Bruce Harris' fiction has appeared in The First Line, elimae, BULL, and Pine Tree Mysteries. He enjoys relaxing with a Marxman.
It was Tuesday night, so he called Chan’s and ordered the usual, #22. As usual, he handed the driver a twenty and told him to keep the change. He became violently ill, vomiting for hours. As usual, he ignored the message. He hadn’t listened carefully. The menu options had changed.
Bruce Harris' fiction has appeared in The First Line, elimae, BULL, and Pine Tree Mysteries. He enjoys relaxing with a Marxman.
Rick Thome, the mayor of our small town, had an epiphany while on a two-week road trip with his wife.
“Every single town we drove through had a sign honoring some famous resident, alive or dead,” he said to me at the hardware store where I work.
“Anyone famous ever come from Tannersville?” I asked.
“Well, as a matter of fact, yes,” the mayor said. “That’s why I’m here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said while clearing his throat, “I think you are our town’s biggest celebrity, and that we should put up a commemorative sign that says as much. And maybe even have an unveiling ceremony.”
“Mayor, I don’t know how you define celebrity, but I haven’t done anything but run this store,” I said, laughing. “Hell, that doesn’t even warrant a cardboard sign.”
“No, no, that’s where you’re wrong. Didn’t you once chair a committee of the state’s model train club?”
“Yes, I chaired the bylaws committee for one year, but that was only because no one else would,” I said. “Besides, it was no big deal.”
“Well, you’re wrong again,” the mayor said. “I happen to think it’s a very big deal, and I’m going to ask Ralph at Avril’s Repair Shop to make a metal sign we can post alongside the highway.”
“Don’t you think that’s going a bit overboard? It was one stupid committee in an organization nobody gives two hoots about,” I said, getting back to erecting the new display of flashlight batteries.
“Now, Tom, where’s your sense of civic pride?” the mayor said as he walked toward the door. “Every town needs a celebrity. And you deserve this.”
The mayor left and I finished the battery display. Throughout the day, I found myself often forgetting to thank customers, something I never do. I must admit, the idea of being identified as a famous resident, even a small-town one, began to grow on me. I lost all patience with any dumb-ass customers who claimed they couldn’t find the hammers or electrical tape. And I had to bite my tongue when anyone came in with a return.
Between these fits of frustration, I reminded myself how many people find enjoyment in model trains, especially during the holidays. My work on the club’s by-laws committee must have had tremendous impact even if I didn’t realize it before.
I figured the highway sign would likely be my only shot at a lasting legacy. As soon as I closed the store at 6, I called the mayor and asked if a parade down Main Street was out of the question.
Steve Kissing’s stories and poems have appeared (or soon will) in such print and online journals as: THICK WITH CONVICTION, BEST POEM, BULL and PATERSON LITERARY REVIEW. Kissing’s first chapbook, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST (Big Table Publishing), was published in the fall of 2009. He can be reached at www.stevekissing.com.
Imagine the year is 1984. It’s Easter morning and your hair is on fire. It’s your earliest memory; you’re only five years old.
You don’t realize your blond locks are burning until your uncle knocks the bonnet on the furry brown carpet shaped like a monkey and smothers your head with his lime green v-neck sweater. You know it’s lime green because you always see him wearing it proudly in the Polaroid photo taken a few hours prior to the incident. This photo spent two decades hanging crooked in a wooden frame on your parents’ wall going up the staircase so you had to look at it every day, until you summoned the courage of convictions and burnt down the house, making it look like an anonymous arsonist did it.
There’s a lemon wedge hanging from the edge of his Bloody Mary and a big fat stick of celery the color of his sweater protruding from the viscous crimson liquid. There’s a red plastic straw across the top of his glass, with a green olive dangling precariously just above the liquid, like a tightrope walker in a circus.
