She hears the squad cars wail as they speed down her street. Red and blue lights cut through gaps in the blinds. Crime. Some place out there. Far but close…close but far. Her man rides in one of the cars, badge on his chest, gun at his waist. He is in love – with the job for sure – but he says with her, too. At least once a day she begs him to quit, pleads with him; says she’ll do things he has not thought to try. The job chose me, he says. It called me. But still he thinks of her words as he eyes her pale skin through the sheer black gown she wears when it’s hot.
She thinks of him shot by thugs or burned from a fire where he saves a child. She thinks of his grave. Would she drive to be near him that way? How long til she moved on? She knows one thing: she won’t stay here, on this street. She’ll move far from here, far from the noise, the guy downstairs who looks like he makes bombs in his spare time.
Yes, she’ll live near trees and sweet, pure smells – and a lake or stream. She’ll dip her hand in the cold and shut her eyes, try to block out all the time she hung on for the click of his key in the lock and the crush of their chests pressed close, like two halves put back as a whole.
John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appearedin North American Review, The Potomac Review, Redivider, Portland Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Two Thirds North, Midwestern Gothic, Bitter Oleander, and many others.His short story collection is now available from Underground Voices.
They sit on the thin mattress in his cluttered dorm room, their legs propped up, their backs leaning against the wall, passing a big fat blunt back and forth. His roommate, a true-blue friend, is making good on his promise to stay elsewhere for the night. They’ve got the place to themselves.
This isn’t now; this is then. It’s a time when music is listened to on CD players and phone booths can still be found on street corners. The Internet is still kind of new, Michael Jordan reigns supreme on the court and Jerry Seinfeld is the king of Must See TV. The Clintons are in the White House and all is well with the world.
She passes the blunt back to him and starts talking about something from her class about the French Revolution that she finds especially interesting. She’s wearing tight jeans, no bra and a loose-fitting sweatshirt with the Syracuse University logo on it. She has long blonde hair, warm blue eyes and a charming habit of tucking her hair behind her ears when she talks about something that truly matters to her.
“Lucky Town,” his favorite Springsteen song, comes up on his CD player. The Boss is singing about a man with the walls closing in on him who seeks to “loose these blues I’ve found” by going down to Atlantic City.
They both sing along. He knows the lyrics, word for word. She knows some and hums through the lines she’s unsure of. They sway back and forth and he turns sideways for a good look at her. She is his Springsteen love; Rosalita, Crazy Janey, Sherry Darling, Sandy, Candy, Bobby Jean and Mary Queen of Arkansas, all rolled into one. A broad smile stretches across his lean face and she flinches when she realizes how intense his stare is. “What?’ she asks, slightly laughing. “Nothing,” he says. He inhales a deep puff of smoke and hands her the blunt. Before she can bring it to her lips, he leans in for a quick kiss. “I don’t see eye to eye with Bruce on this one,” he tells her. “Huh? What do you mean?” she asks, raising a curious eyebrow. “That opening line, ‘House got too crowded, clothes got too tight.’ It’s all about feeling trapped, confined and um.” He pauses, licks at his lips. “I can’t relate to that line, not now anyways, See, there’s no place else I’d rather be, than right here, just me and you and these four walls.” She twists her lips into a smile and glides her slender hand across his jawline. “You’re so sweet,” she says, handing him the blunt. They kiss. He unbuttons his shirt and sheds all of his clothes in a hurry. She shimmies out of her tight jeans and he helps her lift off her sweatshirt. They hug and slowly slide down into the bed. From the CD player on the shelf in the corner, Bruce Springsteen continues to serenade them.
They remain a happy campus couple for what’s left of their senior year. On Graduation Day, they brace themselves for an emotional farewell to Syracuse University, sitting side by side in their caps and gowns and playing with each other’s tassels. They make a promise that they’ll stay in touch, forever. They don’t. He goes back home to New Jersey and she goes back home to Ohio.
