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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

Issue 8, October 2012 Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Cover Design Paul Brand

Published by Sweatshoppe Publications 1


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

TheRustyNail CONTENTS Bad Sign by Eric Boyd, 3 A Moth Amongst Butterflies by John-Paul Crawford, 5 I Hope They’re Happy by Mechele Pruitt, 6 Still Life by Alex Blonder, 7 Tracks by Alec Houze, 8 Rule of Survival… by Smita Sriwastav, 10 Falling In Love During Wartime by S. Brady Tucker, 11 My Name Is Odd by Gail Aldwin, 12 I Kissed An Android by Janet Koops, 13 A Small Town Sound by Don Cadwallader, 13 Refill Please by Martha Rand, 14 I Didn’t by Jeffrey Graessley, 14 C. S. Lakin Discusses First Scene Essentials, 15 Animal by Melanie Whithaus, 17 Amateur Poets by Gennady Shaikhet, 18 Baby Heart by CL Bledsoe, 19 Bedtime by Delancey Stewart, 20 Between the Lines by G. S. Payne, 21 Super Moon by Alex Blonder, 23 Applause of Thunder by Alex Blonder, 23 View of the World in Water's Eyes by Allison Venida, 23 Clay Witch by Chris Castle, 24 Start to Stop by Racquel Henry, 25 Lonely Stretch by Veronica Irwin, 25 The Piano by Alison Strack, 26 In This Room by Barbara Carrington, 28 Enough To Tide Him Over For Awhile by Wayne Orr, 29 Soloist by Veronica Irwin, 31 To the Moon and Back by Kathi Hansen, 32 So Now I Go by William Butler, 33 The Problem With Madness by Eugene Chun, 34 Return From Irony by Veronica Irwin, 35 Tin Cup by William Butler, 35 Sanctuary by Howie Good, 36 Ode to Joy by Howie Good, 36 Orange & Blue by Howie Good, 36 The Sea Dog by Vicki Maxwell, 37 Old paradox, new verse by Nicholas Alexander, 38 Anything can inspire me by Nicholas Alexander, 38 Panic by Phil Lane, 39 Bombed by Tracy Hauser, 40 The Body Politic by Nicholas Alexander, 41 The Life and Times of Sneaky Pete by Timmy Reed, 41 Up at the Boat Factory by Jim Meirose, 43 Arrested By The Grammar Police by Alan W. Jankowski, 46

Steal This Poem by Alan W. Jankowski, 46 I, Lemon by PW Lewis, 47 Permission to Accompany by Jordan Wilson, 48 Flowing Gladly Into Dawn by A. J. Huffman, 49 Piercing the Night’s Skin by A. J. Huffman, 49 Mist by Neeru Iyer, 49 2

When I Was But A Young Man by Wayne Orr, 50 Like Father, Like Son by Jerry Guarino, 50 Being Friends With The Tiger by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr., 51

My Yesterdays by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr., 52 cranking fear by William I. Lengeman III, 52 Raindrops by Mike Jaeggle, 52 For a Monk of the Kirti Monastery by Rachel Hertzberg, 53

Canvas by Jenny O'Grady, 53 The Angry Women Museum by Gary Ives, 54 Lemon Tree by Jenny O'Grady, 55 The Death of Me by Mark Willen, 55 The Oklahoma Hills by Wayne Orr, 60 Plainly by Frank Praeger, 60

The Rusty Nail Staff Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Associate Editor Dr. Kimberly Nylen Hart Graphic Design Editor Paul Brand Contributing Editor Jacob Nordby

www.rustynailmag.com rustynailmag@gmail.com The Rusty Nail magazine is based in Pocatello, ID.


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

by Eric Boyd

BAD SIGN

only one common thread: that it sold because it was what people liked during the week Clay had made it. If photographs turned into paintings were popular, Clay did it; if abstracts done in black and white were in, he made them; and if wax melted over found objects was the cool thing, Clay was the coolest. It wasn't that Clay's work wasn't good, it was the fact that he only made it to fit in. Clay was like a Hollywood director, only churning out whatever was hip and made money. Anthony liked him very much. Augie did not. “Well I heard about it last night,” Anthony said. “I heard before anyone else did, naturally.” Augie looked at Anthony, wanting more, but Anthony only smiled. After every sentence he ever said, Anthony would smile, soaking it in. It was as if he watched the words float out of his mouth and looked into the air, appreciating them. His saying he heard what had happened to Clay before anyone else gave him pleasure, and knowing that Augie did not know made Anthony appreciate the words that much more. “Yes, I heard a while back. I figured you must have read it in the paper just now, though. It's not a big story in the paper, but it is a story,” Anthony smiled. “Tell me what happened to Clay,” Augie finally said. “Calm down my boy. It's not your funeral.” “You're a year younger than me, Anthony. Now what do you mean?” “Clay is dead.” What did he mean by dead? Augie thought. “Like... Dead dead?” “Dead as disco,” Anthony smiled. “What happened?” Anthony gave a wide grin and began, “Well you see, Clay was very much an artist of his times. It's no secret that the cream always rises to the top, and Clay was definitely a man who swam in the milk. He knew what sold and what didn't; Clay was able to see trends just as they started and he'd latch onto those trends until he felt something new was on the way. Clay was very clever. “The only thing Clay didn't have much of is personality, which is of course why I always had the nicer apartment,” Anthony said, running his hand down the buttons of his shirt. “I have personality. Clay did not. It's as simple as that. Clay grew up in a very nice home and his parents were very loving and as a result he was quite bland. You know how I grew up, and it gave me a great deal of character,” Anthony smiled. “But anyway, last night, Clay was held up at gunpoint. Apparently the man had seen Clay at a show opening earlier in the evening -- I was going to go, but I am glad I didn't because if that man had seen me, I'm sure he would have held me up instead-- so this man decides to rob Clay and he puts a gun in his mouth.”

ugie was sitting in the cafe on Eighth, reading a newspaper that was left on his table when he walked in. Augie didn't normally read the paper, didn't care to, but when he did, it was usually just the horoscopes. Augie was a Cancer.

A

Today will be a good day to develop a relationship with a old colleague. Consider peers from your past to help guide your future. Do not hesitate to turn old ashes into flames once more. “I dunno why I even read these,” Augie said to himself, folding the paper and putting it back down on the table. “This is for the birds.” Sipping at his tea, Augie saw Anthony; Augie always sat at the front table, by the window. Anthony was a photographer he had met through his friend, Fredrick, who hated Anthony. Fredrick was a writer and resented all other forms of art, especially photography. Fredrick said the difference between a gimmick and a well-crafted story was obvious, but that photographers had it easy, especially when they used computers. Fredrick owned a small toy camera from a flea market which rarely worked, but when it did, it shot very dreamy, strange photos which were often so overexposed or grainy that they could not be edited at all. Fredrick said that was the way life should be, particularly to look at it like one would look at a photograph. No edits. Ever. However, Anthony did very well at his photography, which was sleek and digitally created and commercially viable. He made a good deal of money shooting everything from local politicians to dog food advertisements. Fredrick said that suited Anthony perfectly, but Augie suspected he was just jealous that Anthony made enough money to pay his bills. Anthony walked into the cafe wearing pressed pants and a crisp, starched collar shirt. He went past Augie with a nod and headed directly to the counter. He placed his order and gave the girl at the counter a tip, which he cooly slid into her hand as he turned back to go to Augie's table. The girl at the counter, unimpressed, put the tip into a jar next to the cash register. “Augie!” Anthony said, wiping the seat across from Augie's with his hand. “I see you already read.” “Read what?” Augie asked. Anthony pointed towards the newspaper and said, “About Clay. You didn't read what happened?” “No?” Augie said, confused. Clay was an artist Augie had met once at a gallery. Clay's work was typical of most modern artist's work in that he only did what was popular. Looking at Clay's art, one would see 3


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

going to gag himself with a gun until he vomited onto a canvas he had on the floor.” “Clay had guns?” Augie asked. The story was strange enough as it was, but Augie had never taken Clay for a gun owner. “He had several period recreation pieces. He had replica of a pistol which fired muskets, and according to the news story, that's what he used. Obviously I wasn't on the phone with Clay when it happened, but he did tell me he planned on using a loaded gun.” “Why would he do that?” “To recreate that fear,” Anthony said. “I just can't imagine that...” “Clay had felt a terror which was so pure that it excited him. I've felt that fear; I almost didn't ask my first wife to sign a pre-nup,” Anthony laughed. “That's terrible.” “About Clay? Terrible? Are you kidding?” Anthony said. “That painting is going to be huge! It'll be the biggest sale Clay has ever made. I've already read online that a gallery in New York City is combing through Clay's sales records and buying paintings from owners, as well as combing through Clay's apartment for any unsold pieces. The new painting, which Clay titled Oh shit, is going straight to New York to be auctioned off. I don’t believe Clay had any children, but it's a shame because they'd be rich.” “How did these galleries hear about this so soon?” Augie said. “Well Clay didn't live in a very large apartment complex, so once the gun went off someone must have called the police. Once the police showed up, I was the last person on his calling list, so I was contacted. Don't worry, I wasn't questioned at all or anything like that. It was obvious what Clay had done. But after I got off the phone with the police and grieved for a few moments, I contacted a few galleries. I think it's what Clay would have wanted.” Anthony happily munched on his poached eggs and whole-grain toast. He looked over at the paper, but never touched it. He didn't need to. He already knew the news story. He'd help written half of it, probably. Anthony finished his breakfast and stood up. “You're invited, you know. The auction is next week. I made sure the gallery saved us a seat,” Anthony said. “If you see Fredrick, tell him to come, too. I know he writes for that magazine now. What's it called? Pork and Beans or something like that? Anyway he'd probably like to write about that. I'm sure he'd much rather be writing about my death, though. Ha.” Anthony didn't laugh, he had actually said the word 'ha.' Augie could see why Fredick hated Anthony so much. “I'll see if I'm free,” Augie said. “Do.”

“He put a gun in Clay's mouth?” Augie gasped. Just as he had said this, the woman from the cafe, holding a tray with Anthony's breakfast and a second cup of tea for Augie, flinched. She didn't flinch much, but just enough for Anthony to see. “Ma'am, do you realize how expensive this particular pair of pants is?” “I'm sorry,” she said. “I just got a little startled. I don't like hearing about guns and all of that stuff.” “They're very expensive,” he continued, ignoring anything the woman had said. “They're expensive pants and I'm very happy you didn't drop that tray.” He smiled and stared at the woman for a few moments. She turned around and walked away, but it was obvious she was more annoyed than bothered by Anthony. “Silly girl,” he said. “Alright, you had some fun, go on with the Clay thing,” Augie insisted. “Oh. Right. So this man puts a gun in Clay's mouth, and apparently he really shoved the thing in, you know? He shoved the gun so hard into Clay's mouth that he vomited. He gagged and he vomited all over the gun and the gunman's hand and so forth. Clay is known to drink at these gallery parties, so I'm sure he probably vomited quite a lot. “I'm sure Clay stained that gunman's hand purple with the Dago junk he was probably knocking back throughout the evening. It shouldn't too be hard to find that robber, really.” “So the robber shot Clay? That's awful,” Augie said. “Oh no. No. Don't misunderstand, Augie. That's not what happened at all. You have to let me finish. That's not what happened. Clay shot himself. Clay committed suicide, he just didn't know he did.” “What?” “After Clay vomited on the gunman, he became disgusted and walked away from Clay, leaving him quivering on the ground, you know? After a few moments Clay regained his composure and decided to go back to his apartment to do some paintings. That's how I found out about all of this. Clay called me on the telephone and told me.” “Told you what?” Augie asked. “He told me that, for the first time in his life, he had felt true terror. He had never had a bad moment in his life, really. Like I said, Clay came from a good home with a clean background. He never wanted for anything. But he told me that, of all the times for him to desire something-- because of course, like me, Clay could buy almost whatever he wanted. He wasn't rich, but he could afford most things-Clay was put in a position where the only thing he desired was life. Do you understand? Of all things, Clay went from having everything he wanted to possibly losing the only thing that really matters. “So Clay told me that he was going to recreate the experience he had just been a part of. He told me he was going to eat a good deal of non-toxic paints and that he was

Fredrick had been in a bad place lately, dealing with some sort of mysterious legal matter. He was looking worse each time Augie saw him.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

“Great,” Augie said out loud. “Now I'm a bastard. I can't even read the horoscopes anymore.” He finished his cup of tea and looked down into the cup. Maybe I'll just read my tea leaves instead, he thought. That was supposed to be pretty accurate.

Anthony walked to the counter and paid for his breakfast. As the woman behind the counter turned around to come back to Augie's table and pick up Anthony's dishes, Anthony took back the tip from the jar which he had given the woman earlier. He walked out of the cafe and nodded his head at Augie through the window. Augie sat in silence, dumbfounded. After a few moments he saw Fredrick across the street. His hair was wild and messy, shooting out from under his old, beat fedora. Fredrick had been in a bad place lately, dealing with some sort of mysterious legal matter. He was looking worse each time Augie saw him. Fredrick walked in and went straight to Augie's table. “Hey, how ya been?” he said. “Did you hear about Clay?” “Yeah, it's made of dirt.” “No, no. The artist.” “Oh yeah, that guy. What about him?” “He's dead.” “He's in the dirt now, then.” “I guess so,” Augie said. “He was making a painting and he shot himself by accident, apparently.” “No edits. I like that.” “Yeah, well if you want to attend the auction of the last painting, it's going to be in New York next week.” “Well I can't really leave the state right now...” Fredrick paused, massaging his brow. “But anyway, how do you know any of this?” “Anthony told me.” “Oh, him. I wish he'd get hit by a fucking bus or something. Wipe that stupid smile off his face.” “Well, he told me. It was in the paper, too.” “What's the paper say?” “I don't know,” Augie said. “I just look at the horoscopes.” “I already told you!” Fredrick shouted. “Western astrology is for chumps! Start reading into what your Jyotish. Western astrology is off by one thousand years. Everybody's sign is one off.” “So I'm actually a Gemini?” Augie said. “I guess. Anyway I'm just came to pick up some beer. This is the only place that'll serve beer at eight in the morning. Long day ahead of me, y'know.” Fredrick got up and went to the counter, asking for a sixpack. The woman said she'd have to charge for each beer separately, since they didn't sell sixpacks. Fredrick said that was fine and paid. Each bottle was wrapped in a plastic bag, and then they were all put into one large paper bag. Fredrick said thanks and put a quarter in the tip jar. The woman behind the counter smiled and gave him one more beer, on the house. Walking out, Fredrick tipped his hat at Augie and said, “Don't read those damn horoscopes, man. They're for the birds.” As soon as Fredrick was out of sight, Augie grabbed the newspaper and looked at the horoscope for Gemini.

This story originally appeared in Pork & Mead magazine.

• • • Eric Boyd was born on October 16th, at 3:33AM, 1988 in North Carolina. He briefly studied at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Boyd is the literary editor of Pork & Mead magazine; he also helps edit the Newer York literary magazine. Boyd is a winner of the PEN American 2012 Prison Writing contest. His work has also been featured in several journals, both online and in print, including the Rusty Nail, Fourth River, and Velvet Blory. Boyd's first collection of short stories, Whiskey Sour, was released in the spring of 2012 by Chatham University / Nervous Puppy Publishing. The collection will soon enter its second printing. Eric Boyd currently lives in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

A Moth Amongst Butterflies by John-Paul Crawford A lot of us feel invisible, To the naked eye we are shadows in the shade, Afraid to be judged by others we hide, We fade into air, Scared of the harsh tongue and coarse verses. I am a moth amongst butterflies, Ugly to their callous eyes they force me to fade, Averted gazes and contact I am often left alone, Dull upon appearance I am a moth, Rejected by many. Yet upon their indifference I could care not, A moth I may be a fact I could not deny, Yet beneath my tattered wings, I speak proudly, As I am content being the moth upon conceited eyes.

• • • John-Paul Crawford is aged 19 and lives in the small town of Stroud. As a freelance writer he writes passionately about the things which mean most to him. Striving to get better, he had the fortunate luck to publish his poem “Reflection” within Miracle Ezine. He writes poetry, books and even takes a crack at screenplays, exploring all methods of writing and styles.

Do not gossip too much. The life and times of those around you may contaminate your own, Gemini. Be wary of the stories you hear and the stories you choose to repeat. All things should be considered sacred for some period of time. 5


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

I HOPE THEY’RE HAPPY

by Mechele Pruitt

“I know,” I make myself meet his eyes then bare a sliver of truth. “Things have been bad, but they're starting to straighten out. I'm sorry for messing up so much this week. I'll understand if you want to take it out of my check.” George waves his slim hand and says, “Pffft, you know me better than that, Bridgette.” A hand that's probably held doors for a woman instead of holding her face in the floor while he chopped her hair off. My own hand trembles as I feel the scab on the back of my neck. The short gash that I thought would never stop bleeding. The blood staining my blond hair that used to hang down my back in lazy natural curls. The bell over the door jingles and I jump. George holds out his hand to calm me down, to assure me all is well. I lower the hand I wasn't aware had flown to my throat. For a moment I could feel Wyatt's knee pressing into it while he exacted his truth from me bit by bloody bit. After so long I gave up the truth because lying got it over with faster. A fast backhand to the face, two swift kicks in the ribs and some colorful words usually preceded the fist that would bring down the blessed black curtain that helped me survive. More than once I'd wake up on the floor hours later and still bleeding. Our son, Wyatt Jr., sitting beside me crying, begging me to wake up. His father would be gone to cool off because I had pushed him too far again. His words. George takes the lady's order and her money. “I'll have a soy latte, no whip.” The sound of her voice makes me blink wide in recognition. We went to high school together. Until recently we were friends on Facebook. I guess she came to gloat for taking my husband from me last week. Her cheeks are flushed at the edges. She's not embarrassed, she's proud. She's excited. I hope for her sake it lasts because once the devil gets out of the box she's never going to be able to get it back in. I pity her. I just don't pity her enough to warn her to run and hide. George writes, “Alexis” on the cup. He checks the boxes and passes it to me then turns away. I feel like he's waiting for me to goof up again. I measure the coffee and work the levers blowing steam into the small silver pot. I do it right and I make it especially for her. The top goes on with a snap and I slide a cardboard hand protector up the white cup before sitting it on the counter. I flatten my voice and say, “Soy latte, no whip.” Turning away would be easy, but I don't. I want to see her hand reach and take it. See her pretty blue eyes that'll bleed red and turn black, purple, green and yellow if their luck turns out like mine did. I wonder if he's held her gently by the chin and looked deep into them yet? Wonder if he's professed that he'd rather be dead than be without her. Lies that slip around your neck like a noose. Her hand reaches for the cup. The one with the engagement ring. “Hey, Bridgette,” she says.

Yo, Chick, this isn't what I wanted.” His deep voice startles me and I almost drop the whip cream. I look up and over the counter at him. He has thick shoulders and a scruffy face. He sits the cup down so hard coffee spews out the hole in the lid. “Oh, I am so sorry. What was it you ordered?” He tells me again and I work it up. I'm sure to add extra whip cream on top. I hand it across the counter and apologize again. He grabs it and walks out the door in a huff, his change rattles in his pocket. George's eyes are settled on my back but I don't turn around. He waits till the door closes behind the customer before he says anything. “You seem a little distracted this morning, Bridgette.” Before turning around I swipe the silver counter top with a damp towel. “Yeah, I'm sorry.” What else can I say? He wouldn't believe me if I told him everything. He'd probably want to fire me. George scans the tables and sofa for lingering customers. The room is empty. The air is thick with the smell of stale coffee. Low in the background Ray Lamontagne is singing about trouble. “I'm worried about you. Are you okay?” He settles his perceptive brown eyes on me holding them there they way a parent would with a rowdy child. I run my hand down my black apron before lying. “I'm fine.” I could tell him that my back's still bruised and that I have a nick on the back of my neck from where the scissors bit me, but I won't. He'll think Wyatt could come in with a gun and mow us down. Leave us to die on the floor. It's a thought that's crawled across my mind like a limping bug on more than one occasion. But Wyatt's gone so the chances of him coming in Starbucks and gunning me down are slim. George's lips are weighed down at the corners. His eyes are full of genuine concern. Three years of life with an abuser taught me more than a book ever could. Facial expressions, the set of a man's shoulder's, his slit eyes and gait are all preludes to good or evil. Peace or violence. “I'm fine, George,” I reply with a fake smile I was forced to perfect over the years. He blinks too fast and I know he's not buying it. “You sure? Because I'm here for you if you need to talk.” I can hear Wyatt in the back of my mind sneering those same lines, asking me if George invited me to sit and have coffee with him, If we sat in the office and shared a slice of pound cake, If his hand ever brushed my backside as he passed me behind the counter? A tremor is trying to sneak into my voice. I shake it away strengthen my tone to hide and save face. His concern is real and he would have helped me many times if I had asked. Contrary to what Wyatt believes and preaches, George would have done it without expecting anything in return.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

The scissors snipped and snapped all over my head. Tresses fell to the floor and fanned down my face. Tears mixed with hairs and clung to my face. I squirmed and the blades bit into my neck. They sliced me open and he cussed me. The warm blood trickled down and around my neck. “I told you to be still.” He shook me, hard. I gave up and let him finish so I could get the baby. The scab brings me back to the present. Makes me see my husband's lover across the table from me. “Is that all?” She stands up and pushes her chair under the table the way good customers do. “I guess I'll go then. I wish we could be friends again, Bridgette. Maybe one day we'll be able to get past all of this mess. It's the best thing we could do for Wyatt Jr., you know?” I cut my eyes up at her. She swallows and cradles her cup. “Stay away from me, Alexis. Don't talk to me and don't come back here for your freakin coffee.” I stand up and point to the door. “Get out.” I hate to but I try to growl and sound ugly. She trots to the door stealing glances. I guess she thinks I want to hit her. Her dark hair swings around her shoulders like a curtain. I feel my short, spiky hair and thank God Wyatt left me for her. I hope they're happy together.

I feign anger and glare. I have to be careful how I play this part. She might dump him then he'll want to move back home. He'll demand to since his name's on the deed. “I know you're at work but have you got a minute to talk? I'd really like a chance to explain.” Her eyes dart from me to my boss. George comes over and says, “Go ahead, I'll clean up.” “Thank you, George.” I untie my apron and slip it over my head. I lay it under the counter then walk around to face her. She leads me to the table by the back door. The one farthest from George. We sit down. She sips her drink. I set my jaw and harden my eyes the way a livid housewife would if she'd been abandoned and betrayed. To add to the effect I cross my arms and sigh dramatically. “I just want you to know that I didn't set out to take Wyatt from you.” “It just happened, huh? You two just happened to fall in bed and love, is that it?” Alexis turns her cup an inch at a time for a moment then looks up at me and with honesty in her eyes and says, “Yes and I won't apologize.” “Is that right?” “We are sorry for hurting you but not for being in love.” She shrugs before going on. “Wyatt's worried sick about you. I just thought you should know.” Wyatt worried sick about me! It rings through my head like a gong in a cemetery. It goes on and on making my head hurt. I blow out a long breath and finger the cut on the back of my neck. It's scabbed over but still tender. I had cooked his favorite meal that night. Yankee pot roast with homemade rolls. Asparagus tips on the side. We were having a nice quiet dinner until he stopped chewing and spat the food in his mouth onto his plate. When his eyes came up they landed on me. I knew it would be bad. “There's a hair in my food, Bridgette.” The fork rattled against my plate. Wyatt Jr. sucked milk from his sippy cup unaware that hell was coming to dinner. Wyatt shoved his plate in my direction. “Do you see it?” His teeth were grinding, his lips pulled back in a snarl as he slowly stood up, blocking my exit. He knew he didn't have to hurry. It was just me. Little old me, the love of his life. The one he couldn't live without and would never let another man have. My entire being trembled. My hands resting on the table showed my fear the worst. Wyatt tangled his hand in my long, blond hair and pulled me from my chair. It fell back with a crash. The baby started crying. I wanted to comfort him so bad my insides ached. I reached for his extended arms but his daddy jerked me away leaving us both empty handed. My husband dragged me to the counter. He opened the drawer and took out the scissors. The sight of the silver blades shocked me and I tried to get away. I'd had long hair all my life. My mother loved it. I was proud of it. Follicles crackled like electricity as my hair came out by the roots. He wrangled me down pinning my face to my spotless floor. Wyatt Jr. screamed in his high chair. “I told you not to let it happen again, Bridgett. All you ever do is think of ways to degrade me. To humiliate me. Well not anymore.” His voice was a deep, guttural growl that made my bowels want to give way. “Be still before I make you sorry.”

• • • Mechele Pruitt is a new writer from Georgia. She likes to sing the blues and hug her fat cat. This is her third publication.

Still Life by Alex Blonder I remember, quite vividly, the assortment sprawled with lackluster effort were my thoughts at the time as green as the pears slumped, exhausted from demanding poses, sideways yet no argument slipped from the lips of the long-faced orchid, lilted under the splendor of the promiscuous orange peeling off her tangerine gown, showing off her stained glass complexion. My drunken fingers fumbled uncertainly, with the crude, bristled medium. I would not kill them for rite of passage, they were still...life.

• • • 7


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

Tracks

by

Alec Houze

I can taste blood in my mouth. I place another cigarette between my lips and touch the flame of my lighter to the tip, pulling in with my breath. The man that I was standing before the man that I am. I exhale forcibly, trying to blow out my past with the smoke. The glare of the fluorescent light in my eyes, I stare at the bulb. One of those Eco-friendly, five-year coiled ones. I never liked them. They marked the passing of time too greatly. Every time they would wink out, half a decade had gone by. To lose so much with only the blink of an eye is a sign of the decreased level of importance placed on the small, temporal joys. I reached in front of me and flicked the switch. I stood and watched as the glow slowly faded from the light until it darkened completely. I took a long drag off of my cigarette, watching the embers bathe my face in red. I could have been smiling or snarling. It was impossible to tell. I dropped my cigarette in the toilet, the hiss of the water extinguishing the small symbol of fire following me as I crawled into bed.

It's too late to argue with you.” The words spilled out from her lips. Glistening with strawberry carmex, they curved into a smile and then an 'O' as she blew a plume of smoke into the air. Her cream white skin came into focus as I glanced away from my own cigarette and let my gaze drift from her ankles up her calves and linger on her thighs. “That's because you know I'm right. I always win.” Her black cotton shorts stopped at the top of her legs, accentuating the curves. She had them crossed at the knee, left over right. The room smelled of night and sea. A faint breeze blew in through the window, just enough to remind me that the calendar may have said October, fall was still not here. She was laughing at me, disturbing the perfect circles of smoke I was forming. “I didn't say that you were right. I just said that it was too late to argue.” She was still laughing, and I forgot everything else. I closed my eyes and hung my head. The sea began to fade, carried away by an ever-strengthening wind. Stronger and faster, it whipped around, hot and ceaseless. I opened my mouth to speak and tasted rust and dirt. “I am not here,” I said to myself. Every moment, a room, hallways as veins. My thoughts, pulsing through, pushing me from room to room. “I am not here.” The ocean spread before me, rolling as pages of a book left open before a window. The pier underneath my feet swayed rhythmically, fog covering the ground. It swallowed the beach, the refuse and driftwood. It silenced the boats leaving the harbor and the gulls in the sky. It lay just above the ocean, leaving a faint strip of golden sky visible on the horizon. Splitting the greys in half, steel below, ash above, separated by fire. A rustle behind me broke my reverie. Building slowly. Indistinct. Not quite voices. Muffled. Maybe a trick of the wind, or merely the far off beating of wings. The echo of countless unspoken thoughts, reaching me in whispers. I'm standing before my reflection. Back in the bathroom of reality in my house. It was too late to argue with me, so she now slept instead. In the mirror, I could see her laying in our bed. Silently, I prayed that tonight she would remain untroubled. Out loud, I chuckled at myself for allowing myself such a moment of weakness. How many hours had I lost? Slipping into my own mind wasn't something I could control. The doctors called them absences seizures, but pronounced it with a French accent. It was still dark, that much I was thankful for. While it may sound like they are waking dreams, I derive no rest from them. Quite the opposite, actually, as they leave me physically exerted, the equivalent of a hard run.

