The song hasn’t come up yet in his mind, the sun barely seen on the horizon, but he already knows, he knows the moment he opens up his eyes, he knows from the very beginning that music will play nonstop, he only hopes for a happy song. She wakes up beside him, rubs her eyes, her hair tangled, her eyes heavy, her mind caught up in a vague dream, her body stretching, touching his body, and when her hand rests in his hand, that’s when it starts, the song playing in the room, the lyrics pouring in his ears, the melody storming in his brain, he asks do you hear what I hear? and she turns on her side, looks at him, she keeps staring, does not answer back, like she didn’t hear him, he thinks, this sounded like a Christmas tune, so he doesn’t repeat it, it’s so out season it’d spoil the mood, perhaps he didn’t ask the question aloud in the first place, perhaps the music comes from his dream, or her dream.
The song hasn’t stop playing, while he swims by her side, she dives into the waters, disappears, he gets scared, but she appears a few meters away, he is relieved, like playing peek-a-boo, one can never win, but the excitement is overwhelming every time they find each other. He forgets the world, when they meet friends for lunch, when they walk up and down the beach, hand in hand, it’s hot, she mumbles, she wipes the sweat from her forehead, it’s perfect, he says and he means it, he wants to stay here forever, forever beside her, the song still playing loud, only in his head, and he wonders, doubt is eating him from the inside, why, why on earth she doesn’t hear the music too.
When it gets dark they’ll go home, they’ll make love, they won’t talk, that song will come up on the radio, and only then, when the melody sways in the room, only then will they feel complete, only then, when they turn side to side, eyes closed, his left hand will rest on her arm, and the little finger of her other hand will rise from under her cheek to touch the fingertip of his right hand under the pillow, a circle, he’ll think, we’re a circle, and she will nod, as if she can read his mind.
The music will be over when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he’ll have some water, he’ll croon the tune, to make it last, like music before the end, the final scene, the circle already broken, soon they’ll be but parallel lines, lines that once crossed paths but then forgot about it, changed direction, lonely lines, not destined to meet, but all this will feel like a nice dream, and that day will seem perfect, yet not perfect enough to feel perfect until years later, a day they’ll both romanticize with time, the day when they were together, together, like almond trees blossoming in the midst of winter, by mistake, out of season, much too hopeful, much too soon.
* * *
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, HAD, Ruminate, Lost Balloon, X-R-AY, Chestnut Review and others.
The lemon in my hand is light, but with an interior weight to it, as if the fruit and juice on the inside have a presence I can feel through my fingers, pushing against the skin, even before the flesh is broken. Lemon peel is in fact skin-like; pock-marked with visible pores that prick the surface and cluster and crowd closer as the rounded body narrows to a pointed, misshapen end. I can imagine finding it on the ground like a gumball in the spring, or an acorn in the fall, surrendered from its branch.
This one is small but abundant, plumped and taut like my stomach when my daughters ripened inside me, when I liked my body best. I close my eyes and feel where the fruit was plucked off its branch, where it hung overlayed by deep green leaves, one of many lemons on the tree; that place of separation sharp to my touch. It gives a bit when I palpate it in my hand and my fingers slip over the waxy rind. I like to shift it against my thumb and pointer finger like a stress ball. In much the same way, my hands were drawn to my pregnant belly; seven, eight, nine months in, grazing the smooth shelf of me—idling there.
We say that things are colored lemon-yellow but this lemon is really lemon-lime, like the Mountain Dew I was allowed to drink on Saturday nights as a child in my feetie pink pajamas with the rubber polka dot soles. Beneath the surface yellow, a pale green bleeds through, not a remnant of its infancy but an indication of where it grew on the tree and the constancy of sun under which it ripened. Lemons grow best in warmth and strong light, sheltered from the wind.
A lemon is contained. Rarely does one soften to the point of collapse. It holds its shape with a kind of dignity regardless of age in my refrigerator. Sometimes, when one lives there too long, fuzzy spots of white mold fleck the exterior like a pox. Still, I see its original beauty.
The scent of a lemon whole is a delicate union of farm, field and floral. Split open, it smells unadulterated; like laundry on the line, curtains shifting on a windowsill, a blue Iris. There is a sweet undernote. When I was pregnant, I kept bowls of lemons at home to lift and breathe in when random smells overwhelmed me. Lemons consoled my off-kilter senses. A baggie of lemon halves lived on the front seat of my car and their faint reminder clung for months after I gave birth.
