Monday 31 October 2016

"time had chilled the sunlight in his hair"—from today's supernatural story "Nelson Street" by Carol Reid from super natural British Columbia. Photo credit goes to Carol Reid as well.

Nelson Street
story and photo by Carol Reid

The newspaper on the doorstep had a rumpled look. When Rose stooped to gather it up the letter tucked inside fell into her hand. There was no envelope, just a single sheet of blue notepaper. She unfolded it and held it to the light.
''Dear Rosalea,'' the letter said. Everyone called her Rose, and had done so all her married life.
Harry lumbered in from his Saturday morning golf, bringing with him a scent of damp wool and open air. She pushed the letter into her cardigan pocket and offered him the weekend Sun. He took it into the sitting room, and eased himself into the armchair. Rose heard the hum of the television screen come to life and set the pan of sausages on the stove. As they sizzled, she took the letter out again.
''Dear Rosalea,'' the letter said, ''I've thought long and hard before sending you this, (here there was a section crossed out.) I live in the old house on Nelson Street. Though I wonder if you would recognize it anymore. So if you are in the vicinity would you please come by, perhaps at mid-day Sunday? I would be pleased to give you lunch if you have not eaten by the time you get here. Yours truly, Charles Magnus Harrison.''
Charlie, she thought. After all these years.
And here it was Saturday. She stuffed the letter back into her pocket. If she meant to go up into Old Town tomorrow morning, she must clear her brain and calm her heart and think what she would say to Harry before she left. For a brief moment she considered simply telling him the truth. Then she called the rectory to make an appointment with Reverend Styles for ten forty-five the following morning.
''This is Mrs. Arden calling,'' she said when Mrs. Styles said it would an inconvenient time.
''Yes, Mrs. Arden, I know.''
Rose felt her face redden. It wasn't like she took up hours of the reverend's time. Sometimes she just needed the quiet of the rectory office as she awaited his arrival. It calmed her to study the hazy portraits of the church fathers with their plain dark robes and homely faces.
''I'll just come in then, at ten forty-five?'' she said.
Then to Harry, "Would you run me up to the manse in the morning? I have to see the reverend about the spring planting." He speared a sausage. She supposed that meant he would.
As she slowly swung her legs out of the car at ten-forty Sunday morning she only said, ''Don't wait for me, Harry, Mrs. Styles can run me home''.
He reached over and pulled the passenger door shut behind her.
She watched him drive to the corner, turn right and disappear. The wind blew strands of hair across her eyes. She pulled off her scarf, and the broad barrette at the nape of her neck came with it. She refastened it, then went into the reverend's office to cancel her appointment.
Mrs. Styles gave her a look when she insisted she didn't need to re-book and suddenly she felt a sickening awareness of eyes upon her. What if someone called Harry and told him to come back for her now? She stepped into the alcove and used their phone, then waited out in the damp rising wind for her cab to arrive.
''Nelson Street, Old Town?'' the driver said. ''Allrighty.''
He had turned down the music when she got in the cab. She could hear the occasional strains of melody between the thump of the wiper blades. The cabbie smiled and muttered into his speaker.
.When he raised the volume of the music uncomfortably high she rapped lightly on the Plexiglas partition between them but he seemed not to hear and she refolded her hands in her lap.
She sat back on the stiff upholstery and watched the sea as the cab glided along Marine Drive and up into the Old Town. Here, yards were larger, houses smaller- some newly painted, some fallen into scabrous disrepair. A tiny milk and bread store with a dim ''Open'' sign sat at the foot of the hill. Three bedraggled boys straddled their bikes in front of the shop and drank Fanta out of bottles, tipping their faces back into the full force of the rain. The cabbie waved at them as he passed, then turned to her.
''Nelson Street'' he said.
The street had always been long and crooked as a cow path, backed by low, logged out mountains that kept the lake side of the street in shadow on summer evenings. Her parents' house had been torn down years ago and a sprawling rancher now sat in its place. But there was the old Harrison house, set back at an angle from the road. The cabbie hopped out and held the car door while she fumbled in her bag for the fare.
''Here,'' she said and paid him with a twenty dollar bill, waving away the change. He slipped it into a flat black wallet. She wanted to tell him, I haven't set foot on this street for forty years but here I am, now. The cab was already on its way. She watched it glide through the intersection and vanish over the crest of Nelson hill. Then she walked to the back of the old house and knocked on the basement door.
An old man answered. When she was ten and he fourteen, he had seemed to tower over her, already a man-- broad shouldered, well muscled, hair bleached by the salt of the nearby sea. Now they were eye to eye, breadth to breadth, and time had chilled the sunlight in his hair. He'd had some brothers, much like him in looks, but they had been casually cruel, calling her names like ''Charlie's little bit,'' that made her feel vaguely sick.
He winked and pulled her inside. She laughed, and squeezed his shoulder with her free hand. It was warm in the basement and smelled of oil from the old furnace that clattered away in a corner. Two clotheslines were strung up from steel eyes embedded in the painted cement walls. Shirts and underclothes were pinned neatly to the lines and gave forth a clean, soapy scent. The cedar box, stuffed with dress-up rags, sat next to a patched velvet chair, and two braided rugs clashed together on the floor. She took it all in hungrily, still clutching Charlie's hand.
''How long have you been back here?'' she said, finally releasing him.
''Since the first of March, only a couple of weeks,'' he said in a voice she never would have recognized. As a boy, he shouted more than spoke. Now he was left with a strained whisper, as if his throat closed on every word.
''That was a funny letter you wrote me.''
He frowned. ''It took me a long time to write that letter.''
The furnace wheezed into silence and it was very still in the dim basement.
''Can we go up and have some lunch then?'' she said brightly, her appetite gone.
How could she have forgotten his awkwardness at school, how she, at ten, had read to him from his textbooks on spring evenings? Her eyes filled with tears. She could barely see her way and clung to the banister.
''I shouldn't have sent it,'' he said, trudging up the staircase.
In the kitchen, he flicked on a ceiling lamp that tinged the grey afternoon light a pale yellow. A splattering rain struck the windows. She searched the counter for a kettle.
 ''I could use of a cup of tea, Charlie.''
He turned and saw that she was weeping. She shrugged and shook her head. He kept looking at her.
''What?' she said, drying her cheeks with her coat sleeve.
''Tea, you bet. There's some cans of chicken and bread, in the cupboard next to the kettle.''
She brought the food to the kitchen table. With practiced hands she put together the sandwiches and he soon set down a mug of tea beside her. Thoughts of Harry flickered through her mind. He had probably eaten onion rings and a sundae at the Dairy Queen, then gone home to sit in front of a blaring television. When would he notice how long she had been gone?
Charlie seemed to enjoy his sandwich, and again she saw the boy in him as he tossed his long grey hair back with one hand.
''Where are your brothers?'' she asked. She sipped the tea. Already cold.
