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.

 


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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.