Stories

The Last Picnic

Posted by Rusty on June 29, 2015

The Last Picnic

By Falconhead

Mister Dodgson’s brow was moist.

And it seemed to quiver each time he sighed or forced the coagulation of words at his throat. For it was clear to Alice, who walked aside him, that he was trying to impart something formal as they walked back up the manicured path toward Christ Minister, but all he could do, Alice noticed, was tremor. For when Mister Dodgson finally did speak, his voice, which sounded as though dried-up carrion had lodged itself within, was quite grave.

 “I love you… Alice” he said, stopping near a spray of Lily of the Valleys, which seemed to blush at the words.

Alice was taken aback, for Mister Dodgson was much older than she, and could not possibly comprehend the effect of his own language. Yet she always thought herself that rare breed possessing world-weary eyes and a sensibility much advanced for girls her age; one who, through books of an historical nature, acquainted herself with precise regalements describing the fateful wives of King Henry VIII and their untoward outcomes, and therefore could not be so easily dissuaded by anything poor Mister Dodgson might say. And though it was uncharacteristic of him to lavish such words uponher, she tried to reason his untimely though piteous display of mawkishness.

Before that afternoon, she had only known Mister Dodgson to be seized by torrents of sympathy over other, seemingly un-concerning things, if not all together repentant over the most inconsequential details to which only he seemed to regard, such as a maiden flower he had accidentally crushed under foot, which he then placed, with gingerly devotion, into the leaves of his trusty book (for he always had a book at hand), and then seemed to toil about in something nearing genuine remorse over the severing of it from its grassy bed. On one occasion, in midsummer, when he had invited Alice, as well as Lorina and Edith, along for a rowboat ride about the Isis, Alice was keen to the surge of emotion just under the ripple of Mister Dodgson’s voice when he discovered that the book he had given Edith, the youngest of the three sisters, had taken a spill overboard. Upon watching it sail open-faced away from the boat, Mister Dodgson christened the book “Ophelia” and, Alice suspected, in order to disguise his tenuous nature, spun a wonderful tale of how Ophelia’s ghost would waken from her marshy grave whenever Edith entered a dark library. And though Edith was a lover of books, as was Alice, she forbade herself from ever stepping foot into the dark vaults at the Christ Church library after that. So potent were Mister Dodgson’s tales…

Though Alice would have to agree that her fondest memory of Mister Dodgson happened only earlier in the year. He had been particularly animated that day, and, Alice recalled, was overthrown by a bout of suppressed elation at the fortuitous discovery of a dragonfly’s corpse, which sat, petrified through and through by the elements of nature upon the tip of a whitethorn shrub with its wings, fragile as an ancient leaf, perpetually out splayed at its sides. He held it, she remembered, with the most delicate of hands, against the tawny July light, and told a long and tragic tale of how the creature had once been the Prince of Whitethorn Land; and whose birthright it had been to slay the local dragon once and for all, for only then could this gallant Prince make claim to the seat at his father’s throne. But when the Prince, that one lithe of frame and fair of skin, failed in his appointed mission to slay the beast, take his seat on the throne and provide an heir by finding a bride, he was, in no un-gruesome terms, banished from the land from whence he was born and condemned to live out the rest of his days un-betrothed within the dishonorable anatomy of a dragonfly as a means to remind him of his unheeded duty to the people of Whitethorn Land. When the tale came to end, Mister Dodgson thought it best they have a funeral for the insect Prince and, after wrapping it in a lily pad fished out from the Christ Church pond, buried it with all the ceremony deserving of a make-believe Prince. Though, she realized, the tale bespoke no apparent sense of moral, it, like all of Mister Dodgson’s tales and queer gestures, bore a poetic sense of doom for which she knew and liked him best.

Was it not for that melancholic nature which moved Mister Dodgson to stammer out those four words just moments previous? she wondered as they wound their way back up the lane from their spot beneath the willow at the pond like so many afternoons before. It was, she decided, looking toward the backside of the menacing Christ Church façade just ahead; it was the reason he became so stirred to emotional articulation, and for that peerless and noble regard for all things small, delicate and worthy of capturing in a poem or a book as he did that July when they buried the dragonfly Prince under a patch of grass in the gardener’s cul-de-sac of bridewort and spear thistle. Yes, he is noble and peerless, she thought as she stopped before him, alighted her bright and ever-watching eyes upon his and said,

“And I love you, Mister Dodgson.”

For there had been a long silence between them since he had spoken that precipitous sentiment. And the lack of words seemed to throw some  diaphanous butterfly net over them as though they two were the only two of their known species who had been caught by the larger, darker force that were his words. And, despite the sea of difference in their age, she felt she knew him well enough to surmise that he would carry the weight of what he had spoken until it pained him to do so, that is until Alice could somehow alleviate his torment in her own way. Thus she had; and for a moment, that peculiar sense of ceremony Mister Dodgson was so well at crafting darted hither and thither about them as though the net had been lifted, as if the moment had been so thick and tangible that it congealed itself into a small, winged thing—a dragonfly Prince of sorts, newly risen from its lily pad grave, and come to make claim to the crown of Whitethorn Land.

