Bright Flash Literary Review

Artwork courtesy Joanne Sala. All rights reserved.

Welcome to Bright Flash Literary Review, an online literary journal. We’re looking for your best flash or short fiction, up to 1500 words. Very short pieces (under 50 words) are welcome as long as they tell a full story.

Submission guidelines: Fiction and creative non-fiction are welcome. Compelling memoir (under 1500 words) will be considered. Simultaneous submissions are permitted. Please notify us ASAP if your work is accepted elsewhere.

 

Please submit only one piece at a time. 

Please include a short biographical statement in the event that your work is accepted.

Average response time is 30 days. 

If your work is accepted, please wait six months before submitting again.

We are a non-paying market, but also do not charge submission fees.

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Iridescent Erin

photo of woman covered with leaves

A memoir

Lisa Verdekal 

     The last time I saw her she still lived in London, still crimped and colored her hair. Rich purple out of a tub of Plum Directions.

     She still worked the coat check at the same long-standing Goth club. Dabs of speed, cans of pilsner or better glasses of snakebites, up past dawn when everyone emerged paler and blinking into the morning work rush.

     Her fingers and arms were still heavy with chunks and slips of silver. Attentively polished bracelets and rings. Bats, skulls, snakes and dragons, a flash of amethyst. Some pieces mementos from the countries she’d visited, many from Camden Market.

     Her room was still a mess, just as it had been when we’d shared rooms, first renting and later in squats. Her stuff overflowing onto my side. Tights, tops, skirts, mostly black, some purple, bottles of alcohol, bottles of pain killers and in time, other medication, cigarette papers, piles of tobacco mixed with hash, pint glasses, jewelery, tissues, so many tissues, balled up dotting the carpet. She had allergies and lots of pain. She bled a lot too. Not just uterine issues, but from cuts along her arms under her bracelets. She used to drip the blood onto paper and create tiny pieces of abstract art. She used to black out in toilet cubicles and stumble down London lane-ways. Laugh about it. She met life with equal measures of humour and woe. And a steadfast resourcefulness, holding down several jobs, finding places to live. When we first arrived in London, she found the crowd and clubs we were looking for.

     The last time I saw her she was still her unique self, wacky, intelligent and living her truth. Still funny, still gregarious, a talented singer and a great listener. Yes, she was addicted and disorganized, always the last one ready, rummaging through her things looking for a misplaced item, either in a panic or irritatingly nonchalant. One year after visiting me, she missed the airport night bus and had to take a taxi across Ireland to get to Dublin in time for her flight. Wherever she settled, the floor around her bed filled up with pill bottles and packets, and the table space before her with hash, tobacco and alcohol. As she chatted, she rolled joints and tipped large amounts of whiskey into coke. She had been like this for so long, to me, it was just who she was and I never really questioned it. Maybe I should have.

     After her parents died, her brother and his wife convinced her to go back to L.A. and into rehab. I received one letter from her while she was inside but never saw her again.

The last I heard she was clean, engaged and training to be a counsellor. One evening after work in some kind of rehab coffee shop, she was walking to her car and dropped dead in the parking lot from a heart attack. She was buried with all her jewelery.

Born and bred in Los Angeles, Lisa ran away to Europe, first settling in London, then Berlin and finally Ireland.

Falling

time lapse photography of waterfalls

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

                                                             Amanda Forsyth

We fell, and fell, and fell.

By Tuesday, we were finishing each other’s coffees and sentences.

On Friday, we sneaked off work, went skinny-dipping. She painted my nails, then closed her eyes and I painted words on the lids with my lashes.

The Sabbath was not a day of rest but of hunkum-bunkum, rowdy, hilarious sweat; and, when I asked the wrong question, tears.

Monday was the coldest day of the year, which was stupid, because the railway lines warped in the heat and all the trains were cancelled.

On Wednesday, I went to the Botanical Gardens to try to get warm. Shivering, I stumbled and found a rare fern.

Then rare Fern found me and put her arms around me, and the shivering stopped.

There was a hot cup of tea, and holding her hand so hard so hard so hard I couldn’t let go.

