The Subway

By Gabby Iriarte

Riding the subway taught me all I needed to know about people. It’s interesting if you actually pay attention. For instance, to my left is an old man with a wrinkled face and hands who sits, muttering nonsense to himself while swaying to a beat only he can hear. To my right, a young mother is pleading with her children to please, sit down and be quiet! Standing up, there’s an assortment of businessmen, college students, and teenagers. This group slowly thins as each stop approaches, past Eighth Street, Thirty-Third Street, Fifty-First Street. 

Those who enter the train car with an air of quiet confidence, with hair neatly pulled back and horribly mismatched clothing are usually the ballet dancers. Occasionally, they’ll actually be the chorus dancers from the next run of Cats, but it can be hard to tell. The actors, artists, and musicians are harder to identify, but it’s a safe bet someone is a musician if they carry a large, oddly-shaped black box and clutch it to their chest as if it’s going to run away from them. There’s usually a number of people who don’t stand out in any particular way; I can’t determine what they do for a living and they don’t draw attention to themselves, so they tend to fade into the crowd. And then there’s also the homeless; scattered across the cars, sometimes crumpled in a heap on the floor, looking pitiful and other times walking down the aisles, begging for money. I always feel guilty when I see them; sitting here with my brand-new pair of shoes, my trusty iPhone, and the prospect of a warm, cozy apartment and food to return to. These people always mystify me too; what brought them to this place in their life? Are they really homeless, or just trying to make some extra cash? And where do they go when the temperature drops below freezing and the city falls under darkness?  

But what strikes me the most about my long subway rides from Hudson Yards all the way up to One Hundred Forty Eighth Street—West Harlem—is that the subway, and most of New York City, for that matter, allows me to be exposed to what seems like the entire world and all types of people, all in the span of a few hours. There aren’t many places where that’s possible.  

I’m jolted from my thoughts when I realize that we are indeed at 148th street—my stop. The last few people remaining in the car with me are getting to their feet, preparing to leave and continue on with their days. 

And that’s when I see him. 

A homeless man, trying very unsuccessfully to lug a shopping cart, stuffed to the brim with all of his belongings, onto the train car from the subway platform. The front end of the cart keeps getting caught in the gap between the platform and the car, and the man is too weak to lift it up. As a result, the doors to the car are frantically trying to close but stopping as soon as they realize there’s something in between them. The announcement over the intercom is telling everyone to please clear the doorways, but obviously, the only issue is the man. He looks close to tears, exhausted, and truly not all there.  

I look around, wanting to see what others are thinking or doing, but anyone who’s left is either caught up in their own world or purposefully ignoring the awkward situation in front of them. Not sure if I should approach him or not, I then have a thought: what’s the point of trying to understand people if I don’t help them when the time comes? Taking a deep breath, I cautiously walk towards the man, half-intrigued and half-terrified.  

“Hey sir, can I help you?” 

“Mmmmff…” 

“Um, maybe I can help you get your stuff into the car? It looks like it’s stuck.” 

“Hhh…oookayyy,” the man said in a muffled voice. I couldn’t tell if he was on something or just not fully functioning. 

As I reached out to jerk the front end of the cart up and over the train car floor, I noticed that people were watching us, curious but silent. I saw a teenage boy out of the corner of my eye whipping out his phone, presumably to capture a video—what the hell for? The announcement was relentlessly repeating itself and the words were starting to swim in my head as I heard them for the hundredth time. The man was virtually no help to me, but with a violent tug, I managed to lift the cart up into the car. As the cart entered, it rolled quickly, knocking me backwards against the other side of the car. I heard the man shuffle towards his belongings, and he gently pulled the cart away from me.  

Once the commotion was over, everyone quit staring at us and continued on with their business. The teenager with the phone had stuck his headphones on and was obviously jamming to a song we couldn’t hear. Some lady was stuffing French fries down her throat while sobbing on the phone. A middle-aged man with wiry black hair and glasses was reading the newspaper. Everything was normal, as if nothing unusual had happened. But then again, I guess this really wasn’t unusual at all for New York. All of my years living here, and I still can’t come to terms with that. I guess that’s what is so remarkable about this place. 

