Made to Last

close up photography of gray knit textile

By Emily Uduwana
Bargain hunting always gave me a thrill. Before I met you, my closet held more percentages than fabric–nothing below 30% off, most over 50%. On Saturdays, I liked to throw everything on my bed and separate the pieces into special sections: Barely Ripped, Slightly Stained, Just Off-Size. The left-overs became contestants in my own personal game show. I called it Bad Print or Dried Deodorant?When I met you, my closet began to change. I donated a stack of clearance camis to fit a new pair of suede flats, a waterproofing spray, a bottle of shoe cleaner. You made a scrapbook for our third anniversary. We paged through it together, reminiscing about rained-out dates and picnics overthrown by ants. When I came down the stairs for dinner that night, you beamed at the polka-dot sweater I’d chosen; you recognized it from our trip to the museum. You remembered things like that. I took our scrapbook home with me, studied the pictures in bed. There was the sunhat you almost lost at the pier, the t-shirt a seagull let loose on. During a visit to my father, you sparkled in a necklace passed down from your grandmother. But where were the clothes I’d worn? I looked from the scrapbook to my closet, searching for remnants of our last three years. I didn’t find many; the zipper on my pink dress broke a while back, and the yellow one shrunk in the wash. My jeans were torn to begin with–but they were 40% off!And then there were those suede flats.
They carried me to my brother’s wedding (and to his next one after that). They held it together after you trampled them in dance practice, and they cleaned up well for your sister’s graduation. I stared for a while at those suede shoes. I stared long enough that I tugged loose a thread hanging from my polka-dot sweater. As the arm unraveled, I ordered a new one online: Blue cotton sweater, Fully lined, Made to last.

Emily Uduwana is a poet and short fiction author based in Southern California, with recent publications in Ecletica Magazine, perhappened mag, and Rubbertop Review. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in the history of the America West.


Callista Van Allen

He has to be a good boy. Not for the treats or the praise, but for those depending on him. For the lives he could save.
Megan stands at his side. She’s trying to hide it, but her tremors run down his leash. Her lips are pressed so tightly her face pales. They’ve been paired together for years. He found victims and mourned deaths with her. She’s been sad. She’s been upset. But she never looks like this.
He whimpers, tail between his legs. It’s the tenth day at this site. It’s the longest they’ve been dispatched to, but they’ve hardly made a dent in the search.
Megan scratches his ears, then whispers a command.
He launches through the rubble, tearing past concrete, steel, and ash. He dashes past panes of glass, over crumbled desks and chairs. The wreckage spans blocks. Rubble towers into the sky.
In the back of his mind, he registers cars honking and people chattering. It wasn’t like that when they first arrived. It was eerily calm, like the world was frozen in time, drenched in the scent of a city on fire.
The skyscrapers cast strange shadows on the ground. As he pours over debris, hoping to catch a scent, he begins to understand Megan’s despair. Not a single hit, as if the victims were crushed beneath the buildings.
Then something wafts into the air, a trail so faint he almost misses it. Human? His legs pump as fast as they can. Seconds mean the difference between life and death, and there’s got to be at least one person he can save, right?
Maybe a weak mother, ready to be returned to her children. A brother, picturing his family. A businessman who wasn’t even supposed to be at work. Someone, anyone.
Instead, he finds the charred remains of an arm. He sits, letting out a single howl. He’s discovered a victim, but not a live one.
He’s found the same thing several days in a row.
If he can’t find them alive…is he a bad boy? He knows the other humans have started to hide, pretending to be victims for him to find. It’s supposed to make him feel better, but it’s fake.
He’s doing his best. Everyone is. Why aren’t they finding people?
As Megan joins him, a plane roars overhead. Everyone freezes, eyes trained on the clouds. Megan sucks in a sharp breath and he whimpers, nudging her with his nose.
She focuses on his find, swallowing back a lump before radioing for a recovery team. Recovery, not rescue. He hangs his head. It’s his fault they’re dead, isn’t it?
Megan scratches his ears. “I know,” she says, “You’re doing your best.”
Even if he’s a search dog, he can’t save everyone. But he can save someone, right?
This feels like saving no one.
“Come on, Buddy. We’ve got to wash you off.” Megan tries to sound upbeat, but stress sinks into her voice. “We’ve got more to do tomorrow.”


