang out later.”
“Yeah, definitely,” I said, although she hadn’t said it as a suggestion.
Greer was the first person I knew that died while I was alive. I had dead relatives, but they’d died before I was born. Greer was the only person I knew who’d died, until I did.
My roommate Blake was the one who shot me. “Come visit and we’ll go hunting,” he always said.
I watched, in the dark early morning, blood leaking out of my body onto the ground. He crashed off through the trees, and I waited, sat down next to myself. I tried to hold my hand.
It was still dark while I waited. It’d be a few hours before the sun rose. We’d gone to sleep at ten and woke at three to get ready. I knew that this was the procedure for hunting so I hadn’t complained. It took me awhile to fall asleep; it always did in an unfamiliar house. Blake sprayed this deer piss scent on us; it’s what you do so the animals don’t notice your foreign human smell. We were walking together through the woods and he was whispering stories about chasing down deer and boars. “And then you just,” he turned towards me, to mime shooting.
Blake came running back I don’t know how much later with two policemen and his father.
I tried hanging around Emily after I died, splitting my time between her and my parents. But she was always crying, and I couldn’t do anything, and she starting failing her classes. I needed some time away; I kept saying I’d go back to school to keep her company. Just things I said to myself. Not that I could say them to other people. Then leaves were back on trees, then it was summer and my dad tried to suggest a weekend beach trip to my mom. Emily would be back home and I didn’t want to intrude there, I said to myself. So I stayed away from her some more, following my parents on their well-trod paths through the days.
We sat on the grassy area outside the fence of the town pool. Greer pulled at the grass, none came up. “When I was alive, I would get really bad allergies sitting on the grass.”
“I remember that,” I said, startled at myself. “Some gym classes we’d go outside and have to sit on the grass while Mr. Case talked about like, the history of ultimate Frisbee, and you’d be sniffling a lot.”
“Yeah, it’s nice I don’t have to deal with that anymore.” She paused. “I wish I could show you my last New Year’s.”
“My dad went and bought a ton of tinsel, and he and my mom and Tara decorated my room. It was all silver and gold and glittering. I was able to help a little, too. They brought the iPod speakers into my room with all the holiday songs that I liked playing. Then they all sat on my bed with me, and we played trivia games and charades and card games. My mom even allowed snacks. We did that for hours. Tara fell asleep there with me.”
“That sounds nice.”
She stared at the kids jumping and splashing in the pool, long enough that I laid down to watch clouds shifting, long enough that I considered she might want to be alone. “The next morning I woke up, and all the tinsel disgusted me. I was angry that this was it for me and I tore it all down. I was so tired afterwards I couldn’t even walk to my bed, so I had to lay down on the floor for like half an hour before my mom came up and found me there. She cried at all the tinsel.”
I sat back up. “It’s more than other people get.”
“You said, that that was it for you, a New Year’s Eve celebration. You got last good byes.”
“No,” she said, “There was so much I didn’t get to have. I never even had sex.”
“Oh, I—I didn’t understand that’s what you meant.”
“You know what Richie? Don’t compare your death to mine,” she said.
She stood up and stormed away.
I crossed lawns to get to Greer’s house a street over. I didn’t have a lot of options for company. A handful of old people hanging around their kids and grandkids, Don who’d been the one homeless guy in our town until he died from hypothermia one winter, and now Greer. Don actually wasn’t so bad, but sometimes he went on rants about the town, including my parents. Greer hadn’t done anything like that yet, and besides, she was kind of my friend.
Inside in the living room were her parents, her older sister Tara and a guy about Tara’s age that I realized, as I circled around the group, was her fiancé. “Huh, congratulations,” I mumbled. I didn’t know where Greer was, or if she was still annoyed with me. I wasn’t sure if I was annoyed with her, or why I was.
I tried to remember how much older Tara was than us. Five years? Six? I never knew her well. She looked similar to Greer, or Greer looked similar to her, but her features were more petite, and I noticed she had hazel eyes instead of Greer’s brown. She stood at the mantle and held Greer’s framed senior portrait up next to her own face. Greer’s smiling looking off camera, wearing a navy sweater and pearl necklace. “This is one of my favorite pictures of Greer,” Tara said, “She’s beautiful.”
Greer did look beautiful in the photograph, because, even though she was pissing me off in the moment, Greer was always beautiful. But it made me sad that the photo was Tara’s favorite. It was a blank canvas, not even the way Greer normally dressed. Tara had plucked the photo from a collection of framed Greer photographs. I liked one of her by the ocean, standing on large rocks, laughing, hugging a sweater closed while the wind blew her hair—long hair like she’d had most her life. Or another one of her dressed in all black standing outside our school auditorium, holding a bouquet of pink and white lilies, from one of the school shows. I went to them all, watched for her in the dark when they rushed out to change sets, tried to choose her from the darkness. I always considered that I could pick her out, that I knew the way she moved.
Tara brought the senior portrait, and another photo of Greer as a child at an arts and crafts table, over to the couch to show the fiancé.
“Yeah,” he chuckled, “So cute, look at her just diving into that finger painting. My brothers and I used to love that.”
“It’s such a special bond between siblings,” Greer’s mother, who was sitting in an armchair with a cup of tea, said, “Tara and Greer were so close. I’m sure she’s smiling down on us right now, so happy for you two.”
She probably knew about this engagement, but I couldn’t get a hold on the fiancé and how Greer may feel about him.
He was in the middle of agreeing about the surely angelic Greer looking down in benevolent tranquility when his cell phone started to ring. “Ah, sorry, I gotta get this. I’ll just be a second.”
Greer’s family smiled, of course, of course, and I followed the fiancé as he walked onto the front porch. He sat on the front step, answered the phone. He kept his voice lowered.
“Hey man. No, it’s okay, they’re talking about the sister again. I just never know what to say, so hopefully they’ll be on another subject when I go back in. What’s up?”
He mostly listened, putting in a few “mhmms,” a chuckle. I went to the hanging flowerpot beside him, grabbed a fistful of dirt to throw in his well-groomed hair. No dirt moved, I hadn’t expected it to but it felt better to try to do something. I had to be satisfied with snapping my fingers near his ears for the remainder of his call.
I didn’t see Greer again before I left. I figured that she’d left town, and then I decided to do so, also. It was the end of August, I saw with a jolt on my mother’s kitchen calendars, and junior year would be starting for Emily and everyone else. I took a train down to Maryland. That was new. A free Acela ride, and plenty of seats in business class for the dead.
I sat next to an attractive woman in her thirties because why not. It took me awhile to realize that she didn’t have any bags or that the conductor wasn’t asking for her ticket; it took her awhile for her to notice the blood on the top of my t-shirt. She crossed her arms, “Get away from me.”
“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, I just wanted some company.”
“Fuck off, I don’t care.”
I stumbled away. She wasn’t marked, how was I to know.
Back on campus, I wandered through crowds. With certain people I knew, it was some crazy revelation to see them again. Like, “Oh right, you’re a person!” Then I followed them. It was kind of similar to Facebook. Say a memory from high school pops up of playing beer pong a couple of weekends with some guy who was in my math class for one year. Then I’d think of how long it’d been since I thought of him, and I’d log onto Facebook and look through his profile. He’d gained weight (all that beer and no exercise) and had new friends with interchangeable faces. There was a girl in a few pictures but it was unclear if she was a girlfriend or not. He looked happy, but you can’t really tell with pictures because you’re supposed to smile and people only take pictures of people looking happy.
This was so much better than Facebook. I followed these old acquaintances—people who lived on my floor freshmen year, guys I used to drink with—to their classes, to lunch with their friends, back to their dorm rooms where they played video games or smoked pot. They all had these full lives that had had little to do with me when I was alive, and nothing to do with me now that I was dead. Girls they liked, tests they were worried about, pressure from their parents. It was like realizing there was a missing subplot in a novel I’d read. Or like I’d been writing a novel that I thought was wholly original but all the while about ten other guys were writing novels on the same subject.
One time I followed this girl I knew through Emily. They’d been friends and then grew apart the way people do, but remained friendly. Back in her dorm room she took a pair of scissors from the desk and cut herself high up on her arm, two cuts. I didn’t know what to do. I just left.
Emily was all around. Well, I walked around looking for her. But there was also this guy, someone I didn’t know. I kept seeing them walking together and he kept making her laugh.
I went to Morris Street, where everyone hung out and did shopping. The pizza place and Chinese restaurant Emily and I used to like. The dry cleaners, the small grocery store. And the dive bar that never carded.
As I walked by the bar, Blake walked out, and right into me. There was no sort of impact. He swung his backpack onto one shoulder. I followed him.
Nearing campus, he crossed paths with Tyler, a friend of his I’d never been close to. “Hey dude, what’s up?” Tyler said, putting out his hand, Blake shook it. “You been drinking?”
“Ha, yeah,” Blake said.
Tyler laughed, “Now that’s the way to start a school year. You off to class?”
“Yeah, I’ll catch you later. Wanna hang tonight?”
“I don’t think I can man, but this weekend, definitely.”
On campus, people stared pretty openly at Blake, and I noticed a few of our friends start suddenly in the other direction when they saw him. I’d had enough of him myself.
I was surprised when Greer arrived on the main quad one day. I was sitting under the big tree on the corner near the library. A steady trickle of students walked the pathways in one direction or another. “I missed you,” she said.
“You’re not still mad at me?” I said as she sat down.
“I was mad at you?”
“Yeah,” I tried to figure out how long had passed, “like two weeks ago. Maybe a month.”
She was blank.
“It was about, uh, death.”
She still looked at me blankly. “No I’m not mad with you. Have you been here since then?” I nodded. “Why?”
“Why? Why not? Emily’s here, my friends are here.”
“You have fun hanging out with them?”
I shot her a dirty look.
I told her about Emily’s friend cutting herself, but didn’t tell her about seeing Blake. Greer frowned and patted me on the arm. “It happens,” she said.
“What? She’ll either grow past it or she won’t. People get sad, some people are sad a lot. There’s nothing we can do about it. We probably couldn’t do something about it if we were still alive.”
“Did you ever do that?” I asked.
“Cut? No.” Then she said, “Let’s go somewhere else, seriously Richie.”
“Being here means something to me.”
“You can come back. You can come back for the rest of time, here or to wherever Emily is.”
“I think she likes this guy. At least this guy, he likes her.”
“I’m sorry.” Greer watched the students walking. “Emily is very pretty.”
“Shut up, you don’t care.”
“No, I don’t. Eventually you won’t either.”
She hung around, and I didn’t mind it, she was company.
I walked behind Emily down a brick pathway to class. She was alone. Greer walked a little behind me.
“I came here about two months after I died. It’s a nice campus,” Greer said, “I thought I’d just stay for a day or two, but I got sort of wrapped up in your world. It wasn’t just you and being happy at the familiar face. The last few months of my life, and those months afterwards our house was a bleak place. It was refreshing to come here and see you being normal, and seeing you get this normal college experience I’d tried to have. I’d go to the gym with you, read books over your shoulder. I went with you for some of your and Emily’s dates.”
“Just a few!”
Emily entered a building, and we continued walking. “What did you do next?”
“I started taking rides around the country. If I went to New York City, I just walked into a Broadway show like who’s gonna stop me! Then I’d go up to Niagara Falls. And then from there, wherever. I only go to visit my parents, or Tara, occasionally.”
Greer shrugged. “There’s a lot of things to do. I’ve met people—people like us, had some fun with them. I even met Marilyn Monroe, I really liked her. And she says she doesn’t hang out with JFK at all.”
“I guess that’s pretty cool,” I said, “when did you meet her?”
Greer thought about it. “I don’t know. It wouldn’t have been right after I died but…I don’t know.”
We walked in silence for a bit.
“I guess our parents will be with us again sometime down the road.”
“Right? It isn’t always easy. Tara’ll have kids, and they’ll never meet me until they’re dead.”
I didn’t say anything about the fiancé. I’d thought about it, and when my parents used to bring up Greer’s death, or just Greer in general, I’d always change the subject. Maybe he was like how I used to be, someone whose family hadn’t been touched by death, really, and didn’t want to dwell on other peoples’ dead parents, aunts, uncles, or siblings. Didn’t know what to say.
Greer stopped walking and faced me. “You used to feel bad for me in high school, I always knew that. Then you felt bad for me after I died. And yeah, if I could have some option to go back and it was my choice to live or die, I’d want to keep living, but I can’t change it. You can’t change what happened to you, either. Stop feeling bad for yourself. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wow, sorry I’m not as enlightened by death as you are yet, Greer, you can leave if you want, but I still want to be here.”
She stared at me. “Show me Blake.”
Blake, like many other guys I shadowed, was playing video games. A girl was leaving as we entered his room. Blake played video games with Tyler. They were playing Call of Duty, a game Blake and I used to play, a multi-player game full of shooting and grenades. Life imitating video game.
Tyler said, without looking away from the screen, “So what’s that all about?”
“Huh? Oh, her?” Blake asked. “We’re in this class together.”
“Yeah, and she totally wants your dick.”
“What? She’s got a nice body, you’re not into it?”
They continued to play, without much comment. Greer turned to me and made her voice deep, “She totally wants your dick, bro.” I laughed quietly, I still wasn’t totally used to the fact that people couldn’t hear us. She started walking around the room, peering at books and discarded food packages.
“I think I’m going to ask Emily out,” Blake said.
I froze and for a second I felt like I had bodily feelings again: a tightened throat, pounding in my head, sweaty palms.
Tyler let his controller drop, and his player was killed. He sort of laughed, but it was choked. “Dude.”
“What? I’ve always felt that there’s something between us.”
Tyler turned around in the chair and looked at us. He scanned the room. Sometimes people did that when we were around and I was starting to believe some people felt presences, although I wouldn’t say Tyler was the type of person to ever think that, even if he did feel us there. Greer moved to my side, and put her hand on my shoulder. “Do you want to go?” she asked.