''Scattered to the winds. Two over on the Island, one, I think, back east, the other one...''
He crossed himself and crossed his arms. She tore the crust of her sandwich into crumbs. They gave the dead a moment of silence.
''I remember wishing I had brothers when I was little. Then I met yours and I didn't wish that anymore.''
''You were happy just with Mama and Papa.''
Her smile faded. ''Yes. Sometimes I think it was always summer when I was a little girl.'' Another gust of rain-soaked wind struck the glass.
''In the daytime you helped Mama hang the wet clothes and in the evening when Papa came home…'
''We worked together in the garden. And when I was a little bit older I thought, here we are just we three in the house, perfectly happy, and in your house, so many people and you all by yourself." She swallowed the last of the tea. She needed to go to the restroom and realized she didn't know where it was. This kitchen, curtained only with worn lace panels, had been visible from her parents' house, but beyond that the layout of the upstairs house was unknown to her.
''Excuse me for a minute, Charlie,'' she said.
He pointed down the short dark hallway. ''Second left,'' he said, ''I cleaned this morning.''
She was ashamed at the surprise she felt as she entered the washroom. It was, as promised, clean, although the porcelain was porous with age and the tile had dulled to a shade that had no name. He had cleaned with bleach, as everyone had in the old days; no lemons or floral or vanilla. Just the merest hint of Javex assured her that it was safe to sit down.
She heard him talking as she re-entered the hallway. She'd seen no telephone and heard no ring. She had begun to say, ''beg pardon?'' as she realized that the conversation was entirely self-contained.
''Do you think she likes me?'' he said. His hands cupped his ears, as if he struggled to hear a response. ''No, I didn't think that was funny.''
He hushed and turned to face her. She had wanted so much to come to this place, to remember the happiness of her early life, but there was so much that she had forgotten. Mama had forbidden her to go into the Harrison house. Papa had once stood between Charlie and his oldest brother after the bigger boy had struck the younger one full in the head with an axe handle. The image made her flinch; Charlie, hunched over, with a running cut on the crown of his head, and Papa , no taller than the older boy but twice as broad, wresting the weapon from his hand and snapping it like a breadstick. Later that night she had heard her parents talking in the kitchen.
"Is Rosalea's friend that boy," Papa had said, "the other ones can go to hell, but the younger one, Charlie, he does no harm."
No more boys, Mama had said, her voice an angry hiss Rose had never heard before. Not the great Charlie, not anyone.
The storm outside had fallen quiet. Only a light breeze ruffled the greening leaves.
''Let's get some air while it's not raining,'' she said and picked up her coat from the back of the chair. A plaid jacket hung from a hook at the back door and she helped him slip his arms into the sleeves.
The hills in the distance were black in the mid-afternoon light. The backyard sloped gently toward the stand of alders that hid the old lake from view. Her parents had swum in that lake before she was born, before the reeds and water lilies had choked the lake into a sludgy puddle. When she was old enough to swim, Papa had taken her to the ocean in the evening and carried her over the barnacles to the water's edge on his warm back. Rose could smell the lake now on the breeze, the dark, sweetish scent of decomposed leaves and standing water. As they approached the bush she noticed clouds of tiny flies hovering over damp depressions, like footprints, in the grass. Here, the ground was a firm green carpet beneath their feet.
''Wasn't this the corn patch, Charlie? It feels like the soil's still good.''
The Harrisons had made no objection when her father's garden had trespassed over the property line. She had often lugged baskets of zucchini and corn to the Harrisons' back steps to make up for the encroachment. Sometimes the produce was taken in. Sometimes it lay untouched until Papa, needing the basket, tipped it out onto the compost heap with a somber look on his dark face.
''There was nothing better than that corn,' Charlie said. You could pull off the husk and the silk and eat it raw right off the cob.''
Rosalea made a shocked face and shook her finger ''You'll get stomach-ache!''
''Oh she was always right about that,'' Charlie said, ''Mama was always right.''
Not always, Rose thought. Mama should have felt Papa's heart weakening, should have seen that his arms trembled with every spadeful of earth. She'd been just a girl and she had seen the black fear in his eyes as he drooped against the handle, sweating in the cool of the evening. And just two years later Mama should have tended to herself instead of shrinking into a brittle rack of bones, leaving Rosalea too young to know her way into the world.
The clouds were gathering again, ready to release the next hatful of rain. The first fat droplets splattered in Rose's hair and she made for cover under a substantial fir. Charlie picked his way carefully over the uneven ground... and as she leaned back against the rough bark and watched him approach she saw the reason for his careful pace. The earth in a ten-foot radius of the tree had been tilled into soft mounds. Not a bramble or root remained there and, like the spokes of a giant wheel, empty seed rows waited.
''Charlie, did you do this?'' Her hands were very cold and she could see his ragged breath in the air.
''I'm not alone here,'' he said with a small, shamefaced smile. Then he cupped his ears and whispered, but she couldn't make out the words.
She felt the touch of her father's hands in hers, and the comforting circle of her mother's arm around her shoulders, urging her back out into the downpour. The seed rows were filling with rain, and the earth was warm, then cold on her feet as her shoes filled with mud. She wanted to stay there, to sink into the dirt, to be swallowed and born again into eternal summer. But they would not let her stay; they held onto her muscles and bones and moved her away from bush and the ruined lake and into the open space of the yard. She began to run toward the street, surprising her legs with the sudden exertion, her soles slipping across the wet grass.
Charlie was shouting at her in that tight, whispery voice. She turned to see him trudging behind her, his long grey hair in damp strings across his shoulders.
''Rosalea, don't run away.''
She wanted to take Charlie with her, wanted to reach out and fasten his hand to her own, but she was dizzy with cold and she needed to get to the bread and milk store, to call the cab to take her home. The warm push stayed at her back, moving her forward, forward, forward. She kept her eyes on her feet, on her dirt -and grass-stained shoes.
When the taxi pulled into the parking lot the driver squinted at her but remembered the tip she'd given him and let her into the cab. The heat blasted from the car heater and she dozed a little on the ride home. The driver tried to help her to the house but she shook him away and planted another twenty into his hand.
She leaned against the gate and looked at the house. Clean white siding, new roof, clipped boxwood hedge glimmering with rain. The house that Harry built and she kept, pretty as a picture.
Harry was in his chair, just finishing up the last section of the paper. About time, he muttered, then folded back the page and jabbed at it.
"What was the name of the family next to your old place on Nelson? Harrison, weren't it?"
She had only enough energy to nod.
"I see one of the boys passed on, Charles Harrison, aged 63. Passed away March first of this year. No service. Was that the one you knew?"