So I didn’t let go, and that was all right, and we walked into the dusk, the night, the dark, the daybreak.

She finished her own sentences, street by street, with perfect punctuation. When the words stopped, we were at the Library, and that was a fine thing to make us both smile.

So we went home.

And then we fell some more, and it was glorious.

Amanda Forsyth only recently started creative writing, trying hard to write around the obligations of a day job as a stock market investment manager. The particular challenges of the Flash Fiction genre have provided a rich stream of inspiration, and Amanda was a finalist in the 2020 Edingurgh International Flash Fiction Awards. Amanda lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and student daughter, who is also an aspiring writer. 

LIMBO

Photo by Nadi Lindsay on Pexels.com

                                            Shirin Afsous

There’s a red plastic strip with dark green flowers that covers the space between the edge of the Persian rug and the doorframe in my grandmother’s house. The thick summer air of downtown Tehran flows in through the enclosed courtyard door that remains partially open all day. The heat of the street fills the white linen curtains that swell ever so slightly in the strained breeze of the air conditioning unit that works in the blistering heat to pump partially cold air from the tunnel on the roof into the room where the red plastic with dark green flowers connects the doorframe of the living room to the Persian carpet in the formal sitting room. 

I used to lay down on this small plot of space, between the two rooms, and inhale the aroma of cooking rice that spilled out of the hallway from the kitchen and into the living room. From my spot on the floor, I tried to memorize my grandmother’s voice as she relayed stories from their time apart to my mother. The edge of the red plastic and the tassels of the Persian rug etched rough lines into my elbows as I propped myself up to respond to my grandfather, who sat perched on his bed on the other side of the doorframe. 

This small strip of plastic does not match the decor in either room. It is neither casual enough for the living room where my grandfather listens to his radio and reads Quran; nor is it fancy enough for the formal sitting room where guests cram in to drink cold fruit juices. This red plastic strip with the flowers exists in a state of limbo like me. It does not belong in either room, just as I exist somewhere between the traditions of the east and the consequences of immigrating to the west. Neither one of us truly fits into either space. But there we both were, year after year, trying to meld into somewhere between the doorframe of my grandmother’s house and the Persian rug of the formal sitting room that was a reminder that I was only a passerby and a guest — I never truly existed in either space.

Shirin Afsous is an attorney with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She has been published in Metamorphosis.

Grandma’s Boots

photo of flowers on shoes against pink background

                                                             db mcneill

Jenny slipped into her room and pressed her back against door. Her shiny black curls fell over her eyes and she shook her head, afraid to move. Head lowered, she listened until the clatter and voices downstairs assured her that the adults were still in full swing, saying all those things that didn’t matter. 

Grandma had given Jenny a big red purse a few days before she died, and mother had said Jenny could carry it at the funeral. Jenny felt grown up and lonely with it over her arm. When she saw Grandma in the casket, in her long flowing Sunday dress with the toes of her Sunday boots peeping from under the skirt, she just knew that Grandma had planned it like this. She must have. So when no one was looking, Jenny undid each button at the cuff of each of Grandma’s boots and slipped those boots right into the big red bag. After a moment, Jenny pulled the skirt of the dress down over Grandma’s crooked brown toes, hoping no one would notice. Jenny knew they wouldn’t understand, but Grandma would want to go barefoot into heaven. She’d do it for Jenny for sure.

Grandma had pulled on those boots every Sunday morning for as long as Jenny could remember, then walked down to the service at Ebenezer’s singing “I’ll Fly Away” as she walked. Jenny had watched from the window of her room, wondering why she and mama didn’t go too. But when she’d asked, mama just shook her head, then pushed her yellow hair from her eyes and looked away. Maybe it skipped a generation, thought Jenny.

Now, Jenny planted her small bottom on the floor and pushed at the big red bag with her own crooked brown toes. After sitting awhile with her feet against the bag, she finally found the courage to pull out the boots and slip them on. She’d never seen Grandma do it, but it only made sense that she could. If anyone could, it was Grandma, and the magic was in the boots. If Jenny wore those boots just right, she was sure she could learn the trick too. 