 I shook my head to clear those thoughts as I realized that I still had to get off at this stop. I glanced towards the homeless man and he had gripped the pole in the center of the car, clutching it with one hand while holding the handle of his precious shopping cart with the other. He said nothing to me as I walked off, but he gave me a big grin that looked slightly unhinged. Maybe it was his way of saying thanks. 

                                            *   *   *

Gabby Iriarte is a second-year college student majoring in Film and minoring in Theater at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She is also an actor and has appeared in productions at the Michigan Actors Studio as well as at Wayne State. In her spare time, she enjoys watching and analyzing movies, writing poetry, reading plays, and exploring new cities across the globe.

 

 

 

 

Entertaining Angels

 

By Franci Hepburn

Anna squints: the street is clear, but something moves outside the garden gate. She jumps when the intercom bleats.

‘Yes?’

‘Water, miss?’ 

She looks at the keyring on the table that reads: ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in.’

Pressing the button on the wall with her elbow, she wipes her hands on her apron. The gates open slowly, letting the man into the garden. Then he stands in front of her suddenly, unshaven with a watering can in his hands. The front door screeches as she unlocks the security doors.

‘Come on in.’

The man looks around, wipes his forehead and takes off his hat.

Anna knows her husband would have a fit if he knew she let a stranger in. Just last week, there was a murder in the area. In the kitchen, she slides a soft drink and a cupcake towards the man. He sits down at the table, following her prompts. Looking at the floor, he nibbles on the cupcake and sips the drink. Then he stands up, moving towards her.

‘Can I have water, miss?’

‘But I’ve just given you …?’ 

‘I just wanted your hose to fill the can.’

                                         *   *   *

Franci Hepburn is an artist and writer of flash fiction. She enjoys creating characters in all forms. Franci teaches Art at a secondary school in Perth Hills, where she lives. She has published her work in Cafelit magazine this year. Franci writes in English, her second language.

Old Man’s Best Friend

 

By Marcy Dilworth

Body ablaze, Henry chokes and the ship lurches, throws him onto his side. Rogue waves strike like an open hand to the back, and a chunk of something rubbery and foul flies out of his panting mouth. He puzzles over the murmur of a TV game show and the icy disk pressing first on his chest and then his back. Echoes of crackles and bubbles fill his body. Falling back onto a bed softer than any sick bay bunk he can recall, he sinks into a murky doze.

***

His tenth year at sea. Henry patrolled the North Pacific in a rare period of calm winds, fair skies and no enemy sightings. Shore leave and his beloved Marie glimmered on the horizon; the stars lit the night watch while flying silver fish kept him company.

A welcome trickle of cooler air swept past. Seconds later, the commission pennant billowed and snapped, the sea plunged and broke, and granite clouds descended like a stage curtain. Torrents of salt-tinged water buffeted the crew.

The captain bellowed, “All hands on deck,” as twenty-five footers, thirty footers, rocked the ship. And all new recruits, cocky until that midnight, glowed gray-green in the scant light, and clung to the rails, and drooled in advance of the vomit to come.

***

The ship judders and Henry writhes. He tries to suppress the bile, doesn’t want to retch in front of his fellow sailors, but the wild sea keeps up its assault. He heaves. Someone tilts him up, someone strong and steady, and pats his back as the liquid contents of his stomach empty into a container snugged against his chin. 

 From far off, he hears Marie call, “Henry, I’m here.” Her soft cool hand feels real on his feverish forearm. His thick lungs smother each next breath and he panics in his battle to rise from the deep, desperate to open his eyes to see if Marie has somehow appeared, against all regulations, against all reason, in the sick bay. A prick to the arm, another round of chills, and he goes under again. 