Sunday 30 October 2016

I Don’t Want to Write a Poem About You

by Catalina Claussen

I don’t want to write a poem about you.
I don’t want you to know
You move me
Wild spirits after the children are cozy in their beds,
A day of skiing and mountain wind caressing their cheeks.

I don’t want to write a poem about you.
Instead, I want you to know that I want it simple.
I want to walk with you in the early morning damp
To take your little one to school.
I want yogurt and granola on the patio loveseat,
While the dawn lifts the mist
A tray of sushi and a belly warmed with saké as you tell me
About volunteering at her school and drafting plans for you and me.
I want the night sky
A glass of wine
The silence of the deep
The scent of salt spray
Sun-warmed skin and fine-grain sand pressed up against it.

I don’t want to write a poem about you.
I want to read the surface of your skin, map the contours,
Understand the spirit that quickens beneath

And dive in.

Saturday 29 October 2016

When I lost

by Catalina Claussen

When I lost a sense of home
You shared yours with me:
A little girl with a great big heart
And a view of the mountains, the wide-open sea

When I lost my identity
In a storm of self-doubt, fearing the unknown and . . .
You heard me and held a sacred space of reflection.
When I thanked you,
You said, “I’m glad I could be here.”

When I lost the capacity
To give and receive sacred touch,
You lit a fire, gathered herbs,
Led me to the water
So I could touch joy
In your lips pressed against mine
In my fingertips caressing the broad expanse of your chest
Water droplets playing across your cheeks,
Igniting the image of you and me
In your sapphire eyes.

When I thought that joy was found wrapped in your arms,
You gave me a trail wrapped in fall color,
A mushroom hunt, and two little girls.
You gave me silent space
To find –

The joy rising inside me.