“Okay” Jenny said. She walked to her window, pushed open the sash, and pulled herself up to the sill. She was ready,, she knew it. She took a deep breath, stepped out into space, and began to fly.

db mcneill’s work has been published in Ranfurly Review and elsewhere, made the top 30 for Glimmertrain’s Short Story Award and won Allegory Ezine honorable mentions. She was awarded a Writing the Other Sentient Squid Scholarship in 2017. She lives in Colorado with a spouse, three sons and some critters

Watchful Eyes

pexels-photo-1209843

Brooke Tiedt

I swear the trees are watching me. They whisper while I sleep. Their leaves rustle every time I breathe.

If they know, they don’t say a word. I ignore my hands, the twisted bike frame, the stopped car. 

All I see are trees, sap running down their trunks like blood.

 Brooke Tiedt is an undergrad author and poet from Missouri. Her work has appeared in Castabout Literature, Youth Imagination, and Lucky Jefferson. She is the author of Stars Above, a YA novella. Besides writing, Brooke can often be found making a mixed-media collage or playing the flute.

Anchored

gray sand anchor near seashore

Kaylene Jackmore

Somewhere along the coast of Portugal lies an array of anchors that are forever docked in the sand dunes. Long sprouts of grass curl around the dark, corroded frames as if it were them who kept the anchors in place. I can smell the salt and spices perfume the air, but neither of them is strong enough to overcome the scent of the dead rust that clings to the curves and dull points of metal. 

I don’t know how they got here, and it doesn’t seem like anyone around here knows either. Or, if they do know, they won’t tell me. Of course, I guess my poor Portuguese could be to blame… I don’t know. I should have done more research before buying the cruise ticket. 

Once I find a nice spot of unoccupied sand, I sit back against one of the larger anchors. I let my bare legs stretch out, and I release a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. It’s a vacation, I remind myself. Remember to relax!

I cross my arms and stare down the north side of the beach. It goes on forever until it all eventually blends into fuzzy, gray-blue nothingness. The nothingness soon becomes a memory, and suddenly I’m sucked back into the human resources department of an office in the middle of Ohio.

The room was too stuffy, too cluttered. Richard couldn’t keep his crap organized, and every assistant he’d ever had only made the chaos worse. I should know since I was the last assistant.

I had been waiting for him in a broken chair for thirty minutes before he finally showed up. My weight shifted back and forth, sending the chair rocking with me. The creaking became rhythmic as I started to hum a tune that had been stuck in my head.

My eyes glazed over the cream-colored papers and the glaring stains of red stamps. I knew why I was in that office, but I was praying every second that I was wrong. Not because I loved the job or cared about my career, but because I had rent that was due soon and I was coming dangerously close to eviction.

Richard strode in nonchalantly before casually sitting in his comfortable swivel chair. He barely acknowledged me as he began to shuffle around papers that I’m convinced were nothing more than blank printer sheets or innocuous articles he found online. 

“Rachel, let me start off by saying you’re a good human resources assistant, but times are tough these days, and the company has decided that, you know, hard choices have got to be made, and you know how it is. We’re going to have to go ahead and, uh, let you go.”

All of my internal organs collapsed into my stomach, the acid slowly burning a hole inside each part that failed me. This wasn’t about financial issues; this was about his wife.

I didn’t respond. Even now, after remembering the moment so many times, there’s nothing I wanted to say to him. I just wanted to leave, so I did. Well, I did after I signed a waiver accepting a crummy severance package. 

“Why did you sign it?” Dad later asked me. “We could’ve fought it.”

I didn’t say anything then either. I couldn’t tell him that I would’ve signed anything to get out of that office; I couldn’t tell him the real reason I was terminated. 

As Dad ranted about the injustice of it all, I tried to think about anything else besides the real reasons: that I slept with Richard because I had nothing better to do, that we got caught by his wife, and that she probably threatened to leave him.

Once the rant concluded, Dad helped me go over the books that night. Not that any of it mattered. All of his advice came out in a language I didn’t seem to understand. When he said things like, “Start applying for any kind of job you can find,” and “Make cutbacks anywhere you can,” all I heard was, “Use whatever money you have and get away from all of this.”

