Saturday, 31 December 2016


by Kathy Conde

We took the pulse of earth
seismic soundings
for ebony lakes of hidden energy.
Our youth and our god
detected through explosions
demanded audacity.

Flying us to the field
the pilot, a war vet,
clutched the control stick
put us into a hammerhead stall
and said, "I turned
one of these choppers over once."
but so was his grin
as the helicopter’s glass bubble
hesitated at the crest of the climb.

The silence of the killed
engine roared in our ears.
We tilted toward earth,
our toes white from pushing
brake pedals that weren't there.
Our fingers spread wide
in surrender. There was nothing
to hold on to. Even the air           
was falling with us.

* * * * *

"Energy Exploration" first appeared in Wazee Journal.

Kathy Conde won the Crab Orchard Review Jack Dyer Fiction Prize 2014. She has also won prizes and scholarships from Salem International Literary Awards, Munster’s Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition, and the Aspen Writers' Foundation. Her stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, CutThroat: A Journal of the Arts, Southword, Underground VoicesWord Riot, and others. She lives in Colorado with her husband and son. You can see more of her work at

Friday, 30 December 2016


by Kathy Conde

I hold back, feel the pull
of gravity through my boot.
Mac says it will be easy
scaling the vertical
rock face full of cracks
and quarter-inch ledges.
I climb and granite
turns to flat gray.
Handholds visible from below
vanish at a certain height.
Everything is gone—
summer grass, Mac's red car
gleaming from the road,
green silhouette of tamarack
against blue sky, screech
of a redtail hawk. All gone—
even the wind that blew
dust across the road
when I took my first
look at the wall.
All that is left
is rock, my body pressed
against it like a lover,
the pull of gravity

* * * * *

"Climbing After a Fall" first appeared in the anthology, New Poets of the American West. 

Kathy Conde won the Crab Orchard Review Jack Dyer Fiction Prize 2014. She has also won prizes and scholarships from Salem International Literary Awards, Munster’s Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition, and the Aspen Writers' Foundation. Her stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, CutThroat: A Journal of the Arts, Southword, Underground VoicesWord Riot, and others. She lives in Colorado with her husband and son. You can see more of her work at

Thursday, 29 December 2016


by Marlee Cox

After she climbed the maple, the one
which spit its samaras into the Midwestern
autumn breath, we split for the night— just for the night—
to separate suburban sprawls. We knew each way
home and back again.

Rich red lolls down my thigh, spurred by the
lilt of my run. The city found its heat wave. Stenches
of softened tar and hot lilacs rise from the
streets and swarm me. Gnats attack the sweat at
my temples and nape. Whatever. I’ll never go back to ordering my coffee on ice.

She fears only girls who burn themselves, and I
am dry desert fire.

Baby, I’ve got welts.

There are more punishing ways to bleed, surely, than
from my depths while jogging.

I wish they wouldn’t stare at me on
the train. Stage fright brings my hands to a tremble, stirring my iced coffee
into a riot. Condensation dribbles down my wrist
like summer’s blood.

If God
stranded us at sea, she would know the proper things to do. She would warn me against

She would be the
smart one—she, unflinchingly, would eat my liver. Raw.

She, surely, would make it home.

* * * * *

Marlee Cox at age 15 won one of the Glass Woman Prize awards in 2011 for her story "Collapse."

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Learning Long Division 

by Lisa Cihlar

If you knew the exact moment when the time ahead of you was equal
to the time behind you, would you change direction?  Drive west
and for every right turn make two lefts?  On back roads in flat states where
timothy grass and purple clover clot the roadsides, hang your hand
out the window, feel the slap of weeds on your palm, the occasional wetness
from spittle bug froth?  Get angry. 
Tell mothers that their children are beautiful.  Never tell a lie. 
Join the end of every parade you come upon.  Throw candy, the good
kind that sticks in the teeth, like caramels that can be sucked for hours.  
Drink strawberry malts in small town parlors painted pink and yellow.
If you knew that you were going to die in your sleep would you buy
new sheets, wash them every day, hang them outside to dry, perfumed
by new mown grass and west wind with rain running ahead?
Write a confession that spills everything, lies and stealing and however
many of the seven sins you can remember, then do them over again
to make sure you got it right the first time.  Pray.  Assume there is
a God.  Then assume there is not.  Tell a pastor that religion is the cause
of most of the wars in the world, but forgive him.  Leave offerings
in collection baskets and food pantries.  Wear red panties and white
shorts and walk with a hip sway that says fuck me.  And do it in a bed,
in the woods, on a beach before a storm when waves crash louder
than you moan and shout.  Kiss your dog between the eyes.  Slow
your breathing.  Give everything away, crawl to the graveyard, hold up
your arms until wrens land on your fingers, sparrows pluck your hair
to line their nests
and make new music.

