Secrecy

By Clive Aaron Gill

Charles agreed that he and Patricia were ready to try for a baby. But her diet, which included ice cream and doughnuts, would not do for a future Sullivan child.

While pregnant, Patricia maintained a doctor-recommended diet every day for eight months and resisted cravings for junk food. She enjoyed spring mix salad with small pieces of chicken, walnuts and chia seeds, and low-fat, plain yogurt. 

On a summer morning, when a brisk breeze rocked pine tree branches in their large backyard, her overwhelming craving for a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, and Bacon, Egg and Cheese McGriddles stood between her and the future Princeton PhD child of Charles’ dreams.

While Charles was at his office in an architecture firm, she drove to McDonald’s. She pulled open the front glass door and was greeted by the mouthwatering, pungent smells of burgers, fries and hash browns.

The secrecy thrilled her.

                                                          *   *   *

Fifty-five stories by Clive Aaron Gill have appeared in literary journals and in “People of Few Words Anthology.”  He tells his stories at public and private gatherings.

Born in Zimbabwe, Clive has lived and worked in Southern Africa, North America and Europe. He received a degree in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Diego.

Never After

By Amy Marques

Once upon a time, they say. But it’s not once upon a time. That’s the part nobody tells you about until it’s too late. It’s never once. It’s over and over and over, time and time again. And even happily ever afters (if you get one) are ruined every time a child says, “Read it again!”

Roland Wolf rebelled. He was tired of burning his tail off. So he got sent where all the nay-sayers and fractured fairies and truants go: the Juvenile School for Disruptive Characters. 

He hated it here. 

Every once upon a time, three of the little pigs would set off from Swine Hamlet to be Pig 1, Pig 2, and Pig 3. Now that most of the fairy world had gone vegan, the pig population had exploded, so it was easy for them to take turns. Sometimes they used names. Most often they’d just go by First Little Pig, Second Little Pig, and Third Little Pig. They’d even taken to using pre-molded walls to make the building faster. Easy job. Good pay, even if they did have to share with too many siblings.

But wolves are loners and Roland was an only child. He couldn’t take it anymore. He begged them to get the lions to share the role. But the Cowardly Lion could barely get his voice pitched loud enough to be heard inside the pig’s houses and the wild lion had hired the net-gnawing mouse as an agent and now nobody could afford him. And when they tried to get a golden retriever to wear a mane to do his stunts, instead of climbing down the chimney of the third little pig’s house, he just played fetch with the sticks blown away from the second house and lost the mane in the swan’s lake. It was embarrassing, even. So unprofessional.

Roland hated the obedience school. Everything was by the book. Why, the other day, the new Ella was sweeping ashes and the Tin Soldier hid in the chimney, slipped into the fireplace when she fake-cried and popped out, half burnt and heart aflame, declaring himself her prince. Everyone thought it was a hysterical solution, but the headmaster was not amused. 

Oh well, the joke was on them. 

Roland Woolf joined the fractured club. They met on the second cloud every third rain and Mother Goose was club faculty leader. She didn’t believe in micromanaging and mostly let her pupils run with their ideas as long as they were plausible and entertaining and they filled out the three page form to justify their proposed story changes. She was a stickler for thorough paperwork. The fox was their most valuable group member. He could argue his way out of anything. 

So it was that once upon the next time the headmaster of the Juvenile School for Disruptive Characters pulled out a book from the shelf to test his charges, Roland was called to the stage with three swine. There were only two swine in the school, so one offered to be both first and third pig. He could just slip on a flannel shirt to work on the brick house and most readers would never know the difference. 

Roland’s heart pounded as he watched Fairy Set Creator poof the chimney onto the stage. Third Little Pig would build around it. He hoped Fractured Fairy could work her magic in time. 

And it began.