Now, after practically emptying my savings account, I’m sitting on a beach in Portugal, staring at useless, forgotten anchors. If they had a choice, I wonder, would they wander away from all of their agony too?

Kaylene Jackmore is first and foremost a storyteller. She recently received aa B.A. in Film Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and is currently pursuing a career as a filmmaker. When she isn’t working on a project, she’s outside taking photographs of the beautiful world around us. 

The Old House

hallway with windowDon Tassone

No sooner had Bob retired when he learned his old house, the house he’d grown up in, was on the market.  

Bob was thrilled.  He had always been nostalgic, and he loved that house.  It held such precious memories.  Now he might actually own it!  He could easily afford it.  His wife wasn’t crazy about the idea but said she wouldn’t stand in the way.

Bob went to see it the first Sunday it was shown.  He almost didn’t recognize the place.  There had been two owners since his parents sold it 25 years earlier.  Each had remodeled it.  Walls were missing, the patio was now a deck and the landscaping was completely new.  Seeing his old house look so different was unsettling to Bob.  It made him want to buy it, and restore it, all the more.

The owner was asking six times what his parents had spent when they built the place 50 years earlier.  Bob expected as much, and he knew restoring it would be expensive, maybe even double the asking price.

But he went for it, and his offer was accepted within hours.  Bob was ecstatic.

He gave his wife the good news.  She seemed indifferent.  He expected her to be more excited, if not for herself, then for Bob.

He emailed his siblings.  They were all surprised.  One of his brothers thought Bob was kidding.  All of them said congratulations but not much more.

Bob knew his parents would be happy, if they were still alive.

A few weeks later, Bob closed on the house.  In the meantime, he began working with a contractor on a plan to remodel the whole place.  

His goal was to make it look and feel just like it did when he was a kid.  They worked from Bob’s memory and old photographs.  By the closing, the remodeling plan was complete, with a price tag twice as large as Bob had estimated.  His wife wasn’t happy, but she grudgingly agreed on the condition they take two family vacations the following year.

There were moments when Bob himself had doubts about buying the old place.  But once the work began, and old, familiar walls, rooms and cabinets reemerged, Bob felt like a kid again, and he knew he’d made the right decision.

Once the reconstruction was complete, Bob hired an interior designer to decorate the place just as it was when he was growing up, from the red sofa to the black rotary telephones.  He hired a landscape designer to replicate the outside too.

It was pricey.  By the time the makeover was complete, Bob’s investment was nearly three times what he’d expected.  But he didn’t mind, although his wife insisted on a third vacation the following year.

To Bob, it was well worth it.  The place now looked spectacular, virtually identical to his childhood home.  Inspecting it inside and out, Bob felt as though he had been transported back in time, and what a blissful time it was.

He couldn’t wait to share it with his brothers and sisters.  He decided to invite them all to spend the weekend there.

But they all declined.  Everyone claimed they were busy, but in truth, they simply weren’t interested.

So Bob invited his own children to spend the weekend.  After all, for them, it was grandma and grandpa’s house.  They had loved the place as kids.  But their lives were busy now, including with their own children.  They all declined too.

“Well, I guess it’s just going to be us,” Bob said to his wife.

“Well, you’re half right,” she said.  “Enjoy yourself.”

Bob was disappointed that he wouldn’t have any company, but he was still excited about the prospect of staying in his old house, even if he was alone.  He packed a bag, kissed his wife and took off.

He stowed his stuff in his old bedroom and went out to the family room to watch TV, an old black and white Zenith.  The house hadn’t been wired for cable, so there were only three channels, the major networks, just like in the old days.  Bob quickly got bored with that programming, though, and turned the TV off.  He’d almost forgotten how to do that without a remote.

For a moment, Bob thought about going online.  But then he remembered there was no WiFi or internet connection.

He walked around the house, not sure of what to do.  It was getting dark, so he decided to turn in early.

He changed into his pajamas and got into his old bed.  Or he tried to anyway.  It was way too small.  He thought about sleeping in his parents’ bed, but that just didn’t seem right.

