Spectacular Toaster – Steven Translateur

 

“That’s the fifth slice of toast burnt,” lamented Brad to his mother.

He tried to toast whole wheat bread and got nothing but chards of carbon.

“Let’s go to the Appliance Emporium for a real toaster this time!” exclaimed Lodia. “Let’s splurge.”

So she and Brad rode down to the store to browse.

They found aisles and aisles of distinct devices from the budget cost to the extravagant.

“May I help you?” inquired Ginrey, a salesman.

“Yes,” said Lodia. “We want a toaster with a guarantee – the best.”

“Then you may be interested in our Jet 5000 – it is the greatest toaster machine ever built. It is so good that we guarantee a perfect slice of toast each utilization. If this does not happen, we refund your money and give you another free toaster. All you have to do is bring the crumbs of a failed toast in for the refund.”

“How much is it?”

“200 pounds.”

“It is worth it. We’ll take it.”

And so they did.

And they used it for a month before it began malfunctioning. It started burning toast just like their previous model.

So they returned to the Appliance Emporium with two slices of charcoal toast crumbs in a bag to show the salesman.

He was not impressed. He said that they were manufacturing the failure and that their toaster would work fine if used properly. He gave them the runaround and argued for all the virtues of the Jet 5000 and said that rarely does anybody actually return it – only if they cannot get it to function properly despite trying every approach.

Then they spoke to a supervisor and he agreed to give the refund plus a free toaster. The free toaster was a budget model called the Economy Toaster.

The Economy Toaster never worked right, but because it was free, they used it anyway, for a few months, until it began malfunctioning and they got sick of it. Instead of toast it began over cooking bread to the point of near disintegration. They tried repairing it but the contraption just got worse and worse. It destroyed several loaves of bread and burnt otherwise good pastries.

Then they returned to the Appliance shop for more help.

This time they purchased a brand new model called the Jet 8000. It had the same guarantee as the Jet 5000 but was more advanced. It had every feature one could imagine for such an invention – three timers, a heat sensor, a toast evaluator that rated the toast from mediocre to excellent, a mechanical voice that could give instructions in 15 languages, a jam dispenser doohickey, a battery power backup, two solar panels power grid, a television for watching the best shows, a video camera for recording cooking fun, a melted cheese releaser, a two way transmitter for contacting the store’s 24 hour help-line, a spare bread holder, and rows and rows of multi-colored blinking light indicators.

They loved it!

They now know it costs 800 pounds for a perfect toaster.

 

 

Steven Translateur’s work has appeared in a variety of publications including
MEMES, MIND IN MOTION, and NEXT PHASE.

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A Storm in My Heart – Geraldine McCarthy

 

We sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor, slugging cheap red wine. Our combined CD collections lie in a heap between us.

“How’re you set for tomorrow’s classes?” Kate asks, ever smiling, ever upbeat.

I frown. “I think my lesson plans are okay, but I hope my supervisor doesn’t come ‘til next week.”

“Maybe that’s because you’re a bit of a perfectionist, Rachel?” she says, gently. “Me, I hope my notes are good enough. After that, Mr Davis will have to take me as he finds me.”

We have a tendency to talk shop. Thursday night, our housemates are out on the batter, but we need to be reasonably fresh for school.

“So, what are we going to play next?” I ask, stretching my legs to avoid the feeling of pins and needles.

“‘Here Comes the Sun.’” Kate puts the CD in, closes her eyes, throws back her head, and smiles.

The tune fills the room. I can see how it would be her favourite. I sip more wine and marvel at the simplicity of the lyrics.

The song ends and we allow a silence to settle.

“Your turn,” she says.

I hesitate. “It’s called ‘A Storm in My Heart.’” I flip through the CDs, find Dolores Keane, and kneel to pop the disc in the player. Music fills the room and I feel like an empty Coke can being tossed down the street in the wind.

The smile slips from Kate’s face. Song over, she is first to speak.  “It’s a bit dark, isn’t it?”