* * * * *

"Learning Long Division" was previously published in Wordgathering here:

Tuesday, 27 December 2016


by Gloria Mindock

Waiting for an angel to circle, drop
threads on our faces, we cover our eyes
in this system of the obsolete.

After awhile, we are meek in our armchair
watching TV…
feeling lazy, thinking, we have time.

Gather yourself.
The bullets fly on this hot summer day
into your skin.

Monday, 26 December 2016


by Gloria Mindock

My Mind is crushed, flattened, bruised, banished…
into all the agonies of the world

It is true
I think about all the
inches of rain…
Sorrow does visit sometimes

Now that I am empty,
my dreams exaggerate peace,
where everyone pulls the sky into their eyes
wishing to hear

all the lost mourning

Sunday, 25 December 2016

By Nicole M. Bouchard

          The discovery following his death, though an unsettling one, did not announce itself in the conspicuous, crude fashion that such discoveries typically do. It came more subtly, in fragments: items left behind, remembrances triggering revelations, and most particularly, in the form of all the things that were not there. Indeed, it was what was missing, far more than what was found, that provided the framework of his life’s story. All of the absent moments, hollow spaces of a lifetime that ought to be filled—the words unsaid, roles never assumed, a vacant chair across a table, the photographs never taken and placed upon the mantle. Paired against what little remained, one theme, soft as a whisper at first, started to echo in all of the empty places. Surreptitious in the days immediately after his passing, the graceful figure with long, lean lines like the sketch of a 1920s Vanity Fair cover was no more than a haunting. Gliding through, her slender fingers brushed along the surfaces in abandoned rooms so lightly, that not even the particles of dust, newly gathered without his care, were disturbed.
          She might have gone unnoticed all together in the apartment, what with the relatives talking more regularly with the passage of days—the men discussing furniture, a few legal matters and disposals, along with the occasional baseball score or gadget reference. The veil of solemnity disintegrating faster than the few antiquities left to his name…  
          She probably would have disappeared as the vapor she was if it hadn’t been for one mis-step. It was when she wanted, most impudently, to announce her presence in her grandiose way that for one second, she almost made herself real upon entering the room. And it was that, that prideful sweep of a porcelain arm dripping in furs, which registered a flicker in Allison’s mind. At the corner of her eye, at the crossroads of grief, belief, imagination and want, Allison thought she saw a tiny glimpse of someone she recognized, someone who did not belong—and it troubled her immensely.
          At the news of her uncle’s death, Allison had been the only one to cry, cry with the kind of sobs that shook her body. The world had been deprived of the kindest, most unfettered soul she’d ever known. And no one else seeming to give a damn had the harsh consequence of making his life seem as though it mattered less.
          She was suddenly twelve years old, standing in the rain to pound on her uncle’s door at ten o’clock on a school night. Her father had left the year before and this was the second time her mother had forgotten to pick her up at school and hadn’t come home for over twenty-four hours. No call, just a note in fuchsia lipstick drawn directly onto the kitchen table: Going out xo. The door opened and arms extended in the wake of the porch light. Nothing had to be explained as the rain blended with her tears. A comforting smile and a warmth from eyes that looked just like hers signaled that he understood everything. Frank never disparaged his younger sister, but instead took up the mantle of guiding his niece through her most uncertain years.
          Nights she stayed with him, he gave her his bedroom and slept on his small sofa for which he was much too tall. The image of his legs hanging over its right arm with his large, socked feet in mid-air, reminded her of the king in a storybook who wanted more than anything to be of formidable stature. He tried all manner of tricks, notions, and potions, but his height always remained the same; his daughter, to put an end to his discontent, had builders come in the night to make all the furniture in the palace smaller. The king awoke to find his legs hanging over the bed, and to his joy, viewed himself as substantial in appearance as the princess knew him to be at heart. The thought of the book, one he’d read to her in a series when she was small, always made her smile. In the mornings, following tea and toast, he’d either take the city bus to see her off to school or, if she begged to miss a day, he’d take her to work with him—and to Allison, that became an experience above all others.
          As Head Tour Guide, Franklin, as they called him at the mansion, had access to anything and everything. There was a world of shimmering glamour and charm preserved, suspended in time as a portal she could escape into. The structure reached up its stone walls to demand the acknowledgment of the sky above it as though it had always existed, and was deserving of the status of conduit between heaven and earth. In the French Baroque, Neo-Classical style, it was meant to mirror elements of Château de Saint-Cloud, a palace in France, expanded by Marie Antoinette in the late 1700s.
          It was there that Allison was first introduced to the striking figure that would serve as idol, mentor, and elusive friend for the next seven years of her life. Back then, it never seemed strange to either of them that this central woman they shared was an heiress neither had met, someone whose personage was limited to the pages of history. With her jet black, chin-length bob and red lips, Elaina Flannigan was as alive to Allison as a young aunt who’d just left the room—or who’d gone out for the evening—might have been. The lack of her physical presence made her all the more covetable. It became possible to project into her personality whatever traits Allison wished, choosing to get swept into the embrace of a woman who had the secrets of life and could tell a blossoming girl how to live.
          Frank gave her select articles and book excerpts that he’d uncovered in his research. At the mansion, his stories were more detailed than the other guides and the extent of his knowledge superior—the lines poured out the door just to get him. Most of all, though, it was the delivery that was the principal distinction. He spoke with fresh conviction each time, each tour. Even the most disinterested tourist, from teenagers with headphones to weekenders snapping only photos of themselves, stood up straighter to listen and put away their distractions. They would leave lit with a flame of wonderment about Elaina and the work she did. Frank was passionate about his vocation and took it upon himself to be the consummate guardian of all concerning the Flannigan heiress.