“Thank you, Alice,” said Mister Dodgson, as they stood under the Christ Church façade, which seemed to be eavesdropping on their awkward farewell.

“It was a lovely picnic. Have a good evening Mister Dodgson.”

But as true as Alice had been in her sentiment about their outing, she was glad that it was behind her, and thought it best that she find some plausible excuse to decline his invitation in the future.

***

That evening, she lay upon her bed as though she were cast adrift some windblown heath, feeling the Night’s tide crush over her, where she pondered the events of that afternoon as she always did in the shadow-dance of her room. And as she gazed ahead, into the canopy of her four-poster, she thought something quiet queer as though it had not been she who had thought it: ‘A three-worded phrase with my name attached to it. “I love you, Alice.” How little those words do for a flower that will wilt and wither with time…’

Then, in a breath, she turned over onto her side and seeped far into the watery chasm of sleep where all the world of secrecy and bewilderment awaited her.


When not slaying Dragons, Falconhead uses Dragon’s blood to write poetry, short stories and plays. His work has appeared in Emerge Literary Journal, Antiphon, Naugatuck River Review, FictionWeek Literary Review, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Wilde Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Thick Jam, Poetica Magazine, Camas: The Nature of The West, Thin Air Magazine, Glitterwolf, Whistling Fire, Two Hawks Quarterly, Rock & Sling, Adanna Literary Journal, Deltona Howl, and Green Wind Press’s “Words Fly Away” Anthology, among others, and is forthcoming in several other publications.


Corinne Sullivan

Posted by Rusty on June 16, 2015

Slides

 

            Dad says we can go anywhere. I’ll be gone soon, and he wants to spend the day with me. I choose Splashville Waterpark in Maine. We had so much fun the last time we went, Dad, Maggie, and me. My favorite slide was a yellow and black striped funnel slide where the three of us sat in a giant tube and sped through a tunnel into the main part of the slide, shaped like a funnel on its side, where we rocked back and forth from one side to the other until we finally exited into the splash pool. I remember at the end Dad exclaiming, “Holy shit!” and Maggie and I laughing, because for the first time our father felt like our friend.

            In the car, I ask Dad if he remembers the slide. “Not sure, Kit,” he says. “How long has it been? Eight years? Nine?”

            “Eight. Maggie got her hair hennaed right before she started high school. That was eight years ago.”

            “Right,” he says, nodding. “That’s right.”  

            Mom doesn’t come because she’s busy exterminating, not that she would come anyway. Maybe she would have, years ago, back when she still went to lunch with friends and colored her hair, when she and Dad still touched each other. She bought all new linens and mattress covers for the beds, and today she’s using her stiff new cleaning brush to scrub the mattress seams before vacuuming the house head to toe. It doesn’t matter to her that Joe from Bedbug King told her the house is clear.

            Yesterday, she thought she spotted a bedbug on her pillow and cried. Dad went to inspect. “It was a piece of black thread,” he said to me like it was a punch line. I laughed to make us both feel better.

            “Bedbugs are teeny, Mom,” I told her. “You can’t even really see them.”

            “That’s not true, Kit,” she said. “I’ve researched this.” And she had, for several hours a day on the computer for the past three weeks. At the breakfast table, she told me signs to watch out for: blood stains on sheets or pillowcases, spots of excrement on mattresses and walls, itchy red welts on my skin. As I did my homework at the table after school, she told me places bedbugs could be found: in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, even carpets and curtains and dresser drawers! “I’m not crazy,” she told me.

            Before this, it was lead paint. Before that, mercury vapors. I can’t say for sure when things changed; who really can?

            At the park, Dad and I rent a locker and stuff our bags and clothes and sandals into it. I wear my new red bikini with the push-up top. I can’t remember the last time Dad saw me in a bathing suit—two summers ago? Three?

            “Sunscreen?” he asks.

            “Sure.” Dad squirts lotion into my hands and I rub it on my shoulders. The sunscreen smells like the beach and it reminds me of being a kid. Dad turns away. I wonder if he realizes the way boys look at me now. Strange I hadn’t thought how this moment would feel earlier; when I’d looked at in the mirror this morning, I was too excited by the fullness of my breasts to think about what Dad would see.  

            “I want to find the yellow and black funnel slide,” I tell him.

            “We’ll get to them all,” he says.

            We get in line for the first slide we see. Dad grabs me a tube and bops me on the head with it. I screw up my face in mock objection. It’s weird without Maggie here, but we’re determined to make it just as fun.

            The line spirals up a big set of stairs to the top of the slide. There are lots of little kids holding their parents’ hands, groups of teenage kids flirting with each other—no other teenage girls with their dads.

            “Are you excited for the big move next week?” he asks.

            “I guess so,” I say.

            “Do you like your roommate?”

            “She seems nice.”

