The Girl Who Wants To Be A Star

 

 by Amanda Ashley Greenberg

Eloise Frank always knew that she wanted to be a comedian. Her favorite comedian of all time was Mel Brooks. Problem is, she didn’t know how to tell a joke. In the school library, she found a book called “How to Tell a Joke in Twenty Minutes.” She spent a couple of hours reading the book, but didn’t learn anything.

After a month of reading joke books, Eloise tried to create her own jokes. She came up with a joke, “Why did the mountain quake?” “It felt scared.” When she tried to tell her joke to her friends and teachers, they just made a face and walked away. This only made Eloise try even harder to make them laugh. On the bus each day after school, she told a joke. “Why did the cow moo?” “It wanted a moo shake.” At the supermarket, she told jokes to the stock people. “What do you call a rotten egg?” “Over cooked.” When she went to basketball practice, she tried her jokes on her teammates, but nobody laughed.

Her parents took her to a kid’s stand-up comedy show hoping to get her ideas. She got to meet a comedian, but sadly Eloise didn’t think she was funny. A week after Eloise went to the comedy show, Eloise’s school announced that there was going to be a talent show April 5th. Eloise had one month to learn how to make people laugh. Every weekend her parents took her to comedy shows.

A month of studying flew by before she came up with a joke of her own. “Why did the banana feel so sad?”  “It had split into a banana split.” The very next day she ran all around her school, telling her friends and teachers that she had a funny joke to tell. They all shook their heads, not believing her.

On April 5th when she woke up for school, she walked downstairs. “Today’s the big day.” Eloise tried to shout, but only a hoarse voice came out. Her mom made her a bowl of tomato soup. After she slurped it up, her voice came back.

At the show when it was her turn to perform on stage, a little boy in the front rowaved at her. She smiled widely, starting to tell her joke. “Why was the banana sad?”

“Why?” The whole crowd called out. “It had a splitting headache.”

The whole crowd laughed.  A smile spread across Eloise’s face.  She was happy to finally be able to make people laugh. She waved at the audience and ran off the stage. 

*  *  *

Amanda Ashley Greenberg grew up on Long Island, NY, in a town called Oceanside. She has always said that when you write a magical world opens, it up filled with endless stories.

The Last Time I Showed Up at Midnight

                                             by Lorette C. Luzajic

 

The last time I showed up at midnight, you had blown out all the candles and the only sound in the smoke was the labored humming and tumble of the ice machine. The whisky was open but pushed aside. I tipped some into an espresso cup and took my medicine. The humidity had an aura of its own, pushing the small of my back and my neck like an intense and patient lover. I fumbled for ice but only thin shells fell to my hands. There was a low pulse of jazz, so faint I knew it was the ghost of that night’s music gone. The stars were almost wiped invisible by the saltwater in the air, but I could still see a few blinking faintly and far. I thought about leaving a note before I disappeared forever, but I knew you’d know I’d been there.

*  *  *

Lorette C. Luzajic is an internationally collected collage artist who also writes poetry and small fictions. Her flash story recently won first place at MacQueen’s Quinterly. She has appeared in numerous journals like Indelible, Wild Word, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and Red Eft, as well as in a dozen anthologies. She is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to writing inspired by art.

The Force be with You

by Mary Chris Bailey

There was only one day left, and Maggie didn’t have the one thing, the only thing Rory wanted for Christmas.

Today the boss handed her a Christmas bonus check with the same smarmy smile he used when he stared at her boobs. He seemed to think because she was a single mom, her boobs and the rest of her was his to ogle or, on occasion, grab. Those sneaky pinches and tickles made Maggie feel less than human but somehow worse than that, she felt like a coward. Maggie shook off, disgust and thought, so what? It was Christmas, and the check would cover Rory’s Christmas wish.