I awoke to someone knocking on the door. Knocking in rhythm to the pounding in my head. I arose and stumbled through the house, pausing long enough only to ensure that I was, indeed, clothed to some extent. Everything of importance to modesty was covered, and as the knocking continued, I unbolted the many locks that paranoia had placed on my abode and opened the door. His teeth seemed unnaturally large. Too big for his mouth. He must have had his gums burned down. Gleaming a shade of white native only to Hollywood and Miami, he was smiling at me. Black hair, slicked straight back but shaved on the sides. The hair gel applied recently enough that I could smell it. He wore mirrors sunglasses with small, circular lenses. A white, button-down shirt with the sleeves and collar cut off. Blue jeans, straight legged, the cuffs falling comfortably over the tops of his burnt brown boots. “Cor” was printed above where his breast pocket used to be. I noticed then that the modifications to his shirt were stitched properly, almost professionally. Sewn to avoid the seams from pulling out, the thread used being the exact color of his shirt. I liked that. And he was still standing there, smiling at me. “Sorry,” I said. “Long night. What can I do for you?” “Good morning, sir. Are you Mister, ahh... I'm sorry, how's that pronounced?” “Exactly.” He obviously had not been told my name before coming here. That, in and of itself, eliminated half of the reasons my mind had come up with for a man to be standing in my doorway at whatever time it was. As the sun was barely 8


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such as love and belonging and confidence had only been concepts before her. But with her, I knew what I wanted life to mean. And so it was that I walked back into the kitchen and uncertainty. I poured myself a cup of coffee, bemused that I take it the same way that I dress. Cor started as soon as he heard the spoon tinkling in my mug, as though he had forgotten that anyone else was there. “You're nervous,” I said. Not to make him any more nervous, but because it struck me as odd. He had sat down at the table, trying to look like he wasn't ready to explode. He was failing. “You're also in my seat.” I sat down across from him and motioned him to stay where he was. Formalities aside, he was a guest in my house and would be treated with the basics of respect. Besides that, the old adage is wrong, it is skittish men that tell no tales. I pulled out a cigarette and placed it between my lips. Striking the lighter, I touched the flame to the dried leaves and pulled in with my diaphragm, the smoke crawling down my throat. I looked across the table at my intruder. He had taken off his sunglasses, revealing pale blue eyes. The eyes of a corpse. His hands were on the table, bone white against the polished mahogany finish. If I had been born an artist, I would have immortalized that scene. But I wasn't. His hand slid over to his glasses, playing with them. “You're fidgeting, Cor.” I looked back into his eyes. “Tell me what it is that's making you so anxious.” He stared back at me. “Okay, fine. Tell me instead what the variance is.” “It isn't something so easily explained.” “I didn't expect it to be.” “Of course not. I came here this morning because we-” “Who is 'we,' exactly?” “I'll get to that, don't worry. Look, maybe I'm going about this the wrong way. Aldous Huxley once pointed out that time must have a stop. The idea being that anything that has a beginning must have an end. The human mind is incapable of truly grasping the concept of forever, of eternity. Similarly, we cannot fathom nothing or nothingness. If the began, what was before? If it has an edge, what is on the other side?” “I'm familiar with that line of questioning.” “I'm not teaching you. Not yet. What I am doing is elucidating my position to you. We are humans. The animals of question. What once began must end.” I was growing frustrated. I took another drag of my cigarette, snorting the hot smoke through my nose. “Look, Cor, I didn't ask you in here for a philosophy quickie. Tell me what you're driving at.” “Time doesn't stop. It slows down. It speeds up. But it doesn't stop. Our system for measuring time is completely arbitrary, based solely on this planet's motion around the sun. Time itself is subjective. Swayed by popular opinion. But it isn't set by man. Get rid of all clocks and calendars, black out the windows and stay inside. Would you not still age? Chemical breakdown is the only proof that time exists.”

scraping the top of the oak in my front yard, it was seven if I was being generous. At dawn, I am not. “I am he. What can I do for you?” I repeated, more acid dripping from my teeth as I fully realized how early it was. Of the infinite combinations of words possible in the English language, there are many which register immediately as signifying happiness or sorrow. Excitement or despair. Love or danger. Regardless of tone, a certain chord deep within our brains is struck by the phrase “There is a bear behind you.” But the man labeled “Cor” said none of those things. “Sir, there has been a variance.” In the early morning I could hear the hum of the grain elevators north of my house. The fans circulating almost constantly to keep the temperature consistent. I could hear the drone of a semi as it downshifted coming into town. I could hear the meadowlarks fighting with each other for airspace. I could hear laughter, positively out of place. I could hear laughter, it was mine. “I'm sorry,” I said. “You must be mistaken.” “No sir, all of our data correlates precisely. There has indeed-” “Wait,” I interrupted. “I have no doubts about the validity of your research. I think that you're mistaken in coming here to me.” Cor quickly pulled out a clipboard. Dark brown particleboard, held together in the middle with duct tape which served to cover the more explicit parts of a doodle involving a horse and what appeared to be our current president. He glanced at the top sheet and then flipped quickly seven or eight sheets down and handed it to me. “Are you not this man?” I scanned it briefly. It was thick letter sized paper. Cream in color with raised lettering. Most of the words were not in English, but there was a picture of me at the too. Taken some time ago, I was leaving the post office, hands empty, shoulders caught mid-shrug. I could see my car a few feet away, the side if my wife's face clearly visible even through the tinted windows. I nodded, still trying to pick out words that I recognized. Displacement. Revelation. Variance. Unpredictable. “Come inside.” I stepped aside and beckoned gently. “Allow me to dress and make some coffee. As I said, it was a long night, and you are here far earlier than is decent.”

Besides that, the old adage is wrong, it is skittish men that tell no tales.

I led him into the kitchen where I started a pot of coffee. “I'll be back in a minute,” I said over my shoulder as I walked into the bedroom. I could see the morning's glow peeking in from the crack between the floor and the bathroom door. I pulled on dark khakis and an old flannel shirt. I was now ready to hike in the cool damp morning or to sit in a college quad with a cheap guitar playing songs with only one chord. I picked up my cigarettes from the dresser and put them in my shirt pocket. I looked over at the bed and breathed a small sigh. Still asleep. She was curled up tightly, tucked under the comforter. She had the sheets wrapped around her as a cocoon, a shield. I bent down and lightly kissed her head. I loved her. With every fiber of my being, I loved her. Words 9


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“If time speeds up and slows down of its own accord, then what is a variance?” A hiccup, so to speak.” “A hiccup?” “Think of it as a cd skipping. A bump in the track of time. Normally it plays without a hitch. But a variance causes it to jump back, seemingly repeating itself. Most often it goes unnoticed, but when it is observed, it is called déjà vu. Our minds know that we have lived that moment before, but as they exist in time, they are unable to treat it, to view it and experience it, objectively.” “And this is why you're here?” “Not exactly. You see, variances of that sort are not uncommon. They happen around the world on almost a daily basis, it's just that the average person does not recognize each and every one. Those that do are driven insane unless they are able to rationalize it. No, I am here because of the opposite. The variance that brought me here is a jump forward.” It all clicked for me then, and I knew, as I watched Cor, that he saw it clicking for me. “By our calculations, you are almost an entire year younger than the date of your birth and today's date would suggest. You are the center of countless variances and have therefore been left physically unaltered by them. You remain still while time skips ahead.” I smelled rust. Seeping slowly from the floor. Looking outside, I could see red dust swirling in front of my house. Cracks began to appear in the window panes, spreading quickly. “The plural again, Cor. Who is we?” Glass was now falling onto the floor, shattering against the tile. The wind that blew in was hot and stale, carrying the stench of decay. I could see a crack beginning to form in the wall next to the window, splintering rapidly down. “I don't have time. Another variance is coming, and when it passes, I will have gone.” “Why?” My mind was drifting. Cor was distant now, falling behind me. “You are the center.” He would have to yell soon if he wanted me to hear him, the wind was forcing us apart. “For me, time will skip ahead. Everything will be blurry, but unremarkable. This moment, from me knocking on your door to now, is the scratch where time breaks down. As the world falls apart and becomes unrecognizable, so does time. It will reappear minutes, hours, even days ahead. And this? This will only be your memory because it exists outside of time for everyone else.” The side of my house gave way, torn into the wind. I could still see Cor's mouth moving, but I could no longer hear his words. I glanced down at the table as it turned into dust and blew away. “I am not here.”

Rule of Survival… by Smita Sriwastav sitting on seashore at twilight hour beneath cornflower skies~ freckled in fleeting clouds, I watched cavorting tides form turrets of false hopes-only to be shattered into splattered brine-droplets. sea gulls shrieked in language unknown to my ears~ imitating fish wife's noisy rancor, and palm trees danced to the cerulean threnody, while a dying sun~ eagerly gobbled by the vociferous sea-waves, left the skies covered in fuchsias and wisterias. in this soothing panorama, I sat with a storm hurling within trying to bring tempestuous emotions within stoic control, but raging sentiments for once refused to be subdued, just then mercurial mood of weather changed and I saw the docile clouds gather on once serene sky like gathering fury inside me. a frown was etched on the brow of tranquility, thunder raged and winds went insane howling and squealing like a banshee, waves tandem went berserk and sea gulls leaped for cover, while on the geometric rock ashore I found myself within the eye of a storm, I saw the sky smeared in kohl the hues of crepuscule erased, and watched as giant palms bowed to raging winds. sitting there drenched to the bone I watched as tide and trees both succumbed to ventose ranting of the garrulous storm, I learnt another lesson on the abacus of tutor nature that it is better to be cowed by the indefatigable, than to fight against it, this was the rule of survival...

• • • Alec Houze is an author living in the last untamed frontier known as Wyoming, where he spends his days with his amazing wife and children. He is a brilliant author of blank pages and is available for freelance work.

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park. It is cool out, the grass is cold where the dew has touched, but the earth still harbors the heat of the day underneath. We are barefoot and the streets are empty. The static sound of gunfire is far off, pouring from the blue flickering lights of the houses, and we are walking away, letting the sound fade until only her breath can be heard, and mine as well, swallowed up in the sound of our blood moving through muscle and bone. We sit on a park bench, I wipe the wet night off before she sits, and we move close—the heat of our bodies swirls with the cool night as we move, and we drink wine from the bottle and she has a glistening shade of purple wine above her lip for a split second before she licks it off. And the look in her eyes right then—like there is a metaphor for that. The darkness is swallowing us, it is closing around us, pulling the light from the stars away, the moon, and there is only reflected light to see by, and her face is pale and sharp, like the dark has outlined her face in pastels, and all I can think about is how lucky I am to be this guy, here with her, and the night agrees; the night takes us and lets the alcohol do its work. We embrace, and I can feel the soft ripple of her ribcage against mine, and I can feel the side of her breast with my arm, and her breath is moist against my ear as she whispers things about love past our hair, which is entwined like the dark grass of the park. She tells me she will never leave me alone, that we will be together forever, and I know she is lying, but it feels so good to hear it that I will believe it forever. Tomorrow will be the same. We will come to this park again. I will feel like the world is collapsing into itself, that I could reach out through my bedroom walls and touch Mr. Earnest next door, that I am a part of it all, and I will feel how it feels to be a part of Blitzer's America At War from the outside, I will wake up with the dreams of a civilian, I will hold a candle out on an all-night vigil, I will stand in protest I will hang ribbons I will support our boys over there I will pray even though there is no god I will remember things that never happened I will fill the space between the boy on the bench and the boy in the desert and I will always, always make sure he is with someone, I will maintain that the desert is a fiction, a fiction of lights and noise, and I will assert to the boy on the park bench that he will never get to feel like he was a part of something missing, and unlike the boy in the desert, when he looks up, the white sun will shine upon his face without passing through.

Falling In Love During Wartime by S. Brady Tucker am missing eleven months, nine days, fourteen minutes from my life. A good portion of 1990 is lost, and a large piece of 1991 has disappeared. People talk to me about Brokaw's War Time America as if I were there, as if these pieces of someone else’s life could exist. I missed the yellow-ribbon orgy, the flags flying for “the boys over there,” the night when everyone closed together around their radios and televisions ready to mourn the fallen, or exult for their heroes. The robbery was complete, it was crimson, it was ancient, it was cleansing, it was achy. I’m sure that the beaches in North Carolina were quiet that year; the water was warm, the sand on the beach yielding, and the girls too—worried for strangers like only beautiful, uninvolved people can be. Here is what I want: I want that night, that night when I am twenty-one, when I can buy a bottle of wine legally, when I can sit in the dark night of the park with the girl I am in love with. I know her well—she lived with me in the desert, at night rising with the cold umber moon. She is fair skinned, almost olive, her hair a light brown, and she is thin and muscular as a fawn. Oddly, her face is much like the woman from my only pornography in the gulf: the Victoria’s Secret Fall 1990 issue. And she understands me like only I understand me, and we are leaving the party on campus, we are holding hands like people hold hands when holding hands is new to them-anxiously, moistly, tightly. We are leaving the party because we cannot bear to watch this war that is on television. Maybe we are too sensitive to violence, or maybe we just don’t want to be reminded that there are people just like us in a desert that has turned cold and hungry and loose, like it is trying to swallow up everything above it, and we don’t want that on our conscience, we don’t want to think of men walking into white flashes of light, into red tracer rounds, into the blackest fortress of sound imaginable, into faces streaked with tears, into faces streaked with blood and tears, into faces streaking in front of their vision, their fingers tightening around triggers uncertainly even though those fingers, those hands, have been trained to obey, and these boys, who are as handsome as they will ever be, wondering if the bullets hitting their chests will feel like paper cuts or like explosions, if it will be clean or if it will be messy. We walk out of that party, in love, our eyes linking like bodies copulating, and the bottle of wine is in my hand. We are both feeling high—we are six beers and a half bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill into it, drinking while we watch faceless soldiers push up on an invisible border that was already in flames above the skyline. We had to leave, our feelings for those soldiers impelling us to rise and escape with our wondrous love intact. We walk to the

I

• • • S. Brady Tucker has been nominated for a number of awards, including the Pushcart Prize. He has degrees in Creative Writing and Literature from San Francisco State University, Northern Arizona University, and Florida State University (PhD). Currently, he splits his time teaching at the Light House Writer’s Workshop in Denver, and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

My Name Is Odd

by Gail Aldwin

I

Reading’s not for me. I can’t do it. M reads all the time. Fat hardback library books, paperbacks, newspapers, magazines. She even reads the cereal packets. It’s her way of going into a world of her own. It’s her way of getting away from us, from me. It’s her escape. I sometimes hate it that she reads so much. She never wants me to disturb her. She looks so comfortable curled on the sofa or pressed beside the heater, all her attention on the page. D hardly ever reads, only the newspaper and I’m not allowed to go near that in case I mess up the pages and they don’t fold back neatly. After hours and hours of traveling, M finally announces that we’re nearly there. We spin around in a circle, like following the path of a roundabout, but it’s the road going along the edge of a hill. On top is a tumbled down building, all broken bones spilling along the mound. But it’s still ages before we finally arrive and the car pulls to a halt. D curses because it’s hard to reverse into the parking space. We pile out of the car, taking our bags, and wait for him to try again. He winds down the window and pokes his head out to see better. I look at Right and she shrugs. He’ll get the bloody car in there, if it kills him. M tuts. I sigh. It’s always like this. I feel abandoned, my few bag dumped on the road. We’re staying bed, breakfast and evening meal in a family room at the White House Guest House Hotel. It sounds a bit grand, but the owners are friendly. The woman asks me how old I am and she tells me I’m pretty. “What lovely hair,” she says. “She’s a blonde for sure,” my mother agrees. Right groans and Left copies. We go to the room. It’s up the stairs and along the corridor. There’s a double bed in the middle and beside one wall is a set of bunks. In the corner there’s a teeny weeny bed, meant for a small child. Right bags the top bunk and tells Left to grab the one underneath. I squeeze into the tiny bed and M tells me to stop making a fuss. There’s quite enough room for a girl like me and I shouldn’t grumble. There are plenty of children who’ve never been taken on a holiday to the seaside, she reminds me. I feel useless. I wish I had a pea shooter. I’d never have the nerve to use it, but if I did, I’d aim it first at Right and then at Left. It’s late in the afternoon but M says we should go down to the sea before dinner. D makes an excuse not to come, says he’ll finish unpacking and that he’ll see us later. He’s really going for a beer and a smoke. We all know this but no-one says anything. M raises her eyebrows towards the ceiling and pushes me out of the bedroom. Right carries the buckets, Left carries the spades. I hold M’s hand. The beach is all sandy with fine, pretty grains but further out there’s a wet carpet that stretches into the distance. A thin stripe of navy shows where the sky ends and the water begins. The

am the child in the middle and my name is Odd. It’s good to be in the middle sometimes. My older sister’s called Right and she breaks new ground. She argued for us to have pocket money, she’s the one who fought for us to stay up late. Left’s the name of my younger brother, he has lots of friends and I’m almost famous for being his sister, so that’s good too. The only trouble is I’m never included. Right and Left link arms when we walk to the park and I follow behind. It’s always the two of them on the see-saw, me hanging around. They know when the race is about to start and I’m never ready. If there’s a ball, it’s me who’s piggy in the middle. M says we’re all special in our own way. Right is a clever girl, M says and Left’s the only boy. I’m special because I’m pretty. M says I’m to be a model when I grow up. Right is jealous because I’m the one with golden hair. Left takes her side. They’ve made up a chant about me, it goes “Odd-y, Odd-y, Admiring yourself in the mirror again!” I hardly ever look at myself now. M tugs my neck as she brushes out the tangles and she says that good skin needs to be cared for. I take no notice. It doesn’t do to give the others a stick to poke me with. Now they’re on a new tack. They’ve started to tell knock knock jokes. They go like this: Right: Knock, knock Left: Who’s there? Right: Odd Left: Odd who? Right: Oddball Both: Hahaha, that’s so funny! Oddball Left: Or odd one out! Both: Hahaha My heart hurts, my heart pounds. I feel all hot. I feel all hollow. We’re going on holiday soon. I am sort of looking forward to it, but I know the routine well enough by now. D drives the car and we always sit in the same places. Right sits behind our mother, the two oldest girls in the family. M’s got short legs so her seat is pulled forward. This makes enough room for the tallest child. Left sits behind D. The men in tandem, it makes sense, I suppose. I’m in the middle of the back but this is not a good place. I’m perfectly positioned for a kick from Right, or a thump from Left. They take aim whenever our parents are deep discussion and my squeals don’t distract. I feel bruises forming, but no-one ever notices. We’re headed for the seaside and it’s a long journey. Right reads an Enid Blyton book, rested on the window frame and Left reads a Marvel magazine, balanced on his knee. I don’t have anything to read. I don’t like reading. I don’t understand how the words on the page make any sense.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

sun glows through the clouds, thin as lace. I plunge my knees into the warm sand. They are swallowed up and disappear. Sometimes I want to disappear too. We leave M camped on a deckchair, her nose already inside the cover of her book and we race down to the water. Right tucks the hem of her skirt into her knickers and strides into the sea nearly to her knees. Left jumps the waves in the shallows. I watch amazed at their fearlessness. I turn around and head up the beach. Taking one of the spades abandoned as we ran, I start to dig. I’ve made a small cone of wet sand by the time Right and Left arrive to see what I’m doing. That’s a pathetic castle, Right says and stamps on it to flatten the pile. That’s rubbish, Left agrees. They take their own spades and start to make a castle a few feet away. I watch and then ask if I can join in. Okay, she says. Okay, he repeats. I begin to shovel alongside my sister and brother. But I’m more interested in the hole that appears. As the castle grows upwards the hole gets deeper and wider. Water separates from the wet sand and creates a puddle at the bottom. I like this hole. I like its shape, just big enough for me. I imagine being all tucked up, my knees under my chin, my arms wrapped around my legs and the strangeness of sitting in the water. I squeeze inside and the wet sand is clammy against my skin. My eyes jut over the rim and I turn my head as it’s the only bit of my body that can move. Everything else is stuck, rammed in place. My lips creep into a smile. This is good. This is mine. I notice Right and Left taking turns at being king of the castle. I don’t care that I’m not included. Soon Right gets bored and walks over to ask what I’m doing. Just sitting, I say. The walls of the hole are beginning to collapse and my shoulders are covered. “Hey,” Right calls over to our brother. “Let’s bury her.” “That’s a good idea,” I say and they begin to pile the sand around my neck. Quickly my mouth is covered but that’s okay. I don’t like talking much, anyway. The sand is heavy but I like the weight on my body. It’s good to be sucked into the ground. “Close your eyes,” says Right. “You don’t want to get sand in your eyes.” So I do as I am told. I enter a world where darkness rules. And dampness. It’s getting hard to breathe, but I am good at holding my breath. I am the champion at holding my breath. It’s safe and quiet in the hole but I can just make out Right’s voice. She says, “Use the back of your spade like me Left, we need to pack the sand, so the castle doesn’t collapse.”

I Kissed An Android by Janet Koops I kissed an android yesterday. At work. During lunch. No one saw. I longed to touch his cold smooth flesh, Surely, I could enable some, lip synchronization. But no, only I kissed. An android, yesterday, rejected me too and like you, he saw through me. You said I only emulate human emotions. If that is the case, so what if I kissed an android? Yesterday I thought I knew love. So much for human-cyborg relations. It is a shock to realize my heart beats in binary, all because I kissed an android yesterday.

• • •

A Small Town Sound by Don Cadwallader Hampton, South Carolina, 2011 A small town sound heard echoing from Hampton Tire & Collision. The sound: a tire iron dropped on cement next to a 1963 Buick high on the hydraulic rack. A block away where people cross the lawn of the Hampton County Courthouse, it plays largely unnoticed--

• • •

And not heard at all across the trees in Columbia, and not even a ping in the blue skies of Charleston. Hardly anyone is listening today, on the edge of tomorrow…

Gail Aldwin enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction as an antidote to the slog of completing a novel. Her work appears on-line with Paragraph Planet, Five Stop Story and Cafe Lit. Four print anthologies coming to press in 2012, including Dorset Voices and Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories, contain examples of her writing. Gail has a regular column in What the Dickens? Magazine that answers writers’ questions. She blogs about all things literary at: http://gailaldwin.wordpress.com

But soon, perhaps, a train whistle.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

• • •

Refill Please

Martha Rand writes from her green room in northern New Jersey. She has had fiction published in Pure Slush and articles in the NCGR newsletter, an astrological publication, and in NJ Psychologist. She enjoys baking biscotti and shortbread, painting and practicing pranayama.

by Martha Rand ing “You have reached the answering service for North Atlantic Neurosurgery Associates” a recording stated. “Please hold on.” There were so many things that she had been thinking she would say to the answering machine. “Hello, this is Natalie Silverman, I've been trying to get my prescription filled for over a week. Trazedone 100 milligrams. The anti-seizure. Maybe you recall, you did my brain surgery last spring? Perhaps you're busy. Doing more brain surgery. I hope so. That's why I went to you in the first place. Because I heard you had a lot of experience doing brain surgery. So I hope you keep it up, in case I need you again. In the meantime, I need the anti-seizure medication. I think I'm supposed to be on it for life. Isn't that right?” “I called the pharmacy over a week ago. Just over a week ago. They said they faxed you the message. They said they faxed it to you more than once. Then they said they called your office. Tonight they only gave me one more tablet and they told me to call.” “Yes the nice young Indian pharmacist told me to call. He said the doctor's response is often better if the patient calls. So I'm calling. It's so annoying to have to go down there every day or every other day this week and just get one or two pills.” “I'm sorry that there's still a balance of over eight thousand dollars. Seriously, I spoke to your office and I called my insurance. You know, I don't have that insurance anymore because my employer changed insurance companies, but I called the old insurance company. I hope you don't hold that against me. Because I'm trying to take care of it.” “Anyway, if you can't give me the seizure medication anymore and I have a seizure, I hope it kills me. Because I just can't take it anymore. My daughter is a senior in high school and when you did the brain surgery, I felt I had to see her get closer to graduation, but now she's so close I'm sure she's gonna make it and her father will see to it that she gets into college somewhere even if it's community college. Though I know she wants to go to a private college and she's really smart and she was president of her junior class and in model UN and directed the class play and everything. So if I happen to die then maybe she can get the life insurance and go to the private college that she wants.” “So Doctor, you know what? You play God. If you decide to fill the prescription you call me. You have my number in your files. They gave me one more tablet for tonight. I'm not gonna go back. I'm gonna leave it up to you and kiss it up to God. ‘Cause it's either my life or my daughter's college education. Yeah, I can see it clearly now, the brain bleed was a blessing…” Natalie's thoughts were interrupted by a voice. “Hello, this is the service, may I take a message?” “Yes, this is Natalie Silverman, I'm a patient could you have the doctor call in my prescription for Trazedone, 100 milligrams to the pharmacy at 943 782 8700.”

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I Didn’t by Jeffrey Graessley She told me once that when I read she hears dead poets. And I want to reply by saying the night we shared at my father’s bar; between the scratchers, Blue Moons, your lips, your ways, and off-roading in my Corolla ruined that place for me. At the end of the night she told me, “if you ever use my name in a poem, I’ll shoot you.” Smiling so wide I kissed her teeth, before kissing her eyes goodnight. She told me once that when I read she hears dead poets. And I want to tell her that a single day of silence invites the rain’s words to sing mournful phrases as it strikes against my flat roof through the night. Distractions not withstanding what a single word of yours could do. On nights when LA pisses on you like this.

• • • Jeffrey Graessley is a writer from Los Angeles that grew up in his father’s beer and wine bar. His latest works can be found in Filthy Secret Books, Turbulence Magazine, and The Left Coast Review. When not writing he enjoys long walks down dark alleys, and if luck should hold, with a few strangers around to keep him company. 14


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

C. S. Lakin Discusses First Scene Essentials

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which means bringing in all the senses and showing your character in the middle of a situation, right off the bat. And that's the next essential element: establishing immediately (did I say immediately?) the drives, desires, needs, fears, frustrations of your protagonist. Not only do you need to show her in conflict, in the midst of an inciting incident, but you need to reveal her heart, hint at her spiritual need, show her vulnerability, and what obstacles are standing in her way. In the first scene? Oh yes. Yes. On top of all this, you must give the reader some idea of what the book is about--the theme or point--what they are getting into and why they should care. A tall order? You bet. But think--why are you writing this story anyway? What is the one thought, message, idea, conclusion, or feeling you want your readers to take home with them when they finish reading your book and set it down? Whatever that is should be set up in the first few pages, even if just a hint of a promise of what to expect. If your book is about forgiveness, then something about forgiveness or lack thereof must be an important element of your opening scene. So, once you have all this in mind, think what scene would best set up your premise, plot arc, character arc, theme, and mood. You may have to write a bunch of different first chapters, as I sometimes do. Sometimes it's not until you near the end of writing your book do you get the right idea for the opening scene. You might be like John Irving, who starts every novel with the last line of his book and works backwards (yes, he does!). But he's onto something there--do you see? He knows exactly where he wants his readers to end up—plot-wise and theme-wise. He already knows the end of the story and the take-home feeling he wants to evoke, so he sets about figuring how to lead that back to the start. Maybe that technique will work for you. Think about the heart of your story and the heart of your character. Once you find a way to put her heart right out there from line one, in a scene that throws her at odds with her world and shows how she reacts, you are on your way. You may not have a deeply themed book, but there must be some reason you are writing this story. What is it about? If you were asked, "Why did you write this book?" (and spend months, maybe years of your life doing so!), how would you answer? Hopefully, there is a specific thing you want to say to your readers. It doesn't have to be a "message" or sermon on life, but every story deals with themes on one level or another, and your views as a writer will come through the story, sometimes whether you intend it or not. Better to begin a book with intention--intending to say something and

ecause I read hundreds of first chapters of novels a year as a writing coach and copyeditor, I've been compiling my list of essentials for a first scene. When you think of all you have to accomplish in the first few pages of a novel, you really understand how writing a great first scene requires numerous hours of study, practice, and concentration. It takes examining successful, long-lasting novels to see how that first scene was constructed. Have you ever read a first chapter that took your breath away? Made you cry? Shocked you? If you can accomplish an emotional reaction in your reader that quickly--hopefully by a quick attachment to your protagonist--half your battle is won. Without sending you into cardiac arrest by listing nearly twenty important items you need in that first scene, I'm going to concentrate on some important ones--the ones that really need to be considered. Some of them are essential "do-nots." And the first one you may already know (but often feel so tempted to fall back on): No back-story. Okay, we've heard that forever. But it's true. In order to start your story with a punch and draw your reader in, you need to construct a scene happening right here and now (or with something in the past, like a historical, right then and now). Regardless of the semantics here, you get the point. Some writing instructors say things like "no back-story in the first fifty pages." Some editors will be so bold as to say they would be happy if they saw NONE in the entire book. Maybe that won't quite work for your book, but it's safe to say that countless scenes start with a line or two in the present and then, whoosh! There you are reading about the character's early life or marriage or something she did right before the scene started. Which should make you ask... Are you really starting your story in the right place? More often than not, the answer is no. That's what second and third drafts are for--throwing out your first scene or two. Most of the books I read don't "get going" until page twenty. All that up-front explaining, narrative, setting up the scene, etc., was all great back in Dickens's time (A Tale of Two Cities, for example). But we don't do that anymore. TV, movies, and video games have changed the modern reader's tastes and they want cinematic writing (so says Donald Maass in The Fire in the Fiction). So how do you avoid the dreaded info dump and backstory? Think about the emotion, feeling, or sensation you want to evoke in your reader. You want to put them in a mood right away. You want to be specific to generate that mood,

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head--literally and exactly word for word. That worked for my book, and it sure left no confusion on the reader's part as to what the novel was about and what Lisa's plot and spiritual questions were). So ponder awhile on this, and if you have any questions or need help on determining your MDQs, drop me a line and I'll help (cslakin@gmail.com). Once you get the hang of setting up your novel at the start with these important elements, it will make writing your book that much easier. The MDQs become a beacon of light that guides your protagonist on her long, dark journey to the end of the story.

leave your readers with that "take-home" thought when they read the last line and close the book. This ties in with your MDQ or major dramatic query. I've never seen in any book on writing a novel the importance of setting up your dramatic query or question regarding plot alongside the protagonist's spiritual question. This is something I gleaned from Davis Bunn's intensive workshop at Mount Hermon two years ago. Learning this was a revelation to me, and took my writing to a much higher level. Now, with every novel I write, I begin with this. The MDQ or major dramatic query is a yes-or-no question you ask at the start of the book. It's a question that MUST be addressed in the first scene, as it sets the stage for the entire novel. It is also called (by Michael Hague) the "visible goal" or plot goal. Your question may be "Will Mary save her brother before he kills himself?" or "Will Frodo destroy the ring and save Middle Earth before Sauron gets his hands on it?" or "Will Dorothy make it back to Kansas or be stuck with those munchkins for the rest of her life?" You get the idea. The are only a few variations of this plot question and they involve the character either getting something or somewhere, saving someone, finding something, or escaping something. Now, the answer that you reveal at the end of the book can be either yes or no. Maybe Dorothy will, after all, end up living in munchkin land, but she might enjoy it, and find her true path to happiness there. You're the writer; it's your choice. But now we turn to another MDQ, and that's the spiritual question. It's a little harder to pinpoint, but it reveals the heart of your character and the heart of your story. Without it, you might have an exciting plot but will anyone really care about the story, or even read it to the end? Without a spiritual question for your protagonist, the answer may be no. When I say "spiritual" question, I am not talking about faith or faith-based stories. Every good story has one. A question that involves the character's spirit--her heart--is what we're concerned with. Think about Frodo. His MDQ spiritual question might be: "Will Frodo be able to live with himself and his world by the end of the book if he makes the choice to undertake his journey?" or "Will Frodo find peace and inner joy through his journey to destroy the ring, even if it kills him?" Dorothy's spiritual question might be: "Will Dorothy find her place in the world, feel she fits in, feel at home somewhere?" Think about how these spiritual MDQs are raised at the start of the stories, alongside the plot MDQs. Now, what it crucial to realize is that both questions get answered at the same time and in the same scene at the end of the book! This is amazing, and when done well, makes your book a winner. Dorothy gets home (plot) but at the same time she realizes she's always been home; that here, with Aunty Em, is where her heart truly lives (spiritual). So before you even start writing (or if you are partway through your novel, stop and consider), write down your two MDQs--the plot and spiritual questions you need to raise in the first scene that will be answered in one of the last scenes in your book. This is what should shape and give impetus to your entire novel--these questions. Your plot arc and character arcs will all begin and end based on these questions. They seem simple, but the reader needs to know what they are. This doesn't mean you state them blatantly (although in my novel Conundrum, I decided to actually have my main character, Lisa, in first person, ask the MDQ in her

• • • C. S. Lakin is a writer, copyeditor, and writing coach. She teaches workshops on writing at conferences. She belongs to numerous writing and editing groups, and often guest blogs and contributes articles on websites that focus on the craft of writing. Her website Live Write Thrive is dedicated to helping writers learn the craft of writing with tips on how to thrive and prosper through understanding changing publishing trends. Her contemporary novel, Someone to Blame (Zondervan, August 2010), is set on the north California coast in the fictitious town of Breakers. It is a psychological suspense story about a family reeling from the tragic deaths of their two teenage sons. Hoping to pick up pieces and start all over, their hopes are dashed when their family collides with Billy Thurber, a young drifter who comes into town one day selling firewood. Her fantasy series, The Gates of Heaven (AMG/Living Ink), debuted with the July 2010 release of The Wolf of Tebron, followed by The Map Across Time (March 2010), The Land of Darkness (September 2011), and coming in July 2012 The Unraveling of Wentwater and early 2013 The Crystal Scepter.