So he drew his knees up and tried to get comfortable.  But he couldn’t and ended up sleeping on the davenport.

He woke up in the middle of the night, wondering where he was.  This doesn’t feel like home, he thought.  And indeed it wasn’t.  He knew it hadn’t been his home for a very long time.

Bob decided to put the house up for sale.  It sold in less than a day.  Financially, he took a big hit because he had to price it close to the other older houses in the neighborhood.

Bob learned you can’t reclaim your youth, no matter how hard you try or how much you spend.  It was an expensive lesson.

The following year, he and his wife took four vacations, one of them in the south of France.  It was there that Bob decided to try his hand at painting.

Don Tassone is the author of three short story collections and a novel. He lives in Loveland, OH. Visit him at https://www.dontassone.com

I Don’t Remember His Name, a Memoir

 Lana Ayers

     There was this boy in second grade, taller by a foot than the next tallest of us. He walked bent over like an old person. Probably to be closer to our heights. He had wavy brown hair that matted down and jutted out oddly and differently every day. His clothes were rumpled like he’d slept in them. He sat in the row next to mine, one seat ahead. Sometimes I couldn’t see the blackboard, being the shortest one in my second-grade class. I’d lean forward, pat his shoulder, ask him to scoot down for a moment. He always startled with a lurch, but duck down for way too long. Which I thought was kind. 

     At lunch, no one would sit with him. Maybe because he drooled and his teeth had a greenish hue like they were made of iceberg lettuce. Girls sat with girls back then, and boys with boys. So, I couldn’t do anything about him being shunned. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself. 

     When we’d pass each other in the hall, or filing up to hand in work at our teacher Mrs. Williams’ desk, I’d catch a whiff of something unpleasant. Not sweat, or pee, or poo. Nothing I could name exactly. Maybe like the way the air smelled the first warm hour after rain—like wet earth or worms. Something like that.

     One day, the boy started shuddering and his tongue rolled out of his mouth. He grunted and fell off his desk chair onto the floor, thumping his head hard. Some of the girls screamed. The boys stood up and pointed and laughed. Holy moly, one said. Some kids looked away. I kept watching.

     Mrs. Williams rushed over, thrust her spare sweater under his head and grabbed onto his tongue. She yelled for Johnny Willis to go to the office and tell them to call an ambulance and the boy’s parents. The boy’s eyes rolled back in his head but twitched a lot. The way my dog’s eyes did sometimes when he was asleep. The earthworm smell got stronger. 

     I can’t remember the order of everything that happened next. We were made to stand out in the hall. Two people in uniforms showed up with a rolling cot. The boy was wheeled out. The rest of the day we read quietly at our desks from the classroom library or were allowed to color. 

     The next day the boy was absent. And the day after that. And the following week. He never came back and I wondered if he had died. It took me tow weeks to work up the courage to ask Mrs. Williams where he was. She said he was in a special school for special kids like him. I wondered what that meant and wanted to ask, but Mrs. Williams shushed me and told me to go back to my reading. 

     I thought the boy was like the rest of us. Mrs. Williams had said special like it was a bad thing. 

     I was a shy kid and not well-liked because I was fat and darker skinned with weird hair. Every other child steered clear of me as they had done with the boy. Maybe I was special too in that bad way. No maybe about it. 

     But the boy had it tougher than most. Tougher than me. I think of him often, after rain when it’s still damp and musty. I’ve always loved earthworms, how they contract and expand and get exactly where they need to go. 

Lana Ayers, night-owl, coffee-enthusiast, MFA, has authored nine poetry collections and a time travel novel. She lives on the Oregon coast where she enjoys the near-constant plunk of rain on the roof and the sea’s steady whoosh. Lana leads workshops in Tillamook, a town of more cows than humans. 

boy in white v neck shirt

Photo by Nico J on Pexels.com

Return from the Land of Olive (Pits)

photo of ceramic bowl on top of wooden chopping board

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

C. Susan Evans

A Memoir

Our flight out of Porto’s TAP airport, “TAP” possibly meaning “Try a Pushcart,” is scheduled for 6:40 AM. Sunday. Christiana, our glib Portuguese cruise director, assures us that only one pilot’s union is on strike and she will alert us about flight cancellations 24 hours in advance. 