Later that afternoon Uncle Bob is sitting beside you on the bed, his hand nefariously on your shoulder, the basket of chocolate and Cadbury Crème Eggs with the fake green grass on your lap, your fingers clenching the mosquito netting. You’re in Costa Rica on vacation. On the day you were born your only uncle was one of the American captives held hostage during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
“It’s good to be home with you Joey,” Uncle Bob says. His arm is across your shoulders like in the photo, and his smile is also the same: perfect white teeth and dimples in both cheeks; as if he was still a little boy, who just happened to be trapped in the body of a forty year old man. “I know you don’t know me well,” Bob says, “but the thought of your mother pregnant kept me going when times were tough an’ Uncle Bob knew she wanted to get pregnant an’ I knew you’d be a blessing.”
Bob lights a cigarette and takes a sip of his vodka tonic (Bloody Marys having been replaced with the more intoxicating beverages as the bright morning faded into a hazy early afternoon and the monster began to come out of hiding). He steps up from the bed and stumbles happily to the door, checking to make sure it’s locked. Satisfied, Uncle Bob returns to the bed and lifts you in his arms toward the fireplace in the corner. Library was what he called the room, but which was actually the master bedroom where your mother and father slept, but the shelves above the bed were filled with hundreds of books and Uncle Bob took pleasure in believing you were in a different, less intimate environment.
The fireplace was only ornamental, but Bob decides to light some of the books on fire. Creating a raging inferno, he tears out pages and lights them with his gold plated cigarette lighter with the inscription: “Home is where the heart is….Welcome home baby brother.” Your mother kept the lighter after Bob’s heroic death during the first war in Iraq less than a decade later. “He was always serving his country,” she told you after his ashes were placed in an urn above your mantle, just down the hall from the photo of that April 22nd afternoon when you lost your innocence.
Bob laughs like a devil when he notices the white smoke drifting into the room because he forgot to open the chimney flue. “Look Joey,” he says as he begins to sing, “Santa Claus is coming to town.” He uses your Easter egg basket to fan the smoke back into the fireplace. You see sweat glistening on his forehead and stains under his armpits. His face is red and his eyes grow wide and wild like an owl’s and he begins using a towel to help direct the smoke toward the chimney and he gives you a smile and says, “everything will be fine my favorite nephew.”
You wonder what would have occurred if he read all those books instead of destroying them like inanimate logs of literature. Would he be smarter? Would he still be alive?
You’re watching the smoke and pages turning yellow and the edges blackening in the fire before rising into the air like restless paper bubbles. Bob grabs your bonnet; the one your mother spent weeks working on. He stamps it out on the carpet and sends you a message with his eyes; you don’t understand it. Bob kicks the bonnet around and it leaves a mark in the monkey fur, like a pile of foliage protecting the grass after snowfall.
The room is spinning and the back of your head is burning and everything is green and the next thing you know you wake up in Bob’s lap and his sweater has a huge hole in the back and your gold He-Man t-shirt is on backwards and he’s rubbing your hair in the front where it wasn’t burned. “Everything is fine now Joey,” he says. “The fire is gone.”
There’s a knock on the door and Bob places you on the bed and opens it. Your mother is standing there with a horrified expression. “Oh God, what happened Bob?”
“We godda little too close to the fire, but it’s ok, everything’s fine.”
Your mother looks at Uncle Bob and you wonder if she knows what you know and you wonder what the hell you’re doing in the US Air Force twenty-five years later and what the smoke will look like when it rises into the horizon after you join forces with your allies in defending freedom and protecting Israel after their preemptive invasion on Iranian nuclear facilities, when you finally become a man, break your silence, aim your weapons and fire.
Matthew Dexter lives in Mexico. He will also probably die in Mexico. This lunatic gringo enjoys beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, reading, writing, and being inspired. But never candlelit dinners on the beach. He’s afraid of Pirates.
