Yellow Ribbons – Pene Morley

 

The newspaper did nothing to stop the cold seeping from the wooden bench into Steve’s bones. He hugged his anorak tighter around his shoulders and tucked his hands under his armpits. Swapping that old blanket for a tin of baked beans had been a bad idea.

Shoppers, muffled up in coats and scarves and hats, trudged to and fro in front of him. Most ignored him, but some watched him out of the tail of an eye as they passed him. He wanted to grab them and tell them, ‘I was like you once, before I went to fight your bloody war’, but he knew they wouldn’t believe him; they never did.

A woman hurled a half-eaten burger into the bin at his elbow, and he eyed it for a moment before snatching it up. Then he noticed the girl staring at him, knock-kneed, gripping a plait in each hand as though she thought her hair was going to fly off.

‘It’s for my dog,’ he said, nodding to where the lurcher was curled up among the carrier bags at his feet.

The dog raised its shaggy head at the sound of his voice, and he tossed the burger between its paws. It snapped it up.

‘What’s his name?’ the girl said, edging closer.

‘I don’t know. I call him Bob but he’s not really my dog; he just follows me around.’

‘Can I stroke him?’

Steve nodded. The girl bounced down on to the ground at his feet with a grin, and the lurcher stretched out his neck to sniff her mouth, his tail thumping the pavement.

‘My dog’s called Scruffy,’ she said, giggling and squirming as Bob licked her face. ‘I got him when my daddy died but nobody can see him; he’s invisible.’

Steve crumpled up the burger bag and chucked it into the bin. Not having a dad must be tough on the kid, but you wouldn’t know it looking at her now. She was holding Bob’s ears up like butterfly wings and chatting to him about everything and nothing. Steve was about to ask her about her dad, when a slip of a woman rushed up and grabbed her by the shoulders.

‘How many times have I told you not to run off like that, Anna?’ she said, pulling the girl on to her feet.

Anna twisted in her grip. ‘I just wanted to see that man; I thought he was daddy.’

The woman’s body slumped, like a puppet no longer in play. She glanced over at Steve, exasperated, and for an instant he thought her tired eyes were pleading with him for help.

Then she tugged at Anna’s arm. ‘Come on, I don’t want you bothering him.’

‘But he’s got a dog,’ Anna said, digging in her heels, ‘and it’s real.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘And he’s got no laces.’

‘What..?’

Her mother stopped pulling her arm and turned to Steve. She studied his cracked, unlaced army boots and then looked back at Anna, frowning.

‘Remember when Daddy’s laces broke and he used my ribbons to tie his trainers,’ Anna said. She smiled at Steve. ‘Would you like my ribbons for your boots?’ She knelt at his feet. ‘I think they’ll look ever so pretty,’ she said, threading her ribbons through the lace holes.

Her mother gazed at Steve as if to say, ‘I’m sorry, about her’. He grinned at her, and she reached down to stroke Bob and hide the flush of colour that had appeared in her cheeks.

 

 

PM bio picPene Morley lives in the south of Germany with her husband, teenage son and two Labradors. She discovered very short stories on Twitter over a year ago and now tries daily to do one of the writing prompts. Since then she has also started writing flash fiction and is writing a novel which she hopes to have finished soon. You can follow her on Twitter @PeneMorley.

Foal – Anthony Watts

 

On Thorncombe Hill

I saw the world

 

balanced

upon four saplings

 

itself-begetting

in the dew of the foal’s eyes

 

who whinnying

down nostrils newly bored

 

printed upon that

immemorial quietude

 

his infant sneeze.

 

 

Anthony Watts - head & shoulder portrait (3)Anthony Watts has been writing ‘seriously’ for about 40 years. He has won 26 First Prizes in poetry competitions and was longlisted for the National Poetry Competition 2014. His poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Poetry Salzburg Review, The Rialto and Riggwelter. His fifth collection, Stiles, is due to be published by Paekakariki Press. His home is in rural Somerset and his main interests are poetry, music, walking and binge thinking – activities which he finds can be happily combined.

Fox – Paul Waring

 

Out on a night

like this

you swagger

aloof

star on stage

under diffused

orange spotlight.

I see you sashay

soft brush tail

lithe limbs

quiet as a whisper

across grass

as I close

my fourth floor window.

You look up

as if you know me

bat-ear surveillance

and dark adapted eyes

aimed like arrows

into mine.

 

 

IMG_6036Paul Waring is a retired clinical psychologist who once designed menswear and was a singer/songwriter in Liverpool bands. He is a 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee whose poems have been published in Foxglove Journal, Prole, Amaryllis, High Window, Atrium, Algebra of Owls, Clear Poetry, Ofi Press, Marble Poetry, The Lampeter Review and others. Find more at https://waringwords.wordpress.com.

3:18am – Beth O’Brien

 

3:18am is awake like its own alarm.

 

We bump into each other on the landing

because we are restless at the same time,

for different reasons,

and we jostle for position in the darkness,

 

both of us waiting for the other

to find the light switch.

 

 

unnamed (3)Beth O’Brien is currently studying a degree in English Literature at the University of Birmingham. She loves reading, writing, food and seeing the world – when any of these overlap, she loves them even more!

Nickeled-and-Dimed – Iris N. Schwartz

 

Brooklyn, New York; 1967

In the middle of the sitcom “Love on A Rooftop,” Lenore, eight, announced she had swallowed a nickel. Her voice was low, her words measured.

Imogene rushed over. “Are you sure?”

Her sister nodded.

Imogene paced the living room, muttered, “How could this happen?” Regarding her younger sister on the sofa still watching Judy Carne, the eleven-year-old again probed, “Are you sure?”

Lenore smiled, slightly.