“I suppose.” An image of Dan in his best suit comes to me unbidden. He wore it  – navy with a delicate pinstripe – at my cousin’s wedding. Our last outing.

“Maybe we should finish up for the night,” she says, “in case of a supervision tomorrow?”

“You’re right.” I tidy the CDs into two neat piles.

We troop upstairs.

I toss and turn in my bed. Five years I’d gone out with Dan. It started with the Debs. I invited him. Always that insecurity that I was the one to ask him. Then, last summer when I got back from a holiday in Australia, he said he’d been seeing someone else.

They say grieving for a living person is worse than grieving for the dead. They also say we can create hell in our own heads. Is that what I’ve been doing?

Before drifting off to sleep, I imagine tree branches becoming still again, clouds parting, debris being swept away, and a ray of sneaky sunshine poking through.

 

 

IMG_0407Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork. In a former life she was involved in tutoring, lecturing, translation and research. She has been writing short stories and flash fiction for nearly three years now. Her work has been published in The Fable Online, The Incubator Journal, Seven Deadly Sins: a YA Anthology (Gluttony, Wrath, Avarice), Scarlet Leaf Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction and Every Day Fiction. Find her at https://www.facebook.com/cruthaitheacht.

A Problem Shared – Laura Muetzelfeldt

 

Everything important Mum ever told me she told me while cracking eggs. The news was always followed by a business-like tap, freeing wobbly flying saucers from their shells. Mum could crack eggs and open them with one-handed, something I tried to get the hang of, but couldn’t; I always ended up having to rescue tiny triangles of shell from the goo. Making cupcakes to sell at school she told me once they found a lump inside her which turned out to be her twin, dead and swallowed before she was born. Her stories always lasted as long as the recipe took to make, then we would sit down with Dad, and the secrets would fizz inside me as he tucked into whatever we’d just baked, not knowing what I now knew.

Most of the secrets she told me were to do with love. Once, whilst making an almond cake for someone’s birthday, she said:

‘It was only when I met your father that I realised my whole life up to then I’d mistaken lust for love.’

I wasn’t sure what lust was, but it sounded dangerous, creeping – liable to spread when you turned your back.

Mum looked less like a mum when she was baking, like she was just playing at being a grown up. That day, she had flour smudged above her eyebrow and her sleeves rolled up so that they kept drooping, nearly getting in the mixing bowl. I pushed up my sleeves but they kept falling down and getting messy.

All the times we baked, I never told Mum my secrets. I never got that thing where telling other people made your problems seem smaller. For me, it always made them double not halve: like kisses or a punch, they were something you could never take back.

 

 

 

unnamed (4)Laura is a teacher, writer and silversmith who lives in Glasgow with her family. She writes short stories and has been published in journals such as The International Literary QuarterlyBandit Fiction, and Ink, Sweat and Tears; her story, ‘Anna on the Wing’, was highly commended in The Federation of Writers Scotland Competition 2018. She also writes young adult fiction and her novel, Perfect Memory, was longlisted for Fish Publishing’s Young Adult Novel Contest.

After Me – Julia Molloy

 

Darling, come closer. There’s nothing to be scared of, nothing to fear. You are always safe with me. Whenever you smile, I’ll smile too, though mostly you make jokes that aren’t funny these days. Whenever you cry, I’ll be waiting with my shoulder and a glass of your favourite wine. It’s the Rioja you prefer now, isn’t it? When we first met, it was all about the alcopops and fluorescent cocktails that quickly got us high so we could dance and be free. We’d dance to songs we no longer heard while others vomited and fought and cried. We’d dance and hold each other close. I guess we lost friends that way. But I can still remember how it felt, the first time we held each other. Our shoes stuck to the floor and the DJ shouted through the air, but all I could focus on was you. I thought my skin would ignite. As the years have mellowed, as our days have grown more fleeting, we savour the Rioja while we can. We don’t dance or play music. We sit, and we hold hands through fading daylight and long dark nights.

