The Conspiracy – Dan A. Cardoza

 

It’s the last night of my once a year visit nearly complete. Actually, it’s our last visit ever. Another uncomfortable Thanksgiving has come and gone. Tomorrow, it’s back to Chicago.

Earlier in the day, mother asks me to trawl through the attic boxes, and fish out our childhood memories before they place the house on the market.

Later in the day, after an early supper, father and I sit alone facing each other at the opposite ends of the kitchen table. Mother is at church, volunteering for just about anything.

I stand; push two dusty childhood photographs I discovered toward father.

Father look, these are so familiar, yet distant? I voice.

Yes, they are nearly identical son, except one is underexposed, sepia. Not sure why you retrieved the photo box from the attic. Most of those years are dead and buried.

I only asked you to look at these two father.

Son, why do you insist that we look at any photos?

Not sure father, maybe it’s time. I remember you thumbing the fat camera levers on your new Polaroid 900. Mother was hovering nearby. I recall your big smile. We were posing and …

Yes.

Its then father stands to exit the room. His massive hand smothers the handle of his lacquered Mallacan cane, veined & crooked, a tan leather glove. Then he limps away.

In the chilled lens of a dusty sunset, the parched air drifts through the half closed window, hissing faintly through the screen, like a thousand tiny tongues singing a chorus of truth. A chill slowly slithers up my spine. It’s moments like this I dread. I feel such gloom, like an orphaned child.

Goodnight father, see you in the morning.

Goodnight.

Much later, as I retire, I hear subtle moans coming from his room, as he toils in the muddy pastures of his sleep. As if on cue, at 3:00 A.M., he sits up and stares into the dark, at nothing in particular. I know this because mother spoke of his nightmares that have only increased after he quit drinking. She also confessed his depression is getting worse.

Over the years, our family has weathered torrents that have washed away bridges, only to be restored by the uncomplicated architecture of distance and malaise. I still want to understand, but after so many years, the melody of deception is a cappella. I close my eyes and begin to wade into the shallow waters of sleep.

Then I enter the dark of a dream,

You take us to the park. We play hide and seek for hours. Only this time I am never found. Mother, crazed with fear eventually finds me walking into the mist of her high beam headlights, a shivering apparition. Nothing is ever the same.

Swimming back from the deep waters of sleep, toward dawns pale shore, I hear an unseen small voice, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four…

 

 

Dan A. CardozaDan has an MS Degree. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new collection of fiction, Second Stories. Recent Credits: 101 Words, Amethyst, UK., Chaleur Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Dissections, Door=Jar, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Foxglove, Frogmore, High Shelf Press, Poetry Northwest, Rue Scribe, Runcible Spoon, Skylight 47, Spelk, Spillwords, The Fiction Pool, The Stray Branch, Urban Arts, The Zen Space, Tulpa and zeroflash.

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Death in Spring – Ben Banyard

 

She took her last breath as we put the clocks on.

Lambs, daffodils, Easter eggs, cheerful optimism,

but a funeral to attend and relatives to console.

 

We’ll Google the church’s car park,

agree to work around that afternoon with bosses and clients.

Follow the coffin in, glance at riotous banks of grape hyacinth.

 

There will be hymns.

All Things Bright and Beautiful no doubt,

The Old Rugged Cross, perhaps.

Choke back a lump in the throat at the eulogies,

smile with damp eyes at anecdotes.

 

What will move us most are the details of her youth,

how she played nicely with her sister sometimes,

what her parents did for a living;

Spring details, when her life was beginning.

 

 

ImageBen Banyard lives in Portishead, near Bristol, UK. He’s the author of a pamphlet, Communing (Indigo Dreams, 2016) and a full collection, We Are All Lucky (Indigo Dreams, 2018). He blogs and posts mixtapes at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com.

Fox Cubs – Oak Ayling

 

Fox cubs squabble and yip

Unseen beyond the barns

Beneath the quiet cloak of night

Siblings sifting through the scraps

And I lay soft upon an unmade bed

Unwinding curls in my hair

Alone, attempting to remember my features

Wondering if I look like my mother.

 

 

IMG_20181005_083822_391Oak Ayling is a young woman quietly stitching poetry into the blurry windswept border between Cornwall and Devon, England. Highly commended by Indigo Press in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2018, her work can be found in Anti Heroin Chic Magazine, the fast growing lit mag From Whispers to Roars and forthcoming charitable anthology ‘Shorthand’ by author Helen Cox in support of UK homeless charity Streetlink.

