August 21st, 2016
August 21st, 2016
August 14th, 2016
by Ken Allan Dronsfield
Cherish a flamboyance in a chaotic festoon;
surrounding the bloom of a December rose;
a final heaving exhale of a weighted chest;
the cries of the heartless sobbing out loud.
Lost within this lifeless, black and white life
Vowing silence through the weathered piety;
grounded by a charcoal black moving strife;
my impudent world of unshackled safety.
Follow sweet justice tolls the final brass bell;
Shaving some ice for a frosty tequila sunrise;
Dances and glances circling the lofty despots;
vultures of consciousness devour my eyes.
Ravens working magic using pastel paints.
Insolence inspired by a day long since gone;
Walk a pathway standing, never kneeling to faint.
Renew a warm light within your breathless heart.
August 7th, 2016
By Don Noel
Ernie’s first awareness of the government’s spying was through the late news. It disturbed his civil libertarian sensibilities, but not his slumber. The government was monitoring people’s e-mail. Outrageous. Still, not a personal concern: He and Susan had agreed from the start never to e-mail each other. There would be more detail by morning; he punched off the television and spooned up next to Penny, who was almost asleep.
He thought of himself as an ordinary man. Happily if not always faithfully married for twenty years; two ordinary teenagers; an ordinary law practice in wills, trusts, real estate; occasional pro bono work for the American Civil Liberties Union. An ordinarily busy man: Too little time for morning newspapers, relying mostly on National Public Radio news during drive time. Occasionally, if something awaiting attention at the office demanded thought, he tuned instead to classical music.
Next morning, it was exactly eight when he backed out of the driveway. NPR devoted a whole five minutes to the eavesdropping, a report apparently drawn from a Washington Post blockbuster. Secret data disclosed by some former CIA operative. It wasn’t only e-mail they were prying into: text and telephone, too, focusing on communications to and from other countries.
That got his attention. He stopped at the commuter-station newsstand, bought the Times, Journal and Post, drove a few blocks to the park and turned the radio off to read.
It was worse than he’d first thought. The Fourth Amendment — to be secure against unreasonable searches — suddenly became intensely personal. The government was looking for patterns of contact between Americans and people overseas. Not reading or listening, officials insisted, just looking at something called metadata — unless a pattern was detected.
He and Susan posted Facebook photos occasionally, sharing with each other by sharing with the whole world. They scrupulously refrained from ‘liking’ each other’s posts. Carefully discreet, unlikely to attract attention. Their guarded, long-distance correspondence and conversations would heighten the physical explosion when she came home on leave in a few months. They would find ways to spend a secret night or afternoon or morning together now and then. He felt himself aroused just thinking about her body. He willed himself to stop.
Circumspect. Seeing the kids through to adulthood was important. The last time, Penny said she’d dump him in a minute if he strayed again. And he loved her, really. Wouldn’t want to hurt her. Let alone provoke a messy divorce.
But he and Susan talked almost daily. Never landline calls: always on Skype, from his office computer after his secretary left for the day, calling her cellphone at daybreak in Hong Kong. A pattern that must surely have been noticed. Intimate calls.
Would the government listen in on longings, on loving words? In J. Edgar Hoover’s day there would have been a file on him. Liberal lawyer, fancies himself a civil libertarian. Indiscretions? Put ‘em in the file. We might someday want to persuade him to back off a case.
Who was to say there weren’t such files nowadays? He put the newspapers in his briefcase, tuned to classical music, got onto the highway.
They would have to stop calling. How to tell her? Not by phone: One more call could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggering devastating attention. Not by e-mail or text, either. Still, he must explain a sudden silence, lest Susan try to call him. That could be really disastrous.
Facebook. Some veiled posting only she would be able to translate. By the end of the day, he had it: Begin an innocent-sounding trivia quiz for friends. He Googled. Perfect! “What Gershwin song,” he posted, “did Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers make number 34 among all-time film hits?”
By the next morning, his old college roommate Warren had posted the answer: “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Anything on her wall? He checked. Yes.
“What 1964 song,” she’d posted, “reached number 9 on Billboard?”
It took him less than a minute to find the answer: “It’s Over.”
Damned government spies.
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July 31st, 2016
by Tara Campbell
The moth came one night in October. Mallory still isn’t sure where it came from, not that it matters anymore.
That night she awoke to a fluttering in her ear. Her fingertips brushed against a tumble of wings and she jolted awake. The streetlamp shining through the window illuminated a tiny blur of grey over her bed. The moth (which had been right next to her ear, she thought with a shudder) stumbled through the air, evidently knocked out of its path by her waving hand, and landed on the hill of her husband’s knee under the blankets.
She thought about the wool suits in the closet.
Her husband snored.
Out the window you go, she thought (to the moth, not her husband), and inched her legs toward the edge of the mattress. The moth flitted back into the air. She slid out of bed and slipped into her fuzzy pink house shoes, which were a little goofy, but she wore them because her daughter Amy had picked them out.
Mallory stepped to the window and opened it, then turned to look for the moth. It fumbled above the bed, fat and woolly, flashing grey to white to grey again as it lurched across the grid of lamplight shining through the windowpane. She crossed to the bed and swatted at the hairy insect, not wanting to actually make contact. She waved currents of air in its direction, trying to sweep the grape-sized menace out the window.
The cold floor chilled her feet through her slippers. The soles were getting thin after a few years, but she wouldn’t throw them out. They were the last present she would ever get from her daughter. The car had struck Amy on her bike a month after Mother’s Day. She was almost seven.
Mallory’s husband snored on.
She pursed her lips. None of their battles were shared. She was still trapped in the wreckage of Amy’s bicycle. It had pink tassels and a unicorn painted on the seat. She and her husband had widened their eyes at each other when their daughter had picked it out, silently asking each other, So girlie; where did she get that from? Mallory still pushed and bled against twisted metal in her sleep. Her husband slept the night through.
Mallory thought it was just her imagination when the moth grew to the size of an egg. She could almost hear the thrum of its wings from across the room. But those could only be the tricks of a tired, frustrated mind, like those nights after the funeral she thought she heard her daughter’s footsteps between her husband’s snores. Months after she stopped waking her husband to hear better, she still stayed awake to listen.