          Allison took to imagining Elaina as her confidante, someone accessible, yet also a figure to look up to. At home, Allison and her mother had become passing shadows, rarely overlapping spare for unwanted intrusions that served as a reminder of their wintry existence together—a door to memory left open too long to let in the chill. Perhaps it was because she was too much her father’s daughter in little ways that chipped away at her mother’s façade of forgetting. Thus, she let go of one hand to take hold of another. Allison played at the idea of being encouraged to sit down close by on the chaise lounge while Elaina sat at her vanity in a silk gown to apply her rouge, readying herself for the kind of 20s soiree that Allison could only dream of. Elaina would smile in the reflection and hand the thirteen-year-old her red lipstick to try. She wouldn’t treat her like a child but would talk to her like a friend and educate her with the views that a cultured woman of the world would possess.
She’d speak of her work on reform and fighting for women’s rights domestically and abroad—her role as a women’s advocate in the 30s when females able to attain employment during the Depression were perceived as having robbed their male counterparts of available labor and wages, causing them to lose their positions without warning or fair compensation. She would tell her about leadership and taking one’s place. She would speak of friendships, and how to be beloved in the right circles. She’d tell her about love and give advice on what to look for in a man between sips of champagne. Elaina would issue anecdotes and cautions so that Allison would grow to be the kind of lady she ought to want to be.
          By the pool of the grotto, they’d laugh over boys and growing pains as Allison worked hard to try to emulate the inner calm and outward grace that Elaina found effortless. She would dream of her hair being brushed by steady, elegant hands as they conversed about life and she wouldn’t be ignored or forgotten but made to feel as though she was worth something.
          At nineteen, in her sophomore year of college, Allison was running down the steps on the last day before winter break. She was an Art History major by this time and working on a paper concerning one of the mansion’s many paintings. There was a youthful painting of a queen that would later turn a city of celebration into a graveyard overnight. It said nothing of what she would become, the torment she’d undergo in an abusive marriage, or the unspeakable things she herself would do. The image was innocent and hopeful. The painting hung as a fascinating contradiction, making it ideal subject matter to explore in diverse layers. Allison had acquired some of her uncle’s passion for the past.
Allison was also minoring in Women’s Studies, the work of Elaina as inspiration. Her auburn hair was cut into a chic bob, her lips always either bare or some shade of red. Her mind was on getting home, the hour drive she’d speed through to spend the holiday with Frank, when she collided with one of her guy friends on the stairway. He shoved a wrapped package into her arms, his enthusiasm underestimating momentum, nearly knocking her backwards.
          “Hey! Merry Christmas!”  
          Quick, graceful steps avoided a loss of balance. Her expression was one that he recognized too well. The look one might feel compelled to give an affable waiter following a lousy meal. Try as he might, of all the guys that rallied for her attention, it seemed that he was always serving up disappointment. His was a world of numbers and electronic algorithms. To him, art was discretionary, travel a preoccupation for the discontented, wealth (and its accompanying finery, typical decorum) a consequence of a character flaw. But she, despite possessing interests in these less than desirable areas, was an anomaly his awkward heart wanted to incorporate into a working equation.
          “Oh. Hi. Merry Christmas, Allen. For me?” she said holding up the package with a polite smile. “That’s really sweet of you—you didn’t have to get me anything. I’ll look forward to opening it when I get home.”
          His silence, the unblinking stare, his solid stance hindering her way down the stairs, meant she was to open it then and there. The familiar expression crossed her face, but she adjusted the things in her arms to free both hands and unwrap what she could feel was a book.   
          “Have you read this? I know you love all that history stuff at the Flannigan mansion, so I thought you’d want the new, authoritative biography. Went downtown to a signing so you’d have an autographed copy. It’s pretty bizarre. Kind of a nutcase. People were talking about it in the store... Weird little rich bitch, right?”
          The cover showed Elaina leaning against a column at a soiree, appearing scarcely able to stand, the weight of alcohol or unseen despair heavy on the tiny body. Eyes wild, dark circles, a glare daring judgment from the crowd with a champagne glass dangling in her hand.
          Allen was always making a study of Allison’s face with geometric precision; each shape, angle, or shift with a different meaning. This was a look of hers he hadn’t seen. Was it shock? Something that would settle down into being impressed with his ability to hand over truth about her idol? It would be fascinating, right? Heroic of him, even. Yes; yes, he assured himself he’d finally done it.
           Allison didn’t answer, but broke her gaze, turning the book over in her hands and read the back cover that toted the biography as the first tell-all about the “real” Elaina Flannigan—a violent-tempered diva who struggled with alcoholism and divorced eight times before dying alone at sixty-five. She was undiscovered for two days because the servants were told never to disturb her and they feared incurring a torrent of her verbal abuse. Allison’s hands shook. She kept flipping the book over as though she expected to read something different.
          “It’s…it’s just a book-length gossip column. I would’ve heard about these things before. Most of this probably isn’t even true—just some perspectives of people with an axe to grind trying to get their fifteen minutes of fame.”
          “I don’t think so. I read the review in The New York Times. Did you know she threw stuff at her servants? Really, it’s true. She tried to hit a guy in the head with a Chinese vase; I bet they don’t mention that on the tour.” Pride swelled. He opened his mouth to give more helpful facts, but without glancing up, she murmured, “Thanks, Allen,” in a tone that couldn’t be misinterpreted.
          Though the exact reasons wouldn’t appear on any chart or graph he could plot, it was known to be beyond recovery. Accepting defeat, it would be the last time he’d try. She brushed past him as the shadow she could become when she wanted to disappear, nearly brushing right through him.
