The Valentine box that once held the most delicious candy, as well as so much promise, is now empty.But the memory of the cardboard heart still lingers in my mind and remains hidden somewhere in the garage. I simply cannot bear to throw it out. Maybe it’s time to be recycled? The still pristine heart-shaped box draped in red satin and decorated with a voluptuous bow has been protected inside a larger box since my husband gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, too many years ago to count.
Every once and a while, I take inventory of my space, although mainly I’m just reassembling the clutter, and find that heart. I always seem to be surprised when I discover it again. I gingerly open the protective box as if I didn’t know what was inside, and then trace the outline of the heart, feel the silkiness of the satin, and marvel at its beautiful bow. There, for just a moment, I’m transported to that time when we were so in love with one another. Oh, if only we had a second chance at that feeling, instead of the heartache that developed between my memory and the reality of us now.
I really should recycle this empty box, but I just don’t have the heart. Instead I’ll return it to another area in the garage to be hidden again and forgotten. Until next year.
Marlene DeVere is retired from a career in teaching, broadcast journalism, and advertising. A native Chicagoan, she has lived in most sections of the country and in the Middle East. She is now living in Tucson, Arizona, rewriting her life along with a collection of short stories. She has published in Lalitamba Literary Journal, tiny essays, Scarlet Leaf Review and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
While my mother was paying for groceries I walked over to the spot where the supermarket sold paperbacks and found a biography on Brando. At the age of thirteen, I often did a mean Marlon Brando impression with toilet paper stuffed in my cheeks.
A sun-bleached blonde girl who had to be around nineteen or twenty years old approached me and said, “I bet you want to be an actor.”
At the time, I mostly just wanted to be cool, charismatic, a lady killer, and rich and famous. How to achieve this–I was not quite sure.
“I guess I do,” was my noncommittal answer.
“Well, it all starts by looking at pictures of famous actors in books and magazines. That is how it started for me.”
“Are you an actress?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Have you been in movies?”
“I am on a TV show. I have a recurring role in Days of Our Lives.”
She was slim, overly tanned and looked like she surely must live in Malibu. There was one burning question: “Do you know how to cry on cue?”
“How do you do it?”
“Well, I will tell you how. It’s all in my head space. For instance, let’s say you were my boyfriend and we were, you know, doing it, and then let’s say you broke my heart.” She reached out and placed my right hand on her cleavage. I looked around to see if anybody was watching. Luckily, so far, nobody was. “And so I allow myself to feel the pain in my heart. I just let the emotion sneak up my spine. Oh, how could you hurt me? I love you. And then…”
Tears were forming in her eyes. It wasn’t long before one rolled down her cheek. Then she took me in her arms and started sobbing. She had the scent of tanning lotion. Her body was hot like she had just returned from the beach.
Suddenly somebody was tapping me on the shoulder. I turned around and it was this old guy who worked at the market.
“I am the manager here. Is everything alright?” he asked as if I was somehow to blame.
The girl then released her grip on me and said to him, “This boy hurt me like nobody has ever hurt me before. He is a heart-breaker and he has ripped my spirit from my soul.”
The manager looked perplexed by her sappy, soap opera-like delivery.
“He looks like just a regular schmo to me,” he quipped.
“Looks are deceiving,” she said. “He drew me into his web of desire and then he lit my fire only to blow it out and leave me out in the cold.”
“He looks wet under the ears to me. Lady, don’t tell me you are actually really dating this whipper- snapper?”
“I did more than date him. I allowed him to see parts of me that nobody else saw. I let him touch me in places that nobody has before.”
“Well then, I would say he is one lucky son of a gun. He certainly has nothing to complain about.When I was his age I was lucky if a girl even said ‘hello’ to me. I guess it’s true–some guys really can kiss the girls and make ’em cry. In any case, if you could take your little love thing outside, we got customers here. You are both making a scene.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind me telling you,” I chimed in, “this has all just been a ‘scene.’ She is just acting, that’s all.”
