Welcome to Bright Flash Literary Review, an online literary journal.
Submission guidelines: Flash fiction (50-word minimum), fiction, and memoir will be considered. 1500 word maximum for all submissions. Simultaneous submissions are permitted. Please notify us ASAP if your work is accepted elsewhere.
Translations not accepted.
Submit only one piece at a time and wait for a response before submitting again.
Please include a short biographical statement in the event that your work is accepted. This is very important!
Average response time is 30 days. If you have not heard from us in more than 60 days, feel free to follow-up.
If your work is accepted, please wait six months before submitting again.
If your work is declined, please wait 30 days before submitting again.
Repeated violations of our guildlines may result in being blocked from our site.
Authors retain rights to their work, but are strongly advised to honor other publications guidelines concerning previously published work.
We are a non-paying market, but also do not charge submission fees.
New stories are posted at the beginning of each month.
The cafe bustled with the Saturday afternoon crowd, reading newspapers and drinking coffees and wines engaging in an endless din of conversation. Novels spoken, instead of composed on paper, stories never to be repeated.
I wondered about what those words were, just out of reach unheard, while I sat in a worn chair in the corner. The place had been around for nearly a century, a relic on the verge of financial collapse due to the effects of the pandemic. Recently, they opened up indoor dining, with restrictions. I was lucky. I was here first.
But words. Statements unheard. I remembered something from a long time ago, when I realized my partner was abusive, and our relationship on the verge of collapse. I was different then, and that transformation was due to an epiphany while riding the downtown train to work.
I sat in the crowded subway, thinking about the sadness of a conversation in which years are scrubbed clean with the distance of alienation. I thought, I do not hate her, though at times I wish I could.
I considered doing so would make the bitterness palatable. But no—I did not—not at that very moment.
Instead, I felt little more than a willingness to surrender my heart to the future, rather than continuing to for her. I certainly heard her anger leaving the house to work, the intensity of her frustration.
As the doors opened, and I traversed to the platform, it struck me. Honestly, there is nothing, I thought. Only a space separate and distant. I realized then I could go no further.
Those were the words in my café conversation, although known only to myself and silent, yet loudly true in my mind. But that was a long time ago; remembering is something I never quite learned to forget. Instead, I comfortably laid with the lie, and snuggled it close.
That was my epiphany, then. It took a long time to escape, but again, that was a long time ago.
I ordered another Moretti and tried to read. Working from home, coupled with the social isolation because of the pandemic made it more difficult to concentrate. All of my friends had left the city at various stages. Neighbors of long standing were moving away; daily, for months on my morning walk I would pass relatively new furniture piled on street corners. Mostly bedframes and mattresses. Small signs of an apocalypse unimagined in our time, unexpectedly upon on, suffocating tens of thousands hooked to ventilators, as medical staff risked their lives desperately tried to save them.
I stayed. I had no choice. I had nowhere to run to and was committed to stay at my job in the city where I live. I regret that now.
The social isolation made worse with conference calls with half the participants with their video turned off. I wondered what they did not want me to see. Their increasing haggardness? The homes not as tidy? One never knows, do one, to quote Fats Waller the jazz singer my mother loved to listen to, along with Ella and O’Day.
Yes, one never knows, do one?
I tried to keep attention to my book. It was Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth, as tragic a figure in literary history as prodigious as his output. A product of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he later worked as a journalist in Berlin until Weimar fell to Hitler.
He fled to Paris and drank himself to death. Like Delmore Schwartz, the entire world flowed into his mouth like water to a drowning man.
Roth wrote a novel about Job, enough said. I understand him in every word I read of Hotel Savoy, a book notable for including the first literary reference to a rabble rouser named Adolf Hitler.
Suddenly the music in the café changed to Strauss. The Radetzky Waltz.
This was not a time to be reminded of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Or Joseph Roth, who wrote a novel by that title.
I later wrote in my journal. The painful realities of the present always inform the harsh choices in the future.
Meanwhile the multitudes outside my window gabbed muffled and discordant.
* * *
Mike Lee is a writer, editor and photographer for a trade union in New York City. His work appears in Lunate, Ghost Parachute, trampset and many others.
Craig straddled the stool, hunched over the Formica bar top in the neon-lit 24-hour donut shop as the Talking Heads’ melancholic “This Must be the Place” played in the background, reminding him of all the times it drove him to tears when he was serving in Iraq.
The veteran night reporter covered all manner of crime, murder, fire, arson and madness during those late-night hours. In between assignments, he hung out in the old school donut shop with the laminate booths, listening to the scanner on his phone for any mayhem he’d have to go track down. He could type on his laptop in relative peace, though drunken bar-goers occasionally could get loud and rowdy. It was a good place for sources and tips as it often was filled with cops, EMTs, third-shift steelworkers and a miscellany of offbeat night owls.
“The usual?” Marla asked before ringing up his order in the stodgy, antiquated cash register.
“You know it,” Craig said before asking her about her day and if it finally would stay quiet tonight, “for everyone’s sake.”
