Breaking my Silence and my Happy Mask – Kelly Fitzharris Coody, Author

All the Things I’m NOT Supposed to Say – so be it, I’m biting the fucking hand that feeds. – Kelly Fitzharris Coody, Author of Unhinged

 

I won’t and can’t apologize for the minor editing errors that slipped through the literary cracks; not when I look at the whole of the process that was writing, editing, and taking on the responsibility for “professionally editing” my own manuscript, with the help of my longtime friend, Marisela Mitchley. (Despite what was promised to me by my publishers in my contract.)

Yes, I got a damning review over the weekend of my book, Unhinged.

(Psst: please, no need tell me over and over again that “you are going to get these bad reviews, Kelly,” because I KNOW THAT. I have a few things I need to address.)

The “errors” that were called out in said review aren’t actually even grammatical errors – to so confidently call out a writer for “assaulting the English language” and for “possessing bad grammatical skills” warrants a manuscript that is consistently poorly written, by a writer who uses the wrong “your” or “there” and doesn’t understand how commas or semicolons work. Not a few sentences ending in prepositions. Or for the way I used the word “idler.” To say that M.B.Reviewer has grossly exaggerated her assessment of my literary abilities is putting it lightly.

Sitting in my author’s seat is very frustrating; I’m not allowed to defend myself. It comes across as whiny, defensive, and flags me, by proxy, as weak and thin-skinned, along with possessing an inability to take constructive criticism, not to mention it pegging me as difficult to work with, when that could not be further from the truth.

What I consider to be an assault on the English language are words like, “obvs,” “OMG,” and “guyliner” not only existing in pop culture, but being added to the Oxford Dictionary. THAT is an assault.

You may read the review here: Review on Amazon of Unhinged

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ending a sentence with a preposition is “not a grammatical error.” And, according to http://www.dictionary.com/browse/idle, the way I used the word “idler” in the prologue is 100% correct. The statements that this review made about my abilities as a writer are defamatory, unnecessary, and flat out bogus.

A successful constructive critical review might look something like this: Coody’s book provided great literary insight into a different type of protagonist, giving the reader layers to peel back as they discover different aspects of Agnes’s personality and background. While, at times, Agnes is a character I can identify with and root for, there are other times that I feel Agnes is written to be too aggressive, detracting from the main plot and story-line, making the reader side with those around her who are out to get her. But, then, at the same time, is Coody attempting to make an overarching statement about how a protagonist doesn’t always need to be someone we identify with? While a few minor typographical errors made their way into print, they weren’t enough to distract me from the story and the characters. Unhinged is a solid, thrilling, unique book. Although I wasn’t a big fan of the way the book ended, and feel that it could do with a bit of revision, it’s nothing that a second and/or third edition wouldn’t be able to address and/or fix. Overall, Unhinged is one hell of a psychological thriller that will stay with you long after you read it.

Here’s the other part:

I’d love to share a story with you.

No, not a fictitious one; not an anecdotal, humorous holiday tale, either. But I’d like to share with you the ridiculously unprofessional process I endured and underwent with the publishing of my first book, Unhinged.

I was saddled with an editor whom shall remain nameless and gender-less in order to protect their identity. This person broke my book; they made unnecessary changes according to their style and/or taste, added errors and sentences that made no sense with the story, and repeatedly asked me to dumb my book down for the readers.

To be frank, I tried my hardest with the shit I was shoveled and I’m not the least bit sorry that more than a few shitty bits of grammar edged past the editing process and made their way into the final manuscript.

This has been an optimal outcome for me: through dedication and hard work, my friend and I made my book a cohesive, solid manuscript in a short amount of time, after playing clean up with what nameless editor had done to my manuscript. (One example: they changed Rolling Stones to Rolling Stone’s.)

Given this unforgivable lack of knowledge, competency, and professionalism, this editor was “let go” from “their” position at said contracted editing company.

NOW, mind you, I, like my good friend Marisela Mitchley, am not given to brevity. So stay with me.

After “Rookie Editor” soiled my manuscript, I looked over the PDF that was about to be sent to print, “Ready-to-go!” The further I read, the worse it got. Rookie Editor fucking annihilated my book, ADDING IN grammatical errors, changing my correct grammar to incorrect.

Guess what I was given as an alternative to “Rookie Editor?”

NOTHING. A half-hearted, ‘I’ll try,’ from the CEO of the contracted editing company, whose email to me was RIDDLED with typos, which I politely turned down. I was also given the same offer by the men who own the publishing company which published my book. They said the same thing, ‘This isn’t really my area, but I can give it a try.’ 

WHAT THE FUCK? 

At this point in the process, I’d become so jaded and disillusioned with not only the publishing process, but with everyone’s lack of concern and competency who were the supposed “experts” and “professionals” surrounding me, when it came to my book.

So, guess what I did? Guess what I had to do?

