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.

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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.

Reel Life – Chrissi Sepe

 

Why did I choose “Dance of the Dwarfs” when my dad’s best friend, Elijah, had me perform piano for his new friend? This stranger was a glum man with a blonde bowl haircut and bangs: the spitting image of Paul Williams.

“You must listen to her play!” Elijah said. “She’s a child prodigy!”’

My piano teacher gave me the song only hours earlier. What made me think I could play it? My fingers fumbled, and I knew I was horrible.

“Always a pleasure,” Elijah said.

Elijah had heard me play dozens of times. I gazed up at Paul Williams from the piano bench. He simply nodded.

“Why don’t you sit in with us in your dad’s studio?” Elijah asked.

The studio was actually my parents’ bedroom where my dad kept his reel-to-reel machine. There were seven people already crammed around the double bed, all facing the reel-to-reel that stood to the side of the room on a small, wooden table. Everyone focused on the melodic music of trumpets, drums, guitars, and the sweetest voice that ever emanated from a woman: Marcy with the beautiful, long, blonde hair. She had a tiny brown, cut out leather purse strapped around her gold turtleneck sweater and those Indian moccasins that dominated the streets of the 1970’s. Elijah closed his eyes as we listened to the song written by my dad.

“Beautiful! Bravo!” Elijah said, eyes now open, his hands applauding loudly.

“You are an amazing singer!” my dad exclaimed, turning to Marcy.

My heart gently sank because my dad never complimented anyone on their singing. He was a singer himself, therefore a harsh critic.

Back in the living room, my mom sat on our couch, reading a magazine. I sensed that she didn’t like when musicians hung out in her bedroom on a weeknight. Why did she want to spoil the fun?

“Mom?” I asked. “Why do you think Elijah closed his eyes while the song played?”

“It helps people listen to the music better.”

I was surprised she had an answer.

Several years later when I was a teen, my dad died, and Marcy sent us a condolence card. I told Elijah how thoughtful that was.

“Oh yeah, Marcy! She blamed me for not contacting her to tell her how sick your dad was. She’d heard from someone else that he’d passed. I hadn’t heard from the woman in years, and she reams me out?!”

When my mom tossed out most of the sympathy cards, I grabbed Marcy’s from the pile and brought it into my bedroom. I cradled it in my hands.

Over the years, I’ve mostly remembered how my dad complimented Marcy’s voice and how Paul Williams only nodded after I’d played my song. What I should carry more closely in my heart is how Elijah invited me to hear my dad’s reel-to-reels. And how my mom knew exactly how to answer the question of why Elijah’s eyes were closed when he listened to the music.

 

unnamedChrissi Sepe is the author of novels, “Bliss, Bliss, Bliss,” and “Iggy Gorgess.” Her essay “Anais Nin – A Recipe for Immortality” appears in Volume 13 of the Anais Nin Literary Journal, and her short story, “Caramel Macchiatos and Conversation,” is in Volume 14, both published by Sky Blue Press.

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.

Everything bright and illuminated – Melissa Goode

 

He sits in the back row. The concert has already begun and the stage is lit. The school orchestra plays Bach. His daughter, Joanna, is stern, focussed, behind a cello. They sound excellent, but he will tell me they dropped x, raced across y, and could have lingered at z and he will hum it a little to show me how it should have sounded. I will say, she’s seventeen. She’s a star. He will smile, probably at my ignorance, my upbringing, my haven’t-got-a-clue.

#

I stand in the doorway, my wet umbrella drips London rain onto the floor. Joanna is vivid on stage with her red hair. She is a flame. He faces straight ahead, lit by the light from the stage, a portrait. His gaze is hard, merciless, like a hawk. She dips her head over the cello and I feel the movement in my chest.

#

We could lie on a beach in Hawaii, him and me, pale beneath the white blaze of the sun. Joanna plays in the water and meets American boys and girls her age who make her laugh. We drink frozen cocktails all day—strawberry, coconut, lime, pineapple. Let’s try mango. There is sand everywhere, in the carpet, the shower, under our nails, inside our ears. When he and I lie down at night, he leaves the lamp on and looks at me like he could eat me entirely. We move slowly as if we have all fucking day and night. We do.

#

He has saved a seat. I touch his shoulder and he looks up at me. Sorry, traffic, I whisper. Hello, he mouths. He smiles. I move past his sharp knees to the seat, his hands reach out and hold my waist as I go.

 

MG_WEB-7Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, Griffith Review, New World Writing, Litro Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review among others. One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungle. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter.

The Easter Bunny on a Glass Elevator Going Down – Zach Smith

 

In retrospect the event seems so bizarre, that it’s more like a dream.

My aunt had taken my cousin and me to the mall.

It was in the spring, at some point shortly before Easter.

The Easter Bunny was stationed in a playful land of candies and eggs and fake plastic straw of every color imaginable. This was in an open area at the bottom of the mall’s glass elevator. An Easter variation on the mall’s Santa set up.

I don’t know if this still goes on, the mall Easter Bunny that is, I haven’t seen one in years, but I haven’t been looking either.

The setting was accompanied by music played from a DJ stationed nearby.

At Christmas there are plenty of songs to play on a continuous loop to keep the atmosphere. You don’t even need lyrics. Anyone can recognize “Jingle Bells” by melody alone. The same goes for “Frosty the Snowman,” or “The Christmas Song” (though everyone knows the latter as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”)

For Easter, the music choices are more limited. There’s “Peter Cotton Tail” of course, but it’s not nearly as recognizable, considering DragonForce did a song using the same chord progression and nobody noticed. If you want to get real religious you could opt for the song “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”… but that’s probably not the best choice either. There are not a lot of “great” Easter songs to play for the mall Easter Bunny. So what is a DJ to do? Why, play some of the contemporary hits of course.