Callista Van Allen is an American author based in Arizona and California. Her favorite genre to write is fantasy, and in her spare time, she competes in foil fencing and collegiate Model UN. Her work previously appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in HauntedMTL.

black and tan miniature pinscher

One of Us

photo of people holding each other s handsBy Nancy Bourne

The singer clutches the microphone, her bright red lips wide open. Eyes closed. Voice so smooth, like molasses. Like the color of her face, dark, satiny. Amber can’t take her eyes off her. She looks around the crowded Golf Club ballroom at the other wedding guests. A lot of kids from her high school. No longer chatting, but staring at the singer and frowning. 

Amber can see her cousin, Sterling, Jr., up front with his bride, Jodie, a brainy sort from New York. They met in Vermont, working at a summer camp. 

“Jodie’s hired a singer for the reception,” he’d told her. “She sings in Broadway musicals.”

Amber had expected somebody looking like Julie Andrews or Barbra Streisand, not this dark- skinned woman.

She’s singing Summertime, her voice piercing the high notes in clear, crystal sweetness. Amber loves this song. She closes her eyes and lets the music flow through her. She feels she’s alone in this vast ballroom, just Amber and the beautiful singer, lost in the easy living of Summertime. 

What’s she feeling? Amber wonders. That black woman, singing down here in Cypress, South Carolina, in front of all these white people. She looks around. No colored faces here, except on the waiters. She watches them skirt around the guests, in their starched white jackets, holding trays of shrimp high in the air. 

The girls from Amber’s high school, in sleeveless silk dresses, sip fruit punch, their bare arms and faces red from the July sun. Their mothers, in pastel linen suits, flutter paper fans in their faces to counter the ineffective air conditioning. Husbands and sons, with jackets and ties hanging loose in their hands, sweat visibly. Pink and blue balloons dangle from the ceiling. Stacks of wedding presents wrapped in silver paper overflow several tables. It has all the trappings of a summer wedding in a small southern town. 

Except for that singer. 

Amber hears someone say, “I think it’s weird to invite a colored girl down here to sing at a wedding. I mean we’ve got Civil Rights and all that, but it’s in bad taste. We’re not ready.” 

Amber closes her mind to the conversations around her and fixes her eyes, large, dark brown, on the satin-skinned woman, on her wide-open mouth, on her eyes, shut tight, on her limber body swaying to the music of her song. Amber can’t stop smiling. 

And now the singer is bowing to the smatter of applause, nodding to Mr. Striker, the high school band instructor seated at the piano. She climbs on unsteady spike heels down the stairs from the stage, frowning slightly at the crowd of wedding guests. After a minute of searching the room, she heads off through the guests, who step aside, opening up a space for her. 

The ballroom suddenly explodes with the chatter of old friends. “The cake,” someone yells over the noise. “They’re cutting the cake.” There’s a rush to the long table at the side of the ballroom. Amber can picture Sterling, Jr. and Jodie, her hand on top of his, as they plunge a silver knife into the bottom layer of a tiered four-layer cake, iced sugar white, the standard toy bride and groom perched on top, the wedding date, June 14, 1984, spelled out in colored icing. Cameras flash. The crowd roars.

But Amber isn’t with them. She has seated herself at a small table, sipping punch, and humming to herself. She half hopes one of the high school girls will come sit with her. No one does. 

And then there she is. The singer. Standing over her, watching her. Amber is stunned by the woman’s beauty, the strength of her gaze. Confused, Amber looks away; her face burning.

“You,” the woman says in her honey voice, “You are the most beautiful woman in the room. You,” she stresses the word, “you are one of us.” She smiles and is gone.

Amber looks around. Did anyone notice her standing there? Talking to her? A black woman making personal remarks. But everyone is still hovering near the bride and groom, crumbles of cake spilling from their fingers.

Was she making fun of her? No one has ever called Amber beautiful. Her nose is too big. Her mother says it’s elegant and makes her look Egyptian. But it’s too big; in fact, she is too big. Her cheeks are round, and where the collar bones of other girls stick out and their stomachs lie flat, Amber is soft, full. Her large dark eyes, her only source of pride. 

But that isn’t the worst. The woman called her “one of us.” What did she mean by that? It scares her. What does that singer see when she looks at her? Does she see her swaying to the music, her eyes closed? Does that make her “one of us”? Or is there something else?

The singer is back on the stage, grabbing the mic, nodding to Mr. Striker. And then she is looking at Amber. She is smiling and singing right to her. 