          In her dorm with the door shut, she fought back tears as she read. She dug deeper and pulled up old articles, ones that her uncle had never mentioned. It was crazy, she thought, to be heartbroken that someone she’d built in her imagination didn’t live up to the image. She couldn’t make sense of why she was angry or why it seemed she’d been deceived. A foundation had been ripped from underneath her. She felt a good part of who she was had been molded on a figure that didn’t exist. Her own identity, still vulnerable in its youth, felt at attack. The image of that vulnerable twelve-year-old not knowing where her mother had gone, burned in her mind. Would reality take Elaina from her too? The wanting-to-believe was replaced with a defiant need to tear down all the facades. Elaina was human, yes, and the good was true, but Allison couldn’t reconcile how the bad could also be true. She needed more, better from her, selfish though it may have been.
          She gathered up the articles, the book and stuffed them into her backpack. She would go to her uncle and he would have to address this. Did he know? Had he been deceived? Could he find some way to explain it away and make it alright? She drove to her uncle’s home in a fever, looking for answers about what could have just been a tempting illusion all those years. Finding the place empty as he’d left early for his shift, she left her car there not wanting the hassle of parking at the mansion and took a cab.
          Flushed and furious, she burst in and found him in the private office. He got up and suddenly looked much older than she’d noticed before. Older than perhaps she’d allowed herself to notice before. An unseen weight on his lean frame. Standing in front of her, leaning on the desk with both hands, he gave her the same smile he’d given that rainy night she’d shown up at his door. Without words, he looked inside of her mind and understood. They both knew it went back to then, a different kind of loss, but a loss just the same that was written all over her features. Confused about whether he did or didn’t know, she wondered at that moment if maybe he needed to believe. She didn’t want to shove his face into the facts and upset the only person who’d ever loved her.
          She caught a ride to leave the mansion early that day and as she left, it started to snow. Allison could almost imagine the shape of Elaina standing in the drive as she pulled away, looking through the back window. The face was shaded with a deep sadness and Allison continued to watch it shrink in the distance, not turning around toward the front until the mansion was out of sight. Allison thought she’d have to make excuses about not visiting the mansion any longer, about finishing her paper absent from the company of the painting, but they were never necessary. Her uncle ceased any mention of Elaina during their discussions and didn’t once ask why she didn’t go with him to work like she used to. They continued their close relationship, neither mentioning the abandoned world between them or the figure that inhabited it.
          As Frank aged, Allison watched his stature diminish, his shoulders stooping as his back curved slightly, and she worried about those secret weights he carried. She wanted him to retire but knew through talk passed along from decades of staff that he’d never missed a day of work since he started at the mansion in the mid to late 60s, not too many years after it was opened to the public. Cane or no cane, he was going up and down the endless staircases because he chose to. Spare for nights, weekends and holidays, that was where he lived for well over forty years. She often wondered whether he regarded that as his real home, never moving out of the apartment into a house of his own, hardly having more than the most basic furnishings to suggest the idea of living there. The apartment started to remind her of a set in a play more than a place that he could have felt was real to him.
          When a neighbor of his called to tell her that he’d left the stove on for the second time and someone had to break the lock to get in, she told him that he had to retire. He could move in with her. It wasn’t the only instance where he was starting to forget important things. He lovingly but firmly refused, consenting only to cut his hours. He asked if she would come with her children to see him do a tour at the mansion; the subject hadn’t been broached for nearly twenty years and she knew he’d never ask if it wasn’t important.
          She felt like an intruder, an ungrateful infiltrator in her old stomping grounds. Everything felt different, except Frank. His tour was exactly the same—the same clarity, passion, and almost youthful zeal, that gave him a lightness that she hadn’t seen in a very long time. To Allison’s amazement, her daughter had turned off her iPod without being told to. He still had it.
            The day before he died, he’d been giving holiday tours for Christmas.
            Allison was alone with her thoughts. Her mother hadn’t returned for the services. She was out West—where she had been since the day Allison went to college—away from rain, cold, death, memory, and the kind of love that takes hold deeply enough to be painful. Though her immediate family, her husband and children, were supportive, there was no one who could quite understand this. No one who’d understood Frank as she had, so consequently, no one to truly empathize with the stranglehold of grief.
          Allison couldn’t shake the phantom glimpse out of her mind. How dare she? To appear then. Had this specter of an obsession robbed him of a full life where he could have had a family of his own? Had she taken a promising man and used him for her own glory? Where was the evidence of his life? Where were his memories, his travels, other passions and possessions…great loves, an adoring spouse? A yellowed scrapbook of the articles he’d chosen to keep about Elaina was one of the few things Allison found in his desk. This woman, highly superstitious, had charms for love scattered throughout the mansion in hidden places. She’d never found what she was looking for. Had Elaina ensnared someone beyond her time?
          Unable to sleep, Allison drove to the apartment. She let herself in and sat at the desk. Opening the scrapbook, she found an old note addressed to her that she’d never been given:
It takes both eyes open to see an image clearly. I trust that you will find this one day and won’t discard something that gave you hope and helped bring us together.
          She stayed to read the scrapbook, articles she hadn’t seen before, and started to put together the image of a woman who had suffered, triumphed and lost herself in her later years. She thought of her uncle and the way that his loyalty and devotion was all that Elaina Flannigan had ever wanted. For him, the purpose of reaching people through history, whether or not the figure was flawed, was his way of inspiring the best in others. His stories, his life and the way he’d saved Allison herself, were his legacy.
          Laying her head down by the note, she closed her eyes and started to see a pathway that she’d walked thousands of times in her youth. This time, she walked it as the grown woman she’d always wanted to be and could see a figure with a jet black bob extending her hand in the distance.     
            She’d take it.
Outside, it started to snow.      
 * * * * *