Darling, come closer. That was what you used to whisper in the darkest of nights after our son died. We held each other under bed sheets you always insist on ironing. We waited for time to do its work, but I think we both still feel the emptiness. So we hold each other wrapped in the clean, sharp edges of the bedsheets. We stop asking why.

Darling, come closer. I worry about who will keep you safe after me. Who will know about your favourite Rioja? Who will know how to leave you in peace when you come home from work, how to give you that space in which to breathe? Who will know the hole inside? I suppose someone could learn this soon enough, but still I worry. I don’t recall learning these things about you as much as absorbing them. We cried once at a study where children were punished and rewarded to see if they learned better. Our own son toddled at our feet. But now I come to think of it, that was how I absorbed these things about you. Your joys and your hates, your laughs and your rages, punishments and rewards. Who else can absorb these things and keep you safe?

Darling, come closer. I need to feel you near me. You don’t understand why I worry so much about you, why I don’t worry more about myself and what I must face. You don’t understand that worrying about you keeps the fear away. When we met, I remember how I felt a weight had been lifted from my mind. I didn’t have to be alone. I could hold you in my arms and you wouldn’t even comment on my clammy skin. Now, I worry about you to keep darkness at bay.

Darling, come closer. I can feel the darkness coming. I whisper to you again and again, or at least I think I do. You’re smiling, but not as you used to. It’s a smile that will turn into a cry the moment I close my eyes. I whisper again, or perhaps I don’t. Perhaps this is just the dream of life. Perhaps this is how you are after me.

 

 

Author photoJulia Molloy is a short story writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Fiction Pool, Fictive Dream, Crack the Spine, STORGY, Platform for Prose and Riggwelter Press. Her work was shortlisted for the Fresher Writing Prize 2016. She graduated from Lancaster University in 2015 with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and now works at a government organisation. You can find her at www.juliamolloy.org and on Twitter @JRMolloy2.

Coldharbour Lane – Rebecca Metcalfe

 

You drive to the end of the lane. Past the rice factory, the seafood processing plant, the paper factory, the chemical works, the pharmaceutical plant. Grey upon grey upon grey sails past your car window and then disappears into your rear-view mirror as you drive further down the lane. You reach the turning at the end of the lane, the road narrows and there are dense bushes either side. You reach the carpark at the end, and you see the river. The wide, grey river where the tide beats endlessly on, eastwards. Mud lines the banks on both sides, thick, stinking mud that will never clean off. The footprints snaking across this ooze show the steps took by recently-flown wading birds that are now no longer to be seen. A bit closer to the water, the hulking mass of the concrete barges, leftover from some war long past, sit and refuse to rot, only crumble slowly. Then there’s the metal statue of a diver, who looks like a cage and crawls out of the water whenever the tide is going out. He will never reach the bank. The water of the river is violent and boats jolt along it. Police boats or cargo boats carrying industrial containers in and out of the city. Going eastward, they are on the very edges of the city now. The factory smoke mixes with the clouds and they roll across the paleness along with the tide, heading out to sea and waiting to hit the vast East Anglian sky.

 

 

22752130_10210178275199633_1006394601_nRebecca Metcalfe is a 22-year-old student and writer from Essex. She did her undergraduate degree at the University of Chester and is now studying for an MA in Victorian Literature from the University of Liverpool. She has been published in Pandora’s Box, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine and in the Electric Reads Young Writers’ Anthology 2017.

Could Be Stardust, Could Be Rain – Alison McCrossan

 

I am stardust. Yet it could be said I’m mostly rain.

‘What riddle is this?’ you ask.

‘Oh, only the original. Who am I?’

‘Doesn’t that lead to Why am I?’ you say.

This is getting painful.

You poke at the ground where you sit and hold up your hand. Your finger is crusted with wet sand. ‘How many grains?’ you ask.

‘Impossible to know unless we Google an equation.’

You’re a professor of archaeology and reckon that makes you academic. ‘An academic with working man hands,’ you often say with a laugh. Your dark curls fall down one side of your face, facial features too young to know it all.