Friday 28 October 2016

by Guilie Castillo-Oriard

Even the spiky leaves of the aloe plants are turning a bluish brown. The heat has baked the yard into fine, fine dust, and steamed all the blue out of the sky. The longest days of the year blur into a blistering glare so dense it flattens anything that breathes, anything with the minutest will to exist.
Except Mama.
Incomprehensibly untouched by the riot of heat, my diffident, melancholy mother has chosen this merciless summer to find happiness. She radiates it like a fucking furnace, and everything else—our quiet routines, our painstaking truces, our slow existence á deux—melts in its presence.
“He’s a dream.” She stretches out next to me on the veranda. The Portuguese tiles beneath us retain only a trace of the night’s cooler temperatures.
“I’m happy for you, Mama.”
She smiles like she can’t hear the sarcasm and leans over to kiss my forehead. “This is the real thing, baby. I can feel it.”
“You seeing him again tonight?”
“Just dinner after work. I’ll be home by nine.”
Her footsteps crunch halfway down the gravel path, then stop. “What are you doing today?”
She’s standing half in sunlight, half in the shade of the old kenepa tree. She can’t suspect; her cup-runneth-over state keeps her insulated.
I hold up the textbook. “Study. SATs are in October.”
She shakes her head, hands on hips, a movie smile of pride on her lips. “My baby, off to college at sixteen.”
I smile back, but the effort is wasted; she’s already turned the corner. A jangle of keys, a squawk of metal from the car door, the roar of the engine, and she’s gone. The same breeze that soothes the air she left so inflamed with her high hopes washes away the whiff of exhaust in her wake, too.
~ * ~

He calls me things he probably uses with Mama too, and some I know he doesn’t, if for no other reason that what I bring to him—things that shove his fear and his principles under the shag carpet of lust and out of the way—those things my poor Mama, bent at the knee in gratitude for his attention, can never give.
In the mirror, the golden skin of my breasts glows with the light of late afternoon as I pull the t-shirt on. He’s watching from the bed, my cigarette between his fingers, so I make it slow, this strip-tease in reverse, and watch the bedsheet twitch at his groin. A+ for stamina, Geezer.
He looks away, though, and I sigh. Here it comes. His weekly This has to stop crisis-of-conscience bullshit (he knows I know it’s bullshit).
Instead he says, “Why haven’t you told her?”
Which throws me only for a moment. “Why haven’t you?”
He finds my gaze in the mirror, holds it. “I love her.”

I love her, too.

* * * * *

"Summer Love" was first published in Summer: Pure Slush, Vol. 12 (August 2016)

Thursday 27 October 2016

Today's thread in Writing in a Woman's Voice, a magical poem, "Singing Oaks" by Wendy Gist.

Singing Oaks 

by Wendy Gist

I am not the wind;
I am its cry.

I am not the sunlight;
I am the ripened peach.

I am not the murmuring current;
I am the creek.

I am not the scale’s rainbow;
I am the trout.

I am not the memory of;
I am the blush of the dying ember.

I am not the longhorn on the hill;
I am the roam.

I am not the rising;
I am the moon.

I am not the wind;
I am the singing oaks.

* * * * *

Originally published by The Voices Project

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Today, an important and intense fictional look at postpartum depression and OCD, "Keep Her Safe" by Kari Nguyen. May it help to remove the stigma of feeling something other than the recommended euphoria.