He gets on with his life. He gets a good job at a public relations firm and joins a gym. He makes both sides of his family proud by regularly attending Italian and German cultural events. During a weekend getaway to the Jersey Shore, he stops in at a beachside bar and meets an amber-haired dental hygienist with bright white teeth and alcoholic tendencies. She is, by her own definition, “a good Catholic girl with a bit of the devil inside.” They date for a while and eventually wed in a Catholic Church jam-packed with their families and friends thanks to their strategic choice of a church that’s in between both of their Jersey hometowns. They rent a small apartment and talk about starting a family. But her love for alcohol and his love for weed, get in the way. They divorce and rent apartments at opposite ends of the city. Without kids in the mix, they have no ties that bind, yet they promise they’ll remain friends. They don’t.
He gets restless with his job and switches to a different public relations firm that offers him more money. The new job is in the same city, so there’s no need to uproot. But he’s got more cash to play with now, so he rents a better apartment and buys a new car. At the grocery store, he starts buying more expensive cuts of beef and skips over the store-brands in favor of name-brand soda, coffee and canned goods. He finds love, here, there and elsewhere, but no one quite gets to his heart.
Tonight, he sits in the dark in his fine apartment with its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, somewhere in the comforts of Jersey. He sips at his name-brand coffee; Maxwell House, French Roast, black, no sugar; letting the petty annoyances of a rough workday drift away from his mind. He thinks about taking a ride down to Atlantic City and trying his luck at a few games. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Alexa, play ‘Lucky Town’ by Bruce Springsteen,” he says. Alexa is only too happy to deliver the goods. Springsteen comes on in full force with his seen-it-all gravel voice. He sips at his strong cup of joe and thinks about his sweet college love from so long ago, the one with those warm blue eyes. He pictures her, tucking her hair behind her ears. He clears his throat and takes another sip of his coffee. A broad smile stretches across his lean face; it’s a slightly sad smile, but a smile none the less.
* * *
Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, NY, with his dog April, a charming and strong Pit Bull mix. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 40 print and online magazines including *Boston Literary Magazine, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Sledgehammer Literary Journal, Voices in Italian Americana* and *Word City Literary Journal.* His flash, “Bourbon on the Rocks,” appears in *Bright Flash Literary Review’s* August 2021 issue. In his nonfiction adventures, Germano has worked as an editor/writer for Le Moyne College, Syracuse University and *The Catholic Sun* and as a freelance writer for *Syracuse New Times, The Post-Standard* and *Stars Magazine.*
I groaned. We had been touring open houses all morning, bouncing from one sterile neighborhood to the next like pinballs pinging around playfield bumpers. My stomach rumbled.
Mellie parked the car across the street from a house with a grubby “For Sale” sign perched on a rickety post. The house was a mid-century split level—brown low-slung roof, pop-out living room window framed in dark wood, rough-hewn stone facade. The lawn was bedraggled and weedy. I could already tell the ceilings would be be low, the flooring linoleum and shag. A gut reno.
A pit in my stomach opened. I knew I shouldn’t pick a fight. “I don’t know what’s wrong with our place. It’s exactly where we want to be.” I sullenly heaved my body out of the car.
Mellie pointedly looked at my belly. “We need more space with the baby coming. Why won’t you just consider it?” Her tone softened. “Just a quick peek and then a bite at Chuck’s.” Mellie took my hand and smiled in truce.
“Ok—this last house and then lunch.” My stomach gurgled.
“And try not to make a scene this time.”
I opened my mouth but shut it abruptly. She was right.
We followed the scrubby pathway to the front door and pushed it open. Just as I suspected, the small entry was lined with linoleum. Looking into the house, a murky sea of green shag. Dust motes floated in the dim sun seeping through full-length curtains. The pit in my stomach dropped to my feet.
Suddenly, a plastic accordion door slapped open, and a man stepped through. Dark hair with sideburns and a mustache. A navy blazer over a light blue shirt. Gray slacks. Suede loafers. His nametag read “Steve.”
“Glad you could make it to the open house! I’m the listing agent, Steve. And you are?”
Mellie held out her hand which Steve shook vigorously. “Melinda, nice to meet you.” She gestured to me. “And this is Jaymie.” Steve grabbed my hand and pumped.
