Bisbee Homewarming

trump

Photo by Leah Mueller

Leah Mueller

When my husband and I moved to Bisbee, we noticed the yellow fire hydrant in front of our new house sported a plastic Trump mask. Someone had used the elastic band to strap Donald’s face towards the street. His visage held a menacing, but vacant expression. 

Russ recoiled instinctively from the spectacle, but I was amused. “What the hell?” my husband asked. “Why is there a Trump mask on our hydrant? Not funny.”

A door opened on the other side of the street, and a woman darted over. “Thank God you’re Bernie supporters!” she cried, gesturing towards the bumper sticker on our Toyota. “We’ve all been wondering who bought the house and hoping you wouldn’t be Trump voters.”

I pointed at the mask. “We noticed Donald was here to greet us.”

She grinned. “That’s for the dogs to piss on. Hey, if you get hungry, I’ve got several boxes of extra food at my house. Welcome to Bisbee. We all like to help each other.”

The mask remained in place for a week, staring at passing cars. One afternoon it disappeared. Russ seemed relieved, but I felt disappointed. Where the hell was Donald? I had grown accustomed to his face. The fire hydrant looked so bare and dull with him gone.

A few mornings later, Russ opened the front door, then shut it quickly. “That mask is on our porch. Something weird is going on. I don’t like it.”

I wandered outside. Sure enough, Donald rested on the top step, nestled between two flowerpots. A slight breeze tickled his chin, and he trembled. I felt more than a bit unsettled. Why the hell was Trump back in our lives? Did the neighbors secretly hate us?

My neighbor stood in her yard, watering her lawn. “Do you know why Trump is on our porch?” I asked. “He disappeared from the fire hydrant, but someone returned him.”

She shrugged. “It’s Bisbee. Weird shit happens all the time. The old owner put him on that hydrant months ago, as a joke. Someone probably thought he came with the house.”

I felt an immense surge of relief. “Some kids might’ve swiped the mask and their parents returned it.” Scooping Donald from the stoop, I wandered back into my house. I debated the possibility of returning the mask to the hydrant but decided against it. Trump would only disappear again, and then reappear like a bad case of bronchitis.

“Maybe I’ll wear this next Halloween,” I said, tossing the mask into the back of a closet. “That’s right before the election.”

“Go right ahead,” Russ replied. “I’m not touching that thing. Did you find out what happened?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s Bisbee.”

Leah Mueller is an Indie writer and spoken word performer from Bisbee, Arizona. She has published books with numerous small presses. Her most recent volumes, “Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices” (Czykmate Press), “Death and Heartbreak (Weasel Press), and “Cocktails at Denny’s (Alien Buddha Press) were released in 2019.  Mueller’s work appears in Blunderbuss, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications.  She won honorable mention in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest. 

An Elevator Tale

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Kelly Schwartz

The man jabs a finger into 26, which is where the other two women are headed apparently because no one objects. A frenzy of people get on and off at each floor, compelling the original three to look at their watches with annoyance at all the stops. Finally it is down to the three of them looking up at the elevator display: 21, 22, 23, 24. 

At 25, the elevator stops, though no one has pushed that button. At this unexpected stop, the businessman and the two business women shift the weight of their feet and stiffen. The door opens to a lobby. There is no one there. One of the women goes to press the close-door button when she hears: “Hold it, please.”

It is man’s voice. A loud man’s voice. A man with an Italian accent. He is strikingly handsome with dark hair and a trim beard. His clothes are close fitting, just a white shirt and tan pants, but he has style. His fingers are long and elegant. He thanks everyone for holding the door open for him. He asks them if they could hold the door open a second longer as he must bring something into the elevator. Because of the man’s obvious charms, they don’t question him and are not annoyed. They are eager. They wait for him as he steps out. They listen for clues. Finally something is coming: the man, yes, as they can hear his leather shoes on the floor of the lobby. But they hear something else: clicking sounds and then something sliding against the floor. It sounds as if he is dragging something with him. 

“Must be a suitcase,” says the woman to the others. It is the first time any of them has spoken, but they have created in the space of twenty-five floors a kind of silent familiarity. 

The Italian man appears, at first alone, but then they see he has a leash, and at the other end of the leash is an alligator, a full-size scaly beast. But this alligator is dressed as they are. It wears a pinstriped shirt tucked into a pair of tailored pants and a matching jacket. A leash is attached to the forearm of the alligator. It is dragging something behind it. The people wait to see what will be dragged in with the beast. It is only a briefcase. 