‘How many people have asked this question?’ you say.

‘That’s not getting us any closer to an answer.’ I swipe away an assault of meaningless equations that have sprung up on the browser window of my smart-phone. I forgot to add ‘grains of sand on a fingertip.’ Wet sand would alter the equation too-surely adding another factor or something. Oh, the credence I give Google.

I’m the creative sort, not that it matters. Even the academic uses Google. You have often told me I love too much, too deeply, and too soon. I might have said, but doesn’t this life deserve such enthusiasm. I add playfulness to my art in the hope that another might smile. Not that I’m adverse to contemplation. I’m thinking more about the why of everything today, but on other days I’m known to just wonder at the stars and not how they relate to me.

You say, ‘A grain of sand. A spit in the ocean. A collection of atoms in the shape of you, in the shape of me. Everything. Nothing. Dimensions of perception that go on and on and bend and circle ad infinitum. You could be stardust. You could be rain. It’s entirely up to you.’

‘What are you suggesting? I’m not depressed and depression isn’t a choice.’

‘But you are in pain,’ you say.

‘I ache all day for night and cry all night for morning.’

‘Why?’ you ask.

‘I lost my job, the days are long. My love is gone and I can’t afford the rent.’

‘Distractions,’ you say, drawing a crooked line in the wet sand with the same finger.

My eyes trace its path. Without distractions I am hollow, pain with a hollow centre that is, a capsule without the drug inside.

I kick off my shoe and dip a toe into the sand. The sand has soaked up the rain and resists my toe. It hurts.

I am a void always searching. Searching is distraction and any of the following: pleasure (say music); escape (say wine); status (say job); to go on (say have babies); to learn (say ask who am I) or explore (say ask who are you).

Look at you. I compare. You are contained. I might say you are of the moon, steady and influential. One of a kind. More than a search tool or answer to me maybe. ‘How does it feel to be one of a kind?’

‘You should know. I am part of you.’ You disappear into the hole you poked in the sand.

 

 

Alison McCrossan is 44 years old and living in Ireland. She enjoys writing fiction, including flash and short stories, and is currently working on a novel.

Desire – Nigel F. Ford

 

From the top of the window down the climb of the sky is cobalt. As the eye moves down it, scrutinising and searching, it comes up against a straight-bottomed, moustache-shaped cloud that stretches across the entire width of the view.

The lightening drop of the cobalt travels down behind the cloud and emerges on the other side as very light cerulean.

This description covers the view from the perspective of top to bottom / bottom to top.

The diagonal perspectives reaching from the width of the view and forming the flat floor of the triangulating lines that meet at the end of the thus formed long thin triangle at an elegant spindly television mast perched on a small white square block atop an angular building.

The spectator assumes this to be the top of a lift shaft or flight of stairs that opens onto a roof terrace behind the square block perched on top of the triangular building.

If that is a roof terrace, reasons the spectator, then I would like to buy that house and live in it.

The spectator then frowns.

On the other hand, reasons the spectator, I could simply be pleased that such a place exists and leave it be.

 

 

Photo on 18-12-15 at 13.02Born in 1944, Nigel F. Ford wrote his first radio play aged 14 (refused). Jobs include reporter for The Daily Times, Lagos, Nigeria, travel writer for Sun Publishing, London, English teacher for Berlitz, Hamburg, copy writer for Ted Bates, Stockholm. Had a hand in starting the Brighton Fringe in 1967. He started painting etc. in 1983 and has regularly exhibited in Sweden and on the Internet in various publication. In addition, several magazines in UK and US have been kind enough to publish his writing. Such as Nexus, Outposts, Encounter, New Spokes, Inkshed, The Crazy Oik, Weyfarers, Acumen, Critical Quarterly, Staple, T.O.P.S, The North, Foolscap, Iota, Poetry Nottingham, Tears in the Fence etc. He is now trying to produce & direct one of his stage plays.

Servitude – Nigel F. Ford

 

They have walked in warm weather all the way from the beach, along the harbour wall, into the city, through the old quarter, up to the skirts of the castle, seeking the shade where possible, trying not to hurry, but not wanting to be late.