***

 “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” Henry’s dad knew what the crimson dawn meant and also knew better than to row out of the harbor and into the ocean in his paint-chipped dinghy. He stopped to take swigs from his bottle, and laughed when Henry complained that they’d gone too far, that the rough waves scared him. “Sink or swim,” his dad said, then pushed anew against the swelling sea. White-caps swamped Henry’s feet, his ankles, his knees, and jagged rain drenched his frayed flannel shirt. Through the ropes of rain he couldn’t see three feet in any direction. At age eight, Henry realized that death might be a thing that could happen to him.

By the time the Coast Guard showed up and dragged him into the cutter, he was too cold to care. While he thawed under a pile of blankets and his labored breathing eased, his drunk dad slugged a Coastie and shouted, “You’ll never get away with this! I’ve got friends in high places!” They tightened his dad’s handcuffs and left him to the sleet on the open deck.

***

As a deep-throated creak rouses Henry from an uneasy sleep he catches a glimpse of his father and recalls his meager legacy—echoes of someone else’s wisdom. His father’s old-age refrain reaches him, “pneumonia’s an old man’s best friend,” and Henry struggles to rise from below, to gulp a mouthful of oxygen. But his chest squeezes tight and his breaths wane, turn to ripples, until the exhale from his nostrils scarcely moves the air. He lays spent, washed up.

Henry feels Marie’s soft lips on his forehead. He opens his eyes and drinks in one last look of her beautiful, wizened face as the tide recedes.

                                           ***

Marcy Dilworth is a recovering finance professional finally pursuing her love of writing. Her fiction is forthcoming or published in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Janus Literary, Blink Ink, and elsewhere. Oh, and she has a couple wonderful kids. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcyDilworth. 

Burning Question

By Joe Giordano

My first sensation was the smell of burning oil. Feeling flushed, I found myself squatting on a marble floor with my back against a fluted Ionic column inside a large room. On either side of me were stacked scrolls on shelves. Bearded men wearing draped garments were perusing the papyri, some reading by the light of licking flames of terra-cotta lamps.

Was I dreaming?

I overheard two men talking.

“When you show me a goatskin that can hold Aeolus’s wind, then I’ll believe Homer’s story is true.” 

They chuckled.

I rose and approached them. I wore a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. They took notice and their conversation stopped.

“Are you Persian?” one man asked.

“Where am I?”

They exchanged glances before the same man said, “The Library of Alexandria, of course.”

I blurted. “The library burned centuries ago.”

They snickered and began to walk away.

I called out. “Where is Alexander the Great buried?”

“Check the scrolls under ‘Alpha.” Their laughter echoed as they moved away.

Streaming sunlight drew me toward a broad entrance. I shaded my eyes. Jutting up from the turquoise sea, the Lighthouse of Alexandria stood. 

I should’ve been agog to see one of the wonders of the ancient world, but my mood was oddly depressed.

I heard a man muttering to himself, sitting on the stone steps to my right. He had a screw carved out of wood and a terra-cotta pipe in his hands. He frowned, seemingly in a quandary.

I wanted to locate myself in time, so I disturbed him with a question. “Who is the king of Egypt?”

His eyes didn’t rise and his tone was curt. “I’m trying to solve a problem and don’t have time to discuss politics.” He continued to ponder the screw and pipe, but his muttering became intelligible. “How do I keep the water from leaking around the screw?”

I wasn’t going to get my answer until I solved his problem. “You don’t,” I said. “If the amount of water delivered by the screw is greater than the leakage, the pump will work.”

The man’s head rose, and he blinked a few times. “Eureka,” he said, delighted. He turned to me. “Ptolemy the second and thank you.” He strode away, presumably to try his invention.

Around 250 B.C.! How did I get here?

Then it came to me. I’d been in an ICU hospital bed, my body scorched with fever, diagnosed with coronavirus, unable to breathe, feeling like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I’d agreed to be intubated. 

My thoughts were interrupted by a male voice, sounding distant, like from a hollow chamber. “Mr. Christos is sinking fast. We need the bed. I see there’s a DNR, a ‘do not resuscitate’ order.”