Cut across the broad middle I find a pinwheel lives inside, symmetrically segmented. The milky-yellow flesh is luminous, the seeds are buried in sight just under the translucent surface, and I am reminded of the trace of my daughters’ elbows and knees flashing across me like an internal projection—tiny bones briefly visible. I squeeze the lemon to release the juice and a sand dollar forms in the empty space left behind, framed by fragile white membrane. Vacant elegance. Seeds spill. On my tongue, the rich acidic taste flares and the glands under my jaw contract in salivatory response. The body is never indifferent to a lemon.
My youngest daughter Amy left for college this year while cases ofCOVID-19 burst back across the country. She loves the bitter bite of lemons. She is wise to sweet and sour. She slices them into exacting wedges to squeeze into her glass, watching the water cloud as the juice sifts slow-motion to the bottom. She likes to notch one and hang it on the side, a restaurant-like gesture I find graceful and illustrative of her maturity, of my maturity; a woman of advanced maternal age I was labeled when I carried her at forty.
I used to find Amy’s orphaned lemon remnants on the kitchen counter, the quarters she hadn’t claimed, sitting upright and stoic on my cutting board, leaking juice. I didn’t mind this small mess she left behind. I think of them now in my kitchen when I drop slices into my own glass and feel them land against my lips with every drink.
* * *
Suzanne Siteman is a nonfiction writer and new Coloradan. She has recently returned to writing with the launching of her last child. Her work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Mothering Magazine, New Millennium Writings, The Larcom Review and elsewhere.
The lazy Sunday afternoon stretched into a quiet evening. Laila kept away the book she was reading and peered out the window. The sun was setting. Traces of saffron had started to sprout on the clear blue sky.
She went to the small room adjoining the kitchen and sat cross-legged in front of the pottery wheel. A thick mound of mud waited in a dish kept on the side. She kneaded the dough diligently; making sure it was even, devoid of air bubbles, and soft. She then placed a handful of it on the wheel. Slowly, she began building – mud, water, sweat, concentration…
Her petite hands held the wobbly pot-in-making. A few strands of loose hair grazed her collar bones as she applied adequate pressure with her fingers to carve out the neck.
Once the pot was made, she placed it inside an oven.
Post dinner, she came back to the room, held the half baked pot in her hands, and inspected it with keen eyes.
Lifting it high up in the air, she smashed the pot into several pieces.
The satisfaction of being ‘in charge’ blossomed through her bosom as she went to lie on the bed.
Nazia is a reader, writer, and teacher who regularly volunteers with organizations that work for Women Empowerment. She has worked for local news journal Harbinger India for several years. Her work has been published online on Indus Women Writing, the Whorticulturalist as well as offline in anthologies by Cape Comorin Publishers, PCC Inscape, and Other Worldly women Press.
When one glass of Merlot is depleted, reality gapes through the empty glass. There’s a sea of bills, empty apartments, ketchup-stained fridges, neighbors without faces and names, parties to which I’m not privy, childhood nicknames and sisterly I-love-yous thousands of miles away. All that on top of papers to grade, workshops to prepare for. But that’s all for next week anyway.
A second glass goes fast too. I try to take small swigs, but after weeks of Diet Coke, onions, TV dinners, and Triscuit rip-offs, sweetness rushes down my throat like a freight train. One swig, two swig, three swigs, big swig.
So I order two more glasses at the same time. A Merlot and a peachy Moscato, for the lightness. The Merlot’s great, but by the second glass, a certain bitterness has risen to the top. My sister Nan’s right. Darker wines do tend to be fucking depressing. She’d tease me about this, call me her little boozer and I almost want to cry.
The bartender, who wears a lavender button-down shirt and looks disturbingly like bearded-era Hemingway, offers a smile. It’s knowing, almost sad, but without words. His eyes hold the weight of observation and I can only imagine the stories he has heard, many far wilder. Dissolved marriages, fellow students even more stressed. Drunk parents. He pours the glasses with methodical precision, the glugging an almost soothing sound. Even pours them all the way to the top, bottle held with confidence, tipped, but never in danger of falling. Then he hands them to me with a flourish. No questions still. I smile and thank him with a little too much fervency.