An attempt has been made before.

Two attempts in fact.

This time we are determined.

‘Do I look alright?’

‘You look fine. What about me. What do you think?’

‘O you always look alright.’

‘That’s alright then.’

‘What do you think? Can you see? Is there a long queue?’

‘It’s difficult to say. There is a queue of about half a dozen persons at the door. But then, there are several people leaning against the wall opposite the entrance. Some of them have come out for a smoke, I should think. But some of them might be part of the queue.’

‘We should probably start by waiting at the door.’

‘That’s the best plan.’

‘I think those people there are leaving. She’s fishing in her handbag.’

‘Could be. Still, we’re not the first in the queue.’

‘What’s the time?’

Eight thirty.’

‘We’ll wait until eight forty-five, but no longer.’

‘Alright.’

They stand patiently. A waiter talks to them briefly, smiles, laughs, jots down a note on a pad, nods and leaves.

Around them the evening crowd heaves and swirls, revealing empty hollows and then refilling them, like the sea they have watched for much of the afternoon.

‘What’s the time?’

‘Ten to nine.’

‘We’ll wait until nine o’clock. But not a moment longer.’

‘Alright.’

 

 

Photo on 18-12-15 at 13.02Born in 1944, Nigel F. Ford wrote his first radio play aged 14 (refused). Jobs include reporter for The Daily Times, Lagos, Nigeria, travel writer for Sun Publishing, London, English teacher for Berlitz, Hamburg, copy writer for Ted Bates, Stockholm. Had a hand in starting the Brighton Fringe in 1967. He started painting etc. in 1983 and has regularly exhibited in Sweden and on the Internet in various publication. In addition, several magazines in UK and US have been kind enough to publish his writing. Such as Nexus, Outposts, Encounter, New Spokes, Inkshed, The Crazy Oik, Weyfarers, Acumen, Critical Quarterly, Staple, T.O.P.S, The North, Foolscap, Iota, Poetry Nottingham, Tears in the Fence etc. He is now trying to produce & direct one of his stage plays.

Outside the window – Tony Press

 

You can’t see nothing from here but if you could, what would you want it to be? That’s what she asked the first time I ever went to her apartment. We’d met in Sioux City when I was living there on a highway crew. She lived in Correctionville. Yes, Correctionville is the real name and you’ve probably already got an idea why it’s called that. Don’t bet on it.

I thought about it. Really: what would I want to see, if there were anything to see out her kitchen window. I’d seen the rest of the place and my answer was more important than you might think, because the kitchen was the only room with a window. The living room slash bedroom was nothing but three walls and the bathroom was the same, just smaller. It had more plumbing, too, which was a good thing.

Sweetie, I said, I’d like to see one of those Venice canals.

Venice? Venice, Italy?

That’s the one.

Oh, Darrell, did you ever go to Italy? Did you ride in one of those boats there?

No. Nope. I’ve never been across the Atlantic. Or even seen the Pacific. The farthest east I’ve ever been was South Carolina and the farthest west – you’ll laugh, maybe – was Kansas. I was at Fort Riley for four years and two more in Manhattan after I got out.

Manhattan? New York Manhattan? I thought you were talking about Kansas.

I am. It’s smaller than the one with Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building and all that, but it’s got the same name. I was working at the university there: Kansas State.

Oh. Oh. Okay. Anyway, let’s just stand here and you can tell me about the canal out the window.

I poured her another glass of wine and one more for me, and then I lowered the light. I’ll give the place some credit, it had a cool dimmer switch, at least for the kitchen. I put my left arm around her shoulders and with my other I pointed outside.

Look, that’s the Grand Canal and over there … can you see it? That’s the Bridge of Sighs. If two people stand on that bridge and kiss they will be together forever. Flat-out-fucking-forever.

Really?

Really, I said. Step up onto it with me, but careful, ‘cuz it was raining so it might be slippery. I held her hand. That’s it, I said. Easy does it.