“Let me grab you a flyer! This house has everything you’re looking for!” He disappeared behind the accordion doors. I stepped onto the shag carpet. My head suddenly snapped around.
“What IS that smell?”
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. Top notes of garlic. Followed by onion, maybe? Then ending with…cumin? My stomach churned and I felt weak-kneed. “I can’t breathe.” I turned toward the front door.
“Jay! We haven’t even seen this house—you promised!” Mellie was sharp, but I didn’t care. I turned the knob just as Steve sprang from behind the accordion door.
“Already finished? You haven’t seen the kitchen. A gem! Here’s the flyer.” He handed me a leaflet.
“Sorry,” I was mouth breathing. “I just got a whiff of something, and I’m sensitive to odors and…”
Steve plowed ahead. “Don’t you just love open concept? You haven’t even seen the bedrooms—four and all good size! Plenty of room for a new family!” He winked and took me by the elbow, steering me deeper into the house. The smell was overpowering.
“Ooh—I like that fireplace. The stone? Honey? There’s a lot of space! I like the flow…” Mellie’s running commentary followed behind.
Steve’s grip was a vise. “Let’s look at the backyard!” He guided me across the shag, past a lemon and avocado kitchen, towards a grimy slider. Clicking the door unlocked, he heaved it open. “That’s a quality door—solid!”
We stepped into the yard. The air was fresher, but the funk from the house lingered. I desperately gulped air.
“This yard is a gem—plenty of room for entertaining. And look at the hot tub! Can’t you just see a nice long soak with friends?” Steve sighed contentedly. “Let’s go back inside.”
The smell was stronger. I gagged and leaned on the kitchen counter under stained yellow cupboards. Sweat prickled my skin. I looked at the scratched and cigarette-stained counters. I prodded a loose edge of the floor. I looked at Mellie, desperate. “Can’t you smell it?!?” I blanched green and headed towards the front door, abandoning her in the kitchen.
Steve stepped between me and the door. “I know the house may need some work, but I promise there’s no lead paint, no radon, no asbestos insulation. Our schools are A+ rated. There’s a tennis and swim club. This house is rough, but a real gem.”
My face was a sick shade of green. “Please…” I managed before vomiting over Steve’s suede shoes. I burst out the door and down the cracked walkway.
Mellie came out ten minutes later. She stared at me as I leaned on the car catching my breath. “I helped Steve clean up.”
Mellie sighed in exasperation. “I don’t get it. We need the space.”
I thought about sunlight streaming through Mellie’s hair as she read in our bed. I thought about the holiday dinners we made in our tiny kitchen for our friends—our family. How we crowded around the overfilled table and spilled onto the balcony. I reached for her hand. “I just want more time.” Mellie let me pull her closer to me.
I leaned in to kiss her, but Mellie pulled away. “Oof, Jay! Your breath!” She unlocked the car and moved to the driver’s side. “Let’s get you a water. We’ll go home and you can put your feet up.”
I angled myself gently into the car and closed the door. As Mellie pulled away, I looked back at the house. The For Sale sign creaked slowly in the breeze. The pit in my stomach began to ease.
* * *
Andrea Watson-Canning received her MFA in Dramaturgy from UC San Diego, worked in the theater for a while, and then somehow became a teacher. Her work has been published in The Dillydoun Review and Capsule Stories. She lives in Florida with her partner Bill, daughter Fiona, and some dogs and cats to keep it interesting.
Talk to your new lover on the phone until dawn. (Mostly listen.)
Work a 12-hour shift.
Dream sexy dreams.
Shiver when he makes your heart race.
Make him your mom’s famous beef stew. (Buy plenty of red wine.)
Listen to the story of his sad childhood.
Feel sorry for him and promise you’ll never hurt him.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Spend a long weekend at the beach. (Don’t forget the ultra-ribbed condoms.)
Compliment him on his skills in bed.
Buy new lingerie when you get home.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Tell him you need to go to bed early.
Change your mind when he says he’s had a bad day.
Spend two hours listening until he feels better.
Agree that his boss is an asshole.
