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.

Trail Blazer by Nick Black

I thought some of the men might balk at voluntary castration but they followed me on that, bless, as they do on everything else. “I left my heart in San Francisco. We left our stones in Tijuana. Soon we’ll shrug off these bodies entirely.” Your eyes twinkle like black diamonds, replied their shining faces. Your words lie our minds down in green pastures.

We take pains to avoid potholes driving North from the clinic.

Crispin points through the windshield to the comet, says “It looks the same here as in the States.” “There are no borders where we’re going,” I say. I say this as our Camaro sits with its engine off in a queue of hot metal stretching ahead of us, behind us, vendors jogging up to our windows with chiller boxes of soda tied around their necks. In between the cars, they slow, double over, rub cold cans down over those knobbly necks, the backs of their heads, pointing down at the road. Then, smiles back on their faces, they jog up to the next car.  I watch them in the rear view, their dusty behinds getting smaller and smaller. I’ll buy us all a Sprite, the next one comes.

It’s hellish hot in here. Once we’ve transcended, Bill Wyres is going to tumble our Earth-stuck carcasses into a pit and torch the flesh and bones before joining us. We’ve discussed this at length. Marion fancied a Viking funeral pyre, our bodies pushed afloat on a boat across a lake, smoke rising up as we’re consumed by fire. Billy Wyres said “Fuck that!” We bought him an ergonomic wheel barrow which promises not to tip over with heavy loads.

Crispin sticks in a cassette of one of my sermons. “When we transcend to the spaceship,” my voice never sounds like it does in my head, “all of our terrestrial pains will be negated. Our shames will be negated. Our mistakes. Our identities. Our pasts. Our fears. Our hurts. We will become holy and bright, as pure and colourful as sunlight passing through the clearest of crystals, and we will cease to be ‘we’ and it will be beautiful.”  The recording ripples with the group’s laughter, crying–happy crying!–the dulled slap of palm meat. He presses Eject, says he thinks the tape’s melting.

I met Marion in a psychiatric hospital. They’ll make a lot of that when this is done, but that’s nothing I can alter now. She was a nurse there. She told me she felt we’d met before in a past life. She said she knew we’d meet again because the aliens had informed her this was our destiny. I wondered if she really was a nurse or one of the patients who’d stolen a uniform. When I raised this with another member of staff, though, they simply upped my medication. Her husband at the time wasn’t too thrilled to hear she’d found Christ Returned in me, and knowing Marion as I’ve come to, I’m sure he heard this day and night and all points in between. He turned up at the hospital with a tyre iron and called me a ponytailed fruit. I turned the other cheek and he split it wide open, taking most of the teeth on that side of my face with it. Over the years, I’ve fantasised the most unholy scenarios involving him. Leaving him and everyone else behind on this doomed planet should be revenge enough, but I still slip out of reverence for our mission every now and then to picture… Pain causing. Extreme pain causing.

Fabio–what a fabulous name–leans over from the back seat with a bottle of tequila. We bought a couple of bottles to wash down the phenobarbital and apple sauce, a memento of our trip. Crispin says “Better put’t away, looks like we’re moving,” and starts up the engine. Up above us, backlit by the midday sun, the comet blazes, ever closer.


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Nick Black manages two small public libraries in North London. His writing has been published in lit mags including Entropy, Jellyfish Review, (b)OINK, the Lonely Crowd, Open Pen, Train Lit Mag, and Funhouse. He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.

Let’s Sing All the Swear Words We Know by Anita Goveas

You’re a girl with a bell-shaped nose and an anchor-shaped birthmark. You’re Antonia cos it’s the closest to the only name your father picked out. You’re not the reason he leaves, but you’re not enough to make him stay. Your lungs are healthy when nothing else is, and you cry like the rushing river, all deadly undercurrents and no end.  You only eat basmati rice and only wear shorts.  You tattoo all your Barbies with indelible ink and sing all the swear words your babysitter teaches you in a chant that all the slaps in the world won’t knock out. You’re a girl with crescent-shaped teeth and your father’s kidney-shaped earlobes. You wear grease like perfume and touch every slug. You love the way numbers line up in your head and hide in Maths lessons under your haphazard fringe and your Pearl Jam t-shirts. You’re drawn to the smell of heated tarmac and leaves as brown as you under a magnifying glass. Your mouth says ‘fuck you’ without you having to open it.  You’re a girl with grapefruit-shaped breasts and a watermelon bottom. You watch the boys as they watch you. You don’t have the words to make anyone stay, you talk to yourself when no-one’s listening. You leave as soon as you can and go back every weekend cos nobody else knows the words to your song.


 

AnitaAnita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She lurks in libraries and her local independent bookshop, Bookseller Crow. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize Anthology, and most recently in Riggwelter Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, former cactus magLitro, and Longleaf Review. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.

