Photography is Like Magnetism, a Mystery to Almost Everyone by Adam Lock

It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. Now, the number on the top of the disposable camera reads: twenty five. Michael holds it up to his face and looks through the eyepiece, framing Snowdonia. The camera is weightless in his hands, hardly there at all. He has the thought it’s a toy, made of cardboard and plastic, nothing more. How does film work anyway — does anyone know? Yesterday, he told Andrea how photography is like magnetism, a mystery to almost everyone, and she laughed. He lowers the camera, tries to imagine her laughing; but because of the angle of her head, the stiffness in her shoulders, the adamant positioning of her hands on her knees, it’s impossible.

‘Wait until we reach the top,’ Andrea says, resting against a huge rock below, breathless. ‘Save it for when we reach the top.’

Again, he checks the number inside the plastic window on top of the camera. He recalls boarding the train three days earlier and taking the first photograph. Andrea took two miniature bottles of wine and two plastic wine glasses from her bag. She held the two bottles to her mouth, pretending to drink. He saw through the eyepiece, her cheeks flushed, her teeth glistening through newly applied lipstick, her eyes creased with smiles. There was the hollow plastic click when he took the photograph, followed by the scratching sound as he turned the wheel, ready for photograph two.

He holds the camera to his face and looks through the eyepiece.

‘I said, wait until we reach the top.’

‘Didn’t take one,’ he says, looking up at the path ahead.

She mumbles something about him looking through the eyepiece for no reason.

In a week’s time, Michael will look through the photographs. Photograph sixteen: Andrea on the opposite side of the dining table, black dress, eyes closed tight, head thrown back, mouth open wide revealing pink gums and white teeth. Then he will shuffle this photograph to the back of the pile. Then photograph seventeen: Andrea’s profile as she looks to her left, her face slightly downturned, her brow furrowed, her gaze looking, not at, but through the floor. When he sees this photograph, he’ll remember again what he’d said.

He’s the first to reach the summit and touch the cairn at the top of a set of stone steps. There’s the sensation of winning, of beating Andrea. He shakes his head, listens to his breathing, concentrates on taking in the view because this is what is important. To the west, the view is covered in cloud. But to the east, the sun is still high enough to fire shards of light through grey, revealing shades of green and bronze and silver. There is too much to take in. But this is the point. When he turns on the spot, he sees the horizon in every direction. There was a time he would have been eager to vocalise his thinking for Andrea, to make mental notes about how it made him feel, so he could tell her.

Andrea climbs the steps behind him. Without looking at the view, she stands next to the cairn, leaning against it with her feet crossed at the ankles. ‘Can you?’ she asks, flicking hair away from her shoulders. He takes the camera from his pocket and holds it to his face. He considers the composition, with Andrea on the left, the cairn in the middle, Wales on the right. He waits for the clouds to move, for the light to increase. And there it is, the final photograph. He pretends to press the button.

‘You take it?’ she asks, climbing down the steps.

He turns away, pretending to see to the camera.

‘Let’s go. It’s freezing up here.’ She makes hard work of the steps and walks into the visitors’ centre to catch the train for the descent.

Turning back to the view, he scans the horizon, looking for the right shot. In a week’s time, after he’s recalled what he’d said between photographs sixteen and seventeen, he will reach the last photograph. Looking at this photograph, he will recall how he’d waited for the light to change, how he’d tested countless views through the viewfinder, and how his finger trembled when he pressed the button.

He reaches the bottom of the steps and sees Andrea looking through the window of the visitors’ centre. She’d watched him take the last photograph. He looks down at the camera, turning it in his hands, then back to Andrea. Photography has something to do with a chemical reaction, something to do with photons hitting film. Maybe memories worked in the same way.
It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. He was looking at the menu, and said, ‘I’m not sure, Abby.’ He waited, the air cooler, the restaurant receding about him. Andrea had always been, ‘Andy.’

‘Abby?’ she said, closing her menu, placing it on the table beneath a slow-moving hand.
He waited, his eyes scanning the menu without reading a word. ‘Andy,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure what I want.’