“Why? On the one night Mother and Dad go out!” Suddenly Imogene was speaking with an emergency operator. “I don’t know how it happened!” and “She’s breathing fine.”

She hung up, shut the TV, glared at Lenore. “You better not be making this up!”

“I’m not.”

“Because if you are…”

The doorbell rang. Two lanky young men in police uniforms were at the door. They probably hadn’t spotted the mold on the mezuzah.

“Is this the household with the coin swallower?”

“Yes, yes, oh God,” the older sibling responded.

Blond Policeman sat down by the unsteady kitchen table. Brunet Policeman stood nearby in the living room, examining the family’s antique, glass-doored bookcase. He seemed rooted there. Would he be nesting soon?

“Can I get you coffee?” asked Imogene. “Gum?”

“No, we’re fine.”

Brunet finally walked into the kitchen. He and Blond questioned Lenore about how she’d swallowed a “Buffalo nickel,” which she “collected,” and was “examining in the dark.” She “didn’t want to bother her sister” by turning on a light. When the eight-year-old held the nickel high, it tumbled from her left thumb and forefinger into her open mouth.

Blond: “Any trouble breathing since the incident?”

“No.” Lenore spotted a humongous water bug by the table leg closest to Blond. Would he notice?

Brunet asked the older sister their parents’ whereabouts.

“Oh, God… they’re at a PTA meeting, and were planning to eat out. They haven’t been out in years, and…”

Brunet: “Well, we need a family member over eighteen to tell us whether she’ll stay here or go to the hospital…”

Lenore gulped. She hadn’t been to a hospital since her tonsillectomy. They hadn’t given her ice cream afterwards like they promised. Just watery Jello. She wouldn’t go! She tried to stomp on the water bug as it neared. It sped away.

Imogene decided their parents should be called and brought home.

Dad grumbled that this was the first time in three years they’d gone out, and now they were back. Early. Mother wore makeup. The sisters knew not to look her in the eyes, hers with mascara, theirs not.

Blond told Mother and Dad that Lenore could get her stomach pumped in a hospital, or the collectible coin would come out the next couple of days if she ate fibrous food and drank lots of water.

Brunet admired out loud the glass-doored bookcase. Was it for sale? Dad and Mother shook their heads, no.

The parents let nature take its course. They didn’t yell at or spank Imogene or Lenore. Mostly Dad grunted; Mother favored silence.

Two days later a dusky Buffalo nickel was affixed to orange contact paper, accompanied by Dad’s funny words. This was taped to the door leading to the basement. Anyone who visited could read it. It hung on that door for a year.

Lenore had dreams involving Blond and Brunet till early spring.

 

ins current cropped (1)Iris N. Schwartz is the author of more than forty works of fiction. Her literary fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including 101 Words, The Flash Fiction Press, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published widely, as well. Ms. Schwartz’s first short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth: And Other Stories, is scheduled to be published by Poets Wear Prada in Autumn 2017.

Darjeeling – Sudha Balagopal

 

The voice on the scratchy microphone announces a weather-related train delay. Rubbing cold hands, Jon makes his way to the station’s cafeteria. A petite young woman with high cheekbones sits at a table by the window; her hodgepodge bags lie strewn.

“May I?” he points to the vacant chair.

When she nods, he settles down, orders Darjeeling tea —fitting for Northeastern India. Despite grimy windows, the snow-capped Himalayas are breathtaking, clouds bobbing around majestic peaks.

“I’m Jon.” He rests his elbows on the table. “You’re from here?”

She resettles the woolen shawl over her shoulders. “I’m… Saya.” She gestures toward the mountains, says, “I’m from there,” in accented English.

“Lucky.”

She shrugs.

Tea arrives; he removes the cozy, pours himself a cup.

“I suppose your train’s delayed too? On your way home?” he asks.

“No.”

The tea is delicate, fragrant. She’s prickly.

“I’m heading further north.” He smiles, attempts humor. “Perhaps I’ll find Shangri-La.”

“Good luck.” She frowns. “You won’t have cell phones there, or internet. No movies or restaurants.”

She doesn’t like her mountain home?

He watches as she gathers her belongings and leaves the cafeteria.

***

Later, he spots her huddled against cutting wind, peering at the tracks on the opposite side of the platform. No trains on either side. More raspy words emerge from the microphone.

He pulls the hoodie over his head, approaches her.

“Hello, again!” He intends to inquire about his train.

She doesn’t turn around to look at him.

The wind swirls her words, attempts to take them. He thinks she says, “Go away!”

“Where?” He tries humor again.

“What?”

“I want to find out about this train delay. Please understand I’ve come a long way to see the Himalayas.”

“What you imagine isn’t… I can tell you my mountain village is closed, small, suffocating. The sameness…” She’s bitter; her nostrils quiver.

“I shouldn’t look for lost paradise?” He hopes his smile is disarming.

“You and your Shangri-La!” She turns to look at him, her cheeks red.

“What’s wrong with wanting to find it?” He pulls on gloves, drops the smile.

She glares at him. “It’s not real!”

Another incoherent announcement comes through the system. He tilts his head and closes his eyes to make sense of it.

When he opens them, she’s slipped away in her noiseless manner.

***

He walks into the station manager’s office. They tell him all trains, up and down, are canceled until tomorrow. He must find lodgings for the night.

A commotion as an older, heavy-set man bursts in. “Saya!” he yells, the single word wrapped in menace. Jon doesn’t understand the rest.

While officials attempt to calm the man, Jon’s eyes scour the platforms.

The sun weakens and heavy clouds gather. Soon, the mountains are obscured. Along with Saya, Shangri-La is lost in the horizon.

 

Author2.1Sudha Balagopal’s recent short fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak, Peacock Journal, Right Hand Pointing and Jellyfish Review among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. Read more at www.sudhabalagopal.com.