Amy had been riding just outside the house. Mallory had only turned around for a moment. She’d gone to get the wrench to take off the training wheels. Amy had finally decided she was ready to try riding without them.
Mallory stopped swinging when the moth grew as large as a grapefruit. Its fluttering wings pushed riffles of air toward her face. Her skin prickled. The insect developed black and yellow stripes, and a stinger, and an insistent buzz.
Her mouth opened, silent and frozen.
The bee—it was definitely a bee now—kept growing. Its wings thrummed. The window rattled in its frame.
She wanted to whisper to her husband, she wanted to wake him up, she wanted—
The bee, now fat as a watermelon, extended its spindly legs and picked her up. It lifted Mallory from the floor, its tiny claws hooking into her nightgown. With a thrust, it carried her toward the window. She was still too shocked to scream as it dragged her over the windowsill and launched into the night air.
The bee latched on to her nightgown with all six legs, suspending her parallel to the ground like a hang glider. Mallory wriggled in the giant insect’s grip until it let go with one leg, swinging her off-kilter over rooftops and trees. She held still, and the bee grabbed the loose end of her nightgown once again.
The bee flew across the neighborhood and into the fields. Mallory dangled below it, shuddering in the cold night air and shielding her eyes from the rush of wind in her face. Moon-silvered grass and trees flowed below her. Hills rolled up toward her and down again, until they finally reached the coast.
They flew out over the ocean. Mallory looked down over chopping peaks of white froth against inky black water. She felt a jolt and her stomach flew toward her mouth. She was falling. The bee had released her, all six legs at once.
Mallory slammed through the surface of the water, a rag doll thrown through a plate glass window. Icy seawater needled her skin; her nose and mouth filled with brine. She flailed against the waves and swallowed another mouthful of ocean. Her stiff limbs chopped through the surf, which gathered itself and pushed back. She couldn’t stay up.
Later (she would never know how long it had actually been) Mallory awoke to something prodding her shoulder. She didn’t want to open her eyes. She was warm and dry, and was lying on her side in what felt like sand. Something shook her shoulder again.
A little girl’s voice whispered, “Momma?”
Mallory’s eyes sprang open to reveal a blurry, sideways image of a little girl squatting next to her. Recognition shot through her body like lightning. She raised her head and blinked.
“Uh-oh, Momma,” laughed Amy. “Watch out for your horn, you almost got me.”
Amy? Baby? Mallory struggled to sit up, her four hoofs pawing at sand and air. Her daughter backed away from the flying sand, giggling and brushing off her dress.
Mallory looked down at her body. She was a white horse.
Amy reached toward her again. Mallory’s eyes followed her daughter’s fingers to the tip of the golden, spiraled horn sprouting from Mallory’s forehead. Her vision blurred, this time with tears, as her daughter drew closer. She closed her eyes as Amy carefully stroked her cheeks. Her heart swelled when Amy slid her arms around her neck. She breathed in her baby’s sweet warmth, turning her long neck to pull her daughter even closer.
“I missed you, Momma.”
Mallory tried to answer, but her reply came out as a whinny. She grunted a couple of times in frustration.
“It doesn’t matter, Momma. I still love you.”
Mallory nuzzled her daughter.
# # #
She and Amy explore the island every day now. They eat juicy red fruits and coconuts that Mallory cracks open with her hoofs. She speared a fish with her horn once, but Amy was too squeamish about gutting it, so that was that.
Mallory has lost track of how long she’s been gone. Her husband must have filed a missing person report; there must still be a search. Once in a while they hear an airplane and run, giggling and neighing, into the trees to hide until it passes.
Eventually, she knows, there will be a funeral. Her husband will move on. The moth will return to his bedroom in the form of another woman. Perhaps the moth will lay her eggs next summer and bear him dozens of beautiful children. That wouldn’t bother Mallory; she’s with Amy. She’ll see her grow up. Or maybe, on this island, she won’t grow up at all.
Mallory can hardly wait to find out.
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July 24th, 2016
by Chad Ehler
Flight Lieutenant Mills never imagined that a member of the Royal Family would be giggling with glee on his very lap. Never mind having to explain to his squadron commander how the entire situation had unfolded on an early spring day in May, 1940. And that was assuming he got to keep his wings. Mills knew he broke the rules by landing his Spitfire in occupied France. But he didn’t care since it had to be done. And he’d do it again. “Well done” they’d say. Perhaps there might even be a medal in it for him. Now, an eight year old boy named Edward, tenth in line to the British throne, sat happily strapped to Mills’ parachute harness with a stout canvas pistol belt.
“She’s a loverly kite and not a bleedin’ Jerry crate,” Edward said. He fidgeted for a better view forward as he sat between Mills and the Spitfire’s control column. Mills chuckled. He improvised a few bars of a Cole Porter tune:
“I’ve got you . . . under my skin. Jerry’s crate . . . isn’t so great. Cause in our Spit . . . we’re going to win. I’ve got you . . . under my skin.”
Sure, it was tight quarters for the short journey but better than leaving the boy stranded behind enemy lines. And Edward was loving every fast mile of the ride home. Just a few minutes and we’ll be home free. Relief overcame Mills as the white chalk cliffs of Dover loomed large in his windscreen. My God it was beautiful. With his guns empty, he was thrilled to be within sight of safety. Good ole Blighty. She’s always there when you need her. His airfield was visible in the verdant sanctum just a few rolling hills and two forests away. Mills inched the throttle lever forward to put the big expanse of blue-green English Channel water behind them.
But Mills’ stomach sank as a black speck appeared like a cancer in his rearview mirror. He had strafed all those Nazi planes in a French field as they sat like sitting ducks in a row. But as the speck grew larger so did his fear. Had he missed one? Mills altered his course left and gained speed, and as the blackness grew, its cockpit glass glinted in the high sun. Was it friend or foe? The glare blinded him even through squinted eyes. Damn.
But then his left bank lit up the distinctive bright yellow propeller boss of a Nazi Bf-109. Holy crap. The yellow nosed bastard bobbed up and down in the mirror, now clear as day. Mills hammered the throttle lever forward as hard as he could for more speed. He felt the lurch in his arm as a brass wire snapped flooding the Spitfire’s thoroughbred engine with high octane fuel. The engine growled with the violent admixture of 50 extra galloping horses. The sudden acceleration pinned him to his seat.