I was not sure why I would want to negate my new-found romantic stature in his eyes. After all, he was clearly seeing me as some sort of teen San Fernando Valley Casanova.
“Just take it outside,” the manager said.
The girl wiped the tears from her face. “You see, that is how it is done. You have to find the place inside you that hurts and really believe and then the tears naturally flow.”
Just then my mother rolled her cart full of groceries in my direction. I had already fallen head over heels for this green-eyed beauty. This method actress. This soap opera star. She looked to be only a few years older than me, yet she seemed wise, sexy and worldly. I wanted to flee the grocery store with her and start our own groovy life together which I was sure would include lovemaking, weed, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young music, walks on the beach, and moments of pure blissful Hollywood glamour. But I was just an awkward and spaced out thirteen-year-old L.A. kid.
“Jake!” my mother called out as if I were in some sort of danger. “We are going now!”
“Well, I guess this is it for us,” the actress said, “I hope you will always remember this moment we shared. Remember us. And the day you made me cry.”
I already felt guilty for the imaginary way that I wronged her and broke her heart. It made me feel like a regular Ryan O’Neal.
As my mother rolled the cart, she looked back one last time with disdain at the histrionic girl. “What was she talking to you about?” she asked as we exited outside into the blaring sun in the parking lot.
“She was showing me how to cry on cue. She was a real actress.” “You have to watch out for women like that.”
“They will hurt you very deeply. She looks like the sort that sleeps around.”
“How can you tell?”
“I just know. It’s too too early for you. You have to wait until you are ready to deal with all that trouble.”
As I lifted the bags of groceries into the trunk of the family Buick station wagon I jutted my jaw and in my best Brando voice said, “You don’t understand Mom, I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender.”
Ivan Jenson is a fine artist, novelist and popular contemporary poet. His artwork was featured in Art of America, Art News, and Interview, and has sold at auction at Christie’s. He was commisioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled “Absolut Jenson” for the brand’s international campaign, Ivan’s poetry is widely pubished with over 600 poems published. Ivan;s fictional memoir “Gypsies of New Rochelle” was published and released by Michelkin Publishing. Ivan Jenson’s website is https://www.ivanjenson.com
“No devices in the courtroom,“ the officer said, barely loud enough to be heard. He leaned against the wall, perpendicular to the clerk, and scanned the people who had sat down after being told to rise for the judge.
A woman in her 30s was flipping pictures up on her Instagram feed. “Turn off all devices,” the constable said eyeing her, lingering on the “all.” She did not return the look but emitted a chuckle and stuffed the phone into the top of a shiny, silver purse. She let her gaze go around the room as if she had been the one to think of putting away her electronics.
Her eyes stopped at the elderly gentleman to her right and opened in an expression that was half surprise, half flirt. The corners of her mouth curled like a lioness who has found tomorrow’s breakfast.
When she had diverted her face toward the front, the old man allowed himself to look her up and down. Her face, he noted, was smooth with only a touch of makeup. Her brown hair was straight with the lines of white popular this month. Except for one long vein on the back of her right hand, the hands appeared to be 10 years younger than the rest of her. On her finger was a setting for a diamond the size of a pecan. Her nails were glossy with a color between maroon and peach.
He wanted to lift those fingertips from her leg as one pries apart articles of clothing affixed with static cling. He regarded the curves in her sides as she stood to answer when the clerk called her name. She ain’t fat. But she’s eaten, he thought. She disappeared from view, and then he remembered he had not had breakfast. He closed his eyes.
The guard repeated, “All devices must be turned off,“ and the old man opened his eyes a slit and lethargically moved his head to see if he could spy out the culprit. Three people rapidly put phones in pockets and under their legs. He went back to resting
He was laying next to the woman with the silver purse. She was wearing nothing but the huge ring in the feline smile. “I know you’re going to eat me,“ he said as he watched her lashes slowly go up and down. “But I’m too old to care.”