Not trusting the two people who freely admitted that they would probably fuck up my book even more, I enlisted the help of an old college friend. We were initially given two weeks, which was extended to about six. the fact that we were able to fix all of the many, many added typos, grammatical problems, and more than a few apostrophe problems, along with editing it the way it should have been done the first time around is nothing short of a miracle.

As for the remark in this review regarding the book’s premise being “not so unique?” This book is based on my life. Yes, I’ve mixed fiction in with it, but the premise is my life. Me. I don’t know how much more unique I could have gotten than that.

I’ll tell you something, though: despite the few “errors” that you feel discredit me as a writer, I am a damn good writer, I am proud of the book, and I have excellent grammar.

(“errors” = they aren’t, by definition, grammatical errors)

I’m not an idiot, guys. Some of you have even told me that you hated thrillers and that’s why you weren’t a big fan of my book–then, two weeks later, I saw that you posted something about how much you love thrillers.

This week has been a hard one for me. Forgive me, but my family has lost two important people; two close, dear, family friends, and it has thrown a crack into our foundation. So, in between the daily sexual harassment I deal with, along with the hypercritical stone-throwing pertaining to my literary merit, I am grieving, and am so, so deeply sad for my friends and their families during this time, along with feeling violated and stepped on for a long time now.

Don’t worry though: I love proving people wrong. I’m actively working on The Undoing.

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

(Just to show you another instance of utter incompetency on my publishers’ part, when they first listed Unhinged on Amazon for sale, they added a hyphen to my name. This is a pseudonym, for God’s sake. I don’t have a hyphenated name, nor have I ever. My legal name is Kelly Marie Coody, because I changed my name after I was married 9 years ago.)

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The Lazy Eye – by PATTI JURINSKI

The Lazy Eye

 

My father has a lazy left eye that wanders off mid-sentence as if bored. When we sit down for dinner, and he starts yelling at my brother, the eye wobbles towards the door in search of a quiet corner. I want to go too; sit cross-legged in the coat closet away from the noise. Instead, I twirl the spaghetti around my fork, twisting, turning, over and over. Anything to keep from staring.

He’s had it since he was a boy, my mother tells me, pulling me onto her lap later that night.  The house settles around us, and I snuggle deeper into her bathrobe, tucking my head under her chin.  She points to a photo of a small cherub-like boy in dark knee socks and short pants. The right side of my father’s face is swallowed up by a black eye patch. He looks like a miniature pirate who’s lost his ship and crew.

My mother doesn’t know why the patch was on his right eye. Maybe, she thinks out loud, to make the left eye work harder. As if its laziness was a character trait that could be cured.

I checked your eyes when you were born, my mother says, smiling. I imagine her pulling down each of our tiny lids – my brother, my twin sisters, and me—looking for signs of minutes-old indolence, her relief followed by gentle kisses.

Some nights—when the bills are low, and our grades are high—I sit on the couch next to my father. We read—he the paper, me my book—and in the peaceful silence, I hold my breath; dare to take a peek.

With startling clarity, his left eye always winks down at me, under perfect control.

***

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Patti Jurinski lives in Florida with her husband and two sons, but will always be a New Englander at heart. Since leaving the corporate world four years ago, she has augmented car line boredom with reading and writing, the latter taking on a life of its own. Although writing a historical fiction novel is her main entrée, flash fiction stories are the yummy nibbles she can’t quite say no to.  She is thrilled (and slightly terrified) at the prospect someone may read her work.

The Shadow – by CONNER HAYES

The Shadow

 

Burning made me feel alive. Pain provided me with a passing, excruciating escape from the bombastic blissfulness of life. Everybody was happy, but nobody knew why. The faces strolling past me shone with hedonistic delight and perplexed enchantment. Vapors of gray smoke wafted around our heads, obscuring the hidden truth of the City, hiding the truth of us. Nobody knew what caused the happiness. Nobody knew what caused the pain. We roamed the deserted streets of the dark, looking for the cause, searching for the cure. We allowed the night to null our hearts together, following the eternal lights of the City to the inevitable end. They showed us the way to nowhere.

       

The tower across the water pulsed its precious lights constantly, casting the City in continuous illumination. The harbor bustled with movement, the darkened outlines of boats creeping inwards from the black ocean. The skyscrapers stabbed the sky; the opaque clouds choked the shining stars above. A chill mist permeated the air. A steamy fog lurked down every hollow alley and silent street. It was always dark in the City. The sun never stabbed its way through the stagnant gray clouds, and if it occasionally did, the light was fleeting and faint.

       

I was burning inside. Like the inexplicable happiness of pain, I couldn’t explain it. I had given up trying to understand my condition. I should be happy like everyone else. No one wore their dismay during the night. We wore our dismay during the day, when the lights hid the pain. I hadn’t always possessed the pain. I wandered the streets each night in search of the cure.

Something nefarious, growing, spreading, was gnawing at my heart. I searched for freedom and the cure, but neither existed in the City. They likely existed somewhere, hidden in a crevice, a dank alley, a defeated den, but the City was too great to ever have a chance at finding it.