I take the longest sips, lean back in the green booth, ripped at the seams in a few places. Let the sounds sink into me. With each crash of pool balls, each gale of laughter from adjacent booths, friends shoving and stumbling, even the TV over the counter showing The Big Lebowski, I feel a smile snaking out, crooked, but certainly a smile. I try to hold onto it, steal snatches of people’s stories. I snatch stories of the worst hangovers and tests they’re dreading and their favorite sativa strains, sex stories, stories about their favorite episodes of Barry or Succession. I smile, imagine bodies hunched over tables, the intimacy of it, the smells that rise, weed, sweat, cheesy colognes. My booth smells like the ghosts of Camels past and I almost picture another me in this booth, someone here alone on a Friday night. But I don’t want to think of all this now.
I’m tempted to text Nan, but it’s late. She’s got enough on her plate as a history teacher anyway. She’ll also worry if I text this late too, even if she disguises it as a joke. She knows me too well. I’ll text her tomorrow.
Girls in tight shorts and tank tops stream in. Guys in baggy sweatpants stake claims at the counter and move about the crowded floors with its hilarious purple and brown carpeting. I nod and smile, although most keep moving, footsteps a mixture of thump, thump, thumps and clickety-clacks. A few precise clack, clack, clacks. I do, however, get one or two nods, a murmured how-ya-doin’, a what’s up dude, and store them like gems. An indescribable energy rising, I even drum the table to the beat of the jukebox, playing The Eagles, Mary J. Blige, Salt-N-Pepa, The Beatles even.
Of course, the night deepens, the moon disappears, and people start dispersing one by one, slinking out the doors into the cold air. Then they disperse in larger droves, seas of tank tops and colorful shirts enveloped by the night, walking to cars and cabs, to places unseen. The booths around me become elegant, empty, naked oak, stains and blemishes highlighted. The room takes on a largeness, emptied out, something a bit too heavy.
I try to order one more glass. Consider playing something on the jukebox. But they’re starting to clean up and they wipe everything away with force, the glasses and smiles carted off. I rise, look for the smiles, try to speak, but they’re lost in the dimming lights, the steel glare of the stars, the seconds hand of the clock counting down, and the growing shadows, long and deep.
* * *
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA fiction program. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.
The wrong dress, floral and pink, worn to a failed interview for a school she will never be able to enter, dumped in the Goodwill box. The torn song sheet from a missed audition, because her mother forgot to pick her up, burned and buried behind the house. The portable cd player, she’d bought with her own birthday money, stolen by her sister to use in her new car their parents bought because she was dating a quarterback and needed a car for cheerleading practice and a part time job. The broken-lock diary her brother ripped from her hands to tease her about her first crush, his cruel words burned red as the hearts she’d drawn, tossed in the trash after his fun. The fantasy books, she borrowed from the library, used to hold up the couch her dad insisted he would fix before they were due. The old typewriter, a gift from the aunt who lives too far away to know, resold to an antique shop before she could even type.
Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has fiction in The Citron Review, Waxwing, Milk Candy Review, Claw & Blossom, Bending Genres, The Lumiere Review, Micro Podcast, (mac)ro(mic), 3Elements Literary Review and elsewhere. She was selected for Best Small Fictions 2021. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at http://www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.
It could have been the fangs or the black cape that made the police suspicious. It was a nice cape, with a flame-red silk lining that complemented my gray eye shadow and black lipstick.
It was October 1980.My girlfriend’s dad, Jim, owned three Arco gas stations spread out in the San Fernando valley. The one in North Hollywood was particularly sumptuous, the Saks Fifth Avenue of gas stations. Customers could buy wine and they sold gourmet crackers instead of Pringles. For Halloween, Jim asked me if I would dress up as Count Dracula and hand out candy to the kids and take pictures with their parents. This wasn’t the first time someone had said “Hey you’re an actor, can you dress up like a pony, or sing at my birthday?” Normally it annoyed me, but he was a nice guy, so I said sure. My girlfriend was happy, what could go wrong?
I drove to the gas station that night. The air was warm from the Santa Ana winds, blowing newspapers across the wide street, which was lined with strip malls and fast-food restaurants. I parked, walked in the garage and asked one of the mechanics where the office was. He smiled wordlessly and pointed. My girlfriend and her father were talking in the cramped office filled with auto parts boxes. He took out the vampire suit and even I was impressed. It was a dazzling tuxedo and cape—it looked like a movie costume. My girlfriend helped me whiten my face and put on the lipstick and eyeshadow. She and her dad wished me luck and left.I walked out into the garage and both mechanics just stopped and stared. One said “Shit, bro, you like a real vampire.” It was showtime.
