Mark Cassidy: “Lenny”

Lenny (circa ’60)

He is sitting alone at the counter of a downtown diner somewhere along the middle of the evening, late in November. Kind Of Blue is playing. People pass by outside the window, their features distorted by the rain streaming on the glass. He smokes a cigarette. He keeps a cup of coffee and a notebook in front of him at all times. He is ready. When it comes, he’s gonna be ready. He’s wearing an open necked white shirt under a corduroy jacket. With patches.

_____Towards midnight a cab will pull up to the kerb, spraying gritty, icy water over the sidewalk, and someone will not get out but will roll the window part way down and peer for a moment into the diner’s interior before pulling away again in the direction of the train station while he lights another cigarette and does not turn around. Later, the rain will turn to snow and the chilly streets will fall silent, swollen with mystery and longing.

________________________________________________________________________

Mark Cassidy writes, “I was born in the UK and emigrated to Canada once my schooling was finished. I have worked all round the world and now live in Texas.”

Phillip Barcio: “Muddy Waters”

Muddy Waters

I see thousands of me standing on the sidewalks, riding the subway, lying in the grass and walking on the beach.

Who is teaching us not to trust?

The lady next to me at Muddy Waters coffee house on Valencia Street got up from her seat and walked outside to talk to someone on her cell phone. She left her laptop sitting out on the table, along with her wallet, open, with a credit card sticking out of it.

About fifteen minutes later she came back in. Everything was still sitting there exactly as she had left it. She looked at me and laughed and said, “I must be pretty trusting!”

“Why shouldn’t you be?” I asked.

What, just because this is an economically depressed neighborhood in a large American city? Just because there are desperate, homeless people asleep in almost every doorway? Just because every morning the business owners around here spend half an hour washing the urine and human feces and vomit off the sidewalk in front of their cafes and shops? What’s any of that got to do with trust?

What she didn’t know was that while she was outside talking on her phone, I counted eight people who came in off the street, ordered at the counter and left again, walking right past her stuff. One was a trembling, disheveled man in a filthy coat. He shuffled up to the counter and stared longingly at the Iranian woman who owns the cafe. She smiled at him, reached into her tip jar, pulled out some change and handed it to the man. The gentle creases around her smiling eyes as she handed him the money looked to me like sun rays lighting up the room with love.

How many other laptops and credit cards resting on vacant tables had this man walked past on his way here?

I’m not an idealist. I am only speaking from my own experience. Most people will not steal from you, even if they have the chance.

Most people will not hurt you, even if you deserve it.

Most people are ready to share whatever they have with whoever truly needs it.

Most people love each other without hesitating.

There are no enemies, only collaborators in the creation of moments, all waiting to find out what we’re going to do together next.

_______________________________________________________________________

Phillip Barcio is a fiction author, arts journalist, and host of the Apocalypse Mixtape radio show. His writing has appeared in Western Humanities Review, Michigan Quarterly Review online, Space Squid, The Swamp Ape Review, and various other fine publications. He can be stalked at philbarcio.com, or around Evanston, Illinois.

Fred Melton: “Paranormal Paranoia”

Paranormal Paranoia

As a thrice-divorced, somewhat bald and possibly paunchy forty-seven-year-old man living in a basement, I’m proof cancer doesn’t always kill (in spite of a lack of maternal love) with proper vigilance put in place.
_____Early detection, and the help of an Asian pedicurist and her Tao cheese grater, conquered carbuncular carcinoma of both my big toes. Contracted weekly visits: $43.99 (cash only).
_____Last year, a genticulated sarcoma burrowed into me with the determination of a one-armed well-digger. Cure? Hoffa-style yoga and onanism. This, of course, my mother did not appreciate despite WebMD documentation that success skyrockets if self-flagellation is performed before a priest during Easter Mass—which most certainly occurred. Twice.
_____Two months ago, I expected to perish from pineal gland obnubilation, a clouding of that testicular-like nub perched atop my amygdala—that scrotal blob, when locked and loaded, causes otherwise well-adjusted white males, like myself, to spray lead and mayhem throughout movie theaters, usually matinees, and across gay bars, long after Happy Hour. Prevention? Percolated free-range coffee enemas.
_____Until last night, I thought my long-term prognosis was excellent.
_____Around ten, not one minute after plopping down in my Yoda jammies and party hat, bottle of Gray Goose squeezed betwixt my loins, just as a tightee-whitee’d-look-a-like Joel Osteen charged across a rented big screen TV toward a Brazilian jujitsu submission demon, my mother goes ape-shit. Yes, I may have used her credit card for this once-in-a-lifetime-pay-for-view cage fight, but she’s the one who left her purse wide open.
_____However you look at it—and I’ve looked at it all day through the lens of weed—she had no right to yank open the door to her basement and scream, “I’m gonna kill you, you motherfucker.”
_____Something’s amiss.
_____Vigilance is to be increased—followed by purchase of a Taser.