Nicole M. Bouchard has spent a decade as a writer and editor of various mediums in both literary and journalistic sectors. She has shared her experiences and expertise in interviews, essays, and contributions to professional anthologies. Following an early mentorship and advanced English coursework, she chose to take a road “less traveled by,” and combined independent study with extensive hands-on experience. Her freelance journalism career sprouted partly from a seed of counter-motivation. Having written to a famed male journalist for advice, she was informed that breaking into the field at her age was nearly impossible, particularly for a female. The rest of the advice, however politely put, had an opposite effect, fueling her to land a feature story a year later at nineteen in a regional publication where she'd then be referred to entertainment journalism, interviewing a visiting Broadway actress, a Hollywood producer with regional roots, and singer/songwriter Jewel prior to a New England event. She also served in an editorial capacity for numerous magazine issues. Through further journalistic experience, she penned various cover stories and features.
As her literary work started to receive notice and the advent of electronic publishing was creating shifts that were opening doors for online publications, she saw an opportunity to form a publication that would be an embracing community of writers and artists, personalized in its approach. In 2008, at twenty-one, she founded The Write Place at the Write Time literary journal which has interviewed a number of NYT best-selling authors and featured contributors ranging from newly published to having written for The New Yorker,  Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, Glimmer Train, Georgetown Review, Simon & Schuster and Random House. The eighth anniversary of the magazine also celebrated a reach to eighty countries as of 2015. Her chapter "Founding Female Editors: Your Voice, Your Vision and How to Make it a Reality" was featured in Women, Work, and the Web: How the Web Creates Entrepreneurial Opportunities, Encourages Women's Studies (Rowman & Littlefield 2015).
She served as a speaker on the Small Press Panel: How Online Journals and Social Media Transform Poetics at the Fourth Massachusetts Poetry Festival. She has been a Letters member of the National League of American Pen Women since 2009. She was profiled on the television program, Creative Women Today. She also serves as a content editor for manuscripts and as a coach through a separate website with writer resources and testimonials. At thirty, she is most grateful for the incredible people in her life: her family, her friends, and the literary family of writers, readers, and artists she has the privilege of knowing.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Writing in a Woman's Voice is currently on winter solstice sabbatical until December 25, 2016. Happy holidays to all!