The pigs left their hamlet in search of adventure. The first little pig made a sloppy home of hay. Roland huffed and puffed and the pig pulled the flannel on as he ran to the chimney to become the third pig. The second pig made a house of wooden panels. After the golden retriever played fetch with the sticks he stuck to panels and electric power drills. Roland huffed and puffed and the second pig went to join his sibling. 

The third house was always charming. Roland wished he could just live in it, by himself, tend to a garden, raise tomatoes, maybe keep a chicken or two in the yard. But he could play his part, so he called and taunted to the pigs and threatened to blow the house down. They chanted back and he huffed and puffed and half-heartedly blew so the bougainvillea growing on the side of the brick wall lost a few flowers that flew into Fractured Fairy’s hair and made her glare at him.

“Is it done?” Roland mouthed the words quickly before huffing and puffing once more for good measure.

She gave him a look of pure disdain under her heavily lidded eye shadow. She always was feistier than the rest. Roland blew the hair away from her face and smiled when, for a minute, she lost her sulk.

Roland climbed up the trellis and over the roof and into the chimney. It was all there: a net, a bag of prime slosh feed, a fake tail, and a fire extinguisher. Just as he’d requested. Oh, he’d scream and wave the fake tail a little for good measure. But nobody was getting burnt or eaten between the lines tonight. 

*   *   *

Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. Her work was nominated for Best of the Net 2023 by Streetcake Magazine and published or forthcoming in journals including Jellyfish Review, Gone Lawn, Star82 Review, Bright Flash Literary Review and Sky Island Journal. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 and read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.

Opposite Spokes of The Wheel

By David Santiago

Mercedes and Javier Morales were seated across from each other at a high bar table in the coffee shop. Behind Javier was a window overlooking a small brick single family home. The window was slightly ajar, and there was a numbing breeze blowing through the gap. Javier shivered, but didn’t take his eyes off Mercedes. 

“What should we order?” he asked 

“We have about fifteen minutes,” said Mercedes, placing her phone on the table. “It’s still early.”

“I’ll order cappuccinos,” said Javier, waving to the barista. “Two cappuccinos, please. No sugar.”

Mercedes and Javier were the only ones in the shop. It had just opened. The night before, the streets and sidewalks had iced over.

Mercedes was staring at the exit sign above the front door. It gave off an ambient glow, causing it to stand out from the mahogany and brown decor. 

“I like what you’ve done to your hair.”

“Aliyah colored it last night,” said Mercedes, shifting her attention to Javier. 

“It reminds me of the day we first met,” said Javier, reaching across the table and brushing a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “Your hair fell down your shoulders like polished locks of ebony.”

Mercedes placed her hands on her lap and glanced at the barista, heading toward their table.

“Well, it’s all untangled now,” she said as they placed the cappuccinos on the table. 

“Goodness, this is beautiful latte art!” said Javier, turning to the barista. She was a young blonde woman, about the age of their daughter.

“It’s my pleasure. You braved coming here, at sunrise, no less,” she said.

“Yes, it is a brave new dawn,” said Javier.

“Is this a clover?” asked Mercedes?

“It is, ma’am,” said the barista.

“You have a gift,” said Mercedes.

“Wishing you good fortune, to start the day,” replied the barista, smiling as she headed back to the bar.

Mercedes studied the milk foam and the way the clover’s frothiness radiated into the caramel-colored liquid. This is a positive energy, she thought.

 “It’s not a problem for me to drive you,” said Javier after a minute or so.

Mercedes took a sip of her coffee. She felt strong.

“There is no need, Javier. It has all been arranged.”

Javier nodded and took another sip of his coffee. 

“It is very cold…”

“Yes,” said Mercedes. “Chicago is always cold this time of year. It is a city of extremes.”

“These are strange times. This weather might cause some people to stay home, but not all. There are bad energies in the air.”

“There are always good and bad energies in the air. But yes, many people have been sick.”

“I wish things were different.”

“I do too.”

“I should drive you. Perhaps you will reconsider?”

“Everything has been arranged, Javier.”