Red and orange filled Mills’ mirror as the 109 spat short bursts of white hot incendiary bullets. Fiery tennis balls zipped the air overhead striking the mirror, disintegrating it into silver pixie dust. Mills flinched. He heard the sharp pings of Nazi pig iron bouncing off the rear armor plating of his seat. The oil gauge needle went spastic. A burst of 7.62mm incendiary rounds shredded Mills’ lower oil radiator. He pulled back the spade grip to jink upwards into the sun to blind his pursuer but Edward’s body blocked his motion. Mills felt the sickening vibrations as 20mm cannon rounds ripped into the coolant tank under his engine. Those same rounds smashed control wires in the tail and rattled the fuselage. The rudder pedals went slack under his boots. Intermittent puffs of fluffy white glycol smoke belched from his exhausts. The acrid, throat-closing stench of burning rubber flooded the cockpit.
The 109 screamed past them at high speed, and peeled off in a vertical victory roll. Mills slid back his canopy hard for fresh air. A bizarre chiaroscuro of black and white smoke billowed from his Rolls-Royce engine. It was at once beautiful and horrifying. Their Spitfire was a flaming cotton candy streamer of gliding death dropping 32 feet per second.
“Hang on as tight as you can. We’re hitting the silk,” Mills yelled.
Edward turned and clung to Mills like a newborn koala with eyes as big as black olives. The blue canvas belt dug into the small of Edward’s back. Mills felt a comforting warmth on his thighs as the boy lost his bladder.
“Ups a daisy.”
But with 55 pounds of young boy on his chest, Mills struggled to gain a foothold up and out of the cockpit. He hooked his boot heel on the landing gear lever and the wind did the rest. The 100 mile an hour slipstream caught them both and sent Mills scraping back-first along the flaming fuselage. Tumbling end over end, Mills’ flying boots went sailing into the ether. He pulled the metal ripcord D-ring unfurling the white blossoming silk from his seatpack. The chute slithered open then deployed with a loud POOF BANG jerking them upwards. Mills felt the pistol belt go slack. He watched in horror as it twisted and fluttered away towards the Channel. Edward remained with his arms and legs entwined inside Mills’ sturdy harness. The boy buried his small face into the warm sheepskin fleece of Mills’ flying jacket.
Their fully engulfed Spitfire continued its odd and insistent smoky path to the white cliffs ahead with its waggly rudder and deployed landing gear. At 1000 feet high, air rushed up Mills’ pant legs turning Edward’s clammy uric acid into stinging goosebumps. They descended way too fast for comfort and logic. But it wasn’t the boy’s extra weight. Mills looked up to his canopy to see that two of the 28 wedge shaped panels were gone, devoured by hungry burning petrol. Their downward speed increased as the licking flame gobbled its way through more fresh silk. Without a reserve chute to deploy, Mills hugged Edward with all his might as they twisted and dropped into a fluttering freefall.
“It’s OK,” Mills said closing his eyes.
“I’ve got you.”
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July 17th, 2016
by Glenn A. Bruce
It came in the mail, Monday, that damn thing. “Mr. Roy Altoona, you’ve won ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Congratulations!”
Those fuckers—ruined everything.
Jenny and I had just moved into our single wide by the river. Everything was so good. We couldn’t actually see the river; but when the wind was right—which is most of the time—we could hear it. It sounded beautiful.
Like when Jenny told me she was pregnant.
I make sixteen dollars and thirty-eight cents an hour. Not bad. Jenny makes half that, but she works more hours. I only get twenty-nine a week. That’s because I’m on “probation,” and we all know what that means. Soon as my six months are up—one day before—they’ll let me go.
Only: Tom Fisher, my manager, said he won’t. They won’t—Sysmeck Industries. (They’re the largest employer in the Valley.) Tom said I was “too valuable to lay off.”
Then I got this damn letter.
Do you think for one second a guy like Hisham Sysmeck is going to keep me on as a fitter if he knows I won a fucking million dollars?
He’ll fire my ass on the spot. And you know why? Because he knows how much he is hated around here. He can’t take a chance on someone with a big mouth like me having a million fucking dollars and being so goddam independent.
I have a history.
But the second I heard, “TJ, I’m pregnant,” everything changed. My mouth got zipped like hog going to slaughter—that moment when they know there’s nothing they can do.
My life was over—my old life, that is.
My momma told me, “Tommy, you live it up. You have a grand time. Enjoy your youth. It’s gone too fast. I can tell you that. But it’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
This was a few months before she died of the cancer.
Mama said: “There will come a time, a certain moment, when it happens. When it’s all over.”
I asked her how I’d know.
She said: “You’ll know.”
And when Jenny told me about little Erica, I knew. Right then. I didn’t know it was gonna be a girl, of course. I just knew:
I went out the next day, found us this nice trailer—until we could find something nicer, in five or ten years. I got a good price on the rent, utilities included, and we moved in on the first of month.
Four months later, I get this fucking letter. “You’ve won a MILLION DOLLARS!”
“Congratulations!” my ass. My whole life’s over; my whole life as I ever knew it.
I got no job, I got no future. I got a baby and a happy wife. All of that ends the second Sysmeck finds out. I’m done for. Jenny, too. She works at Git-n-Go #4, which is owned by Sysmeck’s brother-in-law, George. So, she’s done for, too.
This Valley is like that. One person gets ahead—even a little—and no one wants it. We’re all in this shit-mess together, is how we see it. And the ones who have got it, already, whether they earned it or not, inherited it, or just bought it up (Sysmeck that bastard, came here with money to burn from some goddamn place over there in some godforsaken desert place, got a tax break, put in a factory, and treats us all like goddam low-rent slaves) they don’t want us to get ahead, because then we might get cocky and mouth off.
Like I said, I used to have a problem speaking my mind. Now, not so much. I tucked my tail under and my chin down and chewed on my harsh words until they tasted sour and as bitter as they were and decided it was better to swallow that pill than spit it out on someone who might take exception and pound my lights out by revoking my lifestyle.