Carly, Maggie’s friend, dropped Maggie off at home and rushed off to finish her own holiday preparations. Maggie shrugged out of her housekeeping uniform, threw on jeans, a sweater, and her old oil-stained Carhartt jacket. She let out a sigh, determined that this year would be different.

Rory was spending the night at Maggie’s widowed mother’s house, baking gingerbread men. The three of them would meet up at the local diner in the morning for sausage gravy and biscuits. It was their family tradition. Rory would push his food around and twitch in his seat until his breakfast congealed. When he couldn’t take the suspense for another minute, he’d jump up and say, “Hey guys, let’s go check out what’s under the tree.”

Last Christmas, Maggie watched Rory as he opened one package after another of clothes. She watched his shoulders slump and his smile flatten as he opened his last gift only to find a pair of pajamas. A good sport, Rory hugged her tight and gave her a kiss.

“Thanks, mom, everything’s great.” 

He took his Christmas stocking with candy, an orange, and a cheap plastic harmonica to his room until he figured out a way to paste on a smile.

Maggie thought, “Not again.”

Winter nights came early Downeast. Even though it was only five o’clock, it was pitch black.  The temperature was a hair above freezing, and a slushy, frigid mix fell from the sky — not a night for driving. 

In rural Maine, nothing was close. The nearest Walmart was thirty-five miles away, but she had to get there, and it had to be tonight. 

Two inches of ice crusted the windshield, and the car heater barely worked. Maggie grabbed the scraper and banged and chipped until she cleared a circular spot on the driver’s side about the size of her head.

The starter ground and choked until the motor turned over with the fan belt’s banshee wail. Driving down the dirt road, branches heavy with frozen sickles shook as she passed. Ice pellets plinked onto the roof, sounding like scattershot. On rural route 12, light from the full moon peeked from behind the cloud cover and bounced off the slick blacktop. It would be hours before the county trucks spread sand and salt.

As she made the right turn, her Crown Vic swayed to the left. She heard her father’s voice, “Turn into the spin.” Against all logic, she goosed the gas and tipped the wheel left. The car straightened, then swung into the road like a battlecruiser leaving the harbor. Hunched over, she peered through a porthole sized clearing in her windshield.

Almost to the Walmart, some idiot in an oversized SUV came barreling around a curve.

His high beams crashed across her crusted windshield like lightning. Startled, Maggie jammed the brakes. The car fished-tailed did a one-eighty and slid into the shallow gully beside the road as the SUV’s taillights receded in the distance.

Heart tripping up and down her rib cage, Maggie took a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth to steady herself. Hoping for a Christmas miracle, she pushed down on the gas pedal. The car’s bald tires spun, spit gravel, and peeled another layer of rubber from their surface. The Vic stayed put.

“Damn It.”

Opening the trunk, she pulled out two long cardboard pieces and jammed them under the back tires. Rocking the car back and forth, she found enough traction to return to the highway. Afraid to stop, she left the cardboard where it lay.

She barely made it. It was ten minutes ’til closing. Running down the toy aisle, she saw it, a Millennium Falcon, the last one. A howl of joy burst out from somewhere in the middle of Maggie’s chest. An older couple further down the aisle grabbed each other’s hands and quickly scuttled in the opposite direction. Letting loose a final whoop, Maggie tucked the package under her arm like a wide receiver taking a football to the goalposts and ran to the checkout to pay.

Her old car shuddered as she pulled out of the parking lot. The gray bag containing her treasure sat in the passenger seat. If the Force were with her, she’d make it home in one piece, get her prize wrapped, decked out in bows, and under the tree. She couldn’t wait to see the wonder in Rory’s eyes when he tore off the red and gold paper.

Flushed with victory, Maggie decided when she returned to work, it was time to tell her boss, “Eyes up. Hands off.”

*  *  *

Mary Chris Bailey is a retired pediatric emergency medicine physician. Her work was in Pulse-voices from the heart of medicine, Please See Me, and Creative Pinellas. One of her stories was a runner-up in Scribble’s emerging writers’ short story fiction contest 2020. Mary Chris is working on a memoir about her youngest son’s chronic illness. She lives with her husband, Wayne, and dogs Skeeter and Bella. She divides her time between Florida and Maine.