It mostly went according to plan. I handed out candy to the kids, took some pictures with the parents. I did a little sales pitch: come back for an oil change, replace your wipers.Some of the kids wanted nothing to do with me. I looked too damn scary. One mother tried to get her terrified four-year-olds out of the car. “Please sweeties, stop screaming and take some candy from the nice vampire man.” I can’t blame them, being asked to take candy from a white-faced guy with blackened eyes, the Santa Ana winds lifting his cape in the dark night. If I were them, I wouldn’t take my Snickers bars either.
I was talking to a middle-aged couple dressed as Prince Charming and Cinderella when all hell broke loose. I heard shouting and two guys wearing Jimmy Carter masks ran out of the garage. The mechanics chased after them, then one of the guys took out a pistol and shot the window. The mechanics scampered quickly back into the garage. Glass shattered, and the two robbers began firing in the air. Prince Charming and Cinderella both cursed and sped off in their car and there I was in the open with my cape flying. I crouched down under one of the gas pumps, which in retrospect was stupid. The robbers took off, tires squealing. They ran over a metal oil change sign, dragging it for about fifty feet, sparks whizzing, before it landed on the sidewalk. Then they were gone.
The cops came quickly. Two uniformed policemen interviewed the mechanics. Two detectives were assigned to me, a tall horse-faced cop who looked like Herman Munster and a short sparkplug of a guy with a blond crew cut.
Herman Munster looked me over like I had just stepped on his cat. “So, who are you supposed to be?”
I was thinking, Is this guy kidding me? but I played nice. “I’m Count Dracula, the owner asked me to do it.”
“Oh yeah? And why would he do a thing like that?” the short detective asked.
“Uhh, because it’s Halloween?”
They both looked at each other, as if I were trying to con them. Then they gave me the stink eye.
“It seems a little funny, you being here, dressed up in this outfit, and the station gets robbed.”
“Not really, It’s Halloween and the robbers treated themselves to some cash. Can I go
now? I need to get back in my coffin before sunrise.”
“Smart-ass, we got places we can take smart asses like you,” Herman Munster said.
Suddenly I was aware that these two clowns thought I was an accomplice. One of the uniformed cops came over.
“The owner just called; Dracula’s story checks out. He’s an actor or something.”
The two detectives looked crestfallen.
“Alright, you can go, but don’t leave town. We may have more questions.”
“I was supposed to go Transylvania for a Bar Mitzvah.”
“Beat it, weirdo.”
I got in my car and headed for the freeway. A friend had told me about a party in Santa Monica. It would be a shame to waste the costume.
* * *
Michael Cannistraci began his creative journey as an actor. Having graduated from UCLA, he worked for thirty years acting in theatre and television. In mid-life he answered a new calling and completed a Master’s degree at Hunter College School of Social Work. He currently works as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. His essays have been published in Entropy Magazine, Literary Medical Messenger, The Evening Street Review, the Bangalore Review, The Dillydoun Review ,East by Northeast and Stonecrop magazine He lives with his wife in New York City. (He/His/Him)
Just before dawn, Mark Morelli threw himself on a rudderless sled and hurtled down the snow-covered hill that fell from the dead end of his street.As he approached the bottom, sometimes he rolled off the sled.But on his final run, he let the sled jump the wall of snow the county plow had created and sailed above the cars buried in it.Dragging the sled up the hill, Mark kept his balance despite slipping on patches of ice. But he lost all poise when he reached the top of the slope and saw his mother shoveling the sidewalk in her soiled waitress uniform.
Rushing to her, Mark said, “I’m sorry I didn’t get back before your shift ended.”
“It’s okay,” she said, “It ended early because of the storm.”
Mark tossed the sled over the front fence into a snow drift, then took the shovel from his mother’s gloveless hand.Along the road, neighbors were clearing the walkways in front of their homes and the shoulders of the road where their cars were parked. They had probably noticed his mother doing outside work from which any responsible son would have spared her, and likely were judging him, none more harshly than Randy Postula, the retired army officer who seemed sweet on Mark’s mother.Then Mark observed with relief that Randy was just emerging from his house half-way up the hill at the other end of the street.He probably had not seen Mark’s mother struggling in the snow.
“You were with the Evanoski boy?” Mark’s mother asked. That’s how she referred to Jerry.She looked younger with her face red from the cold.