            “And you registered for classes?”

            “Yeah. During orientation.”

            Two guys waiting in line on the steps above us hear Dad mention the name of my new college and turn around. They go to a rival school the next town over, they tell me. The one doing most of the talking eyes my breasts in my red push-up top. I think he’s cute; I’m not really sure though. Maggie says if you don’t lose your virginity in high school, then you have to lose it your freshman year of college, or people will think you’re weird. I wondered if the guys think it’s weird for a teenage girl to be at a waterpark with her dad.

            On the way down the slide Dad hollers “Yeehaw!” like he used to do on rides when Maggie and I were kids, and I hope those two guys can’t hear him. I laugh along with him though, because I really do want to have fun. The slide goes by so fast considering how long we waited.

            “Do you think Mom’s okay?” I ask him as we move on to the next slide.

            “Not sure, Kit,” he says.

            I had a dream last night that bedbugs were all over my room. They looked like daddy longlegs, and they crawled all over my arms and chest and face. I told Mom about the dream this morning.

            “I wish you hadn’t told me that, Kit,” she said. “I don’t know why you’d think I wanted to hear that.”

            The next slide requires a double tube. I sit in front and Dad puts his legs on either side of me. His toes are hairy. I try to remember the last time I went sledding. Dad yells “Yeehaw!” on the way down again, and I wish Maggie were here.

            After two more slides, we take a break for lunch. I’m tired, and I can tell Dad is too. Dad gets two slices of pizza and I get a banana.

            “You don’t want anything else?” he asks.

            “I’m not hungry.” I don’t tell him that I don’t want to look bloated in my new bikini. Boys have been looking at my breasts all day. It makes me excited for college, where I can wear those tank tops Mom hates. Where I can have sex with boys, maybe.

            We sit outside under an umbrella. I watch an older guy smoothing sunscreen onto the shoulders of a pretty freckled woman at the next table.

            Dad sighs. “I’m going to miss you when you’re gone.”

            I turn to look at him. “Are you and Mom going to get divorced after I leave?”

            “Not sure, Kit,” he says.

             After the lead paint but before the bedbugs, Dad told me he wasn’t sure he and Mom would stay together. Mom told me she and Dad were going through a “rough patch” but they were going to “work things out.” I can’t remember the last time they slept in the same bed. I’m not sure whom to believe.

            Once we finish lunch, I want to find the yellow and black funnel slide. We use a map to find it at the edge of the park, but it’s not like I remember. It’s red, not yellow and black, and the funnel part is smaller than I imagine. Maybe this isn’t the slide I remember at all.

            It doesn’t matter, because the slide is closed anyway. The lifeguard tells us the pH levels of the splash pool are too high.

            “It’s contaminated?” I ask.

            “It should be fixed within the hour,” the lifeguard says, but I don’t want to go on the slide anymore.

            We move on. Dad and I ride down one more slide, and he doesn’t shout “Yeehaw!” this time.

            “Up for more?” he asks me.

            “I think I’m done,” I say. He looks relieved. We return to the car.

            On the ride home, I wonder if Maggie knows how bad things have gotten. How lucky she is, to live so far away. I wonder if I, too, will stop caring so much once I’m gone.

            “Did you have fun today?” Dad asks.

            I smile and say, “Yeah, just as fun as last time,” and he smiles, too, even though he knows it’s not true. 

            “Why don’t you call your mother and tell her we’re on our way home?”

            I take out my phone, trying to remember when she became “my mother” instead of Mom. I call her, and I can’t tell if she’s sad or okay. When I hang up, I suddenly remember and I exclaim, “Dad!”

            “What?”

            “I remember where the yellow and black slide was!”

            “Where?”

            “It wasn’t at Splashville. It was at Water Nation in New Hampshire. You, me, and Maggie went there right after she got braces. Remember?”

            His eyes are far away. “Not sure, Kit,” he says. “Not sure.”

 

Corinne Sullivan lives in Bronxville, where she is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College. She has been published in The Allegheny Review and has work forthcoming in Rougarou, Saturday Night Reader, and Knee-Jerk Magazine.


Robert Hinderliter

Posted by Rusty on May 25, 2015

Thanksgiving, 3:00 AM, End of the World

by Robert Hinderliter

 

Six months later our city is still burning, dark beasts still shuffling through the streets, and last week you came home with a forked tongue. Bifurcation, you called it, your voice husky with painkillers, your mouth struggling to form sounds with its new mangled occupant. You stuck it out for me to admire: ragged stitches down each side of the newly peninsula’d flesh, blood beads slowly forming. Soon, you told me, you’d be able to move both sides independently, watch them curl around each other, dart out to taste the air like a serpent. I turned away.

“You’re as bad as the creatures,” I said.

“Oh,” you said, “I’m much worse.”

This is the life that is left for us. Six months ago the earth split open with a terrible roar, and the horrors from below spilled to the surface. Savage creatures as big as cars, black-furred, razor-clawed, mouths packed with teeth made for sawing and piercing. And with the beasts came a poison wind, a deathly exhalation from deep in the earth that erupts into flames in the lungs, burning its victims from the inside out.