At 15 minutes to 4:00 on Sunday, I arise from a sleepless night to the sound of Stan’s funereal voice, “Susan.  It is time to get up.”  Stan, already dressed in navy trousers and sweater, shuffles off for breakfast.  He returns at 4:00, and we wrestle luggage outside our cabin for the porters.  I ask Stan if he inquired about our airport cab.  Not one to ponder the immediate future, he had not. He bounds back up the steps with legs that don’t seem to bend at the knee. I throw on a semi-clean tee shirt, jeans, and raincoat. 

In the black and drizzly morning, we clamber over the metal walkway bridging the Douro River to the shore.  The ship’s lights dance on the inky water.  A pot-bellied driver waits, his car motor humming.   I wearily climb in the back of the cab. As the taxi maneuvers through the wet streets, I notice a rosary dangling from the cab’s rearview window. An omen?  I wonder. We arrive at the airport at 4:30.  The driver swivels around in his seat and in a heavy accent announces, “Twenty euros, por favor.” 

Stan, in his own mid-Western accent, explains that the ship is to pay for the ride and chirps to the cabbie, “Call the ship.”  The man gibber-jabbers angrily, obviously thinking we are American lowlifes.  I stay quiet, enfolded in a morning fog.  Stan throws a credit card at the man.  The card reader promptly belches it out again.   Stan fishes another credit card out of his wallet, but with the same result.  I keep my Visa stowed away. 

The argument drones on.  Stan, a 72-year-old reedy former LAPD cop, darkly threatens to alert the policíal –one of the few Spanish words he knows –except for the phrase, “Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air.” The threat to call the law seems to work, and both men exit the taxi, slamming doors. I superglue myself to the cab’s backseat, afraid that Stan will push the driver’s taximeter too far and the man will speed away with my valuables in the trunk.  My frog matador tee shirt for my daughter is priceless.  To me, anyway.  

When I hear the welcome sound of the car trunk click open and the thunk of our suitcases hitting the pavement, I untangle myself out of the backseat, collect my battered blue suitcase, and quietly and quickly scurry through the automatic doors of the airport like a squirrel with its eye on a newly fallen acorn.  I’ll let the men sort it out.  I have a plane to catch.

Soon Stan finds me, and breathlessly says a cruise employee showed up and handled the cab driver.  We ride an escalator down and settle ourselves on metal chairs to wait for our gate to open and the plane to start boarding.  And we wait. Time leaks away like water in a clogged-up sink, and we don’t board.  Ten minutes before we are scheduled to fly out of Portugal to Madrid, people around me start gathering their belongings and shaking their heads.  I snare a young man who tells me, “Sim, our flight has been cancelled.  Pilot’s strike.”  

I spy a senora next door at Gate 6 in a lime coat, high heels and swinging black ponytail looking official. Like refugees fleeing Thailand, we hightail over to Gate 6.  She says collect our luggage and come to the third floor. By the time we get to the third floor, it is Portuguese Bombay.

On the way to the restroom an hour later, I find myself trailing behind the Senora in Charge.  I rush up to her, panting and wheedling. “Will I be able to reach the United States any time today?” A curt reply to bring my bags and follow her.  I race off for Stan.  The woman walks us over to a counter where a man in his early twenties sits at a computer.  After tapping some keys, he says pleasantly that we cannot get a flight out to Madrid until tomorrow morning at 8:10 AM.  We yelp, and look suitably deranged – Stan, wispy white hair saluting the air and face screwed up in a scowl, and me, salmon raincoat and frizzy red hair, whiny and outraged.  The startled young man considers other options to get rid of us, and allows we MIGHT go by train to Lisbon’s airport and fly to Madrid today. 

I explain to Stan what the young man says, since Stan can only pick up the sound of a speeding train two feet away.  Not an option for him.  He is antsy to go home to eat breakfast at the Outback Steak House and ride his lawn mower.  And neither of us is convinced that we won’t have our flight cancelled again in the morning, so we race downstairs to catch the next metro.