“Oh,“ exited her throat, “I bet I could get some energy out of you.“
“Really?“ He asked in his head and realized the word had escaped his mouth.
“Oh,“ was all she said, but not audibly. He focused on the mouth and thought he was floating inside it like a piece of hard candy.
“No devices,“ shouted the constable, “shall be on while the court is in session.“ The old man looked directly at the officer who was straining toward him. Something was wrong. He felt his pocket and pulled out his phone and the sound seemed to triple in volume.
The constable reached him and snatched the phone out of his hand. The man saw something on the screen, a text. But the officer shut off the phone before he could see anything in detail.
“I’ll take it if it goes off again,“ the constable said, returning the lifeless box.
He did not take his eyes off the judge from that point. The judge, for her part, saw nothing take place, her attention focused on the lawyers in front of her. The old man tried to will his heart to stop pounding.
A few minutes later, his lawyer slid onto the bench beside him. The old man didn’t move.
“I tried to text you, and let you know I was running late. When you didn’t respond, I tried to call. Hey, you OK?“
“She wouldn’t let me,“ the old man said in a scratchy whisper.
“Let you what?“ The lawyer asked. “Who?“
But he wasn’t moving. He closed his eyes and curled up, and he felt the woman with the big ring reach through the ceiling and put him inside her purse, where he was, for the first time, the right size.
Inside, he nestled between a box of tissues and a tube of lipstick. He breathed in the scent of her belongings, looked up at the opening of the purse gaping for a moment like an open-mouthed kiss. Then her phone was falling on him as he heard the zipper close.
Michael Neal Morris’ most recent books are Based on Imaginary Events, Release and Haiku, Etc. He is a regular contributor to the blog Two Cents On and posts almost daily to This Blue Monk. He lives with his family just outside the Dallas area and teaches Composition and Creative Writing at Dallas College.
“Where is the doorway to eternity? Where do you enter? Think on these things and we will continue our discussion next time,” the self-proclaimed self-help guru said at the end of the two-hour class: “Finding What You Never Lost,” held at the community senior center.
The guru climbed into his car and as he was backing out of the parking space he heard a familiar scraping sound and knew his front fender had again caught on a parking lot bumper.
He shifted into park and climbed out of his car to push the left end of his ragged plastic fender back into place. He’d done this many times before.
“I ought to get it fixed,” he thought, but his income as a local guru and Social Security recipient was of a temporal nature.
“I am but a humble creature of the Earth,” he thought as he tried to open the car door. The car was still running and somehow, he’d locked himself out. “This is going to be embarrassing,” he contemplated.
Russ Allison Loar has written for numerous newspapers and magazines including news and feature stories for the Los Angeles Times. (Byline: Russ Loar.)
He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal State Long Beach and completed graduate studies in American Literature at Cal Poly, Pomona.
His most recent poetry and prose publications include Abstract Magazine, the Evening Street Review, the Bryant Literary Review, the Coffin Bell Journal, the Ravens Perch and the anthology: Heart Of A Man.
“This is no place for kids,” BaaBaa decided after our parents divorced, and each decided it was just too damn much hassle to raise their five kids. Good old Mom and Dad first dumped us on a foster family who raised other people’s children as a way to make a living, just like raising show dogs, except we kids living there were more like misfits no kennel club would ever certify.Daddy Dearest picked us up one Saturday and drove us to see our maternal grandparents for a visit. Probably took us there because it was just so uncomfortable for him to spend a few hours with us.
“All it took was one look at all five of you sitting on the couch with down turned faces that I told your father to go back to that place and pack your clothes up so we could move you in with us,” Nana always smiled when remembering those days. As soon as BaaBaa’s proclamation of seeking more countrified digs was made, Nana packed up their two-bedroom apartment and called the movers to truck everything to a town on the outskirts of the L.A. metropolitan area—Simi Valley.