Silence

a Memoir by Ellen Marks                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Silence, I’ve been afraid to be within earshot of you since I was six when the onset of an unnatural relationship with my father derailed my childhood. 

Remember.

He lures me to the bed he shares with my mother, her whereabouts unknown to me. Silence, you’re in the room inhabiting all space between the four walls, infusing quiet. Still, I hear my father breathe. You’re no help at all.

On my back in darkness, I stare up at the ceiling. My lower lip trembles and tears drift toward my ears. 

Silence, in your midst, I am unable to yell or scream. I have no alternative but to dissociate and leave my body. 

Silence says, “Sit still. Stop wiggling your foot and twirling your hair.”

I’m afraid that if I slow down or stop moving, I’ll return to those nights with my father. Bedded memories will replay in smothering quiet. Once again I’ll feel his hands sweep across my skin, his deeper touch pressing my flesh. The aftermath; a whirlpool of confusion, emptiness and isolation.

If I stop wiping counters, doing laundry, or hold still long enough to hear an empty, complaining stomach I’ve forgotten to feed, I’ll have to confront you.  Silence, you are a hollow aura, and I fill the void with Simon and Garfunkel or 80s big hair bands and sing comforting Christmas carols no matter the season. Stillness causes a volcano of thoughts. I try to mute their eruption. Counting, counting.

I recall being eight when my mother was in the kitchen preparing dinner for her monthly couple’s club.

“Be quiet,” my mother said. “Stop asking questions and go to bed, now. Do you want something to eat, a piece of rye bread?”

“I guess so.”  

My bedroom is across from the kitchen, a convenient throw for my mother. She hurls the bread onto my quilt. “But it’s not bedtime. It’s only six o’clock. How come I have to go to bed so early?”

“I need you out of the way while I prepare for guests. Go to sleep.”

How can a slice of bread tossed my way be a substitute for my mother’s companionship? I pick at the bread in solitude but long to be by my mother’s side watching her cut fruit and arrange hors d’oeuvres.

Chewing, chewing in rhythm. I can hear my jaw move in my head. 

                                                  *   *   *

Silence, there are times I reluctantly search for you, frantic to get away from my mother’s screaming. I run up the staircase to the second-story landing and hurry to the guestroom, open the mirrored closet door, push away hat boxes and plastic bins filled with mothballs and crawl under my mother’s off-season clothes—not a sanctuary—but the only shelter I think to go, hoping you will be my ally. With my hands pressed to my ears, I huddle in the dark closet corner, but can still hear screaming. My pleas live only as thoughts.  Please Mommy, please stop yelling at Amy.

My mother towers over my sister who shrinks into the couch pillows. “Why weren’t you invited to Debbie’s party? Get away from that TV and comb your hair and put on a decent shirt! You look like a boy. Look at you!”

What does Amy do? Does she run out of the room, throw a book at my mother, or do nothing? I don’t know. I don’t want to see my sister suffer. Silence, you fail to gag what’s intolerable to hear.

                                                           *   *   *

As an adult, I’m still running from you. You allow me to take notice of my heartbeat swooshing in my ears, and I swear I can hear my hair grow, a cavity eating away at my tooth. Where is an alarm when I need some noise? The dog is sleeping. Wake up and bark at the UPS truck. Just don’t let me be alone with Silence. I’m afraid when there are no utterances, no musical notes to fill my head, no babies crying to be fed. Humming fills the void. Please, the warbling of pigeons would be fine or in desperation, the dentist’s drill. 

I can’t stand to hear nothing.

There are no drugs or alcohol for a child who needs numbing, who can’t run away or break down in front of her mother. I turn my anger inward which leaves me starved for the peace and calm bestowed on others. 