“I want to stay, I fucking, I fucking want to—”
I lunged at Blake, punching with one hand and clawing with the other, kicking even, like a Riverdancer with bad rhythm, unsure of what would be my best attack method. Greer circled around us, perched next to the TV. When I tried jumping up to body slam him, like a wrestler, she laughed. I paused, stalled not knowing what to do, and Greer swooped in. She led me away by the arm. “It isn’t our world anymore, Richie.”
As we were leaving, Tyler said, “I kinda feel like that’s a bad idea.”
Greer decided that we should go to the beach. It didn’t matter what beach. We walked across the quad. I stopped. “Do you think she’ll say yes?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why can’t you just say no?”
“Because I don’t know! I don’t even know Emily, how would I know what she would do.”
A lie would have been kindness.
We walked to a nearby diner and found a car leaving town. We sat in the back, each staring out the windows. Three long chapters of an Audiobook in I said, “Why aren’t we talking?”
“I was listening to the book, weren’t you?”
“Sort of but, that’s not what I meant.”
“Richie, we have eternity, it just feels less important to talk all the time. Or, time not talking seems less. You’ll see, or you probably won’t notice it, I don’t really.”
“What is the it I won’t notice?” I asked.
“The way…time takes up a certain amount of space, in our perception of it, and the longer you’re here, this afterlife, the more that space lessens.” She looked back out the window. I guessed, with an Audiobook in and all, our driver was going some distance, but he seemed to prefer back roads through small towns. She watched trees pass, leaves blurred. “Do you think, for a tree, a year seems to them like a second or a minute might to a human?”
“And what about us? A tree’s entire life, it’ll be like, what, a yawn to us?”
She smiled at me. “Personally, I’ve never yawned in my death.”
“And so what? We could pick up this conversation again in five living years and think there was only a pause.”
“Just one of us checking out the window,” Greer said, and she turned back to do just that.
We got out when our driver stopped at his friends’ house. A man and a woman his age ran out the front door, all smiles, hugged him and laughed.
Greer and I stood at the end of the driveway. The couple barely let the driver get in a word. They rattled anecdote after anecdote.
“They must lead very boring lives,” Greer said.
“Well hey now, let’s never be like them,” I joked. Not a very good joke. Or maybe the best joke ever.
I stepped closer to the people. I could hear their conversation. The woman from the house had freckles across her nose and cheeks. The man had a large gold ring and a habit of running his other thumb over it while he listened.
When I turned around, Greer was gone.
How long had I been watching the three people?
I started jogging towards where I thought the main road was. “Greer?” I called out. I followed signs to the beach area. She wasn’t there, either. What the hell, Greer, I thought.
I didn’t know what to do. Where to go. Finally, I returned to the main road, and found a gas station. I picked a parked car, driven by two middle aged women. They pulled out of the gas station. When they started talking about the rest of the trip—“What do you think we’ll need, one more refill, or two?” the driver asked—I realized they were heading further south. There wasn’t anyone in that direction for me. But then I thought, why not the change of scenery? Maybe Greer had had that same thought, when she’d either forgotten about me or decided to ditch me. I decided to ride with the women to their destination.
I don’t remember much of what I did in that time away from Greer. I don’t know how long we were apart, either. Something would jolt me, occasionally, remind me of Greer and I’d set myself north. I knew that she could easily be in California or Alaska instead of the Northeast. But there wasn’t an anxiety. I had the time. Just one of us checking out the window. And then I’d get sidetracked, willingly, or my mind would be taken off Greer, and I’d forget about her for a bit.
I got to New York City. I went there because I had a faint memory of Greer saying she’d go to Broadway shows. I’d been to New York a few times as a kid. I just walked around. It was nice when I stumbled upon the NYU area, being around people my age. But were they my age? Or: were people my age, still my age? I was stuck at an age, but I remembered Greer had said she’d spent months following me at my college without realizing it, and I couldn’t really say how long I’d been travelling. How old was Emily now? And Blake? I remembered Blake saying he wanted to ask Emily out on a date. I wasn’t struck as hard by the recollection. I didn’t want to find Blake and somehow try and attack him. Hadn’t I tried to do that?
I thought: there has to be someone dead around here who can give me directions. I was around some university buildings and most people were carrying bags, something that marked them as alive students. There was a park, and that seemed like a perfect place to find the dead. I started walking up to people sitting on benches, lying on the grass. People that didn’t seem to have anything with them. “Hi,” I said, over and over. On the grass I saw a hippie guy with long hair lying by himself. I walked over, “Hi.” He pushed himself onto his elbows. “Hi.”
“Great, you’re dead,” I said, and sat down next to him.
“You’re so young, little dude,” he said, “that always bums me out.”
“Sure,” I said. “But could you tell me where Broadway shows would be?”
“Broadway,” he said.
“I meant, how can I get there?”
“An arts lover, right on. It’s Times Square area, like forty blocks north of here. You walk that way,” he said, and pointed.
“Thanks,” I said, and walked in that direction. I considered for a moment that the guy didn’t look like he’d been that old when he died. How long, in alive time, had he been lying in that exact spot in the park?
Times Square was bright, and crowded. I tried to overhear families’ conversations and see if they were going to some play or musical. I finally found one, and followed them. They were going to a Chekhov revival, but I didn’t think that’d be what Greer would seek out in her death. I started walking into theaters advertising musicals.
Maybe it was a sign that it hadn’t been that long, that I hadn’t been travelling for years, that I knew I could call out Greer’s name and not disturb anyone, but when I did it I kept it as whispered as I could. “Greer?” I said walking down the aisles, “Greer?”
I didn’t see her that day, or the next when I came back. I went back to the park. The hippie was still there, and I asked him if I could join him. I laid there, maybe a week. I liked watching the students. Then I sat up. It seemed to be afternoon. “I think I’ll try to find her again.”
The hippie looked over to me. “Good luck, buddy.”
Back on Broadway, I stepped into more theaters, searching the audience and whispering her name. Finally I saw her. On stage was a big musical number, with the whole cast dancing, and Greer was dancing with them,or more weaving through them, trying to turn when they did. She wasn’t good at dancing, and she clearly wasn’t familiar with the steps, but she was laughing up there, twirling in her blue bathrobe. “Greer!” I shouted out.
She heard me over the music and the dancing, and squinted out into the audience. I ran towards the stage, waving my arms, and finally she started waving. She hopped into the area where all the musicians were, then made her way out of there. “Richie!” She hugged me. When she pulled away she tilted her head back towards the stage, “I always wanted to act in high school. Don’t get me wrong, I liked crew, but I wanted everyone to watch me sometimes.”
“Where have you been?” I asked. “I didn’t know where to look for you after you left.”
“When I left?”
“Yeah, I can’t remember when it was, but we were supposed to go to the beach, and you left.” The musical number ended, and the audience applauded. “Let’s get out of here,” I said.
We walked into the lobby, and sat on a bench there.
“It was after we left my school,” I continued.
“Do you remember why you left?”
“No, I don’t remember leaving, or planning a beach trip at all. I’m sorry.” I knew she meant it.
“I missed you.”
“Are you upset?”
“No. I’m really glad to have found you.”
“Me too,” she said, “what’s next?”
“Do you want to go to the beach?”
We took several trains pushing us further out onto Long Island. At the announcement of one stop, Greer looked at me and shrugged, “Why not this one?”
We walked to the beach. There were a few people there, three groups scattered. Mothers or nannies, with very young children. The people were dressed in long sleeves and wore floppy hats, the brims moved slightly in a wind I couldn’t feel.
I walked in. I looked into the water and saw the bottom half of my body, my jeans, the bottom of my shirt. Greer walked in, too. “Did you know you can walk on top of it?”
“Yeah, I’m not going to do that,” I laughed. I pulled her toward me, wrapping my arms around her body and hugging her. She climbed into the hug, nestling her face into my shoulder. She kept her arms folded to herself, though, pressed against my chest. I could feel her, just slightly; she felt like what a shadow must feel like, a whisper. Would I ever forget the feeling of pressing skin to skin. “How long could we stand here for?” I asked.
“Years,” she said.
Ashley Kunsa creative work has appeared in or is forthcoming from more than a dozen journals, including Bayou Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. She has been awarded the Orlando prize for flash fiction from the A Room of Her Own foundation and tied for first prize for the Eastern Iowa Review’s Experimental Essay award. Currently she is finishing a PhD in English literature at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her husband and son.
There are maybe times when you could be anybody, but it’s important to recognize this isn’t one of them. A good neighbor, a long-distance runner, the vice president even, or, better, the vice president’s wife. What was it all the gifted girls carried on about in middle school—marine biology? Saving sad, fleshy creatures from the doom wrought upon them by other sad, fleshy creatures? Manatees and walruses etched in purple pen across the fronts of spiral-bound notebooks, purple hearts on lassos leaping out of the waves, looping their wide, fat necks.
As if chaining a thing with love could save it.
Those girls thought they were so smart, with their essay prizes and A’s in algebra. How smart would they be now in this too-warm waiting room, with all the choices whittled down to two? Someone will drown here: you decide who.
And of course I say you to distance myself from all this. To prove I had nothing to do with it. Which is untrue. I said stay. I cried and whispered and purred it—Stay. But it was like talking to myself. Please, I tried, and Don’t leave me. My words were water balloons slapping the pavement. It had never been a matter of words between us anyway. It was biology. His and mine. Selves opening into each other, a thing that needs, a thing that feeds.
So, too, at the end. Knowing words had finally failed us, I sought our salvation in something deeper, its roots spun together, our humanity inextricably linked. Ticking the days off the calendar, I stared at the tiny pills, secure in their foil packets. Stay, that night just inside his apartment door, stay, my tongue begging his to speak our language again, stay, our bodies cleaved to one another until long afterwards, stay, when six weeks later I stood outside his building in the angry November wind, the test stick in my hand. Stay stay stay.
And of course the gifted girls, budding saviors, would never find themselves in a rumpled cotton gown, waiting to spread their legs before a stranger. They were born to soar. Only a fool believes she can bind biology with biology.
Of course he didn’t stay.
When the door opens and the woman with the tired eyes shuffles in, you will tell her. You will say the words that feel like screaming beneath the water’s surface while the whole ocean fills you up inside.
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. P. V. Beck | In the Deep Midwinter Bruce Black | The End of Shloshim Anastasia Afanasieva | She Speaks | “I Used to Like…” | **Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco Raymond Wong | I’m Not Chinese | Review by Charse Yun Broadstone Books | Review by Nettie Farris **Indicates Translators
(Guest Edited by Karen George)
Lorcán Black | Fields | Tapestry
Bruce Bond | New Moon
D. H. Bruun | the blacksmith
Kathleen Boyle | Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London, 1841 | Sierra Valley
Sherry Chandler | Rhapsody in Common Time | For the Nameless Grandmother in the Attic
Lori Desrosiers | Salt
Kate Fadick | When Hildegard cannot sleep | In my dream of Hildegard | When Hildegard drops a blue sapphire into her wine…
Annie Hinkle | Across the Atlantic
Marilyn Kallet | Paris Elegy | Ode to a Lost Poet
Tim Mayo | The Mussel Pickers
Mary Moore | Ear To the Sun
Sarah Nix | The Easel | Museum Pieces | Seascape
Susanna Lang | Tulips | In the Garden
Nancy Chen Long | A Drift of Dust
Triin Paja | Murmuration | Thanatos | Senescence
Barbara Sabol | Echolocation
Wally Swist | Black Bear
Andrea Uptmor | When K Gets Home
Patrick Venturella | The Geologist | The Lake Is Ink
Will Wells | Beneath the Seal, Ferrara | Under an Amulet, Venice Ghetto
Chauna Craig | A Glittering of Hummingbirds, a Charm
Heather Durham | Earth to Earth
Margot Anne Kelley | Living While Large
Jen Soriano | Making the Tongue Dry
Clinton Peters | Sailing the Iowa Sea
Marat Baskin | The Mad Trumpet Player’s Wife | **Nina Kossman
Eduardo Milán | Undress Your Language | **John Oliver Simon
Elhanan Nir | This Winter | **Ross Weissman
Spotlight on a Press:
P. V. Beck | In the Deep Midwinter
Bruce Black | The End of Shloshim
Anastasia Afanasieva | She Speaks | “I Used to Like…” | **Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco
Raymond Wong | I’m Not Chinese | Review by Charse Yun
Broadstone Books | Review by Nettie Farris
Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, KYSO, Sandy River Review and Panoplyzine and is forthcoming in Delmarva Review and Joyce Quarterly. She has also written five mystery novels.
Say you’re on the Downtown IRT – one of the new trains that stretches in both directions as far as the eye can see, lurching along underground like a demented caterpillar, and it’s so crowded people are pressed up against each other and you happen to see a man reach his hand into the Michael Kors bag of a woman standing to your left. You know it’s a Michael Kors because your ex-wife is a publicist whose firm specializes in accessories and one of the perks of her job, which doesn’t pay much and entails long hours, is getting freebies from overpriced fashion companies: Burberry wallets. Calvin Klein scarves, Marc Jacobs belts. Your ex-wife would walk through the door, carrying her latest acquisition and you would look up from your laptop and grin because you were damn glad to see her. Maybe you’d run her bath water or pour her a glass of Chardonnay, the expensive kind because she liked the taste of money.
You can’t identify the precise moment when things changed. There was Before, when she still loved you. And After, when she left – on a Tuesday evening in April when you’d come in from playing softball in Morningside Park, with mud on your cheek from sliding into second base too hard. You noticed the mud when you went to hug her goodbye and some of it got on her forehead. Before and After. But the part that really mattered happened in between.
If you could go back you would search for it in the hollow place in bed where she slept next to you, her stomach curled against your back like a question mark. You would look in the spaces between her smiles. You’d examine the silences that you once took for quiet compatibility but now flash like traffic lights you sped right through. You would have had a beautiful life together. The life you envisioned on your wedding day, standing under a chuppah in the Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel surrounded by 250 people, the men in black tie, the women in tight black dresses, listening to the rabbi saying the two of you were bashert, meant to be, and trying not to worry about how much the evening was going to cost.