‘You called me, Abby.’ She glanced at the couples on the tables either side of them.
Andrea has the same hurt expression now as she had in the restaurant. He imagines her expression as photons etching themselves onto his memory like a photograph.

On the other side of the glass, and in its reflection, he sees both Andrea and himself raise a hand to say goodbye. They’d given it a go at least. He takes one final look at the view from the top of Snowdon, before setting off down the mountain alone.


 

Nov14 269

Adam was recently placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017 and was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had stories appear in various publications such as Fictive Dream, Spelk, STORGY, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Website: adamlock.net. Twitter: @dazedcharacter.

 

Standardized Outcomes by Anne Hensley

In the half bath Joni is watching Sofia applying lipstick, jam colored, butter smooth and brand new, applying with ginger fingers to not crush the fresh angled plane of the stick. Joni’s on the toilet, skirt hiked, back of crossed legs pressed into yellow carpeted toilet lid cover. She’s wiping under her thighs in hopes that red stippling doesn’t bloom. The fan circulates nothing, buzzes under the light, a fly crypt that casts a sallow haze over the narrow room.

“Oh my god, how much was it?”

“Eighteen.”

“Oh my god.”

“I know, right? My mom’s buying me whatever I want right now. Like, anything. You can try it but it’s really not your color.”

“I’m good.” Joni’s phone pings, a video of disembodied hands holding chopsticks feeding vegan sushi to a capybara on a turquoise sofa. For days her dad has sent her every cute animal video he can find. Ping: hamster picnic. Ping: husky puppies howling while a girl plays the flute. Ping: yawning hedgehog.

<>

At the end of the parking lot surrounding Sofia’s apartment complex they slip into a path torn through a wall of honeysuckle. Down the pitch they skirt the edge of the bog preserve, stick to the wide, crushed limestone trail. It is the fullest, greenest time. Reeds and moss tremble and the peepers trill. Joni has 911 dialed and her thumb ready to send. Sofia holds her keyring in her closed fist with her sharpest key sticking out from between her pointer and middle fingers. Sofia topples off a sandal as the limestone shifts beneath her.

“That’s why I wear Chucks. Just take them off.”

“I just had a pedi. I am not walking barefoot on this.”

They reach the edge, the short but steep incline. Joni plants herself at the top and leans down to pull Sof up. They grasp forearms, Joni’s ash and Sof’s olive. Joni overperforms, more hoist than needed, and Sof falls into her. They topple uphill, legs entwined.

“Oh my god. Sorry.”

“Oh my god. Hilarious.”

“I’m, like, the clumsiest. I’m like a baby. Holy shit. What a dork.”

They laugh together, reclined on the peat, wipe their eyes and fix one another’s make up. Sofia reapplies lipstick. The dusk is honey.

<>

Cresting the grade, they emerge in a lot behind an oil change place. They snake between cars, the metal and asphalt release the day’s heat. They dash across to the turn lane and wait for traffic to clear. The current from passing cars lifts their hair, cools their damp legs and napes. A beige minivan with GO GREEN CLASS OF ‘18 painted on the tinted windows passes, the last vehicle in sight, and they skip toward the berm. The marquis at roadside heralds GREEN SPIRIT FOREVER and is flanked by yards of browning flower sprays, lethargic Mylar balloons, laminated letters, and art.

Under the pierce of the tended ends — perennial ryegrass daggers in gooseflesh triceps — the turf is full and wet on their backs.

“Your boobs look hot.” Joni is talking loudly enough to be heard over the marching band playing “What’s Going On” but is trying not to be seen turning her head or moving her lips.

“Demi balconette. I made my brother wait 45 minutes while I tried a bunch on. I had to lie on the floor of the fitting room to see how they’d look lying down. You know, just in case this goes viral.”

Joni doesn’t anticipate a rest at the key change and is caught in a cackle. Señora Thompson, the Spanish teacher who had to eat half of a peach flavored cannabis gummy (bought for her by her nanny who has a med card) in order to leave the house shushes them for too long, listening to her own breath as it escapes her. “Sshhhh. Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Joni and Sof scoff at her, heads turned slightly toward one another, mouth what the fuck.
Brooke Seits tells them to shut up. She’s wearing bracelets from wrist to elbow, a gilded snake around her bicep, a plain white tank top, and fatigue pants. She has been quoted in almost every piece about the school, a senior who quite suddenly had fertile college application essay material and took full advantage.