Mercedes held the warm coffee mug in both hands and stared at Javier. He had not shaved in days, and spots of gray speckled his beard.

“Our time is short,” said Mercedes. “He will be here soon.”

“Let’s make the most of our time, then. Let me drive you to Montreal.”

“Nonsense, Javier. It is too far.”

“Is that all?”

Mercedes took another sip of her coffee. 

“Do you feel safe flying?” asked Javier. “How can you social distance?”

“It’s a risk I have to accept.”

“But you don’t have to accept it. I would like to drive you. You can cancel the ride share.”

“Javier, he is five minutes away. I will be charged.”

“I’ll pay the fee. That is of no concern to me.”

“It’s unkind to cancel the ride share. He has come from the other side of town on icy roads.”

“It is a shame, but I will pay the fee. Plus a tip.”

“Let’s savor the time we have left. Thank you for the cappuccino.”

“We can savor the time in the car. I will stop along the way. We will stay at the nicest hotels. We will have the finest meals.”

“No, Javier.”

Mercedes stared at the exit sign in the distance. The light from the sign seemed to burn her eyes. It is just the glare, she thought. 

“I love you, you know,” said Javier. “I’ve always loved you.”

Mercedes said nothing. She thought of their daughter, Isabella. 

“And what happens when you arrive in Montreal?” asked Javier at last.

“It will be cold there, I am sure.”

“Yes. And it is so far.”

“It is far from here.”

“Could we be just like before?” 

“No, we can never be the same.”

“You never considered going to Puerto Rico?”

“I’ve considered many things.”

“But Montreal is far. It is in another country.”

“Exactly.”

Javier stared at the icicles hanging from the roof of the building next door.

“After so many years…”

“We’ve had our time together. Five minutes or eight hours will make little difference now.”

“It would to me.”

“But this isn’t about you, Javier.”

Mercedes’s phone vibrated on the table. She picked it up and looked at the screen.

“He is here,” she said, standing up.

“Then fortune’s wheel is ever turning,” said Javier, reaching for her luggage. “For you, at least, a new beginning.”

“Javier…”

“Yes, Mercedes?”

“I wish things were different.”

“I am very sorry,” said Javier, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Mercedes reached across the table and dabbed his face with a tissue.

“It’s time for me to leave, Javier Morales. The papers have been filed. And we are at opposite spokes of the wheel.”

                                                   *   *   *

David Santiago is a writer and technologist who lives and works in northern Virginia. 

Last Rights

By Tony Covatta

Three dead in pools of blood, 

not by me,

 but convicted, appeals denied, 

I die tomorrow. 

6×8 room, iron walls and door,

 concrete slab for my last night.

Ever expanding dread consumes me.

 A knock.  It’s the warden, hand outstretched: 

“Clemency from the governor. Shake hands?” 

“Yes, I will. Yes.” 

                                                          *   *  *

Tony Covatta has been published in The New Republic and elsewhere. He is a retired attorney and college English teacher, now trying his hand at fiction, flash and longer.

Two Men

By Liz DeGregorio

They meet for dinner every Saturday around 5:30, sitting across from one another at the long table. Their wives are dead: One had passed years ago, but the other had passed the previous fall. The four of them used to sit here every Saturday, to enjoy some kind of meaty dish plus a starch. Now it was just the husbands every Saturday evening. The long-time widower was a former doctor with a pronounced limp. The more recently bereaved, a former high-school English teacher, always did his best to anticipate his friend’s movements and ensure he wasn’t made to move too quickly.

There was never much to talk about, but they both changed out of their daytime sweatpants and into clean, cool outfits for their dinners. Tonight there were eating pasta with sauce out of a jar (they were not of the generation of men adept at feeding themselves). There were no meatballs. Just like every Saturday, toward the end of the meal, one of the men would place his palm on his friend’s thigh, almost too soft for it to be felt. His friend’s heart would always jump, then his own would immediately glow. What he had been waiting for all week was finally beginning. 