Tommy, my manager, saw that and appreciated my hard work towards fallin’ in line. (It was hard work for him, too!) He was ready to reward me for it—to keep me on. Especially when he heard about the baby and saw how I stopped drinkin’ and carryin’ on with my buddies. They already won’t talk to me just because I won’t get shit-faced and act stupid with them. When they hear I got a million fuckin’ dollars and they want some and I tell ‘em no, hell, they’ll probably all come over and tip this damn trailer over, just out of spite.
But the thing is: Jenny and me, we got no sense. Not really. She’s got the kindest heart of any one person I’ve ever seen. And she worked on me, too. We’ll spend every dime of this windfall bullshit on her family and mine, our cousins and nieces. Everybody needs something. Nobody’s got nothin’. My friends, too. I’ll try to buy them all off—just keep ‘em from flipping over the single-wide!
And there we’ll be—Jenny, me, and the baby—out on the street again, nowhere to live, no rent money, no jobs, no prospects.
Not here, not in this valley.
Million dollars. Shit.
You know how much that is? Nothin’.
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July 10th, 2016
by DC Diamondopolous
Billy Luck’s bones rearranged themselves on the bus headed out of Gibsonton for the Tampa train station. He looked out the window, away from his trailer, all rusted, awnin torn, bricks holdin down tarp over a portion of the roof, lookin like other junkyard leftovers from his carnival days.
The bus passed an old train car that jailed tigers, vines growin through it, a giant planter. Gibsonton was a has-been like him, still some carnies left but most dead, or dyin, or just plain up and left, like his good friend Daisy, the most beautiful woman his eyes ever seen, a midget, but perfect, no matter.
Now Billy’s friends all had bodies from the shoulders up: Judge Judy, and that good-lookin gal on The People’s Court. He always took to smart, in-your-face broads—don’t take no shit type—like Daisy, who called, askin him to come see her in Miami, cause she was dyin.
What a foul mouthed little mother she been, tough, had to be, no taller than three feet, perfect proportion, and a great pick-pocket, long as people was sittin down. She been with the Gerling since nineteen fifty, five years after Billy started workin the carnival, a legend, Daisy was.
He figured since she git religion, and was close to dyin, that she wanted to talk bout that night sixty-five years gone, somethin they never spoke bout, but it was there, danglin, an untouchable. So’s Billy wondered if she got that on her mind, bein religious and all.
The bus turned the corner and he saw the corpse of a high-striker. The black numbers erodin, the bell tarnished and hangin on by a bolt. He chuckled to himself at how the marks showed off for their ladies when they took the hammer and slammed it on the lever—suckers, all of em, not knowin that life in the midway was rigged.
Billy’s memories weathered inside his head like peelin wallpaper. The old days with freaks and geeks and nights where it was so damn excitin, pickin up, settin down, movin on and on until the midway was in sight and stakes hammered, where people in scanty towns ran out to watch, hopin to catch sight of the merry-go-round or the Ferris wheel settin up, maybe glimpse a hoochie-coochie babe runnin between trailers. Billy resented the fake imitation of amusement parks nowadays, though he was glad few had animals. In his day, he’d done seen too much bad done to the beasts, Billy done seen too much cruelty, period.
Drivin along the Hillsborough River, Billy pictured Daisy as she was when he first seen her. What separated her from other midgets wasn’t just her womanly child looks but her husky voice, almost like a norm and she could sing, too. That’s what saved her when she got caught stealin at Ringlings and had to work peepshows in the basements of tenements on the lower east side. Bein a midget wasn’t freak enough she was told by the boss, “What talents do ya got?” The curtain would open and Daisy would sing, struttin her little body on the platform while doin a striptease. Her singin saved her from fuckin God-knows-what, which she wasn’t above doin. Daisy’d do whatever to survive. She come across all innocent same as one of them dolls in the window at Woolworth’s, but if you looked long enough, you’d see lots a smarts and a cellar-full a hurts.
It was her husband, Jack, who told Billy this, who saw her in the slums and brought her to Gerling’s Traveling Carnival of Fun.
Billy’s clean flowered shirt stuck to the back of the vinyl seat like loose skin bout to pare off. He used to love the humid muggy days, but now it made him tired, like standin in line for hell. Most of the time he resisted goin down the road of the pity-pot. It reminded him of liquor. It went down real good in the moment but the more you drink the more blurred your vision for any good comin your way. He knew that from his daddy, the meanest son-of-a-bitch to walk the earth.
The bus traveled up the I-75, crossed the river and stopped in Progress Village pickin up several black men who looked as parched and worn as Billy now felt, then the bus sped north, where there was as many as four lanes. Billy sat up. He liked the breeze stealin in through the window, how it reminded him of that time his daddy got a job drivin a bread truck and took Billy along, that was the year before his brother died from havin his innards cut from the saw. They tried to stuff em back in, but Jimmy passed. Only time he ever seen his daddy cry, why, for a moment it ripped him apart, his Daddy’s sadness, so like his own.
He blamed Billy, though he was nowheres near the sawmill. Jimmy just plum forgit to put on the safety belt.
Thinkin bout his older brother always brought on the blues, how Billy missed him. The way Jimmy throwed himself on top of him and his mama when his daddy felt like beatin em.
The night Jimmy passed, his daddy got wasted and told Billy he’d a wished it was him that died instead. He was drunk, but Billy knowed he was tellin the truth.
At fifteen, he packed a bag and hitched a ride from Montgomery to Birmingham, decided to change his last name from Lock to Luck, cause God knows he needed some and joinin the carnival seemed a good pick. He carried his hurt deep, like Daisy’s, guess that was one reason he took to her so.
He peered through the grimy pane as the bus pulled into the station. His hand reached for the back of the seat in front of him, his heart pumpin, an adventure, no matter, and Daisy lay waitin, just for him.
Everyone but Billy stood. The driver left the bus, and Billy watched as he opened the side panel and took out the suitcases.
When the last person left, he ambled down the aisle. The driver waited for him and offered a hand.
“I ain’t that old, I can git down myself.”
“Don’t want you to fall and sue us, young fella.”
Billy laughed. His dentures dropped. He pushed them up with his tongue, remindin him that his kisser was as fake as his hip and stepped off the bus.
“I’ve never seen a suitcase this old,” the man said, handin Billy the luggage.