Amber looks away, her body rigid. She is terrified.


Nancy Bourne’s stories have appeared in Upstreet, Carolina Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, Blue Lake and numerous other publications. Several of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. For a full list of Bourne’s publications, see

Since retiring as an attorney for public schools, Bourne has been writing stories, making pottery in her home studio, and teaching writing to prisoners and incarcerated minors.


clown fish swimming

Photo by crisdip on

Cierra Krause

Joe Myers killed himself, at least that’s what the police say. His best friend, Steve, believes otherwise but he hasn’t told anyone that, and he never will. When Joe died, he left behind his mother and one lonely fish. Steve took it upon himself to check on the fish but didn’t think about it until days after the funeral. When he remembered the poor thing through the fog of his grief, he scrambled over to Joe’s house. His little sister, Maggie, tagged along. Steve knocked on the front door, and hoped Miss Myers wouldn’t open it yelling, like she always did.
She didn’t. However, her greeting was still indecent. She stood in the door frame in a robe that was too short, old slippers, and her hair in a stringy bun. She was clutching a coffee cup. Steve noticed her knuckles had fading bruises, though he said nothing. Joe always told him to say nothing. Steve shouldn’t have listened, but he was only thirteen and didn’t know better.
“His fish,” is all Steve said.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I forgot ‘bout that fish! Come on in!”
Steve and Maggie did their best to ignore the cluttered floor of pizza boxes, ramen noodle wrappers, bras, and whiskey bottles, as they headed towards the stairs. It wasn’t new to Steve to see the house a mess. It always was. Messy was just the way Miss Myers lived.
Before the siblings headed upstairs, she offered them coffee.
“It’s Irish,” she said. They didn’t know what that meant, but they hastily declined.
“I think I fed him the other day. Can’t remember. Must be hungry, that thing.” She spoke to their backs as they climbed the stairs. Steve nodded but didn’t turn around.
The door to the bedroom was already open, and every light and lamp was on as if Joe was still alive and just in the bathroom. From his visits Steve knew Miss Myers tended to forget to turn off lights, among other things, like feeding her son. She must have been visiting the room at some point, but however long ago her visit upstairs was, Steve didn’t know. At least Joe’s room was clean.
Steve sulked inside, his mood dampening further despite the bright space.
“Bubba,” Maggie said tugging on his sleeve. “Can we hurry? I gotta be home soon to watch CatDog.”
Steve scoffed. “If that’s the case why didn’t ya stay home?”
“I wanted to come with ya,” she said.
He sighed. “Fine. We’ll hurry. The sooner we leave, the better.”
Steve and Maggie walked to Joe’s bedside table and peered inside the square tank sitting there.
“Bubba? I don’t see no fish.”
“Me neither.”
All they could see through the cloudy water was a barrel house, black rocks with piles of food embedded between the crevices, and a green plastic plant growing tufts of mold. The fish was nowhere to be seen.
“Cover yer nose,” Steve said as he moved to lift the black lid from the tank. The lid had a few holes, one for where a light should have been, and a hole for the cord of the filter that was not plugged into the wall. Each hole had a white web collecting food.
“Ew!” Maggie said, covering her nose a second too late.
“Told ya, Mags.” Steve said putting the lid into the bedside trash bin. “There’s the fish.”
Floating on top of the stagnant water was a skinny red and orange betta fish.
“Why his fins ripped?” Maggie asked.
“Joe once said that’s what happens when a fish gets sick. The thing was probs underfed too.”
“Underfed? But there’s food everywhere!”
“His mother’s doing. She don’t know how to take care of no fish. The thing probably died a week ago. She probably didn’t notice with the lid on.”
“That’s sad,” Maggie said. “Whatcha gonna do with it?”
“Dump the water, flush the fish, toss the tank.”
“Well, hurry, we gotta be home in six minutes!”
“What? It’s a five-minute walk!”
“Yeah, so hurry, bubba. I don’t wanna miss CatDog.”
Steve sighed and picked up the tank. The bathroom across the hall was just as messy as the rest of the house. Open soap bottles were spilling out on their sides, tissues and clothes were all over the floor, and the toilet wasn’t even flushed.
“Gross.” Steve shuddered. He did his best to plug his nose into his shoulder, but the smell was overwhelming. He couldn’t stay any longer. Steve poured the tank down the sink, stopping once the fish flew down the drain. He set the tank on the counter and quickly left the bathroom to retrieve his sister from Joe’s room.
“C’mon, we’re leaving,” he said tugging on her hand.
“Heck, yeah, we gonna make it,” Maggie said.
They clambered downstairs across the piles of clothes and trash. In the living room, Miss Myers was lying across the couch watching a drama, a hot cup of coffee in her hand. Probably Irish.
“How’s the fish?”
“It’s dead.” Steve deadpanned.
“You killed it?” she sat up, sloshing her steaming drink across her lap. “Son of a bitch.”
“No,” Steve said pulling his sister through the front door. “You did.”
“What? Listen here, mister! You come back here. I ain’t do no such thing.”
Steve paid her no mind as him and Maggie walked down the driveway and started their short journey home. Joe’s mother trailed, cussing, but she stopped at the edge of her yard. They didn’t turn around as she continued to curse, not even when they stopped hearing her voice to check if she was still there. At some point Steve and Maggie’s walk turned into a run when Maggie urged Steve to move faster. Her show was starting soon and now she wanted to make popcorn before it began. Steve wondered if they’d have a minute to spare.