 

The City was large and we were small. We looked, but we would never find it. We all were prisoners of the City, chained to our hopeless pursuit of the cure, chained to each other, chained to ourselves. We followed the blazing lights, but we were all lost. The way was illuminated with the false lights of the City, but our paths were dark. We were lost, searching the sea of suffering and uncertainty for something, anything to diminish the pain.

       

I followed the cold lights to a dimly lit bar on the west side of the City. The place was faintly lit. I liked the dim lights more than the bright ones. The bright ones made me feel anxious and exposed. People could see me too clearly in the bright lights. The place was buzzing with enigmatic exhilaration; there was something alive in here, but none us knew what it was. I waded through the surging crowd towards the bar. People noticed my passing. They could sense my sickness. They could feel the burning inside me; they could sense my suffering. People noticed me and parted in my path.

       

I saw a small shape creep out of the back door onto the balcony. I knew that shadow. I recognized that shy walk. I fought through the crowd, following the shadow. Everyone was raging in bizarre delight. Their incomprehensible faces showed their sickness, but I could tell none of them were as sick as me. Nobody knew me here, but they all noticed me. A few attempted to shake my sallow hand and strike up conversation as I passed. I did not want to get to know them. I wanted to find the shadow that I knew. The shadow would save me.

       

The shadow hid on the edge of the balcony, peering out at the blazing skyline of the city. The black bay sat completely still; the water reflected the scintillating stars of the heavens above and absorbed the hazy gaze of the veiled moon. I tried to swallow the stale air. The tumultuous din of the people inside grew fainter. There was no else on the balcony except us. They could feel my sickness and they avoided me. The shadow did not move.

       

I sat down next to her, unable to breathe. She did not notice me.

       

“I’m sick,” I told her, exhaling the words as I gulped down the perfume-permeated air around her.

       

“I know,” she replied, never breaking her gaze from the flickering skyline across the dead water.

 

I watched the shimmering skyline with her and it reminded of a distant time long ago before I was sick. We sat there for an eternity and watched the City burn slowly with lingering light. We loathed the City, but it was our City. It was all we knew. It was the only thing that remained of us. We didn’t touch, but we could imagine. We watched the lights dancing across the water and imagined. We remembered.

       

She did not say anything more. I could not say anything because I could not breathe in her suffocating shadow. Besides, I had nothing to say. I was sick and that was all.

       

I got up and left the balcony. As I exited the bustling bar everybody noticed my passing. She did not.

***

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Conner is a twenty-one year old English major pursuing a career in writing and academia. He is currently a senior at Birmingham-Southern College planning to obtain an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature. He has been published in 221 Magazine and The Copperfield Review in prose and Transcendent Zero Press’s Harbinger Asylum in poetry. Additionally, his novel was considered in the First Annual Young National Writers Contest at age sixteen.

Strange Night – by ROB TRUE

Strange Night

 

In a dark, strange and quiet night picture.

Everything looks sharp.  Nobody about, just me roaming streets.

Looking at the slabs on the pavement and there it is.

A message in some sort of ancient writing.

All over the paving stones, it’s fucking everywhere!  Why hadn’t I noticed this before?

I can’t read it, it’s old language, an alien script.

Layers upon layers of ancient writing.  It’s not just on the stones, but in them deep, three dimensional, like a hologram.

I want to read it, to understand its wisdom, but I can’t.  There’s no hope!  No hope.

Vomit comes out in a perfect circle, lands on the floor bubbling.  Its fucking bubbling!     

I stand there looking at it fizzing and boiling.

Walking away and all the passenger doors are open.  It’s a car stereo thief done it, but the look of it, mysterious, possibly supernatural.

I walk for a while and fall over on the path, laughing.  Crazy laughing at black sky, at nothing, like falling through life and death, a dream that don’t matter, don’t mean shit.  

I know nothing, just mad laughter.

Why am I laughing?

I don’t really know.

I get up and walk.  I find myself in the park and lying there looking up at the dark sky, with trees rising over me like mad black claws coming out the ground.

Everything is just right.  I lie there feeling the power runnin’ round my veins.  My blood knows forever this crazy delirium, with an idiot’s wisdom flowin’ through it.  This feeling is old, in me from childhood, memories back infinitely into distant nothing and everything.

***

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Rob True was born in London 1971. He left school with no qualifications, dyslexic and mad, in a world he didn’t fit into. He got lost in an abyss, was sectioned twice and spent the best part of a decade on another planet. He returned to earth just in time for the new millennium, found a way to get on in life, married a beautiful girl and lived happily ever after. She taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation and his writing has been a bit better ever since. Find him on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/robjtrue

The Dying Time Traveler – by MILEVA ANASTASIADOU

 The Dying Time Traveler

Lying here, among faces that stare at me in despair, unable to move my legs or arms, I begin to remember. The only open road is driving me backward. The poet in me finally awakens, on the most inappropriate moment though, when I should concentrate all my strength to save myself  from the disease that is trying to throw my body into the dustbin of time.