“No,” Mark said then kissed her creased brow. “Go inside and rest.”As soon as his mother was in the house, Mark rushed down the yard in long steps through the snow.Under the narrow eave, he shook off as much as he could of the white stuff that clung to his boots, then opened the back door into the cellar.He climbed onto the cover of the old washing machine, pushed the wringer aside, and searched the cupboard.In the cobwebs and clutter he had let develop, he found the stubs of old candles.He grabbed an ice pick from the wood shed then trudged back up to the sidewalk through the tracks he had already made and used the stubs to wax both sides of the shovel so the snow would slip off easily.That was one lesson he remembered from all the wisdom his father had scolded into him.
Almost invariably, Mark faltered when facing his mother’s apprehension about his friendship with Jerry.Widowed for several years, she was reluctant to surrender the son who might help in her old age.She had not welcomed Mark’s earlier talk about entering the seminary.But exchanging the insecurity of a son’s religious vocation for the shame of his disappearing with a petty criminal twice his age was not the bargain she thought she had reached with God.As Mark cleared the snow, he tried to gloss over her disapproval.He focused, instead, on what to say to patch up the argument he had had with Jerry the previous night.Mark had begged Jerry to take him to New York. Jerry refused and finally lost his temper when Mark continued to plead. Mark would have one last chance to make his case if Jerry kept his promise about stopping by to say farewell and help with clearing the ice and snow from the new storms.
Mark had cleared most of the walkway by the time he spotted Jerry at the far end of the field.In his wet canvas shoes and thin cotton shirt, Jerry seemed more powerful than the elements.“I couldn’t get here sooner,” Jerry said when he reached Mark, then grabbed the shovel and began to clear the snow piling around Mark’s mother’s car.Meanwhile, Mark applied the ice pick to the glassy sheets between the sidewalk and the house.
After a few minutes, Jerry looked up from his work and smiled, “We can lick this then figure what’s next.”
“Thanks, but you shouldn’t stay out much longer,” Mark gestured toward two strangers descending the hill above Randy Postula’s place.They were barely visible in the snow sprayed by gusts of wind. And they seemed uncertain about continuing down the hill. Then the strangers spoke with Randy, who pointed them back up the hill away from Mark’s home.Mark was sure that people he did not recognize were cops looking for Jerry.
“God bless you,” Mark whispered then turned toward Jerry. “We have a few minutes before they realize Randy may have mislead them.”
“Let’s not waste it,” Jerry said shielding his green eyes from the sun’s glare and the worried look on Mark’s face. “You’re not moving to New York with me. You’re lucky your mother’s still alive. I won’t be responsible for your abandoning her.”
“I’m not abandoning her,” Mark said, “I’ll send back money I earn.”
“Earn doing what?” Jerry asked. “Finishing high school? Being pimped out until you’re my age? No! I’m going back alone this afternoon.If you want to waste this last visit retracing the argument we had last night, you can do it without me.I don’t want to remember you nagging. Not a great memory after all you’ve done for me.”
Mark guessed Jerry was referring to the money he had borrowed from Mark but not yet repaid, enough for bus fare to Manhattan.“You think abandoning me is a good outcome?”Mark heard himself whine but couldn’t quit the subject, so he forced himself to work in silence until all the walkways were clear and there was almost no snow around the car.
“Enough for now,” Mark took the shovel from Jerry’s hands and planted it and the ice pick on the other side of the fence in the same snow drift with the sled. “Can you come inside,” Mark said. “My mom’s asleep for sure. You can take a hot bath and put on dry clothes.”
“My next visit, I promise,” Jerry winked, embraced Mark then walked away. He paused once, turned around, smiled and waved good-bye.
Mark felt an urge to cry but noticed Randy Postula walking toward him with an open bag of rock salt. Randy was a strong man, despite his retiree paunch. And even Mark´s mother acknowledged that Randy might be handsome if he got rid of his beard and moustache. “I could never tolerate those bristles on my mouth or near my face,” she once said, shuddering as though Randy’s kiss would be like eating spiders.”
Face hair didn´t bother Mark, except at that moment, close up, he couldn´t tell whether the droplets on Randy´s moustache were snow or snot. “I’ve finished my place,” Randy said. “Anything left to do here?”
“Not now,” Mark said, “but they’ll be plenty when the district plow comes through a second time and buries the car again.”
“You crying?” Randy asked.