Eduard is looking up the skirt of the girl lying behind him, that cute, tiny freshman who looks tough enough to eat you. Jack Bostov’s sister. Joni. He’s looking both because she is there and available and because he is hoping to give himself something to fixate on to remove the image of Jordan’s body dead and bleeding on the floor of the chemistry lab. Jordan’s body spent most nights at Eddie’s in the summer before junior year. Jordan’s hands always beat Eddie’s at Mario Kart. Jordan’s mouth sucked down countless cans of beer supplied to them by Eddie’s brother Dominic. Jordan’s feet had the freshest, whitest sneaks in school. Jordan’s face told the whole junior class at the drunk driving assembly that alcoholism had ruined his relationship with his best friend when his best friend’s mom tried to “get with” him during the previous summer. Jordan’s brain knew everyone in school would make an immediate connection to Eddie.

“Oh my god, J, he’s totally looking up your skirt.”

Sofia kicks Eduard’s face, sandal to cheekbone. Fire rushes his skull and he doesn’t feel himself say, “do it again,” but he says it.

“Fucking perv. Freak.” Joni crosses her ankles.

The band quiets and lies down still in formation, joining the demonstrators. Brooke stands, approaches a preset microphone, says “The worst thing about this is that because we weren’t shot, everyone thinks we’re OK.”

Brooke’s words ring. She does not immediately continue. From the stands a young male voice breaks, “Go Vikings!”

The crowd in the bleachers is silent but the field lights moan. (Ping: kitten sleeping on mastiff. Ping: jumping baby goats in flannel pajamas.) Joni sees the bugs above her flooding the glare, gnats and mosquitoes spasming, no apparent intention.

 


Anne H

Anne Hensley (left) is a writer, musician, and co-founder of Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), a literacy nonprofit that celebrates and amplifies youth voice by forging avenues for collaboration, creativity, and joy. Anne’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her family of humans and dogs. Find her online at https://weirderwonderland.com/.

Terrarium by Robert Kaye

I wake up wrapped in snakes and think, oh, man, not this again.

It’s that feeling of being bound up in scaly bandages. Some squirm against my body, others wrap around limbs— those are the constrictors, I suppose. Even my head is covered. It’s a helmet of cold meat. The smell of anxiety.

The question is, why snakes? It’s not like I have a phobia. I’m not freaked out, but I am definitely getting there. “What the hell is this?” I say.

“Psychosexual dysphoria,” says a copperhead with a red face. “From challenging issues in your daily life.”

He strikes me as pedantic. “You mean like being covered in snakes?” I say.

“Freud said snakes are penises,” hisses another.

“Freud says everything is penises,” hisses some variety of rat snake.

“You’re a corn snake for god’s sake.”

They all pretty much hiss when they speak. Bone dry. Like falling rice.

“This isn’t a dream,” I say. “This is real.” I’m wide awake, shivering, since snakes are cold blooded and that many of them leeches the heat right out of a human body. They’re the opposite of cuddly.

“He has a point,” says the copperhead, who seems to be in charge.

“How’d you guys get in, anyway?” I say. I’d spent a lot of time stopping up holes in my house chewed by rats or something. Holes I wouldn’t have known about if not for the snakes, so I guess that’s a positive. Obviously, I didn’t fix them all. There are vipers and cobras and even a black mambo.

A green tree python is wrapped around my neck. If they wanted me dead, I’d be dead. I worry more about the holes than the snakes, because I don’t like rats. Or spiders.

“This might be about your father,” says a garter snake, a striped S-curve on my chest. His chin is up. He looks hopeful.

“Again, not a dream,” I say.

“Point taken,” says an eastern coral snake, whose venom could have killed me in minutes. “Maybe you’re like Harry Potter. Talks to snakes, connected to evil, that sort of thing?”