A dive into the past,

where happiness seems to lie,

nothing is made to last,

yet the soul longs to fly

It’s not only the disease. If it was, I would have easily found the point I am looking for, the start of all evil. It would certainly be the time before I got sick, but this is obviously not the case. The first thing I wished for, when the diagnosis was announced, was a trip back in time, to a few seconds ago, when I was not aware that my condition had such a serious name, or such a bad prognosis.

After a while, my wish shifted a little bit further back, to the time the symptoms had not yet appeared.

If I could manage to travel back to that period of time, when there was no trace of the disease yet, when my arms and legs did not hurt, when I could easily stand and walk, then I would be happy. And for a while, I was.

The mind is capable of the longest journeys, defying the known barriers of place and time. Whenever I managed to reach my destination, though, I felt less and less happy.

During my first trips to that old and familiar place, to that season when I could not even suspect that I would have to leave everything behind in a little while, I felt immense joy, inherently dependent to my current situation.

I could tell the difference between then and now, as I had not yet discovered a way  to disengage from my current situation during the trip. Therefore the comparison was inevitable, with the past easily gaining the winning position. The more I improved my technique to immerse myself in memories without carrying the present as heavy baggage, the less joyful I felt.

It all started with the big journey. The fatigue triggered the disease, as I suspect. It may not have been the fatigue itself, but the despair I was hiding inside me for so many years, that in the sight of the slightest hole, the smallest crack on the surface, poured on me to destroy me, wrapping its tentacles around my increasingly weak body.

The journey had always been my dream.

I have been fantasizing about it since I was a kid, but never had neither enough time, nor money to realize it, thereby constantly postponing it into a future time when I would supposedly have enough of both. Unfortunately, I have never been that lucky, until I recently decided that my wish should be fulfilled. I ran out of obligations, as I got fired at a time that did not upset me at all. I was so tired of the job, which I had never wanted in the first place, but had been obliged to undertake in order to survive, that I could not care less. I was expecting it anyway. The salary had been satisfying, certainly above average, but in times of crisis, advertising companies do not last long. Thus, I made the brave, for my standards, decision, to begin the journey, the greatest adventure of my life, not with the luxuries I had once imagined, but on a bicycle and a tent.The trip lasted three weeks, and would have lasted longer if the symptoms had not appeared, that made me speed up my return, only to realize that my childhood dream would never be fully fulfilled.

That is how the other journey started, the big dive into the past, that transformed me into a time traveler in search of that magical moment, or season, that I – for once –  felt happy in my life. The journey is leading me to older and older seasons, making it clear that what has happened to my body, has always been happening to my mind and soul. Decay has already started since the day I was born, affecting not only my body, which is expected, but my soul as well, which was supposed to flourish instead.

Logically, I was happy when my son was born. I remember my joy for sure, which was overshadowed, though, by the stress of future obligations. I surely must have felt happy on the day I got married. I chose my wife wisely, as a capable companion for the rest of my life. That is how most people get married anyway. To be honest, we were never joined by that kind of romantic love that is described in books and films. I could tell though that she was a good woman, on whom I could depend through thick and thin. I was never a true realist, but always acted like one. I remember falling in love again and again when I was still very young, but even then it was nothing but an infatuation, a crush on a face that meant something important to me. I never really fell in love with another human being’s soul. Only with faces and their ability to fulfill my demands.

They are still standing above me, I can see their worrying faces. My body is at the hospital once more, while my mind is wandering through the labyrinth of time. They think I am dying, but in reality my soul is reborn. It is not me dying, but my time in this body. My time on this planet is diminishing and I finally have the chance to travel through it, back and forth, flowing through my past in order to free my spirit and get ready for the greatest adventure. My body gets all the weaker day by day. The smaller I get though and the weaker I become, the bigger and wilder my soul is growing, spreading its branches around like a tree, to embrace the universe. The universe will fit into my arms in just a little while.

I did my best to reach you,

I have finally arrived,

I have nothing left to give you,

But my soul revived

Going further back, I searched for joy on the day I got my job. I became an advertising company executive rather easily, without much effort. The prospect of a job that would ensure my survival and much more later on was obviously a relief. I became a very good designer indeed, one of the best in the market. But the price was big and grew bigger with time. This job required my authenticity in exchange to all it had to offer. While I used to spit my pessimism on the canvas while drawing, in the most liberating way, all the negativity concentrated inside my body and soul, finding no other way out, since I had been obliged to draw happy pictures for unimportant advertisements. The worst part is that I was rewarded for this, for the loss of my soul. How can you search for another soul, when you learn to let go of yours?