“No,” Mark shook his head and wiped his face with his gloves. “The cold makes my eyes water. Those guys talking to you before, who were they?”
“They had a hunch our road was a short cut back to the highway,” Randy said then barreled through the tableau in Mark’s heart, “Don´t get attached to that Evanoski kid. I served in Korea with one of his uncles. The guy borrowed fifty bucks from me and never paid it back – a lot of money at that time. He denies he ever borrowed it. The whole family is trash. Your guy hasn´t borrowed any money from you, has he?”
“No,” Mark said.
“Rumor is your having second thoughts about the seminary.”
“Yeah,” Mark said. “I’m not so sure anymore. I think I´m gay.”
“Gay?” Randy said, “As in fag?”
Mark took a breath and looked Randy in the eye. “It means I am likely to fall in love with another man.”
“Well, don´t disgrace your family over it,” Randy said.“And for heavens’ sake, don´t fall in love with an Evanoski.” He pressed his hand down hard on Mark’s shoulder. “Don´t fall in love with me either.Understand?If your mom’s alone, I have reason to see more of her. And if she’s alone because you’ve become a priest, no one will dare say she didn’t raise you right.”
* * *
Chuck Teixeira grew up amid the anthracite collieries of northeastern Pennsylvania. Early on, Chuck earned four university degrees, including an M.A. from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. For many years, Chuck worked as a tax attorney in San Francisco, California. Now he teaches English in Bogota, Colombia. Chuck identifies as gay, and his children and their mother have made peace with that. Chuck’s stories have appeared in Esquire, Permafrost, Portland Review, Two Thirds North and Jonathan. Collections of his published work are available at Amazon.com.
The pain wasn’t all that bad anymore. Frank Miller was sitting in his studio apartment staring at the stump on the end of his right leg. The dirty bandage was starting to fall off. His wound was almost fully healed and soon Frank would be able to try on a prosthetic. The searing pain he’d felt initially, after the accident and the weeks that followed, had been dulled with medicine, but he had no use for it anymore. It wouldn’t be all that bad to have one less foot, he said to himself, no more stubbing his toe at least.
Frank Miller was what most would call an obsessive. Once an idea was planted in his mind, it quickly grew roots and became all consuming. It would occupy his mind day and night. Any consequences ceased to matter at all until a conclusion was reached. One example of this is that as a boy, Frank somehow got it into his head that his parents were secretly plotting to murder him and proceeded to sleep with the bedroom door locked for the next ten years until moving out at age 18.
He had also been born with an extremely high pain tolerance. A gash on the arm or a punch to the face didn’t seem to bother, but insignificant things like paper cuts or tripping in a puddle would drive him mad with irritation. Frank was of the mind that all the soft skin and the nerves which made up man’s body were an inconvenience. Before his accident, he’d tried convincing his coworkers that humanity would be better off with bodies of metal holding their consciousness. Of course, they had only laughed it off as another one of Frank’s crazy theories.
These eccentricities made it difficult for people to connect with him. He was a friendless child and grew up to be such an adult. Frank spent his days deep in thought working at a shoelace factory and came home to an empty apartment. The evenings were spent eating expired spaghetti O’s and reading fringe magazine’s conspiracy theories on aliens and the nature of man.
There would be perks to having only one foot to worry about. Yes, no cold feet at night, no wet toes in the rain, no hangnails. The more Frank thought about it, the more convinced he became. He was better off, he told himself. It was the remaining foot that would prove to be a bother. Now all he could think about was what luck he had had to get pinned so perfectly in the machines as to lose such a small piece of himself. It was a chance to put his ideas to use.
As he was pondering this new lifestyle, the doorbell rang. The doctor, of course, here to remove the last of his dressings. It was unlocked, he said, and the lab-coated man entered. Franks eyes widened as the last of the bandages came off. Perfect, he thought. What he saw was a clean, rounded stump where the ankle ended.
He supposed the doctor was talking to him but paid no mind. There were more important matters at hand. The factory had given Frank paid leave until he was back on his feet- or rather, his foot- again, so he had plenty of time to get used to the ‘condition’, as the doctor called it. Alone that night he noticed a chill biting his surviving adjunct, even through two layers of socks. He thought of how wonderful it would be to never stub his toe on the corner wall ever again. How he would never have to find matching socks ever again. Glorious freedom! All his life Frank had walked on two feet like an imbecile, thinking he was able-bodied. Ha! All along he could’ve been free from the burden of standing upon flesh.