Now you question everything. What you see with your own eyes, what you fail to see.
The man on the train reaches into the bag and you’re thinking you could call him out and be a hero and maybe the woman would be so grateful she’d offer to buy you coffee and the two of you would hit it off and start dating and fall in love, the whole process starting again but cleaner this time, more satisfying.
The man’s hand disappears and appears again. You never see the wallet.
At the next stop, the woman gets off the train and so do you, keeping her in sight amid the horde of commuters, like a birddog beginning the hunt.
Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow
by Fabienne Josaphat
The Unnamed Press
Date: February 23, 2016
Reviewed by: Kelsey May
Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow:
An Action-Packed, Emotional Debut from Fabienne Josaphat
Walking the line between historical fiction and adventure novel, Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow explores the mid-regime world of 1965 Haiti. The story follows two brothers: Raymond, a taxi driver and father of two, and Nicolas, a professor at a prestigious law school and a father of a newborn daughter. The entire nation lives in a violent, fear-stricken state under the rule of “Papa Doc” and his Tonton Macoutes, gun-slinging brawlers who punish anyone who speaks or acts out against the regime.
The story begins on an average evening. Raymond is waiting for his passenger to finish visiting a brothel when a handful of Macoutes roll up in a Jeep. They’re after a popular radio show host, Milot Sauveur, who spoke out against the government’s public killing of a hospital patient. In a split second decision, Raymond agrees to help Milot and his family flee. A high-speed chase ensues, and Raymond loses his fare for the day but gains a friend.
When he returns home, his wife, Yvonne, is outraged at his lack of sense. With two young daughters, he cannot afford to risk his life for strangers, she argues. Besides, they’ve fallen on tough times, thanks to the Macoutes’ strict enforcement of an early curfew, which cuts Raymond’s prime taxi hours short. Yvonne demands that he ask his brother, Nicolas, for a loan, and Raymond must swallow his pride to do so.
Meanwhile, Nicolas is facing his own battles. He has secretly compiled an entire manuscript of carefully researched evidence linking Papa Doc and an infamous prison guard to the death of a respected journalist. He is seeking to publish the manuscript abroad, but he stirs up some trouble when he lectures a little too aggressively against the government in his classroom.
Several chapters later, Nicolas is sentenced, without trial or bail, to prison to await execution, and Raymond must choose between following Yvonne and his daughters out of the country or saving the brother who always looked down on him. Josaphat weaves a lyrical tale of betrayal, secrecy, and, how loyalty strives against all odds to protect and heal the broken bonds of brotherhood. The gruesome portrayal of prison life and life under a tyrannical ruler grips readers, yet the tale is balanced with tender moments, such as Raymond’s precious scene with his niece, Amélie:
Amélie rested her face against Raymond’s chest and he sighed. He missed Adeline and Enos. He held her closer as if to compensate for their absence. Amélie was round and chubby, her skin almost as delicate as a spider web. She was different from his own children, who were frail like small twigs and black like the night; his children, who smelled like the lemongrass leaves they stirred at night in their tea when there was nothing to eat for dinner. He felt overcome with a wave of grief.
Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow places itself elegantly on the shelf with other Caribbean and Latin American historical fiction novels set in countries ruled by dictators, such as In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz’s masterful The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Looking for a fast-paced, emotionally turbulent novel? Josaphat’s first novel is a short, thoroughly satisfying story on how family can outwit the enemy in even the most desperate circumstances.
Kelsey May is a member of the Diatribe collective and a regular contributor to SkipFiction. She is passionate about social justice and activism and is beginning a series of essays about community policing. Her work has recently appeared in Broken Plate, Pine Hills Review, and NonBinary Review. She has also received numerous grants and awards, including a nomination for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She is excited to get outdoors this summer by hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and maybe, if she really gets her act together, camping.
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. M. L. Brown | When Girls Swim René Agostini | Walking along the Rhone | **June Sylvester Saraceno Glass Lyre Press | Review by Nettie Farris **Indicates Translators
(Guest Edited by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz)
Alexis Groulx | An afternoon with Cal
Rage Hezekiah | February Cove
Gopika Jadeja | Newsprint in the dark
Les Kay | Reprise, Nachtmusik
Barbara Krasner | Bei Mir Bistu Shayn
Laurie Macfee | Bone Music
Elisabeth Murawski | Never from Here
Leonard Neufeldt | Letters from the Ghetto
Valery V. Petrovskiy | On a town street
James Prenatt | Can I, may I?
Wesley Riggs | Even If
Beate Sigriddaughter | Bricks
Joseph Somoza | Natural Poetry
Jamie Wendt | When Amma had Four More Months
Anna Akhmatova | After 23 Years | **Don Mager
Shatha Abu Hnaish | Alienation | **Francesca Bell & Noor Nader Al Abed
Jóanes Nielsen | Burnt Out Light | **Matthew Landrum
Rasool Yoonan | Fire and Human | Try | **Siavash Saadlou
Spotlight on a Press:
M. L. Brown | When Girls Swim
René Agostini | Walking along the Rhone | **June Sylvester Saraceno
Glass Lyre Press | Review by Nettie Farris
Meg Tuite is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is a columnist at Connotation Press and JMWW. Her blog resides at: http://megtuite.com
Beth takes the bus to a workshop on setting boundaries. Shoes are lined up outside an entrance with a wooden sign that says, Tae Kwon Do. She slips off her gray slippers, walks inside. A group of ten women sit on pillows in a huge, open warehouse. She slides down on a pillow, looks around. Some of these women are antiques: dusty, hidden treasures, but for the smell of mothballs. They are lost in their bones, hands that detour, divert around a mosquito bite they can’t quite locate. They must have a hard time with maps like her. One girl is the border patrol. Her head bobbles a full-on affirmative every time the therapist speaks. She writes in a notebook as though the circumference of her being will slip away if she doesn’t frame it in print. One girl verges on a barbed fence of tears that rim her weary, pink eyes. The therapist begins another landmark statement on how to climb over the so-called ‘dead limbs’ that have stifled them in their past and mark their new terrain, piss on it. One girl’s perimeter closes into a knife of a smile as pee that was in her bladder changes its mind and sucks back into her kidneys.
The therapist says they are going to perform some exercises. The first exercise is to stake the fence. When he gets too close they should say ‘stop’, but not just some half-assed stop, more like screeching up to a yellow light just as it turns red instead of a stop sign. He says, hold up your hand, belt it out. He lays his hairy fingers, spread eagle, on his belly and blasts it out in operatic baritone. STOP! Bark it out like a dog protecting his territory, he says. The women stare at him. He paces back and forth, his storm cloud getting larger as his gestures bank the walls of any frontier, conducting an explosive outpost that frightens Beth as she battles the inner prison that withers her. Don’t be shy, he says. This is a safe place to explore those core emotions of rage, grief and fear. He lifts his tufted knuckles, curls them at the group, lifts his chin and howls. The women snicker and wheeze on either side of Beth. A strange sound like a person dying gurgles from her throat. Okay, the therapist says. Who’s going to go first? Border patrol is still writing notes. The rest of them look around the radius of the group without making eye contact. They remain still, sacks of rice. The massive room smells of unwashed bodies and terror. The therapist lifts his impressive eyebrows, beastly strands long enough to cover the empty patch where a hairline should have been, and studies each one of them. Come on, ladies. This is going to change your lives, he says as he claps. The eyebrows waver.
I remember I was scared shitless, walking on the ice across Lake Michigan in the middle of February with my friend, Joyce, and my little sister, Eliza. We followed Joyce’s rocky lead as she screeched at us, ‘It’s going to change your life.’ Something her dad always said. He was a fat, old lawyer with a swollen face and body, mean as hell. “You,” he’d say, pointing at me. “What are you going to do? Make pancakes for the rest of your life or become something?” I didn’t know what he meant. My mom made my pancakes. I was only twelve at the time. What was I going to do? Probably die before I got to high school hanging out with his daughter. Joyce had dared me to jump across three-story roofs, pretend I was blind, run into people on the street, shoplift and once I even stole a hubcap off of a cop car just to hear her frantic high-pitched giggle. God, I loved her.
Beth’s hand raises itself slowly like some fucking flag on the Fourth of July.
Great, come on up, says the therapist. Her head shakes as she takes her place beside the excited man and looks out at an expanse of glassy eyes that flicker in and out of vision. He smells better than he looks; some kind of incense permeates him. She wonders if he’s a Buddhist. Remember, this is about boundaries. Is there anyone in your life that you haven’t been able to say no to? Was he kidding her with this? She nods, hears that demented cackle of Joyce’s again. Okay, she says. Let’s do this.
The therapist walks away from Beth across the wood floor. He is talking as he recedes. Try to visualize that person in your mind. Forget about everything else. She hears scratch marks of Border Patrol’s pen. The rest of them barely breathe. When he is around 50 feet away from Beth he stops, turns toward her. Her heart palpates around the periphery of the building as she huddles inside the fog of her body. She can’t feel her feet under her when this man starts to run.
Joyce pushes me, giggling, and I push Eliza. “Come on,” Joyce says, “let’s get to Michigan.” It’s all thunder. Blinding acres of white sky and storm sheen glazed ice as far as I can see and I’ve got the whole day to get to Michigan. I’m an explorer. Few have barely touched the frozen shoreline and never come close to passing the buoy. The three of us are well beyond that. Eliza is all breath, complacency and silence in her shiny parka and matted hood. Joyce and I don’t wear hats. We stuff them in our pockets as soon as we are past parental range. Joyce’s ears are purple rafts on either side of her white pigtails. I can’t feel my ears, and snot has frozen little spitballs in my nose. The wind is one long, empty moan. Everything is glass, muffled grunts, moldering dead fish and wind that feels like it could gut me. I see some jaggedy, thin spots of ice that look like you could fall right through. Joyce talks but her words are weathered blind. We are in Antarctica, the lone survivors of a ship caged in and swallowed by two icebergs. We are down to two Snickers bars, a pack of Doublemint gum, and four Kents I swiped from Mom’s purse. We will have to eat snow when we are thirsty. The globe is all-invading and disfigured. I wonder if we should turn back. It’s a long way back to land. Eliza hasn’t said a word. She looks numb. There are no curves except Joyce’s mouth, still a dripping stalactite of gutted insults. Patsy wets her bed; Ellen has like fifty teeth in her mouth, have you noticed? Jesus. And Cynthia? You think her or her brothers know anything about soap? Joyce keeps tabs on her traitors. They rarely thwart her, but the worst actually have the nerve to ignore her. She is her own continent.
I hear the crack. Eliza drops like the branch of a tree. She is under ice. I scream, grab at her sleeve with the red mitten dangling from its clip. Her face is murky and gray under frozen water. I see bubbles. I bite my tongue until it bleeds, catch a hold of her parka and pull. A sagging handful of blue cloth breathes the air, steam rises off of it as the face beneath fogs into quivering ripples. The reek of black, stagnant water and the poison stillness gasps as the water starts to win. The blue coat is heavier, darker, slithers between my throbbing, pathetic grip. Eliza echoes from the shores of Chicago all the way to Michigan over and over. Eliza, I scream, but there is no world out there that answers back. Is she okay? Joyce asks. I look up into a splotchy red, under-animated face.
The man breathes hard in front of me. Why didn’t you say stop? he asks. The man sighs as if I’m an imbecile. Didn’t you hear my instructions? Why didn’t I say stop? Why did I ever go? I slap him hard across the face. Red garnishes the surface across his cheek.
The stifled room begins to erupt. Ladies unchain from whatever hems them in. They jump up, growl and yell. Beth sees their mouths open, one cavernous hollow that will never be filled. They’re all hopped up on adrenaline surging new life into them. Beth is feeling it, too. She can hear curses pelting her as she staggers out the door.
Eliza was only seven when she drowned. The splintered parts of Beth scream for vodka. She still hears rumbling, animated voices coming from inside the seminar. She sits down on the bench, studies the crowd of shoes, picks out purple sandals with some jewels on top and a two-inch heel that actually fit. To hell with the ratty, gray slippers. She buckles up these beauties and admires them. Maybe a pedicure would help. She gets up and wobbles off to the Owl Liquor store trying to remember how to walk in heels over concrete, click, click, wobble, wobble.
Beth buys ten tiny airplane size bottles and loads her purse with them. No matter who’s behind the counter, Beth is told that the larger bottles are much cheaper. She’s not an idiot. Hide the evidence. She knows she will drown, as well.
Mercedes Lawry has published short fiction in several journals including, Gravel, Cleaver, Garbanzo, and the previously named, Newer York. She’s published poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, & Prairie Schooner and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times. Additionally, she’s published stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.
Sooner or Later
Mama run away again. Pap says she is high strung and she’ll be back when the strings loosen. Gram shakes her head and gives me a shave of chocolate. I don’t cry anymore cause I’m big now and I know things just is. I think about going out to pester Pap’s old yellow dog, Hy, under the cottonwood tree, but he don’t always like being woke up and he might nip me and it ain’t worth that. I might go down by the creek but I gotta be back to do chores for Gram before dinner and it’s easy to forget time down the creek. I start dreaming or pretending and when I’m late, Gram’s mouth is one straight line and she looks disappointed and I feel bad. If it wasn’t for her and Pap, I’d be in an orphanage and Mama would be locked up in a crazyhouse or even jail. The world doesn’t take kindly to the high strung, Pap says.
Sometimes Mama is sweet and calls me her best baby even tho I ain’t a baby but I like it when she’s nice and holds on to me. I wish she would be that way all the time, I wouldn’t mind the baby calling. Gram said I had a brother once but he died before I got here. I’m not allowed to talk to Mama about him but I know where he’s buried. I wish he wasn’t dead cause he could help with chores.