We all loaded into the Dodge wagon for the hour drive to a three-bedroom rental house situated next to a walnut grove. We loved the swinging salon doors that led into the kitchen. During the few months we lived there, I am amazed that none of us ever clobbered one another while one went in as the other went out of the swinging doors. The black walnut trees were a magical German Black Forest as far as we kids were concerned. The small rental would do, while we looked for something bigger to buy.
Once we had finished exploring our temporary new base, we sat and waited for the moving truck to arrive. BaaBaa suffered from a melody of serious medical conditions – diabetes and high blood pressure among others—that required daily medication. It was not like we were moving to another state, so Nana had not packed BaaBaa’s pill bottles into the car with us, but rather boxed them up with everything else that was somewhere in Southern California, just not Simi Valley.
Since this was stone-age times, there were no cell phones. Trips to the nearest payphone to call the moving company got us no answers.And this was not one of those fly-by-night outfits; Nana had hired one of those giant corporate companies with a fleet of giant trucks boasting a logo of how they were king of the world when it came to moving your precious belongings. Bullshit. We slept that night on the floor with newspaper pages as blankets.I was appalled and disturbed to see my beloved BaaBaa sleeping like a hobo. If those movers had pulled up that night, I would have waited until they offloaded our boxes and bunk beds, and then strangled them with the shoulder strap from my Girl Scout canteen.
We spent two nights on the floor until the morons at the moving company finally managed to show up at our door. Maybe they routed through Vegas to play craps before finally realizing the journey should have only been sixty minutes.Since our experience with that moving company, everyone in our family over the decades now does the rent-a-truck-and-haul-your-own-shit route.
The next four years we spent in Simi Valley were almost too good to be true.My grandparents found us a grand house within a couple of months. A two-story monster that looked just like Tara from Gone with the Wind with its soaring front porch held up by tall white columns.With BaaBaa in a wheelchair, my grandparents’ twin beds went into the big bedroom downstairs that had its own bath and a walk-in closet where BaaBaa stored his old wooden leg, that he once used to walk with crutches before getting too old for that struggle. For the next four Decembers, Nana would hide our Christmas presents in that closet, aware that lower leg wearing a black sock and shoe was enough to keep us out of there.
The house backed up to a mountain full of canyons and cactus and trees big enough to hold the tree house we soon erected. The houses around us were full of families with kids and all of us formed into a tight gang that ruled the fields and streets of our fiefdom of fun. Our house was on the highest cul-de-sac of a neighborhood full of streets that climbed from the base to the top of the hill. Behind us was an even taller hill called Mt. McCoy that had a huge concrete cross on its peak. Our usual habit was to walk the wide trail that led along the crest of Mt. McCoy to the cross, then come down the 40-minute walk through the brushy canyons like pint-size pioneers. One day as we descended the hillside, several of us noticed a coyote running toward us.
“Wolf!” someone shouted, and we all began to run. The flash of fast-moving beast gave me instant visions of being torn from limb to limb. There was no time to walk around the cactus and shrubs in our way as we ran straight down the hillside rather than take the meandering trail. I remember vaulting over what seemed like four-foot bushes at breakneck speed as we sped to the backyard of my house..
Breathless and shaking, we arrived at the same time and all turned to see how close the wild beast was. A smirk filled my face, as I realized the canine creature wore a big grin on its face and was wagging its German Shepard tail. Like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, people should not yell “Wolf!” in a crowd of over imaginative idiots.