Cierra Krause is a senior Creative Writing student at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.



                          By Julie Benesh 

At my mother’s funeral an elderly man I didn’t recognize—I now think he may have been some kind of funeral hobbyist—leaned in to ask me if she were “disfigured,” and whether that was why her casket was closed. I said I’d not seen her body, as I edged away from him, reaching for the pin-striped sleeve of my then-husband.

Almost 18 years later, at my dad’s funeral, I was more mature, a sophisticated divorcee, but the world remained as crude as ever. A man I didn’t know said, “I always called him DAD. D-A-D.” 

Drunk and disorderly? Was he literally calling out my dad’s alcoholism? A casual diagnosis of what actually may have finally killed him? I felt the floor was moving beneath me; my heart pounding, stomach swirling. 

 He responded to my bewildered look: “Deal after deal. DAD! 

I spun away, dizzy; the impatience of others was my biggest trigger, and to the more nefarious among my adversaries it made me look like prey, making everything worse. 

“He was ALWAYS SELLING SOMETHING!” the man bellowed. 

Always Selling Something? That’d be ASS. So I guess it could have been worse. I just wish the guy had smiled a little as he said it.

So my dad’s side hustles in the seventies through the early aughts were perhaps a little ahead of his time, a harbinger of the gig economy to come. Some, like his sales of Christmas trees, planted and harvested by hand, and of the homemade maple syrup that stank up the house every spring, were relatively respectable, would now be considered Etsy-appropriate, or at least Etsy- adjacent. Others, like the sports wagers sub-contracted from his bookies, or his distribution of illegal fireworks, somewhat less so, more Dark Web-ish, or, at best, Craig’s List-y. 

But how does any such enterprise compare unfavorably with becoming the kind of person who goes to funerals to taunt the bereaved?

Yet an even worse remark came from my dad’s ostensible ‘friend’ who told me, with haughty drama, that my father had “squandered over $100,000” on the meth dealers around the corner.  

I already knew about this; he was loaning them money (to help them go straight). And buying their affection, being his version of a neighborhood philanthropist. I had seen my dad’s spiral notebook of accounts, block letters in pencil… and this “friend” was also in there and owed him about $12k (which I never attempted to recover). 

The indignant friend’s slick hair bounced with conviction. “That should have been your money!” In other words, those tweakers had jeopardized his line of credit!

“Well, he earned it,” I said. “His to do with whatever he wanted.” He’d come a long way, at least financially, from where we had started.

My dad’s former girlfriend (who was, incidentally, also his brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter), was playing the widow and had confided to me in hushed tones that one of the meth ladies had stolen from his desk a blank check (that she later made out for $30,000 and forged his name to), while her sister meth lady “distracted” him. (I imagined something on the spectrum between burlesque and a lap dance, but who knows– maybe she was just doing card tricks or telling jokes?) The credit union had to cover it, and she was arrested for fraud.

He had been admitted for tests on Thursday night, during his final, gradual, sudden, illness, the what he’d thought was a cold that turned out to be esophageal cancer that erupted into sepsis. I’d talked to him on Friday and said I’d see him Sunday. This meth lady had called him, apparently stricken on Saturday and he’d unplugged his hospital room phone against her tender assault. It was likely the DTs that actually killed him that night when I failed to get there in time with a bottle in a paper bag, per the nurse’s furtive, elliptical instructions–she’d also promised, as nurses never do, that I’d see him again, and more than once. I got the call to the contrary at 4:00 in the morning Sunday, minutes before my scheduled airport ride arrived.