“I’m not a character in a YA series,” I say. “I’ve got a job I have to get to. I’ve got a girlfriend. What if she spends the night and you guys show up? She hates snakes.” I haven’t told Simone about the snakes. Sometimes she wants to stay the night and I have to claim there’s a gas leak. I leave the stove on just a little before she comes over to make sure she smells it.

“One of these days you’re going to blow yourself up,” said an elephant trunk snake.

“Or asphyxiate,” says an asp. “Like Sylvia Plath.”

“Never gonna happen,” says a king snake. “Simone is gonna dump his ass any minute. What kind of fool lives with a gas leak?”

“How about you let me worry about that,” I say. “I have to pee.”

They unmummify me, slithering toward the holes, which I can’t see in the dark. You can’t turn the lights on when you’re covered in snakes. It’s best to lie still until they leave.

“Maybe it’s about creative life force,” says a ball python on the way out.

“Shed your skin and move on, man. Haven’t you ever seen that symbol with the snake swallowing its own tail?”

“Penises again,” says the loudmouth corn snake.

“Bullshit,” said the bull snake. “An ouroboros signifies infinity.”

Or doing the same thing over and over. I happen to know from working at Petco that if a snake is stressed enough it will try to eat itself, tail first. It isn’t pretty. I think it best not to mention this. I don’t want to prolong the conversation.

“We’ll see you again soon,” says the copperhead. “Probably Thursday. Right guys?”

A rattlesnake shakes his or her tail, but none of the others answer.

There’s no chit-chat as they disperse. Scales whip across carpet and scrape through holes.

When I’m sure they’re gone, I reach for my glasses. My phone, shows it’s 3:45 in the morning. No way am I going back to sleep. After this, I have to go to a job devoid of meaning, call a girlfriend who I know is going to dump me, maybe turn the gas on.

This again.

 


RPKaye
Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in Potomac Review, Hobart, Juked, the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Beecher’s, and elsewhere, with details at www.RobertPKaye.com. He facilitates the Works in Progress open mic at Hugo House in Seattle and co-founded the Seattle Fiction Federation reading series.

Everyone Fails by Siân Griffiths

Everyone fails the first time. It’s what Tucker told you, morning after morning, as you and he sipped coffee from the same old mugs, preparing for another day of training. A flight pattern would be a little crooked, or your x-ray vision wouldn’t permeate that particular thickness of steel, or the simulated baby rescued from the fire would have a have a slight cough. If being a hero were easy, he’d say, everyone would do it.

Packing the mug was dumb. It was fragile, breakable. It wasn’t a stowed bag kind of thing. But you told yourself you couldn’t be your best on Styrofoam coffee. You told yourself that it’d done its time, and it was already chipped anyway, and you didn’t care if it smashed. You told yourself a lot of things.

The truth is, you never intended to fail. Your training group spent the summer clearing pines, tossing them into the back of the rig with a flick of your fingers. You and Tucker raced farm kids in their souped-up trucks, letting them eat your dust on those hot gravel roads. With the strong track records of Gotham and Metropolis, no one looked to Idaho for heroes, but you were determined to show them why they should. Tucker suggested you rethink that, adopt a fake city, sharpen your look. You insisted, hometown was your brand.

Tucker had already tried out twice and refused to believe that the third time held any kind of charm. Sure, he could go freelance, but then you were reliant on tips for daring dos. Go through the show, and you were in the union making union wages. You’d watched each of Tucker’s seasons umpteen times, recorded off NBC, trying to understand why they hadn’t taken him. Lean as he was, he faded perfectly into his alter ego look. Glasses on, and he was a nerd, a wimp, a background guy no one noticed slipping into the phone booth. He was someone out of Queer Eye or the Jeopardy contestant everyone forgot the instant he’d won his hundred thousand. Loosen the tie, though, and he was a lean, mean, ass-kicking machine. The panel of heroes had to have seen that.

You wonder now, as you sip and sip, if he was too alter ego, too middle America. No one wants a hero who’s relatable, Tucker said. In hind sight, you could have ordered custom tights, had your hair done at a salon, consulted with a graphic designer on a logo, or Christ, even had your artsy sister mock something up, but honestly, this was supposed to be about skill. You chose to wear that summer’s faded yoga pants and over-sized cotton tee, pit-stained and rank, under a worn flannel.