Visit Lakin’s website at: www.cslakin.com

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walked right by them like they were invisible. But I’m sure they know exactly who he was, but they did nothing. They were probably too far gone to notice a politician walking into some cheap motel with a strange girl. But then again, the sight wasn’t that unusual these days. He wasn’t going to ask who my first love was. That’s not how these questions worked. We shared more of an interview between each other than a conversation. Always one-sided and empty of all emotion. Also, he probably didn’t think it was possible for me to love. But I could love and I did love. Once upon a time. His name was Henry. He was a very simple boy with a very simple name. He lived in the same building as me when we were kids. He was my best friend too. But one day, Henry was home sick with the flu and he fell asleep soon before the building caught fire due to a meth explosion on the third floor. I was in school, thinking about getting home to my best friend. I always wondered if Henry and I would have fallen in love and gotten married. Did Henry love me too? I liked to think he did. If he was still alive, would I be lying on these expensive sheets in a cheap motel staring at the water spots on the ceiling next to a man who grinded his teeth? I liked to think that Henry would be lying next to m; but we would be in our own house with no druggies around and we would be laughing. The governor put his back to me and let out a sigh. That was probably when he was the most attractive to me. I could see the moles on his back and I couldn’t see his beer belly. He looked young from behind. The moles reminded me of stars that I would connect. Maybe if I wished on enough of them, I could get out of here. But he treated me well for the most part, away from cheap motels at last notice that is. When his wife was out golfing with her girlfriends for the weekend, we would drive up state to his private seaside house where we would eat lobster we caught off the dock. Going there made things bearable, even if I never did ask why he took me there. Did he take other girls there too? Or was I special for some reason. I like to think I wasn’t. In the early morning, I would sneak out onto the back porch and stare off into the ocean. I could barely see the horizon line like the sun was deciding whether or not it should wake up. The sun wasn’t allowed to sleep in, even on a Saturday. I figured there should be someone awake to greet it when it did rise. I think it liked seeing my smiling face when it peaked over the water. Sometimes I would wave to greet it. I no longer believed in God, but I did believe the sun kept Henry warm wherever he was. “Her name was Martha,” he spoke into the darkness. At first I didn’t hear him, lost in my own thoughts, but he kept talking. “We sat next to each other in grade school. She always let me borrow her pencil when I forgot mine. I thought I was going to marry this girl.” His affection caught me off guard. I stared at his constellation back and watched it vibrate ever so subtly when he spoke. “The second was Theresa. I was forced to take Home Economics and was absolutely terrible at cooking. She was my partner and would do all the work for me.” Probably because she didn’t want you to fuck things up and fail you both. I was noticing a trend about the women he loved. “Lastly was Catherine. We always ran into each other at the coffee shop before work. There was only one croissant left by the time we got there. She always let me have it.” He

Animal by Melanie Whithaus

How many have you loved?” I asked him as I pulled the satin sheets closer to my chest. I stared at the water spots on the ceilings. For being such a wealthy man, he sure picked our places wells. The spots reminded me of those Rorschach tests and clouds. In both, you can see something completely different than the person sitting next to you, or in my case, lying right next to you. I wonder what he saw, but he didn’t seem to see much of anything. I wondered if I told a doctor about what I saw, would he think I was crazy too? “My first love was when I was ten,” He began. I heard him grind his teeth. He was always grinding his teeth. I didn’t know how his wife could stand it night after night. Or at least the nights he wasn’t fucking me. I waited for a flash of light to appear on the ceiling whenever a passing car flew by in the dead of night. But the only light that bore through the crack between the heavy motel curtains was the street light from across the road. “My second was when I was sixteen, my third when I was twenty-five.” He never really liked to go in detail about things. He was the “My day was just fine, dear” kind of guy. Simple, vague, and to the point. I felt really sorry for his wife. I could imagine the years of quiet, frozen dinners. He never went into detail about something unless asked, and usually then he would still be vague. Minor details that wouldn’t bring out any emotion. But even when I did ask for those details, most of the time I didn’t really care. It was just small talk to keep him from reminiscing and rambling on about the only two stories he would willingly go into detail about. One was about how shitty growing up as the son of a governor was. “Too many dinner parties and not enough nights out with the friends,” he would always say with a dramatic sigh. I doubt he even had any real friends. The second story, an even more pathetic tale about his childhood dachshund, Pudgy, always confirmed that. The dog was his best friend who died from a fatal country-club golf-cart accident. Most people would expect me to ask if he loved me too. They expected me to be this lowly mistress, even a golddigger, or maybe a girl with daddy issues who wanted love from an older man. Most people would assume he did love me because why else would we meet up a couple nights every week. But he didn’t even love his wife who he shared their sky-rise apartment with. All he ever loved in life was the cliché “money, success, and power”. Those were the only three things in life he thought he was good at. I moved my feet and my callused heels caught on the fabric. I hated those satin sheets. He always preferred to throw them on the bed to make things seem not so “raunchy” when we stayed in these cheap motels. He didn’t like these cheap motels, but apparently that’s all he thought I was worth at last notice. He didn’t tell me why he called me up tonight. Tonight he was usually with his wife or an unnamed someone else. But I wondered if he took other girls to fancy hotels like the Ritz. I’ve always wanted to go there, but instead he brought me to the Motel 8 right off the highway where all the crack addicts liked to hang out. It’s ironic because he was trying to rid the city of drugs lords, yet he 17


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only loved women who would give him something, but expected nothing in return. He used people and expected them to love him back with no question. I knew he only married his wife because their parents had both been politicians themselves. She worked for the mayor. Funny thing though, she was probably fucking the mayor. The governor suddenly rolled back over to face me. I could see his eyes in the dim light and the lines on his forehead. His dark hair grayed around the ears. Most would call him attractive. I knew otherwise. “And I love you of course,” he added softly. “You know that, right?” I watched out of the corner of my eye as he reached for my face, but he stopped himself to stroke my auburn hair that fanned out on the pillow instead. I felt the vomit build in my stomach. I saw an animal in the water spots. It was grotesque and hairy when you looked at directly, but if you glanced at it out of the corner of your eye, it was something beautiful. Maybe that spot was him or maybe it was me. I closed my eyes and tried to think of Henry. My Henry with your beautiful face and golden hair. Why did they have to kill you? The governor promised to rid the city of them, but I knew he was a druggie himself. He didn’t smoke or shoot up, but he was empty, cold, and heartless. He only took with nothing in return. I wanted to sleep and go to a place where Henry was still alive, but I couldn’t sleep. The animal stared down at me even with my eyes tightly shut. I swallowed hard to keep the mixture to cheap wine and TV dinner down. “How many have you loved?” he asked as he continued to stroke my hair. This time I gagged and quickly sat up. He didn’t seem to notice that I was shuddering. He just reached for my side where the blanket fell to touch my cold skin. A car outside sped by leaving a quick trail of lights on the walls. The animal’s eyes bore into my skull. He grinded his teeth, waiting for an answer, even though I knew he didn’t think I could love. I imagined myself walking out of there. Jumping out of the satin sheets and quickly pulling my long jacket over my bare shoulders. He wouldn’t have time to speak before I shoved my clothes in to my bag and slung it over my shoulder as I walked toward the door. I would tell him that I’ve only loved one person in my entire life, and the governor wouldn’t deserve to hear his name. I would walk out the door and never return to cheap motels with satin sheets. I’d walk past the druggies for the last time. But instead I found myself slowly lying back down, swallowing bile, and staring at the animal straight on. It was grotesque and hairy when you looked at directly, but if you glanced at it out of the corner of your eye, it was something beautiful. The governor reached for my face and dragged his hand downward. I closed my eyes, thought of Henry, and let the animal consume me.

Amateur Poets by Gennady Shaikhet If I were a girl, I would write about love Princes and ponies, about white doves Adding some suicide in a case love goes wrong, When prince realizes he doesn't belong To the poem of mine; and painting doves black Works his sweet royal charms on another girl's rack. If I were a poet (hope one day I could) Maybe that little piece would even be good. If I wanted your pity, I‘d spice it with drama Drugs, sex abuse (on expense of a grammar) How I blame everyone, how in God I believe On my tortured soul I'll pour my grief Act of killing myself here does not belong I would wrap up by saying - it's making me strong. If I were a poet (hope one day I could) Maybe that little piece would even be good. I would write in bright colors if I were a man In the age of, say, fifty, plus minus ten With some money saved, teeth fixed and flossed With pretty nice house and all hopes lost. With a wife whom I hate or maybe I love Who doesn’t resemble that girl with a dove. If I were a poet (hope one day I could) Maybe that little piece would even be good. For fame I will surely write up some porn To cheer up a mummy who desperately wants Such type of retreat without putting horns To a man she once loved, but not anymore Who is lying beside her unable to see That girl with a dove, she still thinks she is.

• • •

If I were a poet (hope one day I could) Maybe that little piece would even be good.

Melanie Whithaus is currently studying creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University. Her work has been featured on deviantart.com and fanfiction.net. Many of her pieces are on melwhithaus.wordpress.com. She has published with Umbrella Factory Magazine and Crack the Spine literary magazine. Her writing is known for its raw and straight-forward voice, and her “no-barsheld” style. 18


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only took a few moments for them to convince the doctor and his companions to leave. The doctor wouldn’t go away. He was forever at her door, banging or just waiting outside. She had his name, so she called the hospital and told them he was stalking her. “He says my baby is some kind of mutant and he won’t leave me alone. He says he wants to experiment on my baby. He’s outside my door right now. I don’t know what to do. My husband’s a reporter. I guess I should call him.” The hospital director came a half hour later and took the doctor away. He knocked on the door and scratched her son’s head. “What a cutie,” he said. The baby’s mother watched nervously, afraid the thing would come out and take off the director’s finger.

Baby Heart by CL Bledsoe

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he nurses didn’t find anything wrong with the baby. They gave him to his mother to nurse and came back a few hours later to find her bleeding and unconscious, the baby sleeping in her arms. No one knew why she had teeth marks on her breasts. They examined her and the baby, found nothing wrong, and sent her home. This happened every time the baby fed. His mother nursed as long as she could, until the blood loss caused anemia and the scars refused to heal, before putting him on a bottle. She’d prop him in her lap, give him the bottle, nod off from weakness and exhaustion, and wake to find him full and giggly, the bottle gone. It wasn’t until he’d been off the teat for a few days that she recovered enough to actually witness him drinking. She found it difficult to describe what she saw, later. She’d give him the bottle, and he’d drink, but at some point something seemed to come out from inside him, something bloody with teeth, that devoured the bottle, or, actually, anything that stayed in his mouth more than a few seconds. She took him back to the doctors, who spent more time talking about her sleepiness than about him, until finally she found one who’d examine the baby. She put a pacifier in his mouth and waited, while the doctor watched skeptically. The baby sucked a few times and then coughed as the thing crawled up its throat. Its mouth opened, they both saw teeth and red meat, and the pacifier was gone. The doctor left the room. The baby boy gurgled contentedly. The doctor returned with another doctor. They gave the baby a bottle, this time, and watched, and left. The baby’s mother was getting nervous, so while they were gone, she gathered up her things, and the baby, and left, herself. She took her baby home. Her phone rang, but she let it go. A little while later, knocks came on the door, but she ignored them. Later, she loaded up her son for a trip to the store, and outside her door, she found the doctor. “You have to come back to my office,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” “I need diapers,” was all she could think to say. She pushed past him and drove to the store. When she got out of her car, the doctor was there. “Please,” he said. “It might be life threatening.” “I need diapers and formula,” she said. He stood by her car as she walked inside. When she was paying for everything, she looked out the window and saw that he was still there, but with others, now. “Excuse me,” she said to the bagboy. She explained that the man was her ex-husband and was abusive. “I can’t get a restraining order until he actually hurts me,” she said. It was something she’d seen in a TV movie. “I’ll get the manager,” he said. “He tells these crazy stories,” she added. The manager gathered all the bagboys, the butchers, and several other employees and headed to the parking lot. It

She watched her son eat and tried all sorts of experiments – feeding him different things, at different times, in different ways. Each time, the thing came out. She discovered that if she held him against her skin, it would come out, but if there wasn’t anything in his mouth, it would go dormant. The thing wasn’t just a thing. It was meat with triangular shark teeth. She tried to touch it. It shuddered. She realized it vibrated, sort of shook rhythmically. It was connected to her baby son with warm tubes full of blood. Sometimes when she would examine it, she’d get too close and it would snap at her. She’d just scratch the top of it, and it would yawn and fall asleep. “You’re going to be a real lady-killer,” she said. The baby snuggled in her arms. Its weight made her feel grounded. Secure.

• • • CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. His story “The Scream” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 5 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, clbledsoe.blogspot.com. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.

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climb her spine. She rises from the bed, pulling the covers up just a bit higher and fluffing the pillow without a sound. She cannot bring herself to leave the quiet room, so she glides across the rug, made colorless by the fading light, to the shelf poised above the dresser on the wall. He was so little, she laughs to herself as she holds a square frame surrounding a tiny round face with sparkling blue eyes, ruddy cheeks and a tiny “o” for a mouth. Next, she reaches for one where he is older, remembering the feel of those chubby little arms around her neck, the tiny face close up against hers and his breathy voice. “I luh yoo, Mommy,” he would say, over and over, the scent of yeast and sugar wafting from his mouth. She shuts her eyes tight, wishing she could recapture even one of the moments that she took for granted in the midst of everything else that seemed so important at the time. She shakes her head, knowing that these are the moments no one can ever appreciate enough, the moments we cannot reclaim but will relish and relive forever. She replaces the frame, glancing at the family portrait next to it. She stands still a moment more, her eyes drawn now to the darkness turning the white windowsill to a featureless grey. She exhales, and to anyone watching, would appear to deflate. Her back curves, her shoulders fall forward, her head droops. Years ascend her sagging face as a lock of hair comes loose from behind her ear. She shuffles towards the door and turns off the light, pausing to ensure that the nightlight is in place and working beside the bed. Finally, she leaves the room, squinting into the glaring light of the hallway. Her husband waits, sitting on the edge of their bed down the hall. She enters the room and stands before him. “It’s enough,” he tells her. “It’s too much now,” he says. “Shhh,” she tells him. “Not too loud.” “You don’t hear me no matter how loud I speak,” he tells her. She stands still in front of him, staring through him. Her face is vacant, her stance heavy and tired. “I have called your mother,” he tells her. “She will arrive tomorrow. I'll pick her up. Maybe she can help you, help you deal with this. I know that I can't. God knows I've tried.” She stares at him, empty. Anger and remorse, fury and even hatred well and burble in his soul, threatening to spill forth and poison his veins, making it impossible for him to speak softly, gently. “He was my son, too,” he tells her, his voice climbing. She stares through him, then her face softens. “Shh,” she tells him again. “It’s bedtime.” Her feet find their way past him, and she climbs into bed, pulling the covers about her without undressing or bothering to brush her teeth or hair. He stands, walks to the side of the bed and lays a hand across her forehead. He swallows hard. Takes a breath. “Shh,” he tells her. “It’s okay. Everything will be fine. It’s bedtime.” He turns out the light and leaves the room.

Bedtime by Delancey Stewart

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he had always insisted on putting her son to bed on her own. Tonight she can hear her husband hovering outside the closed door, but she will not hurry through the routine. This time of night was her time. The time when the space at the bottom of the shade let just a glimmer of blue light cross the white rug, making the world seem as though it might be held in the glare of a purple spotlight. This was the time she liked to give her son. She sings quietly as she slides open the drawer where his pajamas lie folded neatly in rows scented of dryer sheets. She lets her hands linger on the soft, pilled cotton, selecting a set of Spider Man pajamas the little boy favored. “Spider Man,” she says quietly, in her soothing mamma voice. “Tonight will be a Spider Man night for my little hero.” She talks in the same quiet voice while she unfolds the pajamas and then goes about the work of arranging the bed. Top sheet pulled down slightly over the edge of the comforter, animals arranged around the bottom of the bed, against the wall. All except the tiger. “Your tiger,” she tells her baby, laughing at the motley beast who has suffered loving abuse at the hands of her small boy. “Here he is! Grrr, little tiger is growling at my little tiger.” She smiles. She tugs the covers up just so and lies down in the spot next to his, her head resting on the very edge of the pillow. She lifts her head and smoothes her hair away from her face, smiling as she rests her cheek against the cool fabric again. All is quiet for a moment, and she closes her eyes and allows herself a deep breath. There it is, the little boy scent that made pinpricks stab at the backs of her eyes, the smell that sent her heart floating and twisting within her. What was in that scent? Every night she thought of different ways to remember it. Fresh cut lawns and wet asphalt like a summer rainstorm, or cinnamon and the sweet lingering scent of milk. Tonight it is muskier, she thinks, and allows herself another deep breath. Tonight she smells the heat of a long summer day, wriggling puppies and slimy tadpoles around the edges of a mossy green pond. That and a faint whiff of cotton candy. She smiles at the thought and feels a wetness trace down the side of her face, blotting out its own life in a dark spot on the pillow beneath her. “A story?” She asks. “A story,” she confirms, not really needing an answer. The answer was always yes. An exuberant yes shouted in that toddler garble of consonants that don’t belong. “A story,” she repeats thinking. Outside the door, she hears her husband sigh and walk away. And she begins. Tonight she tells the story of the Little Prince, or her remembered version, in which she makes much of the need to look out the windows when one rides a train. She enjoys passing morals on to her son, things to remember and think about. She wants him to remember to see the things around him, to make each moment count. When she finishes speaking, the room is silent. The glow from the window has faded to darkness and cold begins to 20


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Spending a summer in State College had been a dream of mine for years, finally realized when it dawned on me one typically hot, muggy, summer day in Florida where I have lived since graduating from Penn State in 1982, that, as a freelance writer, I can live anywhere (within financial reason). I have a laptop, after all, and a cell phone. Give me an Internet connection and I’m in business. I found an apartment that was actually built onto a private residence a scenic twenty-minute walk from the Corner Room restaurant, a fixture in the town as iconic as Old Main. A beautiful stone building with imposing columns and a bell tower that peels out Westminster chimes on the quarter hour, Old Main is the university administration building and sits on a rise a hundred yards or so off College Avenue, the main drag and dividing line between town and campus. It was basic, this apartment I found, but basic was enough. Ashley Ponce doubled in the third, driving home a run for the Spikes, and in the process becoming hailed by the announcer as the Arby’s RBI guy. Everyone cheered and I cheered, too, then I went for a bag of peanuts and a Yuengling. Yuengling seems to be the beer of choice in State College these days, although when I was a student it was Rolling Rock. You’ll find Yuengling available at the Rathskeller, a basement bar that’s been in business since 1933, the year Prohibition ended, and the bar that became my place of choice for Friday happy hour. They serve it at Zeno’s, too – a bar downstairs from the Corner Room and where I would often spend nights listening to local blues bands –, and at Whiskers, the only on-campus bar, right off the lobby of the venerable Nittany Lion Inn, the official university hotel for visiting dignitaries and other VIPs. And you’ll find it pretty much everywhere else, too. With the Spikes up 5-2 in the fourth, the Ironbirds decided to make a pitching change, the call to the bullpen brought to us, we were informed, by Verizon Cellular. During the break in action the crowd of probably 3,000 was entertained by the Kiss Cam, a staple in ballparks these days. Couples in the crowd are shown on the Jumbotron and compelled, under heavy peer pressure from the rest of the fans, to share a smooch. The camera bounces around from couple to couple, and each couple, upon seeing themselves on the big screen, kisses. Every so often the camera stops on a couple who is either on a first date or has something merely platonic going on and you can almost feel the awkward discomfort. That night’s Kiss Cam was brought to us by Gardner’s Candies in nearby Tyrone (“Home of the original Peanut Butter Meltaway!”). The real beauty of State College in the summer is the fact that probably eighty percent of the students are gone. The bars and restaurants and shops are rarely crowded. Even The Diner, another State College fixture with its delicious breakfasts and world-famous sticky buns, has seats available at the counter on any given Sunday morning. And yet there are enough people populating both the town and campus to provide an energy not seen in your typical small town – an energy born of the perpetual youth of a major university. You feel it as you walk around the place, and it’s a place that was made for walking. The town is all cafes and t-shirt shops and pizza joints and bookstores, and you can easily shoot a day just meandering around its streets. The campus is sprawling and sylvan, and sidewalks running past old classroom buildings are framed by tall, shady elms.

Between the Lines by G. S. Payne n a clear August evening this past summer I caught the Spikes playing at Medlar Field. Minor league baseball. As American as pie. An affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Spikes play in the Class A New York-Penn League, and I noticed by the latest standings printed in my “WWWZ News 95” game program that they were occupying the bottom position of that league, much like their parent team in the Majors. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park (its full name) was built smartly so that the stands, ringing the bottom half of the diamond, face beautiful Mount Nittany off in the distance, a straight shot from beyond the center field fence. From that rolling peak comes the name of the mascot for the university that sits in its idyllic valley. The mascot, of course, is the fabled Nittany Lion, the university is Penn State, and the valley, back in those innocent summer days, was cheerfully nicknamed Happy Valley. But of course that was before. Baseball, between the lines, is a beautiful game, a pure sport, free of the bustle of the times and charmingly lacking in ambiguity where ideas of morality or integrity are concerned. Baseball is a game played without a clock; a game where, as Bill Veeck once observed, if you get three strikes against you even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off, and a game that produced, according to Red Smith, man’s closest bid for perfection: ninety feet between bases. I had these thoughts vaguely on my mind as I chomped into my hot dog and listened to the P.A. announcer rattle off the Chick-fil-A starting lineups. The visiting Aberdeen Ironbirds went down in order in their half of the first, the final out being a fly out to center. “Don’t forget, fans,” exhorted the announcer, “get your flies out with Park Pest Control!” Outfielder Wes Freeman was the Boar’s Head lead-off hitter in the Spikes half of the inning. Freeman worked the count full, fouled off a couple pitches, then took one in the dirt and trotted down towards first, the base-on-balls brought to us, revealed the P.A. jock, by Nittany Beverage (“Make it your choice!”). Everything around State College, the small town that borders on, and feeds off, the university, seems to be named Nittany something. Besides Nittany Beverage (a place that thrives selling beer in a state with hopelessly archaic laws that prevent the selling of beer and wine in supermarkets and convenience stores), there is Nittany Oil, Nittany Bank, Nittany Paper Mills, and Mount Nittany Medical Center. And those are just the businesses advertised on the outfield wall of Medlar Field. In my two months of summer vacation in State College (a working one), I spied Nittany Chem Dry, Nittany Antique Emporium, Nittany Travel, Nittany Home Inspection, Nittany Car Wash, Nittany Construction, Nittany Dental Lab, Nittany Gymnastics, and the Nittany Mall, presumably filled with an entire subset of Nittany-named shops and kiosks. After Freeman, the next three Spikes went down in order, including Samuel Gonzalez, batting fourth in the lineup – the ServiceMaster Clean-Up Hitter, we were told.

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instead to the side, in front of the waitress station, careful not to be in the way, quickly stepping aside whenever a waitress needed to reach through to pick up a drink order. I hadn’t planned on standing there long; there was just one bartender but I was sure I had caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. But then another patron managed to elbow his way to the front of the bar adjacent to my position. “What’ll you have, Bob?” asked the bartender to which the other guy pointed a thumb at me. “I think he was here first,” he said. “Yes, but he’s standing in front of the waitress station,” replied the bartender flatly. I was sure, at first, that I’d misheard, but then it struck me that, as a stranger to the bartender, and one who was apparently breaking some serious saloon positioning rule to boot, I was essentially being dismissed. I was floored. I suppose I could have corrected my egregious error by moving around to the front of the bar and elbowing my way through the people there, but, there being no shortage of places to get a drink in State College, I decided to take my after-dinner libation business up College Avenue to the Allen Street Grille instead. Walking along the sidewalk, past the dark windows of the shops that had closed for the evening, I tried to get my mind off the remarkably odd moment back at the Adam’s Apple. It was a small matter, after all, and although I could not imagine such an occurrence in, say, a Key West bar, I didn’t want to make too much of it in my mind. But the incident has never really left me and I’ve thought about it often since. It has come to symbolize a sort of unfamiliarity I have come to realize I possess with respect to the town, and in the wake of the scandal, to the university itself perhaps. A little hidden, surprising thing that seems alien to what you think you know about a place. Something that separates you from it somehow. The seventh-inning stretch featured a pair of fifth-grade girls (I think they may have been twins) singing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” and their singing was lively and sweet. We all sang along and applauded loudly as the announcer let us know that the girls had been brought to us by the Ramada Inn (official host hotel for NYPL visiting teams) and P.J. Harrigan’s Bar & Grill, which apparently adjoins the Ramada (“The Ramada and P.J. Harrigan’s: a winning combination!”). But for that last evening at the Adam’s Apple, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in State College. I’d work in the mornings from my apartment living room, my desk looking out on a grove of thick trees that ran alongside my landlady’s house, squirrels frequently chasing through the branches, distracting me. I’d often take my laptop to Paterno Library in the afternoon and work from there, parking downtown at the corner of Garner Street and College Avenue and walking the half-mile or so to the library, for there was always precious little on-campus parking available. Even if there had been, the walk through campus, across Old Main lawn and up the Mall towards the library, was worth the extra time. In the evenings I would sit on the short stone wall (simply “The Wall” to the students) that runs along the campus side of College Avenue, in front of Old Main, and I would read and watch the people – students, faculty members, townsfolk – strolling along the sidewalk in front of me. The academic atmosphere inspired me to revisit some books from my classroom days, and I was able to buy inexpensive, used (very used, in fact) copies of A Moveable Feast and The Crack-Up

The Spikes added a run in the fifth, bringing yet another visit from the Nittany Bank Nookie Monster, a big fuzzy blue thing that runs out onto the field from a door in the outfield fence, every time a Spike player crosses the plate, and does a quick back flip before returning to his station behind the fence to await the next run. I had no idea what it was supposed to be, really, this Nookie Monster, but the crowd cheered and I cheered and then I went to get another Yuengling. The best summers of my life have been spent in State College, two of them as a student taking summer-term classes and one as an adult, enjoying the energy and ambience and cool temperatures and the occasional Spikes game. But this latest summer, though just last year, seems an eternity ago, played out just months before the single defining moment that will forever divide the history of Penn State University into that which happened before and that which happened afterwards. There was “then”, and there is “since”. There was a mascot race between the sixth and seventh innings between a Chick-fil-A cow, a guy dressed as a fireman, somebody in a costume that was one gigantic eyeball, and a cowgirl named, for some reason, Jane Doe. The race went from home plate around the bases and back home again (mere yards beyond where the players were loosening up in the infield) with the participants bumping into each other and occasionally falling down and then getting back up. The crowd cheered enthusiastically, as did I, and in the end the Chick-fil-A cow won and we were all reminded by the P.A. announcer that in celebration we could take our game ticket stubs to the nearest Chick-fil-A restaurant for a free twenty-ounce soda (with the purchase of a meal). It was the most ironic and stunning of scandals, taking place at a school which prided itself on its pristine reputation for integrity – a football program, coached by a living legend, with never so much as a hint of impropriety. And then the bomb was dropped: reports of child sexual abuse by an ex-assistant coach and an alleged university cover-up. Within days the football program, athletic department, and university itself seemingly lay in ruins. When the Ironbirds scored a couple of quick runs in the seventh, putting the game in doubt, it produced another Verizon Cellular call to the bullpen, this time to the Spikes’ bullpen to bring in the Rolaids Relief man, a lefty who warmed up to the tune of “Mony Mony”. Of course time spent away from home never leaves you without some minor complaint or other. Mine was that the town wasn’t as friendly as I’d remembered it as a student. But then, as a student, I drew my circle of friends among other students, not full-time residents of the town. It’s to be expected of any small northern town, I suppose, and since I’m something of a loner anyway, the cool regard for strangers was fine by me. Still, there was one small occurrence on my last night, before I returned to the more open warmth of my fellow Floridians, that doggedly stuck with me no matter how hard I tried to shake it off. I had finished my dinner at the cozy Tavern Restaurant and decided on an after-dinner Irish Mist at the restaurant’s bar, the Adam’s Apple. The place was uncharacteristically crowded that night (I imagined some convention in town) and I found it fairly impossible to access the front of the bar with the crowd lingering there with their drinks. I stood 22


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at the Student Book Store. Weekends were spent at the Palmer Museum of Art, on hikes around Mount Nittany, or on self-guided walking tours of the historic neighborhoods that surround the town and campus, each activity typically followed by a trip to the Berkey Creamery on campus for a few scoops of their famous ice cream. After the eighth inning came the Pizza Hut scream. A guy in a Jolly Green Giant costume (the connection escapes me still) walked through the stands with a large Pizza Hut pizza looking for the group that was screaming the loudest, dramatically cupping his ear with his free hand and earnestly gazing around the stadium. Everyone in the section I was in screamed and I joined in and screamed as well but a group of high school girls in Section 201, with screams that could no doubt be heard as far away as Altoona, won the competition, and the pizza. The Ironbirds couldn’t muster any runs in the ninth and the game ended, a 6-4 Spikes victory and we all cheered and I walked back to my apartment, cutting across campus, watching for fireflies in the dark. I’ve thought a lot about State College in the months since and about Penn State and the scandal – what the scandal means, and what it says about institutions and people and maybe even our society’s values, for surely there is more in all of it than just the problems of a single university. But I’ve never really been able to come to any kind of decent conclusions. The whole thing remains confusing and inexplicable. Of course on that summer night at Medlar Field, I had none of those weighty issues on my mind nor would they have been welcomed. I just wanted to watch a baseball game on a clear August night in all its purity. I wanted to cheer when the State College Spikes scored. And cheer again when the H.R. Office Supply “Employee of the Home Stand” was announced and when the announcer declared the winner of the Supercuts “Name-that-Hairstyle” contest. The first won a pair of free movie passes; the second received a coupon for a free haircut.