A few months later the county prosecutor wrote to tell me that Meth Lady had pleaded guilty, was sentenced, and that she, by all appearances, was sincerely contrite.

Me, too.


Julie Benesh has been published in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and other places. Her work has earned an Illinois Arts Council Grant and a Pushcart nomination. Julie has an MFA in fiction from Woodrow Wilson College, lives in Chicago with two cats and a lot of books, and works a day job as a professor and department chair of psychology. 


Waking Up

a Memoir by

Nancy Francese

There are self help books for every single problem life can throw at you. But nothing could prepare me for the first morning I woke up after my husband died the night before in Jersey Shore Hospital. I would never again wake up to savor the smell of coffee brewing, no rustling of the paper, no footsteps trying to quietly crisscross the bedroom, no one singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling in the shower. None of the things I so easily took for granted yet loved the most.

I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to get out of bed. “I can’t do this,” I thought.

During our marriage there were only two occasions that we were apart. One time I went to a church convention for a night, and the other time, I went to visit an old friend in Ohio who was dying. Other than that we went to bed together and woke up together roughly 6,570 nights. There was an I Love You every night before I drifted off to dream of redecorating one room or another, or redesigning the backyard. Carl, I can almost certainly say drifted off to replay Pebble Beach Golf Course or perhaps Ballybunion or any one of the dozens of courses we played. Even the mornings he didn’t have to get up early, he got up before me, fixed the coffee and brought me a cup in bed. The fact that he was a tea drinker made this even more thoughtful.

The final month of his life he prepared me for sleeping alone. He said sleeping in bed was too difficult; it was easier to sleep sitting up on the couch. I put a pillow behind his head and the TV remote within reach.
Where is Elephant? he asked. Elephant, a blue and green sock elephant, was one of our grandson’s treasured stuffed animals which he gave to Carl.
“I’m giving Grandpa some of my stuffed animals to help him feel better,” said Miles. I nestled Elephant in next to Carl’s elbow.
“Thank you. I like having Elephant; I feel safe. I love you”, he said.
“I love you”, I responded with as normal a voice as I could muster.

Once in bed, I listened carefully for his breathing to change to a gentle rhythm of 1-2, in and out signifying sleep, and then I could fall asleep. Ironically one morning he said to me, “I listen for your breathing to change, and then I can fall asleep. “

And so, I became accustomed to going upstairs and going to bed alone. I could do so because I knew he was downstairs. And I could get up in the morning because I had to make sure he was alive, still.

He was until the night he wasn’t.

I had gone to bed, but in the morning when I remembered the horror of the night before, I couldn’t make myself move. I won’t move. I’ll go back to sleep and wake up to all the familiar sounds of a husband and wife sharing a morning. I won’t roll over; I won’t look. I can’t bear to see the pillow still perfectly fluffed and the blanket unwrinkled. I will just lay in bed, look out the window and let my tears silently seep into forever.

And then one day I woke up without feeling like 10-pound weights were attached to my ankles and wrists, got up, dressed, made coffee and grabbed the paper from the front porch. And then I did the same thing the next day and the next and the next until slowly death succumbed to life.


Nancy Francese is a retired school teacher and college English professor. She is currently working on a collection of personal essays which focus on her experiences living on a farm, her 25-year teaching career and the loss of her husband in 2017. She has a son, daughter-in-law and two fabulous grandchildren. Nancy lives in New Jersey where she enjoys golf, reading and writing.