Alarmed, my mind tried to scream. Forget what I signed. Rip it up. Take extreme measures. Give me experimental drugs. Keep me alive.

Suddenly, I was pulled back inside the library toward a bright light and the heat intensified. The scrolls were on fire. The smell of rotten eggs mixed with the smoke. My anxiety grew as shadowy figures like flickering candle flames reached out to grab me. 

Oh my God.

I felt a burning pain like my skin was being seared, then I began to sink, spinning down like I’d free fallen into a glacial crevice, dark, and infinite. 

I was dying.

Will no one help me?

As abruptly as it began, my descent stopped, and I floated slowly upward until a light shone on my lids, and I opened my eyes.

A doctor, masked and with a face shield, wearing a blue gown stood over me. A female nurse in the same garb was on the other side of the bed. 

“Mr. Christos,” the doctor said, “I thought we’d lost you.”

As I was intubated, I motioned that I wished to write. The nurse brought me a pad and pen.

I met Archimedes.

The doctor chuckled at my note. “High fever can cause strange dreams.” He placed a gloved hand on my shoulder. “Your oxygen is much improved and you’re breathing mostly on your own. We should be able to extubate you sometime tomorrow.”

I thanked them with a nod and closed my eyes, elated to be alive.

I felt sleepy and smiled to myself with an idea. Maybe I can return to the library and find out where Alexander the Great is buried?

                                                                     *   *   *

Joe Giordano’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, and Shenandoah. His novels include Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, Appointment with ISIL (Harvard Square Editions), Drone Strike and his short story collection, Stories and Places I Remember (Rogue Phoenix Press).

http://joe-giordano.com/ 

Lapse

By Caryn Coyle

You had to check, didn’t you?  Your damn curiosity gnawed at you, so that, when you finally remembered to check (because, obviously, you’ve thought of this often, but at the wrong time) you opened the glove compartment and now you can’t think about anything else.

The insurance card you store there with the registration says your policy expired almost two months ago!  Two months!  Holy moly, what are you going to do?

Why hadn’t you gotten an invoice?  You pay your car insurance in two lump sums every half a year, and you remember paying for it – the coverage that has expired – over nine months ago.  You do not recall ever paying the insurance bill again for the coverage you need now to drive.

You are driving illegally.  The thought is scary.  What will the insurance company do?  They may charge you tons and tons of money to reinstate your coverage.  What will the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles do?  Suspend your registration?  Forbid you to drive until you can prove you are covered?  Charge you an astronomical penalty fee?  You are just under two months late renewing your coverage.  That is going to cost a lot.

But you are here.  You’ve found a decent parking spot, the only one left by the picnic area.  Since it is still a lovely day, you put the expired insurance card back in the glove compartment and open your car door.   

The path is about two miles, just the right length for you; enough exercise that you enjoy walking it.  You were thrilled to find this park.  It has two stone pillars at the entrance to the asphalt path.  There are several trials off the main pathway, but you do not take any.  You are pushing yourself not to think about the lapse in your insurance coverage.

You do not want to call the insurance company while you are walking, either.  You try to enjoy the slopes of land on either side of you.  The tall pine trees and the others that have clouds of green or sometimes pink, on their branches.  It is spring.  Finally and has been for about a month, but the weather has not felt like it.  It is cool today, too.  You wear a sweatshirt under your light winter coat.  It is comfortable.  You actually enjoy a cooler, overcast day for walking.  Heat and extreme cold bother you.  You have found such solace in the blue of the Atlantic when you walk on the beaches here.  But today, today is a quick and easy two miles amongst pine trees, boulders and a pair of deep blue ponds.  It isn’t too crowded today.  It is a weekday.  That is why.

On the weekend, folks park their cars along the drive to the trails.  The hockey rink’s parking lot also fills up and a small bridge to the shopping center beyond it, with lots more parking, get used up, too.  The last time you walked this path, you had to park there.  It was the first really warm, beautiful day of the year and everyone had the same idea that you had.