Going even further back in time, I wonder if the important moment I am looking for happened in my youth. Maybe the first good grades at school caused some enthusiasm, but soon they were followed by the fear of  subsequent performance. Then came the vicious circle, in which I was immersed for the rest of my life. I was happy for my success for a single moment, until the expectations multiplied and I had to chase some more. I should have been happy with what I had already accomplished, but when I achieved something, new wishes automatically were born, for more success and achievement. Then, one obligation led to another, so that I had to postpone my happiness for a little later, to that moment in time when I would have managed to finish off with all of my commitments. As a result, the  journey became the absolute target, the symbol of my liberation from the shackles of thought that imprisoned me in unhappiness, banner of the day that my life would properly begin. Strangely, it is now ending, just when I was ready to live it.

Last time I really felt joyful, without any weight bringing me down, is back  when I was very young, before I even went to school. Afterwards, worries filled my mind, which has connected joy to carefree-ness. There was always a shadow, a worry about the future that evolved the way it evolved, regardless of my worry about it. The secret as I now see it,  is to empty your mind of shadows and weights. To deal with them when needed and then put them in a corner, to deal with them again later if necessary. This is a lesson that I never learned and even if I did, I will not be able to use my knowledge for long anyway. I never learned how to truly live. To be consciously happy. Not in the simple, childish way, but  knowing that any time soon, happiness can fall apart as a castle in the sand. You seek and long for a safe place to lay your dream house, knowing that even the planet, along with everything on it, will one day disappear. Even the sun that lights it and makes life possible on it, has its own expiration date. You only hope that the finite of your own existence will not allow you to live through larger disasters, than you own extinction, when your time comes.

Finally though, even the incomplete journey, the symbol of my freedom, did not make me happy. It was not as I had imagined it in my youth, untroubled and carefree. I was running to come first in a race without an opponent, or even worse, against myself. As I could not let go of the competitive reflex I had developed, I was running out of habit. I was competitive against myself, until the disease came to put things back in order. My strong physical defense became a powerful attack against my own self. As a consequence, the body followed the soul and created the disease.

I feel the air getting thicker. An unfamiliar face near me is looking towards my direction in agony and then to the crowd I can barely see with the corner of my eye. If my life is really passing in front of my eyes, then what is happening to me means I am close to the end. And then it comes to me. This is the moment I was looking for. The lost piece of my life’s completed  puzzle. This face looking my way in agony, is the most beautiful face I have ever seen. It is not only the face though. The longer I look at her, the clearer I see beyond the face. I travel inside the eyes, directly to the heart and then to the soul. I see her soul. I am in love. I smile to her and she smiles back at me, full of expectation. All is now complete and I can now free myself from the weight of the body and become so small that the whole universe fits into my arms.

I beg you my bride,

To keep my soul within you in pride

Of my body I am bereft.

She said, “I will,” and left.

***

Mileva

Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist living and working in Athens, Greece. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, such as Menacing Hedge, the Molotov Cocktail, Fear of Monkeys, Infective Ink, Ofi press, Maudlin House and many others. She has published two books.

 

Starter Problems – by KITTY SHIELDS

Starter Problems

By Kitty Shields

       

         I am not making it to graduation on time, I thought, watching the fight outside escalate.

        A black woman with a colorful head wrap on, and a big bag filled with daily life, came into the shop and right up to me.

        “You better come outside and get your friend,” she said, gesturing at the scene just outside the window.

        Bill was in the guy’s face, nearly touching chest to chest as they practiced their best Tarzan impressions on each other. Bill’s opponent had a solid fifty pounds and maybe two inches on him, but I wasn’t worried about it. Bill could handle himself in a fight. Plus, I was tired of apologizing for his temper. And I was hungover.

        “Honestly,” I said, “I can’t talk him down once he starts. Maybe he’ll listen to you.”

        The woman’s eyes widened. She hadn’t been expecting that answer, or for me to shove the responsibility off on her. Shoving responsibility off—one of the things I learned in college.

        “He’s got a bottle,” she said, gesturing again. “You’re lucky he doesn’t have a gun.”

        Bill’s opponent hadn’t had the bottle when I’d gotten out of the car.

        Traffic, man, it drives everyone fucking crazy. That’s what had started the whole mess.

        Bill had picked me up this morning because the starter on my hand-me-down minivan was acting up again. He took me to grab my paycheck, and I promised him a cheesesteak in return. I was really grateful for the ride. Because I was hungover, I also needed the cheesesteak. Badly.  

        Anyway, we were half a block away from our favorite neighborhood hoagie shop when the driver in front of us stopped dead in the middle of the street. Bill leaned out the window and cursed at the driver. Obviously, that didn’t make things better. It certainly didn’t make the dead car magically start.

        A guy leaned out of the passenger seat window and started flipping us off and swearing in Spanish. Not a surprise in this neighborhood. I would have done the same thing. Hell, my grandmother would have done the same thing. Cause that’s what you did in Philly. So would Bill, if the positions were switched. That didn’t stop Bill from leaning out his window to return the favor. And Bill’s Spanish was pretty good. To be fair, there were four cars behind us waiting, too. The douchebag and his girlfriend, who was the driver, were holding up traffic.