“Had it since the sixties, before you was born, I bet.” Billy took the leather handle and felt the moist exchange of sweat.
“You have a good day, sir.”
“Goin to Miami, I am. On a way to see a friend.”
The man already climbed up the steps of the bus, leavin Billy talkin to himself.
He shuffled toward the train station, with the closeness of the Hillsborough Bay; Billy caught a breeze, rufflin his straggly white hairs under the straw hat. His sense of smell worked just fine as he breathed in the sharp crude from the cargo rigs mixed with the bay.
A woman held the door for him as he headed toward her.
“Thank you, ma’am. Fine day, ain’t it?” He pointed his index finger to the brim of his hat and winked. She smiled and hurried on.
Air conditionin stung the sweat on his body. Billy shivered. “My God,” he whispered as he gazed around. The place was beautiful with long wooden benches, ferns growin in large pots at the end of each row. The last time he’d been here the place was fallin apart. But now, wrought-iron gates, wall lanterns, the floor so shiny looked like you could take a dip in it, so much light from all the glass windows it seemed the sun had eyes just for the station.
He shuffled cross the depot and out the door to the number 235 train.
Climbin aboard the Amtrak, Billy strained as he stretched for the handrail and tightened his grip round the metal. The steps were damn far apart for a man his age, but he made it. Course it knocked the air clean outta him.
It was stupid to act like he was younger than his years, he couldn’t hide the hearin-aid behind his ear, the bum leg with the dummy hip, the missin lower teeth his tongue liked to suck, or the skinny ropes of white hair once blond and thick as a Fuller Brush mop. But he ain’t gonna turn into a mark where’s he trusted someone else to tell him what was up, no, Billy thought as he put on his glasses and matched his ticket with the seat number. All he wanted right now was to be able to walk on his own and see his friend without fallin down.
He found his seat by the window, four chairs two on either side with a table between em. Not sure if he could lift his suitcase to the luggage rack without seemin lame, besides, someone might steal it, so’s Billy set it next to him on the empty chair.
He took off his hat and put it on the table. He’d never get use to people rollin their suitcases. His been a friend for years, made of wood and leather, like him gouged with character, the handle worn from his grasp of luggin it from midway to midway.
A man put his bag on the rack above where Billy sat.
“Want me to put your suitcase up?” he asked.
Billy marked him as a businessman; suit, tie, bag strapped cross his shoulder, late thirties, nothin stand-out bout him cept for the flashy watch, gold and turquoise ring, and a ruby stud in his ear that made him look ridiculous. Somethin bout him seemed familiar.
“Naw, thanks though.”
He sat cross from Billy, next to the window. Another guy stood lookin down at him from the aisle.
“You’re going to have to move your suitcase. This is my seat,” a man said, holdin up his ticket. “I’ll get it.” The guy grabbed Billy’s case, lifted the luggage and shoved it onto the rack.
The fella was closer to Billy’s age than the guy with the ruby and this side of obese. When he took his seat, Billy smelled Bengay. He pulled down the armrest so’s the guy’s fat would stay on his own side.
The train began to rock. The conductor welcomed the people aboard the Amtrak then Billy experienced the thrill of movin. The wheels forward motion caused him to lurch toward the table. He stared out the window as the air-conditionin blasted through the vents, just like old times, like watchin a movie, it was, lots of overgrown shrubs and cast-offs as rusted and troubled as his own trailer. Metal stuff with graffiti sprayed on it. Crap didn’t make no sense. Billy wasn’t great at spellin, he’d made it no farther than the fifth grade, but what he saw out the window was nothin but young man’s rage who don’t care whether it make sense or not, just wanna leave somethin of themselves, like a dog pissin on tires.
As the train picked up speed the cool air faded, cheap-trick, made the customer think they git their money’s worth, then slight them, like he used to do out on the bally. Can’t dupe a con, Billy thought smilin to himself.
He felt like talkin so’s he took out a quarter from his shirt pocket and rolled it cross his knobby knuckles. Not with the skill like in the old days but a conversation piece, no matter.
Sure enough, the young man cross from him raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Where did you learn that?”
“Worked the carnival for over half a century.”
“What did you do?”
“A talker, mostly.”
The guy frowned. “A barker?”
“People don’t know nothin call us that. That’s some watch ya got there,” Billy said.
“My husband bought it for me.”
Billy grinned, it never took him long to git used to the freaks, like Jamie, the half man, half woman, and Angelo, with his twin’s arms and legs comin outta his gut, but it would take some time for him to git accustomed to a man callin his partner, a husband. “Oh,” Billy said. “Guy’s got good taste. You look familiar.”
The man unzipped his bag and took out his computer. “I’m a reporter for WSFL. Maybe you’ve seen me on TV.”
“That’s where,” Billy said. “Boy, do I got stories to tell you.” But Billy read people like a canvas banner hangin in front of a sideshow. This guy was through talkin.
He put his coin away. He woulda enjoyed answerin questions. He often played the interview game, pretendin someone like Lesley Stahl asked him questions on 60 Minutes and him talkin bout his life. He imagined microphones, and lights spread all around as he sat center stage for the world to hear his story.
He woulda even enjoyed a conversation with Ben Gay, but he was too busy gawkin at his phone.
People ignorin him did have its advantages, like stealin butter and Hershey bars in the grocery store, snatchin things in the bank, like pens and paper tablets, sometimes right under the nose of the tellers, just to show em. So what if they caught him.
Billy sunk in his seat thinkin that the reporter cross from him woulda jumped through dog-hoops to interview him if he knowed what Billy had done out past the midway on that sweltering August night back in nineteen fifty.
That night, he remembered the marks had all left. But somethin nagged at him, call it sixth sense, or maybe it was that new guy who strutted into town, and took a job with the carnival, sold popcorn, cleaned up the tiger and monkey cages and the johns, jobs he did when he first joined. Billy didn’t like him from the git-go.
One day he caught him stickin his cigarette into Tuffi. Tuffi reared on her hind legs, her trunk swingin wild. He knocked the new fella to the ground, told him if he ever caught him doin that again he’d make him real sorry. Well, bout two weeks later, he saw him kickin the freak, Stumpy. Billy done did what he promised. He slugged the guy so hard he doubled and rolled on the ground, moanin. Billy thought that’d be it until the guy git up and come after him swingin and givin him a black eye. Mason was his name, mean, as cruel as Billy’s daddy.
