Our Ongoing Moment by Nick Black

KELSEY’S MOTHER

I’m painting a garden wall when her mother calls, and she laughs at my never seen in all our years together enterprise. “You really are bored, aren’t you?”

The truth is I’m far from bored, my mind’s geysering ‘round the clock, rolling my eyes back and forth behind their lids as I pray for sleep to come take me.  I was hoping physical activity might help after Kelsey pointed out one night that I was jumping from foot to foot, in the kitchen. I started with push ups and now have unliquid biceps for the first time in my life.  I got into the push ups over-zealously for a few weeks until I hurt my back and now they’re the size of small oranges. As I’ve not done any since, they’re also shrinking, slowly, like oranges left on a fruit bowl. I consider asking Megan, Kelsey’s mother, if she wants to see them while she can but it seems somehow inappropriate.

“You want to see my arms?” I ask. “They got big.” What the hell, she saw more than that, back when.

“Not especially,” she replies. The theory that Past, Present and Future coexist, their separateness a fallacy, a limitation of our perception, there just one constant ongoing moment?  Scientifically proven by the tone of those two words.

We discuss when Kelsey might go back which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. The present expanding to the horizon in all directions.


THE INSTAGRAM CHALLENGE

Kelsey shows me the photo. I pull a face.

“What?!”

“I thought the idea’s to show solidarity against patriarchal legislature and the murder of women. You look like you’re put out they’ve cancelled ‘Dawson’s Creek.”

I see the blank, stop myself from explaining what Dawson’s Creek was.

She turns the screen to herself, muses, says “I like it.”

“It’s a good photo, I just don’t see how it… Maybe submit an angrier one?   Where you look like you’re fighting!” I throw a pose and feel foolish.

“No,” she says. “I like this one. I’m leaving it.” Backpockets the phone.

“You do look really nice in it,” I insist. “Will you send me a copy?”

Both of us dying deaths here.


WORK

She spends most of each day working in her room, wrapped in a blanket. It’s late July. If she’s not on a chair, in the blanket, she’s under the duvet, laptop on her stomach. I’ve given up talking about long term damage to her posture.

“I’m making tea. You want some?”

She takes her headset off. I repeat myself.

“Please. And a biscuit.”

Does she ever cocoon, in the blanket, under the duvet?

“Go,” she says, “I’ve got another call.”

I nudge the door to behind me.


REAPPEARANCE

I have an idea for a novel or a film or I don’t know what, if only I could figure out where to start it. A young kid, late teens, early twenties, turns up at home having disappeared for a day or so after a party. None of his friends who went with him saw him leave so they’d assumed he’d walked home on his own or caught a ride from someone else. The party’s on some farmland, remote. He could easily have staggered off drunk, stoned, into the fields to sleep off whatever, nobody’s especially worried about him until he reappears and his face is scratched up, his clothes scorched, slightly, like a hot iron had been sat on them for too long in several places. That and the fact that, when asked where he’s been, he tells his family he was abducted by a UFO, which makes them really mad, why can’t he ever tell the truth and so on. His older brother, convinced he knows what’s going on and what’s always been going on, thinks another guy’s involved, and maybe it turned sour, these not being the most liberal parts they’re living in. The plot thickens when it transpires that a girl who was at the party has also not been seen in days. The kid, instantly a suspect, tells the police, “yeah, I saw her on the UFO, I didn’t know who she was” but of course nobody believes him only, for lack of a body, neither can they arrest him for any crime. She never turns up, dead or alive. His whole life thereafter, he’s treated as a freak and possible girl murderer, struggles to hold down a job, stares into the night sky for hours, is a general mess.

“My god,” Kelsey says when I tell her my idea. “This really happened to you, didn’t it?”


LESS

I decide I’m maybe drinking too much tea and start to cut down. I tentatively restart the push ups. The oranges already look less dried up.

I decide to do the garden fence, since there’s paint left over. Many of the slats cross over like my bottom teeth and, if you stand in the right spot, you can watch the neighbours sunbathe, except the same gaps mean that they’d see you back. Were you to do that. I do my best to straighten the boards.

I’d barely started with the painting when Kelsey startles me. I can’t recall the last time I saw her in direct sunlight. Her eyes don’t seem too familiar with it either so I toss her my sunglasses, which she misses, and one of the lens cracks on the paving but the gesture, I feel, is appreciated and she puts them on. The cracked lens outright falls out the frame but she more or less fumbles it back in.

“You missed a bit,” she says, wonk eyed.  I stand there.  She stands there.

She comes and takes the brush from my hand.


NBlack

Nick Black’s writing has been published in lit mags including Okay Donkey, Splonk, Ellipsis Zine, Entropy, Bending Genres, and Jellyfish Review. He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.

Bird Dog Studios, 1962 by Alice Kaltman

Josie kneels on knees scuffed raw. She tilts her chin upwards as if to take communion. Her bright blue eyes—her ma’s eyes—are lasered at the bulbous silver microphone perched like a hornet’s nest on the stand in front of her.