Frank rubbed his cold toes between his hands, and a thought came to mind. At first it was only a whisper and Frank allowed it to linger, but it soon grew louder and began to drown out reason. Just a simple idea, mind you, a theory. He reassured himself that no harm would come of merely fantasizing, so the thought permeated. The more he thought of it, the closer he came to giving in. And so what if he did do it? It hadn’t been too much hassle to recover before, plus he’d gotten time off of work.
Just like that his mind was made up and in an instant, he had lunged out of bed to find what was left of the pain medication. He’d gotten used to hobbling around on one foot and was able to move around quite quickly. Lighting a candle to work by, he also found an ax, old but clean. Tossing a handful of pills into his upturned head, he threw the singular foot upon the bedside table and swung down with the ax as hard as he could.
Some sort of powerful resolve worked in him to keep himself from screaming. Frank had been so worried he wouldn’t get through all the way on the first try that his swing had sunken deep into the wooden top of the table. Now he needed bandages so, using nearby kitchen rags, he wrapped up the wound himself and squeezed a pillow to keep conscious. Finally, that nasty cold in his toes was gone.
Of course, that doctor might come back to check on him unannounced, and there was no way to clean up the ever-growing mess. What did the doctor know? The ignorant fool was trapped within a delicate fleshy prison. Frank was free from the useless confines of mortality that obstructed progress. He was the evolved human, far above such hindrances as pain.
But that epinephrine quickly wore off, and soon he was staring at his two legs with loathing. What use was it to get rid of his feet if he still had to rely on vulnerable corpulent stumps? Now Frank started to get jittery with excitement. It wasn’t a few minutes later that the ax once again occupied his grasp.
When the deed was done, Frank didn’t bother trying to stop the blood at all. He’d taken the last of the medicine, but the pain didn’t bother him. He ignored his blurring vision and basked in his current elevated state, unawares of the pooling blood around him. At last, peace. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but something was bothering him. An itch on his left arm. Frank angrily sat up let out an inhumane growl. He would not be subject to a mild irritation like that. After all, he was a higher being. The arm had to go too.
When that was over there was peace for Frank Miller, who simply lay back, appendageless, almost. He was still made to bear the arm he’d used to wield the ax. And how he hated it. Atrocious thing that it was, Frank became mad with disgust. He gnashed his teeth and swung the arm against the bloodied wall. The thing didn’t seem like his own. It was a parasite, infecting his enlightened mind with its earthly function. It was a burden made to encumber him on his path to freedom! Frank began to thrash around on the floor. He tore into his shoulder with his teeth, ripping away the skin that trapped his soul.
A pounding began to throb behind his eyes. Oh, what an inconvenience to live! Feelings and thoughts were simply nerves and chemicals, yet they held so many captive. Such a nuisance. A genius such as he shouldn’t have to experience such vexation. Frank knew what he had to do to be free, but luckily for him, he wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
* * *
Ellyn Newman is an aspiring writer with a taste for dark humor. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and enjoys turning intrusive thoughts into tangible stories.
They were demolishing the old factory. As it disappeared, the heaps grew. Bricks, concrete, rubble. Waste not, want not, we thought. It would make useful hard-core for foundations; roadways for the new development. The old has to go so that the new can be created.
As the site was flattened the heaps became hills. We waited for the building work to begin. Problems, we heard. Austerity. Finance. Recession.
Soon the heaps were streaked with vegetation. Better nature than grey blocks of flats, we thought.
The heaps became part of our landscape, covered with green, golden with flowers. We paused on the pavements and marvelled.
That winter it rained and rained and never stopped. Droplets, rods, torrents. Roots loosened and shifted. The heaps rumbled and cracked. The bulldozers were long gone and the builders hadn’t arrived. Some of us were ill by that time.
Spring came. Green hazed the heaps again. Then followed the hottest and driest summer since records began. The heaps yellowed, the leaves dried and flaked.
When the thunderstorms began we took little notice. Too many people were ill. The heaps shifted, rumbled and tumbled. Bricks, concrete and rubble spilled onto the deserted pavements and blocked the roads.
Only the pilot of a lone biplane, travelling from somewhere to somewhere else, saw our city.