That night, Billy went from tent to tent lookin inside, makin sure no one was there. He recalled checkin under the stage where the kids used to hide so’s they could look up the costumes of the hoochie-coochie girls and how the sawdust would have to be scattered real nice like in the mornin, he could smell it now, how it always reminded him of his brother.
The trailers had their lights on. He heard laughter, people talking; ice cubes clinkin into glasses, fiddle music comin out of a radio, like any other, cept it was hotter than most, sultry, the kinda night Billy wished he had a woman to keep him company.
He was down at the end of the midway, near the draped cage where the monkeys was cooped. The sun been gone for a couple of hours, and it was like openin night for the stars, millions of em. He recalled takin in the wonder of it, magic, real magic, where the night was brushed by the stroke of a master.
Billy began to hike. In those days, he had so much sex surgin through his twenty-year-old body, some nights he just had to walk it off. Till the day he died he’d remember the moon, wide and plump, near full, the crickets loud as he headed north toward an empty field and beyond that the woods, tree branches rustlin, spiky against a dark blue sky.
Billy breathed in the air, thick with the long leaf pine. He was thinkin bout his ma, feelin blue bout leavin her behind with the devil. Billy kept walkin. His shirt drenched in sweat. He wished he had a smoke, but he kept goin, crossin the brink of the woods.
He was gonna jack-off when somethin sounded. He stopped. An animal? Yeah. A moan cut off. No. Not an animal. Somethin muffled. A cry. Human.
Billy led with his toes feelin for twigs and dried leaves, like huntin with his daddy. He moved toward the moan. The hairs on his body sprung up. From the light of the moon, he saw somethin white swipe back and forth cross the ground. The hunched form of a man. The cries. Billy crept forward. Listenin. Strainin his eyes so’s to make sure.
Mason held Daisy’s face to the dirt, rapin her from behind. Her tiny fists battered the ground. Her little body struggled under his.
He sneaked up on Mason as he pumped away, groanin like a pig, loud enough so’s to make it easy for Billy to come up behind him and wrap his strong young fingers round his neck and squeeze. Mason grabbed at his hands. Billy felt his nails gouge his skin. Blood spewed wet and sticky, but Billy put all six-foot, two-hundred pounds into stranglin him.
Sweat ran down his chin and fell on Mason’s head, Billy felt it roll off the backs of his fingers, but so tight was his hold it never got the chance to threaten his grip. With the wrong this man done to Daisy, Billy’s hands made sure Mason never do it again. He held on, even when he felt life surrender. Then, Billy rolled him on his side with Mason’s little pecker exposed. “Let me!” He remembered Daisy demandin. Pullin down her dress she done give him a kick to the nuts and then one to the face and spat on him. She looked up at Billy, hair all tangled, nose bleedin and said, “You ever say a word about this, I’ll kill you myself.” From that day on, as long as they traveled together, no one would hurt her.
Billy stared out the window, passin the North bound Silver Star, long fences of hedges, warehouses. He nodded. The conductor garbled somethin bout Winter Haven. The forward movement, the click-clackin over the rails, relivin that night with Daisy and him bein eighty-five years old—Billy slipped into darkness.
He stood with his suitcase gazin at the green home with yellow shutters, and window boxes crammed with geraniums. Its wide porch with four pillars featured a swing where as many as three people could dangle their old swollen legs. House looked to be well over a hundred years old.
Daisy and Jack invested well. Freaks always made more money than norms, at least till the sixties before it become incorrect, but midgets and dwarfs worked on, cause they wasn’t too scary lookin.
The home with a rail leadin up to the veranda reminded him of all the times he passed by in trucks and trains thankful he never had to settle down in one place, made life hard for the wives, cept for Alice, who divorced him cause he was still married to Betty. And kids? Well, he ain’t sure how many he done fathered. None never showed up on his doorstep, course he never had a doorstep, till ’05, the year they made him retire.
He trudged up the walkway. It’d be three years since he last seen his girl. He come down for Jack’s funeral and what a spectacle it turned into, musta been more ex-carnies and circus folk there than in Gibtown; fire-eaters, sword swallowers, even a Wallenda showed up, tights an all. But Jack was no ordinary midget. He was a magician, an entertainer, a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz, so charmin he could con a con and how he loved shootin craps. Billy chuckled, just thinkin bout his friend Jack.
Sure enough, Billy’s pants sagged in the butt and his shirt forced its way out of his belt. If only he could turn back into that tall blond stud with light blue eyes that drove women loco. Ah shit, least he was alive and not in some sick home like Daisy. He held onto the railin and shuffled up the porch steps.
Billy tucked in his shirttails, he unstuck his hat from his sweaty head and steered a comb over his damp scanty hairs.
He rang the bell.
A black woman opened the door dressed in white pants and a lime-green jacket. “Why, you must be Mr. Luck.”
“That’s me, Billy.”
“Well, Miss Daisy is having a rough day, but seeing you will lift her spirits.”
Billy wondered. She was a tightfisted little mother, always lecturin him on savin his dough. Comin down for her funeral woulda been enough money spent. But callin him before and spendin more bucks to come down after she died? Musta had somethin to do with that night, and gitten religion an all.
“Leave your suitcase and hat here in the lobby. Ruben will take it up.”
Billy stepped into a foyer with a tall potted palm tree next to a narrow table. There was a stairway in front of him and on either side the ground floor fanned out to where he couldn’t see no more, just the fronds of palm trees wavin from the air-conditionin. The place seem all spick-and-span.
“We have your room ready for you. It’s on the third floor.”
“Hope I don’t have to walk up no steps.”
“Lord have mercy! You wouldn’t find me walking up three flights of stairs. No, Mr. Luck, we had an elevator put in years ago.”
“I’d like to see Daisy, right soon. An call me, Billy.”
“Sure, Mr. Billy.”
He smiled at Geneva callin him Mr. Billy.
“We’re going to have dinner in couple of hours. Would you like to join us in the dining room?”
“That sounds right nice, ma’am.”
“Let’s go see Miss Daisy.”
Billy followed Geneva past the stairway. The house seemed bigger on the inside.