Don’t mention his bad attitude.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Don’t say anything when you notice he’s drinking too much.
Be grateful you have a relationship in the first place.
Give him pep talks so he doesn’t drink so much.
Remind yourself that he had a sad childhood.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Agree that he just needs to quit that lousy job.
Stop making such a big deal about his drinking.
Invite him to move in with you.
Don’t mention his volatile moods.
Walk on eggshells.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Suggest a change of scenery.
Don’t take it personally when he passes out at 7.
Figure you’re too tired for sex anyway.
Make him your mother’s lamb curry. (Not too spicy.)
Work a 12-hour shift.
Wait for the right time to bring up his drinking.
Count his drinks so you have hard evidence.
Don’t remind him that he’s still unemployed.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Convince yourself he’ll drink less if you try harder.
Go to therapy to find out what you’re doing wrong.
Make him your grandmother’s apple cobbler. (Serve a la mode.)
Start taking an antidepressant.
Go back to yoga.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Talk to all your friends about how unhappy you are.
Repeat the above until they run dry on sympathy.
Feel sorry for yourself.
Reminisce about the good old days.
Resent your friends when they tell you that ship has sailed.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Give him ultimatums.
Cry a lot so he can see what he’s doing to you.
Walk on eggshells.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Wonder what it’s going to take.
Leave and come back.
Wonder if you’re going crazy.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Tell yourself that no one understands what you’re going through.
Call in sick.
Don’t get out of your pajamas for two days.
Give him the silent treatment.
Work a 12-hour shift.
Tell him you won’t watch him kill himself.
Doubt that you mean it.
Lament your lost friendships.
Listen to sad songs.
Work a 12-hour shift.
* * *
Traci Mullins, a non-fiction book editor by day, has been writingflash fiction since 2017.Her stories have been published in three anthologies, Panoply, Fictive Dream, Bending Genres, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Boulevard, Cabinet of Heed, Potato Soup Journal, (mac)ro(mic), Blink-Ink, Ellipsis Zine, and many others. She was a two-time finalist in the London Independent Story Prize competition.
We yelled at each other in the car, but stopped for gas and made up at the soda machine.
Thank you for your letter, a real letter. I sat by a garden, near the post office, reading it and laughing. A zucchini plant shook as I laughed. An ant crawled up my leg; I wish it had been you instead.
* * *
Amy Cotler was a leader in the farm-to-table movement, and a food forum host for the NY Times. After her career as a food writer and cookbook author, she turned to creative writing. Her short pieces have appeared in various publications, including Guesthouse and Hinterland. Cotler lives in central Mexico, with her husband, an artist, and their rescue standard poodle, Remy. For more, visit: amycotler.com.
You walk out of the bank and slide gingerly into your car.It resists turning over in the cold, but you keep trying. If you had left at 6 p.m. as you usually do, the car would have started immediately. But now it is midnight. When it finally starts you sit there, letting the engine warm up. The troopers didn’t ask if you were okay before they left. You’re not okay, but you sit in the frigid car trying to be okay. Your hands are shaking. You study the time and temperature sign across the road. It is blinking erratically, a frantic heart trying to calm itself.
When the two men push their way into the bank, you don’t scream. You smell the booze on them, the woodsmoke and sweat, the sour dirt on the balaclavas they wear over their faces. They look like terrorists, but it is the smell of the booze that frightens you. And the gun. They wave it in front of your face, then shove it under your nose until they see you understand; they would love to shoot you.
The heavyset man grabs your arms and yanks them behind your back. He uses pain to steer you to the safe. When the men see the cash inside, they yip like coyotes. They shove you in a corner and start stuffing packets of twenties and fifties into their jackets and down their pants. The yipping and cackling . . . one of them sounds like a guy you knew in school. He was awkward then, moon-faced, and ugly. Well, he’s rich now, you think, and a squeak of hysterical laughter escapes like a hiccup. He walks over and stares at you. Another hic of laughter. He kicks you hard in the ribs.