The Italian says to them, “Don’t worry. He is friendly.”

One woman bends down to pet him as she would a dog. She trusts the Italian innately. The alligator rolls its eyes on top of its head and looks at her. The other woman bends down too. She pets it. It feels rough. The businessman is pressed against the elevator wall. He can’t bear it. He sidles his way to the buttons and presses the button for the twenty-sixth floor, but it doesn’t light up. He presses it again and again, jamming his finger. The alligator at that moment rolls his eyes toward the man. The man looks down at it, though his shoulders are up to his ears and his back is still pressed against the wall. There is nowhere else to go. The alligator swishes its tail.

“There’s only one . . . hmm . . . precaution,” says the Italian man, more to the businessman than to the women. “The animal, it’s not so good with sweat.”

The alligator’s eyes roll over to the man in the suit. It softly snorts. The women understand to stand up and give the beast some space. They watch as the animal regards the businessman’s finger on the elevator button.

It is clear the elevator is not moving upward. They are stopped somewhere between the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth floors. 

The businessman loosens his tie. He is afraid to remove his jacket because it will release the smell under his arms, so he keeps it on. He can’t look down at the animal. He sets his eyes on the ceiling of the elevator instead. It is unfortunately a mirror. The man looks at his reflection and sees the alligator’s eyes looking up at him. He feels the sweat trickling down his neck. There is nothing he can do about it.

Suddenly the alligator makes a move. The people hush. Inside of a second, the alligator’s head is at the man’s ankles. Its jaw begins to open. The man sees this from the ceiling mirror. He cannot stop his body from pouring sweat, and now a bead has made its way down his back, to his buttock, to his thigh. It is crawling down the back of his knee, to his calf, and his ankle, where it is caught by his striped sock.

The Italian begins to tug on the leash. He says something rapidly to the alligator. Whatever he said, it causes the animal’s eyes to roll up to its master’s voice. They can see that the alligator has understood something.

The Italian bends down and grabs the alligator’s briefcase.

“Um . . . give me one minute.” 

The women are aware that the businessman is suffering. They do not know him but they try to console him. 

“It’s ok,” one woman says. “You must relax.”

The other woman offers to take his jacket. She begins to help him by pulling off a sleeve. “Here,” she says. “You’ll feel better.”

The man is watching her from the ceiling. He cannot bring himself to look down.

The Italian unlocks the briefcase. Inside is an array of miniature bottles. He runs his fingers over the tops until he finds the one he is looking for.

“Ah, yes,” he says, lifting one out.

There is a tiny cork, which he pulls out, and the room is filled with the smell of bergamot. It is the most magical smell, and for a moment the businessman is with his mother under the grapefruit tree watching her collect ripened fruit in a basket.

The Italian taps a drop of bergamot onto the alligator’s tail, which has the desired effect of turning the beast’s head toward its tail.

The woman is successfully peeling the man’s jacket off, when they all smell the man through the bergamot.

They realize what they have done. 

The Italian shakes his head sadly.

The alligator turns sharply. It cocks its head to the left and opens its jaws. With one snap it has a foot in its mouth with a striped sock sticking out.

“I’m so sorry,” the Italian says. “It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

The women gasp and hold their hearts.

The man looks down at his missing foot. He sees the last bit of it being swallowed by the beast. Then he does something very odd. He hops to the elevator and presses 26.

The doors open. He hops out, with his jacket now folded over his arm carrying the briefcase. He pivots on his remaining foot and looks back at the group. He waves, then pivots again and hops off.

The Italian shrugs.

The women shrug.

They follow the man out the elevator, first the women, then the Italian, and last the alligator.

Kelly Schwartz, of Santa Monica, California, enjoys animals feathered, furred, and scaled. She’s a recreational writer and tennis player when she’s not proofreading manuscripts for the RAND Corporation.

CRACK

 

Suzanne Verrall             

When little Susie stepped on a crack in the pavement it opened up and swallowed her. Nobody noticed it happening. If she’d been holding her mother’s hand things may have been different. 

But her mother had a habit of squeezing little Susie’s knuckles until they felt like ball-bearings and Susie had wriggled her pink sausage fingers away from the commanding grasp just seconds before.            

Skipping one moment, tumbling head over heels like a circus performer the next, Susie landed on a cloud of what felt and smelt like sawdust. She saw she was surrounded by bears. 

My my. 

She took a breath and crossed her legs so as not to wet herself. The bears, which were gathered together more or less in a ring, eyed Susie curiously. They were brown bears. They were big bears.         