Mama gave me a secret. After I found the knife under the bed she said this is our secret. I couldn’t tell Gram or Pap. I found it when I was putting my treasure box under there – some stones and shiny buttons and a bird’s bone head with the beak and all – Pap called it a skull. Don’t they need the knife, I asked her, Gram and Pap? It’s not their knife, Mama said. It’s ours. I don’t know how she got a knife, maybe one of those times she run off.
The thing is, she took it with her. Maybe she needs it to get food in the woods. When she comes back, I’m gonna ask her did she kill a squirrel? Maybe it’s in case somebody tries to hurt her though I don’t want to think about that too much. She would stab them dead fast as lighting – that’s how I see it.
After he finds the paper with the scratch marks remarking how many days Mama’s been gone, Pap cautions me not to worry, she’ll be back like she always does. I consider telling him about the knife but I don’t. I wonder does the knife make a difference on when she’ll come back – sooner or later? If she don’t come back, I’ll tell about the knife.
Heather Dewar is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, New South, The Dirty Napkin, Utne, The Common Review, and the Chicago Reader among others. She lives in Minneapolis.
“It’s usually the easy answer.”
Billy looked up.
The girl sitting next to him smiled. “It was just that you seemed worried.”
He thought she might be making fun but her smile looked like she meant it. Billy opened his mouth to speak.
“No helping.” A man frowned from behind the front desk. Billy turned back to his screen. He was here to replace his license. He had been living in Chicago six months. Three weeks before, he had been walking home, late, when a man with a gun stopped him on the street and demanded his wallet and phone. Billy emptied his pockets onto the pavement. Afterwards, he vomited into the street.
The girl slid out of her desk. Billy watched her walk to the counter. He wondered how she had known he was nervous. He furrowed his brow when he was tense. Sometimes, he jiggled his leg. Now, he put his hand on his thigh to stop it.
A picture of two cars colliding appeared on the screen. To avoid an accident you should know where your vehicle will be in: a) 5 to 10 seconds; b) 10 to 15 seconds; c) 15 to 20 seconds. Billy chose answer “a.” Since the mugging he couldn’t sleep. When he closed his eyes the night replayed. The gun at his chest, the bile in his throat, the feeling that someone had kicked in his knees. They found the guy who did it. They picked him up at an ATM. The detective who had been working on the case called to tell him. One more asshole off the street, he had said, but Billy didn’t feel better.
He read the next question. When driving in a fog you should use: a) fog lights only; b) high beams; c) low beams. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the girl. She was standing behind a white line on the floor, smiling for her picture. In college he had played a game with his friend, Pete, called ID. When you saw a girl, you had to remember everything about her: the color of her hair, her eyes, her skin, how tall she was, the size of her boobs. You had to be able to pick her out of a line up. Billy got so good his nickname was Photo. After the hold-up the police had asked him for details. Anything you can tell us, they said. What did you see? Billy remembered only the gun.
The driving test came to an end. Billy stood and pushed in his chair. He walked to the counter. A man in a blue work shirt told him to stand behind the white line for his picture. “On three,” he said, when Billy was ready, and Billy stood and waited for the flash. There were things he remembered about the night of the mugging. The walk from the train had been cold. He’d wished he’d had gloves. Snow had been falling, silent and fast. He had come from a bar that was noisy and full and as he walked he’d felt glad for the silence, for the sudden feeling of space. He’d put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky.
“We’ll call your name when it’s ready,” the man said, and Billy walked to the end of a row of blue plastic chairs. The girl was leaning against a counter now, scrolling through her phone. That night he had felt a slow certainty, of himself, of his life. The gun had emptied his confidence onto the pavement.
The girl straightened up from the counter. She glanced in Billy’s direction.
“Okay Photo,” Pete said, each time they played. “What do you see?”
Billy thought of the fast falling snow. He thought of the cold and the silence and the open night sky.
“William Sims,” the man said, and Billy stood to retrieve his ID.
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. Matthew James Babcock | The Fall Olympics | Sexual Limbo Paul David Adkins | Stick Up | Review by A.J. Huffman Two of Cups Press | Review by Nettie Farris **Indicates Translators
Poetry: (Guest Edited by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow)
Roy Bentley | Sugar Ray Robinson Leaning against His 1950 Pink Cadillac
Lynn Marie Houston | Jealousy | With Love to California, Now that I No Longer Live There
Lynn Levin | Spending Small Change | On Knowing One’s Goblet at the Banquet Table
Hillary Kobernick | Springing
Patrick McCarthy | Suspicion
Kendall Pakula | The Good Guest
Erin Redfern | Graduate School
Rakhshan Rizwan | Partition
stephanie roberts | People Believing Badly
Gerard Sarnat | 67% Hopperized Bathos
Margaret Lazarus Dean | Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight | Review by Carla Sarett
Matthew Lippman | Salami Jew | Review by Neil Silberblatt
Spotlight on a Press:
Matthew James Babcock | The Fall Olympics | Sexual Limbo
Paul David Adkins | Stick Up | Review by A.J. Huffman
Two of Cups Press | Review by Nettie Farris
Michelle Elvy is an editor and writer based in New Zealand. She edits at Flash Frontier and Blue Five Notebook, and is on the editorial teams of Flash Fiction International and the Best Small Fictions series. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in numerous print and online journals. See http://michelleelvy.com/
Black and White and Grey
In the gloaming she sees his tall shape across the street, hunched shoulders under a black coat slumped to worry. She steps off the curb and hurries to him. She wants to ask him how was your meeting, did you get the red wine for dinner, do you remember that the Lamberts are coming but it’s cold and the wind hurts her teeth so she lifts her head slightly to the left instead and as she slips her palm into his she feels him grip her small hand and squeeze tight.
In the gloaming he sees her silhouette crossing the street, small neat steps with white socks peeking from under tailored trousers. He wants to tell her they read my father’s will today, my brother says my sister won’t come, I forgot to get the red wine for dinner but he feels a chill on his spine and in the moment that she tilts her head toward him he knows he doesn’t love her but he squeezes her hand anyway and notices that her grey felt cap looks just right.
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. Gail C. DiMaggio | Girls in Pictures Kurt Drawert | Personal Pronoun | **Paul-Henri Campbell **Indicates Translators
Poetry: (Guest Edited by W.F. Lantry )
Rosie Prohías Driscoll | Colando Café
Jeff Hardin | A Short Distance from Mountains
Ed Shacklee | Elephant Ear Plant
Mary Ann Sullivan | St. Catherine of Siena
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming | The Space Between The Rain
Lonnie Monka | my mistake
Ashley Parker Owens | Itch
Sophia Pandeya | Mona Lisa Postcard
Jane Wayne | His Shirt
Louise Dupré | Stone Hands of the Tomb Figures | **Karen McPherson
Gili Haimovich | Signing a Place | What Lights Up the Sky | **Dara Barnat
Moyshe Kulbak | from Songs of a Poor Man | **Allison Davis
Gail C. DiMaggio | Girls in Pictures
Kurt Drawert | Personal Pronoun | **Paul-Henri Campbell
Katie Cortese is the author of the collection Girl Power and other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). She holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Willow Springs, and The Baltimore Review, among other journals. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.
Allie shouldn’t call the house and hang up when he finally answers. She shouldn’t cruise by after work to make sure he’s brought in the mail, slowing to judge by the slit in the curtains if the living room light is on. She shouldn’t worry if the house is dark. He’s probably just sleeping. Or out walking the dog, the rangy retriever who’ll need hip surgery in another year, and whose breath always smelled to her of hot dogs.
She knows she shouldn’t Google Map his address either, those familiar numbers that used to be hers. The site hasn’t been updated for their town in a year and a half and the car in the satellite picture is her gray PT Cruiser. She shouldn’t linger on the webpage in the den while down the hall and around the corner, Gregory hums over his ratatouille in the kitchen. She knows it was her decision to leave. It wasn’t quitting, they told her. She was just rebooting her life for the happier one she deserved.
Allie shouldn’t keep a pack of cigarettes in the glove compartment, or sneak puffs in the driveway, facing her new house like a prowler scoping out the easiest point of entrance. After each cigarette, she tells herself she’s quitting, right then and there. Sometimes she does, until something else reminds her. The triggers are unpredictable. It’s not always the apple-cheeked babies in the life insurance commercial. They’re simply other people’s children. And the terrible one about whooping cough with an asthmatic wheeze for a soundtrack—that one makes her nauseous, on principle—just not in a personal way.
But at least once a week, something triggers a memory, sharp as a blade, of her life in the blue ranch on the corner of Liff and Persimmon, the one where now the hedges go untrimmed. Last week she woke up to “Shake, Rattle and Roll” on her radio alarm and sat up in a panic: no cry had woken her in the night for feeding or a change, or just the touch of her hand. She’d thrown the quilt off her legs and had made it to the hall before she remembered where she was, where she’d lived for a year now, a Cape Cod on Jubilat, with Gregory, who was a good man, and patient with her grief.
Tonight it was an email, just an automated reminder from the pediatrician’s office about shots her son no longer needs. Tomorrow, I’ll quit, she thinks, stubbing out her cigarette in the driveway. Her same old promise; not quite a lie, since tomorrow never comes to collect on all she’s owed. The charred end of the Marlboro leaves a dark blemish on the smooth concrete. She spits on it and scuffs the spot with her toe, but only spreads the ash around.
Inside there is a fire in the woodstove, it’s chilly enough to need one now. Inside there is a man who never met her infant son, the child who no longer sighs sour milk into his jungle-themed sheets. Inside are shelves and shelves of books and the lingering smell of supper. Inside is peace, if she wants it, and sometimes she does, but still she feels for her keys in the pocket of her peacoat, slides behind the wheel of the Cruiser her former husband had mocked when she bought it, though if given the choice, he’d take it to the store instead of his Camry.
Automatically, she puts the car in reverse. Just a quick look, she thinks, adjusting the heater, and then tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll quit.
Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness, the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting, and the forthcoming short story collection Whiskey, Etc. (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016). She lives in Pittsburgh.
The coffee shop is full, or full enough. I hide in the back, wait. My maybe-date doesn’t show. “The alarm clock didn’t go off,” he says to me when he calls. To get to the coffee shop on time, I sprinted through my morning brushing of teeth like a comedy routine, throwing on clothes, making hasty decisions, pissing off the dog and the cat and my neighbor, Jim. But still. I’m polite on the phone, as he talks about late nights and the need for a new, better alarm clock.
I do doubt the problem is the clock, but I encourage him to, yes, buy a new one. I say it’s okay, because it seems he will not stop apologizing until I do. I hate that I’m bullied into forgiving him, and when he calls to reschedule I pretend like I’ve accidentally deleted his message. There’s a kind of joy in fooling yourself and then lying about a mundane detail.
“Oh, I didn’t get that message.”
And I take joy where I can; these tiny moments add up. As I’m walking my dog I think about all the missed opportunities, all the rushing. What if you got that back—like a time refund?
And today there’s my near-date, in fact, sitting in a different cafe on a different day talking to a different woman as I walk by. I turn, walk by again. I turn, walk to the plate glass and tap. Tap-tap. Wave. He looks up, touches the woman’s hand to stop her mid-sentence, nods to me and then heads out into the cold without a coat. I’m bundled tight and ready to wait this out. The dog sits, sensing this will be a long one, deciding to be a good boy because perhaps he remembers that this particular cafe has doggy treats inside by the register.
“Hey,” the almost-date says. “I tried to call you to hook up again.”
“Oh, hey,” I say. “I didn’t get that message. Weird.”
“Weird,” he says. We both look at the dog, who looks across the street, his main focus being sitting like a good boy. Shoulders back. Ears up. “So,” he says. “Let’s reschedule?”
I look inside the cafe at the woman with her back to me, sipping on a cup of tea, fiddling with the paper flag attached to its string. Her fingers are fine and beautiful. Her hair looks nice from the back, auburn and wavy and lush. I wonder how many people he has in his life. I know I don’t have very many to meet up with these days. I feel homesick for something. I suddenly feel so much at once.
“I just can’t bear to be stood up again,” I say. “So let’s just call it that, okay? It was a date and now it’s run its course without even starting up. Efficient.”
He looks inside the cafe, perhaps thinks the woman’s hands are beautiful too. Maybe this is the moment that he falls in love with her? In a few years they will marry, this man and the woman with the tea. They’ll walk arm in arm around the neighborhood and smile at me in the dwindling light. They’ll get a dog of their own. A beagle who eagerly sniffs my dog’s ass.
For now, my own dog has decided his good dog time is up. He whines a little and then lifts off his haunches and pulls gently on the leash. “Okay,” the man says. “I didn’t know you were so sensitive.”
“Not sensitive, really. Just pragmatic,” I say. “Plus, you don’t know me at all.”
He sighs then, looks across the street at the rows of houses lined up and quiet in the mid-afternoon city street their window boxes stuffed with dying flowers. He says, “I’ve seen you around this neighborhood for months. I always thought it was beautiful, the way you stepped carefully with your dog. I loved watching you walk and walk around the blocks around here. I loved that you smiled at me. Just wanted to let you know that.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, touched my arm. “I also know,” he says quietly, “that sometimes I can be an ass.”
I nod. I say, “Thank you.” The dog pulls steadily now and barks once. I smile at the man. “Thanks.”
I think about all of this later, of course. After he’s married. I think about time stretching and bending and moving in other ways instead of this one. I imagine him showing up at the coffee shop. I imagine ordering tea, playing with the tea bag while he talks to a woman for too long on a cold fall day, outside the cafe, my back turned to him and her, but feeling the heat of their conversation through the window. I imagine waiting patiently while conversations inside murmur all around me. I imagine turning to look out the window, as this beautiful woman does just now, and seeing him with her, touching her hand then hugging.
I wonder which woman I want to be.
Neil Carpathios the author of three full-length poetry collections and various chapbooks. Fictions have recently appeared in: The Ampersand Review, Underground Voices, Mayday Magazine, LitroNY Magazine, Miracle Monocle, and Lime Hawk Quarterly (which nominated my short story, “Poets and Scholars” for a Pushcart Prize). He also recently edited an anthology of regional literature, Every River on Earth: Writing from Appalachian Ohio (Ohio University Press, 2015). Carpathios is an associate professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.