        A fight was inevitable at that point. Before the chest banging and clenched fists could start, I told Bill I was going to walk to grab our sandwiches. He nodded mid “pinche idiota” and continued on with the back and forth. I hopped out of the car and walked the fifty feet to the sandwich shop as the shouting escalated in volume. I glanced into the car as I passed and saw the girlfriend frantically trying to restart the car. Starter problems—seems like we all have them.

        By the time I ordered, the girlfriend had managed to turn the engine over. She immediately pulled off to the curb and got out her phone. I saw her hit her boyfriend, the Spanish curser, on the shoulder a few times while she dialed for help. Bill pulled over too, at the opposite corner right outside the shop window. The waiting cars zoomed by, but by some unspoken macho agreement, both Bill and the Spanish curser exited their vehicles to meet in the middle of the sidewalk and resume their screaming match. It was a hot mix of English and Spanish, and I’m sure Bill’s language teacher would have been horrified by it. I was kind of impressed.  

        As the fight raged, I saw the girlfriend in the driver’s seat talking rapidly into her phone, gesturing at the dashboard like the person on the other end could see it. About the time the black lady came in asking me to intervene, the girlfriend hung up and got out of the car.

        The black lady abandoned me in the shop. Obviously, she thought I was a lost cause, not untrue really, and went back outside to the bus stop to enlist someone else. She convinced an older gentleman with a wool cap on and a weary-worn middle-aged man to approach the combatants. ‘Combatants’ may be a strong word. No one had thrown a punch yet. The Spanish curser held an empty bottle of Jack in his hand. Nothing like getting a good buzz on before eleven a.m., I guess. He waved it around a lot, but, like Bill, I knew that if he hadn’t used it yet, he wasn’t going to. Besides, Bill wasn’t backing down.

        I wasn’t sure if that was stupidity or youthful recklessness on Bill’s part. I was pretty sure he was going to die at some point from this kind of behavior. He fought at every party, every bar we went to. It was compulsive. Really, I wondered what he was battling, but we didn’t talk about that stuff.

        Maybe it was the fact that he was pretty ordinary—the plight of a suburban white kid with no talents or problems to separate him from the rest. Hell, he didn’t even have any good manias to make him interesting. I liked him because of that, of course, but then most of my family was batshit crazy. Between my bipolar mother who only took pills when the moon was high, my closet alcoholic father who only drank flavored vodka, and my seven siblings, finding normal was like finding a unicorn.

        It must be tough to be normal, I thought. The only thing Bill had going for him was the band. And only drumming seemed to keep him level. We needed to have band practice more.

        “Two cheesesteaks are up,” the guy behind the counter said.

        I walked over and grabbed the two sandwiches and a bottle of soda, paid, and went back to the window.

        The bottle of Jack was on the curb now, unbroken, and the bus stop people plus the girlfriend were trying to herd the opponents away from each other. Bill was standing near the corner, stone solid, ignoring the older gentleman who was trying to talk him down. He’d stopped shouting. Now he just watched the Spanish curser who circled clumsily around, trying to find a way back to him through the crowd. Bill never punched first. Again, no idea why. If he wanted a fight so badly, why didn’t he just go in fists a-blazing and be done with it?

        I wondered why the Spanish curser hadn’t thrown either. Then I saw the bags under his eyes and the greenish tint of his skin. He was either hungover as fuck, like me, drunk still, or sick. Either way, he was probably not feeling as confident as he wanted. Plus, Bill’s fearlessness was obviously throwing him off. It was a little funny to watch.

        I wondered if I should head outside. Instead, I opened my soda and took a sip. It was delicious. If I went out and helped end this now, I would get to graduation on time. I had mixed feelings on the subject.

        Bill wasn’t walking in the ceremony today. He’d completed college. He could walk, he just wasn’t. When I’d asked him why, he’d said, “Fuck that shit, you know, man?” When I told him I was walking, he said, “I’m really proud of you, bro,” and gave me a fist bump. Bill was a complicated guy.

        I knew I should walk. My parents had paid like a million dollars for me to get my shiny piece of paper. Plus, I’d dragged myself out of bed. I was awake now even if I was hungover. I had sugar in my system. I was about to have an awesome cheesesteak, and I had brushed my hair like I promised my dad I would. I should walk—

        —but starter problems.

        I burst out laughing. In his clumsy, half-drunken circling, the Spanish curser had been concentrating so hard on mean-mugging Bill that he hadn’t watched where he was going and tripped on the curb. He tried to play it off, but no one was fooled. Bill shook his head and walked back to the car. The bus stop patrol went back to the corner, and a tow truck arrived. The fight was officially over.

        The poor Spanish curser was left alone at the curb, looking like a moron. I felt a little bad for him, but was more concerned with the fact that I was now back to making it to graduation on time. Well, maybe it would be good to have some closure to college or whatever. Maybe I would feel like the past four years was worth something when they handed me that piece of paper. Probably not, but there was always hope.