Super Moon by Alex Blonder Seeing her that night, reminded me of a poem I had left unfinished, hanging in ink as though she were the word that never came.

Applause of Thunder by Alex Blonder The hum of lightning soaks the heavy air. Playful rain drops lose their footing and fall down, from soot-covered clouds, tears of despair The wind then moans its response, quelling all. The slow trod of thunder, each step resounds heavy feet of a beast unseen, profound are such thoughts these are, of children or fools The eye unblinking watches silence rule.

View of the World in Water's Eyes by Allison Venida

• • •

Aqua blue water shines all around me The sun making the water glisten, Beautifully blinding me. Waves crash in a rhythmic motion With each stroke comes closer to my feet. Soon enough I’m swept away with the tide, And I don’t hesitate to follow. I become one with it, going wherever It wants to lead me. All sounds are blocked out, Except the rushing of the water taking me under.

G. S. Payne earned his undergraduate degree from Penn State University and, eschewing the confines of academia, has been largely self-educated in the twenty-plus years since, devoting his energies towards the study of his true passion, creative non-fiction. Now living on the Gulf Coast of Florida (except for those summers in State College), he works predominantly as a ghostwriter, specializing in narrative non-fiction and memoir. Works in Payne’s own name have appeared in Foliate Oak, Straitjackets, The Writer's Disorder, and History Magazine.

No thoughts come to mind, only The peacefulness of nature takes over. Warmth of the water makes me feel invincible, Not a soul or a thing can touch me, for I have Water’s shield all around me. It spits me out to inform me This ride has come to a stop. Sand sticks to every part of me as I sit down, I gaze longingly at the sparkling of the water As I wait patiently for another ride to Take me away. 23


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the air between them, the clay witch appeared and went about his business in the near dark of the room. Ben mingled amongst the ex-teachers and former pupils, speaking when necessary and mumbling half lies to the men who were far more interested in speaking rather than being spoken too, such was the curse of being a teacher. He nodded away, nodding assent and chipping in with the occasional response when it was so required, all the way tracking the monster in the corner of his eye. It moved with the same languid motion he remembered from his old school days; almost breezing through the rooms, as if propelled on a combination of conversation and cigarette smoke. Ben waited for his heart to start racing and was pleased to feel the regulated beat quietly against his shirt. It seemed that years of fear had at least taught him to hide his terror. It was true of his life; a girlfriend who was too addicted to her own pills to be stirred in the night by his body breaking from the sheets, sweating and thrumming with panic. A girl who loved him in her own, vague way, but was more attuned to their lifestyle and trappings than the cracks and holes that appeared all too easily given half a glance. She was the perfect cover for the damage that lay just below the surface of his skin. Another layer he had drawn over himself to hide what was really there. She was the brittle princess installed in his world to combat the clay witch when it attacked. Ben counted the minutes until the crowd slowly thinned. An hour crawled by and he underwent more speeches from classmates, some brisk, some windy. Promises were sealed with firm handshakes; deals were made with sly winks amongst plumes of heavy smoke. On and on it went, until amongst all the backslapping and nostalgia, the old man ducked from view, into the corridors and out of sight. Ben excused himself, clutching his regulation glass in one hand, cigar in the other and quietly slipped out of view. He began to walk down into the greying corridors, barely changed and back into his past; back into the old hunting ground of the clay witch. After a few minutes the sound of the monsters feet thickened in Ben’s ear. He synched himself into taking footsteps at the same time so there was no chance of detection. Something in him loosened to think he was, in any way, becoming similar to the monster and he fought the urge to heave. He swallowed hard and forced himself to keep walking in time, his footsteps lumpen and slow, mimicking the tired monster. This is what it is, he thought, to be old. His heart lurched as the footsteps in the distance came to an abrupt halt. A moment of perfect silence followed and then Ben heard the old familiar sound, the signal for the horror to start; the heavy copper key twisting in the lock and the doorway to the dark room creaking open. The shuffle of feet followed and Ben thought he heard something like a sigh-a gasp of pleasure-before the door closed. Ben made a single rap on the door and nothing more. He heard the shuffling of feet and the heavy breathing that only came from the old before the door opened up. The old monster peered out from the crack and looked to Ben, his eyes glazed. Ben looked at the clay witch and saw the truth behind the façade of the old man; the panting was excitement from recalling ancient triumphs, the eyes were hazed with the ecstasy of pleasurable memories. The filth of the old creature was clear to see, in fact, it was smeared all over him, like a skim of mud. Ben pushed the door open-briefly noting,

Clay Witch by Chris Castle en stood at the back of the hall, watching the old man accept the small trophy, smiling broadly to all the other people gathered around the stage; just a harmless old codger, stepping quietly from working life to retirement. Once or twice he looked around, acknowledging one person and then another. Perhaps some of the older men knew, perhaps some of them had held steadfastly onto his dirty secret all these years. Or maybe it was only Ben who knew what the creature standing up on the rickety platform was. Not a person at all, but a monster; a clay witch who had spent his years hunting children. Years after he had left the school, or rather, escaped, the nightmares had stayed inside Ben, haunting him up to this very day. For years he had seen shrinks, talking about anything but what had really happened, even creating other sicknesses in order to layer and mask the real disease. Sometimes Ben wondered if the doctors knew of this conceit, he felt they must have, but if so, none of them ever confronted him about it. Instead, Ben went through the motions, doing just enough to gain his prescriptions and salvage enough sleep each day to survive. But still the nightmares followed him; dryly slipping into his waking hours, as he hunched over the photocopier, or at night, while making love. Other times they simply attached themselves to him as he jogged, or lifted his drink in the middle of a teeming bar; always the same hungry fingers, over extended and clawing, always the same brittle skin, peeling clothes from both bodies, accumulating skin under overgrown nails. After he had escaped the old man’s clutches, the monster had taken many forms, but the clay witch had slowly swallowed up all the others, until it was the only one. Once a month Ben forced himself to close his eyes and remember. He cleared his room of its junk and sat on a wooden chair and claimed it all back in the dark. The corridors appeared first, dank and grey with not one spray of childish graffiti along it. Next, he visualised the room, artless and cold, the books stacked on the shelves and looking for all the world like dead birds, compressed and oozing from the walls. Even the smell climbed back into his nostrils, the combination of dated aftershave, talcum powder and sweat; all of it laid on too thick, hiding the scent of desperation and hunger inside the room itself. All of the horror was in place, until it came to the monster himself. He always started off as a man and the first terror lay in the way he moved; coiled and still in the shaded edges of the room before seeming to spring from the far corner to the centre. His nails mutated, curling from white blades to distended, chipped claws, the underside flecked with dried speckles of blood and dots of ink. Everything was in place, until the face itself came into view. It was then that the man dissolved away, the skin sloughing off in thick, sludgy heaps, never quite leaving the bones but instead clinging to the tips, so there was neither a skeleton nor a man. Instead, as the hands dug deep for contact and papery breath wheezed into

B

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with a grim sort of pleasure, how he towered over the dirty little creature now-and stepped inside. Played out in his head a thousand times before, Ben had veered between words and violence. Inside his jacket pocket was an old fashioned slap-jack, taken from his grandfathers attic, in case his most violent of plans, bludgeoning, came to light. The old monster edged back into the centre of the room, teetering against the chair before slumping back into it, almost reacting to words that Ben had yet to speak. His lips opened and then closed, gummy and wet, yet no voice actually came out into the air. As Ben stepped forward, he cowered back into the high backed chair, becoming a ball and shrinking into the size of a child. “You remember?” Ben said, his voice low, neither a whisper nor a shout. It was a cold thing, controlling and measured and a noise he did not recognise as his own. The old monster nodded, helpless now; in the middle of himself, a wet patch clouded his trousers. Ben felt himself step forward, everything in him cooling, as if out of himself. It was going the way it was meant to go, without plans or speeches or even blows. Instead, there was just the weight of the truth being offered in a dark, squalid room. The predator and the prey, their roles reversed with the sequence of time. “I remember,” Ben stated, gripping the sides of the chair with each hand and lunging to within inches of the monster’s face. Around them, the room shaded and darkened until they were only shadows against the walls. The old creature’s eyes widened and in the next moment stilled in just that expression of wide eyed terror; terror and shame. Ben kept on hulking over him until he realised the stillness was settling and that everything had ended. Effortlessly, he pushed back from the chair and back into the centre of the room. The idea of reaching into his pocket for his lighter and finishing the act flickered across his mind, before he forced himself to walk back to the door and out of the room. As he walked back down the grim corridor, he heard the pitter-patter of approaching feet. Without thinking, he veered right into an old classroom and waited until the shadows bobbed by the glass. As he stepped back out into the hall, he heard the name of the clay witch being called. Ben reached the cross section and came face to face with another old man, one of his old teacher’s, who worked alongside the monster. The man looked up and recognised Ben and as they looked to each other, shouts from the end of the corridor turned fearful and panicked. Grey spread across the old man’s face, turning his skin pale and wan. Ben wondered if he knew: either about what had happened back then, or what had happened right now. He stepped to one side and felt the man brush by. Before he disappeared, the old man gripped Ben by the arm and squeezed it briefly, fiercely and without hesitation, then slipped by. Ben walked on, not looking back, the cold of his skin interrupted by the heat of the teacher’s touch. In that way, frozen and burning, he stepped out of the grounds of the school, the clay witch dying amongst the screams of the school, melting into oblivion amongst the mud and brittle leaves.

Start to Stop by Racquel Henry He walks in the bar and takes his usual seat: third bar stool from the right. “Hey Ben,” Ron the bartender says. “The usual?” “Yeah. Better Make it a double.” He looks at the glass Ron sets down in front of him. Thinks how much he really loves the way the brown liquor looks in the glass. Loves the sight of the ice in the liquor. Even loves the sound the ice makes clinking against the glass when he picks it up. He remembers her eyes then. The way they filled with tears. The way her lips looked when she said the word please. The way he felt her fear pierce his bones. He had promised that he’d stop. He picks up the glass, lifts it in the air and nods at Ron. One quick gulp, head cocks back and the glass is now empty. “Hit me again, Ron,” he says. Just this last time, he thinks and promises himself that he’ll start to stop tomorrow.

• • • Racquel Henry is a fiction writer residing in Florida and an MFA Candidate at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Racquel served two years as a reader for the university's literary magazine, TLR and is also the co-founder and editor of Black Fox Literary Magazine. She blogs weekly at her own blog, Racquel Writes. Her fiction has appeared in Blink-Ink Magazineand The Scarlet Sound.

Lonely Stretch by Veronica Irwin The road is a gravel swath through nature, a ten minute stretch of rural shock that suffers from a pox of orange signs and the occasional vehicle. With your hands tight on the wheel and mine gripping the seat, we washboard our way from city to town to village to outskirts, an ache in our kidneys, a plume of dirt rising behind us. The road is as precarious as thread strung between clasp and pearl, the slim shadow of our car slashes the trunks of trees, and we dip from rut to rut like bucolic conversation, until, finally, something ruptures, an axle, or something inside me, a need worn down to an aged, yellowed string. I reach out, grasp your arm. It will be impossible to catch every lustrous, rolling pearl. They hide in the dust while I wait, wait for the return of your startled gesture.

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I'm not sure that's good. I know I look like her and that makes him feel bad. She was a musician, or she wanted to be. He and Ma could giggle together. Adults just don't do that and they did. The rest of us were outsiders when they did that. Now he seems lost. We don't giggle; we don't say much when he visits. I think maybe I could make him laugh. But I don't know if I would make him happy. I would like to laugh. I would like to stand on a stage and tell jokes and make hundreds of people laugh. Once, when I was ten I tried to make my aunt laugh. She was in the kitchen. I’d heard the joke in school from the kid next to me. “When god gave out noses, I thought he said roses and asked for a red one.” I had laughed so hard in class I couldn’t stop. My aunt, she scowled and told me I was irreligious and disrespectful. My sister walked in just as I started to tell the joke. At the end, Aunt Lou turned, carefully placed her back to me and stared my sister in the face. “You, missie, would never say that, would you?” My sister knows how to read my aunt and she is good at seeming reverent. She put a very solemn expression on her face. “Aunty Lou, you know I could never say that. That would be too disrespectful.” Aunt Lou just nodded and looked at me as if to say ‘you see?' What she did say instead was “now don’t go pound on that piano because you’re mad at me.” Maybe not comedy then. We have a dog now. My aunt’s son, my cousin Jeff, recently moved to California but couldn’t take Gus. So now, he lives with us. I call him Gustav. At first, Gustav and I didn’t really have much to do with each other except that he likes to sleep under the piano. That’s ok except when he lies on the pedals. One day I started playing Chopin nocturnes and he sat up and started to howl. I was offended but he wouldn’t leave and I think he must like the piano music. He only howls when it's me playing the piano. If my aunt plays hymns or if Daddy and I play together he won’t come near the piano. My sister has decided that I am the dog’s accompanist. We have a routine now. He sits to my left, on his haunches, and once I start to play, he puts the tip of his nose high in the air and starts howling. He makes a mournful sound. At first, I fretted and found it distracting. As much as I'd chase him away, he would always come back. It's a different kind of duet than the one with my father. I like to imagine Gustav as a tall, handsome man in a tuxedo. Perhaps he would be Mario singing that aria to Tosca. Sometimes, I'm not at the piano, instead I'm conducting the orchestra. Other times, I'm on stage too. I'm Tosca. First, heady with the triumph of believing I'd saved my lover, and then after finding that I failed, I'm filled with despair and prepare to fling myself to my death. Then somebody slams a door and Gustav stops. I stop. Silence. As dissonant as Gustav's singing is, I've come to find that it makes sense to me. I don't know why he sings. Does he miss Jeff? For me, at least for now, I’ve found a companion.

The Piano by Alison Strack

L

isten for me. Banging away, scales, etudes, Chopin, occasionally some Broadway tunes. I start with scales, twenty minutes, then forty minutes of exercises before I begin practicing. You couldn't ask an athlete to run a race without stretching. An upright piano, the top keys are way out of tune and the last B flat is stuck. A couple of the keys have chips. They are plastic, not ivory. I am living with my aunt for now, my high school years. My mother is dead and my father’s not ready to deal with me. That’s how my older sister puts it. I could say I want to be a concert pianist, or teach piano. I’m quite a good pianist. I could say that I do this to pass the time away or to distract myself. All these suggestions worry people. My older sister for instance. She visits. She sits and listens for a while, but she gets impatient. She wears jeans with big rips in them, tight black tee shirts and a jean jacket. She has a lot of earrings, mostly in her ears, and she has a lackadaisical attitude towards life. My aunt won’t let her smoke in the house, but she keeps reaching for her purse to pull out cigarettes, like she can’t stop herself. She tells me, “Sylvia, look. Just because mom’s dead, doesn’t mean you have to stop living your life. Get out once in a while, will you?” Getting out to her means going to clubs at night. She’s old enough to get in and the guys like her tattoos. Getting out to me means going to the library; when we were little we did that together. She thinks I should be hanging out at the skate park all day, checking out the tongue studs my friends have and squealing in a horrified manner that seems to impress boys. When she leaves I play Rachmaninoff or Bartok. Anything that's loud and has lots of notes, anything that wipes out sentimental thinking. My Aunt Lou wants me to do something other than play the piano. She's not used to a teenager in the house. "Sylvia," she says, "aren't there other things you'd like to spend some time doing?" She's someone who does "good works". She helps at the church, she visits her old neighbors. Everybody appreciates her, but I think they breathe a sigh of relief when she leaves. She has to put up with me because she's my mother's sister. I overheard her at the funeral, that poor child, someone's going to have to raise her and her father's sure not up to it… My piano playing makes her crazy. Sometimes I see her cringe when I head towards the piano or all of a sudden she remembers an errand she needs to run. I told her once that my piano teacher said that practice allows you to think about the music instead of the notes. Then there's Daddy. He looks gaunt and I think he drinks a lot. He doesn't come by very often. But he always wants to, he says. When he's here, we sit on the piano bench, and he plays the bass part of ‘Heart and Soul’ and I play the melody. "Sylvia, you're just like your mother."

My dad came by recently. This time he spent a long time in the kitchen with the door closed talking to my aunt about my wanting to go to music camp. They both had lips that were tight and pursed together when they came out. They looked just like each other, which is funny because my aunt and my mother were sisters. No one would ever say that my dad looks like that side of the family. I scooted over on the piano bench to make room for my dad. He just shook his 26


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Breathing in, she settled into the ratty orange overstuffed chair next to the piano. “I don’t care what Aunt Lou says. I am having a cigarette. Ok, Sylvia, do the math.” This early in the day and already, everything was incomprehensible. “Sylvia. When was I born? When did Mom go to music camp?” “This is crazy.” “Why else do you think it makes everyone nuts to have you play the piano and to have you go away? You know that dad was the archery counselor. Everyone figures if you get in the same situation, you’ll end up throwing away a career in music too.” My sister and the enamel cat blew smoke in unison. Today, I will practice Bach. It is methodical, organized. It is rational. Tonight, I will deal with my aunt and my dad. I worked on Bach’s Goldberg Variations the entire afternoon. One note at a time, one measure, one phrase, and then one variation at a time. The room turned gray, the sun was no longer directly shining into any of the windows. My fingers stumbled and I stopped to redo the passage. Starting again, I looked up. In the dim corner next to the piano, a spectral figure was sitting in the chair where my sister was this morning. The shape of the shadow, my mother. If the light weren’t so bad I would have thought that her cheek glistened. I stopped. “Don’t stop. You sound like your mother.” I put my hands in my lap. I had never seen my aunt sit in that chair. She sat silent for a long time. “Your mother played Bach passionately the way you do.”

head. He started out the door, but then stopped, turned around and looked at me. He walked back and ruffled my hair with his hand. Sitting down next to me, he sighed. "Play for me.” I played and played. He stayed for a very long time. My aunt went upstairs to bed and still I played. "Ok, sweetie, perhaps best to not keep your aunt awake." He stroked my hair and I waited. Gustav came over and put his head in my dad's lap. It was as if he knew my dad needed cheering. Finally, Daddy put the dog's head between his hands and had a long look at him. Then, he stood, kissed my forehead and left. He must have had a fight with my aunt. They both miss my mother. Neither recognizes that about the other. Or can say that to each other, or to me. I can’t tell them. I’m the constant grain of sand that causes the friction. "Sylvia." Setting down the jar of jam and putting my knife aside, I turned around. There was my aunt. "Sylvia, your mother played the piano too." That was stating the obvious. "She. Well. What do you want to do? Do you understand the concern?" I just stared. She must think that Daddy and I had talked about their conversation and whether they’d agreed I could go to music camp or if they had come up with some other plan. He hadn’t told me anything and I didn’t want to ask so I shrugged and turned back to my toast. "Sylvia, this is impertinence. You'll have to make a decision based on our stipulations. I am going to work but you'll need to let me know by the time I get home tonight." She banged the kitchen door shut and I was alone but for the sound of my aunt's footsteps going down the wooden stairs. I shook my head—what stipulations? Encouraging, I guess, that they agreed I could go, but both my father and aunt seemed to assume that the other would tell me what was agreed upon in their conversation. I had finished my scales and was half way through my exercises when my sister showed up. "Why are you in such a bad mood?" I just stared. I hadn't said a word yet. My sister persisted. "I can tell by the way you play, you've been glowering ever since I started up the walk. You’re pounding on the piano, not playing it. Did Dad and Aunt Lou disagree about the music camp again?" My sister must be out of her mind. "No really, they haven't told you why there’s so much contention?" Mute, I shook my head, riveted by the small enamel cat holding a cigar that hung from my sister’s right ear. Today, her hair had a diagonal purple streak that ended near her ear. It was as if the cat was exhaling plum-colored smoke. "Cowards" she muttered. "I have to take care of everyone in this family."

My father's hospital bed is in the first floor bedroom adjacent to the living room. On his good days, he sits in the rocking chair in the sun. Only once did he play duets with me.

I did go to music camp and I met my first boyfriend, although I did not become pregnant and I did not marry him. Camp gave me the opportunity to get into university. I studied piano and I play chamber music for a living. The truth is that other than my final year of high school, I never really went back to my home town after music camp. Recently, however, much has changed. My father became ill after much wear and tear on his body associated with what we all assume was chronic alcoholism, even though those aren't words we use. I have returned to my home town for now and I am back to my piano of ten years ago. I sit and play by the hour. My father's hospital bed is in the first floor bedroom adjacent to the living room. On his good days, he sits in the rocking chair in the sun. Only once did he play duets with me. As for duets with Gustav, he is no more, and Gus the Second, who is a young dog, lacks interest in singing. He enjoys the same spot in the sun as my dad, so they have become good companions of late. I wheel my father to the rocking chair after his lunch when there is full sun. Gus needs to be nudged off the yellow, braided rug by the window; however, my father always drapes some of the 27


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blanket that he uses to keep warm over the side of the rocking chair so Gus has a cushioned spot. They both snore and this becomes my accompaniment. My sister brought over her brood of four children the other day. She has retired some of her earrings, but probably is the liveliest dresser in the local PTA. Her current theme seems to be scarves. Yesterday, she had an orange one in her hair, a red polka dot one around her neck and a green paisley one for a belt. Her children blend in a bit better than she, but who these days can afford more than t-shirts and hand-medowns with that many kids? She still berates me for my lack of imagination. "Kids, your Auntie Sylvia must be invisible on the streets of New York City" and by the time she had left, I was wearing her orange scarf. My aunt and I trade off care for my father. She was the one the YMCA called when at the end of the day they found him unconscious in a big easy chair after he had spent the afternoon there playing checkers. The hospital had suggested a nursing home but there was no money for that. Even though my aunt is retired she spends a great deal of time working with her church and really has no reason to want to care for my father anyway. She called me. "Sylvia, your sister has too much to do taking care of her children and no space anyway." It has been a few months now. We have achieved a certain accommodation with each other. One evening after my father had an especially bad bout and the visiting nurse had finally left, my aunt and I finally sat down in the kitchen. I poured myself a whiskey then looked toward my aunt. She nodded. "Yes. Yes, Sylvia, I will." For the first time in my life I saw my aunt with a drink in her hand. Looking across the table, I recognized the wrinkles in my aunt’s face as exhaustion; tired lines that my sister and I must have wrought. Soon my father will die. The doctors give out no hope and it’s just a matter of time. My aunt, my sister, and I, we try to give as much comfort as we can. My hope is that my aunt will have enough years of health that she can recoup some of those lost months of taking care of my father and lost years of taking care of me. My sister is taking joy in raising her children and they are good kids. As for me, I know whatever city I am in, I can find a piano.

In This Room by Barbara A. Carrington A deathlike stillness shrouds the room. I sit and wait, along with the others gathered here, in solemn reflection. Unwavering in our persistence of having made our voices heard during the years leading up to this event, we are silent now. We choose to say nothing more so there is no audible sound. Peacefulness, like weightless floating feathers, surrounds us. Sixteen years have passed since my father was shot, left to die alone on a highway, his policeman's uniform saturated with his blood. His killer will be executed shortly, and we, in this room as witnesses, are motionless, each one immersed in thought. My mother, sitting next to me, pats my hand gently, and I am comforted by her concern, her unspoken message. Our shared sorrow is embedded within us like a malignant tumor, impossible to eradicate. I glance at my mother's face and marvel at her serene expression. Because she is calm and composed, the rest of us are calmed, too. Tranquility settles in. In my mind I offer a prayer of gratitude for her wondrous love and guidance, the example of her powerful faith and her reverence for all life. These are gifts which she has lovingly given to me over the years, unknowingly preparing me for this moment. When this is over, and we depart to return to our places in the world, we will take our cherished memory of my father with us. That will never change as his deeply rooted strengths will forever be a part of us. Perhaps though, some change will come about within us for having had this experience here today. It occurs to me that we could purposely bring about a miraculous change if we were to leave something of ourselves behind. We could cast out the heavy burden of sadness from our hearts that we have carried since my father's death. I imagine that burden to be like tear-stained rocks. I imagine an immense amount of them discarded in that corner over there, lifeless, and left to be forgotten in this room.

• • • Alison Strack is a neuroscientist and researcher in the pharmaceutical industry. While extensively published in scientific journals, this story is her first fiction publication. In addition to work as a scientist and fiction writing, she travels and gardens extensively.