He sidled up to his usual seat where he watched the headlights hypnotically pass by on the dark asphalt outside that pane of glass.
In addition to the well-worn comfort of routine and the need to camp out somewhere in between visits to crime tape-cordoned crime scenes, there was also the sustained rush of sugar and Styrofoam cups of dishwasher coffee, which was nothing fancy but got the job done. To keep unnatural hours, you need not only the adrenaline of rushing out to crime scenes in dodgy urban neighborhoods but also a steady percolated drip of stimulation. Otherwise, your eyes sagged, your typing fingers faltered, your weary body ached for the sweet release of sleep.
Craig bit into a chocolate donut and swigged a swill of what passed for coffee there just before his eyes widened.
Headlights blinded him as they drew inextricably toward the glass facade of the mid-century temple to glazed dough rings, waxing bigger and bigger, as large and looming as a blood moon. A sedan older than most of the busboys abruptly slammed through the brick part of the facade, shattering the glass into a thousand little shards. Craig instinctively recoiled and the glass that did pepper him bounced off harmlessly.
Smoke billowed from the smashed-up hood of the car, as patrons screamed and ran about. Metal crunched and screamed. An elderly driver wobbled out as the roof lurched, the load-bearing beams apparently weakened.
Craig went to take another bit of his chocolate donut before noticing the dusting of glass on the glazed frosting. He shook it off, then thought better of it after remembering reading a story about soldiers who were fed ground glass at a chow hall in the Iraq War until their intestines were cut up beyond repair.
Surveying the extent of the damage, he realized he’d likely have to find somewhere new, maybe an all-night Greek diner or other greasy spoon, to regroup and establish a base of operations during these long night shifts. Repairs likely would take months.
But here he was in the center of everything, not responding, not running off to some unknown street or darkened alley.
He put the donut down, adequately jazzed the havoc all around, and grabbed his reporter’s notebook, flipping it open to a blank page and scribbling his pen on the lined paper to make sure it worked. This was better than any sugar high, any caffeine rush. For once, he didn’t have to speed off anywhere, donut in hand and lidless coffee left behind.
For once, the story came to him.
But it was in that moment, when steam wafted off the busted-up hood of the Buick amid the slow-motion tableau of shattered glass, piled brick and panicked cries as the neon “donut” sign blazed like a gaudy lighthouse in the slate black of night, that he realized how everything suddenly could come crashing down unexpectedly at any time. He foresaw how he would eventually get called into a dread conference room and be laid off from his print newspaper job, how his dream of eking out a living as a writer would be unceremoniously stripped from him, and how the paper itself would eventually go under as the younger readers all migrated online, where society stopped valuing paying for news and advertisers no longer coughed up huge premiums that subsidized theater reviews, gardening advice columns and other community news.
In that moment, Craig saw that everything that once seemed as sturdy and enduring as that donut shop’s brick facade could end up crumbled all around him. He saw everything for what it was, with the limited shelf life of a donut that could be consumed right away or discarded as a stale vestige of yesterday morning.
* * *
Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an author, an Indiana University graduate, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. Pete is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee whose writing and photography have appeared in more than 200 literary journals, including The Grief Diaries, Proximity Magazine, Gravel, The Offbeat, Oddball Magazine, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His plays have been staged at the Detroit Heritage Theater Festival and the Salem State University 10-Minute Veterans Play Festival. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.
A fierce downpour pounded the pavement outside Birmingham International Airport and lashed against my windscreen. The rear lights of the car in front lit up, and a cloud of exhaust fumes gusted into the night air. Through the dissipating smoke I saw her walking towards me, dressed in a red coat. She placed a case on the pavement next to my cab.
I stepped outside, keeping my face down, away from the bitter rain. “Taxi?”
“Yes, please. Highbridge Road.” My last fare of the night.
Something about her accent reminded me of someone as I opened the door to let her in.
I started the engine and tried to put a face to the distinctive voice. “Been anywhere nice?”
In my rear view mirror I watched as her brow creased in thought and she removed her hat. “Ireland,” she said, and it clicked.
We were a couple, fifteen years ago. That unmistakable Irish lilt brought me back to student days, gigs, drunkenly stumbling around cheap student accommodation, talking and smoking into the early hours.
“Dan.” She smiled.
“How are you?”
“I’m okay.“ She paused a moment, then continued. “I’m back for a book signing tomorrow.”
“A book signing? That’s great.” She had aspirations of being a writer when we were at university.
Our relationship had been intense and unpredictable, joyful yet exhausting. It ended when she returned to Ireland to ‘get her head straight’, leaving me devastated.
“I wrote to you.” she whispered.
I glanced in my mirror and saw her beautiful dark familiar eyes. I took a deep breath. “The lease ran out on my house shortly after you left. I didn’t get any letters.”
We were silent for a few minutes, the windscreen wipers clearing the raindrops that distorted my view.
In the rear view mirror I saw shadows move across her face.
“How have you been?” she asked. “Are you married?”