You think how nice it is to be alone in the bank.It is quiet and peaceful now that the day’s work is done. In a moment you will get into your car and drive to your house, a tiny dwelling tucked inside a nook of bull pines along the river. Yet, you linger. You love your home, but the empty bank is pleasant in a different way. The furnace clicks on with a blast of heat you don’t have to pay for. The lobby still smells of the morning’s coffee. A blanket of darkness begins to mingle with the streetlights, softening the room’s sharp corners. There is one last thing to do before you leave: you must lock the safe. But first, you walk to the window. There is a bank of altostratus clouds in the sky and snow has begun to fall in lazy, angel-winged flakes. You stand at the window, taking it all in. You feel sorry for the two men crossing the street with their covered faces, their bodies bundled up like Yetis against the cold.
Tina M. Johnson is a poet and recent convert to flash fiction. Her poem, “Rift”, won first prize in the Idaho Writer’s Guild 2020 Writing Contest.Other poetry has most recently been published in The Bellingham Review and Inkwell.She resides in Star, Idaho.
Lately, I’ve been worried about dying. Not the ten-year-old child worry about pain, and the unusual ways to die. No. My worry is the fifty-year-old woman worry–of time, and regret, and permanence and loss.
There was a short period in my life when I didn’t worry about anything. Not about dying, or about a career; not about money, or time running out. I just was.
And no one tells you that you should STOP during that time and TAKE IT IN. That this moment in time, when your parents are still young and healthy enough, before you have children and worry about their well-being, before time takes its toll on your body and your relationships.
This time. So brief.
And me—so unknowing in my luckiness. My life, with its choices were spread out in front of me. My past, still close enough that I could look back and see where I had come from. So close that I could still see myself reflected in the rear-view mirror.
This time, and its choices, took me to Tokyo; and to Nathalie.
Nathalie was from France. Short dark hair, closely cropped, and bold, Nathalie was chic. Worldly, merely by being from Europe. She introduced me to Hotel Costes and sophisticated meals that weren’t stuffy and formal, but were delicious and casual, and layered. Her friendly smile had a way of making everyone around her, especially this friend, feel comfortable.
And then one night, Nathalie died. In her sleep. At 30.
I imagine Vitale, her husband, waking up next to her. Her petite body heavy despite its emptiness. Cold and unmoving. So opposite of her spirit. Nathalie gone. Were her ears already closed, deaf to her children calling out to her. Crying for her. Was the image of her children running in to wake her absorbed rather than reflected. Did the sadness and tragedy of the night penetrate her skin before she left. And could her body, stiff and inflexible, take the shock of it all?
I imagine her going to bed. Unaware. Did she dream. Did she and Vitale fight before going to bed. Was she too exhausted from having two young children to think about anything but sleep and the release it gave. Was she thinking of her regrets and all the things she didn’t do?
I imagine her heart, prematurely tired, and wanting to rest. Was it so full that it became too heavy. Did it grow weary from living an entire life in so little time. Her heart willing to relinquish its role as sole provider. Its rhythm changing and slowing. Shutting down and withdrawing. Like a workman flipping the switch before leaving for the evening, the noisy system of wishes and whirls descending into a sluggish and steady quiet. Then nothing.
I think about Nathalie often these days. Before I go to sleep, after I’ve kissed my husband good-night; or after I’ve told my children that I’m too tired to tuck them in. After I’ve shouted too much, understood too little, thinking of nothing and everything all at once. Numb. I lie in bed and think of Nathalie. And if that could be me. And when that would be me.
Motionless, I’m filled with regret and panic and love and hate all at once. And the thought of resting and not running everywhere and to everyone all at that very moment is so hard to fathom. And with my heart rushing, panicking, I wonder how many beats are left in it for me.
* * *
Dorri Ramati is a writer, educator, observer and traveler who currently lives in New Jersey. She holds a B.A. in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University, and an M.A. in Education from Hunter College. In 2001, she began a 13 year journey of living overseas and traveling. It was during that time that she started her family while also finding her inspiration to pick up her pen. Dorri is currently working on multiple writing projects, including a book of essays about her experiences living overseas.