But today, oh you can’t enjoy the walk; the clear, the cloudless sky, the crisp air, soft wind.  Everything is starting to come back to life and you are trying to push thoughts of the repercussions of your insurance lapse from your mind.

At the top of the asphalt loop, you can see the lovely, tiny beach for the first of the ponds.  A dog and her walker greet you.  You reach down, let the dog sniff your hand and try to smile.  You love dogs.  Always have.

You try not to think of your dog, whom you had to put to sleep.  You had another dog before her, also put to sleep eight months before you adopted your last dog.  You don’t think you can go through the loss of another dog.  It is too painful.

Back at the park’s entrance, the dark, wooden walls of the rest rooms with the green steel roof remind you of an expensive amusement park.  The building looks well maintained, attractive.  You use the rest room, surprised that the insurance situation has made you sick to your stomach.  You will call the company when you get home.  You cannot do it while you drive; carefully, uninsured.  You are not calm enough.

You are aware of everything as you pull back onto the highway; the cars that surround you, their speeds, the ones exiting or entering the spaces behind and in front of you.  Route one, on which you are driving, is a string of stores and services on both sides where vehicles enter and leave constantly.

A car moves so swiftly into your lane, you gasp.  Hey!  As if by instinct, you switch lanes before he can hit you.  What the hell?  You swing into the lane he left to cut you off, relieved that no one else is in this lane.  

You must have been in the other driver’s blind spot.  He doesn’t even acknowledge you.  He faces the windshield, one arm out, hand raised so you can see it above the hood of his car.  His hand is open as though he is trying to catch the breeze.

What a close call!  Really close.  And you are not insured.

At home, with your insurance card in hand, you call the company’s toll free number.  The automatic responses guide you to a conclusion that you do not expect: your policy is paid in full!

Shocked, you stay on the line so you can talk to someone.  Could it really be true?  Why can’t you remember?  But what relief!  The Registry of Motor Vehicles will not penalize you. Your credit score will not decline.  

According to the insurance company’s representative, you paid in full three months ago.  You do not remember paying for it.  You do remember gathering both the expired and the new insurance cards and throwing out the one you thought was outdated.  Now, you realize, you threw the wrong one out.  

Why can’t you remember?

Your mother died of dementia last year.  You have worried that you will develop it, too.  Is this insurance nightmare a sign?

You try to shake it off.  Forget about it.  You remember your mother grabbed the newspaper once, not to read it, to check the date.  Looking up from the paper, she declared, “It’s my birthday!”

Your mother used to repeat herself, constantly.  She would ask you if the waitress had taken the order you and she had given for the many, many meals you shared with her in restaurants.  She enjoyed dining out whenever you could drive the four hours to see her in her assisted living facility.  She lived there for seven years.  Each time you saw her, she had faded more. 

Your mother would protest that she knew who you were.  But she did not recognize you. For those seven years she could no longer live on her own, she never said your name.  Your mother always acted as though you were an acquaintance, kindly paying her a visit.

The night of your insurance lapse fiasco, you climb into bed and reach for your pill box.  You take a prescription each night for cholesterol.  You also take one each morning for your thyroid.

You open the lever of the tiny box marked with an “T” for Thursday.  There are two pills inside!  You forgot to open the box to take your thyroid pill that morning.

For more than an hour, you lie there, unable to sleep.

                                                  *  *  *

Caryn Coyle is an editor at the Baltimore based literary journal, LOCH RAVEN REVIEW and her fiction has appeared in more than three dozen literary publications.  She has won awards for her fiction from the Maryland Writer’s Association, the New Millennium, DELMARVA REVIEW, the Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Pennsylvania’s Hidden River Arts.

She lives in Massachusetts.