He passed a room where people watched TV with a piano off to the side, and several white-haired ladies sat on a couch. Three old geezers played cards at a table, lookin like waxworks they did, till one of em eyed Billy—the scrape of emptiness passin between em.
“How sick is she?” Billy asked.
“She’s had hospice this morning. She ate some and that’s a good sign.”
“How long she gonna live?”
“Months, maybe weeks.”
“Can ya fix her with chemo?”
“Mr. Billy,” Geneva said, pausing at the doorway, “Miss Daisy refuses to have any more chemo.”
“She got tubes and needles in her?”
“No. We’re keeping her as comfortable as we can. She’s a spirited soul.”
“She always been stubborn. Her sickness got anythin to do with her bein little?”
“Not that I know of. But she’s eighty, that’s a long life.”
“Don’t seem long enough even when you’s ancient like me,” Billy mumbled.
He followed Geneva though a courtyard with hangin ferns the size of bushes and flower beds, all kinds, roses, pansies, other plants and colors he didn’t know the names of, all of em shootin toward the sky.
A fountain splashed down into a small pool. Billy wiped his upper lip with his handkerchief. “My that water looks invitin,” he said.
“We have a pool. Guest are allowed to swim. If you’d like.”
“Oh I don’t look so good in trunks.” Billy chuckled. “Used to,” he added.
“Well, if you change your mind we have bathing suits for our guests.”
“Don’t think so,” he said.
Billy tried to keep up so’s not to look feeble.
Geneva stopped at a door, knocked and inched it open. “Miss Daisy, Mr. Luck is here.” Geneva pushed the door open for Billy to enter.
A sweet sickly smell like hamburger goin bad greeted him as he took a step inside. He’d been so eager to see her but sometimes emotions made him feel lost, runnin blind into nowhere.
Through the cracked door he saw a child’s dresser with pictures on it, a kid’s table and a small chair.
“You okay, Mr. Billy?”
“Oh, I git all sorts of tummy problems.”
He went into the room. There on a child’s bed he saw his old friend, tiny, scrunched and shriveled, her white-blonde hair thin and dull. She looked at him.
Not movin no further, he stood in the middle of the room wonderin what to say, what to do, how to bring cheer to his friend who was dyin.
He turned to Geneva. “I wanna be alone with her.”
Geneva nodded and closed the door.
Billy swallowed containin his sorrow. He felt that sudden grab that never left him alone when in Daisy’s presence, it wedded him to her like no other woman ever done. But he never seen her lookin so bad. She always wore make-up, fixed her hair, a real looker, presentin herself like a lady.
“You look swell, Daisy.” Course bullshit was like breathin for Billy.
“Liar,” she rasped.
“Ah, you gonna be okay. Bet you just layin there sick-like cause you want me to feel sorry for ya.” His jokin fell flat. “Everyone treatin you good? Geneva looks to be a right nice colored gal.”
“African American,” Daisy said.
“I forgit. Use black most of the time. Miss talkin on the phone but git your letters. You git my postcards?”
She nodded toward the dresser.
“I keep yours too,” he said glancin round the room that was good size even for a norm.
The window with open curtains let in light, and she had a small patio with a little chair and table right outside her room.
Everythin was make-do for her. The bathroom door was half closed and he wondered if that too was re-done.
“There’s something,” the effort to talk took her breath.
“Oh, I know you git religion and all,” Billy said, raisin his palms up. “You gonna preach, well I ain’t interested.”
“Well, can’t be just a good-bye. You too practical for that. So’s if you lookin for me to ask forgiveness for what I done to Mason or somethin, I ain’t gonna do it.”
Daisy rolled her eyes. “Stupid, old goat.”
Billy turned his right ear toward her. “Whatchu say?”
She shook her head. He’d seen that same scorn in her eyes when she thought he or Jack said somethin dumb.
“I heard ya.”
He felt his cheeks burn. He done read her wrong, bet she never give that night another thought. Daisy moved on, while it tailed him the rest of his life. Billy blew troubled air through his mouth. He was angry at himself, lettin Daisy know that night lived with him right up to now.
“Took a portion of my social security check to come down to see ya, so’s whatchu want?”
She struggled to sit up. Billy come over to help but she shooshed him away.
“Open the top dresser drawer,” she said in a weak voice. “There’s an envelope—for you, under the garments.”
“You want me to poke around in your girlie things?”
Billy shuffled over to the dresser and crouched down first on one knee then the other. He saw pictures of Jack as a young man, another of Daisy lookin gorgeous in a black dress. He picked up one of the three of them together taken back in the seventies. “Look at us then,” he said, turnin to Daisy. “That was taken the day Abner’s magic trick backfired and the dove done flown out of his fly.” Haha, haha. Billy laughed hard bringin his butt down on the heels of his tennis shoes. He glanced over at Daisy, who smiled back at him. “We seen some funny things in our time, huh, girl?”
She nodded. “The drawer,” she said in breathy voice.
Billy jiggled it open. He saw her nighties, the sheer see-through fabric. Didn’t seem right him goin through her personals, he never so much as touched Daisy, she bein special and all. He put his hand under her clothes feelin the feminine softness till he reached the envelope. He pulled it out and shut the drawer.
Billy labored as he pushed off from the dresser to git to his feet. Once standin, he spread his legs apart to balance himself, he took his glasses from his pocket, put them on and opened the envelope. He found a paper. It looked all serious with a picture of a funeral home and a payment made for $8,500. He never liked showin how ignorant he was, and that defect git him into trouble sometimes, so’s he picked up symbols to help him along. He studied the words and pictures he knew, three plots, one taken. He looked at Daisy. She done wanted him buried with her and Jack. It touched him, she wantin him near her.
“I coulda used the money it took to buy this.”
“You would have wasted it on whores.”
“Hell, nowadays thinkin bout a roof that don’t leak turns me on more than a long legged hooker.”
Billy took off his glasses. “So’s that why you called for me to come?”
“I want you buried with Jack and me.”
“That’s mighty nice, girl,” he said. “Just thought the county would come take my ole body and cremate me or somethin. Didn’t give it no thought.” He stuck the paper in his back pocket. “Never did git use to livin in one place even after ten years. Guess when we die, we don’t have much choice. Glad I’ll be with friends, least my ole bones an all.”