“No…still looking for the right person. You?”
“I’m going through a divorce.”
“Sorry to hear that.” I said. She looked outside at the passing city landscape and I turned onto the expressway.
As I pulled up to her house I told her I was glad we’d run into each other. She opened her purse, and pulled out a fifty pound note for the twenty pound fare. “Thanks for the lift.”
I went to give her change but she held up her hand in protest. Was she trying to communicate something? Was it an apology?
“Thanks.” I said.
I watched her walk down the path to her house. She went inside without looking back.
I held up the fifty-pound note, and inked in the corner was a telephone number and a name, Lulu.
* * *
Andy Martin is a philosophy teacher in England. He has had a number of short stories published in magazines and has won two short story writing competitions. He is the author of ‘How to write short stories of Love & Entanglement’ under the pseudonym Andy Houstoun.
They moved in syncopation with one another in a way that only long-time couples do. My envy at them spending a lifetime together warmed to the core, and that is what made it so spellbinding.
They were an elderly pair, and perhaps not comfortable with technology. Instead of a phone to guide them, they used a folded paper map. They took a few steps, looked up, around and back, and turned the map every which way. I stared as they scoured the buildings, decorated with gothic and neoclassical façades lining the riverbank, yet must not correlated with where the man kept his finger glued to the map. He cocked his head to the right, gave a pronounced pout and shrugged his shoulders in defeat. His head bent over the map, and when he turned slightly sideways to me, I saw his camel overcoat buckle at the back of the neck, emphasizing the professorial stoop of his shoulders.
The woman faced him. She had a lock of gray hair that repeatedly poked at her mid-cheek, accentuating her sharp, angular chin. As she repetitively pushed the same lock behind her ear with her right thumb, I did not mean to stare, but they were magical to watch. She manipulated a small silver camera with her left hand, bringing it to her eye. It remained for a moment before she removed the camera string from her wrist, and shoved it into her pocket.
The wind picked up, and they both pulled their coats tightly at the neck. She pulled olive-green, leather gloves from her pocket. As I approached, she proceeded to pull the first glove onto her right hand with the left, and then raised her left wrist to her mouth, tugging with her teeth to pull the other one on.
I crossed the street and we walked towards one another. Like slugs slithering across a leaf, they barely lifted their feet from the wet pavement. In a trance, I remained fixated on the pair. They resembled fraternal twins, walking close to one another. The closer I got, the more I found the similarity breathtaking. While I did not like to think of myself in years so far along, I did hope someone would one day look at me and think these same thoughts.
Stepping carefully, they walked in the middle of the sidewalk thus avoiding being whisked to their demise by a car passing too closely to the pavement’s edge. When were but a few feet apart, the man asked in accent-less French for directions, quite obviously assuming moi to be a native speaker. Perhaps it was the head-to-toe black, and the scarf tied just-so that caused me to look so Parisienne. My son, who was of carriage bound age could not reveal that I was not Française. I pursed my lips, said oooh-la-la, and held out my hand for their map. English and French vied for my brain’s attention, like children pounding at the bathroom door for a mother seeking respite.
Silently, I channeled Madame Pinot. Madame who clutched her hand to her gorge-deep, cleavage bahzums(her word) in my 10th grade French class, as she suffered une crise de fois. I did Madame proud. My dream from those early days of Madame, as she stood facing the class resting her hand on top of her bazuhms, was to voyage to a foreign land, immerse myself in its foreign-ness, and experience a different life away from what I knew. And whisked away finally came. From the moment the call came to our studio apartment in Hoboken regarding a transfer to Paris, I felt electricity flow through my veins. My husband, Jean-Paul told me New Jersey fulfilled his rêve of a foreign land and said he did not want to go. Whining about my desire to sip overtly strong coffee, eat a warm hardboiled egg, and consume an éclair from Dalloyau while overlooking the Jardin du Luxumbourg, thankfully won out. Within several weeks we found ourselves crammed into two coach seats with crunched knees, and a baby seatbelt extender holding our offspring securely on my lap.
Opening the map, the man asked, içi, and pointed to a spot between the folds. Non, I replied. Vous etês içi, monsieur. Puffing my cheeks and letting a little rush of air come out from my pursed lips, as red-lipped women often do in Truffaut films, my reply was quipped ever so French-ly. I wore not a trace of lipstick, yet I felt French. I gave my scarf a tiny tug. Enter stage left, and I did. In anticipation of this moment, it was the performance I had planned for in front of my mother’s bathroom mirror. Lips creamily reddened to perfection, my mother’s Chanel lipstick cracked in half, having twisted fully out of the golden tube, I used the broken bit to smudge my pouting lips. Hours of my high school years spent pursing, puffing and poising as I birthed my inner ingénue.
Comment puis-je aider, I asked in the foreign mother tongue. I did not mean to be rude, but I was having my magical moment, and no one knew otherwise. The wind gave a few short, chilly gusts, and dried, brown leaves swirled around the carriage wheels. Shrugging their shoulders, they said nothing. The woman, looked down at my son, and smiled at him. He made a baby noise in return and did not give me away.