        I just had no idea what I was going to do after walking across that temporary stage today. I sighed and checked the time. There was no avoiding it now. I was going to make it to graduation on time.

        With cheesesteaks in hand, I walked outside and slid into the passenger side of the car.

        “Dude, did you see that guy trip on the curb?” Bill asked as I handed him his sandwich.

        I laughed again. “That was the best part.”

        Bill looked refreshed after his fight. I wish I felt that good.

        “Come on, though, I got to get to the ceremony,” I said.

        “Right, right,” Bill said. “You nervous?”

        “No, man,” I lied. “Just want to get it done.”

        Bill nodded and opened his soda, taking a sip as the smell of the fried onions filled the car. “Well,” he said. “Just don’t trip on a step and you’ll be fine.”

        If only it were that easy, I thought.

        “Actually,” Bill said, “that would be a great way to end things. I mean, you’re going to start at the bottom again anyway. Might as well get it over with.”

        “That was almost a deep thought,” I said.

        Bill grinned and shrugged. “I almost learned to think deep in college.”

        We both laughed.

***

IMG_6390

Kitty Shields lives in Philadelphia, where she writes to try and overcome the fact that she was born a middle child with large feet and freckles. She graduated from Arcadia University with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2015. She has been published in After Happy Hour Review, Furious Gazelle, and Dark Fire Fiction. You can find her at kittyshields.com or @kittyshields on Instagram.

Set in Place – by LESLIE E OWEN

Set in Place

 

He awoke slowly, as if he had somehow been placed under a curse, and so had slept for a hundred years. The last thing he remembered – he wheeled around; was Angelo still behind him with his piece?

       

“Would you stand still? How can I put these in if you won’t stand still?”

       

Who would have thought he’d long for Angelo and his piece? He stared at the face in the mirror and burst into tears.

       

“Would you like me to give you something to cry about?” the woman demanded. “Hold still.”

       

“Take them out,” he told her between gasps, but it wasn’t his own voice speaking. It was the voice of the child he saw standing in the mirror, and he looked down and saw that he was that child, balanced on a chair with that child’s mother behind him as she gathered his dark curls into two ponytails and tied them with red gingham bows to match the red gingham short set he had on.

       

“You look so cute!” the mother said, smiling, and she picked him up and placed him on the floor.  “Why don’t you go out and see if Jeffrey will play?”

       

He wasn’t even big enough to see himself in the mirror, once he was on the floor. He glanced down at the sturdy, tanned legs that were supposed to be his, and the tiny feet encased in red leather sandals. His nonna had been right – curses were real. Angelo hadn’t shot him with the piece. He hadn’t died in Joey Lupo’s car, being driven to Red Hook, where they were going to throw his body into the Gowanus Canal. He’d been consigned to some sort of hell, the same Hell his nonna and Father St Onge had always warned him about. Only Hell wasn’t flames and physical agony. Hell was being in a body that wasn’t yours, wearing a red gingham short set with bows in your hair.

       

He didn’t know what else to do, so he walked out of the small bedroom and followed the long hall, down the stairs to the living room. There was a baby in a cot in the center of the room on a braided rug, and he glanced at it. He felt nothing, looking at it. He supposed it was a pretty baby, with pink skin and white-blonde curls, but he’d cared little about kids before and he didn’t think he would care about them now.

       

He opened the screen door. It was hot, hotter than it had any right to be for Brooklyn, and yet this was obviously not Brooklyn. He was in a postage-stamp sized yard, the kind they had in the back on President Street, with a fence and a gate. The yard faced an alley, and there were houses all around it, attached to one another, sort of like the ones in Bay Ridge, but without the red-tiled roofs. These places were cheap, cheaply-made and cheaply-kept. He heard a lawn mower somewhere, and kids yelling, and traffic; the brakes of a city bus.

       

A boy came to the gate, dressed in seersucker shorts and a white shirt.

       

“You wanna go to the creek?” the boy asked, swinging the gate back and forth.

       

He could barely understand what the kid was saying.  Nobody talked like this in Brooklyn, unless it was in the movies.

       

“No,” he said.  He wanted to hide.  Maybe if he hid somewhere, all of this, the strange houses, the cracker boy, the red gingham short set and the ponytails, maybe it would all go away if he gave it time.

       

“Aw, c’mon,” the boy said.  “You ain’t got nothin’ else to do.  I seen a frog.”

       

He thought, who the fuck cares?  “You talk funny,” he said.

       

The boy laughed.  “So do you.  My momma calls you that little Yankee child.”

       

He thought he’d sit down, but the stoop was too hot. “Okay,” he said. At least the creek would be cool.  He left the yard and walked with the boy down the sidewalk, the sun burning the back of his neck.  He could feel sweat running down his shoulder blades. He glanced at the boy, who seemed older, and taller, than he. The boy’s blond hair curled at the nape of his neck, and a trickle of sweat beaded on his upper lip.  It reminded him of Angelo, the way Angelo would sweat in the car as they sat in front of Joey’s house, the way Angelo’s sweat dripped on him as the fan in the motel room whirred uselessly.