* * *
Jenny Woodhouse began to write seriously after she retired. She studied creative writing with the Open University. Since then her output has shrunk from novel to short stories and she now writes mainly flash. An addiction to the Ad Hoc Fiction 150 word challenge made her afraid of shrinking even more, like Alice. She is currently working on a number of novellas in flash, expanding again like a universe after the big bang. She has published, amongst other outlets, in Flashflood, National Flash Fiction Day and other anthologies.
I phone my 87-year-old mother, steeling myself for the loop of complaints. The stingy servings of bland food at the residence. The stupid chair-exercise class she threatens to skip but never does. The crappy bingo caller who mumbles all the time and nobody, nobody can hear the numbers.
My sisters and I tell each other Mom’s still feisty, still speaks her mind. But lately, a faint sadness seeps into our words. Mom’s lost so much of herself. The maternal warrior who battled a school principal so my six-year-old sister could write with her left hand. The political firebrand who campaigned for decades against Quebec separatists. The world is so much wider, girls, than the provincial patch where we live.
Now Mom’s world has shrunk—and her cantankerous grievances land on me. I live in the same city and visit every week. I can’t give her the adventures she craves so I offer to take her to Walmart.
On Saturday I pick her up after preparing the car with an old towel laid over the passenger seat. Just in case. Leaning on her walker, she shuffles out of her building dressed for an outing. Aquamarine slacks and floral-patterned blouse, wispy hair curled and sprayed in place, rosy lipstick brightening her smile.
“Nice outfit, Mom.” I tug the seatbelt across her upper body and snap her safely in.
She claws at the belt. “It’s choking me,” she says. “Argh! You have to undo it.”
Gritting my teeth, I remind myself she’s in my care. “You have to wear it, Mom. It’s the law.” I add a pathetic white lie.“I can’t afford a ticket.”
She grimaces, pulls the belt away from her chest and holds it there for the entire ride. At the curb outside Walmart, I wrestle her walker out of the trunk and help her wriggle out of the car.
“Mom, please wait for me inside the door while I park. I won’t be long.”
She hobbles across the sidewalk at a surprisingly brisk pace for an elderly woman. I swerve into an empty space and jog to the sliding doors. My mother is not in the entrance. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I grab a cart and scan the aisles near the front until I spot a flash of aqua polyester disappearing around a corner.
I join Mom as if nothing has happened. As if her small rebellion is of no concern at all. As if her growing confusion and angry episodes are not a constant worry. As if I can’t imagine a loudspeaker announcement about a lost senior wandering the store in a daze. As if I can’t picture her fallen body on the floor, blood pooling under her head after hitting the cement.
“There you are,” Mom says. “You took long enough.”
Deep inhale, slow exhale. “Let’s head to the shampoo section, Mom.”
I pretend not to watch as she checks shelf after shelf, picks up one bottle after another, mutters and puts them all back. Picks up yet another bottle with her pale gnarled fingers. The brand she wants, the familiar clear bottle with green contents, is not there. Sold out. And for my mother, taking care of her thinning hair with the right shampoo is all-important.
“Where is it?” she says. “The one with herbal ingredients.” She snatches another bottle from the shelf and slams it down.
“I can’t find it!” Mom is shouting now, hurling out curses I’ve never heard her use before. “Damn it. Goddamn it to hell!” She gives me an angry glare.
I’m failing her. She lifts her walker and bangs the detested thing up and down on the floor. Once, twice, three times. I sense onlookers hovering nearby. Mom’s lost in a storm of frustration—and I need to get us out of there.
“Let’s leave, Mom.” My voice becomes louder, strained. “We’ll leave the cart. I’ll take you to Pharmaprix. They’ll have your shampoo there.”
I nudge her walker in the right direction. ”Come on, Mom. Let’s go.” My eyes prickle. More cajoling. Another little push.
People are staring. At the old lady throwing a tantrum in the aisle at Walmart. At the uptight daughter trying to manoeuver her agitated mother out of the store. No patience or dignity on display here.
When we finally reach the exit, I breathe easier. And I carry something no one else can see. A tiny flutter of pride. My mother is 87 and she’s still a fighter.
* * *
Karen Zey is a Canadian writer from la belle ville de Pointe-Claire, Quebec. Her CNF has appeared in the Brevity Nonfiction Blog, Five Minutes, (mac)ro(mic), Potato Soup Journal and other fine places. Karen leads the Circle of Life Writers workshops at her community library. You can read more of her work at www.karenzey.com or follow her micro-musings about life and writing on Twitter @zippyzey