                                                                   *    *   *

Liz DeGregorio is a poet, writer and editor whose work has appeared in Electric Literature, Catapult Magazine, Lucky Jefferson, ANMLY, Dread Central, BUST Magazine, Ghouls Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, OyeDrum Magazine, Blink Ink and many other publications. She’s also performed at the award-winning storytelling series Stranger Stories.

Breakfast, like Before

by Maggie Nerz Iribarne

A quiet Tuesday morning at Buzzy’s. The owner, Merv, looked up as James entered. His face paused at first, clearly not recognizing the gaunt, hairless replacement for the once-familiar regular. His expression cleared in what James interpreted as recognition. 

James imagined the conversations of everyone he encountered, Did you hear James Schmidt got a really bad diagnosis? Those poor kids. Poor Rebecca.

“Hey, man,” Merv said. James appreciated that Hey, man. Hey, man spoke volumes. Hey, man was not crying, not prayers, not a pep talk, not a sad look. Hey, man meant I respect you, you’re still the same. Merv pointed James to his favorite duct-taped vinyl booth, the one he used to sit in when the kids were little. Merv set down a menu, poured hot coffee in a chipped ceramic cup.   

“The usual?” Merv asked, not jotting anything down.

James nodded, sitting, feeling bones poking through the seat of his pants, watching Merv walk back to the counter. He envied the diner man. He could live in oblivion. Worry about the mundane. 

James knew he would probably cough so hard later he’d throw this breakfast up. Cancer, his old adversary, was hell. 

No matter, he thought, laughing a little, restricting the chuckle, not wanting to cough. He laughed because, at the end of his fifty years of life, this was what he wanted, to go to this dumpy diner and order some eggs. He smiled at the absurdity of it all. The absurdity of living and dying at age 50. 

While he waited for his order, he allowed his mind to flash back to times spent here with his girls, bringing them when they were babies. Rebecca worked on Saturdays and James had the kids to himself. His wife left in a flurry of instructions, competing with the blaring cartoons on their den TV. “I got it. Yup. No problem,” James called back to her, waiting for the door to shut. When she left, he dressed the kids in all the wrong clothes and strapped them in their car seats. 

They made such a mess. Food dispersed all around them in small clumps and specks, buttered toast smashed into the stained carpet. James tried to clean up the best he could. Once, he even brought a plastic table cloth, a tarp, to put under the high chair to catch some of the mess, but that was more trouble than it was worth. To entertain and keep the kids quiet, he drew stick figures on the paper placemats, telling stories about his childhood, the big red barn, mowing the seven acres of land, playing hide-and-seek with his siblings. 

The memories brought quiet tears, not crying, just overflow. James enjoyed their warmth, the release of them. He didn’t wipe them away. He looked down at his red, chapped skin, his missing fingernails splayed out on the blank placemat. He thought it would feel good to draw the barn again, so he took out a pen from his shirt pocket, began sketching. Focusing on the lines, outlining the big door and the side window, adding in the shapes of orange tiger lilies that had grown wildly on the side. He wished he’d brought colored pens.  

Merv appeared with the eggs. James felt a tinge of disappointment, noticing the Italian bread on the oval plate, not rye, and that the eggs, fluffy and yellow in his memory, were tinged with brown.  

“Thanks, man,” he said, pushing, forcing resolve, clearing his throat and preparing to eat. His fork plunged into the eggs, moved the food to his mouth. He slowly and deliberately chewed and swallowed, resisting the urge to gag. He hadn’t felt hungry in weeks, but he was going to enjoy this, no matter what. 

                                                          *   *  *

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, living her writing dream in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. She writes about teenagers, witches, the very old, bats, cats, priests/nuns, cleaning ladies, runaways, struggling teachers, and neighborhood ghosts, among many other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com.