Pulling a phrase book from her pocket, she searched for words and phrases fervently thumbing with her glove-covered hands. I could have switched to English, but I would not be the one to crush their adventure. Yet what they requested, I knew not why they wanted to go there, but surmised a waft of homesickness perhaps. In Paris, how could one not crave Rothchilds, éclairs, biftek and frites, was beyond moi, as it was what moi came for and why moi stayed.
My first thought was to send them elsewhere. Direct them to where I wanted them to go. Have the experience I wanted them to have. The sky darkened a bit more as the clouds shifted from gray to a black, billowy mist. I buttoned my own coat at the throat. I pulled my son’s hat back over his ears, as it had slipped up his sparsely-haired head, thus resembling a beanie.
Would you not like a pâtisserie? A boulangerie? Un café or brasserie? I screamed in my head thinking of every place a Frenchman would care to dine, repast or imbibe. Walls, yellowed with Galois-laden air, is to experience the essence of the French, add a Pernod or Cassis, and the memory is sealed.
I glanced across the river at the Musée D’Orsay’s gray exterior. We were in the city of lights and love. In broken French, she asked again. Reluctantly, I replied I had seen the place they requested on the Champs Élysées.
The rain began, and I pointed at the taxi stand across the street. I pulled the clear plastic rain cover over the front of the stroller and reached inside the diaper bag, hanging from the stroller’s handle for my rain hat.
Merçi, merçi they said over and over again, smiling and lowering their heads in gratitude. She fished around in her bag, and pulled out a small burgundy umbrella, removed the cover, and pushed it open. They leaned close to one another, the umbrella being only big enough to shelter their heads, and waited for the little digital, green man on the traffic light with his leg extended, to indicate safe passage across the street. I stayed in place, observing as they crossed the street. I watched as they hooked arms, stepped off the curb and over the puddle in tandem. Still within earshot, I overheard her exclaim, as she grabbed his sleeve, see Harold, they do have nice people, Big Macs andFrench Fries in Paris. He turned to her, closed his eyes for a moment, and bowed his head forward, slightly. Much in the same way that Jean-Paul looked at me when he caved on moving to Paris, the pair smiled as their eyes met, and he was obviously letting her know she was right.
I waited until the cab started to pull away. I waved, but they did not look up. In the silvery, grainy effect of the rain, they began to fade.
* * *
Kate Becker lives and writes in coastal Maine. Walking daily by the ocean, traveling, and food are her passions and the basis of her short stories. A novel filled with French food is underway for 2021. Creative writing courses at Sarah Lawrence, Fairfield University, Westport Writer’s Workshop, and an MS in PR/Communications (NYU), have honed her skills as a writer. She is a member of MWPA and WFWA. Learn more at katebecker.co and Follow the Food! Bleuberet.co.
Abner once again worked late on Friday, trying to save himself from having to come in Saturday, this time to finish up his part of the annual report that was due Monday. He came close, but just grew too tired after 11 hours of work on that day. So, he headed home, depressed and exhausted.
He walked up the three flights of stairs to his apartment and pulled out his keys to unlock the door. Taped to the door, just above the knob, was an envelope. He pulled off the tape, took the envelope into the kitchen with him and took out a bowl from the cabinet above the sink. After filling the bowl with generic brand corn flakes and adding 2% milk, he sat down at the white painted table, with his jacket still on, to have his sad supper.
Before taking up his spoon, he looked at the envelope he’d laid on the table, picked it up and tore the end off, pulling out a folded sheet of paper. He unfolded and read it.
“To the residents of 1040 Pinkerton Parkway: We’ve had several new folks move into apartments in our building the past few months and, so that we can all meet one another, the Wolenskis are having a little get-together Saturday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. in our apartment, #3. We’ll have snacks, cookies and other desserts. Please come and meet all our neighbors. Signed – Marvin and Cecilia Wolenski.”
Saturday, October 19, was the next weekend and Abner decided to attend the get-together. Why not?
Maybe he would meet a nice neighbor and have someone to commiserate with after these long work days.
On entering the Wolenski’s apartment, he wrote his name on a ‘Hello, My Name Is’ tag and pasted it over his shirt pocket. Cecilia came over and read his name tag. “Ah, so you’re Abner. I think we met once in the laundry room. How long have you been living here?”
“It’ll be three years in November.”
“That’s nice. Hopefully, we’ll see you around more often. We have three new families for you to meet.” Cecilia pointed to one family, a man and woman, looking like they were in their early 30s, with a small girl at their side, maybe 6 or 7 years old. “Those are the Derns.”
She pointed to a tall man who appeared to be 40 or so years old. “That’s Don. He works for a downtown bank.”
Lastly, Cecilia pointed to a stool in the corner of the open area, near the kitchen, and said, “And that’s Lois. She moved in a few weeks ago and hasn’t said too much. We think she works at a school, but don’t know for sure what she does. Pretty shy, I’d say.”