• • • Barbara A. Carrington is a blossoming writer of poetry and fiction, having recently replaced her scientific pen for a creative writing pen. Her degree in nursing was obtained at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston,Texas where she lives and enjoys becoming a late bloomer. 28


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

Enough to Tide Him Over for a While by Wayne Orr

A

The salesman was about Kyle’s age and was dressed real okay, but his suit wasn’t as sharp as the one they were looking at. “Yeah, not too bad. I have two or three suits kinda similar to that.” “You wear a forty-one, right? Forty-one long.” “Yeah. That’s right. How much you asking for that?” “That’s a regular seven hundred dollar suit. Six ninetynine. But this week everything’s twenty-five percent off. That’s five twenty-four, twenty-five plus tax.” That was just about all the money Kyle had. As much as he was tempted, he figured he’d better not spend that kind of money, not until he had a little more put aside. “I’ll think about it.” “You like that suit?” “Well, to tell you the truth, I think I’d better wait.” “Okay. I can understand that. But do you like it? I’m not asking if you’re gonna buy it. I just want to know if you like it.” “Yeah, sure. I like it okay. But I’m not ready to buy it right now.” “Okay. Let me tell you what. I’ll bring out that forty-one. You try it on. If you don’t like it, fine. If you like it, it’s yours for five hundred. That’s five hundred total, including tax. You’re not going to find another deal like that.” “I don’t know.” “Just wait here a minute. It won’t cost you a cent just to try it on.” He walked away. Kyle stood uncertainly for a while. The more he thought about it, the more he knew it was a damned good deal. If he went ahead and bought it, he would still have around a hundred bucks. That was enough to last him until he got paid again. He would try the damned thing on, and if he liked it he’d take it. That would leave him enough to go out and have a few drinks and maybe find some gal ready to party. The salesman returned with the suit, and it was a perfect fit. All they had to do was shorten the legs. He looked in the three way mirror and was very impressed. He looked as good as Sammy ever looked. “If I decide to take it, when will it be ready?” “You can pick it up Monday after five.” He thought about it a couple of minutes and finally said, “Okay. I’ll take it.” The salesman took the suit to the front, and the cashier rang up the sale. Kyle paid him in cash. When he left the store, he counted his money; he had eighty-nine dollars left. He had to be careful with it if he wanted it to last. He would go to the Stardust Bar and drink a couple of beers and then go home. He was hungry, but there wasn’t no use in wasting a lot of cash on fancy restaurants. He drove to a Wendy’s and ordered a hamburger, French fries and a large frosty. There wasn’t anything at all wrong

ll Kyle wanted to do was learn how to play the stock market. He had tried to read the brochure about ten times, but it didn’t make any sense. He could read it ten more times, and it still wouldn’t help him a bit. The more he studied it, the more confused he got. It had paragraphs entitled Strategies for In And Out Traders, Technical Buy and Sell Indicators, How to Identify Merger Candidates and shit like that, but by the time Kyle had tried for more than an hour to read it, it was pretty clear that playing the stock market was a lot more complicated than he had expected it to be. The pamphlet advertised a symposium that was going to be held at a local Holiday Inn the following Saturday morning. Attendance was free, but participants had to call a toll free number to make reservations. Kyle decided that if he wanted to learn, he might as well go. There was only one catch. The advertisement said that while there was no obligation, serious participants should have a minimum of five thousand dollars to invest. Kyle didn’t have that much money. He had around six hundred or so, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. Once he learned how to play the market, he could probably run that up to a hell of a lot more than five thousand in no time. He called the number in the advertisement and got a recording. “Your call is very important to us,” it told him. “Please leave your name and telephone number, and someone will get back to you as quickly as possible.” Well, that was a real kick in the butt. He was trying to give them a little business, but they didn’t even have anyone around to answer their goddamned phone. He felt like hanging up and just forgetting about it. He had a lot of things he could do on Saturday morning besides going to a goddamned meeting. Since he was already holding the phone in his hand, he figured he might as well leave a message. If they didn’t call back, it wouldn’t be no skin off of his ass. They were the ones that would lose the business, not him. He left his name and number but sure wasn’t going to hang around waiting for them to return his call. If they wanted to talk to him, they could leave him a message. They weren’t the only ones with a goddamned answering machine. He went to a shopping mall to hang out and see what was going on. He saw a men’s clothing store that had a really hot suit displayed in the window that looked like something Sammy would wear. Sammy overdid it sometimes, but Kyle had to admit that he usually looked pretty sharp. He decided to go in and see if they had one in his size. Not that he was going to buy it. He already had plenty of suits. But man, it was cool. It would really knock them on their asses if he wore that one with his gold chains and his neat shades. He went inside to get a closer look, and a salesman approached him. “Good looking suit,” the man said.

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When he was about halfway there he changed his mind. He would just go back downtown and pick up the whore. If he could get her for around sixty dollars it would probably be cheaper in the long run; at least it would be a sure piece of ass. He could waste all his money buying drinks all night for some dumb bitch at the Silver Dollar and not get shit for his troubles. He made a U-turn and headed back. The hooker that had smiled at him was still there. The other one was gone. He pulled over and stopped, and the girl came to his car. “Hi,” she said, “I see you decided to come back.” “Yeah. You looked pretty good standing there so I decided to see if you was as good as you look.” “I’m better.” “How much do you charge?” “Well, that depends. I can give you a hand job right in your car for twenty dollars or a blowjob for thirty. You can give me a five dollar tip if you want to, but you don’t have to. If you want to go to my room it’s forty dollars for thirty minutes, but there’s a ten dollar tip.” “What do I get if I go to your room?” “Anything we have time for. And if we get real involved and it runs over a few minutes there’s no extra charge. The time doesn’t start until we get undressed.” “Okay, let’s go.” She was as good as her word. He was there for almost fortyfive minutes and she only charged him fifty dollars, just as she had promised. He drove back to his apartment and counted his money, and he still had twenty-eight dollars and change. That would last him until he got paid. If you knew how to be careful with your money, twenty-eight dollars could go a long way. He watched TV for an hour and then went to an H~E~B grocery store. After picking up a loaf of bread he pushed his cart by the deli department. They were grilling whole chickens, some plain and some barbecued, and the sight and smell made his mouth water. There wasn’t anything any better than barbecued chicken with potato salad. When he was a kid growing up, his mom always made real good potato salad. She never made grilled barbecued chicken, though. Instead she fried hers. She cut it up, rolled it in flour seasoned with salt and black pepper and deep fried it until it was crispy and golden brown. They had fried chicken at H~E~B, but it wasn’t anything like his mom made. He didn’t mind, though. The barbecued chicken would be fine. He went to the frozen food department and picked up a German chocolate cake and a half gallon of chocolate ice cream. That beat the hell out of wasting his money at a fancy restaurant. It was still early, and it was going to be a long night. He couldn’t afford to go out, though, because he had already spent almost all his money on the whore. But at least he hadn’t wasted it on a bunch of women that wouldn’t put out. He guessed he would just have to stay home and watch T.V. It wouldn’t kill him to stay home one night.

with that. Then he went home and checked his answering machine. Sure enough he had a message. It informed him that he had been accepted to attend the free seminar on stock trading. “Please bring a pen and notepad,” the recording advised him. “Please try to come at least thirty minutes before the symposium is scheduled to begin, or your seat can’t be guaranteed. Participants will be provided free coffee and pastries.” It pissed him off that he had to come early in order to get a seat. That was why he had made the reservation in the first place. What was the point in making a reservation if he still had to come early? Maybe he wouldn’t go if that was the attitude they were going to take. They go around spending a lot of money on advertisements to get someone to go to their meetings, and then they tell them to come in early, or they can’t get a seat. What kind of a dumb-assed operation were they running, anyway? He would like to go in wearing his new suit. That would really knock their eyes out. They would peg him as being super successful to afford a suit like that. It was a goddamned shame that it wouldn’t be ready yet. That was all right, though. He had a lot of good suits that he wasn’t ashamed to wear to their goddamned symposium. It was too early to go anywhere, but he figured he might as well go to the Stardust. It beat the hell out of setting around his apartment watching stupid TV programs. Maybe he wouldn’t spend too much money if he was careful with his cash. He would drink a few beers real slow and check out the girls. If it got too dull he would go back home. There were about ten people in the place when he got there, and only two of them were girls. They were sitting at a table by themselves. Kyle tried to catch their attention, but they ignored him. After a while they left, and there was nobody in the place except a bunch of hard-dicked men. He got up, left a quarter tip and went out to his car. He drove downtown in the direction of the Red Horse Lounge. He could drink a couple of drinks there and then cruise on out to the Silver Dollar. Maybe he would even see Cindy, the whore that he’d beat the shit out of a few nights ago. If he did, he would just look at her real cool like he had never seen her before. It was a depressing part of town. A homeless guy, about a hundred years old, wrapped in a filthy blanket was sleeping on a mound of rotting trash against a vacant storefront building. An empty wine bottle was lying inches from his open hand. Two whores were flaunting their assets for the passing motorists. Kyle looked at them as closely as he could to see if either of them was Cindy, but neither was. The one nearest saw him studying her and smiled and waved. He looked away quickly and went into the lounge. Not a soul was there except for the bartender. Kyle turned around without taking a seat and went back outside. He guessed he would go to the Silver Dollar Dance Hall after all.

She was as good as her word. He was there for almost fortyfive minutes and she only charged him fifty dollars, just as she had promised.

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trouble. Fortunately he had bought it from a pawnshop years before and used a phony name. There wasn’t any way in hell that it could be traced to him. He didn’t feel too sorry for the man he had shot. The son of a bitch shouldn’t of moved. He drove away slowly, and when he was two or three blocks away he pulled to the side of the road and stopped near a storm drain at the base of the curb. He got out of the car and threw the gun and box into it. He hated the thought of getting rid of his gun, but he had no choice. Then he drove home and counted his money. He had picked up two hundred and fifty-three dollars. That wasn’t as much as he would have liked, but it wasn’t too bad. At least it was enough to tide him over for a while.

He went back to his apartment and put the ice cream and cake into his refrigerator freezer and the rest of the food he had just bought onto his kitchen table. He opened the plastic container holding the chicken, tore off a wing and a leg and cut off about half of the breast and laid it all on a paper plate. He set the carton of potato salad on the table, opened a bottle of beer and got two slices of bread and began to eat. When he completed that helping he got some more. After that, he ate a big slice of German chocolate cake with ice cream. It was damned good. Better than a pizza or something from Taco Bell. It was certainly better than eating some goddamned Chink food. He chuckled when he thought of the Chink place he had almost knocked off a few weeks before. He could imagine the little Chinaman bowing and scraping and shitting his pants and saying, “So solly! So solly you not rike my flied lice!” Kyle would probably have cracked up and laughed so hard that he would have left the place without getting any money. He was low on cash so tonight might be a good time to check out the Chinese place. If he could pick up a few coins to tide him over until he got paid, he would feel a lot better. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. That’s what he would goddamned do. He finished eating, wiped his hands on a paper towel and got ready. He got his gun and the knitted cap and scarf that he had used when he relieved an old man of some of his money at an ATM machine and went to the car. In a few minutes, he was in front of the Chinese restaurant. He put on his gloves, wrapped the scarf around his neck and pulled down the cap making sure that it covered his ears and eyebrows. He looked around to make sure that no one saw him, took out his gun, pushed the door open and walked quickly inside. Only one table was occupied. A young couple with two kids hardly glanced up as he entered. An Asian man was standing behind the bar. Kyle stuck the pistol into his face and growled, “Don’t move, motherfucker, or you’re dead.” The man stood staring, as though in a trance. Kyle opened a three foot section of the bar that served as an entry to the area behind it and went through. “Your money,” he said softly. “Now.” The man opened the register, took out the bills and handed them to Kyle. It didn’t look like it was a hell of a lot. “The rest, you son of a bitch,” Kyle hissed. He looked toward the customers, and they were staring at him. He pointed the gun their way, and they quickly looked down. The man he was dealing with hadn’t said a word. “The rest, goddamn it. Now.” The man reached under the counter and retrieved a small metal box which he handed to Kyle. “Is that all?” The man didn’t say anything but nodded his head vigorously. Kyle began backing away, carefully watching him as he moved toward the door. If the son of a bitch made any funny moves, Kyle was ready to shoot in self-defense. If the fool was dumb enough to try anything he deserved it. Kyle was almost to the door when it looked like the man started to move. Almost involuntary he pulled the trigger. He didn’t realize what he had done until he heard the roar of the gunshot and saw its force slam his victim backward against the wall where he collapsed to the floor. Kyle turned and ran to his car. He knew he had to get rid of the gun. If the cops found him with it he was in bad

• • • Wayne Orr was born in Amarillo, Texas many years ago. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin. While he was a student there, he met and married Esther Mata which he says was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to him. They have three girls and two boys and several grandkids and great grandkids. Wayne spent his career writing policy and procedural manuals for the Department of Defense. He is retired now and lives in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. and spends much of his time writing and traveling.

Soloist by Veronica Irwin She sits cross-legged in maroon velvet, hood up, the froth of that sweet, merlot color spilling over her head and shoulders in the winter light. She raises her Altus Concert Flute, seeds the brown field with silver shavings; fragile, spirochete notes that infect my already heavy thoughts. Her embouchure pours air into the mouthpiece like cold water into a pewter pitcher. Quick scales rise impossibly, then dart rapidly, just as far down, as if they are an orchestra of birds, purple Martins seizing their mosquito prey in mid-flight. Debussy? I wonder. She plays her passages into every dark corner of a roost for four beats and repeats this dead end over and over. When I walk past, her helix shavings break under my feet, and the sky opens up to a livid sapphire, as do her squinted eyes of the same, unforgiving hue. She blows bright, cold, punishing G notes, little by little rushing me off, little by little capturing something in me, something winged and unaware.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

To the Moon and Back by Kathi Hansen

her finger on nor resist. At first she’d borrowed a trick she’d previously thought uniquely male—compartmentalizing one life separately from the other—and carried on the affair effortlessly, happily unburdened by guilt. Despite her best intentions and against all things sane, she’d fallen for him. “Champagne, darling?” “No thanks.” “A bit too much last night?” She scoured the flight attendant’s face for evidence that he’d known something. She’d arrived at the meeting a few minutes late and felt heat rush to her face when she realized the others in the room were watching her search for him. Had they been so obvious? They’d tried hard to be discreet; sitting on opposite sides during meetings, openly disagreeing about comments the other made, shifting their gazes when their eyes accidentally locked. She sat in one of two empty seats and murmured greetings to the group. Silence enveloped the room until Paul, the session’s chair, cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you’ve heard,” he glanced at the legal pad in front of him before looking up at her. “Kyle’s wife called this morning. He had a heart attack in the middle of the night.” Erin stared at him. “He--um. He. Didn’t make it.” She felt her throat constrict, suspending her thumping heart in its narrowing chamber. Some of her colleagues watched her, unreadable expressions pasted to their faces, while others busied themselves with their laptops or fingernails. A collective sigh was followed by jumbled words: horrible, so young, seems like I just talked to him, feel for his family. As she strained to contain the tears pooling in her eyes she remembered the last time they’d seen each other. After they’d made love, they’d sat propped up against the silk damask headboard and passed the bottle of Puligny Montrachet—his favorite vintage, ordered ahead—between each other, ruing in advance the months that stretched between them and their next meeting. She’d thought about telling him that she’d been fantasizing a life with him, tossing it out as a silly joke, rather than a means of testing the water or planting a seed—which it may have been, when he’d started slowly shaking his head, as though reading her mind, and said that he could hardly bear to think that they’d forever be part-time lovers. She’d wondered, with a surprising jolt of jealousy, if there was someone else, though he’d told her there’d been only her since he’d gotten divorced months before they’d met. “We could fix this, you know,” she’d said. “Your kids would hate me,” he’d answered, “and they’d hate you because of me.”

Erin! Back so soon?” “It’s been three months.” She leaned in to plant the peck on his cheek he was expecting. “We really have to stop meeting like this.” Despite her effort at cheer, she heard her cliché words thud. She’d encountered the same flight attendant on many of her trips home since she’d started flying to the Montana ranch where the group of entrepreneurs she’d been asked to join held quarterly three daylong meetings. The two had become friendly and shared superficial details of their lives with each other. “You remember to get the kids something this time?” He winked as he opened the overhead bin for her. She’d confessed to having forgotten to buy the kids a souvenir on her last flight home. Erin pulled two children’s books from her briefcase and handed them to him. “Wish I could get my nephews to read. No bells or whistles? Forget about it—they’re not interested.” He flipped the pages of the top book. “This one looks fun. You, on the other hand . . . you okay?” He greeted arriving passengers as she settled into her seat. The conversation about picture books and her kids distracted her momentarily, and she struggled to keep focused on the life that awaited her return. Though she’d always known she’d be a mother, she’d greeted motherhood dubiously when it came. By then the adage that women could have and do it all, voiced by feminists a half-generation ahead of her, had lost some varnish. Erin knew that balancing her career with motherhood and marriage would consume her; wring her dry. And though she’d trade motherhood for nothing, she often worried if she was doing right by her children. Still, in a few hours, the pajamaed boys will run to her, delightedly surprised at her early return, and she’ll kneel and hug them to her as though they are the most precious of things, too exquisite for her love; and she’ll know better, but mean it. And later, when she lies first in one and then the other’s beds and plays the ‘I love you this much’ game, she’ll profess her love for them to stretch to the moon and back. And she’ll mean that, too. The sun glinted in the oval window and shards of light reflecting from her wedding ring shot across the back of the seat in front of her. She watched them dance about; freefalling fragments, some tiny, others big and oddly misshapen, all ricocheting in no discernible pattern. She twisted the ring so that only the band showed and thought about the first time she’d broken her vows. Her willingness to let Kyle into her room that night had surprised her. Sure, he’d been charming and smooth, but she’d maneuvered around his type before. There was something different about him, intriguing; a reckless quality that she could neither put

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“My boys are resilient.” “This might be a bit too much to ask,” he’d murmured while employing his tongue to staunch the tiny rivulet of wine that snaked between her breasts. In an instant he’d distracted her from complicated, untenable thoughts about the future to conscious appreciation of his considerable skills in bed. The announcement to turn off electronic devices pulled her out of hotel suites and conference rooms and back to the interior of the plane. She turned her ring around and light fragments exploded like fireworks on the ceiling and across the aisle, chasing up the pant leg of the man beside her. She watched their frantic dance as she pulled her Blackberry from her bag. It took a moment for her vision to clear so that she could see that she’d somehow missed a message from Kyle late the night before. The flight attendant smiled conspiratorially and held up his index finger, mouthing silently that she had one more minute. She glanced at the device as her thumb hovered over it. The device asked her if she really intended to delete an unopened message. She hadn’t intended anything, but she deleted the message anyway. As the plane pulled from the gate the jitterbugging light shards loosed from her diamond faded slowly toward the floor and disappeared.

So Now I Go by William Butler I sit alone at the dinner table of my memories, sipping coffee. It’s snowing again and I’m getting that old feeling, where I’m leaving and you’re slipping into your solitary prison. I’m catching the first bright rays of the sun on my face. And the reflection in the napkin holder is me, tired from crying. I’m tired from feeling pain.

• • •

Oh, how this feeling creeps up on me during these early hours, taking my bitterness and turning it against me. I scribbled something on a napkin, then I scratched it out. There was nothing important to say, just blank words without a poetic flare to lighten the mood.

Kathi Hansen is a San Diego author, who after doing battle as a trial lawyer in Southern California for the better part of two decades, now faces more formidable opponents. Her short stories can be seen (or will soon be seen) in literary journals such as Halfway Down the Stairs, Literary Mama, The Ampersand Review, and Per Contra. One story was featured in MadRoad, the West Coast Anthology by Breadline Press. She's presently at work on a collection of short stories and a novel.

So I waved at the air around me, clearing away your cigarette smoke that you used so well to cloud my reality. And now trust becomes an issue. And my tongue ties itself in knots with your words, because I can see between your lines. The snow lightens and it’s time for me to go. To wake from my past and explore my dreams. So now, I go…

• • • William Butler was born in Morehead City, NC. He moved around a lot as a child living in various places such as NY, GA, FL, VA, until his family settled back in NC, where he lives now. William Butler's inspirations are authors such as Chuck Palahniuk, Anne Rice, J. T. Leroy, Jacqueline Susann, Anias Nin and Tennesse Williams. His novel The House of Balestrom debuted in August 2011 to positive reviews. 33


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

The Problem with Madness by Eugene Chun

P

constantly shun me in favor of Clarity and that is why I am neurotic about you.” “Can’t always get what you want,” I stated coldly. “No…I most often get what I desire and that is people like you…can’t you see? I want to be your friend…your companion…your eternal love…what’s wrong with that?” “It’s frightening,” I replied. “You have serious dependency issues.” “Isn’t that what real love is all about?” he asked innocently. “No one wants the real me…they just see a façade…an image…but not you.” “I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” I said. “I think you have the wrong number…I love Clarity and not you! Don’t you get it?! I’m not crazy about you and I don’t swing that way!” ”Maybe you should be more open minded,” he said boldly. ”I’ll see you later.” And with that he left. Clarity came to me after Madness departed and started gossiping to me about him “Isn’t he scary? I never liked the bugger…he’s so strange and deranged…I don’t see how anyone can put up with him…even his brother.” “His brother? ” I asked. “Oh yes,” she said. “He has a younger brother…his name is…well, I forgot what his name is.” She paused for a moment. “He’s not as well known as his brother.” I started laughing. “Well, I'm not my twin sister,” she said slightly offended. “Anyway his younger brother is always concerned about him and his well-being…which is to say…well, he doesn’t have much in the way of well-being…let’s be honest.” She started cackling. I didn’t see anything funny about that. I began to feel sorry for him…no one genuinely wanted Madness and he knew it…I could begin to see his point of view. Poor Madness. There was nothing delusional about him…he knows what he is. Clarity briefly left me and then returned, but only for a short duration. That was her way-always coming and going. It was frustrating. There was nothing consistent about her. She returned once more only with Madness accompanying her. It was brilliant I thought…now we would permanently resolve the issue that had been vexing me all along. Madness and Clarity looked and assured me that my problem would end tonight under the sea of blinking stars. I felt relieved and told them how grateful I was for this…I could not go on another minute living like this. Everything was so unstable. I dropped my cigarette and crushed it beneath my heels. “Begin,” I said. Madness spoke. “To be mad or not to be brilliant…that is the underlying question…there can be no brilliance without some form of madness…anything mad has some insight and profundity to

eople who romanticize Van Gogh–like Madness– mostly likely have never met him. He’s not the easiest guy to get along with. And he comes out of the blue, when you least expect him to. Most sophisticated aficionados praise the insanity…the intensity…the originality…that’s because they never met Madness…if they did they would think twice about adoring him. I never adored him because I know what he’s really like. He’s not the most pleasant or accommodating of entities. Experiencing him firsthand is like losing your virginity to a decrepit, sagging, and aging prostitute with syphilis…scary. Being in his company constantly will drive anyone to suicide…just ask Van Gogh…he knows all about it. He breaks up your mind and pretty soon you will not know up from down. You’ll want to sleep and try to, but he comes at you that much stronger like lead and cadmium. You writhe, you squirm, but he nags at you and rarely lets go. When he does let go Clarity comes and she is a godsend. She is the goddess of reprieve…the angel of mercy…the bringer of solace. She rarely visits, but when she does she is not taken for granted. Not by me. Most do not grovel at her feet. They think her to be passé, un-hip, and boring. I know better and worship her. She is the eternal hope and guardian against Madness. She is my one true friend who can desert me at anytime and anywhere. She comes and goes as she pleases. And that is what is really upsetting about her. I’m obsessed with Clarity for I know Madness is always nearby…stalking me and watching me. She is my only means of defense against him, but like anything feminine she is unreliable, goes her own way, and does her own thing. Smoking is a makeshift weapon against Madness…it really doesn’t work that well. It will hold him at bay for a while, but only for a short duration…then he comes back stronger than before, which means you have to light up more. Clarity came to me for a while, but then only for a little while. She’s a real busybody. Whenever Clarity wasn’t around Madness was sure to follow. It was frustrating. There was no stability. No balance. No tranquility. The odds were stacked against me and I knew I had to do something. I had to confront Madness and resolve this vexing issue. I laid down on the grass and let my mind begin to wander as I was gazing off into the starry night. Madness gradually appeared and I told him I couldn’t go on like this…being pulled this way and that. “We have to resolve this issue once and for all!” I declared. Madness stared at me and began his defense. “For people like you,” he said. “You need to express yourself…not want, but need to…if you didn’t you would wind up in an asylum or be staring at the end barrel of a revolver. Those are the kinds of people that really interest me,” he said adamantly. “That is why I am always following you…that is why I relentlessly attack you. I want to be your muse but you

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it…you must realize this…I can be at your beck and call, but she won’t,” his finger pointing to Clarity. “She will desert you on a whim.” Clarity briefly looked away. “She’s an unreliable tease…a naysayer whenever she pleases…I am here at your disposal for the remainder of your days…a true friend…a lifelong comrade...one who would never leave you! I am your brother to the end! And then some! Who could love you as much as I? Who could obsess and give you visceral verve to an otherwise meaningless existence?” His argument was right…his diatribe in order. His words held such heavy weight and became so convincingly apparent I quietly replied. “Can’t I have both of you at the same time?” They both looked at each other and started laughing. “That’s very kinky,” replied Clarity teasingly. I stammered and was about to utter something when Confusion appeared…it was vexing that he was there…he said nothing…and for once I felt something odd. Memory came to me and reminded me of that peculiar feeling I had when I was caught stealing a chocolate candy bar from a grocery market when I was a youngster…she made me recall every nuance of reddening emotion I felt when I was exposed for the theft…it was an unpleasant feeling and I rushed into Madness’ arms knowing that I would be relieved of any conscious guilt and doubt…it was the easy way out and I took it.

Tin Cup by William Butler Oh, what a feeling it was to see you again. Now is the time for this love of ours to end. And I’m standing tall looking down on the ground. Feeling somewhat distant from the world around me. I’m in a spin. A spin you put me in. I try not to look too far back, because my heart wants to dissolve into water, like tears when they become rain. I watch the winter fade away and my hands become dry and sometimes they bleed. I can’t help but feel this way. It’s a mystery not yet solved by me.

• • •

Return From Irony

Life seems to have left me behind. And catching up is harder to do when you have nowhere to go, but to sleep. Oh, what a feeling it is to fall into a tin cup. I always feel trapped. And being surrounded by smooth walls is dull to me. And I begin to see gray. No corners to hide in. To hide from the pain you pierced into me.

by Veronica Irwin Back from Kansas because I need a dose of chaos, that blue and red pill of pulsating lights, that last shot of signal cry at night, where I lay in bed awake picking out a bad lifter knocking as an ambulance turns into and alley and whines away.

My nightmares seem to die, along with me, as I slip further into this coma. And I can only think maybe our love would have survived if you hadn’t sealed the tin cup you selfishly drank from.

There, in the vast western fields of stockyards and sunflowers, evenings were death, thunderstorms skulked in the fields carrying scythes that shyly flickered. On a friend's back stoop I sat alone, neighbors silent, but their nightly chores riotous; spoons came to fisticuffs with knives, water brawled. In the distance, the blood pulse of a radio tower sent off a mute rhythm, somewhere the wind used a metal sign as a snare drum, repeating tap-tap all night, and the storm, it came out of hiding, from around corners it seemed, to touch down and light up split seconds of a barn, a tree, a horizon dotted with cattle.

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Sanctuary by Howie Good 1 It used to be called the Reformed Church of Lost, Crying Children. Now it’s the Church of Holy Shit! The congregation is waiting on the shore for the flames to freeze so they can cross over the yellow lake of fire. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a five-letter word that isn’t “ardor.” 2 I would get more results, the screen says, without quote marks around “suicidal thoughts.” There’s a weird old man I never met living in a cabin deep in the North Woods, with only a dancing poodle, and the books I might have written, to keep him company. Out in back flows the same river twice.

Ode to Joy by Howie Good You hid in the subzero darkness, your name, Blooma, Yiddish for flower. Retreating soldiers staggered down the road past your peasant father’s farm. Oh, doomed little girl, even stars disintegrate! The plum trees you loved have long since slit their wrists. Now whenever I think of you, I try picturing us standing on a small stone bridge over bright water, you pointing out a swan with a head like a big wedge of white wedding cake.

Orange & Blue by Howie Good While we somehow sleep, old men in orange safety vests scoop up roadkill with shovels and fling it into the future. No other blue is quite as blue as the blue of a blue Sno-Cone.

• • • Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz and the author of many diffrent kinds of books, can be found at http://apocalypsemambo.blogspot.com and goodh51@gmail.com.

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the remainder of Blackie’s preternaturally long life, we collected our mail from the sorting office. We had a large garden. Blackie tired of it in a month. Since there was no fence strong enough to contain him, he started what my mother laughingly called his ’walkabouts’. My mother did not drive, and the rest of us, to whom Blackie retrieval fell, called his excursions something more colourful. Over the years, there developed a long list of preferred venues. His outgoing nature led him to seek companionship. We retrieved him from discos, farmers’ markets, church fetes, school sports days, shopping arcades, wedding receptions and, regularly, the police station. This was not because he had been apprehended but because, tired, and faced with a long walk home, he preferred to hand himself in. They helpfully kept an old armchair in an interrogation room, so he could relax until we arrived to collect him. His favourite walkabout, however, involved some form of transportation, and trains, buses, cars, or even motorcycle sidecars were all fair game. Our local taxi company, awake to every opportunity, used to keep a supply of Bonios with which to tempt him into a cab, then charge us a tenner for delivering him home.

The Sea Dog by Vicky Maxwell t is a mistake to answer the phone. This realization hits a moment too late, just as the receiver reaches my ear, and everyone else, quicker on the uptake than me, exits the room at speed. Even my father, who minutes before has been bemoaning his gout, achieves near Olympic speeds in departure. ‘Are you the owner of a large black dog?’ The well-spoken man’s voice has the restrained threat of an unpinned grenade. I could deny it. Accurately, Blackie is my mother’s. The advertisement had said ‘Adorable Labrador-Basset Hound cross seeks new home. Well trained and friendly. Owner emigrating.’