The weak and indecisive died quickly. You were neither. You loaded your shotgun, strapped on a gas mask, and joined the Hunters. When the goal of fighting the beasts proved hopeless, the gang turned to pillaging and robbery. The old laws, you told me, were for the old world. You bring home food, and I cook it silently. I don’t ask where it’s from.

During the day, when you’re gone, I sit by the window in the living room and look out over the ruined city. Smoke in the distance, pick-up trucks with beds piled with bodies passing on the street below. Sometimes a black shadow stalks across the sidewalk, claws clicking on the cement, head twisting from side to side, sniffing the air. In the evenings you come home always drunk, often high, occasionally with a new tattoo, red and raw, on your back or arm. And finally your tongue. Your voice, now wet and lisping, is hideous to me.

 

Today is Thanksgiving. Or rather, yesterday. It’s 3:00 AM, and you haven’t come home. It’s raining. The only light in the city is a fire in the window of a distant building. A cat is screaming wildly, as if it’s being pulled apart.

I remember our first Thanksgiving, eight years ago, when your parents flew in from Maine and your dad kept spilling rum on the reclining chair and making comments about my weight. I suppose I was a little heavy then, but you told me I was carrying it in all the right places. Your mom had picked up some sort of virus on the plane and was blowing her nose every ten seconds and stuffing the tissues between the couch cushions. It was the first time I’d met them.

In the kitchen, I had a terrible time getting the turkey into the oven. I’d bought a new pan to accommodate a large bird, and it turned out to be an inch too wide. I had to tilt it to make it fit, but then the turkey started to slide, and in my panicked overcorrection I burned my arm on the oven door. I cried out, and you stopped mashing the sweet potatoes and rushed over to help. Together, we managed to cram the pan into a stable position and slam the door shut. It took you a minute to realize I was crying.

You took me by the hand then and led me past your belching dad, past your sniffling mom, past the window where I am now, and into the bedroom. You shut the door behind us. From outside, we could hear your dad grumbling over the sound of football on the TV.

You lowered me onto the bed and lay down beside me. You pulled me close against you, pressed your cheek to mine. I was sobbing by that point, great silent heaves. You stroked my hair and whispered in my ear. “It’s okay,” you said. Your voice was so gentle then. It was a sound I longed for. “I love you,” you whispered. Again and again. “I love you, I love you. I’ll love you till the end of the world.”

  

Golden Arm

 

Grady “Golden Arm” Ramirez came out of nowhere at age 19 to take the ’73 season by storm. A late growth spurt turned a scrappy kid with middling potential into a tall young man with a left arm like a rocket launcher. Twenty-five wins, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, a 102 MPH fastball, 83 MPH change-up, and a knee-buckling 12-6 curve. He had a crooked nose, bright brown eyes, splotchy cheeks from acne only recently cleared up, and was just cocky enough to seem genuine instead of arrogant. Everyone loved him. Seeing his face made you feel good things about baseball, and even about the country, and that ’73 season it was impossible not to see his face.

His rise was as unexpected as it was remarkable, and he swung a lot of money the wrong way for a lot of dangerous people. A dozen preseason prop bets were busted before July. There were threats of violence. Those were discordant times. One day he found a crude sketch of a severed arm taped inside his locker. A week later, a hacksaw was delivered to his home. The fear got to him. He didn’t try to hide it.

After a few off games, his coach suggested he see a clonologist. They took his DNA, grew a replacement arm in the lab. Muscle strength and fast twitch fiber measurements came back identical. A perfect copy. They kept it on ice in a secret location, and Ramirez played on with a little more peace of mind. For the rest of that season and all of the next he was lights-out. Nearly unhittable. By then the money was riding on him, so he had no more amputation threats.

But in his third season his arm began to give. Same old story – too many innings too young. The losses started to pile up, and his ERA was strapped to a jetpack. The dangerous people were not pleased.

Ramirez’s mind turned, inevitably, to that arm in deep freeze. He made inquiries at the League Office, but they informed him the replacement could only be used in the case of foul play. His on-field decline continued. He told reporters he felt like his life was ending at age 21. He lost weight. His brown eyes weren’t so bright anymore.

One day mid-season he missed two practices in a row. An assistant coach went to his house. Ramirez’s car was in the driveway, but no one answered the door.

The police found him in the bathroom, left arm tied with rubber tubing, hacksaw on the floor. He was slumped in a chair with vomit down his chest. Preparing for a home amputation, he’d overdosed on pain pills.

 

Grady Ramirez is discussed today mostly as a cautionary tale, but I still sometimes go back and watch highlights from that ’73 season. He still holds the records for most wins and lowest ERA for a rookie. His third game of the season, a one-hitter against the Mets, is one of the most joyous athletic performances I’ve seen.