Again, from Cecilia, “Why don’t you have a snack and introduce yourself to everyone?” And she walked back to the front door to welcome another guest.
Abner looked around and it seemed everyone was engrossed in conversation with someone else. Except for Lois. He stared at her, sitting on the stool in the corner, with nobody else talking in her direction. So, he walked over.
Lois didn’t look quite like the other residents. In fact, she appeared to be a large clam.
He introduced himself and asked which apartment she lived in. But her shell just remained clamped shut. “It’s a bit intimidating meeting all these folks. Especially when they seem to know each other and you don’t know any of them. I’m in apartment #6, on the 3rd floor.” Lois remained closed. Her shell didn’t move and Abner heard no response. He leaned against the wall and looked over at her for a few seconds.
“Our hostess said you work at a school. Do you teach there?”
“You look like you like the water. Do you get to Platt’s Beach much?” (Platt’s Beach was just a mile from where they lived.)
No response, although Abner thought he saw a slight separation of the top and bottom shells.
“I haven’t had much time to get to the beach, but it’s a nice place this time of year. Just cool enough to keep the bathers away but warm enough to walk and listen to the waves come in.” Abner waited for a response. The separation of the shells closed slowly.
“I think I’ll go get a snack. Can I bring you something?” No response. “I’ll pick out something. Be right back.”
Abner walked into the kitchen and grabbed two paper plates. On one he placed two sesame crackers and two pieces of pepper jack cheese along with a few grapes. On the other plate, he added two brownies and an oatmeal cookie. Then he took two paper cups already filled with lemonade, carefully figured how to carry all four items back to the corner and put the plates on the empty stool next to the one
Lois was perched on and put the cups onto a small table next to the stools.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d want, so got us a mixed platter.” He grinned at his witticism. But still nothing from Lois.
“I forgot napkins. Be right back.”
Abner walked back into the kitchen and grabbed two napkins, then turned to return to Lois but was intercepted by Cecilia, the hostess.
“Did you get her to talk? She seems pretty shy. We’ve seen her a couple of times in the hallway and said hello, but she doesn’t seem to say much. Well, I hope you’re having a nice time.” Then she walked back into the living room, to the other guests.
Abner took the napkins and went back to the corner where he’d left the plates of food. Lois was gone. Maybe to the bathroom? But after waiting 10 minutes and no return, he figured she’d gone home. He wandered through the apartment but didn’t want to interrupt the other guests’ conversations, so turned to Cecilia and said thank you, that he was tired and was going to turn in early but it was a nice party and a good thing to do.
Back in his apartment, he sat at his white kitchen table and rubbed his eyes then went on to bed. That night he dreamed of the ocean.
The next morning, he woke up feeling groggy, but quickly brushed his teeth and got dressed to walk up to the corner store and pick up a Sunday New York Times. When he opened his door, he found a small cardboard box sitting just outside, which he brought in and placed on the kitchen table.
Inside the box was a small jar with sand in it and a note that said, “Thank you for talking with me last night. Maybe we can get a cup of coffee some time and I’ll try to be better about keeping the conversation going.” It was signed “Your neighbor, Lois.”
Abner smiled and walked down the three flights of stairs whistling the tune from an old Bobby Darin song, ‘Beyond the Sea.” He didn’t feel groggy anymore.
* * *
Barry is retired and lives in Ashland, Virginia where he writes poetry and short fiction and takes care of his vegetable garden and the woods that surround it.
She woke to in that in-between place where dream and mindfulness mingle. A pleasantly obscuring fog, not unlike the cool ground cloud that now drifted from the lake to obscure the trees and shrubs along the shore, robbing all color.
Delores held her eyes closed for minutes longer, listening to the silence. Sibilance. The word came to her unbidden, like poetry, and slowly she realized there were muted sounds all around her after all. A tree rubbed it’s leaves together, a breeze sighed against the window, distant birds argued over the best place to dine. Her own breath synced with the ticking of the wall clock.
Today, she thought. Today perhaps I’ll get up, make the coffee, do some painting, play songs on the radio. At the absurdness of those thoughts, she nearly laughed, then choked up, frozen in her cocoon of blankets.
Perhaps. She drifted off again, dreaming soft, effervescent dreams with no meaning, but comforting, nonetheless.
“Honey, time to get up. We need to talk. I’m grieving too, you know, and frankly, I think this has gone on long enough. Maybe it was a mistake coming here. I thought, well, I thought it would be good to get away, help us…” Jack stopped talking as Delores opened her eyes.
Delores studied her husband for a long minute. His plaid robe hung open from his shoulders, revealing curled hair that formed a V that sunk into his pajama bottoms. His serious brown eyes were shadowed, and it seemed like a patina of grey hung over him.
Jack absentmindedly raked his hand over his stubbled chin.
“Come on. At least help me make breakfast,” he said as he walked away towards the kitchen.