         

  

Floating in Place

By Kim Horner

The isolation during the pandemic was torture for many people who lived alone. Erica wasn’t one of them. She felt a little guilty when she realized she was happier than she’d been in a long time. She was lucky to be able to transition to working from home.  And she loved not having any social obligations. She barely had to talk to anyone. It was so liberating. In her free time, she read, worked on the novel she’d been writing for years, and got around to watching movies and TV series people at work used to talk about. She binged on Homeland, Better Call Saul, and The Handmaid’s Tale. She understood the characters’ desperation. After all, Trump was president. COVID-19 was killing hundreds of thousands of people while the man elected to run the country and his allies downplayed the disease and even mocked people wearing masks. Police killed yet another Black man, George Floyd. Women were slowly losing the right to control their own bodies. Erica was sick of the world and disgusted with humans, especially the millions, including people in her family and who she worked with, who voted for that man in the White House (she refused to say his name).

Her new contact-free life allowed Erica to pretend she lived somewhere other than this horror show of a world. She dreamed she was on a desert island. She ordered groceries online. Take-out food delivery drivers simply knocked on the door and left; you didn’t have to see or talk to anyone. When she reserved library books, all she had to do was drive to the pickup spot at the library and someone would bring them to her car. She stopped getting haircuts. Erica could get anything else she needed from Amazon.  Her lack of a social life made the transition easy. Erica hadn’t dated anyone since her boyfriend cheated on her last year. Her best friend, June, had moved away a month before the pandemic. And her sister, Evelyn, lived across the country. Erica found that texts, email and occasional phone calls satisfied her need, if you call it that, for human contact. 

Erica had everything she needed in her 560-square-foot one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, with a view of a wooded area along a creek.

“Don’t forget: No woman is an island. You could join an online meetup,” June said during one of their phone calls. 

“Nah, I’m good,” Erica said. The longer she was at home, the more comfortable she felt there. She spent most of her waking hours lying on her Ikea Ektorp slipcover couch, her laptop balanced on a pillow on her stomach. She had moved a small table next to the sofa for her phone, remote control and coffee or La Croix, depending on the time of day. Was she experiencing social anxiety, realizing her relationships weren’t satisfying, or just happy spending some time alone? Erica had no idea. At that point, she didn’t care.

As time went by, Erica felt as if time was suspended and she was floating in it. There was nothing to distinguish one day from another. Weeks passed. Sometimes, Erica forgot what month it was. She stopped paying attention to Facebook or the news. She wrote; she watched TV. Spring turned into summer into fall into winter. Then came spring. One day, Erica caught a brief glimpse of a news item about new vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases. Even though the pandemic was “over,” Erica still didn’t want to leave her apartment. Most people couldn’t wait to get together with friends and family, but Erica dreaded the social part of getting “back to normal.”

“So, when are you going to end your solitary confinement?” June asked the last time they talked. “You haven’t seen anyone in person in more than a year.”

They’d had the same conversation over and over.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine!”

“Look, I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t say this. Do you think it might help if you talk to a therapist?”

“Goodbye, June.” Erica turned off her iPhone and tossed it across the room. It hit the wall, left a mark, then fell behind a pile of books.

Erica left her phone there for several weeks. She didn’t miss it any more than she missed people. She thought if she were trapped on a desert island, she would be fine for a long time, maybe forever. Would she ever miss human beings?  She wrote a short story about a woman who bought her own island, which she named Walden, and lived there for the rest of her life, alone. Over time, the island drifted farther and farther away until nobody knew where it was anymore.

Her phone remained behind the shelf for so long, Erica didn’t notice that her cellular service had been cut off. The next time she tried to order from her favorite Chinese food restaurant, her credit card was declined. A few weeks later, her landlord slid a note under her door that she had not paid rent. Erica wasn’t worried. Hadn’t she read about the moratorium on evictions? She opened her laptop to check online. However, she had no internet service. Erica felt as if she’d been set free. She felt lighter than anything she’d ever experienced. Erica finally had broken from the mainland. She was floating peacefully on her own chunk of paradise.

*   *   *

Kim Horner is author of Probably Someday Cancer: Genetic Risk and Preventative Mastectomy (The University of North Texas Press, 2019). Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Dallas Morning News, Seventeen, Minnow Literary Magazine, 805, and Parhelion. She is pursuing an MFA in creative writing from The University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Audition

By Kristina T. Saccone

We never made out in the crypt because there was always someone there, around a corner, not sneaking but eerily quiet. I wasn’t sure if we avoided it because we worried about getting caught by the rector or just the possibility of a jump scare. Sean said it was too echo-y for loud kissing anyway.