 

 

Fred Melton has work published in Best American Mystery Stories 2002, Jabberwock Review, Passages North, Front Range Review, Oyez Review, Bellingham Review and Talking River Review, as well as other magazines.

 

David Petruzelli: Two Flash Fiction Pieces

El Paso

Before Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald went off to Hollywood in the winter of ‘27, they left their daughter, Frances Scottie, in the care of Scott’s parents, who lived in Washington, DC.; on their last afternoon in town Scott took his mother, Mollie, to a matinee. Scott was never sure whose idea it was to see Flesh and the Devil, though Mrs. Fitzgerald adored John Gilbert, and Greta Garbo was one of those secrets Scott managed to keep to himself. Gilbert gave his mother a lot to think about that day, and even though she annoyed Scott with questions about a cartoon they watched before the movie began, her warm thank-you afterwards surprised and touched her son in a way that made him think he’d never see her again, and at the same time knowing this wasn’t true. On the train the next morning, relieved that his daughter seemed content to stay behind, he was still sad that in the last reel Garbo fell through the ice and drowned. Then somewhere in Kentucky, feeling a little tight and dozing off, he kept breathing Zelda’s perfume and dreamed he was rescuing his idol.
_____It was his first trip to the west coast, and Scott was convinced he could write a feature for United Artists, and go home with easy money. They were introduced to Lois Moran, an up-and-coming 17-year-old actress, and Scott couldn’t believe how beautiful and intelligent she was, then made the mistake of describing her in similar terms to Lois’s mother, all within earshot of Zelda, who went back to the couple’s hotel room, where the evening clothes intended for their first Hollywood party were laid out on the bed, and used Scott’s straight razor on them.
_____In the end United Artists passed on his flapper comedy, about a magic lipstick that made its wearer irresistible to men. He and Zelda took screen tests and quickly grew bored with the process. Zelda ended up making faces, and Scott hated how he looked: too pale, too old. On the long trip back East, they were going through El Paso when they again quarreled about Lois, and in the club car that night, his wife removed the platinum wrist watch Scott gave her when he was courting Miss Sayre of Montgomery; Zelda opened the nearest window and tossed it out. The train gave a long, mournful whistle. In the Texas dark, Lois, or maybe Garbo, found it in the deep grass.

Chinese Coffee, East 52nd St.

Half a block away it seems too busy in front of my building: neighbors, strangers, all looking like they’re in the way. And there I am, about to walk into it after finishing work, ready for the bad news about the break-in, or the child found unconscious in the foyer, a hand trying to keep us back. And sure enough someone notices, turns from the others to step in front of me, though her voice tries to be friendly: “Hi, could you wait a minute? We’re almost done.” But what they’re doing isn’t police work, they’re making a movie, and the short sad-faced man looking homeless in the middle of all these people is dressed for fall even though it’s June, with a grimy raincoat and black beret pulled down to keep his head warm. In a low voice he explains what’s going to happen next, and I realize he’s talking about the brick wall two doors down, and the sunlight still on it and how well this works, and if you get rid of the coat & hat and clean him up, the poor guy could pass for Al Pacino, and with the woman next to him saying Al this and Al that, maybe I’m right, and I listen to the voice again, and yes, it’s Pacino—louder now—“OK, let’s try it.”
_____Then everyone comes off the steps as if they know where to go and what to do, and I’m wondering who the director is and where’s the rest of the cast and what are they calling this thing? “Chinese Coffee,” one kid tells me like it’s a password or he just made it up, but that’s really the name, Pacino’s directing himself, and even the title says the film’s being shot quickly and cheap, though it won’t be released for another three years, with Pacino as an unsuccessful New York City writer who in the scene they’re filming today gets mistaken for this serial killer by a quartet of detectives jumping out from their beat-to-death undercover car.
_____I watch as they slam him against the wall—over & over, take after take, with Pacino each time forced to press his whole body into it, the bricks painted a rich deep red that in the finished film looks redder still. A close-up shows you his weariness, but also surprise, as though the man can’t believe these things keep happening to him, while the actor once more feels the wall on his hands and face, the warmth left over from the first time.