There he is, this 19-year-old kid fresh into the Majors, just blowing smoke past one of the best lineups in the game. Grinning after every out, knowing he’s got his whole career ahead of him to make batters look like buffoons. In the ninth inning, even the Mets fans were cheering. We were all feeling good about baseball, good about the future. That left arm whipping through the air. It was beautiful.

 

Robert Hinderliter’s writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hobart, and other places. He teaches English at Chosun University in Gwangju, South Korea. Another story set during the same events as “Thanksgiving, 3 AM, End of the World” has been published by decomP and can be read here: http://www.decompmagazine.com/athousandfires.htm 


Claire Hennessy

Posted by Rusty on May 19, 2015

Pretty

by Claire Hennessy 

 

Once upon a time is how stories begin. One day. . .one night. . .once at a party. . .

Many stories begin at night. The inhibitions slink off into the shadows.

“You’re so pretty,” she says to the boy, red-lipped, long-legged and giddy in heels.

He gleams, his teeth white in the dark. His mouth on hers. Sucking the life out of her.

This is how you do it. Not the vampiric draining of the neck. The kiss. The air is pulled out. The lungs collapse.

She falls into his arms. This is what they mean by falling for someone.

He carries her home. The perfect gentleman. Pulls aside her knickers and puts his fingers inside. Then kicks off his trousers. Thrusts in and out. Her head rolls back. Her eyelids shut.

Later he will burn the body. Fire and soot. It takes so much kindling to ignite a fire large enough to eat a whole girl.

For now he moves a finger down her cheek. “You’re so pretty,” he says.

 

Claire Hennessy is a writer, creative writing facilitator, and editor based in Dublin. She is the author of several novels for young adults and children, and is currently working on a collection of short fiction for adults, supported by an Arts Council bursary. She can be found online at www.clairehennessy.com or on twitter (@clairehennessy).


Tiff Holland

Posted by Rusty on May 11, 2015

Summit Lake

By Tiff Holland

She made me stay with her that summer. That sounds ridiculous—my mother made

me, a grown woman, stay with her that summer, but she did. She’d signed me out of

the psych ward just in time to finish my final papers, graduate magna cum laude

among the cherry blossoms. Dad flew in from California and offered, wanted me,

even, but we both knew his dark efficiency would finish the job I had started. So, I

went with Mom, her name on the forms in-case-of-emergency, next-of-kin and,

finally, under-supervision of.

 

She gave me the bigger room, the queen sized bed that filled it, sideways, facing the

lake. She took the brass daybed in the other room, the only piece of furniture she

owned from before. We shared a bathroom with two doors, that might have been

called a Jack-n-Jill in a ranch house or a split level like the Brady’s but in that house

in that neighborhood that had started as cottages and shacks, weekend places back

when the lake was the center of a low-end amusement park that burned, every stick

of it, to the ground, it screamed “plumbing added post-construction.”

 

I didn’t want to be there, of course, but I didn’t want to be anywhere.

 

One of Mom’s customers sold her the house for twenty thousand even, including all

the furniture and appliances, dishes and linens, the manual lawnmower stored in

the shed in back, the size of an outhouse with a scythe hanging from a nail.

 

The lady was moving to a nursing home. She would never need any of those things

again, and she loved Mom in a way many of her customers, the Beauty Shop Ladies,

did. All those weekends in Mom’s chair, I guess, her teasing their hair, listening,

bringing them only slightly stale donuts and coffee in bone china cups that used to

be part of her special-occasion only collection before Dad left and she sold The

I was in the hospital when Mom asked me whether or not to do it, move from her

post-divorce apartment to Summit Lake, like I was in any shape to give advice.

 

I said, “Where else are you going to find a house for twenty grand?” Reminded her of

the young man’s voice overheard from her apartment screaming: help me, help me,

please, God, help me! Just the week before.

 

So she closed. There were no closets in the bedrooms. Mom kept her outfits on a

clothesline in the abnormally damp basement. I kept underwear in a plastic bin

under the bed, my folded jeans and t-shirts on the bookshelves on the sunporch

downstairs among my philosophy texts: Kant and Kierkegaard, Hume, Nietzche and

Heidegger. Mom wanted to throw them away.

 

“These books. These books are what did this to you,” she said more than once,

although she had other opinions, too, what was wrong with me, molestation, vitamin

deficiencies, the time she, oh my god, dropped me on my head, forceps, genetics from

my father’s side of course, opinions she had shared with me almost nightly by

telephone before my admission.

 

When she was at work I would open my books, which smelled like me, me before,

the pot mom didn’t know about, my brand of laundry soap, crumbs from my peanut

butter sandwiches. I’d scour my own high-lighting for clues to how my brain

functioned before the lithium. When my eyes got tired, I sat on the old-lady furniture

and watched the console television. I ate cold leftovers from original-model pieces of

Tupperware, with no burp left, and took long baths. Some days, I sat on the bed in

my temporary room and watched the lake through the windows. Once or twice I

saw someone pull himself up on a surfboard, yank at a rope attached to a sail before

taking a jumping fall into the water.