The Man with No Future
Nathan had just finished his pork fried rice and spring roll when the waitress brought him the bill and complimentary fortune cookie. He cracked the cookie in half but nothing was inside. He checked to see if maybe the tiny slip of paper was jammed in one of the cookie’s crevices, but there was nothing. This had never happened before in his life, let alone at Chang’s where he stopped for lunch a couple of times a week. He called the waitress over. He pointed to the broken cookie. He explained.
The waitress apologized, reached into her deep apron pocket, and handed him another one. He broke the new cookie open—and once again, there was nothing inside. He stared down at the yellow cookie pieces, then became self-conscious and wondered if anybody at a nearby table noticed. Did they see his puzzled face, or was it scared, or maybe even a little relieved, as he looked at his watch then balled up his napkin and stood up, starting to walk, peeking one more time over his shoulder at the shards like ancient relics in a museum on his plate?
As he stood at the register paying, he imagined that somebody who witnessed the scene thought it was like a one-act play called “The Man with No Future.” This made Nathan smile to himself. He handed the waitress, who now was the cashier, a ten and told her to keep the change.
There really was nothing strange about all this, Nathan thought. In fact, what was strange is that this had never happened until now. Surely mistakes were made in factories where fortune cookies were produced. He pictured an assembly-line of cookies shaped like small seashells, Chinese workers in white smocks quickly stuffing them with fortunes. The workers start to gossip, get distracted, and miss a few here and there.
The next afternoon, Nathan went to open the mail box slot with his apartment key. He hated these cramped mailboxes; the mail usually jammed and twisted the letters to fit. There was one envelope. Nathan reached in, squeezed it out. He flattened it against the wall with his palms to crush the wrinkles. It was addressed to Blake Graham, his birth name before he started going by his middle name, Nathan, and his mother’s maiden name, Hercules. It was twenty-odd years ago when his father committed suicide and he felt compelled to shed his skin, to take on a new identity—at least in terms of his name. He was a teenager and thought the pain and confusion might die away if he could imagine being a brand new person. His mother, who despised his father and was divorced from him, encouraged Blake to discard his father’s name and was pleased with Nathan as well; her husband had decided on Blake, which she never liked much.
Odd, Nathan thought. He had not received any mail with his birth name for longer than he could remember. Everyone, even bill collectors, knew him as Nathan Hercules.
Nathan didn’t wait to get back into his apartment. Standing there in the hall in front of all the other mail slots, he opened the envelope. Before he could pull out the paper, a woman in slippers he didn’t know although he’d seen her a few times walked up to get her mail. She used her key; the little metal door opened like a small safe. She coughed, nodded to Nathan, and then he waited for her to leave along together with a trail of cigarette stench.
Alone again, Nathan pulled out the paper which was neatly folded. It was clean white stock, nice quality. He unfolded and looked: the page was blank. Not a mark.
“What the hell?” Nathan thought. There was no return address on the envelope.
“Shit happens, I guess,” Nathan told himself as he walked back up to his apartment.
A few days later he was walking on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building on his way to the drugstore. He was out of band-aids and had another paper cut—occupational hazard from handling the hundreds of papers his college students turned in. With his index finger wrapped in a napkin, he took long strides, wanting to quickly walk the three blocks there. He nearly stepped on something. He looked down. In the middle of the sidewalk was a small bird’s nest. Nathan picked it up. There were no trees anywhere nearby, so how did it get there, he wondered. The nest was empty.
It wasn’t until the weekend when he was at Walmart buying new socks, he picked a bargain CD out of a bin for $2.99, “Johnny Cash Greatest Hits”— which was his father’s favorite artist, and his own, because as a kid he’d stand in the driveway watching his dad work with tools on a truck’s engine while “A Boy Named Sue” or “Ring of Fire” floated in the air from inside the garage—Nathan got inside his car in the parking lot, peeled off the tight plastic wrapping, opened the CD case eager to pop in some music, and found the case empty. He couldn’t ignore the strangeness any more.
The next morning before heading to the college he pulled a dictionary off his shelf. He looked up the word coincidence. “Exact correspondence in substance or nature” and “a concurrence of events with no apparent connection.” The word that jumped out at him was “correspondence.” Nathan looked up the word correspondence. “A close connection. A similarity. A communication or message sent or received.”
His father and mother divorced when Nathan was twelve, so amidst the normal chaos of adolescence the emotional earthquake of a family split intensified teen tectonics. His father moved away, took a job somewhere else. Nathan rarely saw him, and his mother discouraged long-distance visits. She also worked on her young son’s mind to create false memories and paint a portrait of a negligent, hard-drinking, and callous father. And when his father let the train run over him in the middle of a September night, and Nathan’s mother explained what had happened, Nathan felt more than just an earthquake. He couldn’t help imagining what it felt like to have a train crushing your body or why anybody would choose to die that way. For years after, the quaking, exploding, tremors— whatever word might come close—kept him awake nights and tortured him into self-destructive behavior such as drinking and drugs, and eventually pushed him toward the decision, nudged by his mother, to replace his name. He buried Blake Graham in a deep hole inside his chest.
For the whole week, Nathan was distracted. He had trouble getting through his classes. He couldn’t grade papers. He felt as if he were sleepwalking through the days. He hardly slept, didn’t have much appetite, and kept noticing other things: a plastic water bottle in a twenty-four pack he’d bought at the grocery without any water; a malted milk ball he bit into with just chocolate and no hardened milk center; a peanut shell he cracked open sitting on a stool at his favorite bar, Rocky’s, without a nut.
Nathan’s father was a simple man, he thought. At least those were his memories of him. He worked on cars, smoked cigars, and watched football. He had been a landscaper in summers and snow remover in winters. Manly stuff. Nathan remembered how his hands were always cracked and creased, black grime permanently lodged under his nails. His mother used to scold his dad about it.every morning during coffee and every night during supper.
“Damn, Leo, can’t you at least clean your hands! It looks like you’ve been digging crud your whole life.”
He remembers his father lifting coffee to his lips, thick fingers wrapped around a white mug. “Well, sweetest petunia, these hands are what bring home the bacon. Besides, a man should have a little grit and grime on him. Or would you rather I manicured and held my cup with a pinky sticking out like some fruitcake?”
His mother would sometimes let up, just huff, but sometimes not.
“Come on, Leo. It’s disgusting to look at when we’re trying to eat. Conjures all sorts of disgusting thoughts.”
“Like what, for instance?”
Now they’d be looking right at each other, eyes sending out beams of searing anger like death-rays in some science fiction Martian movie.
“Like you scratching up deep somewhere in private where the sun don’t shine. Or wiping without toilet paper. Or you…”
“Shut up. The boy is sitting right here between us. Do you have a brain in your head?”
The landscaping and snow removal business had been declining every year. There was just too much competition. Nathan remembered his father taking part-time jobs, once giving him a ride in a taxi when he briefly filled-in driving for a sick friend. This increased tensions between his parents, the squabbling intensified. Lack of money, dirty fingernails—it all added up.
Then one day, the talk when they sat him down.
“Son, your mother and I have decided it would be best for me to move out. We just don’t get along, I know you know. We’re nicer when we’re apart. Hell, two angry birds need their own space to fly so they can maybe turn nicer. It would be best for you, too. You must be sick of all the squawking around here.”
“Yes, Blake. Your father is right for once in his sorry life. And it has nothing to do with you. Don’t you ever think that. This is between your father and me.”
So it went. Like so many other families all over. Nathan knew that the settings might be slightly altered, the key players different, but the basic drama was universal. Most of his own friends had come from divorced families. Then his father moved out. Moved from upstate New York to southern Ohio to take a job with an old pal who owned a tire repair shop. Then his pal’s business went under and his father was hired at a local grocery store loading and unloading food delivery trucks.
For a while, Nathan received letters, cards, and packages from his dad. In fact, his father seemed more expressive than he had ever been when he lived in the same house. Maybe, Nathan thought at the time, the old truth was in play—how a person who loses something suddenly tries hard to get it back. Maybe his father felt guilty about leaving. Maybe his father was doing it all just to feel better about himself. At first, Nathan would sometimes call and thank him, once even wrote a letter back. But then Nathan started to resent how his father ran out. He should have stayed to fight it out, he thought. The correspondence slowed down, eventually stopped.
Nathan remembered the last thing his father had sent him. It was a small box with muscle car magazines, candy bars—and one strange item: a fortune cookie. In the enclosed note, his father wrote:
They were handing out fortune cookies at the store, promoting some new Chinese noodle lunch packs. I took one and thought of you. My future doesn’t matter much, but yours does. I hope it’s a good one!
Nathan tore open the plastic wrapper, then broke the cookie open. He pulled out the tiny slip of paper and read: Freedom is not the bird’s flight, but its decision whether or not to fly. Nathan remembered not understanding, thinking what a stupid fortune. Of course, now he only vaguely recalled it having something to do with a bird, or flying. He crumpled the paper and crammed the tasteless cookie chunks into his mouth, crunching. A week later, his mother greeted him at the kitchen table with the news.
Nathan was not superstitious, but if his dead father was trying to send him some kind of message, trying to correspond after all these years, what was he trying to tell him? Empty things, things missing, things suddenly turning blank or silent. Or was it something other than his father trying to connect with him? Was he crazy to even consider such notions?
It was a little after nine in the morning, a Saturday, and Nathan sat drinking coffee on his couch that he had strategically placed to face the small window looking out onto the street. The window was round unlike most windows, like the porthole of a ship. He wondered if the architect had been a naval man. From outside the round windows gave the building a uniquely odd appearance. He listened to the muffled sounds of passing cars and gazed up at a dirty gray sky. The view was lousy but he was grateful to at least have this small opening which he sometimes imagined was the apartment’s eye or nostril or ear from which inside the room’s skull he peeped out. He was a prisoner of the apartment’s brain, he’d think to himself, trapped behind bony walls. He’d leave the apartment and continue the little drama, pretending to escape, finally free, standing on the sidewalk looking back at the apartment building which resembled a hulking brick beast.
Nathan gulped the last of his coffee, grabbed his leather jacket, and headed out. He did not stop this time, but did look over his shoulder at his small window, that today resembled a pore in the bricks’ skin allowing the beast’s rust-brown body to breathe. Then he looked again, and noticed it may have been the blow-hole of the building, the kind a whale has. He thought if this were a one-act play it might be called “The Man Who Thought Way Too Much about a Window.”
He probably thought way too much about everything. That was his problem. So what that his parents divorced? So what that his father killed himself? So what that things happen without any real explanation? Maybe that was the message his father was trying to send him: to stop trying to make sense of it all, just let the mystery of living unfold. Maybe that was the real fortune in those cookies written on invisible paper in invisible ink. He just couldn’t see them. Then he caught himself thinking about the blank paper in the envelope, the nest, the TV, the radio, the other things. “There you go again, asshole,” he actually said out loud to himself as he strode looking down at sidewalk cracks. “There you go like an obsessed lunatic.”
Or maybe, he thought, he was just not smart enough to figure out little clues that most people would easily decipher. He imagined his father orchestrating the recent doings, starting with the fortune cookies, getting frustrated that his son wasn’t “getting it.” He saw his father rolling his eyes somewhere, probably thinking his son would have to be hit over the head with a hammer before he understood.
Nathan slapped himself on both cheeks with the palms of each hand. “Stop thinking, dammit.” He looked up and saw a crow on a phone line looking down at him. “My dad disguised to spy on me.” He slapped himself again.
Outside Chang’s, Nathan stopped to look into the big front window. It was still early for lunch and he watched workers setting tables, one sweeping with a broom. The special today, hand-printed with red ink on poster-size paper behind glass, read: Sweet and Sour Fortune Cookie Chicken and Orange Sesame Fortune Cookie Cupcakes. Nathan moved closer to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. He read more: In honor of National Fortune Cookie Day. It was September 13. He had never heard of such a holiday. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said out loud. In smaller print at the bottom: The first fortune cookie was invented in 1920 at the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, California.
“Wow, my dad is using that hammer now,” Nathan thought. “OK, dad, you want me to do something, what is it? Go inside and order the special? Or is this a test? Let’s see, you want me to keep walking and forget about it? You want me to have lunch but resist the temptation of anything having to do with fortune cookies and order something else? You want me to go to Walmart and buy another Johnny Cash CD? You want me to say I’m sorry? You want me to forgive you?”
The door of Chang’s opened and a young Chinese man with blond-dyed hair and a stud earring poked his head out. “We’ll be open in a few minutes. Happy Fortune Cookie Day!”
Nathan nodded. Then he looked back to the crow, but the crow was gone.
“A group of crows is called a murder,” Nathan thought. “Maybe a single crow is a suicide.”
A young couple came up and paused looking at the poster in the window. The man in a black beret and woman with one long ponytail read, then simultaneously looked at each other and said, “National Fortune Cookie Day?” They broke up laughing, then looked over at Nathan.
“If this were a one-act play, what would you call it?” Nathan asked the couple. They looked at each other again, slightly confused. Then Nathan walked away, passing shops, crossing streets, weaving in and out of bodies on sidewalks, sometimes looking up at the phone lines wondering about that crow, not sure where he was going, but the day was crisp and the further he walked his head felt—at least for now—suddenly clear.
Philip Kobylarz has been published in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. His collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville has been recently published and his book-length essay “Nearest Istanbul” is forthcoming.