I

In retrospect, this was a complete contravention of the advertising code... to everyone except my mother. I drove her the fifty miles to Exmouth to meet this paragon of virtue. We were early and the terraced Edwardian house was empty. An alleyway, blocked by a tall blue door, ran down one side of the house to its back garden. Here, judging by the noise, a small whirlwind was engaged in destroying everything, including the door, which bowed at each new assault. “He’s in the garden.’ whispered my mother, unnecessarily. Not for long. The door racketed off its hinges; the whirlwind materialised, spreading wood splinters and saliva in a wide arc, and leapt at my mother. He had the size, grace and destructive ability of a young rhino. My mother was enraptured. The owner, a defeated-looking woman, returned to what remained of her home. My mother entered into negotiations, while Blackie, ricocheted happily around the front lawn. I mentally crossed ‘adorable’ and ‘well trained’ off the list, and although I could not deny friendly, owner emigrating was wildly suspect, unless it was by force of embarrassment. Blackie sat on my mother for the return journey. That is, his back third balanced on her lap, the remaining portion leaned out of the window, jaws agape to catch as much air as possible. The atmosphere in the car thickened, the air passing efficiently through him. His ears, short for a Basset Hound, yet unnecessarily long for any other breed, resembled laundry in a gale. On each bend, dog drool drifted into the car like Devon mist. Initially, we changed his name. As a piece of genetic engineering, Basset crossed Labrador is wrong. A bad sin. My mother called him ‘Sinbad’. This innovation lasted three weeks, during which he refused to acknowledge the new name. We reverted to Blackie. He ignored that too. His friendliness was unquestionable, although it was occasionally difficult to tell apart from aggression. Blackie preferred his new acquaintances prone. He achieved this by greeting them like a battering ram, then sitting on their chests and licking their faces. We had a letter from the Post Office, after we rescued our postman for the third time. For

‘What are you going to do about it?’ Horrified, I realise that the caller has taken my silence for admission of ownership. ‘How do you mean?’ I flannel. The hand grenade explodes into a cloud of expletives. ‘Your blanking dog is in my blanking tender. Get your blanking backside down here before I call the police.’ Obviously, not the moment to mention that the police will fall about laughing. His tender is alongside the public slip in town. I say we will be there directly. ‘Somebody needs to collect Blackie.’ I call. This is where ‘somebody’ means ‘anybody but me’. The house is completely silent. I expect tumbleweed to blow down the hall. I am on my own. Our house is about a mile from the town. In August, there are flocks of tourists and no parking spaces, but despite that I take the car. It might be quicker to walk, but the return journey through crowds, towing a reluctant rhino, will be a nightmare. Besides, with Blackie, you never know when you might need to make a speedy, motorised, exit. Even without directions to the boat, the small crowd would have alerted me. I park, illegally, at the head of the slip, and make my way through the spectators. A tatty Avon inflatable dinghy is alongside. The tide is falling and already the painter is tight against the wall. Blackie lies comfortably in the stern, his head turned towards his audience. The air is rich with drying seaweed and wet dog. Blackie flicks his tail to acknowledge my arrival in his adventure. ‘You the woman I spoke to just now?’ A large, red faced man, in a pristine white yachting cap, detaches himself from the crowd. Immediately, Blackie’s hackles rise. He knows a boarding party when he sees one. ‘I’ve been trying to get out to my yacht, for the past hour.’ says Yachting Cap. ‘Now do something about your bloody dog!’ The crowd murmurs approvingly. Mid-river, a large floating gin-palace lies at anchor. It looks particularly expensive, and very ownerless. 37


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‘Sorry.’ I mutter. ‘He’s perfectly friendly. Come on Blackie. Here.’ Realising my perfidy, Blackie lets out a volley of barks, and launches himself into the bow, teeth bared. The boat bucks and heaves against its mooring line. The watchers, the boat owner and I take a quick step backwards. Inspiration strikes. ‘Polo mints! Has anyone got any? He adores them. I’ll lay a trail.’ The crowd obligingly begins rummaging in its pockets and handbags. Scrunched half-tubes are proffered. The man in the yachting cap is turning an alarming purple. I hastily lay out a line of mints, starting at the top of the slip and working steadily towards the dinghy. Blackie has retreated to his place in the stern and is watching suspiciously. ‘Polos, Blackie’ I say, in case his mint identification is not up to scratch. He braces himself for a moment, then with a graceful leap, returns to shore. He begins to work his way up the line of sweets. I wait until he was on his third, then make a grab. At the same moment, yachting cap rushes forward to reclaim his craft. Too soon! Blackie, with surprising speed, avoids my grasp, whips round and hurls himself back to his ship. This time, the grace is absent. His paws skid on the wet slipway, and he lands heavily across the wide rubber gunnel, scrabbling wildly to get back onboard. Maybe we should have had his claws clipped more regularly. Perhaps yachting cap should have left more rope when he tied up his boat on a falling tide. Certainly, one could reasonably expect a more robust tender to such an impressive yacht. The hissing begins gently, like a pantomime crowd unsure that it has correctly identified the villain. As the volume increases, the tender starts to cavort on the end of its line, the bow rising, and the stern with its attached outboard sinking. As the rips in the rubber lengthen, the hiss becomes a prolonged fart. Blackie realises, even before we do, that the integrity of his craft is in serious jeopardy. He leaps ashore, grabs one last Polo from the remaining forlorn line, and disappears at impressive speed through onlookers, and away. Yachting cap, the crowd and I stand, unmoving, as the tender slowly flattens itself and its stern portion, with engine, slips beneath the water.

Old paradox, new verse by Nicholas Alexander A heavy mist rises out of the valley like gun smoke, rifling the air, setting off a time piece of timelessness. The sound of dew dripping from leaves, but no dew felt. This unmetered rural wetness that meets me most mornings ever since I’ve transported to this mystic realm. This meditation, this poetry. A thousand unspoken words inhabit these fat, yellow-green leaves; these long limbs. These crooked Einstein branches. The figure in the cane whose greetings each morning without language haunt me. The sunless days and moonless nights are the old paradox of my new verse.

Anything can inspire me by Nicholas Alexander Anything can inspire me to verse: a dog sleeping soundly on a makeshift veranda thick croton flowers lining a sloping path leading to an outside wash area lanky trees spiraling to the heavens like the hope of a family praying, Love is enough is stronger than death richer than wealth

We resist my mother’s attempts to describe it as Blackie’s ‘floatabout’. Tenders are expensive, and without insurance, we do what we always do. We sell something. One Eighteenth Century, long-case clock equates to one Avon dinghy. We tell each other we always hated those chimed quarters. Like his boat, Blackie is deflated by the whole experience. For nearly a week, he remains at home, mourning his shipwreck. We can’t expect the situation to last for long, however. In case Yachting Cap meant it when he threatened to shoot our dog, we buy a strong chain and anchor it to the house wall. Sometimes, we actually manage to attach Blackie to the other end. Mostly we just don’t answer the phone in summer.

But what gives the greatest inspiration is the smell of seasoned meat sizzling in a pot drifting across the valley lifting sweet scents to the open air

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of the ether like a mirage. He looked up at the window and could just barely make out a silhouette: feminine, otherworldly. I’m in love. He called her the Angel of the Tenements, a romantic nom de plume for a hopeless fantasy. I’ll just walk the dog in front of this building until she comes out to talk to me. She’ll notice right away that I’m different; she’ll see that I’m mysterious, tortured, profoundly attractive. One more cigarette, he thought as his apartment announced itself with dreary familiarity. Why not? I’m as good as dead as it is. But, at the very least, things would be different tomorrow. I’ll get up early to buy the painting, I’ll walk the dog in front of the angel’s apartment, maybe buy a book by the Dali Lami, even do some push-ups, I’ll embrace the day and be happy. If he woke up tomorrow, that is. There was always the pending doom that rested just underneath everything like a tremor. The day is an eyelid behind which rods and cones of despair fire with blind abandon. A train rushed past: a bombardment of noise and light. He cursed the Industrial Revolution, the clang of progress, the monster mankind. A plane droned above, a hundred tons of human cargo hurtling across the sky. He pitched his head upward and wished for a crash—not in a macabre way, but simply out of morbid curiosity. I wonder what it’s like when that big fucker goes down. The bodies being hurled across the cabin like ragdolls, the shattering of bone, metal and steel exploding then raining down like shrapnel. Shit, he thought as the plane zoomed past, maybe next time. He turned the key and staggered into the apartment. He looked around at the catastrophe of living— the dishes in the sink still streaked with food, the clothes strewn across every available fixture, the empty bottles, the overstuffed ashtrays. I am the curator of a strange museum of dust and accumulation. As he shook out the match he’d used to light his latest cigarette, he regretted that he hadn’t tossed it into the bookshelf. They’d burn nicely, these books he would never read. And they would take with them the modern mess that surrounded him; everything would be eaten alive by the greedy, insatiable flames. I see myself: a mound of flesh on the funeral pyre of it all. He opened the refrigerator and found a beer amid the odd assortment of condiments. He snapped the tab on the top of the can; an aluminum report echoed through the emptiness. He drained half the can in one long gulp. Why not? Now that there’s a new me, I deserve a little reward. Cold compensation for another hot day in hell. The alarm clock started shrilling at eight. He knew it was the first day of the rest of his life. He knew the painting was waiting for him in the shop window. He knew the Angel of the Tenements was ready to fall in love with him. But his head pulsed like an off-kilter washing machine. Life is punching me in the face; God is beating the shit out of me. Feels like a brain tumor. Or maybe an aneurysm. A woodpecker’s habitual hammering provided a sadistic soundtrack. This maniacal carpenter had no regard for a man’s hangover. If he could make it to the window, he would

Panic by Phil Lane

R

ain falls like pangs into the bucket of sorrow that is my life. Shit, I should write that down, he thought. It’s as good as anything Bukowski ever came up with. As he trudged beneath the ashy aura of the streetlamps, his body ached under the heft of thirty years of dread. I’m going to get cancer. What if I already have it? I’m out of shape. Maybe I have diabetes. I need more Prozac. Better go to the doctor. No, don’t. He’ll want to check my blood pressure. If I don’t go, he won’t find anything. He struggled to light another cigarette in the wind. Why not? I’m already getting cancer, he figured. The beer was getting to his head. He felt it fizzing and bubbling, bouncing off his synapses with bleary, bloated confusion. There was a dust on everything, a vapor, a pall. The entire landscape had taken on an ethereal quality; the air was mercury thin, the sky was alien and full of angst, colored auburn by the swirling leaves. He felt like he was plodding across the surface of the moon, taking care not to fall into a crater. Just getting home will indeed be one giant leap for mankind. He was lightheaded, enervated. He’d had this sensation for a few weeks now—this sense of being there but not really being there. He was living an out of body existence, watching himself float from failure to failure. His amateur research labeled it “dissociative disorder,” a feeling that the world is not real. He looked down at the pavement; it was black and slick like Formica, almost icy under a varnish of rain. He looked up at the clouds: big, fat and fluorescent, they were cardboard cotton-candy cutouts taped to the sky by kindergartners. It all looked like nothing more than props arranged haphazardly. Buildings adjacent and askew, dropped from the sky and abandoned wherever they had landed, lives built around them, families and towns that gathered need by need. Everything seemed manufactured, fabricated, and he had been conditioned to accept it as such. He passed a frame shop, the display window adorned with elaborately trimmed, exorbitantly priced pictures. One of them caught his bloodshot eye: a painting of a man sitting alone on a stone wall above a gray, listless shoreline, his head down and an empty bottle in his hand. Below him, a maelstrom of waves crashed against the beach. It was beautifully, wonderfully somber. If I had that, my room would be complete. I know just where to hang it. The picture mollified him. He forgot about his lightheadedness, his constant thoughts of disease and disaster. All of his concerns could be bought for the outrageous price pinned to the painting. He was further placated by the angles of her apartment building rising out

The alarm clock started shrilling at eight. He knew it was the first day of the rest of his life.

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feel no compunction about shooting the little bastard. A puff of feathers in the wind…silence. He turned the alarm clock off. What did it matter? The picture would be there tomorrow, so would the angel. The impudent sun forced him out of bed at noon to an unbearable wobbliness. There was no time to buy art or to try and catch the Angel of the Tenements before he would have to leave for work. Once again, the day has revealed itself as a sham, a charlatan, a ruse. He felt like the floor might give way or his knees buckle under the strain of his convenient disease, his illness du jour; he knew he had to call in sick. But before he could call the store with another outlandish excuse, the room blurred and contorted as everything shrank between the ridges of his eyes then spiraled down an imaginary drain. I’m freefalling into a hole, a void, an abyss…I must be somewhere near the center of the earth. Finally. Finally, I’m free. I’m leaving it all behind. Later that day, he walked into the doctor’s office past the impersonal walls and plastic palm trees. It was the first time in his life he had entered that building without fear for what the doctor might tell him. I’m ready to hear it. My death is a painting needing only a signature. He knew just how to react: the stunned, stricken expression, the cries of denial. It would be a well-choreographed dance. The doctor would be impressed, moved. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you,” the doctor said in a monotone that implicated his patient as a malingerer, a liar. “But…but earlier, I was on the ground for two hours! And what about the dizziness, the confusion, the—“ “Panic,” the doctor said dispassionately. “Stress. Are you under a lot of stress?” He saw himself walking along a stoic shoreline, grayed under a languid winter sky. His shivering, anemic hand clutched a half-empty bottle. An angry sea crashed nearby. Jets rushed overhead, locomotives sped to the side, artificial noise thundered in every direction. He was in a war zone. It’s a war of attrition in which I am being whittled to nothing by the manic advance of the world. “Not really,” he replied, deflated. He looked down at the checkered linoleum dejectedly. I live to die another day, another time, another way.

Bombed by Tracy Hauser

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he was sitting on the shore unsure, with this vacation washing resistance over her restored resolute calves. A glass fell from the party at the hotel behind, four stories down to the boardwalk bushes. The attraction stirred Jenna, making her want to share. But she stayed away from their appeal, thinking instead, of warm pants. The baby was in the tent sweating, sleeping on a half-dry towel that was twisted with pink shell crumbs, sand crusts. Jenna’s palms were flat behind her, the paisley stripes of her bikini top wrapped squarely over her sunburn. She saw behind her the doorman in unseasonal plaid sweeping up glass and then looked up towards Emit and Sally. They were sitting on the balcony now, looped up out of their minds. James was there too- looking straight at her from the yellow strap chair behind the guard rails. But she knew he wasn’t all there, at least his mind wasn’t. Sally had left their bags behind Jenna when they’d gone back up, black ones as big as the duffle kind. If there were beach patrollers, they could have crossed the line from staying square in squad cars, to lightening up, surveying for unaccordance over here. Then they would have seen the alcohol and other things- the bag of prescription bottles tanning and turning more orange at 11 am. She went up to their private room for her jeans and saw her husband slumped in a wicker chair, a cushion tied around the legs’ wood splints. “James, you wanna a sandwich?” Debra crowed. She bent down in front of the mini fridge, pulled out cold cuts wrapped in plastic baggies and white pastry wrap. She licked mustard from her finger when she tore some off the meat of one, gave it to Virginia, their baby. Virginia started to get fussy and so Jenna picked her up and walked in bare, sandy feet to the bathroom tile. His needles were pushed in with the stopper at the millimeter line, lying on the white porcelain soap holder. She set down the baby, washed her face with cold water. Then she washed the baby up to its ankles in a bath. She put it down for a nap, and then she stared at James. His breathing was dilatory and so was his pulse so she’d propped a pillow behind him so as to keep him upright. She walked back and forth on the tile stopping to look out through the sliding doors at the grey crests and the swimmers boogie boarding, invisible then resurfacing. She could hear Sally and Emit next door laughing, one of them falling against a wall, stoned; she bit at her thumbnail. Things had been different before they’d met them, these two Spanish teachers in Oakland. They’d attended one of their, Sally and Emit’s, parties when they’d moved next door. Jenna and James had traded in seeing B movies and eating Thai Mee Krob on Saturdays. They’d grown accustomed to the headrests of carrot fabric, softening the sick on its couches, after trying party favors that looked like blue SweeTarts. Jenna had given to Goodwill her slim pale dresses and Skimmer slacks, buying instead low-top loose sarongs. She’d started wearing sandals and saying things

• • • Phil Lane's work has been appearing in print and online over the past decade. He lives in New Jersey and teaches English for a private tutoring company.

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like, “whenever’s fine”, “we’ve got all the time in the world”, and “we’ll get to it when we get to it.” James had joined along, but Jenna had stopped, however, while he was still planning trips ahead. It was after she’d showed up late to her sister’s baby shower bombed out of her mind, with Morange lipstick drawn outside of her lip lines. The neighbor had asked why one sleeve of her corduroy shirt was ironed and the other wrinkled. And Jenna had stared at her Poplin cuffs until its cotton had turned blurry. After that she’d replaced her medicine cabinets with lotion and perfume samples from a cosmetic counter. She’ tried avoiding what was behind James’s mirror; she’d been blinking like normal now at her reflection for six months. She’d tried since but hadn’t managed to help James to do the same. Jenna smoked a cigarette outside in the hallway next to a beige rotary phone that was on top of glass, flat on chipped wicker. Virginia played in the corner with a flip flop, chewing on the tops of its plastic v-straps. A maid came around with a vacuum cleaner running the cord behind her and stopping when she’d seen Jenna, the ash from her cigarette stemming long. “Ma’am? You cain’t smoke in here.” Jenna did not respond and so the maid put down her vacuum and studied the child with the shoe in its mouth. She walked over to Jenna, and said “Ma’am? Did you hear me? I said there’s no smokin’ in here.” But Jenna was too bombed out of her mind to hear anyone talking. She slumped on the arm of the wicker seating and she forgot about the insistence in her ear.

The Body Politic by Nicholas Alexander

• • • We are the body politic, the ones who walk the city's streets in search of salvation and home.

Tracy Hauser is a graduate student at the University of Baltimore’s Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program. Currently she has been published in the latest issue of Abandoned Towers Magazine, the Urbanite, Trivial Typewriters, Underground Writers, Epiphany Magazine, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, The Rusty Nail, and for the 2012 4th edition of Welcome Hon, You're in Baltimore!. She is involved around the city in promoting writing through project-based learning activities for schools and organizations. At this time she has three blog posts entitled “checkIT or exIT”, “When a Third World Came”, and “The Man in the Truck”, all viewable at Wordpress.

We crowd the buses to heaven hoping that some illiterate preacher will teach us the meaning of life; thinking that somehow meaning will unfold from nonsense like truth from lies. That something will emerge from nothing like genesis. That new beginnings will commence from old ceaseless ends. And so, we rush by each other on the streets, daily going to and from places of work and the ones we call home, unaware that salvation is our own dependence on each other.

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in their apartments, sometimes right in the room with them while they were doing it. He sat in on important business meetings, hiding behind water coolers and in tall waxy plants. After learning many valuable secrets, he invested wisely in the commodities market and became very rich. Still, the money didn’t satisfy him. He yearned to creep. He craved more and more dangerous missions. Like all great artists, Sneaky Pete needed to push his skills to the very limit or he could never live a full life, feel at all complete. It seemed like there was just nowhere to push. All he wanted was to be happy. All he wanted was to feel complete. While Sneaky Pete was traveling cross-country with one of his wives - she was pregnant, of course - he found himself sprawled out in their motel bedroom, smoking a cigarette through the mouth hole of his ninja gear and feeling despondent about life in general. He watched his wife’s big butt drag itself into the bathroom so she could brush her teeth. This one always brushed her teeth after sex. When she shut the bathroom door, Sneaky Pete knocked on the headboard with his fist. Twice. Knock, knock. Why don’t you get the door, Mrs. Sneaky Pete asked over the sound of rushing water. I’m sure it’s our room service, honey. Wet toothbrush still protruding from the side of her face, Mrs. Sneaky stepped out of the toilet, hoping only to look upon the husband she loved and maybe a platter of cheese ravioli, but Sneaky Pete was gone. A cloud of dusty smoke sat in his place on the bed. Room service was running late. Sick of hiding in the shadows to watch people make love or pick their noses, Pete was considering suicide. Instead he got a job freelancing for a celebrity tabloid. His images were unlike anything the world of paparazzo photography had ever seen. They were crisp, clear close-ups of the most famous celebrities in the most intimate poses – Hillary Rodham Clinton spilling cottage cheese in her bathtub, Bill Cosby on the toilet stuffing himself with Peeps - and they were heralded as artistic treasures by the tabloid’s photo editor, who was secretly a fine art connoisseur. He wanted to manage the young photog and promised Sneaky Pete millions of dollars, a slew of adoring fans, his name in glowing lights. But Sneaky Pete never received any payment or public recognition for the prints. He never allowed them to be published or shown. Instead, he buried them in a secret place and designed a complexly coded map to their location. Then he burned the map and moved to Japan. In Japan it seemed that there was even less real need for his ninja skills, as assassinations were no longer commonplace. He did manage to soak in some of the culture by slipping through the dense crowds of Tokyo unnoticed. He was able to do this with the greatest of ease. Everyone was always on a cell phone. Eventually Sneaky Pete tried to settle down with one of his favorite wives. He bought her a house in Allentown, Pennsylvania. But she barely ever saw him, even when he was around. Finally she asked him for a divorce. Standing across from her in their kitchen, Pete willingly signed the papers. He was gone before the pen hit the counter. When Sneaky Pete started getting arthritis, he stole a handgun. He had never needed one before because of his remarkable ability with knives, swords, walking sticks, ninja claws, throwing stars, nunchaku and even common gardening shears. In fact he was still quite expert with these weapons. And also very stealthy when his bones didn’t creak

The Life and Times of Sneaky Pete by Timmy Reed neaky Pete was always the best in his field. When he was a wee-small baby he would each night slide through the bars of his crib unnoticed. He’d crawl in and out of his parents’ bed when he had nightmares and the sleeping adults would continue on through the night with their snoring, like great breezy lumps. He ate handfuls of sugar straight from the bag in the kitchen whenever he felt like it. On the day he was born, Sneaky Pete slid soundlessly from his mother’s vagina while the doctor was cleaning his utensils. He cut his own umbilical cord. Nobody knew where he had disappeared to until they found him in the corner of the nursery, sucking on another baby’s thumb. While other toddlers were busy wailing and kicking, Sneaky Pete had already begun a deadly serious approach to the study of stealth. He slipped through the hallways, moving from shadow to shadow on padded baby feet. He learned to climb both wood and stone surfaces and he learned to walk in a ninja squat, using the palms of his hands to absorb the sound he made on the floorboards and tiles. He looked like an insect when he performed the squatwalk, but no one ever saw him do it on account of his sneakiness, so Sneaky Pete didn’t let it bother him too much. Pete loathed traditional schooling, but he managed to score quite well on his tests each year, despite a record number of absences. The children mocked his black ninja wrapping and the teacher was always asking him to let her see his eyes. Whenever he came down with a seasonal flu, the teacher and most of her students were sure to be infected with hidden germs. One time during a kickball game a boy was found to have had the tendons behind his right knee slashed with a kitana. The boy had been on the pitcher’s mound when it happened. There were never any witnesses. Sneaky Pete discovered voyeurism at puberty. It was impossible to keep him from the ventilation system above the girl’s locker room. He practically lived there. One time during his college years, Sneaky Pete was drunk in the dark corner of a local bar. It happened to be Halloween, and a girl dressed as a geisha took him by the knotted sash and dragged him back to her sorority house. She had mistaken him for her boyfriend, who was supposed to be dressed up as a samurai. She didn’t know the difference. The next morning, the young lady woke up alone in her single bed. The window had been left wide open, curtains fluttering. She was pregnant and her jewelry was missing. This is how Sneaky Pete Jr. # 1 was conceived. Voyeurism became an obsession for Pete, who had not been sensing much interest in his work from the outside community. All his life he had harbored dreams of prowling into the most guarded offices of the most powerful heads of state to smother and slice and slip away, but there was no real incentive to try. No money, no missions. Ninjas were only needed in movies and books. Sneaky Pete cursed the modern world and spent a lot of time watching couples screw

S

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- which only someone of his keen sensory perception and shadowy expertise would ever have noticed anyway… But this was going to be different than the other weapons and all the ninja stuff. This gun he had stolen was different. He never used the gun. It’s true he learned the taste of the barrel; it did pass his lips on occasion, but never anything further than that. There was always something holding his finger in place on these occasions. Instead of committing suicide, he went to visit his parents, but he found out they had been dead for a long while already. They had died of cancer, he learned. It had snuck up on both of them at roughly the same time. Pete got a prescription to Viagra and went on with his life, slinking around casinos and strip clubs, drinking too much champagne. People were always glad to see an old guy in a ninja outfit. These were his golden years, he figured. Better to enjoy them. What else was there to do? In his very, very old age Sneaky Pete lived alone under one his many aliases. He threw away his prescription to Viagra. He was done with making babies. No one would be coming by with any assassinations for him either. He could feel this deep inside him. All those years of sneaking and there would be nothing to show for it. He would slip away unnoticed, the same way he appeared. He stole a satellite dish and moved into a beautifully furnished ranch house on the Gulf of Mexico. He sat perfectly still in a black leather recliner and let the air ducts blow sweet whispers past his linen wrappings. The cloth was faded grey now and Pete looked like a mummy sitting there, except when he was smoking. When the neighbors started complaining about the odor, the Sheriff’s office paid a visit to Sneaky Pete’s rancher. They found him sitting there alone, in the middle of the room, naked. There was a pile of grey linen on the floor. The air conditioning was turned off and the stagnant air boiled inside the officers’ nostrils. A young deputy started to feel faint. He was afraid he was going to vomit. When the other policemen weren’t looking, he padded outside for some air. On the day they buried Sneaky Pete, there was no formal service and since there was no other name for him to go by, his final alias was marked on his grave. Abraham Lincoln, it said. His plain granite tombstone stood in the corner of a local churchyard, near a playground where the children who found themselves in the church’s daycare went to play Hide-and-Seek. The earth in that area was soft and it was gradually shifting in the direction of the playground, though not so much as to be noticed by the naked human eye. Through six feet of soft dirt you could still feel the children above you. That is if you were alive to notice you could feel them. Up there, creeping.

Up at the Boat Factory by Jim Meirose

J

ulie worked at her machine up at the boat factory stamping out aluminum sheets that would be used to build hulls. Each time she pulled the lever a sheet of aluminum swung into place and was stamped. With each stamp, a deep, hollow, echoing bang rang out. Bang! Why did I marry George to begin with? What did I see in him— Bang! I wish I was free of him. I wish he didn’t love me— Bang! What can I do to stop him from loving me— Bang! What can I do what can I do— Bang! That night, in the kitchen where they sat bone-tired from working in the boat factory all day, Julie spoke softly to George. As she spoke her finger ran around the rim of her coffee cup. George—why do you love me? George’s eyes widened. What? he said—why do you think—I just do is all. That’s not a reason. George tapped the tabletop with his fingers. I can’t think of a reason—I just love you. Isn’t that good enough? She picked up her coffee cup, took a drink, and put it down, eyeing him. I suppose, she said. I suppose that’s good enough. Julie rose and took her cup to the sink and ran steaming water into it. I’m going to bed, she said, heading for the door. All right Julie. Good night. Good night. After she left the room George sat gripping the edge of the chrome trimmed kitchen table and looked at the dark in the window above the sink. Lord, he thought—how weird. Why is she asking me all that? What’s wrong with her? Something’s wrong with her—with my Julie. Rising, he went and switched off the kitchen light as he left the room to go up to bed. The next day, in the break room at the boat plant, George spoke to Gene, who worked at the stamping machine next to Julie and who chatted with her all day. Gene, said George, holding his half eaten sandwich before his face. What? You talk to Julie a lot don’t you? Out at the stampers? Oh—oh sure. Why? George took a bite and spoke with his mouth full. Because—she’s been acting funny. Funny? How? It’s hard to describe, said George, chewing. After swallowing, he added I just thought you might have noticed some kind of change in her lately. Have you, Gene? No—I don’t think so.

• • • Timmy Reed is from Baltimore, where attends the Creative Writing & Publishing Arts MFA program at University of Baltimore. His writing has appeared in Gone Lawn, Spilt Milk Magazine, Pure Slush, The Bicycle Review, Artichoke Haircut, and others. He was awarded Third Place in the 2011 Baltimore City Paper Fiction Contest. He blogs about animals and stuff at underratedanimals.wordpress.com and writes tiny stories on Twitter @BMORETIMMYREED 43


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Have to be more careful. Have to stay away from her for a while— Bang! Bang! Bang! At lunch, Bruce walked to the glass house office in the middle of the factory floor. Jim, the foreman, sat at his desk with his feet up, eating a cupcake. Bruce knocked on the door and Jim looked up. Bruce—what brings you here, buddy? Bruce and Jim were tight. They’d worked side by side before Jim was promoted to foreman. Bruce often confided in Jim. George, said Bruce. What about him? Gene says he’s acting funny—he acting funny to you—has he said anything to you about Julie? Gene asked Jim this question, because he knew Jim and George were also tight, having graduated from high school together in this small town. Oh, no, said Jim. He’s said nothing to me. What’s he been saying to you? Nothing, said Bruce. I just heard he’s been talking a lot about his wife. Really? Right—but I guess if he’s said nothing to you, there’s nothing to it. That’s right Bruce. Jim swung his feet off the desk onto the floor and sat erect. There’s probably nothing to it, he said. You know how rumors are. Bruce chuckled as he spoke. Yeah, yeah—I know. Jim pulled a folder from the corner of his desktop and opened it before him. Well Bruce—I got to do these budget numbers now. I’ll see you around. Right, said Bruce. See you around. Bruce left the office. Jim thumbed the paperwork on the desk before him and chewed lightly at his lip. Gosh I hope George is okay— He pulled a page free and held it before his face. Why would Bruce worry enough to come see me about it— He pulled a second page free, and scanned it. I know what I’ll do. He put down the paperwork. I’ll talk to Julie. Jim rose and left his office and walked over to Julie’s machine. Bang! Bang! Julie, said Jim. Yessir, she smiled. Julie I want to talk to you. Step over here. They stepped away from the machine. Gene’s stamping machine banged away nearby as Jim spoke. Julie—is George all right? Bang! Why—why sure, she said. Why do you ask. Somebody came to me and said he thought George was talking about you a lot.