You don’t know if you are more aggravated at your lack of vision (super-powered in every sense but the figurative) or at theirs. You saw it in the women’s looks from the moment you entered: disgust. The men (super-, bat-, aqua-, spider-) were merely bemused. The women, though? Their faces said it all. They’d worked too hard to get any kind of respect, and here you were, a mockery. It didn’t matter that you’d aced every test they threw your way. You would be judged by the same standards they’d had to pass. Diana Prince asked your cup size. Natalia Romanova ran a tape around your hips and frowned at the number under her thumb.

Who exactly do you think you are? Did she speak the words, or was it her thoughts you heard? Sometimes, it is hard to know, particularly with that kind of proximity. You thought you’d be Cougra or the Mountain Lioness, something lithe, something inspired by the big cats that slunk from the woods blending with the tawny color of ripened wheat. You were to be the one they never saw coming. Now, you have no idea who you are.

You think of Tucker and his endless reps, bench-pressing semi trucks, flexing afterward, hoping this time the muscles would bulge enough to tear his shirt. You reminded him about scrawny Peter Parker. Tucker said he was the exception that proved the rule. You shot back with Dare Devil, the old rules were shifting, the old prejudices were breaking down. Tucker: Keep telling yourself that.

“We’ll let you know your results in six to eight weeks,” Bruce said, but his eyes and the camera were already on the next candidate. The next candidate’s legs.

So here you sit, back in the humming hotel room with the old coffee mug you’d packed for luck because sometimes all the superpowers in the world are not enough, though, as it turns out, neither are lucky mugs. Your mother bought it as a gift when you were five, filled it with cinnamon Jelly Bellies. A little sweet, a little spicy: your favorite. You cradle it, hot in your hands, plain and white except for your initial, a single S in large block font, like might appear on a football uniform (a man’s sport, but it never felt off limits before). The ceramic is chipped on the lip, exposed and unglazed where it touches you. Objects, you tell yourself, have the right to expose their vulnerabilities, just as people do, and if those vulnerabilities cause inconvenience or discomfort, whose right was it to label the thing flawed?

If you get the job, if they’ll only give you a chance, you’ll emblazon the old mug’s S on your chest, pair it with ring-striped sleeves, lycra knee pants, and sneakers because you never could bear running in boots. So much about heroism needed a rethink.

You glance at your phone, not quite ready to text Tucker back, though you’ve watched it lighting to life every few minutes for the past few hours.

Six to eight weeks, you tell yourself, as if they haven’t already given their answer, as if there’s enough time for the world to change.

 


 

Associate Bad Ass

 

Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she directs the graduate program in English at Weber State University. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Cincinnati Review, American Short Fiction (online), Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, and The Rumpus, among other publications. Her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press), was a semi-finalist for the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Currently, she reads fiction as part of the editorial team at Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit sbgriffiths.com.

 

Blessed Teeth by Shawn McClure

Down south, just over the threshold of the tropics, winter is marked by raising of tasteful stringlights. They spiral up the neutered Coconut palms and light the Spanish Revival shopping malls, where tidy women with manicures buy whatever they want from spacious and well decorated stores. Their faces are casual and unconcerned. The modern snap of plastic has pushed the leathery smell of cash into a half remembered past. Caye is extra nice to the cashiers and tries not to quip to them about the cost of her new sandals. They were worked into the budget, after all.

Caye spends most of her time wandering around, avoiding her family, searching for silence and solitude. She gets a frosted drink and floats in a tube on the fake river. She peeks at the palm trees passing overhead, checks the soulless blue of the sky beyond. The musak gets loud and soft again as she drifts by the speakers hidden in the landscaping. She knows the average person would be very relaxed here.

Hunger guides her obliquely back to the hotel room.