What’s On The Other Side Of Doors
You always hurt the one you love, so they say. Maybe they meant the one you love is always hurt. For some, it’s like trying to write a letter in the rain. The kind of rain it rains when the sun is shining, tucking in and out of grey weather clouds. The kind of rain that feels cold at first, then becomes warm as it soaks into the skin, like a bitter liquor falling down the throat. Maybe it’s more like gardening with someone like a sister: bending down, getting dirty, digging holes, with nothing to say to each other about that vague conception called a family, plans for the future, sibling small talk and advice, and simply working some good fingernail clogging, back breaking work that’s more about the spaces created between stalks and holes in the ground than the growth of something flowery and green. Or it’s like waiting for the mailman on a day when there’s nothing to do—knowing his name (only the first) and about the time he comes, knowing he’ll be wearing the same clothes that he is by law required to wear, knowing he’ll look just like he did yesterday only a little less or a little more tired, knowing that someone maybe he doesn’t even know or care to delivers his mail and wondering if he makes the same types of gestures, on Saturdays, to him, a forced hello how are you, a smile that says you have something that’s important for me to want, then to watch him go to the next house, and the next, in an unending series of lawns, shrubbery, sidewalks that finally results in his own, to a kiss from a hardworking lover and a few gurgled cheers from a baby almost old enough to talk, and a pile of bills, flyers, car payment booklets, summons to court, alimony checks, subscriptions to paper-covered magazines all sent to the wrong address.
Ashley Cowger is the author of the short story collection Peter Never Came, which was awarded the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in several literary journals, and she is an Associate Editor for Bound Off. She holds an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Learn more at www.ashleycowger.com.
“I just thought you should know,” is what the woman says, her voice smug. “If I were you, I would want—” and then Lenny disconnects her.
May watches as the little red light on the camera goes dim. Carl must have signaled Mike to stop shooting.
“Sorry, May,” he says into May’s earpiece.
May offers a put-on smile and shrugs. “No biggie.” But she can see by the reaction of the crew that this is not the appropriate response. “I mean, it isn’t your fault, Carl.” May can feel little beads of sweat forming along her hairline. The lights seem abnormally strong today.
“Let’s, uh, why don’t we take a minute, huh? To regroup,” Carl says, not to May, but to the crew.
Mike leaves his post, walks swiftly toward the bathroom, and Melissa approaches May with that little bowl of face powder she always seems to have on the ready. “Touch up?”
May forces a smile. “Oh. Sure.”
Melissa swirls the giant brush around in the powder, then dabs it all over May’s face and neck. “What a bitch, huh?” Melissa says.
“Who?” May asks.
Melissa snorts. “Right.”
“Oh,” May says.
“Mahhhgaret,” Melissa says, taking on the caller’s faux British intonation. “You can just tell by the way she says her name she’s a bitch.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge,” May says.
Melissa doesn’t seem to have heard. “I can’t believe she would call you on the show like that.”
“Melissa,” Carl says. He sounds like a stern father, like he means business.
Melissa, who is still of an age where a stern father means trouble, jumps.
“May looks fine. No more makeup.”
Melissa walks away without argument.
Carl leans in with his stale coffee breath, puts his lumpy hand on May’s shoulder and squeezes. “You okay?”
“’Cause if you need to take some time, we can just call it a day and pick up fresh next week. Show a rerun.”
May thinks about it for a moment, but shakes her head. And do what? she wants to ask Carl. Go home and face Sam? He probably knows she called. She probably told him. “I’m fine,” she tells Carl.
Carl squeezes her shoulder again, then lets go. “Show must go on, right?” He lifts his hand up, and for a second she thinks he’s going to hold it out for a high five. Thankfully, he just runs it through his thinning hair. “Soon as Mike gets back then, eh?”
“Sounds good,” May says. She crosses her legs and folds her hands neatly in her lap. She is wearing a yellow dress today, yellow with brown dots. She feels attractive, summery. Sam bought the dress for her last summer. It’s probably the only time he’s bought her a dress that she actually likes and fits well, both. He loves her in the dress, tells her every time she wears it. Wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off her, May knows, if it weren’t for Margaret, whose name May didn’t know before now.
It worked well that way, not knowing her name. She was just a shady figure in the background of their lives, one it was easy to pretend away. Sam had been so much happier these past few months, and May didn’t have to deal with his constant groping. She could make dinner now, brush her teeth, without him coming up behind her and nestling his dry lips into her sensitive skin. She didn’t have to come up with excuses anymore—headache, backache, exhaustion, arthritis pains. On top of that, Sam had been extra giving in other ways, out of guilt, May assumes. A few times, she’d suspected he suspected that she knew, but she played dumb and he bought it, and he would buy her a ridiculously expensive bouquet of flowers afterwards, or take her to dinner at Chez Pierre.
But now, all of that is over. Now she’s heard the woman’s voice. Now she knows her name: Mahhhgaret. Everybody on crew knows it, too. Everybody knows that May knows. Sam probably already knows, and if he doesn’t, he’ll find out soon enough. Her blissful life of feigned ignorance is over. And she doesn’t know what to do.
Mike comes back from the bathroom, a sheepish grin on his face, probably for having taken so long, which he always does.
“Everyone ready?” Carl asks.
Mike readjusts the focus on the camera and gives a thumbs-up.
“Let’s see some teeth, hon.”
Emily Kiernan is the author of a novel, Great Divide (Unsolicited Press, 2014). She writes about islands, vaudeville, implacable but unjustified feelings of abandonment, the West, and places that aren’t the way she remembered them. Emily is a graduate of the MFA writing program at the California Institute of the Arts. Her short fiction has appeared in Pank, The Collagist, Monkeybicycle, decomP, The Good Men Project, Dark Sky, Redivider, JMWW, and other journals. Her work has received mentions and awards from Unstuck Magazine, A Room of Her Own Foundation, Wigleaf Magazine, and others. She resides in Berkeley, California with her man and her dog.
In the belly of the dark the bomb is dreaming. The bomb is dreaming about a woman in a brown dress. The bomb imagines her in fits and starts. It imagines her falling into rhythm with the fits and starts of the darkness that surrounds it, which is sometimes pierced with light. The darkness is jostled and pierced in a light rhythm. The jostling rolls the bomb lightly—but only lightly—against the mechanisms that hold it. As it rolls and jostles, the bomb imagines the woman in the brown dress singing out a little rhythm. She is singing out a little song, as if to soothe it, and it is soothed, rocking so very lightly in the mechanisms that hold it. The bomb does not know the woman who is singing, as it does not know anyone, least of all the men who built its mechanisms. The bomb does not know sorrow, but the look on the woman’s face is sorrow as she is singing, and the song is a sorrowful song about the little body that will not be soothed. The woman’s voice is rising and rising, never failing. In the woman’s face is sorrow about the men who built the mechanisms that hold her from her rising, and who built the unsoothable body she holds, unfailing. The bomb does not know that it is dreaming as it imagines rising up from the mechanisms. It knows the singing face of the woman, and where there were mechanisms there is a screaming, unsoothable body rising up and up and up. The bomb is rising up, and the woman’s face is looking up, away, and they are light and rising. In the jostling, rolling dark, they have never dreamt of falling.
Charlie Sterchi is an MA candidate in creative writing at Auburn University. He serves as an assistant editor at the Southern Humanities Review and Fiction Editor at Kudzu House Quarterly.
The Running Dog
Grandpa’s on suicide watch, but I’m not allowed to watch him anymore. Not by myself. Not after the incident involving his Buick, a smashed retaining wall, and the manually disengaged passenger side airbag. Grandpa’s on suicide watch, and here I am in the bosom of his creaking home, in his bedroom, by his window that looks out over the hills stacked one on another like the layers of dung and rotten cabbage in a compost heap, watching him with his breathing tubes and the shudder of his breathing machine; his pills and his bag of piss and his skin like spent wax paper; the smell of diarrhea and applesauce and the smell of vintage tweed from the open closet. I am not alone, but with my sister who’s brought her cello down from Maryland to watch us both and to join in our perspiring. Decades of daily use and nightly disuse have rendered the air conditioning busted.
“Does that thing have a quiet setting?” I say.
My sister says, “The breathing machine? Don’t be stupid.”
My sister wipes her brow with one of grandpa’s monogrammed paisley hankies.
“Sister,” I say. “Fetch me a drink, won’t you?”
“And leave you alone with grandfather?” she says. “I don’t think so.”
I look out the window and watch the dog running circles in the yard.
Grandpa says, “Cathy always told me, ‘Take what you can get, Johnny.’ So, I took what I got and I made an ice-cream of it.”
I don’t know what he’s talking about.
My sister says, “Very good, Grandfather.”
“Grandpa, you’re unintelligible,” says I, “and, oh, how those pills make you slobber.”
I receive a merry wink from the old man.
I go downstairs and pour my own drink. On the other side of the kitchen window, which is open, the dog still runs, his tongue dragging across the dirt where he’s trod and he’s trod again.
Grandpa used to take the dog and me hunting. We’d shoot doves from behind the mulberry bushes. Then the dog would disappear into the scratching of the marsh reeds. We’d listen to the fading bustle of the dog. Often, all traces of the dog would disappear into the fog. We’d wait without exchanging a word, without stomping our boots to keep out the cold of morning, and I would wonder how we’d find all of those dead doves if the dog never came back. The dog always came back. Its name is something like Sally-Go-Home-Lucky VII or Cyrus of Westover. I don’t remember.
I become aware of my sister’s cello sliding down the banister. It’s playing something from Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, which opens up the air in these halls. It breaks up the curtains of dust, sends a breeze through the structure, and I inhale as if with the assistance of a brand new, third lung. I rattle the ice against the walls of my glass in a counterclockwise motion because it amuses me to do so.
I watch the dog for a while and I wonder if the dog will ever die, or if instead the dog will continue running circles in the yard, dragging its tongue and sniffing around for dead doves beyond the time at which my grandfather joins the soil and manifests in the pears from the tree by his waiting grave, beyond the time at which I, too, manifest as a sheet of tears dropping from the same pear tree to rot or to be eaten by deer, beyond the time at which the pear tree dies, and the deer die, and the dove marsh and its doves become no more than a film of dust on the earth’s fallow crust, beyond the time at which all else – the strip malls and the golf courses, the Taj Mahal and the Little Ceasar’s Pizza on Chapman Highway, all else – has fallen to the great yellowing gyre of the sky. It strikes me as probable that even in the second scenario the dog, having borne the weight of perpetuity, will cease to lick the dirt and will in turn be licked by the dirt.
Rahad Abir was born and bred in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is a fiction writer. His short stories have appeared in The Penmen Review, Aerodrome and Toad Suck Review. His wining short story ‘‘I am in London’’ is appearing in an anthology from England. He has worked as journalist, university teacher and interpreter. Currently he is working on his first novel.
He knew it was simply unfair to go out on a date with his student’s mom. It involved risk too. But he said yes when she asked him. He was confused and fascinated and lost. The relationship was about three months of old, mostly talking and texting over the phone. Every evening he visited her home to tutor the second grade boy, and she hardly ever seemed to take any opportunity to talk to him then.
On an early somnolent afternoon in July, he waited by Curzon Hall gate of Dhaka University, and his roving eyes fell upon every rickshaw and CNG auto-rickshaw (little semi-taxi) that appeared at the gate. He endeavored not to notice the beggars—either elderly or kiddies—who only walked up to the passengers at the very moment they reached their hands for wallets or purses to pay fares so that it’d be psychologically embarrassing for them to refuse their request for alms.
She turned up around half an hour late. A leg, so light-skinned, and then another, slipped out of a CNG auto rickshaw, he watched. A small woman, wearing a black sari, approached him with short steps. Four eyes met for a moment. A smug smile came out of her crimson lips. He smiled her back.
The dating spot on his mind—Curzon Hall pond—by that mid-afternoon, got almost full of people sitting by the pond’s edge. Fortunately, an unoccupied concrete bench was found.
‘‘You look gorgeous,’’ he said.
She gazed into his eyes.
‘‘Well—’’ he looked at her—her hair, her black dress, which she had put on for him. His eyes tried to read hers—her beautiful light eyes, twenty-seven-year-old olive skinned face, full crimson lips. Shortly, a naughty grin appeared on her face.
He remembered the same grin over that face, when one evening the young pretty mommy of his pupil brought a tray of snacks in the middle of their The Very Hungry Caterpillar studies; but whilst leaving the tray she, unlike the other days, looked into his eyes and grinned, ‘‘Have a nibble.’’ There was something else in that look, the way she grinned—everything thrilled him.
Later that night he received a ‘‘you’re so handsome’’ text on his phone from an unknown number. The following night the same text buzzed, at the same time. He called the sender, however, no one answered. Weeks after, one late night his call was received. But the receiver was completely silent. His voice turned impatient, ‘‘I know it’s you, it must be you; if you like me why’re you scared of talking to me?’’ And, that night, she spoke.
Later, he would imagine that it was not him, it was her who killed him, and he would remember the same grinning face with disgust, and curse himself, in the last and long five minutes of his life. He was a soft sort of guy—sentimental.
‘‘Why not we take a rickshaw ride instead?’’ she said, holding his arm.
He glanced at her, rolling his eyes from the water striders in pond. Her hand was soft and warm and real. He figured that she wanted more intimacy. Shortly, as two bums squashed into a rickshaw, the warmth of her body ran through his, but her face didn’t glow, changed no color. She asked if he was uncomfortable being with her because he’d not held her hand yet. He blushed, grasped her hand straightaway, and in a moment as her breast erratically touched the back of his arm, he trembled. He trembled again, after the dark fell, being with her in a CNG auto rickshaw, on the way home. This time he put his arm around her waist. For the first time in his twenty-two-year life, he couldn’t resist the temptation to rub a woman’s naked fat little tummy and she couldn’t stop drawing her face to his, and finally the lustful lips met, carefully escaping the driver’s eyes.
Beyond this intimacy, beyond this heading for home, beyond this purposeless rickshaw riding he bought her green coconut juice from a street vendor. While nibbling Chinese nuts he talked about his Hindu upbringing, his old family house, and his ties with relatives living in Kolkata, India. Likewise, he learned from her that she made up a story to her mother-in-law about her whereabouts this afternoon. What’s more, he learned about her unhappy relationship with her husband, whom at the time was working in Dubai. Although not being a devout Muslim, he, during the early months of their marriage pressured her wear a burka which she refused. He also learned about her first-and-only unsuccessful love affair (here she chuckled since the second attempt was turning out to be wonderful) before getting married.