 

I left the bathroom doors open when I bathed. While Mom was at work I walked

downstairs in my underwear to get clean clothes. I was a ghost, no one could see me

behind the screens and draperies, the windows never-cleaned. Even if I shut a door,

Mom always came in, without knocking or calling out. She went through my room to

the bathroom, saying it was faster, although each had a door and the rooms were the

same size long-ways. She thought nothing of opening the bathroom door, sitting

down on what, to my disdain, she called “the pot,” and starting up a conversation

while I soaked, as if I were the hairdresser and the toilet were the styling chair, as if

Once, she walked in just as I was getting out. I’d taken the towel off the bar but not

yet pressed it to my body. She stopped in the doorway.

 

“You have such a beautiful body,” she said, really looking at me for the first time in

years, before hitching down her hose and underwear. “You should be happy.”

 

“Thanks,” I said, slipping back into the water, as if it were murky or full of bubbles,

some place I could hide.


Eric Bosse

Posted by Rod on May 4, 2015

A PAIR OF SOCKS

By

Eric Bosse

 

Maddie pokes around in the refrigerator with one hand and, with the other, scratches the back of her leg at the hem of her nightgown. She has mismatched socks—one yellow with a white ribbon, one red with Christmas trees. I pat my pockets for my phone, but I’m in pajamas. The phone is upstairs, charging. Too bad, it would have made a cute picture—not that she’d ever let me share it.

“I’m starving,” she says. “I didn’t like that spaghetti squash.”

As I move through the kitchen to the stovetop light, I compose a status update about the sadness of a father’s rejected spaghetti squash. The shame, the disappointment, the squashiness. I switch on the light.

Maddie turns and sets a plastic tub on the counter then catches the refrigerator door before it closes. She takes out one of the green wine bottles we use to chill water. I frame an imaginary photo of the island’s tile countertop with the blurred green spout of the bottle in the foreground and the Tupperware and a stack of junk mail in crisp focus. Beyond them, the haze of the kitchen bleeds into shadows around the dining room table.

“Puberty sucks,” Maddie says, and she places a cast iron pan on the stove. The burner clicks and blossoms into yellow flame. She looks at me. “What?”

I take a brown banana from the fruit basket and peel it. Then I point at her feet. She drops her gaze and smiles—another perfect pic, forever lost. She drizzles olive oil into the pan.

“You look worried,” she says. “Or mad. Are you mad?”

I bite the top of the banana. It’s soft, too full of flavor. I sift the flesh through my teeth, swallow, and make a mental note to search for an article on the chemistry involved in the changing flavor of a ripening banana.

Maddie pries open the plastic tub and pours the chicken curry into the pan. I eat another bite of banana. She opens the cupboard and takes down two glass tumblers, which she fills with water. She sets one in front of me. I slide it back from the edge of the counter. She shakes her head.

“Couldn’t sleep,” she says. “My tummy was growling.”

She gives my cheek a quick peck and turns away to stir the curry. She smells like shampoo. The scents of coriander, cumin, olive oil, and turmeric rise from the pan.

“I’m OK,” she says. “Nothing really happened.”

I take a third bite of banana, and it’s too much. I spit the bite into the sink and run cold water to help the garbage disposal. As it grinds away, Maddie sighs behind me. It’s odd, the way her sigh cuts through the din. I try to take stock of her Facebook posts from recent days, searching for clues. She’s had volleyball, the SAT and Zac Efron on her mind, as far as I can recall. She scrapes chicken curry from the pan onto a plate.

“Want some?” she asks. I wave her off, and she scoops out the last of the curry. “If you’re going to grill me about it, don’t bother.”

I stand there and try to figure out what “it” could be, what grilling I should be doing, what questions won’t shut her down.

She gets out yogurt and spoons it onto her curry then plucks a sprig of cilantro from the windowsill planter, tears the leaves, and sprinkles pieces on her yogurt. Then she stirs it all up.

I go to the utility drawer and take out the quarter-inch Allen wrench, while Maddie stands at the island and eats. I flip all six dining room chairs onto the table. They’ve grown loose and wobbly.

When I finish, they’re sturdy, and Maddie is done with her curry. She puts her plate in the dishwasher then rinses the pan and positions it on the drying rack. She puts the plastic tub back in the refrigerator then takes a deep breath and turns to me.

“He didn’t touch me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

I put the wrench in the drawer and wipe my beard on my sleeve.

“OK,” she says, “fine. He tried something. But I wouldn’t let him. Can we just not have him over to the house anymore?”

I hold out my arms for a hug, but she says goodnight and walks upstairs.

So I pour scotch into a glass. The clock says it’s past one. I get a clean towel from the drawer and wipe the sink dry. Maddie comes back down and sits on the bottom step. She watches me put away the olive oil, the saltshaker, and the yogurt. I set the water bottle in the sink and the spatula in the dishwasher. Then I switch off the stovetop lamp. Moonlight seeps through the windows. I sit by Maddie on the bottom step and put an arm around her. She wipes her face on my shirt.