It feels real, she said. I’ve never been any place like this.

Kiss me, I said, and we’ll never be any place else, no matter where we are.

She did, and we held that kiss until I needed to breathe. She could have lasted longer, she said, and then we kissed again. I moved in that week.

I’ve still never seen the Atlantic, or the Pacific. I did – we did – get out to Nevada once. We drove to Omaha and took the train to Elko, where a buddy’s got a place. We saw mountains on that trip, so that was cool: no mountains in Iowa. I’ve got a cousin who lives in Hills, Iowa, but the name’s a joke. Maybe I ought to tell my cousin to look out her kitchen window and think about what she’d want to see, in her heart of hearts.

We have a bigger place in Correctionville now, a real house, with windows in every room, but each night before we go to bed we stand at a window, and look out at the Bridge of Sighs.

 

 

beast crawl.14.tp fotoTony Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. He’d be thrilled if you purchased his 2016 story collection, Crossing the Lines (Big Table). It’s available at indy bookstores, directly from him, or even from that Amazon place. He lives near the San Francisco Bay.

Another life – Nigel F. Ford

 

Time: twenty two hours, five minutes and forty-eight seconds.

Red is seated on a stool working on a mobile phone, occasionally looking up at Grey, who is seated on an opposite stool and talking incessantly.

Observer is caught looking at Red, who looks up from the phone and catches Observer’s eye.

Observer looks away quickly, and Red drops their gaze back down to the phone simultaneously.

Observer watches Red eating small dishes of food, in quick succession: fried aubergine, grilled sardines, chicken croquettes, octopus rings, a stick of grilled prawns, etcetera.

While Grey sips at a small beer and talks incessantly.

Red drinks blood red wine and is now almost at the bottom of glass number three.

Red looks up and the eyes of Observer and Red meet and hold for three seconds.

Red now seems to have finished eating and drinking. Grey has finished their beer. Grey dismounts from their stool and pays at the bar.

As they leave, Red looks back at Observer and their eyes meet and hold for an eternal flash of time.

Grey and Red disappear into the whirling crowd of evening strollers in the street of the warm, black night.

In another life, Observer tells self, smiles a small self-conscious smile.

Time: Twenty two hours, twenty five minutes and twenty four seconds.

 

 

Photo on 18-12-15 at 13.02Born in 1944, Nigel F. Ford wrote his first radio play aged 14 (refused). Jobs include reporter for The Daily Times, Lagos, Nigeria, travel writer for Sun Publishing, London, English teacher for Berlitz, Hamburg, copy writer for Ted Bates, Stockholm. Had a hand in starting the Brighton Fringe in 1967. He started painting etc. in 1983 and has regularly exhibited in Sweden and on the Internet in various publication. In addition, several magazines in UK and US have been kind enough to publish his writing. Such as Nexus, Outposts, Encounter, New Spokes, Inkshed, The Crazy Oik, Weyfarers, Acumen, Critical Quarterly, Staple, T.O.P.S, The North, Foolscap, Iota, Poetry Nottingham, Tears in the Fence etc. He is now trying to produce & direct one of his stage plays.

Bees make honey – Cath Barton

 

Three jars of honey glistened on the window sill – golden and translucent. Outside a bee hovered. Lucy raised a finger tip to the glass and the bee came close as if to kiss it. Then, propelled by some unseen force, one of the jars tipped and smashed on the flagstones. Lucy watched, frozen and impotent, as the bee repeatedly flung itself at the glass in distress.

At breakfast Lucy’s hands trembled in her lap. Mark, sitting opposite her and reading the paper, noticed nothing.

“I’m going down to the hives this morning,” she said.

“Okay,” said Mark, through a mouthful of toast. “New honey’s great, by the way,” he added, looking up and grinning at her. “Tell your bees.”

“Cheer up,” he said, when she didn’t respond. “It might never happen. Got to run.”

He kissed the top of her head and ruffled her hair as he got up from the table, scattering crumbs.