art artistic blank page book

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Five Stars

abstract aluminum art artistic

Photo by Ella Pix on

D. James Judge

“Put all the honey in the bag and no one gets hurt?”
Mrs. Ames squinted at the note one more time and placed it back on the counter. “That’s an odd request,” she said. She rested her silver-chained reading glasses on her blouse and frowned. “I can honestly say I’ve never met someone quite so serious about their honey.”
“Not honey, lady” he said, brandishing the unloaded gun. “Put the money in the bag.”
“Come now, no need for that.” She waved her hand and flashed an impish smile. “I’m just giving you a hard time. This is already a robbery. Let’s not make it worse by being uncivil.”
“Sorry,” he said, feeling a little confused. “I guess. Just, you know—”
“Put the money in the bag?” she said with a wink. “Now?”
“Yeah.” Then, meekly: “Thanks.”
“Of course.” she said. “Do be careful with that thing, though.”
He lowered the empty revolver. She might have a point. He was trying to be intimidating, not irresponsible.
He glanced briefly at the scrap of paper he’d torn from the back of his Volkswagen’s user manual, paused, and threw up his free hand in exasperation.
“OK. I see what you mean. The little curly at the beginning there does make it look like an ‘h.’” He crumpled the note and pocketed it. “I was driving at the time,” he explained.
“I was just ribbing you a bit. But . . . you know,” she said absently while collecting bills, “you probably didn’t need to bother with a note.”
He looked around. The small, old-fashioned store—part-floral, part-general—was empty save for the two of them. The permanent, barrel-chested musk of aged oak mixed with the nimble, perfumed brushstrokes of ephemeral flora. Canned goods, oil filters, potato chips and fishing lures; bacon, nails, birdseed and toilet paper. Charleston Chews swathed in thin coats of lazy dust.
And not a soul to overhear the goings on.
“You’re supposed to use a note,” he said, a bit defensively.
“Oh? I didn’t realize. Here you go.” She placed a thin stack of bills on the counter. “I don’t think you’ll be needing this,” she added, sliding the folded paper bag toward him.
He fanned out the bills. “You’re kidding. Fifteen, seventeen . . . twenty-two dollars?”
“I have a few dollars in change here, if you’d like.” She gestured at the open drawer. “Some people don’t like carrying that much change, but it spends the same, doesn’t it? I always carry extra change, in case I—”
“Quiet for a minute, please.” He thumped his palm against his forehead, empty gun pointed at the ceiling. “I need to think.” He scratched at his midsection, then chest. This wasn’t going the way he imagined.
“What have you got there?” she asked. “A rash?”
“What? Oh.” He stopped scratching. “Poison Ivy.”
“No! That’s too bad. I hate that stuff, don’t you?” She shook her head. “My husband used to find his way into it all the time. Here, I’ve got just the thing for it.”
“No, wait—” But she was already making her way down the long wooden counter. He was forced to watch and wait as she nudged open the knee-high swinging gate and shuffled to a tall shelf nearby. She selected a small white bottle with a pink label and made her way back.
“Here, this will dry those blisters up.” It was calamine lotion, just like his mother used to give him. She smiled gently. “Just try not to scratch. It only makes it worse.”
He sighed and leaned into the counter, resting the revolver against the coarsely grained oak, itching something terrible and determined not to show it again. “OK. How much for the lotion?”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Just consider it part of the ‘take.’ Isn’t that what they call it?”
“No. I mean, yes they do. I think. But I’ll pay for the lotion.”
“But why—”
“I don’t accept charity,” he clarified.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”
He sighed: “You’re offering me something I need at no charge, right? That’s textbook charity, isn’t it?” To underscore his point, he pocketed the cash from the register, retrieved his wallet, and placed his Wells Fargo Visa card on the counter.
“This is a separate transaction entirely.”
“Oh, honestly—”
“Just ring it up,” he said, trying to sound menacing. Then, as an afterthought, he gestured at the countertop cooler behind her. “And maybe a Coke. Please.” Back to menacing: “And don’t forget to charge me for the bottle deposit.”
After signing the credit card slip, he fished the anemic stack of bills of out his pocket and slid it across the counter.
“I feel bad,” he explained. “You probably need that for giving change.”
“Bless your heart,” she said. “Next time, try later in the day.”
He pocketed the lotion and opened the Coke. “Listen. How did I do?” he asked, feeling sheepish. “I mean . . . if you had to rate your experience. Like, you know, out of five stars or whatever.”
“Well, to be honest, I’ve never been robbed before.” She chuckled. “But I would give you five stars for manners.”
“Thanks.” He removed the stifling bandana from his face and sipped from the tall glass bottle. “I’d give you five, too.”
“Well then, it appears we’ve both exceeded expectations. Just don’t forget to use that calamine!”
“I won’t. Thanks again.”
On his way out, he pushed the heavy wooden door halfway open and paused, calling back to the counter. “You’re not going to call the cops, are you?”
She looked around and shrugged. “For what?”
“Right. Have a good one, then.”
“You too!”


D. James Judge’s fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Litro, The Boiler Journal, and Lunch Ticket. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and son.