We huddle inside a metro for 40 minutes. On the train — wallpapered with mildewed people — Stan and I scrunch up in two adjoining train cars. We are to get off at the Campanhã station. Although limp as an old rag, hungry, and drowsy, I must stay alert.  Someone must.  The effervescent Stan nods off, his head buried in the neck of his navy jacket like a turtle, just when the train announcer, over a crackling intercom, intones our stop.  At my pantomimed request, three young women poke Stan and gesture to the electronic strip circling the ceiling spelling “Campanhã.”   

The train station is outside through a courtyard.  Rain beats a staccato on the breezeway and a damp chill makes my toes curl.  I pry my suitcase open and drag out my new lambs wool sweater from Barca D’Alva and my Walmart umbrella.  Cobblestones crunch under our feet. “Get to Lisbon, get to Lisbon,” they say.

Stan and I drag on to the train, bone-tired and swimmy-headed. As we steam south to Portugal’s capital in backward economy seats, the trains’ green shutters flap in the whoosh while a watery gray landscape flies by.  After three hours of monotonous train whiz-bys, we disembark to find hundreds of expensive-looking shops and animated dark-haired teenagers surrounding us.  Bewildered until our mental fogs lift, we finally realize that we are not at the airport on our way to a concourse, but stranded in a shopping mall. It is a terminal condition.   

Some young Spaniards tell us we need to ride Bus 44 to get to Terminal 1.  They wave us off in an easterly direction where the bus ostensibly shows up from time to time. I don’t want to wait around in the rain for Bus 44, so suggest to Stan that we hail a cab. His whiskery face reveals a miserly and wizened money-clutching soul, but he reluctantly agrees. Then — like the devil’s pitchfork gouged him– he turns bitter when the cabbie announces a whopping fare of 4 euros.

At Terminal 1’s Delta desk, a confused agent asks why we are in Lisbon instead of taking our TAP flight in the morning to Madrid.  Stan explains in his sepulcher tone what happened to us and that we hope to get out of Portugal before we are both in hospice.

We get new boarding passes.  In the security line, Stan, like an ancient stallion, grabs his suitcase, and sprints off to find our gate. I lift his boarding pass out of a tub resting on the conveyor belt and follow. We get to Atlanta the next evening.

C. Susan Evans is a free lance writer and English instructor at a community college in the Smoky Mountains. She is published in Deep South Magazine, Ornery Quarterly Magazine. Six Hens Literary Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor. She doesn’t intend to return to Portugal.

Regarding Fortunes and Cookies

 

Tom Witkowski

Lo Mein is always better if you get it with beef. Everybody knows this. But sometimes I don’t have the extra $1.85 it takes to get the beef. So I’ll just order plain noodles. They’re still good, but without those strips of rubbery beef, it’s not quite the same.

The place I’m getting my beefless Lo Mein today is not a good Chinese place. It’s just the cheapest. Plus, they usually give me a handful of fortune cookies instead of just one that most places do. I’m not sure why some restaurants guard them like they’re Chinese gold, judiciously handing out a single cookie like they’re bestowing some great, vanilla-flavored honor upon the bearer. Maybe it’s just me, but when they slowly place one cookie in my take-out bag, they always seem to give me a look that says, perhaps if you’d spend more than $4.10, I’d give you more cookies. Maybe I’m imagining it. I’m pretty sure I’m not though. 

Today, however, I only get one. I grab the bag out of the cashier’s hand with contempt and fire a glance that conveys I just may take my four dollars elsewhere, which will undoubtedly be the downfall of this palace of cat meat.

At home, I fork noodles into my mouth as I stare at a TV that was considered nice two decades ago. I like to watch Steve Harvey on Family Feud. His blank facial expressions in response to idiotic answers makes this the best half hour of my day. I’m also oddly fascinated by his mustache.