The year was 1991, I was six years old at the time.

When we got to the bottom of the glass elevator to see the Easter Bunny, the song he was dancing to was… “Losing My Religion” by REM.

The argument that the song title is a southern expression that roughly translates to: “losing your temper” is weak at best. The phrase too specifically implies something else. Even the music video is very religious oriented, with fallen angels and so on. Playing that song for the Easter Bunny would be the equivalent of playing Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” at a wedding.

Consequently eighteen years later “Single Ladies” was played at my wedding, with both my aunt and cousin in attendance, despite the fact that that specific song was placed on the “Do Not Play” list. Come to think of it, it might have been the same DJ since both were utterly deaf to lyrical significance and/or irony.

At the mall, I asked my cousin the obvious question:

“Why is the Easter Bunny dancing to ‘Losing my Religion?’”

“Ah… because it’s a good song,” she said, sarcastically, as though I should have already known something so obvious.

That’s debatable… and also not the point.

 

with hatZach is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years, struggling all the while with dyslexia. His work has previously appeared in Crack the Spine, Revolution John, Fast-Forward Festival, the Short Humor Site and Schlock Magazine, among others. You can find out more about him at his blog: theobscuritysymposium.wordpress.com.

When The Wind Came Up – Jackie Davis Martin

 

When the wind came up she hated the world. Before that, before the sand started whirling around, before her ears hurt with the sudden gusts, she’d found a moment of peace, as slim and painstaking as the slight parenthesis of the moon, now obscured by heavy clouds scuttling urgently. Before the moon disappeared, before the wind came up, she’d considered that maybe there was some point to surviving, something to be said for living in the moment the way her grief group was instructed to think. She could see it then, standing next to her close friend, another woman old as she was, but both young because they’d known each other for so many years they carried the former selves within the old and didn’t see the new old. There was some peace in knowing that she didn’t have to achieve anything more and having the company of her friend to watch the ocean, listen to its gentle shushes. But then the wind came up. At first the women stayed, trying to discern the speed of the tide, walking backward up the grassy knoll to the parking lot that overlooked the beach. But then, with sand whipping around them suddenly, they couldn’t see well and sought shelter in the car, which they quickly discovered had a flat, and so called for roadside help and waited in howling wind and the growing dark and had nothing more to say. Now she was back in her own head, locked into a loss as solid as this car, the wind blowing billows of sand, the world too much to interpret once again. When the truck arrived, its lights flashing into the darkness, and a young man with a jack got out, she understood why people found faith.

 

Jackie Davis Martin has had stories published in journals that include Flash, Flashquake, Fractured West, and Dogzplot, as well as story collections Modern Shorts, Love on the Road, and the recent Road Stories.. Prizes were awarded by New Millennium and On the Premise and finalist placements fjdmor a novella (Press 53) and a chapbook of flash fiction (Conium Review). A memoir, Surviving Susan, was published in 2012.  Jackie teaches at City College of San Francisco.

 

Winning the tombola – Maria Sledmere

 

She turned the package over in her fingers. Silken, purple, properly gift-wrapped. The thought of what might lie inside glazed over her mind like the sweetening glow of a bar of milk chocolate, crunched alone on a cold evening.

She had a full hour to herself, before they returned. This kitchen, the room of her life, seemed transformed before her. The bread bin was open, the fridge was bursting with its hoard of treasures. She didn’t need to touch anything, though it was seductive, to think of the carrots neatly lined up like pens in a stationer’s, the orange juice, the dark bitter rye bread, the drawers chockfull of hazelnuts and brazils and the luxurious sugared lemons they’d bought for the festive season.

Earlier, he’d pinned her against the mahogany wardrobe.

“Do it like this,” he whispered. She remembers such words like a litany.

There were seven words to be said for the lottery. The old women tittered at the sight of her skirt, the hole in her tights. It was an unfair judgment; she had done nothing but turn up, as was her right. Seven words to be said. The music was harsh and synthy; dissonant, like the music they play in a mall, only slowed down to a creepy, molluscan crawl.

He poured dark muscovado sugar on her tongue, lovingly. He put his finger in her mouth, swirled it around, till the coarse stuff got sticky and wet and dissolved. It was as if he had drained the juice of her blood and here she was, dried and rasping. Come.

He used to scrunch her hair in his palms, and later it would lie a certain way against her neck, limp and curled, the filaments crushed.

He had been a jazz musician once. He had played the saxophone in her sleep, the shrill buzz of those notes swivelling through the staves of her veins, twisting her organs to a new truth.

The old women drew papers from a golden box. The one with an amethyst scarf waved a number, triumphantly, as if declaring the birth of an age.

“That’s me!” she had shrieked, leaping from her seat. Their eyes had been upon her, and maybe for a moment she had felt ashamed. Still, it didn’t last. The parcel was duly handed over; she treated herself to a taxi home.

What was the use in waiting? She had dallied long enough.

The ribbons fell apart in her fingers. Her heart backflipped, a ballerina. So this was the promise?

What she saw made her vomit.

 

author-pic-maria-s

Maria Sledmere is currently studying for an MLitt in Modernities at the University of Glasgow, and is otherwise an assistant editor for SPAMzine and part-time restaurant supervisor, a job which provides her with many ideas for strange stories. She regularly writes music reviews for RaveChild Glasgow and has had work recently accepted by publications including From Glasgow to Saturn, DataBleed, Robida and Germ Magazine.  When not obsessing over the literature of Tom McCarthy she may be found painting, making mixtapes or writing about everything from Dark Ecology, Derrida to Lana Del Rey at http://musingsbymaria.wordpress.com.