Another late afternoon, they met at British Council on Fuller Road. Unlike the first day, he hired a rickshaw to Elephant Road, where he’d arranged to have use of his friend’s flat for an hour. During the rickshaw ride, he held her hand. Though, his hesitant hand tried to be convinced that the age difference between them was not evident. His roving eyes searched for any familiar eyes on street. Somehow, later, his fear would come true when a pair of eyes would fall upon them on Johnson Road, just for a moment, without his knowledge.
They met in a small shared flat, under a naked hundred-watt Philips bulb. On a yellowing, tatty bed-sheet. This happened again. While, another day, her mother-in-law was picking her son from school.
Traffic was always crazy and awfully slow on Old Dhaka narrow streets. To get out of it, some drove wherever it was possible to drive—lest it was the pavement or the opposite wrong route—resulting in more traffic. Being stuck in English road traffic for twenty minutes in a CNG auto-rickshaw, while heading back home together in one evening, he worried because she was running late. Glancing around he then remembered that Dhaka’s largest brothel once operated a block away, set up by the British. During his school days, as he passed the brothel street one day, many strange-behaving and odd-looking women of different ages, standing by the outside doors, waved at him. Laughed at him. He was both charmed and unnerved.
The CNG auto-rickshaw reached near the Judge Court on Johnson Road. Here he should have left. She grasped his hand tightly. He looked into her eyes. She blushed, and laughed, and said, ‘‘I love you.’’ He shuddered. Her lips moved, saying something. He slowly walked down the street, not knowing that this happened to be their last and final meeting.
A little later, he walked into the apartment for the tuition. The living room’s light wasn’t turned on, and instead of the little boy, the grandma emerged. She looked cranky and her voice sounded hysterical. ‘‘He’s not feeling good tonight, we’ll call you when he gets better.’’
The very next day he got a call. ‘‘You bastard Hindu, son of a bitch.’’ The unknown voice began swearing all at once. Before he could swallow the bubble of shock and say anything, the unknown voice apparently tried to grab him over the phone and shred him to pieces. They found out everything, must have seen them last evening, he feared. He went cold. Forgot to breathe. Sweating like a pig.
He never contacted her. He changed his mobile number the day after. For three weeks he mostly stayed home, telling others that his finals were coming. He worried about her, wished she wouldn’t have been in big trouble.
The air began to get dry from mid-November and there was a whiff of winter. Looking through the only window from his tiny room, he thought of her. Thought of a pair of crimson lips.
Two months after, in one night at about nine thirty, his mother told him that someone came to see him, waiting in the stairway. His heart sank when he saw the boy, who was member of a so-called street gang.
‘‘I’ve an urgent need to talk with you, can you come outside for a moment?’’ the boy said.
He scanned the boy’s face in the dimness of plaster falling old yellowish walls, glanced over his left shoulder down the stairs. The main door of this two-storey building, over a hundred-and-fifty years old, remained open till eleven at night. Two ground floor rooms were rented to a book-binding factory.
‘‘What’s it about?’’ He asked, ‘‘Say here.’’
‘‘It’s private. Just come out for a minute, bro.’’
‘‘I got my finals, I’m busy.’’ And to his surprise he saw another boy climb the stairs. ‘‘OK—’’ he was about to close the door.
‘‘Bring him down,’’ a voice burst out, following the second boy.
The first boy grabbed his hand.
‘‘Leave him!’’ his mother screamed.
Momentarily, a small crowd gathered there. His mother, father and his younger sister managed to free him from their hands, obstructing the three guys from entering.
‘‘Do you want us to break into your house?’’ the man roared, ‘‘Bring him here now.’’
‘‘Tell me what happened,’’ the father repeatedly asked.
Crowds had already filled the stairway. ‘‘Your bloody son slept with a married Muslim woman,’’ someone blurted out, ‘‘Hand him over to us. We’ll figure this out’’
The news incited a sudden excitement in the crowd. He could feel this even shrinking into a corner of his room, locking the door well. Out there, there were overheated arguments, shouts, broken swearing at his father. The crowd threw bricks into their street-facing windows. Later, when everyone had left, he learned that they grabbed his old father. Slapped him. Ripped off his shirt. For a moment, a burning fire inside him wanted to take the big knife from kitchen and go after the scoundrels in the street.
But that night he neither opened his door nor went out nor went in front of his father. His mother cried. She swore at him sitting by his room’s door. Moaning how he put the whole family at risk. Why did God still keep her alive? To see all this disgrace? To see her husband beaten by young hooligans? If she knew this before, she’d have choked him to death when he was a little boy.
His best friend called and informed him that his student’s mom was in the hospital and fighting for life. She had become pregnant, taken drugs to abort the baby that resulted in nonstop bleeding. He also told him to stay safe. If possible to go into hiding somewhere for a few weeks.
It was not only about his safety, his father, and especially his sister should take care, too. Father in no way would agree on leaving the house vacant. The local commissioner had long been trying to evict them and grab the house. But above all, the reality was he had brought shame for his family. How could his father, an upright man, go out in the neighborhood now? Who’d want to marry his sister now? ‘‘Blood will have blood,’’ he shivered with fright. If he could, he’d have slipped away into a CNG auto-rickshaw by night and never be seen again.
With this thought, he jumped up out of his chair momentarily. He looked for something hurriedly in the closet. The second shelf from the top belonged to his sister. A long scarf came to his hand. His eyes watched the spinning ceiling fan. Spinning, round and round. Winter was not that intense in the old part of Dhaka. He made a loop at one end of the scarf. He turned off the fan and tied the other end around it. Then he wept.
He stood on the top of the bed head, facing the loop-end that waited for his neck to embrace. He took it. Now, just a little jump, and everything would be over. A bit of smile crossed his lips. How would her baby look if it had survived? He wished he’d have believed in God. ‘‘Please, let there be another world after death,’’ he said. He imagined his hanging body from the ceiling fan; still, calm like the serene morning light. The light had slipped through the window, and in the middle of the room he was hanging; hanging by a long scarf. He took a long breath, and glanced at the wall clock. Seven to two in the morning. He gasped as the big thinnest red hand neared the last minute. When it was ten seconds to two, he counted every move of the red hand. ‘‘Fifty one, fifty two, fifty three, fifty four, fifty five…’’
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. Madeleine Barnes | In Harmonium Guillaume Apollinaire | Sadness of a Star | **Rebekah Curry Lowell Levant | A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and about Lowell A. Levant | review by Thomas Dukes **Indicates Translators
Poetry: (Guest Edited by Jason Koo)
Emily Blair | The Deadly Years
J. Scott Brownlee | Ascension
Falconhead | I Have Set My Face Like Flint or The Misanthrope Goes Into Town
Peter Cole Friedman | The Perfect Phospholipids
Julie Hart | Resting Bitch Face
Tim Kahl | Tasking the Guardian
Christine Kitano | Lesson: Chicken Soup
Debora Kuan| Teen Ghost
Justin Maki | Watch
Derek Mong | An Ordinary Evening in San Francisco
Laura Plaster | Candids
Erin Redfern | Photograph of a Drugged Giraffe
Chris Roberts | What ever happened to the compass?
Sokunthary Svay | At Least Prostitutes Bring Home Money
Ed Toney | The Baptist Growl
Nonfiction: (Guest Edited by Suzanne Cope)
Javier Etchevarren | Lungs | **Don Bogen
Agustín Lucas | General Flores without Flowers | **Jesse Lee
Kercheval Dimitra Kotoula | Case Study V (on Ethics) | **Maria Nazos
Michele Battiste | Uprising | review by Kayla Haas
Madeleine Barnes | In Harmonium
Guillaume Apollinaire | Sadness of a Star | **Rebekah Curry
Lowell Levant | A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and about Lowell A. Levant | review by Thomas Dukes
Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read. Eugene H. Davis | Howl No More Charles Baudelaire | The Clock | **Lola Haskins **Indicates Translators
(Guest Edited by Judy Juanita)
Arika Elizenberry | Red Summer, 1919
Bridget Gage-Dixon | Hew Paints Crickets
Gail Goepfert | Revivify *runner up in our 2014 short-ish poetry contest*
Karen Greenbaum-Maya | My Uncle the Perfectionist
Kamden Hilliard | Hong Kong, Summer
Lowell Jaeger | A Salesman’s Song
David Kann | The Language of the Farm *runner up in our 2014 long-ish poetry contest*
Issa M. Lewis | The Catacomb Saints
Joel Lewis | Looking For Soup
Noorulain Noor | Chronology of Evil Eye
Jennifer Raha | Perennial | Resupination
Maryann Russo | Joe Redota Trail
Eva Schlesinger | With You in Hildesheim
Benjamin Schmitt | We were radicals
Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong | Mother | A Day in British Hong Kong
Cyrille Fleischman | Monsieur Lekouved’s Revolt | **Lynn Palermo
Imanova Günel | Untitled | **Arturo Desimone
Marcel Lecomte | The Schoolmaster | Number | **K. A. Wisniewski
Eugene H. Davis | Howl No More
Charles Baudelaire | The Clock | **Lola Haskins
Translator’s Note on Cyrille Fleischman’s Work:
I fell in love with Fleischman’s work the first time I read it, probably twenty years ago, while perusing short story collections for possible use in my undergraduate French courses. I loved his light touch, unpretentious style, and the humorous compassion with which he treats his characters, who exhibit human foibles which we have all experienced. For me, they also brought to life the Jewish Marais, a neighborhood in which I had lived while doing research in Paris. Individually, Fleischman’s stories seem at first anecdotal; then suddenly, with a twist of a phrase, they rise to embrace the universal. When read collectively, themes of being and identity and their fragility emerge. One of the reasons that “M. Lekouved’s Revolt” appeals is that it is such a joyful affirmation of being. A great challenge in translating Fleischman’s work into English is maintaining the delicate humor, tenderness, and subtle depth; in other words not letting his stories become merely comic in translation.
Cyrille Fleischman (author) was born on February 3, 1941, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, home to a large community of Ashkenazi Jews. Fleischman studied law, but while practicing, began writing short stories portraying Yiddish characters of the Marais in the 1950s. He published his first collection of short stories in 1987, but is best known for the three volumes centered on the neighborhood of the Saint-Paul metro station. The focus of his thirteen short story collections, like their author, would always remain in the Marais. Fleischman has been compared to Isaac Bashevis Singer, even Marc Chagall for his portrayal of Yiddish culture in the Marais. In 1995, he was awarded a Prix d’Académie by the French Academy, and in 2002, the Max Cukierman award for the promotion of Yiddish language and culture. He died in 2010 after a long illness.
Lynn Palermo (translator) is an associate professor of French at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. She has published the translation of another story by Cyrille Fleischman in World Literature Today (Sept/Oct 2010), as well as academic translations. She recently translated four academic essays for a special issue of Dada & Surrealism focusing on the Romanian surrealist movement (to appear in 2015). She is collaborating on a translation of one of Fleischman’s short story collections, while working solo on a novel by a contemporary French author and short stories by other writers of the Francophone world. Her research focuses on the literature, art, decorative arts, world’s fairs and cultural politics of period between the World Wars.
Monsieur Lekouved’s Revolt
Alexander Lekouved gave a big, friendly wave, as the waitress deposited two slices of meat on his plate, next to the mashed potatoes.
–Who are you saying hello to? asked the waitress, looking around, Nobody’s here yet at this hour.
–I’m greeting this veal roast! I think it’s the same one as yesterday. And the day before. Maybe even last month. I feel like we’re old friends by now.
The waitress shrugged and went back to the kitchen.
Alexander Lekouved had been taking all his meals at this restaurant since becoming a widower. He always arrived around eleven-thirty, a habit that predated his retirement, when he used to eat lunch at home before traveling out to a suburb to tutor students in philosophy—students who had failed the high school graduation exam. And despite maintaining a friendly rapport with this waitress for weeks, he had just become her enemy. He acknowledged this without regret.
The waitress brought him the next course—fruit compote—which she practically threw onto the table, and before he could order coffee, she had already scribbled his bill on the paper tablecloth. He had barely paid before she cleared the table, tossing the paper tablecloth into a big wastebasket over near the counter. When he left, she did not say au revoir.
The weather was lovely. Monsieur Lekouved slipped a hand into his vest pocket to check his watch. Still not yet noon and the whole day stretched before him with nothing to do. He breathed deeply in the breeze and decided to cross the street to a café with sidewalk terrace.
He would take his coffee there.
He chose a table, sat down, and stretched out his legs. A waiter hurried over to him. Since he was only ordering coffee, could monsieur please take a seat inside the restaurant? At this hour, the terrace was reserved for customers ordering a meal.
The waiter looked like one of Monsieur Lekouved’s former students, the type who repeated the last year of high school several times without ever graduating. Lekouved tilted his head back to take a better look at him.
–Are you telling me that I have to sit inside when I prefer to have my coffee out here, on the terrace?
–Oui, said the waiter, growing annoyed and snapping the white cloth on his shoulder toward the front door, Inside!
Lekouved raised his hand for quiet.
–Tell the owner that I’d like to speak to him.
–Perhaps we should put our policy in writing, and have it stamped and notarized for you, snorted the waiter. I’m telling you, the tables on the terrace are reserved for people having a meal.
–That’s the problem. I’ve already eaten. Across the street. So, just bring me a cup of coffee.
–I said, no! Now move! The waiter was downright aggressive.
Alexander Lekouved did, indeed, move. He rose to his feet and grabbed the waiter’s right ear. Slowly, calmly, he twisted it until the waiter tore himself from his grip. Then Monsieur Lekouved sat back down.
–Bring me a coffee, please!
People passing on the sidewalk had stopped to stare. The waiter rubbed his ear, stammering, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it…”
Lekouved insisted gently, “A coffee, if you please.” Then roared, “Bring me a coffee, or else I’ll take care of your other ear, too, the one that’s so big you could blow your nose on it!”