Father left on a Thursday. He took only a green vinyl suitcase filled with his clothes and the pack of cigarettes he always left on the small table near the front door. He didn’t hug me. He didn’t hug any of us. Instead, he shook my hand, his grip so firm I felt the bones of my hands crumbling in on themselves. His palm was sweaty but lodged in the center of it was something square and hard that he left pressed to my hand. He did not say goodbye to my mother, my sister, my brother. He planted his hat firmly on his head and as he made his way to his car, he kicked our toys and bicycles out of the way, clearing a path for himself.
I ran up to my room, closed the door behind me, then leaned against it and sank to the floor. In my hand, a tightly folded square of paper. I brought my hand to my nose, could smell my father’s cigarettes and his cologne, bourbon. I carefully opened the note. In his precise handwriting, an address and the words “our secret, and in my chest, a bright splintering rush of joy.
The next day after school, instead of going home with my siblings, I told them I had things to do. I took a bus to the other side of town watching the buildings sag lower and lower, their facades growing darker, tagged with graffiti, the people became more hunched and hollow. I took the bus all the way to a trailer park where laundry hung outside to dry and loud salsa music blared from cars on cinder blocks and Christmas lights lined every door. It was the most perfect place I had ever seen. I knocked on an aluminum door bearing the address in my father’s note and after a while, a woman wearing a thin, gauzy pink robe answered the door. She had a long face and dark circles beneath her eyes. Her cheekbones were incredibly high and her nose ran to a neat little point, then turned up. Her lips were painted dark brown and she smelled like sex, or what I imagined sex smelled like, and too much perfume. She looked down at me in my tank top, torn jeans, canvas sneakers and sniffed, then stood to the side, one arm holding the doorjamb. I ducked beneath her and found my father, bare-chested, sitting on an easy chair, smiling. He slapped the card tray next to him, sending its contents flying every which way. “I knew my girl would come,” he said. “I just knew it.”
The story would become that my father ran away and no one knew where he was. My mother shared the story with anyone who would listen—my siblings and I, our teachers, our friends’ mothers, her boyfriends, her boss. With each telling, his leaving became more dramatic, more violent. “That man just walked out on his children. That’s what hurts the most,” she would say. “They had to see him, screaming at us as he walked out the door, his filthy spit flying everywhere. He broke a window. He cut me here,” and she would hold out her arm, pointing to an invisible scar. Father never called, never stopped by. Eventually, my mother and brother and sister forgot about him, and my mother remarried—a guy named Steve who managed a McDonald’s and always brought us cold French fries at the end of his shift. My mother acted like those fries were something more than they were. She held her arms wide open to him and his polyester uniform and said she loved a man who tasted like salt and grease.
Until I graduated, I visited my father in his trailer every day. He worked the late shift so he was just waking up when I stopped by. He let me drink coffee and sometimes, beer and pretended he could help me while I did my homework. He told me why he left, recounted my mother’s transgressions, told me how he wished he could have taken me with him but my mother would have never let me go. He told me how much he loved me, how I was different, I was his. Some nights, I came home late. My mother would be sitting on the couch in the family room next to Steve, her legs draped over his, drinking beer in foam sleeves. She’d inhale deeply and frown, say, “You smell like your father,” and I would shrug and enjoy a terrible thrill knowing he was with me, in my skin. Lying in my bed, I recalled each perfect details of our visits—his crowded trailer, his girlfriend who never wore anything but thin bathrobes while she made us fried chicken and eggs, the ashtrays piled with stale cigarette butts, his boozy laugh, his wet lips against my neck, his hand in the small of my back. I fell asleep every single night holding the note he left me, holding our secret, feel its warmth pulsing in my hand.
Roxane Gay's work appears or is forthcoming in Hobart, Gargoyle, Monkeybicycle, Keyhole, DOGZPLOT and others. She is the associate editor of PANK and can be found online at http://www.roxanegay.com.
“I went to the yuwipi man two nights ago.”