Hearing the car leaving minutes later, Lucy put her hands onto the table-top to steady herself. She felt as if the bees had stung her, though they hadn’t, never had, never would, she knew.

She went upstairs, switched on her laptop and looked at her e-mails. Six new messages, all from him. Expressing undying love in six different ways. Their sweetness was cloying. She deleted them all. Immediately another pinged into the in-box.

“You all right??”

“I’m fine,” she wrote back. “Just tired.”

“Tell me you love me,” said the next message. She stared at the words on the screen. Then pressed delete. Her finger trembled as she did so. She didn’t feel fine.

She pulled on her bee suit and wellington boots and walked through the long grass to the hives. Out in the fresh air she felt better. She checked the hives.

“Sorry about the broken jar,” she said, in a whisper. “I’ll be more careful in future.”

The bees circled her head as if telling her not to worry. Lucy knew that bees understood things no humans ever did. She’d like to come back as a bee. She’d said that once to Mark, who’d laughed. That was the trouble with Mark, always laughing, never taking things seriously.

She hadn’t meant to look for someone else. Why would she, with a happy home, everything she could want. Except.

“I think the bees are like your children,” Mark had said.

He’d laughed as he said it of course. It was like a physical blow but she hadn’t let him see that. He hadn’t meant anything bad. She knew she should talk to him about it. But she’d left it too long.

They’d met in the library. Changing their books. They talked and got shushed by the librarian. Out on the street they talked more, gone for coffee. People do that. No harm, she’d thought. But she should have told Mark. Not let it become secret. Not let it become anything.

It had become too much.

Back in the house she made coffee, sat at the computer again. Just one new e-mail from him, reasonable, reasoned. She replied, agreed to meet.

She took him a jar of honey. Gave it to him with trembling hands. Told him that she and Mark were moving. They wouldn’t have bees in the new place.

“No room,” she said, looking down at her hands in her lap, still now.

He cried and it was unbearable. She left without looking back.

The e-mails continued for a bit. She deleted them all, unread.

She did think of getting rid of the bees. But they needed her. And they were a comfort.

 

 

Cath BartonCath Barton is an English writer and photographer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella for The Plankton Collector, which will be published in 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Read more about her writing at https://cathbarton.com.

Pinky Swear – Jayne Martin

 

The caustic odor of rubbing alcohol burns my nostrils, settles on my tongue. A nurse paints Vaseline on my parched lips. I can’t remember the last time I was kissed.

I am tethered to tubes, encased in a coffin of flesh and bone that ignores all commands.

The growing cries of gulls, boardwalk barkers, laughter and shrieks of excitement begin to flood the room.

I sit in the car of a rollercoaster as it chugs and bumps up the steep incline toward the point of no return. Braver kids raise their arms high over their heads. I squeeze my eyes shut until it’s over; say “I want to go again,” relieved when you do not.

The ocean breeze sends salt and sand up onto the walkway where we smoke cigarettes stolen from my mother’s purse and stroll looking for boys. We make up names, Bridgette and Marilyn. Names that sound older and sophisticated unlike our own. We fool no one.

A pipe organ bellows. With fingers still sticky from cotton candy, we board gaily-painted steeds, ride round and round, each time stretching as far as we dare for the brass ring, each time finding it just out of reach.

Our bodies distort in fun house mirrors and we wonder who we will become.

Pinky-swear friends forever.

We do not anticipate the power of decades to divide.

The nurse rolls my body onto its side to slip a fresh sheet beneath, and I see you next to my bedside. You wear our favorite sweater, the rose one we passed back and forth until it unraveled, your smile still a mouthful of braces, your hand outstretched to me. In it, a brass ring.

 

001Jayne Martin is the 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award for flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, Midwestern Gothic, f(r)iction, Blink-Ink, Spelk, Cleaver, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She is the author of “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry.” She lives in Santa Barbara, California. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

First Available Cousin – Ray Busler

 

It had still been dark when we were called. It wasn’t a pajama run; I was dressed, but still slept a few miles in the car. There were no cousins for me to play with this time. We lived closest, most available for urgency, first on the scene.