 

David Petruzelli has had work published in crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, The New Yorker, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. A poetry collection, Everyone Coming Toward You, won the Tupelo Press Judge’s Prize and was published in 2005. He lives in New York City.

David Henson: “The Glassblower’s Wife”

The Glassblower’s Wife 

When they’re young, he plies her with crystal roses and hummingbirds. He even promises a life-size unicorn, but quits after fashioning the horn. The years break the fragile things, some glass, some bone. But she manages to protect the horn.

The last time he tells her not to wait up, she tries to calm her thoughts by doing laundry. But when she folds his sweaters, she’s twisting his arms, breaking his ankles as she does his socks.

The minute hand pounds cracks in the face of her wristwatch. Dishes and cups slide from kitchen wallpaper tables, pile jagged grins on the floor. Moonlight caves in the picture window, leaves long spears lounging on the couch.

Sometime before dawn, headlights flood the bedroom. A car door thunks. She hears him plodding up the steps, feigns sleep.

He’s quickly a pile of snores in the dark. She takes the horn from under her pillow, her heart a fist opening and closing around a shard of glass.

 

 

David Henson and his wife have lived in Brussels and Hong Kong and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has appeared in various journals including Gravel, Moonpark Review, Bull and Cross, Literally Stories, Riggwelter, and Pithead Chapel. (http://writings217.wordpress.com @annalou8)

Tom Block: “Mystic”

Mystic 

_____I hang my head in shame.  “I’m not a mystic.”  I raise my head.  I look her full in the eyes.
_____Jazmin lowers her gaze.  “I,” she begins.  “I didn’t mean to . . .”  She turns away.  “Tankeen will be here soon.”  Then: “He – would you like to meet him?”
_____Tankeen is Jazmin’s Shaykh.  I do not want to meet Tankeen.
_____Sanjay is there.  He is a professor of Urdu.  He has two children.  He says he is spiritually drowning.  “I will wait for Tankeen,” he says.  “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
_____“I had a premonition that I would meet him,” Jazmin says.  “I was in class.  Suddenly, my head was completely enveloped with a purple color.  Like a scarf.  Or a haze.  The next day I met him.  Purple is the color of his tariqah.”
_____I feel nauseated.
_____“When Takeen took the bayah in Senegal.  The Grandshaykh served oatmeal for breakfast.  Tankeen did not want to eat it.  The Grandshayk’s son kept saying: ‘you eat it you eat it you eat it’ until Tankeen ate it.  Tankeen had a bad back.  That night, he had a dream that a zipper zipped up his back and made it better.  Some people think that the Grandshaykh put something in the oatmeal.  But Tankeen —”
_____Tankeen breezes into the wood-paneled room.  It is the lobby of a century-old dormitory hall at Columbia University.  He sports a jazz goatee.  His dark skin melds with the aged wood all around.  A red scarf hangs over his shoulders.  His face beams.
_____“Here he is,” says Sanjay.  Sanjay steps back and then forward.  
_____“Is this —” begins Tankeen.
_____“This is Sanjay,” Jazmin flutters.  Tankeen thrusts out his hand, grabs Sanjay’s hand and pulls Sanjay to him.  Sanjay sighs.  “And this is Tom.”  Tankeen takes my hand, lets it go and then places his hand against his heart.  
_____“It is nice to meet you,” I say.
_____Tankeen and Sanjay sit down on the hard bench, face to face.  Sanjay hopes that Tankeen might be able to save him.  
_____I move with Jazmin to the side.  “I want to go,” I say.
_____“I’ll escort you home,” she says, her voice a scattering of butterflies.
_____“I don’t want to go home.”
_____“I’ll take you where you want to go and then come back.” 
_____“I want to go to a bar.  To sketch.  But I need a sketchbook.”  Am I spiritually drowning, as well?  I frown.  “Take me to a drugstore.”  A drugstore might have a sketchbook and a pen. “I didn’t bring my sketchbook,” I apologize. 