Even with the cactus and rattlesnakes among us, Nana considered the most dangerous aspect to living in Simi was the bowling alley that we passed on our way to the Saturday movie matinee at the walk-in movie theatre. As young as 11, my friends and I could walk down Simi’s main drag, Los Angeles Avenue, to go to the movies. Larwin Square was an open-air mall where I used to love looking at the variety of linen paper at the stationery store or looking at the pierced earrings at the W.R. Grant store that was Simi’s version of today’s Wal-Mart. They sold everything from candy to clothes, kitchen towels and knick-knacks, but no groceries. The mall was anchored by a fourth-run movie theatre that ran kids’ films on Saturdays. For fifty cents, there would be some Disney cartoon like Jungle Book or a musical like Sound of Music. In those days, they would first run a few animated shorts. Then the lights would come on to show that the stage down front was lined with five or six fantastic prizes like erector sets or dolls. Everyone in the pint-sized audience would check their ticket stubs as the manager called out numbers from a spinning bingo-type cage. Kids today can keep their 24-hour cable cartoon networks and home video games; even though I never won a prize it was still a thrill I can remember decades later.
The theatre management in those days did not even care that before coming to the theatre we would stop in W.R. Grant’s and load up on cheap popcorn, candy, and soda to imbibe during the movie.We did not even have to sneak the stuff in like I do today. I guess they made their money from the adults coming to see evening adult fare of the day like The Graduate and Cool Hand Luke.
On the way home we would hesitate, remembering Nana’s warnings, but some strange force would propel us into the bowling alley on the way home. I felt like I was practically in a bar. Here it was in the mid-afternoon and the place was barely lit. In the darkness you could see down the lit lanes, but the carpeted walkway between the cocktail lounge and the front door was lined with amusement machines you could play for a few coins. Three games of pinball for a quarter or one game for a dime, but our favorite was a large clear box on a platform. For 25 cents you could use a stick to propel a helicopter up and down to score points by hitting a target as the craft flew around and around. Nana would always suspiciously ask us if we had gone inside the bowling alley and we would always speak in a high pitched, innocent-sounding, “No.” To be able to sleep at night after lying to someone who is a true saint, I think that was the beginning that led to all of us being able to beat any lie detector test.
It is amazing none of us are felons. Or politicians.
Tracy Mears has won numerous awards for both fiction and nonfiction, including an honorable mention from PEN Women. Her work has appeared in Painted Cave and The Gila River Review. Tracy’s piece ‘Home Sweet Home’ reflecting on her time with a traveling carnival is in the current issue of Swamp Ape Review. Her short story ‘What a Boy Needs’ is in the new Brushfire Literary Arts Journal. You can read more of her work at https://tracymears.wordpress.com
Lucky hears the truck engine first, barks his warning and hides under the porch while I, after hearing the barking, turn off the TV and call out to Ma.
Ma puts out her cigarette, hides the pack, and with the bucket handy douses the kitchen floor and starts in with the mop like she is getting paid piecework.
I run upstairs to my bedroom—open the window to rid the room of the weed smell, empty my backpack on the bed and start reading last week’s assignment.
I hear the front door as it hits the wall after being pushed open and Pa yells out for his beer and demands to know where his supper is.
Ma brings Dad his Budweiser—drops a pill in the long neck—he reaches for it, falls to the floor, hand on chest, while me and Ma tiptoe to the kitchen and eat a slow and quiet meal for a change. Lucky gets Pa’s portion.
Paul Beckman’s latest flash collection, Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), was a finalist for the 2019/2020 Indie Book Awards. Some of his stories appeared in Spelk, Connotation Press, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, WINK, Jellyfish Review, and The Lost Balloon. He had a story selected for the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology Lineup and was short listed in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Paul curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly in KGB’s Red Room (Currently Virtual).
It turns out he boarded the wrong plane. The mistake might have been discovered had his seat belonged to someone else, but the plane was nearly empty and he fell asleep before they left the ground. He slept through the beverage service and he slept through the light snack. In fact, he slept until awoken by a flight attendant who only said the plane had landed, failing to mention where it had landed.
He walked through an airport he had never seen before, so he had no way of knowing he was eight states from where he was supposed to be. His carry-on did away with the need to wait in vain while the claim carousel spun luggage. He left the airport though the first exit he found.
The weather was warmer than he expected, but not so much to cause concern, and his next chance of discovery came at the cabstand. He climbed into the backseat of a taxi and asked for Hotel Savigny. The driver nodded and pulled away, neither knowing six cities across the country contained a Hotel Savigny, including where he was, including where he was supposed to be.