The waiter was thunderstruck. He retreated into the café to tell everyone sitting at the counter. Five minutes later, the owner himself strode toward Lekouved, a cup of coffee in hand, which he set on the table in front of him.
–You had no right to…
–Yes, I certainly did have the right to! interrupted Lekouved. Don’t you know the stipulations of the paragraph of the statute of the municipal law governing the sale of coffee on café terraces?
The owner argued no further. This pain-in-the-neck might have connections down at city hall. He just shrugged.
The people who had been watching the scene, wandered off. Lekouved drank his coffee, glanced at the cash register receipt left by the owner, and left a few coins on the table.
He felt good. He even had a revelation: it felt good to rebel!
He stood up, did a few calisthenics to get his blood circulating and, since this was a day of revolt, decided to go visit his brother-in-law who owned a clothing shop not far away. Three years earlier, his wife’s brother had borrowed two candlesticks that he had never returned. Alexander hadn’t needed them since his wife died. He no longer hosted family reunions at the holidays, but still, that was no reason…
He walked slowly, deep in thought, but before he knew it, he was standing in front of his brother-in-law’s shop. Which made him think maybe he should spruce up his wardrobe. Upon entering the shop, the first words that flew out of his mouth were, “I stopped by to say hello and buy a few shirts. At the same time, you can give me back those candlesticks you never returned.”
The brother-in-law, who had smiled upon seeing him, stiffened.
–The two candlesticks that you borrowed from your sister, three years ago when she was still alive.
His brother-in-law laid his hand on Alexander’s shoulder.
–You mean the candlesticks that your wife had inherited from my mother?
–Of course! I’m not talking about chandeliers from the Opera House!
The brother-in-law frowned. “Forget it. They’re a memory of my sister.” He changed the subject. “What kind of shirts are you looking for? Solids? Stripes?”
–I’m not sure if I understood you correctly, interrupted Lekouved. Are you saying that you are not going to return my candlesticks?
Without even waiting for an answer, Lekouved went behind the counter, glanced up and down the rows of shirts organized by size, and calmly removed ten white shirts, size 39, and ten fancy vests. Whatever he could reach. Alexander Lekouved put the ten shirts and ten vests into two large plastic bags from a stack on the counter and walked out of the shop. His brother-in-law, at first spellbound, chased after him out to the sidewalk.
–Where are you going with those? You’ve got a fortune in clothes there, not even counting the shirts!
Alexander Lekouved stopped, his two plastic bags dangling. “When you return my candlesticks, then maybe I’ll return the vests. But I’m keeping the shirts!”
Lekouved left his dumbstruck brother-in-law standing on the sidewalk. Happiness welled up inside him. As he walked away, several people nodded to him. Acquaintances, probably, he wasn’t sure. He had done so much for this neighborhood! Rendered service to so many people! Before becoming a teacher in the suburbs, he’d worked in one or two private schools not far from here, he’d acted as secretary to a politician in the arrondissement, he’d been copy editor at a Yiddish publishing house. He’d…he’d… above all, he’d been polite and affable. Yet, in none of those capacities had he felt as much satisfaction as he did today.
With his two plastic sacks full of clothes, Alexander Lekouved strolled along, humming under his breath. He wasn’t far from home, now. He raised his eyes to the blue sky. For a moment, he was tempted to give thanks. But at his age, one no longer bothered to thank the heavens for so little. He continued down the sidewalk in the sun, a little spring in his step. At seventy-two years of age, Alexander Lekouved, retired school teacher, honorable but not honored, belated but enthusiastic rebel, felt that at last he was going to start having fun.
Eliana Osborn is a mother of two, wife of one, who works part-time as an English professor at Arizona Western College. She is an essayist and fiction writer whose work has been featured in Blood and Thunder, Dash, Segullah, and many other journals. She has commercial work in venues including the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and many others. She’s at work on her first novel about the Chinese-Mexican population on the US-Mexico border.
When his mother became a Jehovah’s Witness she gave up her Buddhism, then everything about being Japanese. There were no more chopsticks in the house; macaroni in a blue box instead of soft formed squares of udon. Pictures of a blonde Jesus instead of an ancestral shrine. They wore shoes inside, sat on straight backed chairs at the dinner table.
He was forbidden from saying gaijin, even if it was true. By the time he left for college his middle name, Mori, was just an oddity from the past. His mother had dropped it and went by Kathy Morris.
His father was dead, his mother a math professor. He was stranded with straight black hair, student loans, and a neighbor who wanted him to join the Asian American Student Association. He made up excuses but she kept dropping by.
“This is how you network Nolan. You meet some people, spend time with them, then when you’re looking for a job after grad school you have connections. You can’t trust outsiders with your future—in AASA the alumni look out for us.”
The next week she brought some Japanese girls with her. One was short and round with bangs cut too short, leaving an inch of forehead above her glasses. Another was shorter still and wearing a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.
Nolan raised his eyebrows, wondering how this group of three awkward Asians could possibly be the best and brightest, the thing that kept America running ahead of the rest of the world.
Mickey Mouse giggled when he said ohaiyo but wouldn’t explain why. Bad Bangs stuck out her hand formally and gave a surprisingly strong shake.
“Melissa Kazuko, glad to meet you.” She nodded and stood back at attention waiting for the interview to begin.
“So why don’t you want to join the association? I don’t get it.” Melissa stared right at him. He tried to keep her gaze but finally looked away and made busy work adjusting the band of his watch.
“No-lan,” his neighbor began in that disturbing southern drawl, “we need you. The dances are so bad right now, you don’t even know. Everyone told me college would be different, that boys wouldn’t be scared of smart girls. But there’s five times the number of girls as boys among us Asians. I had to dance with some Hmong guy for every slow song at homecoming. All he could talk about was his parents on some boat. Hello? This is supposed to be romantic?”
He considered what it would be like to date an Asian girl for once. Or even better, to be in a club with desperate women.
“I’ll do it.”
There was a stunned silence then Mickey Mouse giggled and covered her mouth. The neighbor smiled broadly while Melissa simply nodded her head, turned, and walked away.
Nolan felt a twinge in his groin and wondered if maybe he liked girls with bangs. He’d have to pay closer attention now that he had options.
Marie Mayhugh is a writer and poet. She received a BA in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is an intern a BkMk Press in Kansas City. She is also a writing tutor at Longview Community College in Kansas City where she engages students with her love for the written word.
An Old Cowboy’s Dirge
Weston and his grandpa with dirty suede skin sat at the DMV. Weston’s eyes darted between his phone and the Now Serving digital system. The clerk behind the counter consistently announced the numbers over the speakerphone.
The old man leaned close to his grandson, who thumbed his phone.
You don’t need no license, the old man said. I got you a quarter horse.
I don’t have a quarter, Weston replied.
His sire’s New Ash.
I told you, I don’t have cash.
Name’s Blue Okie.
The old man removed his hat and poked his grandson with its rim.
Say, you know I can pull my own teeth out, the old man said.
Please don’t, Weston said. He tucked his phone inside his right denim pocket.
Got your attention, the old man said. He snickered and patted Weston on the shoulder.
Weston slid his chair over.
It takes guts for a man to lose his teeth, the old man said, but more courage to wear falsies.
Weston hunched and rested his elbows on his knees. The old man put a cigarette between his lips and patted his fringe-leather jacket for his lighter. The clerk behind the counter called on him to notice the No Smoking sign. He sighed, crumpled the cigarette, and put its remnants in his pocket.
I thought you’d want to be a rugged man like me, the old man said. He lolled in his chair and spread his arms, an eagle’s wingspan, resting each arm on top of seat backs on either side. His shaved head flinched as it rolled back against the icy window.
Outside, a Dodge pickup, with the word Ranger branded on its side, parked. Two officers hurdled out of the truck and strolled into the DMV.
They ain’t Rangers, the old man boasted.
Weston shook his head. You don’t know what you’re talking about, he said.
Sure I do. That’s a truck, the old man said. Those men hold their steering wheel at the ten and two O’clock. Real rangers ride saddleback and steer their horse with reins. They keep fists parallel and thumbs near for best rein control, similar to the way you hold your phone some of the time.
Weston glimpsed at the old man.
If you knew anything about your great-great-granddaddy, the old man said, you’d know he was a real cowboy. Cowboys keep both reins in their lead hand that rests on their lap, but their other hand remains free.
Weston reclined back, pulled his denim jacket’s collar up, and slid his hands inside his pockets. But the old man was just getting warmed up.
You can’t lasso your target or fire your Colt from a car, the old man said, both hands have to be on the wheel. He moaned as if he begun a wail. It takes a man to ride a saddle. Cowboys knew their range and how to ramble the land. Show me any place on a map, and I’ll tell you how many strokes it’ll take to get there. Cowboys don’t need no GP, or whatever you call it, to find your way. We went solo.
That’s GPS, Weston said.
No GPS for me, the old man said, but maybe a girl pretty on her saddle.
Weston sighed. He flicked his floppy hair over his eyes. The clerk behind the counter called number twenty-six.
Maybe, if you walked like me, the old man said, you’d have hard soles. He pointed at his own right thumb. You see there, that’s a nice clean thumb from hitching rides cross-country. He rested his left foot on his right knee and began to tug at his boot. I’ll show you my feet, they’re blistered from travel.
Please don’t, Weston said. He drew his right hand out of his pocket with his phone, and began to single handedly tap it.
The old man fingered at his grandson’s phone. You see there, the old man said, you’re holding your phone in your lead hand, but your other hand remains in your left pocket. It ain’t free.
Weston didn’t respond, but checked the digital number on the board. Only a few people in the waiting area read or remained quiet.
Who you calling? The old man said.
I’m texting, Weston said.
Is she pretty like one?
Hey, did you ever hear from your brother?
Well, how’s he getting along in Florida?
Fine. Weston sighed.
I hear he’s got himself a Lassie from Tallahassee. The old man chuckled.
The old man leaned back in his chair. He put on his hat, lowered its rim, and said, You want to be alone, but you’re just like your own. He slipped his hands inside his pockets.
Gordon Ball’s story is from a volume of short fiction, On Tokyo’s Edge: Gaijin Tales from Postwar Japan. He lives and teaches in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
It was Tokyo l950, before the end of the American Occupation. In the parents’ bedroom closet stood a Russian submachine gun, in the father’s dresser lay an unfirable German Luger, trigger melded into housing. Five hundred miles away raged the Korean War, the source, through multiple hands, of the Soviet weapon.
The boy had seen Russians once or twice from afar in the hotel across the street from his father’s office building. They were always men, and though in coats and ties and overcoats–even “western” hotel lobbies were cold–they seemed rougher, gruffer than other grownups: Americans of commerce and finance; French and Germans and British of many years’ experience in Eastern trade; wiseacre tieless young journalists just arrived from the States or Singapore or London; self-effacing Japanese in brisk, herring bone double breasted business suits who worked with–for–his father. “They are Russians,” someone would say. Their faces, with their heavy eyebrows, looked vaguely asiatic, like his father’s.
Sometimes after school the boy would play by himself at home, ten miles from Tokyo’s hotel and business center, in the shadowy side yard bordering their white stucco French colonial house. There, crepe myrtle trees and aucuba bushes abounded, making for his small frame a forest to stalk in. With his toy rifle he’d hunt enemy soldiers–the enemies being American–through the bushes and trees, and around the small tool shed adjoining them at one end. The Russians were not involved, but it excited him to imagine himself a Chinese Communist, calves wrapped in layer upon layer of cloth leggings as he’d seen in photographs.
At the same time, he’d draw pictures of American war heroes, celebrating their exploits and the numbers of Chinese and North Koreans they’d killed in a single encounter. He’d get this information daily on Armed Forces Radio. “Why don’t you draw something constructive?” his older brother, serious with horn-rimmed glasses, asked as he looked at the boy’s drawings.
The boy didn’t know the meaning of “constructive” nor of the shadows of branches he’d see on his pale wall at night, but the patterns frightened him. He was even more frightened one evening when he heard loud voices from his mother and father’s room, where Luger and machine-gun were stored. He didn’t know if the machine-gun had bullets but it was so heavy he couldn’t imagine anyone using such a thing–yet he knew they did every day in Korea.
“I’d rather be strangled than kept here,” he heard his mother wail at his father one evening. “I want to go back to Marietta!” Their door was open, but he was afraid to draw close. It was dark and the only light was broken by bony configurations of branches on the wall.
The next day two friends of his parents, Major Grimes and Mrs. Grimes, came to visit. She was carrot-haired and he had big ears that stuck out from the sides of his head, reminding the boy of Sad Sack in the stateside funnies they’d be able to get every once in a while.
Major Grimes and his wife lived in the U.S. Army compound at Pershing Heights. They brought him a gift for his birthday, a khaki U.S. Army overseas cap and various gold and blue and white insignia. “Where are you from, young man?” the Major asked.
“The world,” the boy responded.
“What do you like to eat?”
“Food,” he answered.
He behaved like that for several minutes before leaving the room, then after the guests were gone he overheard mother and father talking there, in the space between the white mantle and the large brown metallic gas stove from whose dusty white porcelain teeth blue flames flared. It was near the very spot where he’d lain on the carpet some evenings, staring at the pictures in a strange, large, heavy and musty book by a man named Hogarth. He’d taken it from the glass bookcase, and as he looked he’d wondered if those people with their intestines falling out were real. “I think he needs a spanking,” he heard his mother say.
The next day was Saturday and there was no school. The squat little tool shed that bordered the shadowy place with the acuba bushes and crepe myrtles had a sliding door with windows of translucent glass about a foot square. Inside were various old tools and contraptions he’d rummaged through before; this morning he slid open the door and took one of them, a small short-handled dusty axe with a dented blade. Then he slid the door closed and broke every window on it, and every window to its left and to its right. “I know this is wrong,” he said to himself, with every stroke.