She sees a rusty beater of a car leaving the resort and it stops for her at the crosswalk. It reminds her of her own car, gathering leaves on its hood back home. It stands out here, daring to be damaged in this bubble of fake beauty. One of the hotel maids is driving, heading back out into the real world. Caye is envious. She crosses quickly, carrying her sandals, the hot asphalt less painful than her fresh blister.

The inside of the room is in a disarray. She straightens up everything so the staff doesn’t trip or have to clean under the family mess. The girls and their father are already out to eat. Caye sighs. She is both offended and relieved that they didn’t wait for her.

Sitting on the balcony, hungry and idle, there are heavy bodies making the occasional splash in the golf course pond. There is a rustle of palmettos, and the occasional caw of a startled bird. Out there, the primordial dark waits at the edge of the resort like a predator.  It waits for a little part of civilization to stray off into the wild. It waits for a tear in the fabric, a vacuum of space to leak into. Caye pictures ink bleeding into water, or blood from her blistered ankle bleeding into gauze.

Her girls and their father return late, and Caye can hear them changing into swimsuits as she dozes. She is too tired to get up, but rouses herself in the silence that follows the click of the hotel room door. She knows she can catch up to them at the hot tub, having their night swim under the palms. The empty resort grounds will echo with the sounds of laughter, and that canned reggae will be off, finally. She might hear sounds from beyond, an evening chorus of insects, the mysterious splashes of Florida’s lake life.

Caye feels pulled by the possibility of nature smearing the edges of this world of landscaped perfection. She puts a jacket over her swimsuit and heads to the pool but on a whim, she passes the gate and heads off to the golf course which is bejeweled with disks of black, murky lakes nestled in hollows and trimmed by ribbons of sidewalk that flirt dangerously with the edge. The sounds of her girls are far away now. No one would ever know if they were calling out, inviting her to swim, or if they were screaming for help. Likewise, they would never know if Caye met with some kind of trouble. How would anyone back at the pool know the difference between screams of terror or joy, fear or esctasy, the violent teeth or the blessed ones? Distance can subdue the ugliest wail to nothing more than a night bird’s call.

After the dark of night, only the whirling emergency lights and the quick disappearance of an egret hint at the reality beneath the lake. Feathers float away and disappear among the reeds. The red stain could easily be the magnificent sunrise, reflecting on the water, promising a harrowing day for some, and a beautiful new one for others.


Shawn McClure  is a visual artist and writer who lives in New Jersey. Her writing has appeared in Noble/Gas Qtrly, Jellyfish Review, and other places around the web and in print.

The Oral by Timothy Boudreau

Saturday afternoons Claude and I watch old horror movies in bed and drink bourbon, I know the first thing he’s gonna ask me for is the oral.

“Okay,” I say, “but did you clean it?”

“I just did.”

“’Cause I’m not going near it unless it’s clean.”

“It’s fine.”

“And if I do that, you need to do something for me.”

“I know.” He puts down his glass. “Anyways, I’ve done it before. I ain’t afraid of it.”

Still, when he starts in it’s like a bird pecking at a tree. Stab, stab, stab. Fumbles to find my clit with his stubby fingers.

“Treat it like a kiss, Claude. Put some softness into it.”

“I am.”

“Start with the clit.”

“You don’t have to tell me what a clit is.”

When I pull down his boxers it smells all freshly soapy down there. I build it up, a breath at a time—pull his whole prick in slow, let it all out. Lips, tongue, two fingers around the base of the shaft, gently with my thumbnail, a few kisses between the wiry hairs on his balls. Trace the vein on the side of his prick with the tip of my tongue; tap it lightly like I’m dabbing a spot of jelly off the back of a spoon.

When he’s about to come, I back out and let it shoot onto the bedsheets. I’m fifty-eight—I’m not swallowing nothing. When we’re done I relax in bed and he fixes us grilled cheese sandwiches. Afterward we wipe our hands on the sheets and he falls asleep in his underwear. I’m wrapped in a nightgown already, my silver hair up. I watch him snoring, his rolls and folds, dyed bronze goatee and pinky rings, and imagine what we’d be like together in our prime, young and beautiful, the whole town jealous when they saw us out together.