Silence, you give people who pray the quiet in which to do so. I want to embrace you after shunning you most of my life, to see the beauty you offer others so that I can smell, really smell the fresh morning air and feel love-making in the middle of the night.  I wish for you like a fisherman hoping your presence will promise large schools of fish at the end of his line. You are a preamble to sleep for some, soothing and quieting minds. 

I want to give you another chance, to not look at you as nothingness, but to perceive your wonder as clearly as those fish swimming in blue-green waters, illuminated by the sun.

As my day closes, solitude rises with the sunset. I want to appreciate you, I do. 

I can’t make any promises for now. 

I’m putting in my earbuds.

* * *

Ellen Marks has been writing for seven years, primarily memoir, but also poetry and fiction when her mind needs a respite from memoir. She’s had several pieces published and hopes that a reader might identify with her through her experiences. 

Pas de Deux

by Stef Smulders

Your legs were born for badminton. I could hardly take my eyes away from the spectacle of the muscles moving under your smooth brown skin as you dashed across the court.

We’re sitting on the large bed stuck between the walls of my tiny study room. I am slumped down against the hard wall, my back aching. You sit on the edge, bent forward, naked arms resting on your legs, their round forms accentuated by the thin summer trousers you wear. My balls are squeezed tight in my underpants, but I do not dare to move to create more space. My throat has run dry.

“We need to talk,” you said when you arrived, your shy smile not fooling me: your eyes cast a dark look. This is it, I thought, but I didn’t ask any further. And now we are both silent, knowing what is about to happen, not daring to confront the unavoidable.

I have put my hand on your back and move it down your spine, a caress in slow motion. At each of the discs, I hesitate before continuing. The hairs of your blue sweater tickle my fingertips. How many discs does the human spine have? Yes, no, yes, no… I say without speaking, like a lovesick child picking petals off a daisy.

The record on my player has arrived at Chicago’s current hit song. The window is ajar and children’s cries drown out the singer’s smooth tenor from time to time. If you leave me now, then what? Simple pop song lyrics never offer a solution.

The last time we met, we watched Bonnie and Clyde on the small black and white television in your study dorm. While you were concentrated on the action, I cast furtive glances at you, imagining the perfection and compactness of your young smooth body.

When I called you a few days later, asking if we could meet again, you didn’t hesitate. “Better not,” you said, “that would be a bit too much, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I replied, “of course you’re right,” drifting away in a sea of melancholy. You must have realized by then.

And now, a surprise visit. A fresh spring breeze floats into my room, a faint smell of lilies drifting along. The gentle flow caresses the papers on the desk. A white page dances a tentative pas de deux with the fragile lace curtain.

Your shapely brown hands are entwined, as if in love with each other. The nails of your long fingers are perfectly cut, the lunula white against the pink of the nail.

“Playing badminton is like dancing,” the university sports teacher had said at the beginning of the academic year, months ago, the large sports hall empty except for the few guys who had turned up for the first lesson. A smell of rubber and sweat mixed with the odor of a detergent. “Footwork is everything.”

Although my thin pale legs seemed less suited for the sport, you chose me as your playmate. And so we ran on the court with only the frail gauze-like net between us, smashing and clearing, shouting and laughing, groaning and swearing. The sweat dropped from your face and made your legs shine. Afterwards in the dressing room, I always glanced at your beautiful penis, hanging under a neat little bush of firm, curly black hair. Once I forgot my towel and you offered me yours, saying: “I only used this side, here…”. And so I dried my skinny frame with the side that was still wet from your body, imagining the impossible.

The record finishes and you start talking. As you speak, you hesitate at each word, as if trying to find a less painful way out. You keep looking at the floor and I admire the thick black waves of your hair, wanting to caress them, knowing I cannot. 

My hand on your back has stopped at waist height on a plateau of hard muscles. 

“I understand,” I answer, although I hardly listened to the words you said.