“Don’t say anything,” she says. “I mean, nothing happened. He just made me uncomfortable. I stood up for myself. You’d be proud.”

I go to the laundry room and come back with the other red sock with Christmas trees. I kneel, lift her foot, remove her yellow sock, and slide the red one over her foot and around her ankle. When I’m done, she raps her knuckles on my sternum and relaxes again. I sit beside her, and she leans into my chest. After a while her breath slows. A column of moonlight angles down from the stairwell window. The silver light cuts across Maddie’s legs. Her knees shine like dinner plates, and her feet fade into the shadows.

 

Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes, a story collection published by Ravenna Press. His work has appeared in The Sun, Zoetrope, Wigleaf, The Collagist, Frigg, Fiddleblack, World Literature Today, and Matter Press. He teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma.

 


Murray Dunlap

Posted by Rod on April 26, 2015

Timing

 

The then tiny Charles Bennett Porter Jr. crouched at the spine of the door, peering through the crack that allowed a partial view of my tall and muscular father as he meticulously polished the bow of a one-man sailboat with a chamois cloth.  My father, Charles senior, designed the boat himself.  He manufactured it in wood to moderate interest.  But then came fiberglass and, boom, just like that, they were snapped up by the hundreds all over the Gulf Coast.  Then the thousands.  Then worldwide.  At fifty years of age, my father sold his sailboat company to an international sporting goods corporation for twenty five million dollars.  The then tiny Bennett was seven years old.  

But two decades spent barking orders in warehouses filled with invisible clouds of fiberglass had seeded my father’s lungs with cancer.  He coughed blood into the chamois.  Charles senior would die quickly.  My drunk-driving mother was already dead.  

I crouched at the spine of the door, peering at my tall and muscular father. The family dog, a liver Mastiff named Tank, sat at his heel.  I was not allowed in the workshop.  I was not allowed to play with the tools.  Hundreds of gleaming devices tempting me, washing away my mindfulness with the ease of a hypnotist’s watch.  I had given in once, taking a simple scraper and pretending it was Excalibur.  I sliced the air and pronounced myself king.

Charles senior took the then tiny Bennett by the wrist and snatched the scraper from his hand, breaking an index finger and spraining a thumb. 

Charles said, “Worthless. Just like your mother.  If only you’d been in the car that day.  Then I wouldn’t have to put up with this shit.  You timed your birth all wrong.  You got here as I was going sour. You never witnessed me as a great man.”

On the drive to the emergency room he said, “I should leave my fortune to the dog. Tank understands obedience.  He knows how to behave.  It’s all a crap shoot anyway.”

I crouched at the spine of the door, seven years old, missing my mother and blaming my father.  My twin sister Eleanor was a shadow.  A ghost.  She quietly appeared and disappeared from rooms, scribbling in her diary with delicate hands. When she left home for an all girls’ boarding school, it went entirely unnoticed.  But then, how could I know if it was any different for me?

I had imagined my life with a gleaming sword and a white horse.  An impenetrable suit of armor.  Not the boarding schools and demerits and paddles to come.  I did not imagine Yale, nor did I imagine being kicked out.  I did not imagine finishing school at the University of Alabama, starting a life in real estate, or falling in with dishonest developers and sour deals.  I did not imagine Eleanor’s wedding or the shock of her new, self-assured personality that bloomed with love.

I did not imagine my life in a waterfront mansion bought with inherited money.  Nor did I imagine two wives, a mistress, five scattered children, glasses of whiskey in shaking hands, and skin surely turning yellow.  I did not imagine losing touch with all of my childhood friends.  I did not imagine weeklong blackouts, DT’s, or the ridiculous, useless interventions.  I did not imagine the shame.

Instead, I thought about how the shape of a certain tool, in this case a handheld power saw, seemed to contain magical qualities.  That the shape and size and the terrible beauty of sharpened metal made an inanimate object somehow come to life.  I desperately longed to touch each tool.  I imagined handling them all, conjuring their secrets and unlocking hidden spells.  I imagined a line of socket wrenches beginning to march like toy soldiers.  I imagined table saws humming as a line of teak planks floated across the blade, hammers and nails taking flight with hummingbird wings and swirling about the room.  The tools would work in concert, assembling a sailboat of perfect proportions.  I imagined my life as a master craftsman, no -an artist, whose magical boats would be revered, exponentially beyond my fathers.’

After Charles died, the then tiny Bennett stepped the workshop.  He beelined for the handheld powersaw, plugged it in, and promptly cut off the top half of his pinky finger.  Little Bennett could not have imagined the boundless trajectory of this omen.

I could not have imagined that I would die without love.  I supposed I timed that all wrong as well. My father would have moaned about my lack of grace. Of course, he would have moaned about everything, including my sadly lived life.

Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in about fifty magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, as well as to Best New American Voices once, and his first book, -an early draft of "Bastard Blue" (then called "Alabama") was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. His first collection of short stories, "Bastard Blue," was published on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniversary of a car wreck that very nearly killed him). The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.  See http://www.murraydunlap.com for a look at his work.


This week's Firebox Fiction

Posted by Rod on April 17, 2015



Memory of a Turtle

by Debbie Ann Ice

 

Sarah sat on the sofa, slumped over her bowl of cereal, a cartoon flashing before her. Small pearl- sized drops of milk lay still upon her thigh; a few more littered the coffee table. Her parents were in the kitchen fighting. She feigned disinterest, but she didn’t miss much.

“One night on the water with all of us is not going to mess her up.” Her Daddy stopped talking a while. The refrigerator opened with a loud suck. “She’ll like it. We’re not doing anything evil for Christ’s sakes.” The fizzy pop and rip of the metal tab interrupted something her mama said--probably, what if y’all get caught. Her mama was always concerned about getting caught.  

 Sarah stirred her Cheerios while she watched the coyote whir around the mountain, dust rising from its feet. This was her favorite show. She loved how the ratty-looking animal kicked up the dry, flat land.  

“I give up,” her mama finally said, now standing in the den in front of Sarah. “I give up on all of you. Take her on your little adventure.” She stared at Sarah, her lips no longer pinched, but limp and sad.  

Sarah kept all facial muscles still. She didn’t want her mama detecting any sign of victory.

The moonlight dappled the white-tipped canyons of water rising up behind the whaler, now going full blast.  Sarah’s daddy stood with her brother at the wheel; behind their boat Mr. Harkle’s Mako jumped the wake as he whooped and held up his Budweiser. Sarah’s Daddy raised his can and yelled back, something manly and as wild as the salty water that stung Sarah’s skin.

It took them a good forty minutes to reach Warsaw Sound, another twenty minutes before they found the Island. Dr. Timmer said he was sure this was the place. Sarah’s job was the same as always when they made trips to islands. She took the rope, jumped into the water and pulled the boat to shore. After everyone was properly anchored, they began the search. The flashlights cut through the dark like the beams at the circus Sarah attended in Savannah the year before; distant dunes, marsh grass, retreating backs of men, flickered on and off as the light passed by. The crackle of small waves sounded like bacon frying on Sunday morning. In the distance, Mr. Harkle whooped and hollered as he drug his cooler inland.

Sarah’s brother found it first. It looked like a large rock until it moved. They all circled it, aiming their flashlights at its head and bumpy back. Behind the creature lay evidence of its hard battle--tracks that looked like a small trunk had been pushed in a straight line away and towards the water.

Sarah kneeled before it, regarded its limpid stare. She grabbed her daddy’s arm and stood on its back. Its movement never slowed; its energy never faltered.

When it finally reached the area where waves succumbed to land, Dr. Timmer’s voice rose from someplace further up the beach. “I found them. She laid a bunch. Go get me a bucket.”

The next morning when Sarah’s daddy scrambled his share of the eggs, he offered a serving to Sarah. The feral taste made her feel sick. As Sarah scraped the eggs into the garbage pail, her mother slowly approached.

“I don’t want to listen to your stories about last night. So don’t try to tell me.”

Sarah put her plate in the sink and stared at it while her mama continued.

“You need to live before you tell this story. After you live a while, you see, your memory ferments. Don’t tell you story till that memory ferments.”

At eight, Sarah recalled the rough carapace under her feet.

At twenty-two, after college but before her settled, saner life, Sarah recalled the wobbling rock-like body disappearing slowly into the waves.

At thirty-two, with two children hanging onto her every breath, she recalled the turtle’s impervious, dignified eyes.

At forty-eight, after she lost her first boy in Iraq, she recalled the indefatigable forward momentum of a mother, as men stole the eggs she left behind.


Coming soon!

Posted by Rod on April 17, 2015

This will be our new home for Firebox Fiction. Next story on its way soon!


Temporarily Shutting Down Submissions

Posted by Rod on April 11, 2015

Night Train has temporarily shut down submissions so we can get caught up. We're busy with AWP, and with some staff turnover. We'll be back later in 2015. Meanwhile, if you've submitted, please be patient while we work through the submissions. Thanks!


The story plunks the reader into a post-apocalyptic scene painted with vivid albeit bleak strokes. The gruesome baggage taken on by the carrier becomes a symbol, a desperate supplication, an irrational bargaining chip against hopelessness and catastrophe. It shows a man coping under terrible circumstances in a way we, as readers, may not understand, but we can feel.


~ The Editors


Why We Took It - "The Big House" by Mather Schneider

Posted by Rod on January 5, 2015

Mather Schneider's work in poetry and prose has gone unnoticed for too 
long. His long and consistent publication history is only part of the 
package. The trenchant observations of the narrator in this piece are 
fully matched by the precision of the prose and the absolute fidelity to 
the felt-life detail. Schneider should be read and reread. His prose 
book will be out soon by the grace of God and a willing forward-looking 
publisher.

~The Editors

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