<>

When we take our walks Sunday mornings, Claude dresses up just like we’re going out for dinner. We must make quite a sight: him in slacks and suspenders, big belly buttoned under a plaid dress shirt, and chunky me in my purple sweat suit and pink high-tops, shades, hair tied up in a bandana like I’m a retired biker mama.

Sometimes as we walk through the trailer park he puts his arm around my waist like he’s proud to be out with me. “You look like a million bucks,” he says.

“You look like at least a thousand,” I tell him. I look. “Well, maybe eight-fifty.”

It’s been a couple months now since he started spending time at my place. Beth Simpson lives two trailers from us; when she catches me out alone, she starts asking questions.

“Who’s this new guy I seen you with Berta?” She wrinkles her nose. “He’s not a bad-looking man.”

“His name’s Claude.”

“Where’d you meet him?”

“Redi-Mart.”

“Is he from around here?”

“He was staying with a friend.” I pretend to cough. “Well I’ll be seeing you around,” I say.

I don’t tell her the rest of it: “His wife threw him out. He likes the way I go down on him. Right now he’s got nowhere else to go.”

<>

His wife doesn’t want him back, that’s been pretty well established. One day we make our way down I-93 to pick up his stuff at her place in Meriden. Not the best neighborhood, but a nice house with a couple of apple trees in front.

They’ve already got his stuff on the lawn under a tarp—nine or ten boxes and some plaid shirts on hangers draped over the top.

“She’s keeping the furniture,” his daughter Daphne says, as Claude looks over his pile. She’s short and sturdy, like Claude, and has his wet sparkling blue eyes.

“Okay.”

“She says you still owe her for the overdrafts.”

“I’m working on that.”

“That’s fifteen hundred. She says cash only, no more checks.”

“I know.”

“She just wanted me to tell you.” She comes over to kiss his forehead before we leave. “I’ll call you, okay Dad?” she says. “Be good.”

We load everything in and drive off without looking back. When we’re back in town he says, “If the dump’s open let’s get rid of this shit.” Which we do: boxes, shirts, hangers and all whoop! into the landfill, except for a shoebox of family pictures he brings home and slides under his side of the bed.

<>

“There’s only one reason these guys are interested in you, Roberta,” my mother used to say, and my grandmother, and even my sisters, before we stopped speaking to each other. So thanks to them I have that in mind every morning when I wake up beside him, which I have to ignore, because who has time when I have to do my makeup, blow out my hair, iron an outfit, get myself to work, live my life?

At night in bed if he’s drunk enough he’ll start some deep relationship talk, like that’s what he’s been thinking about all day.

“It’s not gonna be all drama you know.”

“I know.”

“You’re not always gonna need to pay for everything.”

“Don’t worry about it Claude.”

“I got some other things to offer.”

I’m leaning my head into his chest, looking across the bedroom, and he’s stroking my shoulder. “We’ll get there Claude,” I tell him. And what do I mean by that? “We’ll figure things out.”

His hand is resting on my hip; sometimes I feel it go limp as he drifts in and out. Just before he falls asleep he says, “You’re a special lady, Berta.” His tone is all bourbon and sleepiness, as if he’s half-dreaming already, though I don’t know him well enough to imagine what he dreams about. “Never seen anyone do it like you do,” he tells me, letting his voice go husky and loving, and I don’t have the heart to let him know I’ve heard it all before.

 


img_6939

 

Timothy Boudreau’s work appears or is forthcoming at Fiction Southeast, Small Print Press, The Fictional Café, and Typishly, among others. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com.

White Ribbons by K.B. Carle

My mother loses herself in the sounds of fingernail clicks and the dull thuds her forehead creates when colliding into the corners of our home. She dwells in these crevices where two walls meet, biting her lower lip until she bleeds. Releasing all the tension she carries throughout the day until the diaper she wears under her patchwork jeans overflows.

And she smiles.

Despite the smell. Despite me watching her, imagining the rapid clicks are a form of Morse code, a puzzle only I can decipher. A noise she makes just for me. I go to her, even though the smell of shit and lavender makes me cry. At least, this is what I keep in my mind as I wrap my arms around her waist and rest my chin on her shoulder.