 

Tom Block is the author of five books, a playwright, 25+ year exhibiting visual artist and Founding Producer of New York City’s International Human Rights Art Festival (ihraf.org). He was a Research Fellow at DePaul University (2010), LABA Fellow (NY, 2013-14), Hamiltonian Fellow (2008-09) and recipient of funding/support from more than a dozen foundations and organizations. tomblock.com

Samantha Steiner: “Zipping Between”

Zipping Between

Zipping between restaurant tables with a pencil behind my ear, I found my first lover. You’re welcome, she said, as she pressed a napkin into my hand. XOXO, a phone number. We made love in my tent at the back of the trailer park. Vowed eternal company.
_____“Umbrella?” she offered me one morning as I crawled out of our tent. Too late, I was dripping cold. She wrapped me in blankets, put a cloth to my forehead. 
_____“Remember the napkin, three years ago?” she said. Quaking. Pulling my face to hers.
_____Own your choices, her eyes spoke. No one will love me if you don’t.
_____“May I go now?” I asked, and she nodded.
_____“Love you,” she said.
_____Keep her company, that I could do. Ignore her company, that I could also do.
_____“Hello,” the man said when he opened his trailer door. “Good to see you again.”
_____Fingers in hair. Eyelashes on skin. Door wide. Couldn’t miss us from the tent.
_____“Be well,” she said when I returned, kissed my forehead. “Another time.”

 

 

Samantha Steiner is a visual artist and Fulbright Scholar. She holds a B.A. from Brown University and is an M.F.A. candidate in nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work is forthcoming or published in The Emerson Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, and The Citron Review. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Steiner_Reads.

Francine Witte: Three Flash Fictions

No Good

_____She knows Morley is no good for her.  End of the world stuff.  His previous girls had 1) hung herself like a spring floral in her closet and 2) threw herself off the bridge bag of old laundry style.
_____But still there was the sex.  Oozy and tingly and down to her toes.  She would find herself thinking about it everywhere.  Oh yes, the way he bit her lip.  And yes, his calloused fingers.
_____One day, she is waiting for him to come by like he promised, and she gets a phone call from his wife.  She is whisper quick and tells her that Morley himself is dead. Another lovergirl shot him jealous through the head.  I am going through his cell phone, the wife says.  With you, I’m only halfway through.
_____She thinks of her place in the alphabet.  Mary.  M. That’s only halfway through as well.  She wonders about the X’s. There can’t possibly be an X.  So maybe it isn’t as bad as it seems.
_____She thanks the wife who, as it turns out, has already moved on to the next.

 

It’s not pretty

_____leaving a man you promised to marry.  Leaving him in the car as he drives you to your wedding.  Leaving him in the empty parking lot near the drugstore where you pulled in that first night to pick up emergency condoms.
_____It’s not pretty how that all means nothing now. How the guests are waiting. How the preacher is waiting, how the man you promised to marry is about to become a white oval face in your memory as you slip out of the car, out of your wedding dress and run in your underwear, into the drug store, into the backroom behind the pharmacy section, into the arms of Hector, the delivery guy, who was always smart enough to bring his own condoms those sweet achy nights behind the garage while the man you promised to marry slept right upstairs.
_____And it’s not pretty how when you do slip into Hector’s arms, and feel his warm breath on your neck, you smell the faint perfume that Lucinda the night cashier always wears.
_____And how you hold off his kiss just long enough to look out the window to watch as the man you promised to marry picks up your empty wedding dress, props it up sitting in the passenger seat and drives off to go home and wait for your call the way he has done a hundred times before.