He paid the driver and entered the hotel, where the receptionist greeted him warmly and asked: “Do you have a reservation?”
“Of course,” he answered, and gave his name.
When the receptionist could not locate his reservation, she said not to worry because plenty of rooms were available and she gave him a key. In his room, he called his wife to let her know he had arrived, that the trip had passed without incident, that he was resting and would eat dinner soon and sleep soon after that.
“You forgot your toothbrush,” she said. “Absentminded as ever.”
He shook his head.
“What’s it like,” she asked.
“Just a city, same as all the others.”
He stretched across the mattress and thought about the time he strayed from his mother in a department store. She found him finally, though he was unaware he had been lost. He wondered why such a memory would present itself, but he was certain a reason existed. He called the front desk and asked for a newspaper.
Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent word appears in Spelk, Right Hand Pointing, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.Continue reading →
By Richard LeBlond
It was late winter 1973, and I was living on the south coast of Spain, in the fishing village of Castel de Ferro. I had left the states a year before after cashing in all my assets, joining that wave of young North Americans for whom an international adventure was an essential experience. Though the village was small, those passing through often lingered because of the Mediterranean beach, its winter warmth, the 24-hour bars – open for the night fishermen – the little outdoor cafes, the unhurried life. Among those who lingered was Rocky.
Rocky was a large and hedonistic Canadian not troubled by deep thought or accountability. Marginally good-natured, he was often boorish. Rocky once told me about a visit he and a friend made to a Chinese restaurant. The friend ordered and drank a sardine milkshake and Rocky ordered and ate a plate of raw liver. There is not a Chinese restaurant in the world that serves sardine milkshakes and raw liver. “Events” such as this seemed to randomly occur in his head and escape through his mouth completely unanalyzed for believability. He must somehow have seen them as benefitting his social standing.
But every now and then there was a glimmer of self-awareness.
One morning about 10, I found Rocky sitting at a table on the edge of the central plaza in front of a café bar. John, an Englishman, was sitting with him. Rocky was drinking cognac and had been, he said, since eight.
“Can I get you a beer or something? What can I get you?” he asked me as he rose to get the errand underway. I told Rocky I wanted a coffee and he sat down with a sigh. His offer did not include non-alcoholic beverages. I got my feeble drink and joined them.
“It’s – What is it? What time is it? – it’s10 o’clock and I’m drunk. I came down here at 7:30 to go to work and I see John sitting here so I say to myself it just wouldn’t be polite to walk by and not have a drink with my friend – I can call you friend, can’t I? – and then one drink leads to another and then all these drinks lead to the pinball machine, so today I fuck work.” Rocky had found himself a low-paying off-the-books part-time job, a popular Spanish custom.
“I suppose,” he continued without pause, “you’re going to sit there all day and drink coffees. Why don’t you take a risk and drink a hot milk?”
I grinned as if I were enjoying a performance, but it was a protective grin.
“I don’t know,” Rocky continued, “you guys just sit there, never saying nothing, watching life float by and think that’s all there is to it. You guys got brains, probably more brains than me, so I suppose you know what you’re doing but Christ! it ain’t living. I don’t know what’s right, but if everyone just sat around on their asses like you guys, watching butterflies, the world would stop. I don’t do much but it’s people like me who keep the world moving. Nothing’s going to get done if nobody does it.”
John and I just looked at each other, shrugging our eyes. What could we say? His perception of reality was unassailable not by virtue, but by obstinacy. And who wants to argue with a drunk at 10 in the morning, especially one ranting about his work ethic while skipping out on the job?
“Never argue with a drunk,” Rocky said.
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in many U.S. and international journals, including Montreal Review, Redux, Compose, Concis, Lowestoft Chronicle, Trampset, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for “Best American Travel Writing” and “Best of the Net.”