“I’m not afraid of you,” said Susie in a loud voice.          

Nevertheless, they ate her. 

Suzanne Verrall lives in Adelaide, Australia. Her flash fiction, essays and poetry appear in Atlas and Alice, Flash Frontier, Archer Magazine, Lip Magazine, Poetry NZ Yearbook, Australian Poetry Journal, and others.  http://www.suzanneverrall.com

UNCLE JAB

by Karin Aurino
When me and my sisters were little, Uncle Jab came to visit the trailer every weekend while our Mom went to work. He always took his shirt off after she left, cursing the heat. He made popcorn and let us climb on Mom’s big bed, snuggling around him while he read stories from wilted picture books with broken spines. He stroked the fuzzy hair on his chest and belched after chugging a beer, and we’d laugh. He fed us ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles for dinner. He hugged us individually, holding on tight and long. Then he’d scratch between his legs and tell us to get our pj’s on. He’d pull me into the bathroom to tell me in private I was his favorite. Then he jabbed me in the warm place between my legs. He promised if I didn’t tell anyone, he’d save that spot just for him.
His real name was Jeremy, but everyone called him Jab because he found a place to jab everyone he knew. When my oldest sister developed, I saw him jab her in the boob. She slapped his hand away, and he laughed. Then he pushed her into the bedroom and locked the door. He said his father came to sleep in his bed when he was our age, so it was okay. He told us he got kicked out of the Army but didn’t like to talk about it. He didn’t talk much about anything but what a woman was meant to do. When I was thirteen and Uncle Jab came by smelling of moth balls and beer, my oldest sister picked up a dirty kitchen knife from the sink and told Uncle Jab he didn’t need to watch us anymore.
After school Teddy came over to sit with me on the couch. He was seventeen and already had a job at the QuikTrip. Teddy told me we’d get married when I was old enough. He put his tongue in my mouth and asked if he was the first to kiss me like that. I told him he was the second, and his ears turned red. He yelled, demanding to know who. It was supposed to be a secret, but I didn’t want to upset Teddy, so I told him Uncle Jab taught me things. Then Teddy’s cheeks and neck turned red to match his ears. It was a couple months later when the dogs found Uncle Jab in the field out by the old church, skin rotting and insects digging holes where his face and genitalia used to be. Me and my sisters never talked about Uncle Jab, but we shared a look that day. Me and Teddy were married a year later.

Karin Aurino writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Literary Orphans, The Satirist, 50 Word Stories, Bacopa Literary Review, among others and has received recognition from Glimmer Train. Aurino lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and their dog, George.