We never went to the gazebo to smoke because it was open on all sides, even though it was halfway between the boys’ school and the girls’ school. I’d perch in the third window from the door, the one overlooking the parking lot, to catch a glimpse of Gabe when he left campus to grab lunch. Sean watched for Andrew, hair slicked back, button nose, slender legs and rosy cheeks. Not my type, but hey, everyone’s got different taste. 

We never got to drama class on time because we wanted to make an entrance. Ms. Morris played along as long as we also took improv seriously. The afternoon she wouldn’t let Sean audition for Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, we both walked out and swore never to return.

We never made it to Gabe’s 16th birthday party, and let’s face it, we weren’t actually invited in the first place. But it felt good to skip it with Sean, smoke cigarettes on the playground behind his apartment building, and sing show tunes loudly, hoping that someone would hear us. 

We never sat together in chapel because Sean wanted to be on the boys’ side with Andrew. When they left to go to the gazebo together, I didn’t even notice, biding the time reciting poetry in my head. 

We never visited the gazebo together after that. I went back to drama class and got the role of Sarah in the musical. With his Sinatra-esque swagger, Andrew played Nathan Detroit. One afternoon, Sean caught me smoking outside the theater door with the other Adelaide. That’s when I knew we’d never speak again.  

                                                      *   *   *

Kristina T. Saccone crafts flash fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in 365 Tomorrows, The Bangor Literary Journal,  Emerge Literary Journal, and Unearthed, and she curates Flash Roundup, featuring the latest releases in flash fiction. Find her on Twitter at @kristinasaccone or haunting small independent bookstores in the Washington, DC, area. 

 

CHURCH OF REDEEMING LOVE

By Lisa Lynn Biggar

The Church of Redeeming love is in a strip mall between a dentist and a bank, sandwiched between those two large businesses, that of money and dental care, smiles and savings. There are two large green planters filled with bright red and pink plastic flowers on either side of the door, the hours posted on the glass panel: Worship held on Sunday at 11 a.m., Bible studies on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. One wonders what goes on inside the other days of the week.

There  are no windows, but peek through the glass panel on the door:  a room painted gold with framed pictures of Jesus on the walls in various stages of agony, black collapsible chairs facing an altar with plastic flowers and plastic figurines. A placard above that reads: “Where Jesus is worshipped and humankind is saved.” Two of the chairs are occupied. 

She is thin, tattooed, her dark hair in dreads. He is taller, thinner, his hair buzzed in a mohawk. They are talking about love. The girl is wondering about its substance. If it is something that can be held in your palm, worn around the neck, gifted or bartered. Or like a zephyr, something unseen, here one minute, gone the next, to other lands, oceans, drifting upwards to the stars. Sometimes lingering, if you can seduce it. 

She is somewhere in her twenties. He is somewhere in his thirties. Both addicts, trying to stay clean. Now is all they have. 

“Heroin was my love,” she says. “It was all I wanted. I don’t know how to be.”

“I’ve never known how to be,” he says. “I look in the mirror and don’t see me.”

“I see you,” she says. 

The room seems to glow a brighter gold as if the sun were rising or falling.

What was it that guided them inside? Saint and Princess, always fighting against their names. The tracks on their arms fading, but no promises made. 

Still, something real flickers in the air. 