“Tell me where you are,” I whisper in the same voice she saved for scraped knees and bedtime stories.

“Birds mocking tales,” she giggles through parted chapped lips revealing blood stained teeth.

“Turn around,” I say. All I want is for her to look at me, to acknowledge my presence in a world outside of her corner.

And, if our eyes meet, to ask her why she won’t let me join her in a world of her creation.

The doctor says my mother has Alzheimer’s, a word that I’ve learned starts with a sigh and gets caught on the “Z.” I keep the word to myself, letting it linger in every sentence I’m supposed to say but hoard in my mind. When my mother becomes lost in one of her corners, I fill the quiet with the places she might be.

She is 12 with white ribbons braided into pigtails that rest just above her shoulders, the part cutting the surface of her scalp in half revealing hazel skin. Toes send tidal waves along the surface of the lake where she watches her brother drown. She swallows her words for two years, believing that if a cry for help does nothing to save a life, what’s the point in speaking. When she decides to speak again, she will always twist the story of her brother’s death to match her mood or to gage the amount of emotional stress those around her can handle.

My mother loathes pity in all its forms.

She is 14 with a white ribbon twisting around her pointer finger, hazel skin her father loves, turning purple and cold. Toes send tidal waves along the surface of the lake where she watches him stand in the shallows, talking with bullfrogs and fireflies instead of going to work. She watches him go, carrying his brown leather suitcase with holes and handle patched with duct tape hanging from his side, beyond the screams of her mother followed by the clang of pots and pans crashing into walls and shattering windows. Beyond the lake, until she is left wondering why he left her behind amongst the sounds of the bullfrog songs he also claimed to love.

She is 18 watching a white ribbon float on the lake’s surface, blades of grass scratching her hazel skin. She glances at her mother through the kitchen window every time the sun catches the glass, knowing her mother will keep on drinking until her anger feels fair, scream until there is nothing left but to face the darkness that awaits her. She watches her mother’s shadow fade in the kitchen window, wonders how many steps her father took before he felt safe enough not to look back. She counts how many steps it takes to be free from her mother, not knowing that, even after her mother dies, the counting never stops.

She is 30 watching her baby play with a white ribbon in her fist, fingernails occasionally scratching her hazel skin. Sunlight punctures storm clouds, soaking them in raindrops large enough to create their own lakes and tidal waves, washing away what remains of her past. She thrives outdoors, listening to the sweet songs of Cardinals and Bluejays, her child matching the movements of her lips. Neither of them knowing she has already lived half her life.

“Tell me where you are,” I ask again and this time she glances at me.

At least, this is what I hope for.

In the world I create for us, I am four years old. An age where I am able to speak while knowing the pleasures of being carried and napping in the warm crook of my mother’s neck. She keeps stories of her brother from me, her father and mother becoming tender figures she models herself after. I ask her any question that comes to mind, fingers tracing her unchapped lips before cradling her hazel cheeks in my palms.

And she responds, not with fingernail clicks, but with arms that embrace me. Chokes the life out of songs by shattering the high notes and out-of-tune attempts to remember all the words. Who sees me. Hears me, and makes me believe that all the love is still there.

Without her voice.

Without her mind.

But this is not the world she has left me for.

Her teeth release her lip, gnashing with rage inside her cheeks. Her mouth quivers, body stiffening in my grasp. The clicks come in rapid succession sending signals I don’t understand.

“Please,” the words catch somewhere in my chest and everything I’ve hoarded threatens to come out at once but instead, I let them stir in my mind.

My mother has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten my name. No, she’s forgotten more than that. She is lost and I can’t reach her because she no longer knows who I am, who I was, who we were. And, because of this, I can no longer find her.

“Tell me where you are,” because I’m afraid to be without you.

Her lips part and, for a moment, I think my name somehow lingers on the edge, wanting to invite me in.

 


 
kbcarle

K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. When she is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, K.B. avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her work can be found in The Offbeat, Fiction Southeast, The WomenArts Quarterly Journal, and FlashBack Fiction. For more information visit her at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Twitter @kbcarle.