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Pip Squeak

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PIP SQUEAK 
J. Archer Avary

What does it mean to be strong? Mick Quivers pondered that question over morning coffee at a sidewalk table outside the Roasty Owl. He couldn’t bench press two-hundred pounds, do ten pull-ups, or complete a neighborhood 5K in under thirty minutes. He was non-intimidating, not even five-feet-tall. Too short to be taken seriously, and too tall to be considered a dwarf. He was sandwiched between two realities.
If asked, Mick would self-identify as a pip squeak. It took a certain amount of strength and courage to be a pip squeak in a society where tall folks called the shots. Fortitude was the word he was looking for, but it eluded him. His mind went blank, it was too early in the day for deep thinking. 
Mick sipped cappuccino and wiped the excess foam from the moustache. His whiskers hung down like a hyper-masculine curtain over his lips, concealing his facial expressions. Not that he attracted much attention. He was invisible to the dark-haired woman typing furiously on her MacBook at the next table. His small stature made it easy to fly under the radar, which Mick used to his professional advantage.
There aren’t many career options for pip squeaks, either you become a jockey or compete for roles as oompa-loompa or lollipop guild member in local theatre productions. Actors with dwarfism easily sniffed him out as an imposter, threatening him with violence and blackballing him from the community dinner theatre scene. As for the racetrack, he didn’t care much for horses. 
Without a foothold in traditional pip squeak careers, Mick became a cat burglar. He gained access to homes and businesses, picking locks and sneaking undetected through open windows. He rummaged through drawers for cash and small valuables, often with occupants present. Stealth was the name of the game. Mick tiptoed silently and methodically through bedrooms and offices, taking enough to make his unlawful ingress worthwhile but never more. Many victims were unaware they’d been victimised for several days after a visit from Mick Quivers.  
He drained his cup and observed the late morning activity. The neighbourhood was gentrifying rapidly. Two years ago, the park across the street was full of homeless crackheads. Silky-haired women joggers with long legs and lip injections now claimed it for themselves. Gentrification was good for the cat burglar business, supplying him with an enviable selection of potential targets, but Mick missed the gritty working-class character of the old neighbourhood. 
“Excuse me,” the dark-haired woman stopped typing and pushed back her chair. “Can you watch my laptop for just a second while I pop inside?”
Mick was surprised to be noticed. He indicated the affirmative.
Attracted by the half-eaten blueberry muffin, a bird landed on the woman’s table. Mick asserted his dominance and it retreated. 
A trio of gangly teenagers walked nonchalantly down the sidewalk, colourful backpacks slung over their shoulders and skateboards under their arms. Back in his day they called kids like these poseurs. Mick sunk low in his chair and watched. The tallest one whispered something to the others as they approached the Roasty Owl. It was obvious what they were after. 
The tall one lunged out and snatched the the dark-haired woman’s MacBook. Mick crouched under the table, out of sight. The boys scattered. Mick clenched his teeth and pounced, wrapping his pip squeak arms around the gangly teenager’s ankles and dragging him to the ground. The laptop clattered to the sidewalk as the boy struggled to free himself. The teen bucked and kicked but Mick kept him down.
The dark-haired woman noticed the commotion from inside the coffeeshop and bolted onto the sidewalk. 
“My laptop!” she shouted. “Somebody call police!”
The teenager freed one leg and landed a succession of kicks to Mick’s head and upper torso. He wouldn’t be able to hang on for much longer.
“This guy’s gonna get away if you don’t help me hold him down!”
The woman screamed and threw her hands in the air. The heel of the teenager’s Vans connected with the bridge of his nose. 
“Hit him with your shoe or something!”
“My shoe?”
“Do something!”
Blood streamed from Mick’s nose. He wondered why he bothered to get involved, it wasn’t his laptop and shouldn’t be his problem. A siren wailed in the distance, several blocks away but getting closer. The teenager writhed on the ground, inching up the sidewalk like an earthworm. 
Finally some backup. The barista, an alpha-male type with a Crossfit beard, removed his apron and sat on the gangly teen’s chest, pinning him to the ground just as police arrived to make the arrest.
Mick wiped the blood from his moustache, dusted himself off, and returned to his seat. Officers cuffed the teenage thief and led him to the squad car. The dark-haired woman threw her arms around the Crossfit barista, thanking him profusely for his noble efforts as he smiled and flexed his muscles. No acknowledgement for the pip squeak, he was invisible again. 
The dark-haired woman exchanged numbers with the barista. Mick couldn’t blame the guy for parlaying his heroism into a potential hookup. Maybe that’s what it means to be strong, he thought, taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. The dark-haired woman kissed the barista goodbye and gathered her belongings. 
Mick waited for her to cross the street before following. His instincts told him she would lead him directly to her residence. Giddy with anticipation, he lingered behind, just out of sight. Stealth was the name of the game, taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, like this one. Mick Quivers was undetectable, a pip squeak thief in the night. He would find a way inside and take what he wanted and she would never know he was there.

J. Archer Avary is a former TV journalist, champion lionfish hunter, and marine conservationist. He was born in Albuquerque, NM, and lived in several U.S. cities before moving  overseas in 2014.  He is now a furloughed aviation worker who lives in Guernsey with his wife.

 

 

 

America

 

 

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AMERICA

Jennifer Shneiderman

I stopped a woman from coming into the corner liquor store. She wasn’t wearing a mask. She took off. They were selling N95s at the register. Probably a fake N95, but I bought her one anyway and chased her down. She wordlessly took the mask. She won’t wear it.  

Jennifer Shneiderman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, the Poetry in The Time of COVID-19, anthology, Variant Literature, Wingless Dreamer and Trouvaille Review.  Currently, her ER doctor husband is on the front lines of the pandemic and her teenage son is in quarantine. 

JUMP

 

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       by Garnett Cohen

Even though we weren’t supposed to cut through the industrial corridor on our way home from church, we did. It was quicker and there was a big space between the foundry and the chicken-boxing factory to practice. Janelle and I were the second and third best jump-ropers in the fifth grade, right after Marcia Mims. We knew all the rhymes and most of the tricks. 