Saturday, 17 December 2016


by Larissa Shmailo

I haven’t passed that dream of wisdom,
the borders you crossed through.

I can’t translate the language
I thought I thought I knew.

I see a meaning, watching you die,
hold it in my hands like a graying sigh,

this lock of hair which I comb and tie.
I kiss the head which hears my no,

and meet your eyes, and say: Don’t go.
and leave you to this tongue of dread:

This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.
We will all speak these words in this way
and then, and till then, what shall I say?

* * * * *

Friday, 16 December 2016


by Larissa Shmailo

Dawn: I wake in the park, face puffy and red;
Liquid, brown tallboys, broken glass, at my head.
The bench is cool, my shoes are gone, my fishnet stockings torn;
I wish I were elsewhere, lived differently, was safe, or never born.

Policemen tell me, broke and blackly bruised, to move along;
I find cardboard in the garbage, make a sign, sing a song.
A teenager stops, sings with me, and blushing, averts his eyes;
Women pass, scorn me, prouder than they’d be otherwise.

A businessman winks, gives nothing; a serviceman gives a buck.
Men hang out windows; one screams obscenities from his truck.
What some men will hit on, eagerly, still astonishes me;
You are never too sick, too dirty, or too old, apparently.

* * * * *

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Revenge of the Mercy Date
    by Laura Ruth Loomis