A fist lost – Gareth Culshaw

 

The pitch was always poor in under 14s 

footie. At the start of the season the council

would send men out. Paint the lines,

mow the turf, align the goalposts.

 

I always played better when he came

standing there with his accent.

My first goal scored, smiles all round.

Jogging back, raised fist to you

 

yours pumped in the air. We got on 

back then before the stubbornness set, 

distance in years between us showed.

 

That break in the relationship a hole 

in my memory, will never be filled.

 

 

IMG_1727Gareth lives in Wales. He has his first collection out now by FutureCycle called The Miner. He hopes one day to achieve something special with the pen.

Giving to Charity – Megan Whiting

 

Yesterday I gave my life away.

Ripped the past from the present

and left my house devoid of memories.

Bullied my childhood into boxes

and coerced my teenage years into carrier bags,

then lugged the entire sorry lot to the one place it might be useful.

Here, I handed every part of my former self to an elderly volunteer,

who groaned at the weight of my old life

and decided what it was worth.

Only then could I return to my empty house

and start again.

 

 

megan image 5Megan is a freelance writer and proofreader based in Suffolk. A poet at heart, she has been published in anthologies and online and offers personalised wedding poetry as one of her services. Megan loves to read and go for tandem rides with her fiancé. Find out more at www.meganwhiting.co.uk.

The Good Girl – Louise Wilford

 

Childhood stains it all,

blood that no amount of spit-wet tissue can rub out.

 

The playground grit against our knees,

the slap of rope on asphalt, skipping songs

coating the summer day. The walk-in cupboard where our toys

were kept, silverfish in its dusty corners.

 

That’s where I hid the card, the broken bits

of yellow-painted egg-box daffodils.

Crumbs like dried yolk stuffed in the Ludo box.

 

I’d missed school with the ‘flu’, so couldn’t finish it myself.

She’d stuck on the final leaves, filled in the last

few letters: OTHER’S DAY.

 

Glass animals on the windowsill

watched me as I tore the card to bits,

each wound a slice into her skin.

 

She’d ruined it, just as she soiled that Sunday

when she told them all I’d lied.

And all the while her alligator smile

tuned out their doubts.

 

As if a girl like her…

 

I felt her fingertips against the cardboard flowers,

her grinning brush-strokes on each painted edge.

 

Those old, sad days in which we played and wept.

For good or bad, they’re where we learned to be.

Until we die, they’re where our lives are kept.

 

 

unnamed (2)Yorkshirewoman Louise Wilford is an English teacher and examiner. She has had around 50 poems and short stories published in magazines including Popshot, Pushing Out The Boat and Agenda, and has won or been shortlisted for several competitions. She is currently writing a children’s fantasy novel.

Distracting photograph – Kieran Egan

 

Pensive, looking sideways, unfocused eyes,

perhaps wondering about her future.

 

Now flight-phobic, terrified of takeoffs.

To ease her anxieties I had suggested 

we bring and talk about photographs of ourselves, 

at ages five, and ten, fifteen, and twenty.

 

We examined the pensive ten-year-old girl looking sideways.

The woman she had become started to reminisce 

about her family, her school,

and what the girl in the photograph most cared about.

 

It was just a few minutes’ distraction, to ease her fears,

neither of us anticipated the flood of sobbing tears.

 

 

unnamed (2)Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver, Canada. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Quills (Canada), Literary Review of Canada, Dalhousie Review (Canada), High Window (UK), Orbis (UK), Raintown Review (USA), Envoi (UK), Shot Glass Journal (USA), Qwerty (Canada), Snapdragon (USA), The Antigonish Review (Canada), Acumen (UK), Canadian Quarterly and The Interpreter’s House (UK); also shortlisted for the John W. Bilsland Literary Award, 2017 and for the TLS Mick Imlah prize 2017.