Practicing Mindfulness at the Clinic

By Molly Andrea-Ryan

Marla could envision her sweater hanging from the hook next to the front door and the pair of socks tucked into her sneakers. The things she was supposed to wear and didn’t. She shivered violently every few minutes, sitting there against the wall in her shorts and sandals and bare arms. She heard a staff member on the other side of a partition acknowledge the cold and wondered if they were mocking her for not thinking ahead. She had nothing to do in here but drink water from the jug next to the fake tree and had gotten up for at least a dozen refills. She wondered if they would think something was wrong with her if she got up to pee a second time.

The fake tree wasn’t doing the room any favors. Its growth was impossible without any windows, and its presence seemed only to highlight the room’s windowless-ness. The leaves were waxy and over-bright, and it surprised her that someone, somewhere, didn’t try harder. She had the urge to approach the tree and tip it over. She might have if another woman hadn’t walked in and sat down across from her. 

The other woman had pink hair and rubber clogs. There was nothing else noteworthy about her, so Marla stopped looking.

Marla looked at the chairs. Mismatched upholstery in the same color scheme of blue, green, brown, and grey, like the schematic of a forest. Floral patterns, stripes, geometric shapes, all the right colors but carefully incorrect designs. Someone had picked these chairs for this room and lined them up into rows. She wondered if it was the staff member on the other side of the partition who’d noted the cold or someone else. 

The other woman with pink hair and rubber clogs resettled into her carefully incorrect chair, rearranging her clothing around herself like a chicken settling down to roost. She picked a spot on the floor and stared, and Marla stopped looking.

Was it embarrassing to admit that the art was nice? she wondered with alarm, glancing at the woman with pink hair and rubber clogs to ensure that her gaze was still on the floor and not on Marla as she gazed at the art. It wasn’t meant to be liked, the kind of art that comes from a bargain warehouse. But the colors were soothing. A dash of yellow. A slap of pink. If the painting was signed and hung in a gallery instead of this windowless room, people would think it was brilliant. The world was very shallow, she thought, and thinking so made her feel smug. 

She wished that she had brought her headphones—she could envision them curled in the wicker basket where she kept her sunglasses and keys—and could watch the new episode of her show. It was about designers who arranged fake trees and carefully incorrect chairs and bargain warehouse paintings this way and that, trying to create a room that was least upsetting to pregnant women and only marginally upsetting to men with broken toes. She would just have to pretend that she was a judge and that the woman with pink her and rubber clogs was a contestant.

“The tree,” she thought, frowning at the woman with pink hair and rubber clogs, “isn’t doing the room any favors. I feel quite aware of the windowless-ness. Unless that was your intention, although I don’t know that this is the time and place to be subvers—”

The woman glanced up from the spot on the floor and Marla looked away quickly, resting her elbow on the wooden arm of her carefully incorrect chair and tucking her chin into her palm. She stared sidelong at one of the bargain bin paintings and imagined stepping into it, imagined walking between the mossy trunks of trees splashed with color. Was this meditation? Her life would be different now if she was a person who could meditate, who found artwork meditative, who could sit in the coldest, dimmest, most carefully un-comforting room and slip into a peaceful trance. 

“Honey,” her husband said.

Marla turned her head slowly away from the painting, blinking, doe-like, into her husband’s face. She smiled.

“All done,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Great,” she said, rising from her carefully incorrect chair. She stretched her arms overhead and yawned. “Let’s get coffee from the gift shop,” she said, as if she was suddenly but casually possessed with the yearning for something as unexpected as afternoon caffeine. She smiled, taking her husband by the arm.

He pulled his head back ever so slightly to get a better look at her face. He said, “They closed half an hour ago,” and steered them both out of the wing and down to the elevators. 

“Oh,” Marla said, and, “Oh,” again. She blinked several times as the elevator made its descent. The door opened and she clapped her hands together once, loudly. The woman at the directory desk turned her head. “I know,” Marla said. “Ice cream.”