The bell rang for the workers to go back to their stations. Gene walked out the door feeling George’s eyes boring into his back. He rushed to his station and began stamping aluminum. Bang! Why did George ask me all that— Bang! It’s funny he should ask me that—wrong somehow— Bang! Does he know about me and Julie? Bang! Does he suspect something? Bang! No, he can’t—he can’t. Bang! Gene, what’s wrong, you’re so quiet this morning, said Julie, from her stamping machine next to his. Bang! I better not talk to her— Nothing Julie. You sure? It’s not like you, love— Sure—nothing, I said. Bang! Bang! Bang! The next day, at break time, Gene walked across the factory floor to talk to his best friend Bruce. Bruce also worked a stamping machine and took his break at his machine, reading a paperback book. Bruce, said Gene. Gene. How you doing today. Not bad, not bad. Hey listen. What? Have you spoken to George lately? You and him are tight, right? Sure. I spoke to him just this morning. Why? Do you think he’s acting funny? Funny? Bruce wiped his nose with his blue sleeve and closed his book over, after carefully placing a white bookmark between the pages. What do you mean, funny, he asked Gene. He said to me did I think Julie was acting different, said Gene. I thought maybe he said something to you about it. Well—no, said Bruce. Julie you say? Right. No—no, George hasn’t said anything to me about Julie— The bell rang signaling the end of break. Bruce reached over and pressed the start button on his stamper. I’ll see you Gene— Yup. Gene walked away. The aluminum sheets began swinging into place in the stamper, and Bruce began pulling his lever. Bang! Why would George be asking Gene about Julie— Bang! It seems strange to me—why would this come up— Bang! I wonder—does George suspect what’s going on between me and Julie— Bang! Have to be careful— Bang! 44


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He knows, she thought. He’s trying to get me to confess. I have to face it—I don’t love him. Should I tell him—should I? Why are you sitting there so quiet Julie? Something’s up. Tell me. I’ll be honest George. It has to come out sooner or later. What? I’m having an affair. And I want a divorce. But you’ve been telling me how much you love me— Just words George. I’m stunned, he said—who are you having the affair with? She spoke as if in a daze. Gene, she said. Gene—and Bruce— What? Two men at once? Those bastards— I want a divorce George. I want one now. I don’t love you. George fisted the table and rose and rushed from the room. She sat there, wringing her hands on the tabletop. Lord God, I must be crazy. Why did I tell him? But he had to know. He had to be told sometime. At least I’m honest. At least I should get credit for that. The next day at the plant, George went to see Jim in his office. George, he said. What can I do for you— Julie is having affairs with Gene and Bruce. How do you like that? What? How do you know? She told me last night— Geez—I’m sorry, George—but why are you telling me this? We all work together. There might be trouble— What kind of trouble George—don’t get any ideas about doing anything foolish in my factory— Oh I’ll try not to Jim. I’ll try real hard— God George. This is trouble— I know. I thought you should knew. Okay George—I’ve got work to do now— Okay Jim. See you. Right. George left the office. Jim sat tapping the desktop with his pen. God, why did he tell me this? I’ve got to warn Bruce. He’s my friend. Rising, he tossed the pen on the desktop and went out to Bruce’s machine. Bang! Bruce. Bang! What Jim? Bang! George told me Julie’s having affairs with you and Gene. This has to stop, because George is liable to do something— Bruce turned white as a sheet. What? George told you this? George knows? And Gene— that bastard Gene I’m going to see him right now— No, Bruce. Like I told George—no trouble in my plant. Got it? Right Jim. Good.

Talking about me? Bang! Yes. Why are you telling me this? I just want to make sure everything’s okay. After all, we’re one big happy family here in the plant. Bang! Well, she said—I think everything’s okay. Bang! That’s good Julie—that’s good—well, I’ll see you. I need to go work on the budget. Okay—see you Jim. Bang! Bye. Bang! Jim walked away. Julie went back to her machine. She pressed the power button and clutched the lever. Bang! Oh my God, she thought— Bang! George is talking to people about me— Bang! Does he know about me and Gene and Bruce— Bang! That’s it. He knows about us—or he suspects— Bang! Gene called over from his machine. Julie! Bang! What? What’s wrong honey—you look as white as a sheet. Bang! Oh—I’m okay. Bang! I am. Bang! Bang! That night Julie sat across from George at dinner. George, she said— What? he answered, chewing. Know that I love you George—whatever happens, I love you. What’s going to happen— Oh, I don’t know. I feel funny George. Why? I’m not sure. Never mind it—I’ll be okay. You sure? Yes. Julie brought her dish to the sink, before leaving the room. George sat alone gnawing at a chicken leg, thinking. What the hell is wrong with her? He swallowed. She’s acting awful funny. What’s up with her? Julie! He called out through the door to the other room. Julie! She came in. What? she said. What’s going on with you? Why have you been acting so odd? Odd? Yes. You never used to talk to me that way. What’s going on with you? His look pierced her. The chicken bone hung in his hand. 45


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Bruce waited until he saw Gene walking to the men’s room. He went there. Gene was standing at a urinal. Gene—you bastard. You’re seeing Julie—she’s my Girl Gene—oh and guess what else—George knows about it all. What, said Gene, turning, zipping up. Your girl—George knows? What do you mean George knows— What I said. Jim told me. There’s going to be trouble for you now, Gene. What do you mean, for me. For you too. Damn you Gene! You better watch your back! Bruce dashed from the men’s room. Gene washed his hands and thoughts came up from the rushing water. George knows—that’s the worst part—and that Goddamned whore, seeing Bruce too—but George knows. That’s the worst part— I’ve got to head that off. After leaving the men’s room, Gene went to see George at his stamping station. George— Bang! What do you want you bastard? Bang! George—I’m sorry. I won’t see her again. I promise. Bang! Why did you see her to begin with? I—I don’t know. It was wrong. I’m sorry. I should beat the shit out of you Gene. I know. I’m sorry— Get out of my sight! Gene left and went back toward his machine. George stood pulling the levers on the stamping machine savagely. Damn that Gene and Bruce. Bang! God damn that Gene and Bruce! Bang! God damn that Julie! Bang! Bastards, all of them. Bastards. Bang! Bang! I’ll get them. Bang! I’ll get them all. Bang! Bang! George spoke to Julie that night. Julie, I forgive you. You’re allowed mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. I don’t want a divorce. You were honest with me. You told me the truth. To hell with that damned Gene and Bruce. Neither do I want a divorce—you’re right, to hell with them—oh I love you George. I love you too. How will we face them back at the plant? Ignore them. That’s all. It’s over Julie. Yes. It’s over. They went to bed. And late that night— Bang! George started banging away, toward the next day, up at the boat factory.

Arrested By The Grammar Police by Alan W. Jankowski It seems that lately I can’t get no peace, From all those so-called Grammar Police, Who for some reason think that I should care, The difference between there, they’re and their. They want to analyze everything I say, Just waiting for me to lie when I want to lay, And I really think they just do it because, They want to further some petty cause. So, what I do is I mess with there head, I write the word red when I really mean read, And I couldn’t care less if they throe a fit, Should I confuse the words elicit with illicit. And it really don’t phase me if I’m derelict, By writing something like “cause and affect,” I’ll just stare and say “Whatcha gonna do?” If I want to write that the sky is blew. Though I really shutter at the very thought, I’ll try to be discrete and not get caught, But if they should arrest me and throe me in jail, Just bee sure and come and post my bale.

Steal This Poem by Alan W. Jankowski You probably were a bully, Who never did well in school, Stole other kid’s lunch money, And thought it was really cool. And now you’ve moved on, To stealing other’s work and time, All without a hint of remorse, As if it’s not even a real crime. I’d like to think people like you, Deserve a special place in Hell, For when you steal an author’s work, You steal a piece of them as well. So now I’m going to dare you, To try and steal this poem, Post it on another site, And try to call it your own. And if you think you can do it, And never will get caught, The only thing I can say to you, Is you’re dumber than I thought. • • • Alan W. Jankowski is the author of well over one hundred short stories, plays and poems. When he is not writing, which is not often, his hobbies include music and camera collecting. He currently resides in New Jersey. 46


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fitting jeans hide the excesses of her nights out – ‘on the lash’, as she would say. Not that it makes her unappealing. No, she still has shape, curves in the right places. When she has her dark hair tied back for work, like tonight, it shows off her features to their best; clear eyes and soft, rounded cheeks – would it be bitchy to say gerbil-like? – features that have attracted a string of young men to the other side of the bar. Doesn’t it worry them that she’s a killer? ‘Ice and a slice with that?’ she asks. The words we’ve learned to dread. It is said that after the first cut, you retain consciousness for twenty seconds. Intriguing isn’t it? But we lemons don’t have a head, like humans. So which half will it be – my stem half or my nipple half? I try to distract myself with this thought. My time has come. She holds me, squeezes me like I’m a rugby ball. The knife is raised.

I, Lemon by PW Lewis

I

lie alone on a white dish, awaiting certain death. Who would have thought it would come to this; to end up far from home in this dingy bar where the people and paintwork reek of dilapidation? Noise, that’s the first thing you notice. If it’s not the music from the wall-hung jukebox then it’s the incessant chatter of the people that rises in competition with the songs; both increasing in volume as the evening progresses. The place is dimly lit; it helps to hide the worn fabric of the chairs, the graffiti-riddled tables, the faded pallor of the patrons. Sketches of poets adorn the walls, Irish poets and playwrights, with quotes from their work beneath. No matter how often these are read, they are just as often forgotten by closing time. The high, oak bar, lacquered and hardened, forms a solid barrier that paradoxically draws people to it, offering support. Behind this is a place of worship to false idols. Here are things that sparkle, even in this poor light: mirrors, glasses, bottles, fridge doors, optics, the barmaid’s eyes, and sharp, silver knives. Amongst all of this, I lie alone on a white dish, awaiting certain death. How long can this barbaric trade be allowed to continue? If only you knew what we’ve been through, my tree-mates and I. They promised work, that was how they tricked us. Plucked us from the warm sunshine and packed us into crates with no room to spit a pip. Plunged us into the darkness of a ship’s hold; God, it was cold in there. You needed a thick skin to come through, let me tell you. Not everyone made it. Perfect specimens were split or crushed beyond recognition. They just left those guys in with us. The crossing was horrific. Of course, we’d all heard the stories about what went on but, well... The bananas, they were the worst. Taunting the mangoes with ‘Let’s all have a gang-bang’ and when they used that poor lime as a football, I just had to look away. Bastard bananas. The barmaid moves me to the chopping block. It’s only a week since we arrived and I’m the last one standing; the sole survivor. The others have already been processed – victims of ritual sacrifice. I’ve had to watch them go, one by one. It’s not a quick and easy death that awaits me. Being placed on the block means it won’t be long now. The method of killing is harrowing to watch, mediaeval in its cruelty. First, we are cut through the middle, two halves left staring at each other, our insides gaping, visible for all to see. Next, each half is thinly sliced and those slices halved again. It’s absurd to imagine that any life could survive all that but, just in case, every single portion is finally plunged into fizzy drink to drown. It shows the paranoia of these people. What threat do we pose for God’s sake? She won’t notice me when she picks up the knife; won’t give me a second thought. She, with her perfect complexion – she won’t notice the myriad of tiny pock-marks that form a galaxy of stars around my seemingly smooth skin. I’ve spotted her faults, though. Seen how she tries to hide that crooked front tooth when she smiles. Seen how the loose-

I, Lemon, fruit of the sun, slaker of thirsts, do leave my story... It’s the nipple half, everyone! It’s the stem half, everyone! It’s both halves, everyone! I didn’t feel a thing. Neither did I. Oh, God. What is it? We can’t swim! • • • PW Lewis lives, works and writes in Birmingham, England. His work is sometimes dark, sometimes (darkly) humorous; sometimes urban-inspired, sometimes classically-inspired. He is currently working towards completion of his first novel while studying an MA in Creative Writing at MMU. A piece of his flash-fiction will feature in Caroline Smailes' (ed.) forthcoming charity ebook '100RPM'.

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Permission to Accompany by Jordan Wilson

There she stood...5-foot-Mystery at the corner of “Orderly” & “Chaos”. Her trench coat veiled her being and clung itself to her, unafraid to proclaim its halcyon state. A belt cinched her waist to keep her celestial feet on the ground, and to hold her place on THIS planet. Thank God. Beady buttons intertwined with the chords of steely fabric all the way up to a face that fancied the purest Ivory, yet contrarily etched with the paints of uncertainty and inveigling provocation. Flaming hair fluttered with every passing breeze, resting contemptuously like a crown beneath her shadow casting umbrella, glowing hot with the tidings of restraint and cynicism that had been so unfairly endowed to her by the Gods of Hopeless Romanticism and Heartbreak. The heavy sky then released its sweet libations in hopes to ease the scorn and to lotion her incendiary shield with the soothing fabrics of trust and adoration. As this barrage of medicinal missiles plummeted from the sky pelting her shield, a cloud of steam arose that reduced her to nothing more than a silhouette to my knavish eyes. Compelled with an unbeknownst urge I fled the confines of my solitary fortress and crossed the street of ubiquitous fear and doubt. My outstretched hand pierced the steam, grabbing her wrist to extract this commodity before she dissipated with the fog that engulfed her. With her shield firm in hand and kaleidoscope eyes twisting and shining with the most entrapping fervor and complexity, she spoke. Her tongue, like a red carpet, rolled out these words: “Why are you here...for me?” I watched them with a meticulous, almost insane, focus as they made their exodus from her mouth and floated promptly past my eyes and into my ears. I humbly replied, “I want to be the rain. I want to soothe the burning shield that barricades your heart....” • • • Jordan Wilson is a 22 year old Entrepreneurship Study of Northern Kentucky University. He is from the small town of Carrollton, Ky. He plays guitar and began writing poetry as a hobby four years ago. His main goals in writing poetry is to express his creativity and provoke thought whether it is positive or negative, profound or humorous. Simply reaching people through his work is his main concern.

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Flowing Gladly Into Dawn

Mist by Neeru Iyer

by A. J. Huffman

The pale blanket Covering your perfect form Tantalizes, teases I know what I want to see Is right underneath; The clean jacket On nakedness, as the day you were born My imagination pleases, Breaks into pieces, and incites me To tearing apart the sheath.

Stretching naked on death’s side of the bed. I am awakened to the possibilities of the damned. And they don’t seem so bad. I have traded my skin for worse tortures. So I roll over. Burying myself deeper. In sheets cold as dirt. I belong here. Despite the protests of my breath.

It fits you so perfectly Like it was made for you. A cover to not really hide What you've got in store; It blinds me, it binds me To you more than ever, too; I yearn to pull you to my side And beg you for more. That ghostly shroud that you use To hold on to your modesty; That pale white transparency, my muse Won't you shrug it off and come to me?

Piercing the Night’s Skin by A. J. Huffman

You move the transparent layer Over yourself, you wicked goddess, Inch by delectable inch, revealing, What you pretended to be concealing, The beauteous form of you, god bless, The body I worship, the body so fair.

I grab the sky between my fingers. And pull. It loosens. It wrinkles. Like silk, it falls to the floor. But its death is not enough for me. My desire is to hear its pain. And the needle is always laying there. Let’s see if its silver can bring us a scream.

What do you really fear, my love? Show me at least a little of your face, I'd quench my thirst by drinking it all in, I'd live on the memory of your lovely countenance, You, beautiful you, you rise above, Intimidating me, yet you I want to embrace, It's you I want to be with, with you I've been, For you this burning need, this yearning penance. You laugh out loud, like the thunder; You wink at me, like a lightning streak; Oh, woe is me, why are we asunder? Light years apart, so to speak.

• • • A. J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published four collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, Cognitive Distortion, and . . . And Other Such Nonsense.. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review.

Darkness has fallen, my dear love, And you blend with the dark, a dark form now, Spanning the skies with your greatness, You ask me to leave; can you see my distress? I shall have to come back on the morrow, Since I need to see you again; Cupid has given me a delightful pain, He's struck me with his poisoned arrow. 'Cause I'm in love now, with only you, You with your naughty smile, and false modesty, You with your transparent sheet; you, The one behind my dreams, my only dream. 49


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

When I Was But a Young Man

Like Father, Like Son

by Wayne Orr

by Jerry Guarino

When I was but a young man, oh so young, not more than twenty-one or twenty-two, and bored with life in general where I lived, I made the choice that I would leave my home and find a more exciting place to live. My car had broken down the week before, and it was parked behind my parents’ house because I couldn’t put it in the shop ‘til payday which was two long weeks away. I packed a few things in a cardboard box and carried it a mile to the highway. I stuck my thumb out asking for a ride. Real soon a big, black Lexus picked me up. The driver asked, “Where are you going, son?” I said, “Sir, I’m not going anywhere. Except away from every place I know. Except away from everyone I know. Oh, yes, away from everything I know. And when I get to where my trip takes me I will stay right there, never to return.” He said, “Son, it is fine to go away, but never say you’re never coming back. Just say you need to find out who you are. Just say you need to find out what you are. You need to find out where your real home is. You need to find out what your real home is. But you must make a journey back someday to visit that place that used to be home. You may discover that it’s still your home, or maybe not. Home may be somewhere else.” His words did not mean anything to me, but yet I knew that I should be polite. So I said to the man, “Oh, thank you, sir. I’m sure that what you’re telling me is true.” More than a dozen years have passed since then, and I’ve returned more than a dozen times to that old place that used to be my home. I love the people, and I love the place, but I’m not part of them, not part of it. We visit and we talk and we have fun. We reminisce. We gossip. Then I leave. I say goodbye. They say goodbye. I go. And as I drive away I clearly know they’re at their home. I’m going back to mine.

T

he headmistress called the boy’s parents in for a conference to discuss a troubling incident she had just discovered. “Mr. and Mrs. Rook. Thank you for coming in. I’m sorry to say that Clay has been stealing money from classmates.” “Stealing?” said Clay’s mother Amber. “We certainly taught him better than that.” “Are you sure?” said the father. “Clayton was given very specific instructions for the school year, considering the fiasco of last semester. By the way, has everyone been compensated?” “Yes, Mr. Rook. The settlement was quite satisfactory. The parents were more embarrassed than anything.” “Call me Charles, please.” Meanwhile, the school psychologist, Dr. Wilson, was examining Clay in his office. He began by asking him when he first learned how to manipulate people. “My father helped me build a lemonade stand when I was five. First, we white washed it, and then we used yellow paint to write LEMONADE on the top, with the ‘E’ reversed of course. Pictures of lemons and a pitcher completed the simple graphics.” “And how old were you when you had this lemonade stand?” said the psychologist. “I was five. I believe my father was 43.” “Master Clay, I don’t need to know how old your father was. Now tell me, why did you want a lemonade stand? You don’t need the money?” “Father said it would be good practice.” “Practice. For what?” “Using people to make money. Father says you should always use people to get what you want.” “That sounds like the cause of our present day problem, Master Clay. Our math teacher, Mr. Wood, says you were running a Ponzi scheme on your classmates.” “And two staff members as well, doctor.” “And how did running the lemonade stand prepare you?” “We charged $3 for a small cup. Father said the people in Oak Park couldn’t resist a small boy’s pleas. I held a sign with a picture of a yellow pitcher of lemonade and the price, $3 next to it. People were meant to think that a whole pitcher was $3, and then when they asked for just a cup, I would oblige and ask for $3. They were too embarrassed to admit they had misinterpreted the cost and too wealthy to care.” “Your father taught you this lesson at age five?” The psychologist was astonished at the prodigy in his office and the depth of depravity his father displayed in raising him this way. “Father said it was time I put childish things away. I’m not sure what he meant at the time, but I suppose it had something to do with my proclivity to play, rather than work. He said playing was for the waifs in the city.” Dr. Wilson, stunned for the moment, tried to fathom why his mother didn’t intervene. “What about your mother?” “Oh, mother helped also. She wore a tight sweater and short skirt in order to distract the men while I pitched the lemonade, no pun intended. She was particularly effective

• • • Wayne Orr was born in Amarillo, Texas many years ago. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin. While he was a student there, he met and married Esther Mata which he says was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to him. They have three girls and two boys and several grandkids and great grandkids. Wayne spent his career writing policy and procedural manuals for the Department of Defense. He is retired now and lives in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. and spends much of his time writing and traveling. 50


The Rusty Nail, October 2012

at whispering in their ear, something I couldn’t hear, but it certainly made selling small cups of lemonade for $3 quite easy.” The doctor shook his head and sighed. “I’m sorry your childhood was cut short. But I don’t think it’s too late. I’m going to speak with your parents about this and see if we can salvage some fun before it’s too late.” “Mother and father may fight you on this one doctor. I am really quite content with my life at this point. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” “It’s no trouble, Master Clay. I can assure you. As a doctor and therapist, it is my duty to protect you from an unhealthy environment and work with your family to rectify the problem before it’s too late.” “What problem, doctor?” “I’m afraid you display all the signs of a narcissist and sociopathic personality disorder. Unchecked, this could lead to more serious consequences when you leave school.” “I see. Will this require ongoing therapy?” “I’m going to recommend at least three sessions a week, until we can work through the major issues. At least until I know you aren’t a danger to yourself or others.” “I don’t think I’m a danger, doctor.” “That’s what I’m afraid of. You can continue attending school and we can meet here on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’m also going to meet with your parents every Thursday.” “If that’s what you recommend, doctor. Can we start next week? Today is my birthday and my parents are taking me out to the city tonight.” “Of course.” Then there was a knock on the door. The headmistress and Clay’s parents asked to come in. Dr. Wilson opened the door. “Come in. We were just finishing. I’m very optimistic that we can put together a plan, a team approach, so that Clay can get a new direction with love and support from you both.” “Thank you doctor,” said Charles. “Then we’ll be on our way. Clayton has a birthday party to attend in the city.” “Come along Clayton,” said Amber. “It’s your special day. You only turn seven once, you know.” “Yes, mother.”

• • • Jerry Guarino writes short stories. His stories have been published by dozens of literary magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, including: 6 Tales, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Bewildering Stories, Blogcritics, The Blotter Magazine, and Miscellany. His new book, 40 Slices of Pizza, was released in April, 2012. It is available as a paperback on Amazon.com and as an e-book through Kindle. Visit his website at http://cafestories.net.

Being Friends With The Tiger by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. He was a teenager when first he met the tiger. A neighborhood friend introduced them. He found the tiger exciting. He felt superior since he could control the beast, making him perform as commanded. He grew to love the tiger. He began to spend too much time playing with the tiger. His grades suffered. He lost friends who didn’t share his love of the tiger. Then his parents learned of the tiger. They demanded he avoid the tiger. He agreed to do so … but he lied. He constructed a lifestyle of deception in order to see the tiger. The thrill of the tiger became his addiction. In college he roomed with the tiger … and he was happy! He loved the tiger more and more. Then one day the tiger turned on him and bit off his foot. He said it was just that one time, that he had momentarily lost control over the beast. Not to worry … So, he embraced the tiger still. Then the tiger tore off his arm. He made excuses for the tiger. He could still control the animal, just you watch and see. His friends and parents warned him that the tiger that had disabled him would one day kill him. He shrugged off their warnings. He devoted his life to the tiger. His love of the tiger cost him his girlfriend, his job, his future. At age 27 he had become a full-time tiger trainer, fighting to stay in control. More and more, the beast roared. The tiger is a savage beast, a wild thing with no mercy. It is not surprising then that one day it finally devoured him. The autopsy report simply stated, “Dead from an overdose of tiger.”

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My Yesterdays

cranking fear

by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr.

by William I. Lengeman III no change rumbling loud and low intravenous whiplash alters the senses overwhelmed by a crashing force forgotten and wailing shocked into the spinning night squeezed living into a glaring sarcophagus

My yesterdays stretch out behind me in a winding path that disappears over the horizon beyond my memory. Some yesterdays were red-letter days of triumph and personal joy, days of some momentous occasion in my life. Others were black days of pain and suffering. Most were merely plain, unremarkable days of no particular note. All have melded together forming the memories marking the passage of my existence on Earth.

no pause shivering at the bottom of an ocean of rocks words evaporate in a quiet room broken necks race along wires agony swells breaks against a marble sweat slab voices crack and shatter no hope pieces mix and burn throat pain deepens into a volcanic heat shimmers and hits the gut an overbearing barrage dry disease blossoms life is barely audible

I treasure all my yesterdays since each day was a brick that contributed to building the mosaic of my life. My yesterdays carried me up the long hill to today, where I stand looking wistfully back at them, my yesterdays … knowing now my yesterdays outnumber my tomorrows.

only a sense remains of them yet they endure

• • • William I. Lengeman III is an Arizona-based writer and blogger.

I’ve learned I should endeavor to make each today become a shining, glorious yesterday, for my yesterdays are how my life was spent.

Raindrops by Mike Jaeggle

• • •

A boy watches from his desk as raindrops streak down his window. Unaware that he is that solitary one-drop river, seeking company but still hesitant, lurching. The window is slicked with substance under the moon.

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. is a 67-year-old poet and author who is a retired professor of microbiology who lives in Shreveport, LA. Harry has previously published four books of his personal poetry: Poetry For The Common Man: Storoems and Poems (2003), Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems (2005), Poetic Musings of an Old, Fat Man (2008), and Poetry Books Don't Sell! (2012), as well as three works of prose: Bob the Dragon Slayer (2005), White Lightning Road (2006), and Aldric & Anneliese (2011). As a poet, Harry is known for pioneering the storoem format.

A girl sits at her windowsill, longing. The moon slams her refracted body against the floor. Eyes, leagues deep, glance at a wine glass stem. Water curves; supplemented by condensation. She is the drop running downwards to the base. Although distance and separation define them, a water drop is meant to find another.

• • • Mike Jaeggle couch-surfs in Vancouver, Canada where he is studying English Literature. Previous work under the name MW Jaeggle can be found in The Liar, Ditch, and on his mother's fridge. 52


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It was not just a suicide, but a protest for politics that he had kept silent. His uncle took his body and was jailed for refusing to turn it over.

For a Monk of the Kirti Monastery by Rachel Hertzberg

You came of age behind red doors covered in golden dragons, golden suns, and painted flowers. You grew up tightly wrapped in robes crimson as cayenne, protected in folds of cloth from the world of trembling guns and gray walled prisons. You and your friends all with matching short hair walked through the markets of Ngaba, holding out silver plates for the faithful to donate your daily rice.

They wanted to re-educate you. You, had spent your life in study. They didn’t know that one cinder lights the next. Yes, they threw the Dalai Lama’s portrait to the ground. And yet, they banned your worship. But they also took away your internet. And when I read that, I wondered if you liked computers and if you laughed at videos on youtube, and I realized that your life was not a cloistered puff of smoke. and I yearned for you to live again.

They called you a radical, which connotes: bombs and threats and smashing windows and shouting in the streets. No, you never shouted. Yours was the most silent weapon. You always woke before the sun, you studied the ancient books, then prayed. Outside your doors lay the great flat greenness of the Tibetan plateau guarded by white mountains that loomed on all sides. You sat with a prayer wheel, turned the wooden cylinder, repeating the Sanskrit mantra written on its side. The words rolled, following the sun, around and around.

Canvas by Jenny O'Grady

the museum closed at five. we wanted to see the show, the clay creatures on the screen, the stars sketched and shaking, the noodle birds squawking at each other, pecking headaches. the bathroom was white, white, white. my watch ticked. the gears ticked a month at a time. minutes rushing, salty as tears, tocking: no. no. no.

You don’t notice the sun retreating behind the mountains until you look up at the dark sky. You didn’t notice the soldiers seep through the county into the monastery until you looked up to see you were surrounded.

i tiptoed back to the exhibit.

They came because of your friend, the one who joked and played, showing off his muscles. He was full of lightness, you thought. Then he lit himself on fire and you knew that your friend had hid inside of himself for a long time.

pecking headaches, the noodle birds squawking at each other, the stars sketched and shaking the clay creatures on the screen, we wanted to see the show. the museum closed at five.

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logo appeared, an image of Carry Nation with a wide open mouth, brandishing an ax.