Keep Her Safe

by Kari Nguyen

Beebee is gorgeous. Tia stares at Beebee's face and wonders when she will sleep again. Tia is sitting in Beebee's room in the padded chair they found second-hand, the one in which she'd planned to spend many blissful hours together with Beebee. Before giving birth, Tia sat here with a stack of books from the shelves she and her husband built and hammered into the wall. She wept while reading Love You Forever and Puff the Magic Dragon, picturing a yet unseen Beebee growing up, up, and away from her. In those first days of holding her daughter, Tia realized she was holding her own heart and the heart of everyone who loved her. The only thing that mattered was Beebee, and it was her job to keep her safe.
Kill Beebee. The thoughts are with her constantly now.
Tia needs to eat; she is not exactly hungry but faint from nursing. She stares at BeeBee's gorgeous face but is picturing the steep stairwell outside the nursery door and, as if in a film she's watching, sees herself hurling Beebee against the wall leading downstairs, the baby's body hitting, dropping, then rolling down the steps with a thud, thud, as if powerless to control her own actions. Despite this, Tia stands and moves. She must keep moving. She crushes Beebee to her chest and exits the room, inching slowly as she approaches the top stair. She can't help the flashing images so she is extra, extra careful. At the bottom Tia whispers I love you, her teardrops christening the tiny head.
When Tia became a mother, her worst fear was losing her child, especially in some horrific way. These ways were horrible to speak of but played out again and again in the news: kidnappings, SIDS, drownings in the bath. Now she longs to fear these again. She knows these are normal fears, ones she can voice and arm them all against.
Kill BeeBee. Kill BeeBee.
In the kitchen Tia grabs a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, a glass of water. BeeBee is crying. Tia is afraid to walk near the knives which are lined up, waiting, in their wooden block on the countertop. She pictures herself grabbing a knife. She has visions of knives in her hands and what they are able to do, even though she would never ever want to do those things. The line between what she is able to do and willing to do has blurred but even monsters must eat, and the baby wants to move, so Tia does this too, but not near the knives.  The harder she tries to block out the images, the more powerful they seem.
Kill BeeBee. Tia is forced to imagine it in numerous, haunting ways. The knives were a present one year to her husband.
The parenting books Tia has read say she should get out with the baby at least once a day. This will be good for them both. Often they do not make it past the front porch. She really is so gorgeous, Tia thinks as she sinks into a porch chair, and she tries to concentrate on this thought instead of how helpless and unaware BeeBee is in her arms. She tries to keep from looking up at the empty hooks spaced out along the length of the porch ceiling. If she could pull herself together and buy plants to hang on them then maybe she wouldn't have to imagine-
Poor Beebee, she sobs. She is afraid someone will come up the walkway, though no one is coming. What would she say? Tia tells herself she will get help before it's  too late, that she'll never let herself act. But she is terrified to tell anyone. Surely this discounts her as a mother? A human being? She can see it now, locked up and never let out. Gone to the place monsters go. If she can just hold on, she thinks, for a little longer. Surely this can't last?
A friend calls up. Isn't it magical? It's so much work but it's so worth it, just to see them smile. Tia wants this magical smiling life, the one she pictured as a pregnant mother-to-be. Or, rather, she desperately wants the normal shitty kind of life, where it's only magical looking back. That would be magical, to Tia. Inside, she is hollowing out. She stops answering the phone. The world around is a dangerous place - all moms talk of this - but the danger she fears is inside her.
At night when Beebee is sleeping, Tia tiptoes across to her crib, Kill BeeBee an anthem in her brain. BeeBee lies on her back, no crib bumpers, no pillow. The safest way. The room is dark except for the glow of a nightlight. A round cheek, pouting lip, eyelashes, arm splayed to the side. She won't be sleeping long. Sometimes Tia's husband is there, checking one more time before turning in for the night. Sometimes he'll slip his arm around her and whisper Can you believe we made her? Should we go make another? And Tia will close down and open up and pray for deliverance.
At night they move quickly. There's rarely much time. With her husband she is all need and body, desperate to reduce herself to frenzy. Tia's husband is encouraging but understands little of her desperation. None of this seems to matter together in the dark. They take turns leading, and for Tia it is all take, even when she's giving to him. It is for her, all she is, and when she is stripped and parted and entered and rocked she knows herself again, these intimate maneuvers by now so familiar, so normal, so god damn good. She begs for release. Release is dissolution. It is falling away.
She thinks of mythical, enchanted Honalee, land of Puff the Dragon. Tia wants to believe in a land rising out of the mist but she knows the land is your land my land the shore is this one, but not everyone can see the dragon. Sometimes the dragon dragon-walks out of the misty cave and pushes off, disappearing above in a swish of wings. Tia begins driving at night, taking off after the evening feeding, dark trees and clouds blending and swirling into atmosphere outside her car windows. She thinks of the mother in Love You Forever, crawling to her son's bedside all those years, and, later, driving across town to his house. She pictures a silent dragon coasting above in the night, undetected by headlights but there nonetheless. Tia agonizes. The emphasis on living. Surely, dear god, surely - she can stick around for that.
Near the changing table in BeeBee's room, Tia has left the detailed, typed list of instructions, the one she has been working at for weeks. The list is everything that BeeBee needs, wants, and does; the list even anticipates what BeeBee will need, want, and do in five years. At first Tia deleted the list, over and over, the typing and listing unbearable. But bit by bit she came around to it, and the thought of it scared her less as she centered on the belief that she could still protect her baby. The first item on the list: Tell her every day how much I love her, and love you, and always will.
Tia is cold and having trouble moving her fingers, although the air in the bedroom is warm. Her arm is wrapped around her sleeping husband but slowly she withdraws it, and presses her head gently against his. Keep her safe, she whispers, barely able to force the words so that they sound terribly strange to her ears, but he reaches around to squeeze her shoulder, his usual way of saying Everything will be okay.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

“If I find water, maybe I’ll be okay. It’s not like I was born to money anyway.” From today's thread, "Something about L.A." by Gay Degani. 

Something About L.A.

by Gay Degani

He puts me out of the Beamer south of Four Corners, pissed because they’ve closed the monument for construction. Not my fault but he has to blame someone.

A hot wind smacks my face as he takes off across the high desert, leaving me in motor exhaust and sand. He wouldn’t even let me have my Gucci purse, my Louis V. suitcase, or my handle of vodka. Now I’m worried about my sandals, Jimmy Choos, the sun already burning stripes across my insteps.

I spy willows in the distance. If I find water, maybe I’ll be okay. It’s not like I was born to money anyway. Not me.

I don’t get a half a mile before I hear a clatter from somewhere behind me, bumping and bouncing over rock and sand and scrub. An old pickup truck, rust eating its way across the hood, catches up to me.

At first I feel relief, but when I can’t see anyone in the front seat, my heart jolts, me wondering if this is one of those Stephen King moments when the surreal bumps into some poor sucker’s reality. I don’t believe in ghost El Caminos, but my eyes aren’t deceiving me.

The truck shivers to a stop, dust swirling. The door opens as a small figure slides off the driver’s seat. A boy, just a boy, dark skin and hair, wearing a faded plaid shirt and jeans. Barefoot.