The last time she’d seen Thompson, he was hanging out in front of Biddy’s. He’d been armed, as always, with a sketch pad and a pencil behind the ear. She’d been drinking beers at one of those umbrella tables with some guy whose name she’d since forgotten. They’d just arrived, sweaty, from a long bike ride along the Anacostia River. Funny how vividly she remembered such an unexceptional day.
There they were, drinking beers while Thompson stood on the street in the blazing sun, gaping at the people at the tables. No one seemed to mind. He was just sketching, like he always did. Everyone let him draw them, threw money at him for his efforts.
“Hi, I’m Thompson,” he’d said, approaching her, like it was the first time they’d ever seen each other. That’s always how it was with Thompson. He’d handed her a drawing ripped from his pad. There’d been bits of moisture on the page, sweat from his fingers. She wondered why he hadn’t stood in the shade, or worn a hat, or done anything to protect himself from the heat.
The sketch was a caricature but flattering. He’d drawn her eyes big, adorned by long curly lashes. A button nose and pouty full lips. High cheekbones and long wavy hair. Her date had given him some cash. She remembered thinking that it was way too much money.
Still, she liked the picture well enough. When she’d gotten home, she’d placed it in a desk drawer that held nearly expired coupons, old letters from friends, metro cards she wasn’t sure still worked. Stuff she didn’t know where else to put.
No one knew if Thompson was his first or last name. Or where he went at night. He always wore holey shoes too big for his feet. In winter he wore a coat coming apart at the seams. He was alley-cat skinny, bony and overly alert. But he never begged for money or food. He could have been thirty or fifty, it was impossible to tell. He didn’t carry bags of clothes or push carts of things like the homeless people in the neighborhood did. She’d assumed that meant he had somewhere to go when he wasn’t around.
Since that day he’d sketched her at Biddy’s, she hadn’t seen or even thought about him. That had been over a year ago. Running into him again today felt both surprising and expected. She was walking her dogs along Pennsylvania Avenue. He was biking down the sidewalk from the other direction. As he neared her, he laid the bike down and pulled a pad out of his backpack. He was dripping sweat. It was a scorcher just like the last time they’d met.
“Mind if I draw your dogs?” he asked as his pencil screeched across the pad. She’d said sure, why not. He was already doing it and she wasn’t in a rush.
“I’m Thompson,” he said, looking down at the pad as he drew.
“Yeah, you’ve drawn me before.”
He nodded, still sketching.
“I’ve got my own apartment now. And medical,” he continued, apropos of nothing. “Through the government. I been to Iraq. A few times.”
He ripped the sketch from the pad and handed it to her. It was cartoonish but endearing. He’d drawn their eyes big. Smiling mouths adorned with long whiskers. Tufts of fur curling up from their heads.
“It’s super cute,” she searched her pockets. Coming up empty, she added, “I’m right around the corner. Want to walk me so I can pay you?”
He picked up his bike and they walked and talked about how hot it was all the way to her house. Her next-door neighbors, a young couple, were hanging on their stoop drinking beers.
“Hey, this is Thompson,” she said.
“Yeah, we know Thompson,” the guy replied. “Everyone knows Thompson.”
She asked him to wait outside. She went into her house, unleashed the dogs, then searched her pocketbook. All she found was a 20-dollar bill. She thought about running to the store to break it but didn’t have the energy. It was hot. She grabbed a beer from the fridge and walked out the front door.
Thompson was still standing by his bike in front of her neighbors’ gate, but now he was sketching. He stopped once to wipe sweat from his brow. She squeezed by him and opened the gate. The neighbors made a space for her to edge through, two steps above them. She plopped down and popped open the beer. She and the couple chatted about their day while Thompson sketched.
He ripped out the drawing and handed it over the gate to the neighbor woman. She rose half off her seat with an outstretched arm to receive it. She looked it over, nodding with approval. The guy fished around in his pocket and pulled out some cash.
“Can you pass this along?” she handed the twenty to the guy with one hand, taking a swig of the beer with the other. The guy stepped forward, fist full of cash, and placed it into Thompson’s outstretched hand.