It’s not easy for two girls to practice with one rope but I wasn’t allowed to take mine to church. Janelle took hers everywhere, like a sharp shooter who couldn’t be without her gun, the handle sticking out of her pocket, a pistol in its holster. With seven kids, her mother couldn’t keep track of what they all did.  I envied her rope, twisted yellow and red twine with thin red handles.  My mother didn’t care for Janelle, but what could she do? We were best friends, went to the same school and church, and only lived four houses away.  I don’t think my mother would disapprove of her for being poorer—nine of them stuffed into the same-style small house as ours, which felt too crowed for us five. Maybe it was because their yard was a mess—old rusting junk and broken plastic toys, soaked fliers never collected. And Janelle usually did seem grimy. She was only allowed a bath every other night unless she and her oldest sister shared the tub, which her sister usually refused. We were both skinny with short hair but mine was neater. My mother used Scotch tape to keep my bangs even when she trimmed. Janelle’s older sister cut hers with what looked like hedge clippers, my mother said. And poor Janelle had to wear her sister’s wool tights, so large they draped on her legs like elephant skin.

That day, folding the long rope once over to shorten it, we took turns—closer to the foundry because the asphalt outside the chicken factory was slick with grease, unusual for a Sunday—doing solitary jumps. They must have been working overtime. Then we each took an end and practiced twirling the rope as fast as we could, preparing for Marcia at school. I am a pretty little Dutch Girl! I was so focused on the swish and slap—over and over—that the man with camera was almost upon us before I turned and spotted him, snapping photos.  He startled me into a smile. He was younger than our parents but older than the high school boys. He kept circling us, clicking his black camera. I said, no, stop, but he kept going. I dropped my end of the rope. The man paused and—offering up his fancy camera—said, let me show you this contraption. 

His black hair was combed to the far right side and his eyes were rimmed in such thick lashes that they reminded me of sunflowers.

We’re not allowed to talk to strangers, I said. Com’on, Janelle, let’s go.

Janelle stepped closer to him and brushed me away. Without forethought, I took off in a gallop, looking back only once to see Janelle’s thin white neck bent over the camera as he pointed to different gears and gadgets.

She didn’t come to school for days, and when she did, she stayed inside during recess to help Mrs. Cornell clean the boards. It must have been a month—but who knew time in those days?—before she sought me out.  She carried an old and peeling patent leather purse.

Look what I got, she said and pulled out a 5 by 5 black and white of us twirling the rope. It looked crisper and more professional than any photo I had ever seen. In it, Janelle and I were separated by the spinning rope, going so fast that it was barely a visible blur, as if the two of us were no longer connected at all.

Garnett Cohen has published three collections of short fiction. Her prose has appeared in many places. Her essay, “My Life in Smoke,” appeared in The New Yorker online in 2019 and her nonfiction has twice been awarded Notable Essay citations from Best American Essays. Several of her stories have won awards, such as the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize and the Lawrence Foundation Prize. She is a professor at Columbia College Chicago.

   

ANONYMITY

 

Paul Hostovsky

Remember that alcoholic you tried to help, the one you took to those meetings, those meetings you were attending yourself because you needed help stopping drinking and the only way to get it, they said at the meetings, was to give it? Remember those boxes he asked if he could store in your garage because he’d just lost his apartment and was basically homeless now? Remember how you made a place for them in a dry corner near the bicycles and Christmas decorations, how he promised he’d come back for them soon, but then he stopped coming to the meetings and months went by and then it was winter, the boxes huddled in the dark against the cold? Remember how you made it through the holidays without a drink, then asked around at the meetings but no one had seen him? Remember how you thought of looking online for an obituary, but you didn’t even know his last name–because anonymity, they said at the meetings, was the spiritual foundation of all their traditions? Remember when you decided to open the boxes–just to look for his name, you told yourself–and (merry xmas!) what you found were hundreds of albums and CDs: oldies rock and jazz and folk and blues, many of them rare and out of print? Remember how you carried them into the house and took them out one by one and made a list of the titles and listened to them all over the next sober weeks and months, and by the time you celebrated a year clean and sober his record collection had merged with your record collection? And someone at the meetings said he was dead. Are you sure? you asked. Yeah, they found him frozen to death last Christmas in a snowbank. Remember the brief shock, then the sweet relief you felt washing over you, thinking only of the records and yourself? Remember how the sweet relief turned sour, how it started to burn, how you couldn’t listen to the records anymore, the pleasure gone now? Remember how you ended up selling them all for a thousand bucks, then ended up picking up a drink, then ended up spending all the money on booze and drugs, then ended up back at the meetings, where the help was, the help you got by giving it away?

Paul Hostovsky’s most recent book, DEAF&BLIND, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. Website: paulhostovsky.com

 

 

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