Puts his hands on hips and says, “I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

“I guess not.” I’m feeling better now knowing I’ve got 50 pounds on him. “What are you, ten?”

“Twelve. You lost?” he asks.

“My boyfriend kicked me out of the car. He’s probably in Utah by now.”

“What’d you do?”

“I didn’t do anything. He got mad because they’ve got that Four Corners place all torn up. They wouldn’t let him sprawl across all four states at once.”

“Seems like a lot of you people think that’s important.”

“Not me. I’m heading to L.A.”

“You famous?”

I smile at this because, of course, that’s why I’m going to L.A. Best place to get your face on the cover of the Enquirer. I look him up and down. “You’re a good driver. Not just anyone could make it across rocky ground.”

“I do okay.”

“You wanna give me a ride to Farmington?”

“No way, but I won’t let you die out here. Name’s Ruben.”


We rattle into Shiprock, Ruben telling me we’re on the “Rez.” He’s Navajo, everyone’s Navajo. Then I spot Gilbert’s car. Holler, “Stop the truck!”

Ruben, cool as he seems, isn’t immune to a woman’s screams and slams the brake. I stumble out before the El Camino comes to a stop and race over to the dusty BMW in front of a diner. Peer in the driver’s side window. Yep, there’s my Gucci bag. I yank on the door handle, but it’s locked. Smack my palm on the glass and shout, “Gilbert!”

I’m hot and sweaty and angrier than I’ve ever been. “Gilllllll-BERT!”

I head for the diner. The cold blast from an overactive air conditioner takes the breath right out of my chest. Gilbert, in his Tommy Bahama shirt, swivels away from the counter to smile at me. He looks so calm I feel as if I’ve misunderstood what’s happened to me. Of course I haven’t.

He says, “You ready to apologize?”

“I could’ve died out there.”

“Looks like you didn’t. You might need a shower though.”

“That’s what you say after dumping me?”

Gilbert slaps a twenty onto the counter and slips off his stool. Strolls over and grips my upper arm. “You’ll feel better once we’re on the road.”

“Let me go.” I set my feet, stiffen my body, resist.

He drags me toward the door, but boy Ruben puts himself between Gil and the exit. He may be twelve, but he’s got a man’s confidence. Everyone in the diner is watching, and it takes me a second to realize part of Ruben’s confidence comes from knowing all the customers, halfway through their cheeseburgers and fries, have his back. So this is what community – loyalty – looks like.

Gilbert, squeezing my arm, weighs his chances. Though he doesn’t give a shit about me, he’d rather die than let me go, but outnumbered, he does.

My arm stings.

Still, Ruben won’t let him out. He stands there facing down Gilbert who looms above him.

“She needs her stuff,” says Ruben. “All of it.”

Gilbert’s face goes red as chili peppers, but the diners, even the cook from behind the counter, crowd around us. Gilbert glares at me. “Bitch.”

Outside again, the air is broiling. Beads of sweat the size of dimes pop along Gilbert’s forehead. The BMW chirps twice and the trunk pops open. One of the lunch crowd reaches in and removes my Louis V. suitcase and my vodka while another swings open the front passenger door and takes my purse.

Gilbert jumps in his car, swearing about “this god-forsaken hell hole,” adding a few choice words for me, until he finally roars away with the lid of the trunk flapping behind him.

Everyone laughs and pats Ruben on the shoulder. Suddenly I feel lost, seeing what it’s like to belong.

The men filter back into the diner, leaving my alcohol and purse on the suitcase. Ruben strolls over.

“Guess I gotta thank you,” I say.

“Might be nice since I saved your ass.”

“You did, didn’t you? Thank you. You’re mama must be proud.”

The boy shrugs, looks at the ground, kicks dust with his big toe.

“Well,” I say. “I owe you one.”

Ruben turns toward his truck. I watch, biting my lip, wondering where I’m going to find a bus way out here.

He opens the passenger side door and bows. “Get in.”

“Thought you wouldn’t take me to Farmington.”

“That’s right. I won’t.” Then he ticks through his fingers. “I can sing, I can dance, and someone’s gotta watch your back – so guess what? We’re going to L.A.”

“I don’t think you can do that.”

“Sure I can. There’s my uncle.” He points to the man, dressed like a cook, hovering in the doorway of the diner, letting out all the cold air. “Ask him.”

I shout, “Is it okay? Really?”

The uncle ambles over, pulling his hands from inside his apron to load my suitcase and vodka into the back of the truck. “School starts in a couple weeks. If he’s not in a movie by then, send him on back.”

Ruben, grinning behind the wheel, fires up the engine. I climb in, his uncle handing me my Gucci purse, shutting the door behind me, and pressing down on the lock.

“I’ll take good care of him,” I say.

“He’ll take care of you.”

I laugh and sit back against the truck’s worn upholstery, buoyant as Ruben hangs a U-ie and heads west.

* * * * *

Something about L.A. is from Gay Degani's collection, Rattle of Want.

Gay Degani has had three flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books published her collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015 and the second edition of her suspense novel, What Came Before was published by Truth Serum Press in 2016. She blogs at Words in Place.