Your girlfriend expects you to return home for the holidays so we won’t be taking part in the men’s double badminton competition this time. Or ever again, I can’t help thinking.

You give me a glance and a wry smile before looking at the floor again. Or are you looking at your hands, those beautiful boy’s hands, that will never count the discs of my back, a white-hot breath whispering yes yes yes in my ear?

                                                                    *  *  *

Stef Smulders is a Dutchman who moved to Italy in 2008 to start a bed-and-breakfast in the Oltrepo Pavese wine region south of Milan. In 2016 he published ‘Living in Italy: the Real Deal’, a collection of short stories about his life as an expat, http://italiaanse-toestanden.duepadroni.it/living-italy-expat/ Nowadays he specializes in humorous and autobiographical flash fiction and his stories have been published by a range of magazines.

THE UNSEEN

 

by Jennifer Shneiderman

My mother slammed my fingers in the car door. She told me to walk to the doctor’s office alone. I waited, my fingers split open and turning dark. At 10 years old, I didn’t know to check in at reception. After a few hours, I walked home without being seen. 

*  *  *

Jennifer Shneiderman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many publications, including: The Rubbertop Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, Writers Resist and Yale University’s The Perch. She received an Honorable Mention in the Laura Riding Jackson 2020 Poetry Competition.

The Sex was Good

by Kailash Srinivasan

The man snored beside her. Great hair, smooth chest, clean crotch. 

Tinder had been kind to her. He was her fourth this month alone. He smelled alright, even went down on her. 

She adjusted her earplugs, but the noise still cut through. It had been a week since the man and woman had been seeing each other. Multiple dates, movies, coffees, take-outs. It had been a week since she slept. The sex was good, not good enough to lose sleep.

She kicked his shin. The man stirred. The snoring stopped. She closed her eyes. Seconds later, it started again. A lawnmower swallowing a cat. She elbowed him. When he woke up, she pretended to be asleep. 

“Did you hit me?’ he asked. “Someone hit me.”

“Huh? What? She replied groggily, turning.

Peace again. A tree branch scratched her bedroom window. A bird trilled.

She smiled, inhaled deeply, sank into sleep. But just as she stepped inside a warm dream, the snoring dragged her back out.

“Fuck.” 

Slowly, she inched her hand towards his throat. 

* * *

Kailash Srinivasan is a writer residing in Vancouver. His work has appeared in The Selkie, Antilang, Oyster River Pages, Sidereal, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Bad Nudes, Lunch Ticket, OxMag, Going Down Swinging, Regime, Tincture, and others. He has been shortlisted for Into the Void Fiction Prize and longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and Bristol Short Story Prize. He is currently at work on his first novel.

Howls and Whispers

 

 

by Chella Courington

A vicious virus made her insubstantial to herself, hiding in her little room and writing most of the isolation away. Her partner was more active, feeding and rolling sourdough, grinding and measuring Guatemalan coffee beans. Neither worried about appearance since they saw only each other, and their attraction had moved beyond looks years ago.

But he was concerned about how long his hair was growing. It bothered him. He didn’t want a man bun or hippie tail. He didn’t want it flying beneath his Steely Dan ball cap. So he ordered a set of razors and clippers for her. She had a talent for cutting hair. In college she set up shop in her dorm room, Sundays from 4 p.m. to midnight. That’s where he met her—under silver shears in Harrison Hall.

She was delighted to cut his locks again, hair more abundant and lustrous than her own. When he was a boy, adult women would run their hands over his dark curls, lamenting that he’d deprived some grieving girl of a god-given right. So slipping her palm through his strands and letting them fall between her fingers before cropping was natural, even exhilarating. His warmth spread from his scalp through her arms and shoulders as his hair floated to the floor, gathering at her feet. 

When she handed him the mirror, he smiled, seeing the shape of his head. He returned to the kitchen and she to her little room until dinner. They ate Havarti and ham on bread warm from the oven with a green salad and then drank a Cappuccino. After their nightly rituals they slid between satin sheets and fell asleep, wrapped like Magritte’s lovers.   