                                                      

                                                                  *   *   *

 

Lisa Lynn Biggar received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently marketing a short story cycle set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review, The Delmarva Review and Superstition Review. She’s the fiction editor for Little Patuxent Review and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and three cats. 

writinglisa.com; twitter.com/lislafleur

Yearn

By Vincent Barry

I am thinking, perhaps, the fall hand-painted one, though the spring solid brass butterfly handcrafted to perfection is eye-catching, is it not? It is. Frankly, I am lost in the woods, I truly am. I mean I yearn for the perfect place to be loved, remembered, kept. In a ring? a bracelet? a necklace? I am truly lost, at a loss. I was taught, you see, not to be on land, in air, at sea, or in some other way, so as to avoid, y’see, all appearance of pantheism, naturalism, nihilism, or any other such ism. That aside, looking inside, for a guide, “Thank God!” for finding, no, fronting the essential facts of my life: a farmhouse on a winding road, a one-story wooden structure with dormered attic with front and back doors that squeakily swing open, the one to let in the summer’s breath, the other to let it out, through a wide central hall that’s the pulse of family life. For that I yearn at the point of no return to be a pendant resplendent, a keepsake of deep ache. . . . 

                                                  *   *   *

After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Saint Ann’s Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Broken City, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Kairos, Terror House, Caveat Lector, The Fem, BlogNostics, The Writing Disorder, whimperbang, The Disappointed Housewife, The Collidescope, Anti-Heroin Chic, Beakful, Bombfire, Bright Flash Literary Review, and Pigeon Review. Barry lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Pink Moon of April

A Memoir by Adam Coulter

One spring night in 1991, Don Carver knocked on the door of our house. “The mare’s delivern’ a foal,” he told my dad. “Thought the boy might like to see it.” The boy meaning me. I did want to see it. I was twelve years old and had never seen anything be born before so I grabbed my coat and the three of us headed up the dirt road to the barn. 

Mr. Carver was about twenty years older than my dad, old enough to be my grandpa for sure, and reminded me a lot of him. He leased the fields up the road from our house and grew tobacco that he sold in Asheville.

He walked with a limp and a crooked back, characteristic of many of the old farmers I remember from my childhood, and always appeared to be leaning slightly forward. His Levi Garret hat sat high above his ears making him look a few inches taller than he actually was.

The barn sat at the curve in the road. We entered and turned on a flood light in the horse’s stall. The mare, plump and round from her pending delivery, paced back and forth across the width of the stall. My dad and Mr. Carver made small talk as I watched the horse. One moment she was pacing, the next she would lay on her side. Her dark brown hair and black mane were covered in hay and her breath was heavy from pain.

“She’s getting her foal into position,” Mr. Carver said to me, his jaw bulging around a wad of tobacco.

The horse continued her cycle of pacing, lying, rolling, then eventually stood against the wall. Moments later the front hooves then the head of the baby horse began to protrude. The mare heaved, her sides contracting, working the foal out little by little, still covered in the membranes of the womb.

Dad and Mr. Carver were calm, standing next to me with their hands in their pockets in the yellow light of the barn. Not a word was spoken as nature took its course.

The mother horse pushed in labor and the upper legs of the baby slipped out. After a little effort the baby horse was born and on the ground. The foal broke through its birth membranes and the two bonded instantly. She was a brown haired horse with a reddish tone, slightly lighter than her mother, and in healthy condition. I watched as the baby horse stood and took its first steps, a little wobbly at first, but soon finding her way, like we all do.

My dad and Mr. Carver filled the stall’s water bucket and feed container then laid a layer of fresh hay along the floor of the stall. Once they were satisfied with how things had gone, we closed the barn up for the night, leaving mother and baby to themselves.

“What’d you think of that?” my dad asked as we stood outside the barn, the night air still and cool. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” I said.

We said goodbye to Mr. Carver. He pursed his lips and spit tobacco juice onto the ground, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and told us he would see us later.

Our feet crunched the gravel of the dirt road. I listened to my dad recollect his own childhood memories of growing up on a farm, the animals he had seen born both triumphantly and tragically, and lessons learned along the way. The road turned toward home and the pink moon of April cast long shadows of father and son walking side by side. Above us the starry North Carolina sky was bright and timeless. 

                                                                   *   *   *

Adam Coulter is a native of western North Carolina. He works in healthcare and is an avid reader of Southern literature. When not writing he enjoys growing grapes in his backyard vineyard and glasses of red wine on the back porch. His work has appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Rhapsodist.