            “I only came to talk,” he says, pointing the gun at my stomach.
            I’m pretty sure Wilbur doesn’t know how to fire a gun, but then I was pretty sure he wasn’t the kind of guy to show up on an ex-girlfriend’s doorstep with a deadly weapon, either.
            “Do you have a permit for that?” I ask, as if that would keep him from shooting me.
            The neighbor’s door opens. Old Mr. Wilson steps outside and fumbles with his key, trying to lock up. In a moment he’ll be heading for his prize Buick. I’m overcome with embarrassment. The thought of anyone seeing Wilbur on my front porch, holding the pistol uncertainly toward me, is just too humiliating. I step back and let him squeeze his chubby body past me into the house.
            “We need to talk,” he says.
            In the entire history of human relationships, these words have never preceded anything good. Every boyfriend who ever started a conversation that way ended by telling me I was too good for him, or he’d met someone else, or he loved me but he was in love with my cousin Mark.
            In fact, when I dumped Wilbur, I started with, “We need to talk.” I think I gave him breakup line #217, saying I was so into my career at that point in my life that I didn’t have room for a relationship.
            But instead of leaving quietly and resolving it with a few sensible crying jags and a shopping spree, like a woman would do, Wilbur’s now in my living room, sweating like a marathon runner, the gun barrel wobbling as his hand shakes. I try to move out of the line of fire.
            “Gina, I don’t think you gave our relationship a fair chance,” he says.
            “Relationship” is a generous word for what we had. I went out with him twice because he was a friend of my best friend (who is conveniently married and doesn’t have to deal with setups). I dumped him because he was such a spineless noodle. I can’t imagine him shooting anyone. But the gun doesn’t know he’s a noodle, and it could go off by accident.
            “I know you dated Jeremy Johansen after you broke up with me, after you said you didn’t have time for a relationship.”
            Jeremy had been gorgeous, charming, and sexually insatiable. “Yes, well, that was a mistake.” I give him my best smile, perfected after years of waitressing for people who send back their eggs and complain that the milk is too cold, then tip ten percent.
            “I think we could be really good together, if you just gave it a chance. I would treat you like a queen.”
            I have to stop this plastic smile before my lips crack. “I don’t know quite how to say this, Wilbur, but charging over to my house with a gun isn’t the best way to get back together.”
            “You wouldn’t return my calls. And when I came over, you wouldn’t answer the door. I could hear the TV on, so I knew you were home.”
            I fish for an excuse about not hearing the doorbell, but I already know I’m busted. “I felt really bad about dumping you, so I avoided you. I’m sorry.”
            Wilbur shifts uncomfortably. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he announces. He looks from the gun to me in confusion. Guys on TV never have to take a leak when they take hostages.
            “Just put the gun down, Wilbur,” I tell him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
            Even Wilbur isn’t stupid enough to believe that. “I have to tie you. Just so you don’t run away.”
            “I don’t have any rope lying around.”
            “Take off your panty hose.” He can’t be serious. “I saw it in a movie once. You can tie people up with panty hose.”
            “Wilbur – ”
            “Come on! I have to go!
            The barrel’s shaking again, so I sit, trying not to show any underwear as I peel down the hose. I feel creepy as I hand them to him.
            He looks frantically around the room, trying to figure out where to tie me. I see him considering and rejecting ideas: my big kitchen table could be tipped over, a chair could be carried with me as I fled. He walks past me to the kitchen and tries the handle on the fridge. Not sturdy enough.
            “Show me your bedroom.”
            Oh no. No. I have a big 4-poster bed.  Wilbur is the last person I want to see it, much less tie me to it. But here we are, and he’s tying my wrists to the bedpost, arms over my head, and then he runs to the bathroom.
            In the movies, the woman tied to the bed is supposed to feel sexy. In reality, my nose itches, my hands are getting numb, and I’m pissed as hell.
            I flip onto my side. The phone is on the nightstand. Minus the pantyhose, I’m barefoot, and he didn’t have time to tie my legs. I fold my body up like a jackknife and reach with my foot. I have to hurry. My hamstring is screaming in pain, but my toes catch the phone and manage to drop it close to my head. Thank God for my weekly yoga class.
            I dial 911 with my nose. It rings one, two, three, four times. Are they all on a donut break over there? Five. I try not to think about the ugly noises from the bathroom. Six. Finally somebody picks up.
            “I need police!” I whisper as loud as I dare. “My...” I am not going to dignify him with a term like boyfriend, “This guy I dated came over with a gun and he won’t leave.” I hear the toilet flush. No time. I whisper the address, talking so fast that my teeth and tongue are tripping over each other. I jab the hangup button with my nose. He’s coming out; I can hear the doorknob rattling. I grab the pillow in my teeth and yank it down to cover the phone.
            Wilbur emerges, looking a bit gray in the face. “Do you have any Pepto-Bismol? I sorta have the runs.”
            “No,” I lie. “It’s probably just nerves.”
            He sits down on the edge of the bed. “This isn’t the way I imagined it at all.”
            I look down and realize my skirt’s up around my waist, evidence of my contortions earlier. There’s a dime-sized hole in my underwear. “Would you please just untie me? I promise not to run.” Unless I see a clear path to the door.
            It takes him forever to get the knots undone. “It’s just that I think we’d make such a great couple. We have so much in common.” That thought frightens me more than the idea of getting shot. “Remember how we both loved seeing Les Miserables?”
            “That’s true,” I say carefully. Of course I love Les Miz. Who doesn’t? I only went on the second date with him because he had tickets, and I should have known better. He had a noisy allergy attack during a crucial scene, and wound up squeezing past everyone in the row to go get some water. Then when he got back, he insisted that I explain what had happened in his absence, and pestered me with so many questions that I lost track of the rest of the show. Everyone sitting nearby was ready to throw us in the Bastille. And dinner with him that night, well, “Miserables” doesn’t begin to cover it. At least we didn’t dance (if you could call it that) like on our first date, when I narrowly escaped serious bodily injury.
