Die for Others – by JAMES MCADAMS

Die for Others


Every New Year brings with it its own problems.  In this blog, we will review easy ways to reduce your budget by confronting these problems, in order to pay-off outstanding loans and allow you to trade in your distress for the happiness of others (i.e. suicide).  This existential transformation can be accomplished in 10 simple steps.

  1. Break up with your girlfriend (or make her break up with you, which you sense she will soon, after the holidays). Although this may seem like a bold move, you won’t notice her absence after a few days.  What you will notice is the money you save on fancy dinners, movies, jewelry, condoms, beauty products, fashion, and gas.  Being single is the first step to renewed financial stability.
  2. Isolate yourself from your friends. You’ll find, again, that you won’t miss them.  But the money you will save at bars, restaurants, on housewarming gifts, etc., will once again increase your financial stability. Consolidate your loans into one single monthly payment, choosing a monthly value that will erase all debt within a year.  This will allow you to kill yourself without worrying about surviving family members having to pay your loans.
  3. As a corollary to (1) and (2)—assuming you have a job that allows you to telecommute—you will save money on utilities.  Since you will no longer leave the house, you can wear the same clothes all day and remain under the covers in bed, thus not having to turn up the thermostat on cold January days. With nobody to impress, laundry, showers, dishwashing, and other chores will become unnecessary.
  4. Reduce your phone’s plan to simply data. By now, you won’t be receiving texts or calls.  This complete alienation from former friends and family will result in savings of up to  $100 a month, plus the time you save texting and talking with people who don’t really like you will allow you to lay in bed and think about what charity to disburse your money to when it’s time to commit suicide (see 9).
  5. Start a robust social media presence. Use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest to recreate a virtual life to replace your previous life.  Get likes and followers.  Likes and followers, you’ll find, are at least as rewarding as sex and friendship, at least in your current depressive stupor.  Also, invest in technology like HD TVs, satellite radio and perhaps, if you still have a sex drive, a “Real Doll,” so you will be endlessly entertained and won’t have to think about your feeling that life has passed you by, which feelings are even more common when you wake up than they were in (1).
  6. By following these simple rules, within one year you can quit your telecommuting job (the job involved Doctors Without Borders, which had once been a passion that you took out all those college loans for in the beginning) and live off the savings for at least one more year, by which time you will have spent so much time in bed, atrophying, that your health will suffer and you will be diagnosed with [some weird fatal disease].
  7. As a supplement to your will, write a final statement about how you feel about your life. Thank your old family and friends for their kindness, remark on old anecdotes in a humorous way, and speak about your life with appreciation and tact.  Say that you want to die with dignity and have embraced the inevitable.  (If you have trouble with grammar or mechanics, visit a local library or school’s Writing Center.)
  8. Choose the proper charity to donate all the capital you have saved. This part is, admittedly, the most difficult part of this process, because the amount of suffering in the world exponentially exceeds the philanthropic resources raised to remedy them.
  9. Check with your primary care practitioner before suicide to determine the final state of your organs and your body’s overall deterioration (which you consider the same as your mind and/or heart’s disintegration, a disintegration that started as a teenager, alone in your bedroom, playing along with Nirvana songs, waiting for Mariah Harper to call).
  10. Finally, kill yourself in an efficient way (pills are good; carbon monoxide is good) and as you float among the clouds looking down, appreciating how your money makes people happy, you will feel connected and satisfied for the first time since you were little, because (even if nobody cared enough about you to know it) all you ever was wanted was to be a nice person all along and leave the world in a better place, which your dad, who was a “Successful Man,” had once told you was the Goal of Life.


James McAdams has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Superstition Review, per contra, and B.O.A.A.T. Press, among others.  Before attending college, he worked as a social worker in the mental health industry in Philadelphia.  Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth. His creative and academic work can be viewed at jamesmcadams.net

He tweets at: @jamestmcadams



Crosstown – by T.R. HEALY



Still half asleep, his eyes cloudy and sore, Chastain rode the rackety escalator to the third floor of Garrity’s Department Store.  Men’s Furnishings.  He had not been in the store in months, not since Alice took him there to help her pick out a necktie to give to her father on Father’s Day.  He smiled, remembering how appalled she was when he suggested a polka dot tie with dots the size of lemon drops.  As before, the air was thick with the smell of shoe polish and cologne.  Fidgeting with the loose change in his pocket, he walked past a counter gleaming with watches and cuff links, past stacks of sweaters and aisles of overcoats and suits, until he came to the Steinway still stationed next to a display of antique muskets and swords.

Surprisingly, no one was seated at the piano, and before he knew what he was doing, he went over and sat down on the narrow bench.  It wobbled a little, but he scarcely noticed, and just sat there for a moment and stared at the keys.  Again he smiled, remembering when he was last with Alice here and she sat down at the piano and played a very choppy rendition of “Chopsticks” with one finger of each hand.  She was almost halfway through when the store pianist appeared and demanded to know what she was doing.

“Trying to entertain my friend,” she answered, winking at Chastain.

“Well, I suggest you do that somewhere else, young lady.”

“Oh, I will, sir,” she said as she got up from the bench.  “You can be assured of that.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he bent down and began to play the birthday song because today was Alice’s birthday, barely touching the keys so he didn’t attract much attention.  He was not in the mood to get in an argument with the store pianist, not today of all days.


He paused a moment after he stepped through the glass door of the department store, trying to remember where he parked his car.  Frustrated, he shook his head, amazed how often he forgot such mundane things.  Sometimes he wondered how he even remembered to tie his shoes in the morning.  Anxiously he closed his eyes in concentration, and gradually the alley where he left his car appeared in his head, and he started to cross the street then he paused again and headed in the opposite direction.

Three and a half blocks east of Garrity’s was another department store, the Hemsworth House, that he and Alice visited many times on Saturday afternoons.  The items for sale there were much too expensive for them to afford but she, especially, enjoyed wandering through the different floors, confident that some day she would be able to purchase something there.

The store also had a piano, an even grander one, on the Fifth Floor where wedding dresses and elegant ballroom were featured.  Faintly he heard the strains of “Brown Eyed Girl” as he rode up on the escalator and chuckled because it was one of Alice’s favorite Van Morrison songs.  The pianist, a gangly guy with shiny, swept back brown hair, wore a tuxedo even though it was the middle of the afternoon.  Chastain was not surprised, though, because every piano player he had seen perform in the store wore a tux.  It was required.  His arms crossed, his ankles too, he leaned against one of the thick blue pillars and listened to the pianist whose fingers glided like skating blades across the keyboard.  Just after a few notes into another Morrison song, “Moondance,” an older woman spun out of the arms of the gentleman she was standing with, and they began to dance in front of the piano.  They were not very graceful, stumbled more than once as they circled one another, but they were clearly enjoying themselves as were the other customers gathered around the piano.

“Come on, let’s dance,” he recalled Alice saying to him one afternoon while they listened to another man play the piano at the store.

He shook his head.  “You know I can’t dance.”

“I can’t, either,” she said, grabbing his hand.

“I’ve got two left feet.”

“Oh, come on, Jamie.”

Again he shook his head, and, annoyed, she released his hand and glided around the piano by herself, her arms raised above her shoulders, her eyes closed, lost in the music.  He saw her so clearly in his mind he thought for a moment she was really there.

“Damn you,” he scolded himself, wishing he had danced with her that afternoon.


Around the corner from the Hemsworth House was Barlow’s Music Box, a venerable piano store that primarily sold upright pianos, and Chastain opened the door and saw the lone salesman speaking with a customer seated at a spinet in a corner of the showroom.  Quickly he looked around the store then sat down at an electric piano that was about the size of a computer desk and began to play “My Funny Valentine.”  It was the tune he played for Alice when they were in the store nearly four months ago.  Neither of them could afford to purchase a piano but earlier that afternoon he came up with the idea of playing one across town.  He first proposed the notion over beers in McElroy’s Bar and Grill on the waterfront, and she thought he was kidding until, a few minutes later, when he led her into the Music Box and asked her what she wanted to hear him play.  And, without a moment of hesitation, she said the Rodgers and Hart song because Valentine’s Day was only a couple of days away.

“You interested in purchasing this little gem?” the salesman inquired as Chastain tapped out the last notes of the tune.

“Oh, I’d like to have it but I’m afraid my budget won’t allow me to at this time.”

The salesman frowned.  “You play pretty well but you can’t improve unless you play regularly.”

“I know.”

“You should have your own piano, young man, and I’m sure we can work out a plan that will allow you to have one.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” he said, abruptly rising from the bench.

“Don’t think.  Play.”


It was still the middle of the afternoon so there were hardly any customers in McElroy’s, and no one was seated anywhere near the bear-stained console piano in the back of the grungy bar.  He was glad and sat down on the rickety stool, lifted up the keyboard cover and spread out his long fingers.  Then, before he started to play, he glanced up at the bare wooden ceiling.  The last time he was here with Alice it was covered with dollar bills.  Patrons were encouraged to toss money onto the ceiling to benefit a shelter for battered women across the river.  Neither he or Alice had any idea how the money managed to stick, and when they asked someone, they were told “Its Irish magic.”

Briefly he closed his eyes then started to play another favorite tune of Alice’s, “Some Day My Prince Will Come.”  Soon he was quite hunched over, his nose almost touching the keyboard, consciously imitating the posture of his favorite pianist Bill Evans.

“I haven’t seen you in here for a while,” one of the servers remarked after he finished playing the piece.

He nodded in reply.

“Where have you been keeping yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve been keeping to myself.  I haven’t been going out much lately.”

“And I haven’t seen your girlfriend in a while, either.”

Again he nodded.  “Neither have I.”


Off to another watering hole, he crossed the street and headed east, and as he came to the corner, he noticed a young couple walking toward him, their wrists bound together by a ragged piece of rope.  He smiled at them but they didn’t notice, they were so absorbed with one another.  He was not surprised.  Always he used to hold Alice’s hand when they were out together, sometimes so tightly that she complained and he would apologize and let it go but never for very long, as if afraid if he did she might walk away.


The piano at Moe’s Taproom was always a little out of tune but he didn’t mind, not this afternoon anyway, and sat down and played “Some Day My Prince Will Come” again and then “The Night We Called It a Day.”  He had barely started the second piece when a blustery woman in a tight maroon sweater suddenly leaned over his left shoulder.

“I can’t dance to what you’re playing, mister piano man,” she complained in a slurred voice.

“Then don’t dance.”

“I want to dance, though.”

Frowning, he continued to play the Matt Dennis song, ignoring her demand that he play something more upbeat.

She would not go away, though, and stumbled around to the front of the piano so she could look directly at him.  “Can’t you understand English, mister?”

“Is there a problem here?” a server asked when the tone of the woman’s voice became sharper.

“Yeah, her,” he snapped, lifting his hands from the keyboard.

“I want to hear something I can dance to.”

Before the server could reply, Chastain said to the woman, “Why don’t you go outside then?  There’s plenty of noise out in the street you can wiggle your ass to.”

Suddenly the woman poured what little beer remained in her bottle over his head, and he jumped up as if he wanted to slap her, and she glared at him as Alice sometimes did when he lost his temper.  Gathering himself, he took a deep breath then sat down, wiped his face with a handkerchief, and resumed playing the melancholy song while the server escorted the agitated woman back to her table.


“Where do you see yourself in three years?” he remembered Alice asking him late one night a few months ago.

“With you.”

“You do?”

“Of course.”

She smiled, stroking a finger across his forehead, without saying if she endorsed his prediction.


Cars lined the street in front of the ramshackle Catholic church, including one that had a string of soup cans attached to the rear bumper, so Chastain assumed a wedding was taking place.  He grinned to himself, snapping his fingers against the buttons of his corduroy jacket.  Several months ago, walking with Alice past this church, they noticed a wedding was going on there and on an impulse went inside and watched even though they did not know anyone in the ceremony.  Afterward, they went downstairs to the reception where they drank so many glasses of champagne they had to lean on one another to keep from falling on their faces.

He was about ten feet from the main entrance of the church when he heard voices in the basement and, grinning again, he went inside and joined the reception.  Quickly he grabbed a glass of champagne then sat down at the piano and began to play “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”  He doubted if anyone was listening to him but it didn’t matter to him because he was playing it for Alice, remembering how excited she was when they crashed the wedding and reception that other Saturday afternoon.


“You’re trying to hide yourself inside the piano,” Alice said to him once when he was bent very low over the keyboard.

He laughed.  “Be serious.”

“That’s what it looks like to me.”

“What am I hiding from?”

She shrugged.  “You tell me.”

“I can’t because I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


The last time he saw Alice was at Harvey’s Hideaway, a dingy uptown lounge located under an obsolete railroad bridge.  They went there so often that the bartenders knew what they wanted to drink without having to ask them.

“The piano is all yours,” Kevin, the youngest bartender, said as soon as he entered the lounge.

“Anything in particular you want to hear?”

He shook his head as he prepared an Irish coffee for him.  “Whatever you feel like is fine with me.”

Again he played “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” recalling vividly that was the piece he was playing when Alice suddenly burst out of the lounge almost a month ago.  She was perturbed because he wasn’t ready to leave, and she was and demanded the keys to his car and he gave them to her and she left without giving him so much as a peck on the cheek.  Not quite half a mile from the lounge, according to a neighbor, she lost control of the vehicle and crashed it into a metal guardrail.  She appeared pretty rattled when she climbed out of the car, and the neighbor asked if she wanted him to call an ambulance but she declined his offer and started to walk into the woods on the other side of the guardrail.

“I told her she was welcome to wait at my house until someone came for her,” the neighbor told Chastain later, “but she didn’t answer me and continued to walk away.”

Incredibly she vanished, as if scooped away by a powerful gust of wind.  With their bloodhounds the police managed to trace her scent down to the river at the bottom of the ravine and speculated she fell into the choppy water.  He was not so sure and remained hopeful that some day soon she would return.  And when she did he would play whatever she wanted to hear, he thought, as he began to play a waltz from the Disney film “Alice in Wonderland.”


    ***T.R. Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and his stories have appeared in such journals as Gravel, the Houston Review, Limestone, and the Steel Toe Review.***


The Fear


I don’t own a fridge. Amelia’s fridge is a Smeg, seriously shiny and effortless to open. There’s a montage of photos on the side: babies with varying amounts of hair, their eyes following me around the room. There is also a calendar – not the Hollyoaks Hunks Amelia had up in our university halls, but the M&S simply food calendar: this month, artistically shot oranges.


“Have you been to see Ottelie yet?” Amelia asks. “She’s absolutely adorable – that photo does not do her justice. You should go while you have time. Karen can’t make it today –they’re visiting Steve’s parents.”


“No, not yet.” I finger a solid spot on my chin pushing it in until it feels like a bruise.


Amelia is balancing the baby she’s packed into a pale blue onesie in one arm and attempting to fill the silver kettle with the other. I wonder what would happen if she dropped him on the work surface. It’s granite or fake granite and could crack a head like an egg.


She dangles him in front of her and puffs her lips out to mimic his.


“Agoooo. Can you say agooo? Agoo?”


The baby makes a noise in no way similar and is met by a wall of kisses. I don’t believe in praising people for things they haven’t done correctly.


“Here, take Jax for a minute while I take out the ciabatta – just let him sit on your lap and hold his head, ok.”


Amelia airlifts the bundle into my arms. Jax sits patiently on my lap, his wide blue eyes staring out of the window into the garden. The grass needs cutting but I can see the effort she’s made with the borders. The dead rose bush has gone and a few green shrubs and a sunflower have appeared. I’ll tell her she’s done wonders with such as small space. She has a gardener called Tess. Amelia told me this woman is amazing – just had twins and already back to landscaping, of course her husband’s had to drop down to part-time and men don’t always like that.


My phone beeps persistently in my bag but I can’t reach it with this sack of joy on me. He must have smelled my scent laced with last night’s vodka because he begins to judder and cry, so I make a bit more effort, swinging him over my shoulder and jigging him up and down until I begin to feel queasy.


The ciabatta smells as if it’s burning, but Amelia’s fixated on the wall-hung flat screen,


“I love this programme! They match people based on what they like to eat, which almost never works but it’s so entertaining.” Amelia turns to me, wide eyed,  “Hey! You should apply to be on it Charl – what have you got to lose?”


The baby has slipped down to my chest and is rooting around my breasts with his mouth. For a second I wonder what it might be like to breast feed a baby, have it latched onto you with leach-like dependency, liquid love oozing into its mouth.


“I’ve actually got a date next week. A guy I’ve been messaging,” I reach for my phone.


“Really? Yes of course you did mention – David or Daniel? No, David was the Headhunter and Daniel was doing a PhD -”


“His name’s Mikolaj – he’s from Poland.” The baby is shaking his head from side to side attempting to burrow into my breastbone.


“Oh my god he’s so hungry look at him! Come here Jacky! Mummy’s sorry – she was putting her guests’ food before yours and that is not the way it should be… not the way it should be…” she holds him up in the air, staring into his eyes, twisting his body with each syllable.


The doorbell rings. “Get that will you Charl.”


On the doorstep are three young mums and buggies stuffed with bald heads, fat legs and tiny hands. I maneuver myself around the side table and behind the door to make space for the head of the procession, more chariot than buggy, containing a puffy pink marshmallow child in a net dress. I recognise the mum, all blonde-highlights, from the pub last summer when I thought I was meeting a heavily pregnant Amelia for lunch, but was actually meeting Amelia and Anthea for baby briefing. She leans in and bumps cheeks with me, depositing a residue of orange.


The other two women I know of only from brief glances at a watsapp group on Amelia’s phone called ‘Hypno-Mums’. Amelia described Christina to me as ‘Greek’ and ‘submissive’ and the other, Hannah, as ‘dull’ but with ‘a very rich husband’. Their more modest vehicles follow, containing identical looking human potatoes, one in yellow, one in blue.  I tag along behind – my hip bruised from the door handle.


I’m soon stuck behind a traffic jam of buggies and mums with baby bags bigger than travellers’ rucksacks. I find myself yelling over the siren screams of the girl potato,


“Everyone into the kitchen on your left!” As if we are reacting to a bomb alert.


I’ve done my bit and so I watch as the mothers build a familiar world around their children. Christina has installed a carrycot, decorated with various dangling plastic animals and deposited her child inside. The little girl who won’t stop screaming now has a dummy and is lying in what appears to be a pink dinghy on the floor. Andrea’s paunchy marshmallow has been installed in a highchair at the table, barely visible beneath layers of netting too voluminous to fit under the tray. I stand in the corner of the room fingering my phone in my pocket, hoping I don’t accidentally step on the dinghy and listening to conversations on topics I hadn’t ever considered.


“… Andy and I thought it was the chicken pox at first, so we took her to A&E, but the doctor said it was baby acne – acne! Well, I told him I’ve never even had a spot and Andy’s skin is perfect, so where the hell has she got it from?” The other mother’s nod along gravely – clearly there is no God.


As skinny wrists weave around the ciabatta towards the Kettle Chips, conversation moves to the frequency of nappy changes and I get my phone out, adopting the role of baby photographer until Amelia insists on taking one of me with a baby. I glance from carrycot to highchair to floor, trying to decide which baby might be least missed if dropped; eventually I opt for the female potato. Hannah says nothing, but stands within catching distance whilst Amelia takes photos of the stranger with the baby in front of a blank cream wall, like some sort of kidnap mug shot. She begins cooing at the screen and prodding at it with her thumb until her face creases with disdain –


“Umm Charlotte, I don’t know if you’re aware, but some guy just messaged you calling you a slut!”


Amelia holds the phone at arms length as if it’s ready to blow. The other ladies exchange looks and the girl potato starts to cry. I snatch the phone, deposit the girl with her mother and take refuge in the toilet.


I sit on the lid, and prod at the screen. The final message from Mikolaj reads “U dirty fucking slut!” I circle my spot with a fingernail, considering what to reply. He’s probably only joking, either that or his English isn’t that good. A few years from now I’ll be sitting in our kitchen, covering our baby’s ears while Anthea regales the other mums with the ‘slut’ story. They’ll laugh and nod along.


I scroll up and read the previous messages– numerous requests for photos of my ‘tits’. I wonder how much it would cost to fly his parents over to Britain for the wedding – unless they already live here? I imagine trying on wedding dresses with Amelia, Karen and Anthea. I’ll burst into tears because his old Polish grandma would love to see me in this dress, but she’s just not up to the flight. They’ll sigh and tell me it will still be a beautiful day – ‘Don’t forget you can always send photos!” Amelia will say.


I lift up my top to my chin, pull down the cups of my bra and focus the camera on my breasts. They don’t look as full as I like them to, but I send it anyway.



***Sarah Cottingham retired from teaching English at 27 and lives in London. She writes, tutors and bins all the red pens she can find. She has a 1st in law and a post-grad qualification in teaching Shakespeare, but no cause to use either. A bunch of her short stories, flash fiction and blog posts cohabit contently at www.shortstorynation.com and she tweets @ShortStoryNatn.   ***

The Accessory of Responsibility – by COLIN JAMES

                                     She showed up in a large, white van.
                                     Her cauterizing tools were kept
                                     within Velcro flaps that enthralled
                                     the vehicle’s essential task.
                                     No discernible hats.
                                     Her talent is concealed,
                                     wrapped astutely out of sight,
                                     in a long coat of lipid gabardine.
                                     She sniffs, my blood is here
                                     love’s wound spilling still.
                                     She panders for a source of power,
                                     plugs into a polarizing orifice.
                                     My anemic blood stalls.
                                     She gathers up her things
                                     and has departed
                                     before I even swell.
***Colin James has a chapbook of poems, DREAMS OF THE REALLY ANNOYING,
out from Writing Knights Press………..***
*Photography courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

A Most Unexpected Exhibition – by H.D. LOUGHREY

A Most Unexpected Exhibition

H.D. Loughrey



With no idea what they were waiting to see, Adelphi Vaudeville’s guests formed a queue alongside the blacked out windows of the gallery. They clustered together like a flock of birds, shifting from one foot to the other. Heels clicked and clacked against the damp pavement. Furs and silks were clutched tighter with every unforgiving breeze cast forward from the sea. As the wind dropped, waves whispered from a distance, adding to the murmurs of the waiting crowd.

“What do you suppose this is all about?” asked a man in a top hat, as he passed a hipflask to another man in a grey suit.

“No idea, old chap. I only received the invitation yesterday.” He took a gulp and winced as he swallowed.

The fumes from the scotch mingled with the cigar smoke above their heads, invading the scents of sweet candies and vinegar that were still melting away from the day.

The small crowd throbbed as it waited. They swayed to an unheard jazz song playing on the salted air and carried between them on their champagne breath. From beyond the glass fronted gallery, a woman in a shimmering pink dress swore she could hear strains of string music from beyond the curtains. At her words, others claimed they could detect tinkling pinpricks of piano and the low moans of an oboe.

A trio of girls in tasselled skirts edged towards the man in the grey suit, their rows of white teeth sparkling under the street lamp.

“What did it say?” they asked. “Your invitation?”

The man in grey waited, taking in the eager faces of his audience, and then reached into his jacket. He plucked a small white card from the inner pocket, edged with a rainbow of ink that undulated in the moonlight. He held it aloft in his hand, as if it was a butterfly, before he turned it round with a flourish. He held it close to his face as he read.

“’A thing of beauty is a thing to be cherished and only shared with those who appreciate true beauty. With this is in mind, you have been chosen to attend an exhibition of renowned artist, Adelphi Vaudeville. Please arrive at the address below by midnight on June 6th. Beauty is the order of the day.’“

The trio of girls shrieked as he finished his recitation. “Our said the same! Just exactly the same!”

The man in the top hat nodded. “As did mine.”

His nods were returned by a few eavesdroppers and many coy smiles were exchanged. Recognition of their shared beauty fluttered through the crowd like moths.

A gasp from the front of the queue turned their heads. A young couple dressed all in black and standing outside the door of the gallery pointed at their toes. There was a surge forward. Shoes scuffed along the pavement as they pushed against each other.

A mosaic tile pattern of fuchsias, emeralds, golds, violets and ivories adorned the front step of the gallery, depicting an intricate image of a Roman banquet with wine and grapes and other delicacies. The couple in black continued to point, their eyes wide.

Behind the anxious crowd, the moon crossed over the roofs of silent buildings, casting a glimmering light onto the gallery. As the crowd watched, the tiles began to untangle themselves from the cement. They swirled and skipped across the front step. The colours blurred as the tiles swam in a manic rhythm. Finally, they slowed and slotted back into the grooves they had left until the image reappeared. The mosaic had changed, displaying a row of dancing girls, their legs up high in a frozen can-can.

No sooner had the tiles slipped back into place, the gallery door flew open and a pair of glimmering black shoes appeared on the front step.

The man standing in front of them had had many names during his service to Adelphi Vaudeville but, in this life, he was known as Earnest.

For every exhibition, he was provided with a costume; his clothes had been selected for a visit to the English seaside. He wore a black suit and white waistcoat with a thin black tie, much in the style of what the waiting guests would dress their butlers in. His keen eyes watched the crowd relax as they took in the sight of him. The ruse had worked. They believed he was there to serve them.

He tugged on his tie, freeing his throat to address the guests.

“Good evening,” he began. “Welcome to the exhibition of renowned artist Adelphi Vaudeville. Please, come in and prepare for a life-altering artistic experience.”

He stepped aside from the door and bowed, gesturing for them to enter with a sweep of his hand.

After a moment’s hesitation, the waiting guests began to file inside, tiptoeing over the mosaic. The whispering waves of the sea ebbed away behind them.

Once beyond the threshold, they found themselves in a narrow hallway. Black and white square tiles lay under their feet. Leafy-green walls surrounded them, punctured by protruding candles that flickered in the dark. The guests pressed against each other, laughing and apologising with every accidental caress. Once the last satin-encased toe had stepped inside, the door slammed shut behind them.

Earnest appeared at the far end of the hallway, in front of another inner door painted in green and decorated with stained glass panels. Being only a slight man, it took a while for them to notice that he had suddenly materialised from one end of the passage to the other. Only a shriek from a woman with dark eyes and a feathered hat revealed him.

“Ladies and gentleman,” he called out, over their heads. “Beyond this door, you will be prepared for the exhibition.”

“Prepared?” A man with a shock of white hair and a red velvet cloak, asked. “Now what exactly do you mean by that?”

“Beauty begets beauty,” he replied, with a wink.

While the guests attempted to unravel the meaning from his words, Earnest turned to the door behind him and threw it open.

A torrent of light flooded the hallway. The guests raised their gloved hands to their eyes. As the brightness subsided, a room all in white, lined with gilded mirrors, appeared beyond the door.

Many lingered, uncertain. But the narrowness of the hallway was such that if two people began to shuffle forward, they swept others along against their will until the whole crowd poured through the doorway. And so, with a giggle from the trio of grinning girls, the last few crossed into the room and Earnest closed the door with a wave of his hand.

Alongside the hanging mirrors, long, white shelves lined the walls. Upon them, rows of bottles and jars of frosted glass glistened in the light. At the far end of the room, an enormous ivory cabinet stood like a sentinel. Inert between each mirror, dressed in black dresses and white aprons, pallid girls smiled into the centre of the room.

At the slam of the door, they began to move with the stilted precision of wind-up toys. Although dressed like house maids, they had the porcelain-skinned, red-cheeked faces of china dolls. They tottered forward. One by one, they selected guests with a tap of their hand and led them towards the mirrors, their expressions frozen in a smile.

“Here! What do you think you’re doing?” the man in the top hat cried out. His assistant had plucked his hat from his head and tossed it across the room. It landed atop the white mane of the man with the red cloak.

“My employer is very particular, Sir,” Earnest explained. He stood with his back to the door, his hands clasped behind his back.

“My goodness!” a woman in green cried, as her silver earrings were swept from her ears and flew towards a woman in black. They landed on her lobes and hung like icicles.

The assistant waved towards the cabinet at the far end of the room. It swung open with a bang. Inside was an array of silk dresses, suits lined with velvet, and furs and wraps in a multitude of patterns. Jewellery hung like crystal vines inside the doors and the base was littered with shoes of all designs. The cabinet could not have been more than an arm’s breadth wide but it bulged with more clothing than the guests had owned in a lifetime.

The assistant summoned a pair of gold earrings from the folds of the cabinet with a flick of her snowy finger and fixed them to the lady in green’s ears. She almost swooned when she caught her reflection.

“Only the best, for Adelphi Vaudeville’s guests,” Earnest whispered.

“How dare you!” a woman screamed. Her dress had been whipped from her body, revealing her ivory slip. From the cabinet, a flurry of deep reds swept into the centre of the room and then hovered over the blushing woman. Her indignation soon vanished once the lavish scarlet gown had swept down her body.

The guests allowed themselves to be tweaked and perfected. Some uttered delighted sighs or offered shy nods of approval to their silent assistants. Clouds of sweet perfumes and spicy colognes burst into the air, painting the room in vapours of orange and gold.

Earnest stopped them all with a clap of his hands. The assistants froze. The guests admired their reflections, and each other, fluttering lengthened lashes towards shining locks and brightened eyes.

“It is time,” Earnest declared from the doorway. “The exhibition is about to begin.”

He turned towards the door.

The green hallway was gone. The front door, leading to the damp street, was gone. In their place, a vast golden hall had appeared. Open-mouthed, the guests followed Earnest inside.

            Achromatic tiles gave way to caramel-brown floorboards. Above the heads of the crowd, chandeliers hung like the boughs of a tree. Enormous canvasses adorned the walls, each one housed by an ornate wooden frame.

“What sort of an exhibition is this?” a man’s voice boomed.

Every canvas was blank.

            Angry faces turned towards Earnest. He stood by the door, his expression as blank as the pictures in the gallery. He stared across the room, into the pale threads of a canvas opposite him. Then, on receipt of some unseen cue, he spoke.

“Ladies and gentleman, your host, renowned artist Adelphi Vaudeville.”

The canvas that Earnest had fixed his eyes upon swung away from the wall, revealing a hollow space beyond it.

A figure stepped forth from the dark. Draped in a white tunic and billowing white trousers, Aldephi Vaudeville descended from the edges of the picture frame. His skin matched the golden-brown of the gallery floor. As he surveyed the guests, his eyes, housed by camel-like lashes, flashed in changing tones, reminiscent of the dancing tiles on the front step. His thick lips offered a brief smile.

“Welcome, my friends.” He spoke in a whisper, forcing his listeners into a strained silence. “I am blessed by your presence here tonight.”

He glided into the centre of the gallery, emitting a scent of cinnamon as he moved. His eyes rested on every made-up face around him.

“I am truly honoured to call you my guests. My beautiful guests.” He lingered over the words, exposing a fleshy tongue.

As he neared the crowd, his broad stature dwarfed those standing close to him. But in contrast to his looming figure, his hands moved with a hypnotic grace. They continued to wave and curl in the air, even when the rest of him had stilled.

The appearance of the artist prickled the nerves of some of the guests. They edged towards the door, their draping jewels betraying each movement. Earnest blocked the way out. He kept his eyes tipped to the floor.

The man in the grey suit, wearing a different tie to the one he arrived in, was the first to summon the courage to speak.

“Look here,” he said, creeping forward. “I think we’re owed an explanation. We’ve been poked and prodded by those … ladies out there. And now we’re presented with an empty gallery.”

“Empty?” Vaudeville closed his mouth around the word with care. He took a long look, from one side of the room to the other. “But this gallery has never been so full of beauty, never so vibrant with colour, never so awash with art. And, may I say …”

He stepped towards the trio of grinning girls, their white teeth shades whiter than they had been before. “My assistants have done a marvellous job.”

The girls’ laughter pealed across the room. They edged closer to Vaudeville, like insects nearing lamplight.

He twirled his serpentine fingers towards their smiles. “Let me show you the true art of Adelphi Vaudeville.”

With a flick of his forefinger, the girls fell to the ground.

It was as if an invisible lasso had been thrown around them. They lay almost on top of each other, their giggles replaced with screams as they were pressed tighter together. Then, the rope was pulled and the girls were dragged along the floorboards, their painted nails scratching at the wood as they attempted to slow themselves.

Vaudeville raised his palm and the girls were lifted from the ground, towards a large, rectangular canvas.

Other guests began to cry out in horror. Some looked to Earnest but he had turned his face away.

With a final flourish of his fist, Vaudeville cast the girls higher, into the canvas, until a fountain of red sprang from the frame, colouring the floor below with crimson drops.

The blank canvas was gone. Instead, the artist and the guests found themselves staring at an oil painting of three girls entwined together in a twister of silk and pearls, their faces frozen in a scream.  Red drips leaked from the edge of the canvas, as loud as a ticking clock.

With a wail, the spell of shock was broken and the terrified guests surged towards the door. Two men in top hats and tails tore Earnest from his post in an attempt to escape. But the door he had been guarding was now merely an image, painted onto the wall in a flawless depiction of wood and stained glass. They were trapped.

“Do not run, my friends,” Vaudeville cried. “I can immortalise you.”

The hysterical crowd clawed the walls, searching for an exit, while attempting to stay as far from the artist as they could. But his long fingers twitched and beckoned. One by one, invisible strings swept the guests into the air.

The man in the grey suit was tied by his wrists and ankles, spreading his body wide. The last sound he heard was his back breaking as he smashed against a canvas. A painting of an open-mouthed gentleman mid star-jump replaced him.

The woman in gold and green was dragged upwards by her hair. Her screams were silenced as her jaw was claimed by the frame, her painted face frozen in a grimace. Her gold locks billowed behind her head.

Earnest backed against the wall, attempting to avoid the splashes of red that burst from the canvases with every violent collision of life and art. The woman in the midnight-blue gown flew past him, the folds of her dress revealing her pale legs, her arms outstretched.

For a moment, he considered grabbing her hand to stop the canvas from claiming her. The moment passed and he inched further from her grasp. The wetness of his cheek told him it was too late.

Finally, Vaudeville’s fingers ceased. Every guest was gone and every canvas filled.

The door reappeared and opened with a low creak. The assistants filed in, with buckets and sponges under their arms. Vaudeville offered them a quick nod and they spread across the gallery, dropping to their knees in front of the canvasses.

With a satisfied smile, Vaudeville walked over to Earnest.

“Another success.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join them, Earnest?” He held a long finger out to Earnest’s sweat-laden brow. “I could make a masterpiece of you.”

Well-practised in steadying his voice, Earnest replied, “No, thank you, Sir. I’m far more honoured to serve in your employment.”

“As you wish.”

Reaching into his tunic, Vaudeville retrieved a pile of fabric and handed it to Earnest.

“Your costume. For the next exhibition.”

In his hands, Earnest held trousers of a rough, durable material, etched with heavy grooves in its light blue threads. With it was a strange shirt, with no buttons and short sleeves, decorated with alternating circles of colour, rippling from the centre in uneven patterns.

“We go forward next,” Vaudeville said, in answer to Earnest’s confused expression.

“Forward?” Earnest replied, his throat dry.

Vaudeville nodded. “We can’t look back anymore.”

He strode towards the door, stepping over the assistants, who were bent low, their sponges heavy with red.

Earnest clutched the costume tight in his hand, until it pained his fingers. When he looked up, the face of the woman in midnight blue stared back at him from the canvas – a smudge of red paint on her cheek.



H. D. Loughrey is a writer of literary fiction and magical realism. She has had stories published in The Sqwauk Back and Down in the Dirt magazine. Her collection of short stories, Ink That Bleeds, can be found on Amazon. She lives by the sea, with a cat and a lot of books.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/hdloughrey
Twitter: https://twitter.com/hdloughrey
Website: http://amwriting.wix.com/hdloughrey

Short story collection: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ink-That-Bleeds-H-Loughrey-ebook/dp/B00TOUUMOG/ref=sr_

The Tree/Lub Dub, Lub Dub (the beating heart) – by AZIA DUPONT

Lub Dub, Lub Dub

        (the beating heart)


It seems no matter where I hide fetal-positioned

cursing the rainclouds for infiltrating my brainwaves,

my eyes all grey water pouring, a blinding fog

choking me silent for the fifteenth time

in two weeks, my husband is always there. He says

the clouds are just water and so are you

and suddenly I’m all Pisces electric, practicing

my backstroke as I gaze up at the harvest moon.


But always there’s another storm,

always I am followed by black shadow serpents

whispering, so sly they are, how they slither into

my thoughts rhythmically building their nests, laying

their eggs, giving birth to another round of black

shadow serpents hissing all static blocking,

There is no hope for you, no life

for you here!


Again, my husband will talk of waters

and sometimes even stars smashing

heads of demonic serpents beneath the weight

of my supernovas— my heart!

My heart!

My beating heart beating life alive again!

The Tree


I’ve been feeling so censored lately, gagged

and bound to other people’s comfort. Their truth

intertwined with my truth, but really they’re erasing

me. Really I’m just pencil marks and they’ve rubbed

their brand new jumbo pink eraser all over my pulsating

veins. I’m left kind of faded, I’m barely there,

but a trace of me comes through every once in a while.

But even when my truth is right in front of them,

they find themselves blind to it. They find themselves

dumbfounded. Eventually they find themselves

without me as I have a tendency to storm very red,

quite electric.


And often I find myself alone like this. Alone like the trees

planted in the black top parking lots of all the major

shopping centers. Alive among the vast

empty black masses. Alive but not planted

close enough to other trees.

I’m alive but not alive because I chose to be.

Birthed to fill another’s empty chest, to be a pretty little

thing, but she didn’t consider the upkeep. She didn’t

understand that once you plant a tree, the tree requires

a special amount of tender care.

That sometimes trees need protection from the bad men.

That sometimes trees need their mother to stop loving bad men.


Sometimes the tree wishes someone would notice her

leaves, how they change, how she’s not beautiful,

that she’s dying. Each breath bringing her closer

to her funeral. Each breath like taking three breaths

because everyone she loves keeps breaking her heart.

Each breath a precursor to the final breath.


The tree says I don’t have much time,

could you please stop swinging your ax

at my gut?




***Azia DuPont, a Minnesota native, currently resides in Southern California. She lives online at http://www.aziadupont..com and on Twitter @aziadupont ***
Links: Personal Website: www.aziadupont.com


*Thanks to Brian Michael Barbeito again for his amazing landscape photography that we have used as the feature photo for Azia’s work.*

Collection of Poetry by CAMILLE GRIEP

Validation Code


At the drive through

I’m buying chicken nuggets for the dog

On our way home from the vet

The drool is nerves, not hunger.



Paul at the window tells me there’s a backup,

Nine people behind me.

The woman at the second window screams at the Manager

Paul made her repeat her order, has an attitude.



Says she wants him fired.

I just want to go home,

And so does the dog,

And so do the nine people behind me.



The woman, she wants somebody to listen.

Eleven cars now. Almost out to the 196th.

Paul’s got needle marks in his hands

And a rosary around his neck



I don’t want to be homeless, he tells me

I know, I say. I want to apologize but don’t.

You get what you give. You know?

The dog and me, maybe we did. Once.




In the morning, he says

He doesn’t want me to talk to him

Or look at him.

That I smell

like hardboiled eggs.


In the afternoon, he says

He loves me

And can we play Legos.

Thanks for the

blueberry ice cream.


Later, I listen

from the bottom of the stairs as he,


laments to his mother an emptiness

he isn’t yet old enough to name.


Sweet-faced boy, there’s so much to tell you

about waking up alone and

dark corners the same shape and breadth as our missing fathers.


Would that we could find a better nightlight,

one we might carry.

Your Poem



Your poem won’t leave me alone

It’s at 2nd and Pike holding a box of scary teriyaki

It’s behind the Hard Rock smoking a cigarette

It’s outside the bookstore signing your autograph

It’s in the basement of the strip mall modeling sequined ponchos


Why can’t you control your poem

Put it between a notebook full of pressed leaves

Put it on a cocktail napkin folded to prop up a wobbly table

Put it under a pile of things that remind us of them and strike a match

Put it in a pastel-covered anthology no one will buy


Do something about this goddamn poem

Look at the wine stains on its bra

Look at the gravy at the edge of its boxers

Look at what it’s doing to itself

Look at what it’s doing to me

 Mountain Goats in Fog


All we ever wanted

Was your sure steady gaze

Wrapped snug in fur and feather.



That shale you stood on

Clatters under our feet.



We’ll still leap; just say the word.

***Camille Griep lives and writes near Seattle. She is the author of Letters to Zell (2015) and New Charity Blues (forthcoming April 2016). When not practicing short form, she can be found at the helm of Easy Street, a magazine of words and culture, and editing over at The Lascaux Review.***

Insta: @camillethegriep