I couldn’t wait on the big porch, too much winter for that now. I missed the wooden swing, missed the creaking and mesmerizing motion of the thing. Last summer we rode, four cousins abreast in that swing for hours of false alarm. My oldest cousin told of broken swing chains and loose eye bolts that, in some parallel child universe sent chubby pink tots, not unlike myself, sailing in full pendulant moment, sailing loose in the air before finding the steel spikes of the wrought iron fence well below porch level. A lucky one missed the fence to be only crucified in the mock orange bush. She was saved, as the tale went, by an uncle by marriage, and merely had her eyes gouged out by thorns for her trouble. We cousins loved that swing, relished the idea of it and I longed for the day I could be the oldest cousin and tell the tale, with some improvements that I whetted in idle mental minutes.

Now, it was winter and I waited in stale stifle too near the gas logs in the parlor. When there was a full complement of cousins the parlor was off limits, too many fragile memories to be exposed to the rough usage of youth. One was an acceptable number though. I sat on my hands deliberately avoiding the sensuous feel of Dresden figurines and the other flotsam of irreplaceable family history.

There was, almost lost in the repeating wallpaper pattern of pink roses, a painting – a woodcut really. Japanese, I suppose today, assuming that then future role of older cousin. Blue ink and black, with a touch of red in the eye of a rampant, distant sea risen dragon, an icon of the storm in the foreground. The real hero of the drawing was the wave about to crash down on a frail boat. There could be no possible reprieve from that wave. It was a wave of inevitability. I watched the wave until I could hear a phantom wind, smell spectral salt and rotting squid. I watched the wave until…

“Your Grandmother has passed on.” The words woke me.

“Do you understand? Do you understand what I mean by death? Your Grandmother is dead.”

Of course I understood death. That’s why we were here, wasn’t it?

 

Ray lives in Alabama with his long suffering wife of 40 years. That is to say she is older than 40, but didn’t suffer for the first 20.  Ray writes for the pleasure of the writing, and the joy of inflicting it upon others.

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.

Eustace – Sandra Arnold

 

The shock of seeing Eustace in the charity shop window almost rattled Miranda out of her skin. She’d never believed her parents’ insistence that they hadn’t got rid of him. But twenty years later there he was. Eustace as he’d looked at the edge of the sea, watching her father tip grandpa’s ashes into the waves. Watching her father’s tears as the arc of grey grit hit the water. Listening to tales of grandpa’s fishing days; how he’d taught generations of boys to swim and fish and sail; how he was the best of men. While her cousins watched bits of crushed bone drift away on the tide, Miranda watched the boy. His white curls haloed around his head like the seeds of a dandelion clock before they’re blown away by the wind. She asked him who he was. “Eustace,” he said.

The psychiatrist suggested art therapy as a way to unlock whatever had caused Miranda’s mutism. However, he added, as several of her cousins exhibited the same symptoms there was probably a genetic component.

While Miranda painted Eustace he told her he knew why all the girls in her family were mute. She didn’t go back to art therapy. Instead she talked to Eustace.

The psychiatrist reassured Miranda’s parents that imaginary companions were common in solitary children, and it was simply coincidence that the boy in Miranda’s painting resembled her grandpa’s brother who’d drowned as a child, and when Miranda started socialising with real children the imaginary one would disappear. He did. And so did the painting.

“Nice painting, eh?’ said the charity shop owner.

She nodded. “I’ll take it.”

She’d show her cousins. She’d tell them about Eustace. She’d tell them everything.

 

Sandra's author photoSandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is a novelist, essayist, short story and flash-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally and has won several awards. Her flash fiction appears in numerous journals including The Airgonaut, Spelk, Jellyfish Review, Flash FrontierBlue Fifth Review and was selected for the UK 2017 National Flash Fiction Day international anthology, Sleep is a beautiful colour. Learn more at http://authors.org.nz/author/sandraarnold.