Pa sits in a dark corner of the recording studio watching her, as always, his brown eyes steeled and rimmed with weary. The pittance of black hair still on his head is slicked back; pink scalp announces itself in alternating stripes. He’s worn his best shirt for this recording session because Bird Dog Studios are Big Time. His button down is bleached and starched so hard Josie could swear she had heard a crack each time Pa turned the steering wheel of the truck as they drove the four long hours towards this place. Towards this opportunity. Pa wouldn’t even crack a window for fear the churned dust from the dirt roads would sully his shirt’s startling whiteness. Josie got droopy from the stalled, hot air inside the truck, nearly fainted, and only felt back to herself once Pa got her a Pepsi from the soda machine in the Bird Dog lounge.

The sound engineer, a nice man who looks like Mr. Payard, her fifth teacher at the school she no longer attends—because it would be a sin to send Josie to school when she has what Pa tells everyone is “a heavenly calling”—adjusts the knobs and dials on the black box attached to the mike. There’s the pop, sizzle, fizz, and sharp tang of electric current on the verge of disaster. But only the verge.

“We’re good to go again, Sweetheart,” nods the nice man. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Mr. Payard had also been nice. He’d told Josie’s ma that Josie was bright the one and only day her ma picked her up from school like the other mothers did all the time. “Whip smart that one”, he’d said, and her mother gasped as if Mr. Payard knew about Pa’s whips, saved for special occasions. Josie squeezed her mother’s arm and consoled, “Not real whips, Mama. All Mr. Payard means is that I’m a good student.”

Now in the still air of Bird Dog’s recording studio, Josie raises her arms, sticky palms clenched. She inhales the deep suck of air her pa likes to tell people is Josie’s way of taking in the Holy Spirit. Sweat stains halo her armpits, ripening the slippery polyester of Josie’s Sunday best. The crimson sash around her waist binds her tighter than a trussed turkey, but there’s no time to adjust. Josie sings her pure little heart out. Voice as sweet as sun-ripened peaches. Voice like an angel. Voice like an exhilarated dove.

Josie gives herself over to song. She doesn’t know what, if anything, she’s channeling. All she knows is she’s singing for Ma, back home. Josie hits perfectly pitched high C’s then drops to a register so low it even shakes the blanketed boards of the studio walls. She imagines her ma bent over the ironing board, or the sink, or the toilet. Scrubbing, pressing, mending. Trying to keep things in order, to save the threadbare, to stretch the dinner of grits with an old cans of beans, to make due so that when Josie and Pa return he won’t have any dark reasons in him. So her ma won’t have to bend over in agony, and Josie won’t have to shut her mouth, her eyes, her ears, after all have been wide, wide open here in Memphis, at Bird Dog Recording Studio where the room is filled with the perfumed notes of hallelujahs and nothing can ever go wrong.


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Alice Kaltman is the author of the story collection Staggerwing, and the novels Wavehouse and The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh. Her new novel, Dawg Towne is forthcoming in April 2021 from word west. Her stories appear in numerous journals including Hobart, Whiskey Paper, Joyland, and BULL: Men’s Fiction, and in the anthologies The Pleasure You Suffer, On Montauk, and Feckless Cunt. Alice lives, writes, and surfs in Brooklyn and Montauk, NY.

Sucker by Chelsea Stickle

We’re reaching through the chain-link fence to get at the tiny yellow honeysuckles when Macy remembers something. Her eyes are sparkling like her mother has promised her afterschool ice cream for no reason. I drag the honeysuckle to my mouth and continue the charade. I suck and suck the way Macy taught me, but I never taste anything. Not really.

Between slurps Macy tells me that she found out there’s a way to learn if you’ll ever get cancer. You just have to see if your hand is bigger than your face. It seems too easy, but Macy’s dad is a doctor. My dad’s an accountant.

I dump my flower in the crumpled pile at my knees, and lean back onto my heels. The trouble with knowing what’s coming is that there are fewer surprises. My fingers spread and my palm covered in love lines and family truths comes closer to whisper what my life will be. Full of birthday parties and midnight kisses and ice cream cake, I hope. Even when I’m old.

My life line rapidly accelerates. Macy’s hand is covering mine like she’s pieing me. One of my fingers is in my eye. My nose feels wrong. The sting reverberates in waves across my face. Only a little faster than my brain understanding what just happened.

The smack is loud enough to get the attention of the girls playing horses nearby but not loud enough for Ms. Cunningham to notice. The girls go into hysterics, falling over each other like they weren’t about to ride each other.

Macy retracts revealing a face full of unbridled glee. Their laughter is her afterschool ice cream and today she’s getting two generous scoops of mint chip. She twirls the flower on her skort and sticks it in her mouth like a prize. The discarded yellow flowers on the woodchips around her, a flower crown.


Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Read more at chelseastickle.com/stories or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.