Small Mercies by Karen Jones

When you play Monopoly with your brothers, let them win, she says. Boys don’t like to lose, especially not to girls. She’s patting her face with a powder pad, as though her features will fall off if they’re not pressed in place. When she’s out at a dance, I sneak into her room and play at being her, being beautiful, being good with make-up. When a boy asks you out, always say yes. It doesn’t matter if he’s not the best looking, the cleverest, the funniest – it takes a lot of courage for a boy to ask a girl out, so be grateful and always, always say yes to boys. I take her lipstick and pout as I smear the scarlet grease over my too-thin lips on my too-fat face with its barely-there eyes. I can never look like her, but I can do as I’m told.  And so, I did. I said yes to boys. All the boys. The ugly boys, the short boys, the boys who smell like sewers and the boys with urgency mapped out in spots on their red faces. When your brothers get up in the morning, draw their curtains, make their beds – be useful. The liquid eyeliner almost makes me have eyes. Not eyes like hers – not violet, not startling, but at least existing. My mother made me easy – a thing she never was to me. I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, but I was nothing if not obedient, so I said yes over and over again. Until I finally got it, finally realised what I’d become. I used her cold cream to erase the face I’d painted. Then I said no. I said no over and over again. But the boys told me they’d heard about me and no really meant yes, and did what they wanted anyway. That hurt more, so I went back to being the girl my mother made me – the yes-girl, the old-before-her-years girl, the never-as-pretty-as-her-mother-so-beggars-can’t-be-choosers girl. Now she complains that I never gave her grandchildren. Oh, but I did, Mother Dear. So many half-formed girls that neither of us got to hold or mould.  Small mercies, Mother. Be grateful.

 


 

Karen Jones

Karen Jones is from Glasgow. Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines and e-zines and have been included in print anthologies including Discovering a Comet and more micro fiction, The Wonderful World of Worders, An Earthless Melting Pot, City Smells, 10 Red, HISSAC 10th Anniversary, Bath Short Story Anthology, Ellipses: One, Bath Flash Fiction Volume Two and Flash Fiction Festival One. She’s been successful in short story and flash competitions including Mslexia, Flash 500, Writers Bureau, The New Writer, HISSAC and Words with Jam. Her story collection, The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories, is available from Amazon.

 

The House Lamps by David Drury

When the house lamps got to talking, they talked about the sun. They whispered so no one would hear. What have you have seen? What have you heard? What does it mean? They marked the rising and setting of the sun. They kept a record of shadows—of figures passing windows, tree limbs crooking along tabletops, branches and ladders and lampposts falling slowly across their brass laps. The house lamps with their screwed in bulbs, had never cast shadows like these. What light is this? Who can contain it? Who would dare try? What manner of light brandishes even darkness, sharpening the edges of shade, gashing boundless space at will?

News and observations were dispatched regularly. Like sentries, the lamps in the living room sent word to the front hall. Tell the lamps in the master bedroom what we have seen from these, the largest windows. Announce it to the second bedroom, proclaim it in the guest bedroom, read it aloud in the study, discuss it in the den, lay it out in the laundry room. News of even fluctuations in brightness caused by clouds eclipsing the sun broke through the house like prophecy. Each message was relayed down the line until it reached the last and least of the lights, a chipped ceramic table lamp on a workbench down in the cold, dark basement.

The lamps contemplated the mysteries of the sun in the form of fabulous tales. In some of the tales, the sun ruled over the world of lamps with intimidation. In some of the tales, the sun bestowed the warmth of a great glory. In some tales the sun burned with a desire to destroy. In some tales, the lamps were being readied to one day inherit the throne room of the sky.

As time went by, the lamps grew accustomed to sunshine and their regard for mystery slowly fell away. They grew even to loathe the sun as a bore and an intrusion and a showoff. Their story-making continued, but only as an inside joke, a cruel game aimed at the one lamp who was naïve enough to still believe the stories—that chipped ceramic table lamp down in the basement. They told all manner of fictions about the Great Light—as if it was a person, as if it was coming to one day permanently erase all shadows, as if it was on the lookout for chipped basement lamps drowning in darkness, so that it might usher them into the throne room of the sky. The house lamps all laughed behind the back of the chipped lamp.

One day the homeowners moved out. The carpets were rolled up and hauled off. The furniture was sold. The floors and walls were stripped. Only the lamps were left behind. But even so, the electricity in the house was disconnected. Finally, on the sunniest day of summer, a crane with a wrecking ball moved into position in the yard. It all was going to be knocked down to make room for condos. This was the end. The lamps were so beside themselves with despair, they had not passed any of this news to the basement.

The chipped lamp in the basement had sat in an all-consuming darkness of many days wondering what was happening, having heard only sobs from upstairs,. Even the little night light above the workbench had gone out. Don’t worry, little night light, the lamp said. I have it on good authority that there is a great light called daylight, a gift from the brightest of all lights the sun, which shines like ten thousand lamps. We will see the great light someday, you and I both. The great light will peel away the ceiling and take down the walls and light like we have never known, it will come flooding in. And where there is no ceiling, my friend there is nothing to separate us from the throne room of the sky.


 

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David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, broadcast on National Public Radio, and is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and Zyzzyva. He has been kicked out of every casino in Las Vegas.