Thompson put the money in his pocket and the pad in his backpack. But he didn’t pick up his bike right away.She felt him staring at them and stopped talking. She grasped her beer tighter, wondering why he lingered. It felt like he wanted to say something. It was awkward, him just standing there like that. She wanted him to leave.
Finally, he picked up the bike, nodding goodbye.
“Great seeing you, Thompson,” the neighbor guy called after him. Her shoulders relaxed, her jaw unclenched, watching him ride away.
* * *
Jessica McGlyn lives in Washington, D.C. and is a member of the Capitol Hill Writers’ Group. She writes short stories in a variety of genres.
If you asked me to describe myself in 150 words, I’d give you 300, at least. Not because I am the kind of person who keeps on giving, but the kind of person who doesn’t know when to stop. That’s a problem, I’ll admit. I’m also the kind of person who calls a problem a problem instead of a challenge, which, I’m told, would be the more mindful way of addressing problems, especially mine, but the mindful way, apparently, is also about pretending you’ve never eaten raisins before. You’ve heard about the raisins, right? Because that’s what they made me do, the mindful people in my life, when all else failed. Got it out of some book, apparently. My mother, always the first to break. Eat a raisin, she said, it will teach you to focus on the here and now. Fill your entire mouth with a single raisin, and keep it there. Do nothing. Just taste, and feel. The future will happen the moment you stop thinking about it.
You. Here. The raisin. Now.
Like a heartbeat, she smiled.
A fucking raisin.
Worse than fruit gone off, I tell you, which is at least still full of life. A raisin’s somebody’s way of telling you to embrace it instead of face it, when your body is folding back into itself, again, over the not-quite-a-grape thing, again, and your head becomes the place where flies go to die.
And by flies I mean thoughts. I’m thinking of flies because there’s one in here, in this room. Lured in by the buzz of the radiator, its heat, beating itself up against the plaster, splattered now with shadows of flowers, the ghosts of the plastic Ikea pendant bought for the baby – the one forever in the making.
I know what’ll happen. I do. The fly won’t stop storming the ceiling, looking for a route, but there’s no way on, or out. It’ll end up dead on the carpet, or somewhere I can’t see, and as soon as the heat drops into darkness, the fly will look like a fool, and after a number of days, like a raisin.
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Sofie won a number of accolades for the fiction she wrote in Dutch back in the days she could still do somersaults. Posts in tune with life’s rhythms on www.soofs.co.uk. She has a story coming out in #2 of The Belfast Literary Review.
HE WAS 87 years of age and lived on his own in a small home reduced to the size of one ground floor room. All he owned in this world was contained within this space. He had the walls, the floor, and the ceiling around him at all times. Positioned in one of the walls was a window. The old man slowly paced over to the window and looked out at the garden as he had done for many years. It was an unattended mess of weeds and overgrown shrubs, plants, and trees. It was his beloved wife’s garden. She had worked hard to make it a place of beauty. Wonderful colors, lush shrubbery, blooming flowers and a couple of stone statues and a stone bird bath. She had green fingers and a great sense of how things grow and of the space they occupy. When she died, he decided to let the garden fall to wrack and ruin. Year upon year of neglect as if he was punishing the garden for taking so much of her time from him. It had not mattered to him then, and he had enjoyed the fruits of her labour, but it mattered to him now. He resented the garden and wanted it to rot away. When he turned from the window he was back in his space of warmth and safety. Of solitude and isolation. Of dust and decay. He had not stepped outside the room for many years and knew his life would come to an end within this space with her watching him, waiting for him to join her. This gave him comfort and calmed his anger. The world outside was unfamiliar and he knew nobody in it, so he drank wine to remind him of the past and of the many places they had visited together. Sometimes the wine made him sleepy, and he thought death was coming for him. Sometimes the wine made him angry or sad. One night, when he had finished his wine and the darkness had smothered the garden, he knew he would fall asleep for the last time and smiled to her.
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A British writer who now sees himself as a European writer, RD has worked in print, online, comics, film and TV. His other writing is inspired by video games, soccer, Burroughs and Ellroy, fine wine and films.