            He looks encouraged. “When I hear that song, it always makes me think of you.” He starts singing: “A heart full of love...”
            Oh. God. He has just ruined that song for me forever. He finally gets the pantyhose untied, and I stand up quickly so my skirt will fall to a decent length. My hands have that awful tickling feeling you get when the numbness is just starting to fade, a million pinpricks. I shake out my wrists, trying to bring them back to life.
            “The thing is, Wilbur, a relationship isn’t just good times and going out somewhere fancy.” Like the awful Italian restaurant he took me to before the show. “It’s about two people really being able to communicate with each other, to trust each other. I mean, here you are in my house with a gun. You obviously don’t trust me, and how am I supposed to trust you after this?” I sound like Dr. Phil.
            We hear car doors slamming outside, voices shouting orders. Wilbur leaves my bedroom (finally!) and runs to the front window. I’m right on his heels.
            “Who called the cops?”
            “I don’t know,” I lie. I’m giddy with relief. “Maybe my neighbor saw you with the gun.” Any minute now, they’ll kick in the door and set me free. I picture my regret as Wilbur goes down in a hail of bullets. I’m saved.
            The police completely surround the house next door.
            “Maybe it’s a coincidence,” Wilbur suggests. “Maybe your neighbor did something.”
            A really hot-looking Latino cop pulls out a megaphone. “We know you have a hostage in there. Come out with your hands up.” He has a nice voice, authoritative.
            “They’re looking for you, Wilbur. It’s over.”
            “Over? You mean this,” he gestures vaguely with the gun as I wince, “or us?”
            Us? I must not, must not throw up until he’s safely in handcuffs. “I mean this crazy idea. This is not the way to make someone love you.”
            “I know you don’t love me yet, Gina, but you could.”
            I try a different approach. “I’m worried about my neighbor. What if the police just come in shooting?”
            “He left when I got here.”
            “His wife might be home.” He doesn’t have a wife. “Mrs. Wilson’s old and she doesn’t hear very well. What if she doesn’t even know they’re out there, and they bust the door down and kill a poor old lady?”
            Wilbur struggles with it for a moment, but I’ve handed him a way to save face. He’s not admitting defeat, he’s rescuing an elderly woman from peril. He stuffs the gun in his waistband, zips up his jacket, and heads outside. I watch from the window. After all this, I don’t want to get shot by mistake.
            I see Wilbur look around, and finally approach the Latino guy, who seems to be in charge. I can’t hear what’s happening, but the next thing I know Wilbur’s coming back inside.
            “They wouldn’t let me explain,” he says sheepishly. “I guess they thought I was a nosy neighbor or something.”
            Christ. I could be stuck here with Wilbur until someone comes out of the house next door, which will be never because no one’s there. “Maybe you could show them the gun,” I suggest.
            He pulls the gun out and contemplates it. “What if they didn’t wait for me to explain?”
            “You just come out with the gun pointing down, and then you drop it.”
            “I don’t know.” The gun is sitting across his palm, achingly close. Maybe I could grab it and just whack him over the head with it. Then I could call the police back and explain, or something. “Maybe they’ll go away.”
            “It’s not like they’re just going to get bored, Wilbur.” I am really losing patience here. “These are professionals.”
            “It’s sort of romantic, really. You and me in here, and danger outside.”
            “Romantic?” It’s less romantic than hearing him talking about his diarrhea earlier.
            “Sure, like Romeo and Juliet. You and me, facing the big goodbye together.”
            The big goodbye? That is the absolute goddamn last straw. Calling on muscles developed from years of carrying trays of food, I bring both fists down full force on his arm. He drops the gun and I dive. My skirt catches on the corner of the coffee table, but I still get the gun. I jump up, ignoring the ripping sound from my skirt, and point it straight at him.
            “I have had enough! You were a lousy date! You wore that awful bow tie, and got spaghetti sauce all over it! You dance like a cow having an epileptic seizure! You insisted on paying for everything, then you left such a lousy tip, I couldn’t look the waitress in the eye! You know what she whispered to me as we were leaving? ‘I hope you’re not putting out for that!’”
            He gives me a vacant look. “I just think that arbitrary 15% thing is ridiculous, especially when the food was so overpriced.”
            That does it. “I am a waitress! Fifteen percent is not nearly enough for putting up with you!” I wave the gun in the air for emphasis.
            The shot fills up my ears until there isn’t room for anything else in my brain. Gunshots on TV never seem that loud. I see, but don’t hear, my light fixture crash to the floor, along with bits of plaster where I shot the ceiling.
            I’m still staring at my hand in surprise when the first cops burst in. Unlike me, they know exactly how to hold a gun, and they’re all trained on me.
            “Drop it!” My hearing is starting to return, but the voice still sounds fuzzy.
            I bend over and lay the gun on the coffee table. I can’t just drop it, for fear it would go off again. The moment it leaves my hand, the Latino cop slams me against the wall. Up close, he’s older than I thought, mid-40's maybe, but still handsome in a craggy way.
            “You’re under arrest! You have the right to remain silent –”
            “No!” Wilbur and I shout together.
            “Arrest him!” I add.
            “I’m the kidnaper! She didn’t do anything wrong.” Wilbur obligingly slams himself against the wall.
            The cop – Lt. Sanchez, according to his tag – looks a bit surprised, but he cuffs Wilbur and reads him his rights. “Sorry about that, ma’am. You’ll need to come down to the station and give a statement. You’ll want to change first, of course.”
            I look down. My skirt is ripped almost to the waistband, showing off the hole in my underpants. I catch Lt. Sanchez trying not to look.
            As they drag him away, Wilbur strains back toward me. “Do we still have a chance?” he whines.
            One of the cops gives his arm a totally unnecessary yank, and I hear a muffled Ow! Lt. Sanchez suppresses a smile and offers me his card. Maybe the day isn’t totally shot after all.

* * * * *
"Revenge of the Mercy Date" was originally published by The Writer's Place.
Laura Ruth Loomis is the author of the short story collection "Lost in Translation" from Wordrunner Press.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Writer's Digest, On the Premises, Phone Fiction, and elsewhere.  More of her stories can be found at Goodreads.  Her day job is doing social work in the San Francisco area.  Follow her on Twitter @LauraRuthless.