 

On Second Thought

_____I decide to return her gift. It doesn’t come from an honest place. It doesn’t come from love.
_____The gift is a cashmere scarf. How very chain-y of her. If I keep it, I will have to promise to meet her for lunch.
_____If I keep it, she will be able to cut me into multiple me’s, like a cartoon dog. I would still me, but there would be 16 me’s, and smaller, much smaller. Each one smiling and inviting her to tea.
_____I know if I keep it, I will never be able to shake her upside down out of my life. She will  be a cereal box I keep putting back on the shelf because it’s not quite empty.
_____I know if I keep it, I will fall in love with the cool cashmereness of it, soft, like the way time softens a memory, how a friend stealing your man a time or two, can turn into a life lesson.
_____Like it was really a positive how she taught me how to watch for the want in other women’s eyes when I bring them around my man. Thank you, I might even learn to say to her. Over lunch. Over tea. As I sit there, my thumb stroking the lying pull of the cashmere. My other fingers frozen in disgust.

 

 

Francine Witte’s poetry and flash fiction have appeared in Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Lost Balloon, Stonecoast Review, Moon Candy Review, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed Wrong for All This (Flash), The Theory of Flesh (Poetry), and The Way of the Wind (novella.) She lives in NYC.

Gail Hosking: “Proprietary Rights”

Proprietary Rights

_____I tell the story of Walter every time I pour some cherry brandy into this small cocktail glass with its stem and etched details. The story is that this crystal flute once belonged to his mother, a woman long gone since Walter was well into his 80’s that school year I lived with my grandmother in New Jersey. Her boyfriend, we called him, when he came for a meal, his thin suit legs crossed on the couch as he waited for a place at the dining room table. Walter with his gray hair and cane was a quiet man and seemed grateful as he leaned over his plate while my sisters and I chatted about this or that. Afterwards, he drove us in his black car past its prime up to Howard Johnson’s for ice cream, the only sounds in the car gears shifting from the floor.
_____When he moved to a nursing home, we took a bus to visit, and found him in a small room, his slippers under a single bed. A clock ticked on the windowsill. We made small talk as Grandma held his hand, and my sisters and I ran down the hall searching for a Coca-Cola. Little did I know then that we were learning right there in that small building of old people that time turns quickly, everything is fragile. A whole set of his mother’s cordial glasses moved to Grandma’s china cabinet after Walter died like something belonging to the heart. Decades later they are in my kitchen where I repeat Walter’s story every time I pour sweet liqueur into the remaining chalice grasping its stem and studying again the spiral of engraved leaves and berries swirling into an old pattern, its narrative on the move, its future home unknown.

 

Gail Hosking is author of the memoir Snake’s Daughter (U of Iowa Press), the poetry chapbook The Tug (Finishing Line Press), and a book of poems, Retrieval (Main Street Rag Press). MFA from Bennington College. Poetry and essays have been published for years, and some have been anthologized. Two essays were considered “Most Notable” in Best American Essays.

Charles Rammelkamp: “Lost in the Supermarket”

Lost in the Supermarket

_____I was walking down aisle four looking for the V8.

Coffee
Tea & Cocoa
Juice
Sports Drinks
Powdered Drinks

_____I swerved my cart around a gray woman who muttered, “All the weird things they’re doing to our juice,” resentment heavy in her voice like the aggrieved white people you hear muttering about immigrants and gays. Or is it black people and Jews? Juice. Posting manifestos in Facebook before – well, they used to call it “going postal,” but now maybe it’s more like going viral. I wonder what she meant.  What were “they” doing to “our” juice?  I plucked a spicy hot V8 from the shelf and put it in my cart, thinking, what had they done to our tomato juice?
_____Later, I caught up with the woman in the chilled foods section frowning at the cottage cheese selections while I snared a carton of orange juice from the cooler. No pulp. Not from concentrate. The look of dull anger in her eyes as she looked at the Chobani told me she was angry about what “they” were doing to “our” yogurt. Latte? Coconut? Heresy!

 

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections are forthcoming in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee, from Kelsay Books.