Delores slowly swiveled out of bed, her feet seeking the slippers underneath. Her right hand automatically went to her belly, protectively, and she waited for the phantom flutters in her womb to plague her as they had so often for these past several weeks. This morning, nothing. Nothing but stillness in her body. This, too, saddened her.
In the kitchen, Delores sat herself down at the kitchen table and numbly accepted the steaming cup of hot coffee her husband handed her. The aroma of coffee co-mingled with the scents of junipers, evergreens, wet loamy earth scent, her own and Jack’s personal scents. She realized then, she hadn’t really smelled, tasted, heard, felt, touched or been touched in a very long time. Nor had she wanted to feel anything, sense anything. She resented the encroachment of senses now, and if it hadn’t been for Jack sitting across from her, both hands cupped around his coffee cup, eyes glittering, confronting her, she would have run back to her comforting bed to close her eyes again, shut out the world.
“Look, we have to get back. I’ve nearly used up all my vacation and personal days, and, well, shit’s going on in the company, and I need to be there. Or someone else will. You should get back to work, too.
“And hon? You, we, need to move on. Get back into a routine, be around other people, put this behind us. What happened happened, it sucks, but let’s get on with our lives, yeah?” Jack looked down at his hands, now clasped over his knees.
“No.” The single syllable escaped Delores’ mouth without her thought or permission, but as soon as the word was uttered, Delores felt defeated.
“No?” Jack’s voice rose in incredulity. “We have to get back! I have to work! And I need you to participate in us. You’ve got to stop moping around. Do you think you have a license on sadness? Don’t you think other people have been through this sort of thing and worse? There’s no joy in you anymore, Delores, and to be honest, you’ve just about sucked all the joy out of me!”
“Go, then,” Delores said. “I want to be alone.”
“Alone? For how long?”
“I don’t know.” Delores said, looking out the kitchen window, seeing nothing.
Jack sighed. Then with a suddenness that made Delores jump, Jack slammed his fist down on the table and stalked off towards the guest bedroom he’d been using.
Delores could hear the angry sounds, thuds of Jack throwing clothes into his suitcase. He’s not even bothering to fold anything, she thought. He’ll be sorry for that later. She closed her eyes tight, but this time the kaleidoscope of images was not of sadness, but of happy times shared with Jack. The day they necked out in the cornfields, the first time they cooked pasta sauce together, joking and arguing, finally ending up on the kitchen floor laughing, tickling, licking sauce off of each other’s faces…. the way he gently held her and cried with her at the hospital, insisting they go away for a while.
Delores studied the steam rising from her coffee cup. Outside, the sun was bravely trying to part the fog. She rose up and paddled into the spare bedroom Jack was using at her request. She slipped her arms around his waist, and he froze, shirts clutched in his fists.
“OK” she breathed into his back, leaning into him.
Jack slowly turned around in the circle of Delores’ arms until he faced her. When she lifted her face to his, he bent down and kissed her. Tenderly, tentatively, but when she returned his kiss, he deepened it and lifted her onto the bed. He stretched out beside her, stroking her, still wary. She placed her hands on his shoulders, though, bringing them together again. She was smiling. For the first time in weeks she smiled, and Jack knew then that the world would continue to turn, the seasons would continue to change, and although there might be great sadness in their lives, there was, would be, joy as well.
* * *
Laura DiMartino graduated Columbia College with a degree in English/Creative writing, later got a master’s degree in teaching. After 20 years teaching 5th grade in Joliet, Illinois, she now lives in Florida writing poetry and prose, painting, and protecting endangered animals. She was recently published in New American Writing #38.
She loved flea markets. Looked for them wherever she went. Why? Because she loved seeing things she could turn into something else. A vase — well that could become a lamp. An abstract painting might look better hung on its side. The interesting dress fabric could be a great pillow– right? No, she just hated to sew so she passed up that item. A lampshade into a doll for the daughter she had never had.
Her mother long ago and her husband now were perpetually mystified. “Why do you always have to turn one thing into another thing?” they would each say in an exasperated tone. Leave well enough alone. Accept things as they are.
Her marriage was not a good one but she had long ago abandoned any hope of turning her husband into someone he was not: someone who loved children, someone who admired the things she transformed.
As she wandered the stalls picking up one object after another she wondered what to do next and came upon her most audacious project yet: She would transform her marriage into a divorce.
* * *
Anita Kestin, MD, MPH, has worked in academics, nursing homes, hospices, and locked wards of a psychiatric facility. She’s a daugther (of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust), wife, mother, grandmother, progressive activist. She is now attempting to calm nerves and stave off longing for family reunions by writing (memoir, short fiction, and nonfiction.)
It wasn’t Playboy or even Penthouse, it was a stack of really crummy nudie magazines that my Mom found under my bed, titles like Palm Companion and Born Slutty. No one ever claimed they read these publications for the articles because there wasn’t anything to read.
I chose under the bed to store my possessions because no one vacuumed there, seemingly more secure than Fort Knox, until my Mom picked this day to rearrange my room without telling me, discovering my cache.
It was meant to constitute a surprise.