The next morning his hair was twice as long as the day before, a Rorschach sticking to his face. “Could it be the new shampoo?” he asked. She shrugged and trimmed again, and that night he didn’t wash it. The following morning it was even longer, covering his face and hers. Again, she pulled out the clippers, noticing hair growing from his neck. She gave it a yank. He screamed. “Have you added anything new to your diet?” she asked. He shook his mane. The fourth morning it touched his knees. When she leaned over to start the cutting, she saw something odd, almost a stifle joint like a dog’s hind legs. She cleaned her glasses and finished the trim. That night he complained of his knee and went to bed. 

Each day his hair became more of a nuisance, growing everywhere there was open skin except for his mouth. She gave up cutting and started brushing. He accustomed himself to living in a fur coat—kept the thermostat as low as possible and slept on top of the quilt. His ankles became hocks, his nails claws, and his lovely, articulate speech, howls and whimpers. If you saw him you’d think dog though he didn’t resemble any breed recognized by the International Kennel Club. 

Yet, a silver lining sparkled. While the couple always had an active sex life, she’d been disappointed that he didn’t experiment more. Some light BDSM was the kinkiest he’d gone.  Now he was eager to try anything, any place, any occasion. Sadly, however, the more he changed, the harder it became for them to fit. And with time he didn’t truly understand what she wanted. He seemed content to hump her leg. Even so, he was affectionate, constantly by her side and pressing against her at night. He was forever tender and luckily not a picky eater since she now did all the cooking.

The sourdough died. The Guatemalan beans went stale. But she was as happy as she’d ever been. She wrote and wrote and rewrote, finally having a tale to tell.

* * *

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, Potato Soup Journal, X-R-A-Y Magazine, and The Daily Drunk. With three chapbooks of flash fiction, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction.  Courington lives in California.

Green Lake Man

By Dominique Bretin

I talk to no one and no one speaks to me. I’m a thief, but what bothers me more is that I am a coward. Folding becomes easier than unfolding. My belongings are sparse and now, become more than I can carry on the Fred Meyer pushcart I stole from the parking lot. It wasn’t actually in the lot, but near some outer limits of the lot where blackberries had begun to overripen. But still, it wasn’t mine and I took it anyway. No one saw and no one cared. Now I push it through city streets, and open lots, down alleys and around the pathways of parks. Lately they have banned wheels from the park, but I do it anyway. Breaking the rules is not as bad as stealing and it’s not like I’m the only one out here breaking the rules. They pass me by on their bikes, skateboards, roller blades, and strollers; I’m just one of them. I pass by unseen. This week, it’s been quiet. Too much smoke for the general public. They have all stayed home, but I’m still out here pushing the cart. I’m not part of the census. Air quality and prevailing weather has never been a factor in considering a change in habit. It is what it is, and I accommodate. I’m a regular at Green Lake in Seattle. This helps. Strangers, regulars who run and walk and bike, or run and walk and bike their dogs and kids, know my bench—everyone needs a rest sometimes. They leave me bags. Target bags filled with blankets, jackets, shoes—not always my size, but they’ve guessed right by going larger. The socks fill in the gaps.
Sometimes they leave biscuits and food. One time—a lady who jogs, and I’ve seen her often—slowed down in front of my bench. She had two macaroons specially wrapped in cellophane in her hand. It was the morning, and unfortunately, I had my zipper open to relieve a craving. I didn’t expect her. I think it shocked her and she dropped the macaroons and kept running, only faster. There was no time to explain, but like I said, I don’t talk to anyone, so it would have to go unexplained. When you live outside, you don’t have the privacy that others have. I still see her, and when I do, I always wish she had come later. Lately, I see a lot of people wearing masks, a few like me that don’t. Maybe they should if they have family, but I don’t, and I need every ounce of air I can muster to push my cart around all day.
Once, I had a family. At first, they made excuses for me. That was alright, I guess. When that quit working they set me up with drugs not really knowing what was wrong. It was after that I started hearing the voices and the constant ringing in my ears. I didn’t like that. They didn’t either. Sometimes I thought the medicine caused it so I stopped taking it. After a few episodes involving the police they quit on me and locked the doors. I’ve done alright out here. The voices have calmed but not the ringing. I used to think I was like my mother. Kind. Maybe I still am and she’s the one that changed.
Now I don’t know who I’m like. Would I recognize myself if I met me on the street? Or would I just see what other people see as they move past me—another transient being, using up the hours in a day. They work, cook, eat, go out, buy things at Target, drive, listen to the radio, watch TV, play sports, talk, cry, laugh, get mad, make plans to be with others, or stay alone, transient in the world until their molecules are done. It all seems the same from my point of view. I just do less. And struggle more. I see a commonality in the illusion of life. I’d like to find a person I could talk to, but for right now, I push my cart in the wilderness paying close attention to the daydream in my head.