“Really?” Surprised, Rebecca Spotted Elk turns to Tommy Amiotte, then walks with him along a pasture just beyond Crazy Horse School where she teaches, in Wambli, on the Oglala Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She’s not sure what this is leading up to. It’s not good. Sunset, the distant badlands glow pink, a fantasy landscape. Two paint mares drift toward the fence line.
“I told the yuwipi man I feel like I’m losing something,” Tommy says.
Sometimes in night ceremonies the yuwipi man can find what is lost. Sometimes he heals the sick. It’s stone medicine. Twenty-four year old Rebecca does not go to yuwipi, doesn’t believe, is not a traditionalist. Tommy does. Rebecca thinks maybe she shouldn’t be seeing him. They‘re so different. They have been together off and on all summer. Although sunlight stains the sky, clouds spread out of the west from the unseen Black Hills, a fan of purple darkness starting to cover the intense rose gold.
“You think I’m crazy going to a night doing,” he says, looking down, shifting his feet.
“No.” But maybe she does. She teaches kindergarten. Does she want to live like he does? Live in the past? He puts his hand on hers, electric shock. Desire. They stand close, not speaking, not looking at one another, but close as a breath. She wants him. “What did he say?” she asks. She doesn‘t like the yuwipi man, Charlie Lip, doesn‘t know why. “Is something wrong?” She doesn’t believe, but everyone believes in trouble, bad news. “Is everything okay?”
“I went to Lip’s place. We put out all the lights. Covered the windows with blankets, like you’re supposed to, you know. They wrapped him in the star blanket, tied it with ropes. Sometimes people see lights, then, in the dark. Little ones.” He hesitates.
“Did you see lights?” She’s always wondered about this.
“I saw something.” He walks a pace closer to the barbed wire fence, and a swirl of dust rises on the far ridge. “He got out of the ropes, somehow. Nobody untied him. When we lit the kerosene lamp, he was untied.”
The fan of cloud is a storm reaching out of the west, off the Black Hills, reaching out from Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Allen, taking the sky. The badlands go still, ominous. Ugly light, stormlight, spreads over the rangeland, stains the grass ochre. Without knowing how, like seeing the distance from a rise in the land and knowing what’s out there, Rebecca Spotted Elk suddenly knows what will happen. Time twists. She knows.
“What did you say you lost?” Tommy doesn’t answer. She knows and doesn’t know how she knows. “Me?”
Interested in poetry and flash fiction, Janet Shell Anderson has been published in All My Grandmothers Could Sing and had flash fiction recently published in Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz and Scruffy Dog Review. She is an attorney.
In the house at night I hear the clock tick upstairs, under the heads of deer, under vanilla antlers and eyes like shooter marbles. I have wandered awake, my hand smoothing the walls, my arms like out wings. It’s a dance to find the stairs, to roam the halls and into your old room, which never really belonged to you and only keeps your worn out flannels and gloves. If you came back as a guest, this room is where you’d stay, but it wouldn’t feel like yours.
Once a woman read my cards from a chair on her porch and remarked on the house, the short cases of stairs, the numerous levels and the shadow of someone always walking up and down and sitting on the edges of beds. And my father, she said, would weep in the midst of conversations. And my mother would twice rearrange her knee falling up the stairs. The woman closed her eyes, touched the cards to the felt blanket over her legs, said she could see a hand writing my name, and there was a seal of approval and the man I loved in his blackest hair and children, who would come late to me.
Some nights I think of her hands, stained purple and of the gray edges of her cards, the wax worn down to the paper, the faces of the royals smudged to ovals. I try to sleep these nights but end up on the porch instead, watching a daddy long legs walk the walls.
Lydia Copeland’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Quick Fiction, Glimmer Train, Dogzplot, elimae, FRiGG, Pindeldyboz, Twelve Stories, SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train and others. Her chapbook, Haircut Stories, is available from the Achilles Chapbook Series, as well as part of the chapbook collective Fox Force 5 from Paper Hero Press. She works in Manhattan and lives in New Jersey with her husband and son.