Nothing happened for days, I awkwardly navigated my encounters with my parents and at dinner, our small talk became smaller.
Until the talk occurred. Or should I say, the intervention.
I had my feet propped up onto the top of my desk, leaning back while reading a depressing Thomas Hardy novel, when my Dad knocked and asked, “may we come in?”
To this day, I regret not saying, “no,” but of course I let them in, since they owned the room.
They stumbled in and sat at the edge of my bed, as Dad handed me all of my dirty magazines.
“I believe that these are yours, your mother found these the other day when she was rearranging your room. We are returning them to you, they are yours, it was wrong of us to take them away from you.”
Wait, what, it wasn’t wrong? They spent all of this money on Catholics school tuition, and here I was, choking the bishop during my free time. I expected a form of punishment, but they did the worst thing possible, they gave me a mulligan. Please just make me feel bad and get it over with….
“Your father and me understand that you are growing up, and we understand your curiosity, so we bought you a year’s subscription to Playboy.”
“Consider it an early Christmas present.”
“Yes, and if I want to look at it when you are done, you won’t pull rank on your old man, will you? I like to read the articles.”
“Well you go back to your studying.”
“Yes, thank you, I guess.”
They departed, shutting my bedroom door with a blend of respect and empathy. Owning Palm Companion felt oddly sanctified.
Initially, I felt relief, no longer embarrassed or frightened that they meant to ground me until I was thirty-five years old, then through osmosis, I began to fathom that I had somehow lost my parents to two entities whom tried to be buddies, or at worst mad psychologists.
When the first Playboy arrived, my parents knocked on my door and ceremoniously handed it to me. I avoided my Dad’s gaze, convinced that he was winking at me.
Instead, he said, “If you’d like a few minutes alone, your mother and me could drive over to Kleinschaefers to pick up some coffee.”
“That’s alright Dad, I have a lot of homework, but thanks again, I think I’ll hold off on the honeymoon for now.”
Each month I dreaded the arrival of my adult magazine, it made sex feel so undirty, something my parents apparently did. They wrested from me the joy of masturbation.
They tried to talk to me, to determine “where I was coming from,” a catchphrase that emerged once parents determined that drugs had Pied-Pipered their children away.
Mom intimated that women enjoyed “that thing,” belying the myth that only boys indulged in onanism, and Dad related his old fling with Betty Grable, though they never met.
Talking solved nothing, I felt bad enough in my status as the only Campion kid who never went to a high school prom, even my schizophrenic oldest brother got lucky before he got unlucky. I wanted a girlfriend, never wished to feel self-conscious again, nor engage in fruitless introspection, the unevictible thoughts in my head. But I could not fix that hole in the ground. And neither could Mom and Dad.
Maybe they thought that like Frank, I was going crazy and that talking it out might prevent me from joining him at the state hospital, I don’t know because we rarely spoke to each. Instead of keeping my bedroom room door shut, I opened it, and played loud music on the stereo to repel them, like the US Army did to make Noriega wig out. In rare instances when the music died, I shook off my parents, claiming that I had tough Physics homework due, even though I did not take any Physics class, but they did not know that.
An unofficial truce formed, an agreement to not talk about puberty and its permutations, or anything else.
It ended as they drove me to campus my freshman year in college, as we winded our way in the car to the Quad, where I’d get my dorm assignment and drop off my suitcases and steamer trunk.
We had to pass through this long tunnel, the last moment before the roller coaster turned manically scary, and I thought that there must be somehow that my parents and me might find some formula to get along with each other and live together happily again, the way we did before my Mom found my magazines.
Our car exited the tunnel into the Quad as the sun shot through the windshield. Helpful undergrads wearing visors greeted me with smiles as my Dad emptied the car of my belongings.
He hugged me, “Well, I guess that’s it.” He got back into the car and he drove away with my Mom.
The student volunteers grabbed my stuff and told me to follow them to my dorm room. Had I thought about it, I might have imagined Mom and Dad that night, driving home for several hours, terribly upset that they had just lost their youngest child; not knowing that, that instead of driving home, they danced past midnight, as angels, blessedly free of me.
* * *
Donald Hubbard has written six books, one of which was profiled on Regis and Kelly and another that was a Boston Globe bestseller and Amazon (category) top ten. Two books have gone into a second edition and he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame as an author in 2015. Since 2016, he has published forty stories in twenty-five magazines and had a chapter from one of his books published in Notre Dame Magazine. He studied English at Georgetown and the University of Kent.
Ma always said it was because she liked potatoes, but I figured out pretty quickly that it was because that’s all that we had left by the end of the week. It became our Sunday night meal. Every week, ma would try and create something delicious from the stark naked potatoes, the curly peels sitting in a dirty pile on the top of the scraps bin. One week it would be the last of the bacon and a dishevelled green onion, the next a mixture of spices remaining in the worn canisters and some fennel that grew just past the letterbox. I never liked it when there was rosemary, it made the bottom of the bowl sandy and thick.