Jack Rabbit by Travis Cravey

Leonard would have missed the jack rabbit completely if it hadn’t turned to run. The brown landscape stretching from Highway 90 south to the Chinati range had hid the jack well, but a fearful nature had exposed his cream colored legs to Leonard’s pick-up.

Leonard watched him dart back and forth. He wondered if that jack had any idea where he was going.

Leonard’s concentration was broken and he lost the animal in the scrub when Francisca’s cinnamon hard candies fell from her hand, one by one, onto the floor board. She had been awake a moment before, singing that when her “body was laid to rest, she would go the place that’s the best.”

It would be an hour before they reached the interstate, and three more hours after that to get home to Las Cruces. Normally when they visited her mother’s grave they drove straight, no matter the time, but he felt tired tonight. Van Horn would be as far as he would go today.

This was the first year that his daughter understood where they were, who was laid there, and Leonard was quietly angry she didn’t seem to care. And now singing about the after-life. He was confused. He was tired.

Francisca snored slightly, surely at peace in the arms of God as she knew it. Leonard’s God was, he hoped, still sprinting in the fading light, towards something in the shadow of Sierra Parda.


 

Travis

Travis Cravey is a mechanic in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Selwyn Place by Ann Gelder

 Edna Selwyn’s old house still hadn’t sold. It had been eight months since she died, and the house had been on the market for six. It’s true that the place was in bad shape, and Edna’s daughter had been too cheap (or too deep in mourning) to have it spruced up. The wallpaper was a sunflower pattern from the 1970s, the carpet the color of the red hair dye Edna favored. Also there was moss on the roof, and when the light hit it at a certain angle, the moss glowed in an otherworldly manner.

These cosmetic issues were secondary, however. I knew the real reason no one wanted the Selwyn place. You see, a child was living there—a five-year-old boy, seemingly ordinary, except no ordinary boy could have survived alone in that house for so long. I often saw him in the downstairs window when I looked out from my house across the street. He stuck his thumb against his nose and waggled his fingers, or slid his hand under his armpit and pumped his elbow, producing a flatulent sound.

Mrs. Burke, look at me, he sang. I know you can see me. Look at me.

The boy reminded me of one of my kindergarten students from decades ago, a very spirited child named David Dockery. When I said it was time for Silent Reading, David would take that as his cue to stand on his chair, flap his arms, and squawk like a chicken. More than once, when I was writing on the board and turned unexpectedly, I caught him mirroring, or rather exaggerating, my movements, waving his invisible chalk in great swoops and, for some reason, wiggling his behind. The other children found him hilarious. I admit, I secretly admired his anti-authority mindset. He wasn’t going to take any crap from The Man, or The Woman in my case, even if that crap was building the foundation for his future.

At any rate, whenever the real estate agent tried to show the Selwyn house, the boy must have peered out from behind the ragged old curtains, or stood behind the agent, silently mimicking her as she extoled the house’s hidden virtues. Confused and frightened, potential buyers made excuses and fled. Meanwhile, the place was deteriorating by the day, taking with it the neighborhood’s property values. And no one was doing anything about it.

Therefore, one warm spring night, I broke through the glass door at the back of the house with a tire iron and poured gasoline all over the living room. I lit a match and threw it toward the curtains. The flames flared with a Whump! that resounded through my whole body.

As I turned to make my escape, I noticed the painting of a young boy over the mantel. I had forgotten all about this painting, though there was no reason I should have remembered it. I had only been to Edna Selwyn’s house once, to discuss the AT&T box. All the neighbors refused to let AT&T put a U-Verse box in front of their houses, so I said, Sure, put it in front of mine. Now an ugly box looms over my lawn, and everyone has high-speed internet.

But who was the boy in the painting? Edna had no sons. The work was amateurish, likely from a garage sale, which was perhaps why Edna’s daughter didn’t want it. From the boy’s joyful grin, it was clear that he believed he was loved—at the time the painting was made, at least. Obviously, that was not true now.

I had no more time to ponder. The flames cackled behind me, yearning to consume me and the painting together. I snatched the boy off the wall and ran with him out the back door. With the painting propped beside me, I watched from my living room as the Selwyn place burned to cinders.

When the house collapsed, the painted boy, whom I decided to call David, turned to me and whispered, Thank you. He had been trapped alone in the house, you see. But when the place sold, he would likely have met an even more dismal fate in a landfill. His only choice was to keep buyers away as long as possible and hope a sympathetic soul like me rescued him.

After the fire, the debris was cleared away and the grass replanted. The lot is still for sale, at a reduced price, but at least we don’t have a decrepit old house bringing down our property values.

As with the AT&T box, none of the neighbors has thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. But I don’t mind. Since they’ve never given me a moment’s consideration, they will never suspect that I burned down the Selwyn place, even though the painting I technically stole hangs over my fireplace for anyone to see.

And now, at last, I have someone to talk to.


 

ann_gelder

Ann Gelder’s fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Monkeybicycle, Tin House Open Bar, and elsewhere. Her first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby (Bona Fide Books), is a satire set in 1980s America.