Monday 24 October 2016

Without My Permission

by Estelle Bruno

The summer’s extended absence
Without my permission
Winter – an aching void in my bones
Drain the pipes, cover the pool
Rain –
A squirrel drowns in a puddle
On the pool cover
Without my permission.
Where has the fruit wagon gone? Indivisible.
The burnt angry orange foliage remains.
I leave, lift my head high,
Remember the greening will come again.

* * * * *

"Without My Permission" was first published in The Long Islander: Walt’s Corner (May 1, 2008)

Sunday 23 October 2016

Get ready to be enchanted: Today in Writing in a Woman's Voice: Three flash pieces from Susan Tepper's mesmerizing

From the Umberplatzen: A Novella in linked-flash by Susan Tepper

Kitty Kat we should get married. I can’t. Why not he said. Well for one thing I’m still married. Oh that. M had shrugged. But not in Germany. We were strolling through the springtime Umberplatzen. M suggested we marry right there. Right in this spot he said. Tapping the ground with his foot. You could wear a filmy dress. See-through I said. Not quite said M. And we could both wear wreaths of Umberplatzen. Imagine how nice. I could tell he was serious. It caused my neck to constrict. I said I don’t want Umberplatzen in my hair. It could have gnats. Besides it all sounds Grecian movie style. What’s wrong with Grecian movie style.  Nothing. But. But. But what Kitty Kat. I began feeling exasperated. Saying let’s go shopping. For a filmy dress said M. No. For toilet paper and dish soap and other things we need. Well did you make a list. And it was like the wedding subject floated away. And all at once I wanted it back. I wanted to see a filmy dress. Touch it. Try it on. Pirouette at the mirror. Ok I said. Ok what. I’ll get the dress. Really. No. You have no stars left he said. When we met you were all stars. They have fizzled and fallen to earth I said. Pity. Then let’s get drunk said M. So we did. We drank outside on the boathouse café veranda. When it got cooler we drank inside the café. We had schnitzel when it got dark. Salad with cucumber. See said M. This could be our wedding food. And what color for the dress I said. Your skin tone. Pale pinky beige. Today he sends a pale filmy scarf. Observe it’s the color of your skin says the post-it note. Wear it when you take me to bed he has also written.

Our first New Year’s Eve we didn’t go out. Our plan had been to meet some friends but M cancelled last minute. He didn’t want to leave the parakeet alone. The other one had died a few weeks before. I said you are kidding me right. He’d named the green one Cher. M said I can’t leave Cher without Sonny. Not on New Year’s Eve. But I got all dressed up I said. I had. Black velvet dress with skinny straps. High heels. Fake diamond earrings. We’ll have it here with Cher he said. Look I bought champagne and red caviar. Then I knew it wasn’t last minute. But I really wanted to go out I said. I wanted it festive. Our first and all that. M had stood beside the birdcage looking hurt. It’s always festive with us Kitty Kat. I know I know. But I wanted ultra-festive. I had kicked off my heels and slumped on his couch. Something sticking in my back. I pulled a kite handle from between the cushions. This is what I mean I said. Holding the handle out to him. I wanted it different. Don’t you understand. I wanted to be kissed under confetti at midnight. M clapped his hands. I have an idea he said. At midnight we’ll kiss under the Umberplatzen. It’s too cold I said. We’ll kiss here. It will be fine. Better than fine said M. Today I get a box of confetti in the mail. It’s every color and looks so lonely.

One day I was hanging on the couch while M attempted to clean up his flat. You have to sell some of these kites I said. I’d rather sell my first born said M. You don’t have one to sell. Well this is true he said wrestling with an armload of silk bolts. Held that way with all the colors I wanted to take his photo. No he said. Acting moody. That’s twice you’ve said no to me. He continued moving bolts from one spot to another. That’s not how to clean up I said. Cleaning up is about removal. You have to get some of this stuff out of here. M dropped the bolts and sat beside me. It isn’t easy he said. Well of course not. Cleaning up is never easy. Not that he said. It’s giving up anything. I can’t do it. It feels like amputation. Oh for godsakes. I sat there laughing. That is so drama queen. But he didn’t laugh back. He put his head against the couch and shut his eyes. Let’s get out of here I said. Let’s take a walk in the Umberplatzen. The daffodils are in full bloom. I don’t feel well he said. It must be your amputation. And I laughed again. M had remained very still on the couch. He didn’t speak. I tickled him but he turned his body away. Then he opened his eyes. Told me I needed to become more responsible. I will I said. I got up and went back to my own flat. I turned off the phone ringer. Late that night he pounded on my door. I refused to open it. Shouts from other tenants in the building. At last he went home. M sends a lock of hair in a number 9 envelope. It’s not his hair which is quite dark. This is coarse beige hair like straw. The post-it says from the carousel horse in the Umberplatzen. I hold it up to the sun and feel the movement.

* * * * *

From the Umberplatzen, a novella in linked-flash fiction, was published in 2012 by Wilderness House Press.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Into the Ether 

by Sandy Barnett Ebner

I walked into the kitchen just in time to see my mother drape a lace doily over a raw chicken, the same doily that had been sitting under a lamp in our family room for the last thirty years. The chicken, a 3-4 pound roaster from the looks of it, was sitting in the roasting pan my mother had been using since she was first married.

“Mom?” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” My mother sounded tense.

“Well,” I said, “it looks to me like you might be making dinner.” (It was eight-thirty in the morning.) I watched as she began to baste the doily with butter, using the short, smooth strokes honed over years of practice. Afterwards, she slid the roasting pan into the oven and turned to look at me.

“I’ll tell you something,” she said. “I spent my entire marriage cooking for you and your father. Now that he’s gone I just don’t give a shit anymore.”

This knocked me back a bit, not only because my mother loathed profanity but because she had always loved to cook, exchanging recipes with friends, scouring magazines for something new to prepare, announcing each dish as it was placed on the table, as if it were being served to heads of state and not her own family.

I was frightened, but didn’t want my mother to know that. This was a woman I no longer recognized. Her brain was damaged, the doctors said. She was losing any filters she may once have had. She was no longer afraid to say the wrong thing. She simply said what she meant.

When she closed the oven and turned towards the sink, I walked to the stove and opened the oven door. It was completely cold. I reached in to retrieve the ruined linen, wrapping it in a kitchen towel to throw away later. My mother didn’t notice, or if she did, chose not to say anything. Shaken, I sat at the kitchen table, watching as my mother washed her hands. Her moods had become so unpredictable that I said nothing as she chattered on about this and that.

“Honey, do you realize that Margaret decided to divorce Frank?” Our neighbors, Margaret and Frank, had both been dead for years. I had grown up with their daughter, Rachel, who now lived in Costa Rica, designing jewelry and flitting between boyfriends.

“This is under the COS, of course,” she said. My mother’s famous ‘Cone of Silence’, a phrase she had been using for decades, eventually, for some reason, switching to the acronym.

“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”

I thought about all the other strange things she had done lately. The car keys in the freezer, the front door left standing open all night. None of these things were as strange as what she had just done with the chicken, but I knew what they meant. I was slowly losing her, one day at a time, and I had no idea what to do about it.

“Sweetheart, are you crying?” Was I crying? I hadn’t realized. She crossed the room and wrapped me in her arms. Suddenly she was herself again. These transformations came so quickly now that I couldn’t keep up. But it was these rare moments, when my mother was really my mother, for which I was most grateful, because I knew they were all I had left. So I let go of my emotions, my fear, and gave myself up to the feel of my mother’s touch.

* * * * *

Sandy Ebner lives and writes in Northern California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The ReviewReview, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the HerStories/ My Other Ex anthology, and other publications. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism from California State University, and is an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She is a contributing writer to Change Seven and previously served as the creative nonfiction editor at MadHat Lit and MadHat Annual (Mad Hatter’s Review). She is working on her first novel, and a collection of essays.

Friday 21 October 2016

Memorial – An Ode To My Soulmate

by Sheena Singh

I was told that she showed all signs of acute schizophrenia. The doctor whom she consulted declared her mentally unfit. He convinced her dear ones that she was living in an imaginary world far from reality. According to him, all her whims and fantasies grew within her mind creating delusional image of imaginary characters. Some of them were her stalkers, some her enemies and the rest consisted of people who wanted to use her. I couldn’t fathom why people declared her a nervous wreck while she was always in her high alert mode. She was excellent in time management, extremely proactive and highly sensitive to other people’s needs. Her biggest weakness was that she used to put herself in other person’s shoes before taking any decision. Most of her decisions were based on how she empathized to a situation. Knowing her fully, it was a pain to see the state of her present condition. Chained by her leg to a window in the corner room, clumsy clothes and dried up hair, she’s become an epitome of in-sensitiveness and clandestine behaviors of her so called “well-wishers”. Last month as I entered her room, her sparkling eyes and hearty smile showed that she was still in her senses... Why was she put behind the closed shady doors... In that stinking corner… Left alone to dry and die. I would attribute her highly sensitive nature and emotional behavior for being labeled as a psycho.

Does that mean a person who values every relationship and emotion end up getting cornered as a schizophrenic?

She had a wrong choice of men in her life. Right from an extremely selfish partner to a crook who dejected her for greener pastures. She couldn’t figure out who loved her, she trusted each one of them. Every time she stretched herself to make them happy, she was termed an addict. Repeated rejections cornered her, pushing her to the wall. She was left with no choice but cling on to those heartless demons who behaved as per their convenience and treated her as time pass. Constant rejections made her a nervous wreck. She was no more the fiercely independent female who managed her life brilliantly. Her mind was torn in to pieces which could never regain her lost self. She pleaded for forgiveness for reasons not known to accept her back but all her cries fell on deaf ears. Everyone was too busy to accommodate her in their thoughts.

Today I woke up with the sound of telephone ringing. The voice at the other end shared the news of her death last night. On enquiring further, I was told that she died peacefully in her sleep. The attendant who opened the door of her room found her sleeping unusually late and that’s when the alarm was raised.

I decided not to pay a visit to the hospital. 

For me she still lives as a bubbly vivacious confident female whom others idolized. She is incomparable. She lives in me…she lives through me...and I want her to live my thoughts…

R.I.P young lady…