Whenever dad was around he’d lavish the house with plenty of fruit, fill the coldstore with meat and hide a secret stash of sweets for me and my brothers. We would sit around the clunky wooden table and mismatched chairs and ma would put on her favourite blue dress and set serving platters of food for everyone. We would laugh, believing that this time we could all be happy and things would go back to normal. But then they would fight. Over money, his drinking, the state the house was in. And we would wake up the next morning to an empty table and ma’s frown lines etched even deeper into her leathered skin.
One particular Sunday, dad was nowhere to be found. He ‘travelled for work’, ma would tell us when we were kids. Sebastian and I, being the oldest, were instructed to spend the afternoon collecting kindling for the fire. The woodshed was empty save for a few splinters that fell from the last load. We pulled a half-rusted toboggan up what seemed to our little legs to be a treacherous mountain. It took us hours to load it up with branches and hack as much as we could from the trees that remained standing after the mining companies razed most of them to build roads. After this excursion, ma’s potato soup, with a slight tang of lemon and some smoked fish from the neighbours, was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. Mopping up the last of it with a slice of coal-range bread that tasted ever so slightly of iron, I remember ma watching us eat. She sat instead with a glass of stale brandy, the squint on her face I realized later was trying to hold in the tears.
The Sunday soup tradition continued even when ma began work at the local department store. She would bring home beautiful silk scarves, fur lined gloves, proper shoes that kept the snow out. Our cupboards were full, we’d eat meats and fruit and the strange pastries the Hungarian bakery sold. No matter what, we always had potato soup on Sundays.
* * *
Ashleigh is a writer, mother, toy librarian, tattoo enthusiast and chocolate expert from Christchurch New Zealand. She enjoys writing short stories and is currently dipping her toe into the flash fiction waters.
The storm begins with a question. Drip? asks the sky. Drop, comes the reply, and then the rain comes. Cautiously at first, and then with increasing confidence, the clouds opening up like great doors and washing the earth below, scrubbing all color from the air until the world is wet and gray. You’re looking out the window. There’s not much to see.
Not all storms begin that way. You’re out in the garden, weeding beneath deep purple clouds, when the sky seems to shatter above you. Lightning tears through the clouds, and through that tear, the rain. You stay outside, letting it batter against your face, letting the rain drip down your cheeks and your collarbones and into your shirt like a hungry hand.
Some storms last all day. They’re not storms, really, just a mass of gray drizzle that permeates the air and chases us all inside. Across the city, yellow lights flicker on in the windows, behind each one a person trapped by the weather. You sit softly by the fireplace. He’s in the next room over, and you stay silent so you can hear the rain gently drumming against the roof.
Not all storms begin outside. Some are inside, and they begin with a shouted accusation, a raised hand, and fear tears a jagged hole through your heart. The question is this: why?
Some storms you can see coming. They lurk offshore, creeping ever closer, and you know they’re coming, but you’re not sure when they will get here. You don’t know how furious they will be when they arrive. Sometimes, they strike, and the damage is minimal. A blown-over lawn chair, frail branches in the driveway. They move on, and instead of relief, you think, next time may be worse.
Occasionally, a storm is devastating. “This is bullshit,” your neighbor declares, surveying an oak tree that has punched its way through their roof. “I don’t have to deal with this.” And they don’t. They pack their things and rent a truck, and send a postcard from Vermont. You dig your toes into the storm-soaked soil and watch that oak. You feel as sturdy as that oak had once been.
What speed will the winds have to reach to topple you?
Some storms choke back their rain, and they roll across the sky, black and bright with lightning. The ground rumbles with the threat of thunder, and there’s a dry electricity in the air. Everything is still and watchful and heavy with humidity, but the storm moves on. It’s a long time before you reconcile that there won’t be any rain tonight. You fall asleep feeling like you’ve forgotten something.
There are other storms on the radio. Firestorms that people cannot outrun, and snowstorms that shut down entire roads and freeze waterpipes and knock out electricity. Duststorms, too, choking the air and hiding the sun beneath a gauzy layer of stirred-up dirt. You listen, and you watch the news, and you thank the lord above that at least you don’t have to deal with those storms.
Your cousin calls, and she says that there are no hurricanes in California. The next day there’s an earthquake, and the day after, a mudslide, and she calls you back and says, “well, never mind that.”
The front door slams shut with a force that shocks the house with its anger. You hang up the phone and creep through the backdoor and step out into a sunshower. The garden is sparkling with the light spray of rain, and the sun filters through the air in a blinding burst of white and yellow. Painted across the horizon, like with a child’s watercolors, is a rainbow. You’re wet, but not soaked, and when the storm moves on the air seems a little cleaner, the sun a little brighter.
The storms all begin differently. They all leave behind their own damage. But there is one thing they all do: end.
* * *
Alyx Barter, currently a student at the University of North Florida, has been writing for over ten years but only in the past year and a half has found herself writing short stories. When she is not working on schoolwork or various writing projects, she is working at a local equestrian facility where she keeps her two horses.