“All right,” her husband said.

“Yes,” Marla said. “Yes, that will be perfect.” 

They marched slowly, separately, through the mechanical revolving door and out into the warmth of an afternoon that was too late for coffee but early enough for ice cream. 

“I hope you weren’t bored,” her husband said.

“I wasn’t,” Marla said, cone in hand. “It was fine.”

She gave him a thumbs up with her free hand, and then she committed to forgetting. It, the room and her experience inside, was not meant to be remembered, not by someone like her, not now that was so committed to the present moment. Besides, she would back before long.

                                                             *   *   *

Molly Andrea-Ryan is a poet and prose writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work can be found in Idle Ink, trampset, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere.

 

I Had Become Soup

By Andrew Maust

I had become soup. Or at least a sludge, it was hard to tell.

I had dissolved a few days ago, in complete darkness, inside this cell. Before it happened, I wondered how much of my consciousness would be maintained. It didn’t make sense that liquid could have neurons or lobes. They’d all mix together, right? Or maybe some parts of me were still separate. I tried to wiggle an arm, but nothing happened.

This was a mistake, I thought. Or maybe I wasn’t thinking. Maybe these “thoughts” were just chemical or electric signals, the last fragments of a fading consciousness. I didn’t have any feelings. Emotions, sure. But no actual sensations, like pain or cold. I couldn’t feel hungry, I didn’t have a mouth. I couldn’t bite or chew or speak. Wait, I could feel the outer shell rocking as gravity shifted and I sloshed to one side of my prison’s wall. Maybe this is what life is like before it begins, just an awareness at the source of consciousness.

But time was passing. The walls would shift from time to time, and I felt a leg twist. A different leg, not soft and fleshy, but hard, like a twig. I felt my skin form flags on my back, and I could feel the resistance as they moved through my fluid. I felt constrained, as if this small cell was struggling to contain me. Was I growing? That didn’t seem possible, a liquid fills its container. I pushed, and this time I didn’t slosh. The walls moved, tearing like parchment and exposed me to the glaring sun and the smell of damp soil. I staggered out and felt my crumpled wings shudder before they began to unfold. I clung weakly to my perch. I was solid again, and for the first time, complete.

                                                         *   *   *

Andrew Maust is a writer living in Mesa, Arizona. His  work can be found in MockingHeart Review, The Raven’s Perch, Prompt, and Defenestration Magazine. In 2020 he won a second-place prize in the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest for his poem “The Challenge.”

The Magic Palm

By Ben Nardolilli

The glare took him back. He had seen a glossy patch of sunshine like it before. What was it reflecting off of? It took a moment to remember the surface. It was smooth, almost sickly smooth. It had the color and consistency of butterscotch but molded, with curves. Now it was clear to him. The lamp. Every room of the hotel had one. No matter where he chose to stay, it was there, the only source of light when the sun went down. He remembered struggling with the tiny knob under the lightbulb. How flimsy it was. How hot. Sometimes he burned his fingers. It happened when he was nervous. His finger would burn, and he would drop his cigarette.

But only if it was not in the ashtray. Another piece of butterscotch. No. Glass. It was a glass basin for his ashes. A kind of urn for time. He set the cigarette down there when he needed to use the phone. The rotary model was clunky. It was thick. The body was brown but different then the lamp. How were there so many different shades of brown back then? How had each one of them been filed away in his mind so distinctly? There was brown in the sheets, and brown in the carpet. The curtains too? He could not remember the curtains. It was strange. How many times had he stood behind them, trying to see and pretend not to be seen?

No, the sheets were not brown. Of course not. They were honey colored. A dark shade of gold. He remembered afterward, spreading out on them. They feet cool against his skin, all the crisp folds. For such a hotel they always had nice sheets. What a strange place. It had a tropical theme in the lobby despite being in a temperate zone. It also called itself magic despite being part of a regional chain. A region where it snowed. He felt heavy now. Almost as heavy as that receiver. It was hard to put it down without making a sound. Every time he put it set on the hungry towers on the top of the base it sounded like he was angry. Sometimes he was. But not always. Not usually.