He went to the chair by her bed and sat down. “I hate bein old. Live in my memories I do, cause that’s where I feel safe.” He stared down at his hands, hands that once could do anythin. He kept his eyes lowered, feelin blue, sad for the way life turned on Daisy. “Least you git religion,” he said, lookin up.
Her eyes roamed his face.
“Daisy? You okay?”
“I always believed,” she whispered. “I just never talked about it.”
“Well, you full of surprises. I never knowed that. Never heard you say peep bout God till you git sick.” Billy chuckled. “You didn’t live like no Christian, stealin and all.”
“God forgave me.”
Billy figured if God was in the business of judgin he wasn’t worth glorifyin.
“The bathroom. Cabinet.” Daisy sighed. “There’s a brown bottle. Bring it to me.”
“What is it?” he asked.
“Want me to git Geneva?”
“What kinda medicine?”
“Geneva give you the right dose.”
“Not the dose I want.”
He crossed his arms and tilted his head back squintin at her. “Whatchu askin me is a big deal.”
“If I could get it I would.” She winced.
He hobbled to the slidin door where he looked out on the lawn with the plastic pink flamingoes and alligator steppin stones. He gazed past the hedges, where he could see through the leaves to the pool beyond. He looked back at her. “I ain’t takin your life.”
“I’m not asking you to.” She slumped further into the pillows.
“What your maker think bout this?”
“God doesn’t want me to suffer.”
“We don’t know nothin till we die,” Billy said.
She stared at the bathroom, her lower lip juttin, gave him the silent treatment, she did.
He looked out the window thinkin bout what Daisy wanted. He saw dashes of white and printed bathing suits, people goin for a swim. He raised his hand to the curtain and pulled it all the way back as if some kinda wisdom was out there waitin, just for him.
Billy scratched his arm. He raked his neck. His whole body crawled with sadness. “Oh girl, I know you feelin bad.” He shuffled to the side of the bed. He bent so close to Daisy he smelled the rot comin off her. “You been my family. My little sister.” Billy sniffed. “Think I’m gitten a cold from all the air condition.”
“It’s a brown bottle,” she said. “Bring it.”
“Geneva gonna know I git it for you.”
“She won’t. It’s time, Billy.” Her voice sounded tinny, like comin through a pipe, it did.
Through the years he denied her nothin, the only woman who could make him walk through fire and feel privileged to do it.
He felt Daisy watchin as he crossed to the bathroom. He went inside. It was a place for norms, even the john. Billy opened the cabinet door and saw several brown bottles, two, with paper round the neck. He took the open one and went back to Daisy.
“You done planned this all along, you little con.” But Billy couldn’t be mad, just mystified at the way he was fated to this woman.
“Give me the bottle,” she whispered. “And hand me my juice.”
Billy saw the glass on her nightstand and give it to her.
She poured the medicine. She swished the morphine round and drank. “Put it back.”
Billy set the glass on the stand, returned to the bathroom and did as Daisy said. He shut the cabinet door and glimpsed his reflection, turnin away so’s not to remember the moment. Grabbin the doorknob to steady himself, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He limped back to the chair. He moved it as close to the bed with him still able to sit.
“Thank you, Billy.”
Seemed his whole life got stuck in his throat. He cleared it. Coughed. “Ah girl,” he said. “I didn’t do me no favor. Who do I got now?” He reached for her tiny hand. Her frail fingers slid through his. Like a bird, she was, flying over the carnival with the merry-go-round music blarin, the Ferris wheel turnin, the people all happy cause they feelin free, in one hand they eatin cotton candy, the other holdin the hand of a sweetheart.
He let go of Daisy.
Billy done feel like his life folded, where his heart was ground into sawdust and just blowed away leavin him alone on the midway.
more Short Story Contestby
July 3rd, 2016
Did I hear you say oh no not today
Do I have to be a philospher, anthropologist
and/or your deja vu OK
The magic mystic tour is coming to take
you away don’t forget it might be so someone
Dream on singing for the women sing
for the tears sing on naysayers for you have
the not yets in AA
Let me tell you about the girl I love I got a
woman I thought she was all mine but she
foresaked me naysay
American woman get away from me damn not
good for you are you good for me why
I always pray God the Lord Jesus Christ
make me one with the universe the earth with
all people every day,
Are you looking for a ride in the terrestrial
and/or celestial carpet ride
I am a navy dude aviation what do you think
I know don’t know in stride
Let me share a dream or my past life or what you might say
I woke up in a big white stone was it my
funeral palor or I woke up in a big white
stone living quarters of ancient decide
I can’t forget what the holy scriptures say about
landings mesmerize symbolism if God gave
you the interpretations you alone on the
outskirts of civilization you surmise
June 26th, 2016
by Michael Lee Johnson
Iranian Poetry Lady (V2)
By Michael Lee Johnson
The first time I saw your face, cosmetic images, dust, dirt, determination
fell across your exiled face. Coal smoke lifted with your simple words and short poems.
Your meaning drawn across a black board of past, rainbows, future
fragment, still in the shadows.
Muhammad, Jesus twins, only one forms a hallo alone.
One screams love, drips candle wax, lights life, shakes, love.
I encrust your history in the Ginkgo tree, deliverance.
I wrap in the branches the whispers in your ears a new beginning.
I am the landscape of your future walk soft peddle on green grass.
I will take you there. I am your poet, your lead, freedom clouds move over then on.
I review no spelling, grammar errors; I lick your envelope, finish, stamp place on.
Down with age I may go, but I offer this set of wings I purchased at a thrift store.
I release you in south wind, storms, and warm in spring, monarch butterflies.
Your name scribbles in gold script.
Night, mysteries, follow handle, your own.
June 25th, 2016
Welcome to defenestrationism reality.
Our finalists for the 2016 !Short Story Contest! are announced
We are equally honored to announce a new Judge for defenestrationism.net contests:
D.E.B. studied history at Bowdoin College, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and Yale University. After a decade as an historian with the federal government, he changed careers, first with a job as a boat rigger on Long Island Sound and later serving as chief of staff to a Maryland state legislator. His literary interests incline toward Lincoln’s writings and the King James translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He reads Moby Dick every few years to scrub the barnacles off his brain.