The Angry Women Museum by Gary Ives

Musee de Femmes Fâchée Museum Bösen Frauen El Museo de Mujeres Enojadas enny, my twin, and I in the back seat of dad’s old Jeep Cherokee had been quiet across the entire state of Missouri. It was hot as hell and the Cherokee had no air conditioning. Dad had promised mom and us girls that the trip to California would be fun; in his words “a journey, full of history, education, and jolly times.” “Route 66 girls, was the transcontinental life line, the heartbeat of this great nation, dad explained. Yep, the heartbeat of America before the interstates. You’re gonna love Route 66.” This, as we rolled through Joplin. “Looks like America’s heartbeat has a clot or something; anybody gotta spare defibrillator?” mom asked. “Well, I’m betting that opinion will change, ladies,”dad said as we rolled to a stop in the gravel parking lot of a Tastee Freeze whose giant tin soft ice cream logo was in sore need of a paint job. “I want a milkshake, Dad,” I said. “Me too,” Jenny echoed. “Ron, let’s go ahead and eat, I’m starved and I’ll bet the girls could down a hamburger, couldn’t you?” Mom knew that Jenny and I were just like herself, temperamental when hungry. “No, my lovelies, maybe a little later. Because look. This is why we stopped here,” he said, pointing to an old farmhouse next door. “Behold!” A sign mounted on two upright landscape timbers proclaimed in stark black letters against a red background, The Angry Women Museum. Admission $2.00. Open 9:30 – 4:00. Children under 10 Free! “You’re not serious. Look at this place. And to think we passed up the Mark Twain Museum for this? C’mon Ron, we’re hungry.” “No, look, this is a great time to see this place – see there’s no cars. That’s ‘cause everybody else is too busy eating. We’ll have the whole place to ourselves, c’mon girls let’s see the Angry Women Museum – it’s a chance of a lifetime.” Reluctantly we followed dad. Mom was pissed – I told Jenny that Mom probably could qualify as an exhibit and Mom overheard me and cut me one horrendous look as we entered what had once been the front door of the old farmhouse that had been converted into the Museum of Angry Women. At the counter dad argued admission price with the lady selling tickets who folded her arms over her plump bosom and told dad flatly, “Look, Mac, it’s $8.00 plus .72 tax take it or leave it; it’s up to you, cause it’s hot in here and I really don’t give a shit whether you tour the museum or fall in a fucking hole. We don’t take credit cards.” Dad paid up and the nice lady shoved his change and a brochure across the counter and then barked in a snide tone, “Enjoy your visit to the Angry Women Museum,” as she slammed shut the cash register door. Jenny swears she heard“dickhead” at the end but I didn’t hear that part; I was looking at the big sandwich board on which the museum’s

J

Dad, reading from the brochure, explained that each exhibit represented a particular theme. There were exhibits dedicated to nurses, English teachers, waitresses, divorcees and an entire room dedicated to bureaucrats and retail clerks. Leaving the ticket area we passed a bronze bust of Hillary Clinton. We began at the Angry Nurses exhibit which featured a lovely diorama depicting Nurse Ratched in a neck brace supervising patient R. P. McMurphy’s lobotomy. There was also a lifesize figure of Kathy Bates’ character Nurse Annie Wilkes tending James Caan’s legs with a nine pound sledge hammer. Another diorama showed Texas nurse Kimberly Saenz preparing Clorox bleach IV’s for her patients at the Lufkin nursing home where she worked before her arrest for multiple murders. The museum was not air conditioned and it must have been 90 degrees inside. Lord, was it hot. Not much had been done to convert the old farm house to a museum. The floors were filthy old linoleum and threadbare carpets and the place smelled like a thousand cats had come for a weeklong pissing contest. Everything was dusty and the floor could not have been swept this decade. I found a wadded up page from an S & H Green Stamp Catalog on that floor by the toilet. We were leaving the Angry Nurses exhibit when mom lit into dad. “This is shit, Ron, let’s get the hell out of this goddamn dump. I don’t know what in God’s name possessed you to drag us in here, but the girls and I are ready to leave. NOW. We are hot, we are thirsty, we are hungry. Not to mention the smell. What the hell did they raise here when this was a farm? Cats? Jesus, get us out of here, Ron.” “Aw come on Wanda,” dad pleaded. “Yeah so it stinks a little. Look, we’re only gonna get to see this once, babe. We did pay eight bucks and hey, ya gotta admit it’s unique.” Now mom raised her voice. “Stinks a little? Stinks a little? Have you been in the bathroom yet? And I don’t ‘gotta admit’ a goddamn thing. I mean it, Ron. These girls are miserable and so am I. They won’t even pee in that bathroom it’s so filthy and there’s no paper, unless you consider the Kansas City Telephone Book on a chain by the toilet good hygiene. Can’t we please LEAVE?” “Tell ya what,” dad said. “We’ll skip the Angry English Teachers and the Angry Waitresses and Angry Fish Wives and just go straight to the big room, the one with the Angry Clerks and Bureaucrats, which has got to be great. Then we’ll leave.” So we tagged after dad, with mom muttering really bad, bad words under her breath directly into what had been the old farm’s living room. Dad was like a kid in a candy store: “Look Wanda, look girls: Angry Social Security and Social Worker Women; Angry Drivers’ License Bureau Women…”

We began at the Angry Nurses exhibit which featured a lovely diorama depicting Nurse Ratched in a neck brace supervising patient R. P. McMurphy’s lobotomy.

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The cat piss smell in this room was eye-watering and Jenny said she felt like throwing up. That did it for mom. “Ron, if you are so into angry women, well you’ve got three of us standin’ right here plenty angry. Gimme the goddam car keys and the credit card. You can stay here and huff cat piss and dirt all you want, but me and the girls are outta here. Gimme the fuckin’ keys and a credit card NOW.” “Okay, okay, Wanda. Damn it, calm down. Here’s my wallet and the keys – you girls go ahead and get something to eat at that Tastee Freeze next door. I’ll be along directly. I just wanna check out the Angry Black Women exhibit, then the gift shop.” That was the last we saw of dad. Maybe he’s still waiting for his angry women at that Tastee Freeze, I dunno. We live with Mom and her girlfriend Roxy now in Montreal where it’s not so hot or angry.

The Death of Me by Mark Willen

P

eter checked the side mirror and darted into the right lane to get by the slow truck in front of him, then switched lanes again once he passed it, only to be stopped by a red light. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, changed the station on the radio, and lit one of the cigarettes he supposedly quit smoking three months ago. It was silly to rush. His mother was already in the emergency room and his sister was with her. But Martha had asked him to stop at Crestview and pick up a few things that Mom would need—a hairbrush, some bobby pins, her glasses. Why hadn’t Crestview sent the stuff over with her? For $7,000 a month, that was the least they could do, especially when today’s accident had come on their watch. A block before he got there his cell phone rang. The lawyer who was handling the settlement on his mother’s house in Pittsburgh. Thank God she had signed the papers before this happened. The closing was set for next week, almost a year and a half since her move to Virginia. More like a kidnapping, actually. She had fallen then, too, breaking a wrist and a kneecap. He and Martha had coaxed her to Martha’s house for a few weeks’ convalescence, already thinking that they’d have to find a way to make it permanent. Many tantrums and tears later, they had managed. He shuddered at the memory. There had been no choice. They just couldn’t let her live on her own anymore, not at 86. He pulled into the parking lot closest to the assistedliving wing of her building and hurried out, only to be stopped by a resident who blocked the entrance. He stood a few steps behind her and watched her maneuver her walker, sliding it forward a couple of inches at a time, the green tennis ball bottoms rubbing the pavement. Could he scoot around and beat her to the door without being rude? No. No need to be unkind. He made himself slow down and wait for her to take the last few steps. The automatic door slid open and she tried to move more quickly, as though she were afraid it would close on her. Her whole body strained with each step, from her scrunched-up shoulders to her thick legs sealed in brown support hosiery. She was bundled in a tan raincoat, despite the warm fall day, and only her gnarled hands and thin silver hair were exposed to his view. Just inside, she moved out of the way to let him pass. Had she sensed his presence? He doubted she had heard him; they were all pretty deaf. As he passed, she turned her head in his direction and said hello, louder than was necessary. He smiled in return, signed the visitors’ log and went up to his mother’s apartment, unlocking the front door with the extra key he always carried. A musty smell hit him and he opened a window, figuring even a few minutes of fresh air would help. He gathered up the items Martha had requested, then dug out his mother’s wallet and a few other valuables. He didn’t know how long until she’d be back. He took a last look around before leaving. The living room couch, what his mother called French provincial, was covered with an old blanket to protect it. He tried to remember how many times in the last four decades he’d seen it without something to protect it. Only when company came,

• • • Gary Ives lives in the Ozarks with his wife and two big dogs where he writes and grows apples.

Lemon Tree by Jenny O'Grady I swallowed the seed, sitting at a striped table with acquaintances. They have no idea. It was so easy. Straight up the straw, sharp plastic, down the chute, so easy! Not sour at all! It was made for this, coated for the trip, slimy and sensuous, slips past my teeth and past my epiglottis and through the rigged trachea – whoosh – and digs itself a spot. So easy. I’ve got a tree in me, a sapling. They have no idea. I’ve got roots and tentacles inside, sucking the water from my stomach, sucking nutrients from my blood, fingerling twigs bursting the capillaries, boring into my lungs and stealing the very air from the hemispheres, drilling my heart into chapters, four rooms beating noisily, force-filled with leaves, then emptied.

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“In theory. They have to wait for a bed.” A doctor suddenly appeared, dressed in the standard green gown with a stethoscope around her neck. She nodded to Peter and Martha. “How are you feeling, Mrs. Bender?” she asked, loud enough to wake her. “Where am I? What happened?” “You’re in a hospital,” Peter said. “You fell, Ma, remember? You hurt your hip.” She turned to him but didn’t seem to comprehend what he’d said. “Take me home, Peter.” “You can’t go home yet,’ he said gently, wondering exactly what she meant by home. She’d never used the term to describe Crestview. “You can’t go home yet, Ma,” Peter said again. “You hurt your hip.” “I’m afraid it’s more than the hip,” the doctor said. “She also dislocated her shoulder. And her lungs are full. She may have pneumonia. We’ll have to take more X-rays.” “Pneumonia?” Peter said. He glanced at his mother, but she had slipped back into sleep. “How do you get pneumonia from falling down?” “You don’t,” the doctor said, looking down at the chart in her hand rather than at anyone in the cubicle. “It can come on pretty quickly at her age, and sometimes they get weak from that and then fall and break something.” “When can we get her into a room?” Peter asked. “As soon as one opens up. I’ll see if I can hurry it along.” “And then what?” “It’s up to the orthopedist, but he’ll probably want to put in an artificial hip. It’s a bad break.” “Is that the only choice?” Martha asked. “It depends. You’ll have to ask the orthopedist.”

and that wasn’t often. The covering was to protect it from dust and sunlight, not from use, because they never used the parlor at his house except when visitors were there. A smile crossed his face when his most vivid memory of sitting on it came to mind. He was about 14 when a cousin of his mother’s had come with her family, and he had ended up sitting next to their 16-year-old daughter. Their thighs had rubbed and at one point, he’d had a good view down the front of her blouse. He knew how quaint that would sound to a teenager today. Though a few hundred miles from its original home, the couch was still bracketed by the two end tables topped with figurine lamps that had adorned it in Pittsburgh, torn shades and all. He had moved as much of Mom’s furniture as they could so she’d feel more at home, and it had made a difference. He decided to bring a couple of photographs for her hospital room. There were plenty to choose from. Pictures of the family—five generations’ worth— covered every inch of available surface space. At the elevator, Peter saw Mr. Hewitt, one of the other residents, a cheerful man whom he often ran into, although Hewitt never seemed to remember him. “How are you, young man?” Peter smiled. Only at Crestview would anyone call him that. “Not so good. My mother fell down and she’s in the hospital.” Peter spoke loudly, but if Hewitt heard, it didn’t register. “You know, this is a great place if you’re a man—vastly outnumbered. That’s why I don’t wear my wedding ring anymore. It was cutting off my circulation.” Peter smiled as he did every time the old man told him the joke. To exit, Peter had to walk through the lounge area, past a dozen or so residents who were sitting around, waiting for dinner to start. Meals were the center of their lives, giving them structure and a chance to see each other, though what they talked about remained a mystery. Whenever he asked, his mother just shrugged, as if she couldn’t remember. It was quiet in the lounge. Most of the residents were just sitting, staring off into space. Four were at the card table silently playing bridge, and a few were reading in the library. This was the part of Crestview that always gave him pause about having made Mom move. But he didn’t dwell on it. It may be depressing to live here at times, but being all by herself in her old home was depressing, too And dangerous— truly untenable. And she had made a good adjustment in some ways. She even attended the frequent concerts and movies, most of which were well suited to her tastes, from Frank Sinatra to Fred Astaire to Cary Grant. She seemed to enjoy her new life. “What’s not to like?” she would say when he asked, and she even stopped talking about moving back to Pennsylvania. And the biggest step of all—she had reluctantly agreed to sell the house. “I can only live in one place at a time,” she’d said, knowing it made no sense to pay for two.

Peter sent Martha home to get some rest. He’d stay at least until they got her into a room, but it took another eight hours for that to happen, giving him plenty of time to think. An operation was hard enough to fathom at her age, but what really scared him was pneumonia. The old people’s friend, they called it. A quick and relatively easy way to die. Just last week he’d been thinking she was acting happier and more energetic, and he was pleased they made her move. On Sunday, he brought her over to the house for dinner with Judy and the kids. She was in good form, more like when Dad was still alive. She had a little trouble with the front stairs, but when he tried to help, she shooed him away. “Stop treating me like an 80-year-old,” she warned, then smiled when she realized what she’d said. But now, just a few days later, here she was, helpless, with broken bones and pneumonia. He remembered his father’s last days and how quickly things had spiraled downward. And the lawyer’s call, coming just when it did, kept nagging at him. “If you sell this house, it’ll be the death of me,” she’d said during one of the most pointed conversations he’d had with her before the accident that brought her to Virginia. “Ma, it’ll kill you to live here by yourself. You can’t keep doing this.” It was two years since that conversation. He’d left work early one Wednesday and driven the five hours to Pittsburgh to spend a night with his mother, with the specific intent of

Martha looked worn when he finally found her and his mother, still in a curtained-off cubicle in the emergency room. He kissed them both, and his mother opened her eyes, but then closed them again without speaking. In seconds, she was snoring softly, despite the bright fluorescent lights and the monitor beeping incessantly in the bay next to her. “I thought they admitted her,” he whispered. 56


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down the hall to the house’s only bathroom. It was neat but not very clean. She had clearly lost some of her energy in the past year, the year since his father died. Back in the kitchen, he found her sitting and staring off into space. The water was boiling, but she hadn’t taken out a cup or the jar of coffee. He collected both, measured a heaping spoon for himself, and added the water and a little milk. “You want a piece of pie? I got a cherry pie in the freezer. It was on sale.” “Okay, Ma, I’ll have a piece of pie.” And he even let her put ice cream on top. “Ma, we need to talk.” “I knew that was why you came. Just leave me alone.” “You can’t stay here by yourself anymore.” “I’m not going anywhere. I love my house.” “What kind of life do you have here?” “I’m fine.” “You’ve lived like a hermit ever since Dad died.” She got up and started to clear the table “Ma, it’s time to sell the house.” “I’m not going into a home.” “It’s not a home. You’d have your own apartment. They have activities, you get your meals. You can be with other people.” “I don’t want other people, especially old people.” “You can bring your own things. And we’ll all be able to visit more often. Don’t you want to see your grandchildren grow up?” “If you sell the house, it’ll be the death of me.” “Ma, it’s just a house. It’s not a life.” “Leave me alone” For a second, he thought she was going to cry but she rechanneled it into anger. “I like my privacy. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. Like on a cruise ship.” He wondered where she got that. Must have been a line off one of the endless television shows that filled her hours. She’d never been on a cruise herself, never allowed herself that or any other kind of luxury, though she could have afforded it. “Let me do your pills.” “I can do it myself. Don’t treat me like a baby.” He started to argue, then stopped and just went silently to the dining room, where she kept her prescription bottles and the large red pill organizer he had bought for her. He started counting them out but then noticed that yesterday’s pills were still in the Tuesday compartment, and there was a lone Atenol in Monday. “Ma, haven’t you been taking your pills?” “What do I need so many pills for? All my life, I never took so many pills. Who even knows what they’re for?” “Ma, we’ve been through this a hundred times.” Then, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice, “The little white one is for high blood pressure and the big pink one is for your ulcer.” He didn’t mention the antidepressant or the one she took for memory loss, not that it did any good. He knew she’d never take those if she had any idea what they were for. “Ma, if you move into this place, you’ll have people to help you, to be around if you need anything.”

pushing her into a decision to move. Although he had told her he was coming, the house was dark and she didn’t answer when he rang the bell. “Ma, it’s me, Peter,” he shouted. When she finally opened the door, he was surprised by her appearance. She wore a frayed blue sweater over a shabby blue and yellow flowered housedress and moved her stooped and fragile body even more slowly than usual. “What a nice surprise.” “You forgot I was coming?” He immediately regretted the accusatory note. He hung his jacket in the hall closet, put his overnight bag to the side and followed her into the kitchen. They sat across from each other at the large oval table that had served as the center of life for as long as Peter could remember. It was not only where they ate all their meals, it was where they had all they conversations, where he did his homework, and where his father sat when he studied the bills and wrote all the checks. “Are you hungry? I have a cherry pie in the freezer.” “No, I stopped for dinner. How are you?” “Dinner was a long time ago. Are you sure you don’t want something? A cup of coffee? Or I’ve got some bagels I can thaw out in a minute.” She was already lifting herself out of the chair. “No, Ma, nothing. I’m fine. Sit down.” He looked around the kitchen, still in 1950s mode, with the original double-oven stove and pine cabinets, cheap and worn from years of grasping hands. The refrigerator was new, but she didn’t like it. The shelves, no matter how many times he adjusted them, still weren’t the right height. She wished he’d had the old one repaired instead of replacing it. “How are Judy and the kids? They couldn’t come with you?” “No, Ma, the kids have school. And I’ll have to leave tomorrow afternoon. I’m sorry we all couldn’t come for a weekend but it’s a busy time. “They’re all okay, though?” He told her what they were up to—Natasha who had become a teenager at 11 and Ethan, still all innocence at nine. He made a comment about being too old to keep up with them. “You should have gotten married sooner. And who told you to wait so long to have babies?” Peter sighed and stared out the window. But it faced the backyard and it was too dark to see anything but his own reflection. “Would you like a piece of pie? I’ve got a cherry pie in the freezer. I could thaw it out in the toaster oven.” “No pie, Ma, but I’ll take a cup of coffee.” He really didn’t want it. It would be instant and cheap and decaf, but it was something to do. “I’ll make it,” he said. “What? I can’t make a cup of coffee for you? I’m not an invalid.” She got up haltingly. “Are you okay? Is something wrong with your leg?” “Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s just old, like the rest of me.” While she filled the pot with water, he got up and went

He started to argue, then stopped and just went silently to the dining room, where she kept her prescription bottles and the large red pill organizer he had bought for her.

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it was the right age and style to remind her of the old days. She hesitated, as though thinking about the walking that would be involved. “I’m sure they have wheelchairs. It’s pretty much the law nowadays.” “I don’t think so,” she said, but he pressed on. “Come on, Ma. You haven’t been in years and I know you like to go.” At last she agreed, though she ruled out a wheelchair. That meant the visit was relatively short, but she seemed to enjoy every minute of it. She even admired some of the artwork, lingering in particular at a Lepicie painting of a mother feeding her child. That was no surprise, Peter thought. Her children had always been the center of her life or more accurately, her children had been her life. Peter and Martha knew how much she had always sacrificed so that they could have what they needed. She was never wasteful— no $100 sneakers for them, but her parents had worked hard so they could live in a nice suburb with good public schools, and so they could both go to the college of their choice. Peter had intended to use the morning to push her to move, but he decided to let her enjoy herself instead. After the Frick house, he took her out to lunch and then brought her home and said his goodbye.

“What do I need?” “A little help wouldn’t hurt. How much longer can you live here by yourself?” “You like the home so much, you move into it.” “It’s not a home. You’ll have your own apartment.” “I want my privacy. I’m fine.” “You’re not fine. You can’t even walk and you won’t tell me what happened.” “I remember just fine. There’s nothing wrong with my memory. I remember things that happened 80 years ago.” And before he knew it, she was in another world, telling him one of her favorite stories, about when her father was grazed by a car that had backed up into the pedestrian walk. He’d been knocked down and bruised, but he just got up, dismissed the driver with a wave and went back to work in the store, not even asking for an aspirin. She did that more and more often, thinking and talking about her childhood. Her father and how he had come over alone on the boat and worked his way up to own his own storefront grocery, the strong and commanding mother she had adored, her six siblings of all shapes and sizes and interests and talents. And of course the brother who had been killed in the war, a death that had devastated her mother and by extension, the family. He let her go on for a while, though he’d heard all the stories many times before. He even prompted her to tell her favorite story. “And you were the only one of the family to finish high school?” “Yes. I wanted to be a teacher. My sister wasn’t much of a student, and my brothers were always getting into trouble. And then of course, they quit to go into the war.” She went on to describe her high school days, how she’d come home from school and cook the family dinner because her mother worked in the store until it closed at 7 p.m. How she learned to cook from an aunt who sometimes came by with full-course meals for the family, a token of appreciation for the financial help she got from Peter’s grandparents. His uncle was a drunk and a no-good, as his mother put it. Couldn’t hold a job. And then he’d run off with a neighbor’s wife for six days before returning apologetically, though that story was rarely told when Peter was growing up. Peter retired to his room, the same one he grew up in. It hadn’t changed all that much beyond getting shabbier and dirtier. The throw rug on the floor was tattered, kept there mostly to protect the hardwood finish rather than for comfort or appearance. The desk was covered and cluttered with an ancient computer he had given his father. When he finally climbed into bed, the mattress yielded instantly, leaving an uncomfortable crevice for his body. The next morning, he acquiesced to a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon and then surprised her with an invitation to visit the Frick museum. She wasn’t really the museum type—her interest in art or ancient artifacts was minimal— but the Frick had always been her favorite. She loved to walk through the house and admire the furniture that reminded her of her childhood. Though it was obviously a lot more expensive and exclusive than what she had grown up with,

The operation had probably started late. Her blood count had been low and they were going to give her a transfusion first.

Peter surveyed the other people in the hospital waiting area. A man in his 60s wearing a bulky sweater, sitting quietly and holding the hand of a younger woman, probably a daughter. A woman in her 40s who looked like she hadn’t slept in days trying to concentrate on a magazine. And one large family talking in hushed tones. He turned to Martha who had been staring at the same page of her book for several minutes. She gave him a half-hearted smile. Judy was there, too, holding his hand. She hadn’t said much, sensing Peter wanted to be left with his thoughts. It had taken a week for the doctors to bring Mom’s pneumonia under control so they could safely operate on her hip. She was still too congested for a general anesthesia, so they had used an epidural. It was better that way, the doctors had said. The orderlies had taken her to the operating room 90 minutes ago, and Peter and Martha hadn’t heard anything since, although the surgeon had told them it would only take about 40 minutes to insert the artificial hip. The operation had probably started late. Her blood count had been low and they were going to give her a transfusion first. Plus they had to wait for the epidural to take effect. Another half hour passed before the surgeon came out. “She’s in recovery. The hip is fine, but we had to give her two extra transfusions. Her blood count is very low and heart rate is high. And she’s having a little trouble breathing.” Silence hung in the air a few seconds before Judy finally asked if she was going to be okay. “Once we get her blood count back up, she should be fine. She’s going to be pretty uncomfortable for a while, though.” “Can we see her?” “Not just yet. Why don’t you get something to eat and

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remembering….how she said….selling it…would be the death of her.” “Oh, Peter.” She hugged him. “Don’t do that to yourself.” But now she was crying, too. “We did the right thing.” “I don’t know anymore.” “Look,” Martha said, regaining her composure and stepping back a pace. She was a few years older than Peter, and every once in a while that responsibility took hold. “She’s been happy in Crestview. I’m glad you were strong and insisted she move.” “I insisted? I thought we agreed.” “I didn’t mean it that way. I just don’t know if I would have been able to force her if you hadn’t been the strong one. But it was the right thing to do.” “I hope so.” he said with a sigh and put his arm around her. “I hope so.” When they returned to the recovery room and asked if they could see their mother, the nurse looked at them skeptically but finally relented. “One at a time and only for a minute. Down that corridor, bed number six on the left.” Peter went first. He found his mother lying there, her eyes closed, hooked up to several tubes and monitors while a nurse gave her still another transfusion. Peter assumed she was asleep and just took her hand. He was surprised when she opened her eyes. She looked at him for a second before she recognized him. “Peter?” “Yeah, Ma,’ he said softly. “How do you feel?” She stared at him. “You lost your hair?” He laughed. “About 10 years ago, Ma.” “Really?” She closed her eyes and he left her to sleep. Martha went next and was crying when she came out. “She’ll be okay,” Peter said, as Judy got up to go see her mother-in-law. “She doesn’t even look like herself,” Martha said. “She reminded me of how Daddy looked just before he died. It’s almost like she’s already gone. I was about to leave when she started talking to herself.” Peter tried to lighten the mood. “At least she didn’t comment on your gray hair.” “I wish she had. She was mumbling something about having to wash the windows tomorrow and how she was worried about Dad getting up on the ladder to do the outside and how you’d need to hold the ladder steady. She thought we were all still living in Pittsburgh.” Peter took Martha’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “She’ll be okay,” he said again. “She sure loved that house,” Martha said, then caught herself. “But I know we did the right thing in moving her up here.” Peter looked at her but didn’t respond.

come back in an hour. You should be able to see her then.” They’d been at the hospital all day and hadn’t eaten so they walked over to the cafeteria and surveyed the offerings. At the hot food line, the server waited while they looked at the dried-out turkey, a tray of macaroni and cheese, and mixed vegetables that had obviously come out of a can. The salad bar wasn’t much better, with a skimpy selection of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, bacon bits and croutons. Peter sniffed, as if he thought he might smell the nitrates. They finally settled on tuna fish sandwiches but just picked at them mechanically before giving up and deciding to go for a walk. As they were leaving, Peter’s cell phone rang. It was the lawyer in Pittsburgh. The closing had gone smoothly. The house no longer belonged to his mother. “Great,” he told the lawyer, but when he hung up and told Martha and Judy, he didn’t feel great. “Let’s take that walk,” he said. Martha nodded, but Judy said she’d wait in case the nurse came looking for them. Night was falling and the temperature had dropped below 50. Martha had her coat on but was still cold. Peter, in shirtsleeves, didn’t seem to feel the chill. They walked the length of the driveway and onto the sidewalk, then onto a side street to get away from the bustle on the main road. “I wonder if she’ll even know what I’m talking about when I tell her,” Peter said after a while. “Tell her what?” “That the house sale went through.” He remembered how strange it felt when his mother had finally agreed to let go of it. “As long as we get a good price,” she’d said. “May they be as happy in it as we were.” “I think she’s accepted it,” Martha said. Peter agreed, then realized something he’d been unaware of until now. He was having trouble accepting it. A wave of sadness crept over him. It was just a house, he told himself. Yes, he’d grown up there and returned hundreds of times as an adult. Almost every big event—every Thanksgiving and family gathering, even Martha’s wedding reception—had been held there. He thought about his room, how it was stuffed with too much furniture and how he’d always felt cramped at the desk they bought for him to do his homework. He’d preferred the kitchen table, though in truth, he’d never done that much homework. The room had been his escape, a place to hole up and spend hours on the phone with friends. No Facebook in those days. No home computer, for that matter. He smiled to himself when he remembered a secret hiding place for his first copies of Henry Miller and Playboy. But it was still just a house. A building. He’d never understood his parents’ attachment to it. They’d never traveled much, and after they retired, they rarely were away from it for more than a couple of hours at a time. He knew it represented an achievement for them. Having been able to save enough to buy a home in a safe and comfortable suburb to raise Martha and him meant a lot to them. He could see that. But he never saw anything special about the house. It was modest and his parents had old-fashioned tastes and were cheap with the upkeep. He’d never felt attached to it. But now it was gone and he felt the loss. Strangers would be moving in tomorrow. Martha looked at him and saw his eyes were moist. “She’ll be okay,” she said. “I just keep thinking about the house.” His voice broke on the last word and he had trouble going on. “I just keep

• • • Mark Willen received a Master of Arts in Writing (Fiction) from the Johns Hopkins University in May 2010. His short stories have been published in the online journals Corner Club Press and The Boiler Journal. His nonfiction work as a journalist has been published by Kiplinger, Congressional Quarterly and Bloomberg News.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012

but when he got there, she was gone. She had run away with a software salesman from New Jersey. Bill was devastated. He was crushed. He didn’t want to haul logs any more. He wished that he were a software salesman from New Jersey. One day the owner of a chic, big, swanky nightclub in New York came to visit his mother who happened to live in the hills of Oklahoma. He went into the Stardust Dance Land one night when Bill was performing there. Well, the rest is history. Bill is now a famous rock star. He has a band and travels all over the world. He fills football stadiums in New York and Washington and Dallas and draws huge crowds in Johannesburg, Tokyo, London and Berlin. He saw Betty Lou and her husband once when he was performing at Yankee Stadium. At least he thought he saw them. He wasn’t sure. He feels sorry for Betty Lou. He feels sorry for all software salesmen from New Jersey. He doesn’t need a day job anymore hauling logs to a sawmill in the hills of Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Hills by Wayne Orr Bill was doing pretty well in the Oklahoma hills. He had a day job hauling logs and a night time job at the Stardust Dance Land. If you think he was a bartender, you are wrong. If you think he was a bouncer, you are even more wrong. He was the main event, the principal, primary, number one main event. After a hard day of hauling logs, as soon as he finished showering and shaving, he would splash some Old Spice on his face and put on his best blue jeans and shirt and his cowboy boots. Then he would grab his guitar and head out for the Stardust Dance Land and play and sing there all night long with just a ten minute break every hour. The women loved him; the guys envied him. They wished they could sing like him and play a guitar the way he did. But they couldn’t. Nobody could. He had his own unique voice. He had his own unique style. Yes, the guys wished that they were Bill, or at least were like him. They envied him, but more than that, they were jealous of him, especially when their wives or girlfriends started screaming loud, lewd invitations to him and trying to run onto the stage to kiss him or to hand him notes or house keys or motel keys. And when it was near closing time, they were even more jealous when their wives or girlfriends, totally intoxicated, totally uninhibited, or at least pretending to be, removed their panties and threw them to him. He was a king, an idol, a god. He always wondered why so many of the women wore their panties to the Stardust and wore pantyhose everywhere else. No. He didn’t really wonder. He knew. That was at night when he was playing and singing at the Stardust Dance Land. Then the next day he was hauling logs again, hauling logs and being a nobody. Bill had a girlfriend named Betty Lou. At least she used to be his girlfriend. She had stopped going out with him because she didn’t like for him to play and sing at the Stardust Dance Land. She hated for the women to scream lewd invitations to him. She hated for them to run up to the stage to try to kiss him or to hand him notes or house keys or motel keys. But most of all, she hated it when they threw their panties onto the stage. He decided that it was about time for him and Betty Lou to get married. He hadn’t seen her in a week or more. One day after work, he decided to go to her house and talk to her,

Plainly by Frank Praeger Yes and yes and yes, sunlight flowing and brilliant and grandly a frog in a puddle, a damselfly hovering, a bumblebee grubbing in lilac, and a red-winged black bird gliding in an openness, inexplicable in a far reaching, immeasurable though visible, albeit evanescent, past rough, gentle, quickening, then, stilling, felt, not felt caress.

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The Rusty Nail, October 2012, Issue 8