***

Dominique is a native of Bordeaux, France. She lives in Seattle, Washington, and has spent most of her career involved in apparel and costume design. More recently she has turned her passion for writing and holds two literary fiction certificates from the University of Washington. Two of her short stories, Sunday Brunch, and White Car, have been published in the UW Anthology. Currently, she has just finished a Literary Fiction novel, When Angels Vanish. More of her writing can be found on her website at dominiquebretin.com.

Lessons Learned

by Iris N. Schwartz

Brooklyn, New York; autumn, 1972; nine-forty a.m.: Seamus Brennan descended two flights two steps at a time; serpentined one hallway around clusters of students; arrived in room 326 before his second-period classmates.

Amber Zuckermann — the luminous, pigtailed girl for whom Seamus Brennan saved a seat in room 326 — obsessed over the tawny liquid science teacher Mr. Demeroff spooned onto his tongue daily. Seamus obsessed, too. So he said. He’d say anything to see Amber’s pallid, fine-boned face fully turned toward his own ruddy countenance.

Two days later Amber whispered importantly to Seamus, “I noticed Mr. Demeroff taking two spoonfuls.”

Seamus pursed his cracked lips, imagined them pressed against the girl’s soft mouth. His innards somersaulted, but he said, evenly, “We must investigate.” Seamus said nothing more; he had decided to discover, on his own, if their teacher’s bottle contained a different kind of medicine. He thought, Amber will be impressed.

During his last class that day he eyed the wall clock repeatedly; three minutes before the scheduled bell he slid from his seat, edged toward the exit. Miss Schtauber’s voice rang out: “Seamus, where are you going?”

The sixth-grader: “Nowhere in particular.”

His teacher: “I hope no one in particular appreciates your promptness.”

Raucous laughter threatened to swallow him. The bell — finally — cut through the din. Still, the boys smirked. The girls made way. Seamus flew, embarrassed even more than his crimson cheeks proclaimed.

In search of the freestanding supply closet in the back of his favorite classroom, Seamus Brennan nearly bumped heads with Amber Zuckermann and — who was this — one of those boys smirking at him after Miss Schtauber’s careless remark?

How could Amber take up with one of them?

Seamus’s face turned the color of shame — crimson — once more. Amber opened her mouth, but Seamus wouldn’t halt to hear her words.

Girls! The hell with them!

He would never know the taste of Amber’s pillowy lips. What did he want with kisses? With Dublin girls, plenty. With Brooklyn girls? He wished to know — a lot. The faintest smile found its way to Seamus’s face.

* * *

Iris N. Schwartz’s fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Blink-Ink, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Gravel Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and Literary Orphans. Her second short-short story collection, Shame, contains Best Microfiction 2018-nominated story “Dogs” and was shortlisted by North of Oxford for recommended summer 2019 reading. Her debut short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth (2017), was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes.