One More Story by Don Tassone

ONE MORE STORY

You head up to British Columbia with 12 other guys for a week of roughing it in Yoho National Park.

You’re staying in a hut near Lake Louise. You hike and fish by day and drink and tell tall tales around a wood stove by night.

You hear there are grizzlies and black bears roaming the wilderness. So every third guy in your group carries a cartridge of pepper spray on his belt. This year, that includes you.

In all the years you’ve been making this trip, you’ve seen only two bears. They were at least a mile away.

Today the sun was hot. Everyone is wiped out. Tonight, the beer, which has been soaking all day in a nearby stream, is cold. You drink your fair share.

You have to pee. The stern lady on the bus to the trailhead yesterday emphasized the importance of using an outhouse “to protect our environment.”

You curse her under your breath as you step out under a fingernail moon and a million stars.  You scan the woods with your little flashlight and trudge down a skinny, rutted path toward the stinky outhouse.

You’re almost there when you hear a noise, a rustling through the brush. You shine your light in that direction. You see eyes that look like black marbles, set deep in an enormous, hairy head. A griz!

It is less than 30 feet away. It stops. You freeze. You want to scream, but you can’t breathe.  You think about making a dash for the outhouse, but it’s too far away.  

You shine the beam of your flashlight into the beast’s eyes, hoping to blind it, if only long enough to make your escape. But it shakes its head and growls and starts toward you.

You remember the pepper spray, which is still on your belt. The bear is coming at you.  You drop your flashlight. It falls to the ground, illuminating a rock.

The fingers of your right hand feel the pepper spray cartridge in its nylon holster. You slip your index finger through a ring in the plastic top and pull the cartridge up and out, a move you’ve practiced in the safety of the hut.

You can make out a hulking, shadowy figure, now less than 20 feet away. You feel the earth move, and you hear a low, menacing growl.

You raise the cartridge and aim it at the dark figure. You pull the trigger.

But nothing happens. You remember there’s a safety latch on the top of the ring. Your thumb feels it and pulls it back. You pull the trigger again.

This time, you feel the cartridge vibrate and hear a rush of spray into the darkness.

Then you hear an awful moan, and your nostrils take in the most wicked crap you’ve ever smelled, as the terrible moaning continues.

You half expect to feel a 600-pound bear pounce on you and rip you apart.

But the source of the moaning comes no closer. You hear it coughing and see it pawing at its head.

You make a break for it. You turn and run toward a light in the window of the hut, faster than you could sprint in high school.

In the darkness, you misjudge where the door is. You run into it hard and fall to your knees. You get up and feel for the handle. You press down on the latch, pull the door open, jump inside and swing the door shut behind you.

Your palms are pressed against the door, your arms outstretched. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode.  Your head droops. Your whole body is shaking.

One of your friends steps into the kitchen, where you’re standing. He asks what’s going on.

You tell him you saw a grizzly, up close.

You’re full of shit, he says.

You go into the main room of the hut. You tell all your friends what happened.

You’re known for your practical jokes. Not a single friend says he believes you.

But that night, no one else ventures out to pee.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.01.25 PM

Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines.  They’re posted at http://dontassone.com

 

Advertisements

Parts per Trillion/Missed a Spot by Claudine Nash

 

Parts per Trillion

 

After passing another morning

with you in mind,

it strikes me how I may only

be one whisker away

from the Daschund who

detects illness brewing

beneath his handler’s skin,

from the Lab who smells time

through the decline of her human’s

odors across the course

of the morning hours.

I confess how easily

I could be found sniffing

at staircases like this,

tracking the past in parts

per trillion.

As the postman approaches

with a certified receipt, I will be

sitting by the basement door

breathing in ornaments and

their decaying trace of pine,

inhaling phonebooks to snare

that lingering hint of fingertip.

The scent of last decade’s

ice storm will rise from old boots,

blackened bread pans and

phantom loaves will preoccupy

my nostrils.

When he rings the bell, I will

be wearing my beige bathrobe,

inspecting the vents for the

aroma of electricity,

certain that it is leaking

from your years-old heartbeat

archived in some long

forgotten space

somewhere under a piece of lace,

behind a lone molecule of air.

(Previously appeared in Star*Line)

 

Missed a Spot

 

Every now and then someone

points out a touch of ghost

stuck in your hair.

You thought you washed

it all out after therapy

when you rinsed off

that new product that

failed to contain your

unruly curls as promised,

but you must have

missed a spot.

You walked around

all day like that,

oblivious,

inexplicably turning left

to satisfy cravings for odd

combinations of food like

saffron and kale.

Now it suddenly makes sense

why you feel melancholy

in the imported tea aisle,

or why you can’t erase that sad

trace of pencil between the lines

of your notes.

You wonder how many have

seen it and realize that

you sat through an entire

staff meeting

with ghost hanging

below your ear like that.

Did you escape unnoticed or

were they too polite to point out

its cheerless whisper?

Or worse yet,

did they later query how

someone in your position

could possibly overlook

a shade for upwards

of eight hours?

You can let it

keep you up all night,

but at this point,

what choice do you really have

but to borrow a mirror,

wipe it away,

and tell your spectral passenger

to keep the quiet moaning

to a minimum until

the two of you can chat

in private.

Previously appeared in The Problem with Loving Ghosts (Finishing Line Press, 2014).

 

Claudine Nash’s previous collections include her full-length poetry
book Parts per Trillion (Aldrich Press, 2016) and her chapbook The
Problem with Loving Ghosts  (Finishing Line Press, 2014).  Her poems
have won prizes from Avalon Literary Review, Eye on Life Magazine,
Lady Chaos Press, and The Song Is… and have appeared in numerous
magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s Science Fiction,
Cloudbank, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and Yellow Chair Review
amongst others. She also has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Website:
www.claudinenashpoetry.com.”

 

Hope is Dope by Sean Daly

Hope is Dope  

 

The doctor spoke gobbledygook about the name of the cancer so I wrote it down so I could study all about it. And the word was a long serious word as was the situation it was adenocarcinoma how do they come up with these names? He told me about it moving around without my knowing, and without my invitation, and then I heard a word I wasn’t expecting: Metastatic. I’ve heard it before but never used it before. He said more things that I didn’t really hear, but I heard support group, and I noticed that it started up soon and it was just down the hall so I headed off to it, which was open to everyone with my disease. I hated these things because men and their feelings made me gag but it was just down the hall and about to start.

 

When I arrived, I noticed right away three men parked on a couch all staring at me.

 

Grinning.

 

I wanted to run, right away, especially because my right lung, where it all started, was painless.

 

One man  pulled up his jeans and adjusted his tank top and he looked at me, pissed-off like, as if I had reached for his wallet and he chewed on a toothpick and introduced himself, Otis, he said. We got started, sharing our stories that is, and someone mentioned their treatment, and he blurted out, Chemo kills people and they know it! So I played it cool and pretended that this was old information.

 

Otis  laughed like we were all fools including him, at one time, I gathered. The room went all silent and he placed his hands on his knees like a coach would just before telling his players that they all sucked. Please refrain from saying such things our facilitator said and she swiped her hand in the air at an imaginary face. A playful slap of sorts, and her name was Janis.

 

Now it being my turn I opened with I’m Johnny and I have lung cancer and I’m waiting for the doctor to tell me what to do next, blah, blah, blah and I’m sorry because I’m not sure what else you want to hear?

 

When I finished I felt Otis’s eyes on me. He sat back and folded his arms like he knew  something I didn’t. First of all don’t ever apologize again for being put into this situation, he said. His spit soaked toothpick disappeared into his  mouth when he finished saying what he said. Disappeared into that cavernous hole.

 

Ripe to talk, he leaned into me and whispered, the industry is just that, an industry, a business, but in a way that was all loud so everyone could hear. Keeping you alive for five years is their goal. Their only goal. The others in the group  were like his apostles or something and they stared at me with disdain as if  I were circling the drain, I gathered, ignorant about the whole affair.

 

I felt all scared and he invited me to a fire at his home that evening. I said yes and arrived just before dark. Members from the group gathered in the distance. They stood around a blazing fire pit between two rusted-out cars mounted on blocks. They stood mummified in the flickering light, each locked in their own thoughts mesmerized by the flames, and I walked towards them and I felt like crying but I kept reminding myself to not lose it, no way. Against a backdrop of a black sky a deep red clung to the horizon that felt pretty to look at, and Otis heard my footsteps and turned and he said I knew you’d come he said.

 

One must adopt the right attitude to get through this, Otis said. I pulled up my shirt and pointed toward the location of my tumor right below my breast, but Otis looked at me as if I were playing a game of hot and cold and clearly I was cold.

 

Whatever we focus on gets bigger, he said.

          

But there are lots of types of lung cancers, like lettuce, I told him and the firelight flickered in his eyes but he didn’t want to hear about it.

           

I said I had hope and he scoffed like I said dope and he told me hope is a con-job. Hope is for suckers. It’s a lottery ticket he said. As it is, I recalled how many times I bought one of them tickets and scratched it off before I even left the liquor store dumping it in the trash before I left because I lost.

           

If I can’t rely on hope then what? But he wasn’t done talking. One day everything you know and love is going to die and maybe sooner than you planned, he said, and I said okay. The most important thing you can do is grieve, he said and he believed the logic of his own thinking because he had sorrowful eyes at that moment. But grieving only means a man can see the world as it is, not as he wishes, and that’s a good thing. Then he said, trust me, and he smiled and some of his teeth were missing along the sides but he smiled, unawares.

 

I smiled back and the others around the fire?

 

They grinned again.

 

My head felt fuzzy and I was kind of sorry I went to the group, in the first place, and to the fire, later, even though both were free. But like they say you can’t put toothpaste back into the tube and that’s what it’s all been like, this whole thing, grieving the toothpaste, I gathered. No way to put it back in, and in thinking that thought I stared at the fire in awe and wonder and it was good.

 

 

Sean Daly lives in Ojai California. His work will appear in The Incubator Journal, Jelly Fish Review and Spelk Fiction later this year. His memoir,What We Talk About When We talk About Cancer, was published in 2016. He tutors at Todd Road Jail in Ventura CA. @seangdaly.

 

Last Night I Was Visited by a Ghost by Melissa Libbey

Last Night I Was Visited by a Ghost

 

I woke up in the early hours of the morning. At a time where the sky starts to take on a lighter navy color with hints of gray. You can’t quite see the golden rays of the sunrise out your window just yet. But the moon is still high in the sky, high enough that the only light shining through your window is the silver mist that comes from the moon.

 

This was a ghost. Not an angel. Not the black hood of death. A ghost. And the ghost was me.

 

She came over and sat at the edge of my bed as I wiped the evidence of sleep from my eyes. She sat there and pat my leg, so maternal and sincere.

 

Once I recognized myself in her face I sat straight up in bed. She watched me intently for a couple of seconds before either of us spoke. I couldn’t handle the suspense any longer and I did the most cliche thing I could have done, I asked her, “am I dead?”

 

She giggled to herself and looked at me with those eyes like she knew me better than anyone in the world, and I guess she did.

 

“You aren’t dead, yet.”

 

I sighed with relief then I asked her the second most cliched question, “is this a dream?”

 

She shook her head and looked to the ground. Then she looked toward the light streaming through my window.

 

“This isn’t a dream. I came to stop you from making a mistake.”

 

She stands now and walks to the other side of the room. She places both of her hands on the windowsill and stares out in to the darkness.

 

My mind races for explanations. What could I have done wrong? What kind of mistake do I make? Can she change my fate? How do I know that I should listen to her?

 

After what feels like forever of silence she turns to face me. Now she looks like an angel. The moonlight emitting from behind her, tracing her body with light.

 

She comes closer and I finally see myself. My hair flows loosely around my face. No makeup, no perfume, just the simplest form of me. I admire myself for a moment, in a way I never have before. It’s like looking in to a mirror but there is something missing. The life in her sea green eyes isn’t there. That’s the difference between us.

 

I finally get the courage to ask, what mistake had I made.

 

“You did everything right. You followed all of the rules. You made everyone around you happy. You succeeded in your career and had a happy personal life.”

 

She stops there, this is where I am confused. Where along the way was the mistake? Where was the big event I should be looking out for?

 

She comes closer now. She is standing right next to me as I sit up in bed. She strokes my hair and looks down intently at me.

 

She leans in closer, close enough that I can feel her breath on my ear.

 

“You forgot how to live,” she whispers.

 

She pulls back to find a puzzled look on my face. She takes a moment and then continues.

 

“You got so wrapped up in work and making others happy you forgot about what you wanted out of life.”

 

I shake my head and look to my hands resting in my lap. This can’t be it. I can’t decide to haunt myself after I’m dead to remind myself to live. This can’t be happening.

 

And almost as if she can read my mind (because she can, she is me) she looks at me with a serious expression.

 

“Believe me, you forget it all. Your trip around the world. The bucket list you created that you wanted to complete. You fought for love but then stopped caring along the way.”

 

I shake my head no again because I don’t believe her. This can’t be right, it doesn’t sound like me.

 

“You stopped paying attention to the way the grass smelled after it rained. Or the little rainbow of colors that sometimes sit on top of a puddle. You stopped appreciating the sunset after a long hot day or the first snow fall of the winter. You became too focused, too distracted by everything else in life to noticed. You stopped seeing the little things. You stopped living.”

 

I don’t believe this woman who looks like me. I don’t believe a word she says.

 

“You need to leave,” I shout. “I don’t believe you and your lies.”

 

She looks to the window again then back at me.

 

“I had a feeling that you wouldn’t believe me,” she says quietly.

 

She walks over to the window an places her hands on the windowsill again.

 

She turns around to look at me.

 

“Don’t take life for granted. Because you can’t always get back what you lost.”

 

And just like that she faded in to the moonlight.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 1.43.13 PM

Melissa Libbey is a recent graduate with her MA in English and Writing Studies. She is also the first intern (turned Senior Editor) for Sick Lit Magazine. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found drinking wine while petting her dog. She has also been published on Thought Catalog, Kean Xchange and her twitter: @Miss_Libbey16

 

Abandon With Intent by Crystal Snoddon

Abandon With Intent

 

She tromps haphazardly, her feet slipping along the shoulder of the highway.

Shoulders hunched, cheeks flushed, lips cracked

her mind, burnished by the rub of ambiguity

now shines clearly, determined

fists pump in rhythm with her feet. Tense. Staccato.

Sun glints, a steely ray bounces from her sunglasses

strobe lights dance with every step.

 

The road radiates high-noon heat, melts the thin soles of her cheap canvas shoes.

Rubber prints smear atop shifting gravel.

Is anything more left behind?

A bruise, a blistering welt filling with liquid warmth,

these grow, bloom.

The air smells dry, stagnant.

She thinks how the wind blew promises through her hair that day

however long ago,

perched beside him in his pickup truck,

flying off Interstate 70, breezes lifting her from doubts

like the outstretched wings of a blackbird chick

perched at nest’s edge.

Her mind had leapt, heady from the fumes of newfound freedom,

she abandoned her gas station job,

left only a short farewell note. She hoped no one there would miss her.

People always tumbled through, didn’t stay in that dirt poor town.

 

A bird cries a shriek of protest, wings clumsily flapping

as a gust of wind now laughingly blows her dust-bowl dreams back in her eyes.

She stops, looks about her, dark hair clinging to her neck,

pulls the skirt of her dress from the ball it’s made between her thighs.

Frightened, relieved she is still alone.

No one pursues her.

High above, vultures circle.

 

Agreeing to live in that God-forsaken far-flung cabin

alone with him –

madness. Sheer lunacy. That’s what loneliness does. Crushes the spirit

between icy fingers, until the visions left are shrunken, monochrome.

Funny thing to say, in a place known for scenic vistas.

Tired of the local hill-billy drama, she’d felt like an old woman

who’s outgrown her sagging skin and brittle bones, waiting for everything

and nothing.

He was there, the bulk of him refusing to be ignored,

stopping through to fill his truck, stopping just to chat her up. Simple.

She thought she knew him well enough.

“But Grandmother, what big teeth you have!” “All the better

to eat you with, my dear!”

The nursery rhyme replays in her ears.

He had went on about the peace he had, the view,

not a neighbor for miles around. “Privacy, Peg,

to do anything we want! Not like here, in town. Think of it!” Yes.

Just think.

 

Think of what to say, after finally seeing this man’s dark wilderness

for what it was – a fast-growing bramble snagging her, tangling her in.

There really weren’t any words,

only choices: stay, kept in this forest folly,

or turn and leave, going – anywhere. Away.

Away is a choice. Finally, she’d made her choice.

 

But she should never had said. He would never have seen.

He was blind drunk by lunch again,

staggering, almost senseless.

“You’ll never leave me, Peg,” he slurred,

“You’re all mine.” He chuckled, patting the truck key in his pocket.

His swift back-hand propelled her – she tumbled to the knife,

white rage scream gushes from the chest the cotton dress stained in bright rust-colored splashes scurrying up the path careen toward miles upon miles of open road

 

The kettle of vultures abandoned the trees they’d perched on

waiting patiently atop the crag of red rock.

She’d been stumbling toward them for some time.

She hadn’t noticed.

The orange sun cautiously creeps lower,

sinking toward the black ribbon of road stretched over the scrub desert

like an elastic band, bending further, and still further away

into the distance.

Slow-moving specks, or are they rocks shivering with her, ahead?

She was sure she had seen the lights of a car reflected.

Wolves howl.

The vultures circle yet lower

with intent.      

 

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-3-46-04-pm

Crystal Snoddon is a fledgling writer from the frozen North (Northern Canada), who loves all things word related, wakes far too early in the morning to be a party animal and has a serious lust for poetry.:)

The Shortcut by Patsy Parsons Smith

The Shortcut

“I told mama I wouldn’t cut through this alley no more and here I am doin’ it again.” Lamont muttered to himself. “It’ll be alright just one more time though. Sure, why I’m nearly home now.”

 

The noise and the light struck Lamont like a gang banger with a riot gun–it was that sudden and unexpected.

 

“What the h…”

 

“Watch your mouth, Lamont, you don’t know exactly who you talkin’ to.”

 

Lamont swallowed and felt his heart slide back down his esophagus. “I don’t even know exactly what I’m talkin’ to.” He said, rubbing his eyes.  There in the middle of the alley, just underneath the yellow street light was a…Well, Lamont didn’t know what to call such a spectacle.

 

Whoever, or whatever it was hung suspended by a string attached to a chest harness.  The string  went up only a few feet before connecting to a bright yellow helium balloon, so the whole mess hung over the alley dangling from a kid’s toy that wouldn’t have floated a Barbie doll much less a full sized man.

 

Lamont decided it must be a man, a man dressed in a patched up choir robe with homemade plywood angel wings jury rigged onto the back of the harness.  Over his head was a gold tinsel halo held cock-eyed by a piece of coat-hanger wire that disappeared down the back of his shirt collar.

 

“So, what you think, Lamont?” it asked.

 

“I think you a little early for Halloween. Just what you supposed to be anyway?” Lamont asked right back.

 

“Awh Lamont, imagination ain’t never been your long suit. Here I go to all this fret and bother to manifest myself,  just like you see me in your head, and you still don’t get it. What’s it take to put you in the picture?”

 

The apparition was twisting counterclockwise under the balloon and had to speak over its right shoulder.

 

“Excuse me, do I know you?” Lamont asked, puzzled.

 

“Hang on a sec, let me change clothes;  these sure ain’t workin’. The apparition snapped his fingers and nothing happened, his eyes cut toward Lamont, “misfire”, he muttered, “it happens sometimes”. He snapped his fingers again and a flash of blue light and a cannon-load of noise filled the alley.

 

“Much better,” he said, stepping out of the smoke. He was now dressed in a blue three piece suit with broad, cream colored pinstripes. He wore a white snap brim hat with a blue polka-dot band and a pair of patent leather two-toned shoes.

 

“How’s this, Lamont? You catchin’ on now?”

“Yeah, I am” Lamont said. “Somebody done slipped me a mickey at the church social and it’s just now startin’ to kick in.”

 

“Couldn’t have put it better myself, son. Yeah, I’m the big mickey slipper his’self, and I shore done slipped you a nice ‘un. Seriously, you having what we in the trade call an epiphany. I’m God, boy. Don’t you get it?”

 

“Oh yeah, I get it, God dresses up like a deacon in a cheap Christmas play, that or a Fourth Avenue pimp. Is that about right, God?”

 

“Sometimes I sure regret making you mortals so stupid. M’boy, if I appeared in my true nature you’d blow a fuse, strip a gear. You just ain’t got the eyeball capacity for it. What I did is take my image straight out of your head, Lamont. Believe it or not this is how you see me.” God said.

“Humm…” Lamont studied the situation, whoever he was he sure had a handle on special effects, “Okay, let’s suppose I buy all that jazz. What’s an epiphany?”

 

“Good question. Boy howdy, we on the right track now! An epiphany is like havin’ a dream while you still awake, or maybe a fit, but at the end of it you get to see God.”

 

“All right then” Lamont said, “it’s your quarter, what can I do for you?”

 

“I been watching you a long time Lamont.” God paused to brush a speck of imaginary lint off His vest. “You’re a real smart kid. I like that, and I can use a fellow like you in the business.”

 

“Business…?”

 

“You know Lamont, the God business. I want to put you on the payroll. I’m making some organizational changes, an outsource kinda deal, and I could use a few good men. Like the Marine Corps without all the sweat, get it? Wait, wrong analogy, more like the NBA, yeah the NBA. You, Lamont, are my number one draft pick. Now how does that grab you?”

 

“Got to admit it sounds good, and I could use a job, but we got a sayin’” around here—maybe you heard it before… ‘What’s in it for me?’”

 

“Sure, Lamont, I knew you wuz smart. You mean somethin’ like a sign-up bonus? Every Big League draft pick gets a sign-up bonus. Let me see, hummm…. A Lexus wouldn’t do you no good, you ain’t old enough for a driver’s license. Sides, I can think of somethin way better than any car. How ‘bout power? Everybody likes power. All the boys on my team gonna have a heap of power.” God said. “Yessiree, I’ll add it right here in your contract.”

 

“Contract?” Lamont questioned. “This thing gonna be in writin’?”

 

“Sure, you bet, jus’ like the NBA only in High Church Latin—you can read High Church Latin, can’t you?” God asked as he looked at Lamont over a pair of half framed reading glasses.

 

“Well, I’m probably a little rusty,” Lamont admitted candidly “but I tell you what, you give me a sample of this power so’s I can see is it the real high grade stuff an’ then if you still want me to, I’ll sign up.”

 

“Now you talkin’, kid.   Let me see what power I can give you….”

 

“Just give me what the ‘postles had. You know, somethin’ you got in open stock. I’ll try a little of it out and then sign right up. If you think that’s fair?”

 

“Great idea. You got it.” God snapped His fingers and Lamont felt a little tingle walk down his spine.

 

God busied Himself with the contract, “All these High Church Latin contracts gots to be sealed and then signed in blood, but of course you know that.” God laid the contract over a garbage can lid and fished a stick of red sealing wax from His coat pocket. He rubbed His thumb and forefinger together and a flame shot up for just a second before it flickered out into nothing but blue smoke, sighing, he took a Ronson butane lighter from a vest pocket and melted the wax. His thumbprint was the seal. “Now this blood part won’t hurt a bit—just need your pinky finger….”

 

“Sure thing, uh, just let me stretch this power out a little first.  I believe the apostles could do cool shit like castin’ out devils, couldn’t they?”

 

“God” looked up quickly, staring at Lamont over the top of His half-rims, “That’s a little advanced for you, boy. Why not start out with the basics. Say, water into wine maybe. Yeah, I could use a drink my own self.”

 

“No, I think I can handle it.” Lamont snapped his fingers and quoted: “Get thee behind me Satan.”

 

The blue light returned and seemed to implode into the center of “God”, his face was equal parts surprise and anger. Instead of the loud noise there was a nasty sucking sound, like a toilet suddenly unclogging, and then “He” was gone.  The contents of “His” pockets- the lighter, three Cuban Monte Cristo cigars, and about a dollar in change clattered down to the last known address of his two-toned shoes.

 

The contract drifted down onto the bricks of the alley and Lamont picked it up. It was warm to the touch.

 

“Epiphany, my ass,” Lamont said as he flicked the Ronson under the parchment. “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”

 

woman-knitting.jpg

Pat Parsons writes stories that reflect “fellow feelling”, a species of fellowship.  Pat wants to thank members of the Write Club of the Hoover Public library for goading her to submit and the encouragement of Grace Black, editor of Ink in Thirds magazine.

 

How to Date a Surfer by Lori Brody

How to Date a Surfer

When you move to L.A. so your dad can turn his book into a movie, you swear no more Manhattan black and wire-rimmed glasses, no more Catholic girls’ school and boys at dances looking through you. The new you: contact lens, Sun In and lemon juice, Coppertone Oil, hair feathered like Farrah Fawcett. Your parents rent a ranch house owned by a professor on sabbatical in Spain; you sleep in his son’s bedroom. A ten foot surfboard leans in the garage and the Pacific spreads in the distance like a mirror. You want to see your face reflected in its surface.

 

A neighbor notices you alone in the front yard. Her teenage daughter: hair pulled back with a feathered roach clip and hand on hip. Every summer day, the daughter squeezes into cars loaded with surfboards.

 

The neighbor says, Gigi, why don’t you invite her to the beach.

 

Your mouth fills with dread and hope.

 

Gigi rolls her eyes. Then assesses you. You’ll be in tenth grade? You’ll do.

 

At the beach, you sit next to Gigi. Her voice in your ear, naming the boys surfing like telling a rosary. The girls wear pale crocheted bikinis; you in your favorite, tropical with white orchids.  When the boys catch a ride on the waves, the girls cheer. The wind blows their voices back to shore. When you ask, Gigi says, Girls don’t surf.

 

You squint at the sun’s reflection on the ocean. Steve carves rick-rack into the barrel of a wave. A nimbus of blonde hair like Lief Garrett. That night, at the campfire, he asks Gigi, Is this the new girl? As you tip down your first acrid beer, he throws an arm around your shoulders.  You look so New York.  Lassos his shark’s tooth necklace around your neck.

 

The boys glare down a group of surfers assessing the waves from the bluff. Vals, Steve spits out.  The Valley boys lean against a van airbrushed with a fluorescent sunset. One, a dark haired Shaun Cassidy, catches your eye and smiles. When they charge the waves, Steve disappears.

 

At night, as Steve’s headlights strafe the parked cars, you see, on the side of the lifeguard station, spray-painted in dripping letters, Vals go home.

 

On their boards in their wetsuits, the boys resemble sleek seals. Selkie boys, called to love by a girl’s seven tears. When Steve walks up the beach from the sea, he sheds his wetsuit like a slick skin and buries his head in your lap.

 

The weekend after school starts, it’s the same Valley boys, positioning at the line up with your surfers. One drops in front of Steve on a wave, cuts him off. Steve tries to turn but both collide, disappear into churning surf. An arm pulls back for a punch, a surfboard shoots riderless.

 

Goofyfoot, caught inside, glassy. You whisper these words like a mantra as you lie under the Cheryl Ladd poster in your borrowed bedroom. Your skin holds the jellyfish stings of your surfer’s lips.

 

You carry Steve’s board from the car down to the beach. You know now it’s a swallowtail twin-fin, a shortboard, but it’s still longer than you. Your arm stretches to grasp the rails. The path skittish with rocks. Steve carries one end of a cooler.   

 

Good thing you’ve got help, the guy at the other end of the cooler says. Meaning you.

Yeah, got my pack horse. The shark’s tooth rests heavy on your skin. You drop the surfboard.

What the hell, Steve says. That’s my new board.

 

You tread water, the sea Navajo-jewelry-turquoise. Your face reflected in the surf fragmented like those best-friend heart charms. Darkness slithers below; something wraps around your ankle, pulls you down. You think: This is how I die. You thrash, breath bubbling. Then you’re free, barreling to light and air. A sleek head breaches next to you. Steve hums the theme from Jaws. Got you, didn’t I?

 

You spit seawater.

 

The full moon hangs like a pendant. That Val keeps snaking me, Steve says, poking a stick into the fire. Down the beach, the Valley kids have their own smoking campfire, a mirror of yours.  

 

This is the last time.

 

The boys walk to the bluff. The girls and you follow. Steve shakes a can of spray paint toward the Valley kids’ van. The click-click of an ominous rattle.  Let’s get this party started.

 

Your voice feels small. Calm down. It’s just surfing.

 

It’s never just surfing. The boys crowd you. Gigi’s face whitens.  

 

Time to trade her in, someone says.

 

You throw the shark’s tooth necklace at Steve’s feet.

 

You slip down the bluff to the Valley kids’ campfire. The guy who looks like Shaun Cassidy glares. Whattya want? When you tell him, they charge up to their van. You walk to the payphone at the lifeguard station. Next day at school, a bruise blooms purple around Steve’s eye. He looks through you.

 

You take the longboard from the garage, bum a ride with your mother to the beach, shimmy into the professor’s son’s wetsuit. Balls of Styrofoam and glittering pop-tops mark the waterline. The girls huddle on a fringed Mexican blanket. A girl as young as you were sits next to Gigi; a shark’s tooth dangles between the triangles of her bikini top.   

 

You throw yourself on the board and paddle out, the Pacific shockingly cold even through the wetsuit. You coast up the face of a small wave. You feel buoyant. The ocean’s surface reflects your face.

 

Steve and the other boys float astride their boards. The swell rolls in behind; it’s going to be a wave your height. You paddle to catch it. Steve paddles to snake you, but you leave him behind.

As the wave breaks, you stand. Exhilaration like that time lightning tingled through your bones as thunder struck. Until you fall and water rushes and you are driftwood against the shore.   

 

Sand fills your mouth.

 

You try again.

 

laughing.jpg

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website islorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

He Buys Me Flowers by Kate Jones

He Buys Me Flowers

 

He buys me flowers.

 

Once, when we first met, I told him I liked being bought flowers. I liked the huge white daisies, I said. The ones with the round orange eyes, like bright egg yolks. I liked their simplicity, their nakedness.

 

He buys me bright orange dahlias, fat blooms, exotic. Expensive. I know by now these flowers represent transgressions. Guilt flowers. The bigger, more expensive the fauna, the larger the transgression.

 

We both pretend not to know this.

 

My friend Marcie told me she saw him touch a woman’s bare shoulder at a party three month’s back. She, the woman, was wearing a strapless dress. Marcie said she didn’t see him take her home.

 

He bought me a large bunch of flaccid pink carnations from the petrol station the next morning.

I arranged the carnations in an old milk bottle and placed them by the bed. They festered there for weeks until I emptied out the brackish water, brown and congealed at the bottom of the bottle.

 

Two months ago, he confessed to dancing with a girl he met in Tramps nightclub in town. Said she felt him up. Said he’d drunk too much. Said it went no further.

 

He bought me a fancy looking purple orchid in its own square box. It had a tiny glass vase inside to feed it water. I liberated it from the box, it resembled a cage, and placed it on the hot windowsill of the apartment. Its leaves turned brown and shed onto the floor.

 

I never told him orchids remind me of death.

 

He’s been on a business trip to Slough for three days. All expenses paid, free mini-bar. I’ve bought new underwear from M&S. Cooked red snapper (his favourite) for dinner. I’m soaking in a bath of orange blossom salts when I hear him let himself in.

 

When I emerge from the bathroom, my hair piled high in a soggy towel like a Geisha, he’s standing in the doorway surrounded by a bouquet of red roses. His smile is sheepish, hopeful.  His eyes like the glass marbles of a stuffed toy. His face makes my chest hurt.

I don’t know if we can get past the roses. The edge of the velveteen petals are already starting to wilt.

 

unnamed14

Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK.  A regular writer for Skirt Collective, she also writes features and reviews for The State of the Arts.  She has also published flash fiction and poetry in various literary magazines, including Sick Lit Magazine, Gold Dust, and 101words.  She has been long-listed for Flash 500, and won the weekly AdHoc Fiction contest, as well as being nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Kelly Coody of Sick Lit Magazine for 2017.

Find her on Twitter: @katejonespp

She also blogs at: writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com