I finish my noodles right before the Fast Money round. I would nail all these questions. I just need four more people to claim to be my family so I can get on the show. After I calculate how many points I would have gotten, I crack open the cookie and pull out the fortune. I like it when the phrases on the little pieces of paper are written in broken English. They seem more authentic. Today, however, it is textbook grammar. It reads:

“The world is about to unfold in front of you.”

I contemplate that. 

Well, of course it is. It’s always unfolding in front of me. What a useless, say-nothing fortune. In fact, it’s beyond useless. It elicits within me a kind of disappointment normally reserved for times when Family Feud gets preempted for a political debate.

I’m about to crumple it up when I notice there is another fortune underneath – two stuck together. Maybe the other one will be more prophetic. But when I pull at it, I realize my fortune was doubled over. I unfold it. It reads:

“Keep going.”

It unfolds again. And again. And again. Shortly, my fortune is the size of a sheet of notebook paper. I keep unfolding. Again and again. And again still. I’m subservient to every “Keep going.” My fortune is now poster size. More unfolding and more unfolding. I peel layers at a furious pace. It is the size of a bedsheet and still growing. My studio apartment is draped in this fortune. 

A stiff gust of wind shoots in behind me. The fortune inflates like a hot air balloon and begins escaping through the window. I grasp two corners and get pulled along. Out the window. Into the sky. You usually don’t get this kind of behavior from a paper fortune.

Below my feet, I see my building. From street-level, it always appears tired and cloaked in decades of city soot. But from here, it looks like the kind of building that people used to say had “character,” followed by, “they just don’t build them like they used to.”

I shoot higher still, clouds circling my chest like a frilly shirt. I am at a height where the din of the city does not reach me. It is silent, save for the flapping of the fortune edges. The climbing ceases, and I am able to look down at pinpoint areas of the city, as though I am peering through a mariner’s spyglass. 

I see a woman I do not know among the masses of people. Even from this height, I can see her as clearly as if she is sitting across from me on the subway. She is diminutive but seems to stand ten feet taller than the blurry hoard she is wedged within. I notice her soft features, as well as a bob haircut that offers a perfect view of her delicate neck. I have a sudden desire to move in behind her so I can place a gentle kiss on the back of it. I cannot, but instead, she turns and looks at me. I see grace in her green eyes. I don’t want it to stop, but the fortune pulls me away. Her gaze etches upon me, permanently.

The next thing I spot is a man in a bookstore. He is leafing through a black hardcover, flipping to the back, pausing on the flap about the author. He closes it and places it back on top of a 200-foot pile of identical black books. He steps away but changes his mind, returning to grab a copy. One-by-one, the rest of the stack gleefully flies away like butterflies. 

The city turns to ash and tumbles, like the end of a smoked cigarette. A mountain flips into sight, as though the View Finder clicked to its next frame. Three teeny, tiny dots on that giant mountain become bigger dots. The dots grow arms and legs and helmets and boards on the bottoms of their legs and weave back and forth, giggling. When they are done, the word “contented” is left behind in the icy, white carpet.

With a jarring and haunting howl, a hole gets ripped into the fortune, and I plummet downward. As my eyes water from the wind of gravity, I think I’m about to fall through a pack of clouds, but I land on the ivory pages of an open book. It is wordless and empty. And it closes upon me. I find myself in darkness, one hand still grasping the fortune, the other desperately reaching through the black to find the slender, soft hand of the green-eyed girl. I cannot. So I shout out to her, even though I don’t know her name, fearful that I will not hear a single sound. 

There is no answer.

So I relent. I allow myself to fall. Faster and faster. Collision awaits. But my fall is slowed when three sets of hands sew up the rip in the fortune, using licorice ropes and tying it securely in a pattern that reminds me of stitches on a baseball. 

I gently land, back in my confining apartment, letting go of the fortune in the process. It flies away, as though I accidentally let go of the string of a taut kite. All that remains are broken pieces of cookie and the original small strip of paper, tightly pinched between my thumb and forefinger.

“The world is about to unfold in front of you.”

I begin to unfold along with it.

Tom Witkowski lives in Minnesota and is typically found avoiding respectable careers by working as a writer in advertising. His work has appeared in The Daily Drunk, as well as on his site, 9CirclesFiction.com.