The place improved while he used it. He could remember being in the room with nothing to do but smoke, followed by watching the smoke coming up from the ashtray. Then looking at the traffic on the interstate. All those fabulous land yachts with trunks that could hide a body. Not that he ever used them for that. Or thought about it. There were a few close encounters, times he worried he might end up there. At first there was no telling what would happen at the end. But as time went on, he felt more and more safe. There were repeat encounters. Then plans that began in public and not on phones. In bars. Well, the shadows of bars but in bars nonetheless. He could remember when the rooms finally all got televisions. They were in color too.

The carpets changed too. They had too. For a while they were thick. Too thick. They seemed to absorb everything. He had to keep his socks on whenever he was not on the bed. All that orange was good for was soaking up the sweat. The beer. The nicotine even. Sometimes he forgot about it and walked across the floor in his bare feet. He regretted that mistake even now. It made him wince and curl up his toes in his sandals.  But the carpets disappeared one day. That was magic, the place living up to its name. What was there afterwards? He could not remember. It felt sterile, whatever it was. He could recall a good deal of burgundy.

After all the waiting, there was some relief. The lamp was no longer the only source of light. It came from outside but it was not the sun or moon. Two large headlights. They would shine through the curtains. He realized that meant the fabric must have had no color after all. They were thin and gauzy, possibly yellowing from the cigarettes. His and other people’s. He would hold them like a veil for a moment until the lights went out. It was important for him to be there so the lights could fall on his body. For the beams to go around him like he was being x-rayed.  If he was not there, standing at the window, the car would drive away.

At first, he had to open the door. That was when it was all done on the phone. Later, he did not need to do anything. Two sets of keys could be used. He remembered being able to sit on the edge of the bed, his back to the door. He could be hunched over the ashtray. He could light another cigarette. He could notice what the time was. By then there were clocks with radios in them in every room. He did not have to worry about the television. Someone was there to turn it off. Someone whose hand seamlessly could move from the knob and through the air to touch him on the shoulder with an open palm…

“…hey Doreen?”

“Elian?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong?”

“This is gonna sound weird, but did Gary know someone who died of lung cancer?”

“Um, I don’t know. A lot of people have. I’m sometimes surprised he never got it. Why?”

“Well, we’re in front of this ad and he’s crying. I can’t get him to stop. He’s like totally bawling.”

“I don’t know what it could be. What’s the ad say?”

“It says if you can remember being in rooms with people smoking you should get screened. For lung cancer.”

“That’s it?”

“It’s got some picture of an…old motel or something.”

“Sorry. I don’t know what it could be.”

*  *  *

Ben Nardolilli is currently an MFA candidate at Long Island University. His work has appeared in Red Fez, One Ghana One Voice, Caper Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Grey Sparrow Journal, and THEMA. His chapbook “Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained,” was published by Folded Word Press. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish a novel.

 

Waft

By Henry Cockburn

I have built, as I always dreamt I would, a sequence of air vents running though the ceilings of my home. 

Regard.

Pie cools on the windowsill.

Now the sticky hands of local girls and boys reach in and push soft pastry and dark coagulating fruits into their mouths. 

Beyond their fingers lie washed and ironed five-pound notes, and nips of undiluted cordial. Beyond these lie cigarettes.

They enter, at last, as I knew they would, in their bucket hats and shapeless stonewashed jeans.

Behold. 

Each room leads to another, contents to tantalize, where they can laugh and writhe, and spread their youth across the floor.

Under the air vents.

In my house.

                                                                  *   *  *

Henry Cockburn learned Babylonian at Oxford and Creative Writing at Manchester. He now lives as a writer and dandy in rural Cambridgeshire, with his wife, son, and cocker spaniel.