Alma Mater – Laura Potts

 

Widow-black and winter, evening took me south into

lamps burning blue in the dusk. Out and over my hometown musk

lay the hinterland hills breathing low in the dark. Still,

frostspark sharp on the city streets, holy rain sweet

in the winter and the wet, with no evening stars ahead I let

the pavement take me home. Through the town nocturnal, gloam

 

and grey, my chimney throat coughing its smoke, I saw aslope

on the city’s slow spine those old black gates, the summer of my days

inside. Grief cracked my face. Those navy girls and me, a pace

always ahead. But in the pale stairwell light the ghost of my girlhood dead

in its fresh green spring and gone. From roadside wet I looked on

at this child of light, her afterglow bright, her ashes of life

 

already black. The cold breath of loss on my face. At my back

a schoolbell cracked at the evening air. I saw Death at my table there

tipping his hat, and the years in my face that sank as I sat

at that desk at the back of the class. I remember that. And last,

on an old December evening, down hallways dark the wilting hymns

of girls turned ghosts before their time, I saw their eyes

 

like candles cold, like lights no longer leading home. Outside, to the bone

I shook and swung, the darkened seas that were my eyes done

and gone at the sight of myself. Each girl ringing her own passing bell.

Well, in that mist and half-dark morning, my face a clenching fist

in pavement pools, I saw that septic, terminal school

for what it was. No, I never went back, of course.

 

I tipped my compass north.

 

 

527Laura Potts is twenty-one years old and lives in West Yorkshire. She has twice been named a Foyle Young Poet. Her poems have appeared in Seamus Heaney’s Agenda, The Interpreter’s House and Poetry Salzburg Review. She has recently been shortlisted for a Charter-Oak Award for Best Historical Fiction at The University of Colorado and also made The 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize shortlist. This year Laura became one of The Poetry Business’ New Poets and a BBC New Voice for 2017. Her first BBC radio drama Sweet The Mourning Dew will air at Christmas 2017.

Bed Against the Partition – Roy Moller

 

In from Ontario to have me,

she rooms in a floral,

threadbare situation

in strange Scotland,

picking up chanting

from Infants and Juveniles,

and pigtailed little madams

shoo-ing away

clodhopping brogues

from elaborate elastics

and hopscotch plotted

in chalk mark.

 

She samples the songs of

pat-a-cake in action.

She is handsome, she is pretty,

She is the flower of the golden city.

 

She’s seven months seeded,

sitting out playtime

perched on the edge

of a tartan coverlet

wishing the quilt

and pillow would muffle

anxious appointments,

obligations pressing upon her

and pressing within her

till she can skip over

this rope again forever.

 

Roy MollerRoy Moller is a poet and songwriter who lives in Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland. He is the author of the short-run collection Imports and his work has been featured in the anthologies The Sea (Rebel Poetry) and Neu! Reekie! UntitledTwo. His musical works include My Week Beats Your Year, described by Louder Than War as “profoundly moving and inspirational”. His website is www.roymoller.com.

Dying River – Catherine LoFrumento

 

and here I am

 

no longer a sign

of youth but of

time passing

 

wondering when

my breasts will

lose their fullness

and hang from my chest

like withered teardrops

or worn out sleeves

 

…no longer tempting

your hands and mouth…

 

each egg

counts down

my days

 

I see them

frogs hopping

trying to get free

 

running away

from a dying river.

 

bio photoCatherine lives in Connecticut with her husband and fur babies. Though not scientifically proven, she likes to think that earning degrees in both English and Accounting confirms that both sides of her brain work. Her poetry has been featured in various journals and anthologies including NeverlastingCattails, Modern Haiku, Frogpondbottle rockets, 50 HaikusThree Line Poetry, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and wild voices: an anthology of short poetry and art by women. To see more of her ramblings follow her on Twitter @Catherin03.

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.

Sinister – Maurice Devitt

 

*Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed.

 

At school I wanted to be

left-handed, so I told

the teacher my right arm

was broken, hitched it in a scarf

around my neck and proceeded

to write with my left – whispery

at first, but gradually I gained

strength and my ‘O’s became

perfectly rounded: pieces of art,

letters I could stand back from

and admire. That day over lunch

I drew one on the classroom

floor, pulled a rope-ladder

from my pocket and climbed

down, careful to cover my tracks.

It seems I tunnelled in the dark

for hours, until suddenly I saw

a circle of light, clambered

towards it to lift myself out,

only to be met by the cold stare

of my mother,

a stick of chalk in her right hand.

 

Personal PhotoRunner-up in The Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition in 2017, Maurice Devitt was winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition in 2015 and has been placed or shortlisted in many competitions including the Patrick Kavanagh Award, Listowel Collection Competition, Over the Edge New Writer Competition, Cuirt New Writing Award, Cork Literary Review  and the Doire Press International Chapbook Competition. He has had poems published in Ireland, England, Scotland, the US, Mexico, Romania, India and Australia, runs the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site and is a founder member of the Hibernian Writers’ Group.