       

Where the hell was this creek? His new legs were useless, short and stubby, and he didn’t really want to think about the other, newer parts of him that were useless too. “What’s your name?” he said, kicking a rock with his toe.

       

“We playin’ a game?” the boy asked.  “Mighty Mouse. And when we get to the creek, I’ll save you.”

 

“Don’t do me any favors, kid,” he said. “I can rescue myself.”

       

The boy laughed again. “You’re some crazy kid, you know that?”

       

He shrugged. They crossed a street and then the sidewalk began to curve down a slight incline. He saw the trees and the vacant lot at the end of the rows of houses, and then there was the creek disappearing under the intersection in a culvert. There were playing fields on the other side of the street, but he followed the boy into the vacant lot, dodging shopping carts and broken Coke bottles.

 

“Gimme your hand, Jilly,” the boy said, holding his hand out.  “I’ll make sure you don’t fall.”

       

He opened his mouth and then shut it. Maybe this world was real and maybe it wasn’t. But somehow he didn’t want to find out what would happen if he told the kid to go fuck himself. He took the boy’s hand, and surprisingly it was dry and warm and smelling of talcum powder, and he followed slowly down the scrubby hill to the creek, which was full of junk. He sat down on the cool ground and took the red sandals off.

 

“My name isn’t Jilly,” he told the boy. He slid into the water, which was running fast and cool.  He glanced around. The only frogs this kid had seen were in his imagination.

 

“Then my name ain’t Jeffrey,” the boy joked.

       

Jeffrey, he thought. That figured. He was trying to think of the word that described this – this cazzo – he couldn’t even think of the word in English – standing in a creek wearing red gingham with an eight-year-old finocchio who didn’t even know what he was.

 

“My name,” he announced, “is Enzo,” and then he remembered the word: surreal.

       

Life – his life – which had veered from normal to exciting to dangerous much too fast – had simply, in its end, become surreal.

***

10984063_10205855653771176_947499875001871510_n

Leslie E Owen grew up in Connecticut and spent most summers in Maine.  She graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Creative Writing and English Lit in 1980, moving to New York in 1981 to begin her thirty-four-year career in publishing.  She has been an acquisitions editor, international publishing representative, film scout, and freelance writer for the publishing trade.  Currently she runs a small literary agency and teaches exceptional education students in Florida.  She has been published by Tradewind Books, Crocodile Books, Jewish Monthly, Zoetrope, Publishers Weekly, the SCBWI Newsletter, and The Horn Book.  Most recently, she’s been writing about Star Trek, and she has appeared on the live radio show Tribbles and Trilobites, New York Cine Radio.  She is currently finishing a literary novel, The Mortal Part.

Living Gems/ Her Strength in me / Untitled – Poems by VEARNA GLOSTER

Living Gems

 

Lullabies I sang to them

All knit I with the same glue

I watched them grow from a distance clear

Many times with a shattered heart,

I feared

 

I taught them how to sing and dance

I played as their sibling in the sand

But with the moments fleeting by

Each parting goodbye was a resounding cry within my heart

And knew too well

Also within theirs

 

To grow with love and beauty dears

I pray that you would.

And one day learn,

The mystery of our broken home

Then yet forgive a mother’s stand

To have her children grow with peace of mind!


 

Her Strength in me

 

Mother, your love never left.

For each day it came dazzling through my fractured soul

To soothe me from the taint of wrongs

They have piled upon my pretty gown.

 

When I am bowed in despair

In my blood, you stir

Making me know you are here.

And in your strength I slowly rise

Facing another day,

To my surprise!


 

Untitled

 

She was everything he needed

He mused how it all came together

Yet unable to understand its entirety

His acceptance was real

 

Her laughter

It was a delightful sound he had missed

This too, was a kiss

A kiss to his heart, which warmed and stirred his own joy

 

He smiled,  eyes glassy as he was intoxicated by her aura

By her unique stare, by the way she ate and by things she didn’t say

 

He simply sought balance… and in her, this he had found.


***

vearna gloster

Vearna Gloster has been writing short stories and poems since in high school. She has a very vivid imagination and would usually write out how she felt whenever she was unable to express herself verbally.  Vearna was featured in the Sunday Express Mix Music Section at #1 on the top 12 Indigenous Chart for her piece on ‘Honey’, capturing the state of our local honey industry in November 2014.  She has been an awardee in the Special Prize Category of the NIHERST Prime Minister’s Awards for Scientific Ingenuity in 2015 with her Solar Bee Hive Vent and  was featured in the Plenty Sport E-zine Issue #19 in January 2016 as  ‘ The Honey Bee Runs! As an independent Researcher in the beekeeping field, she is currently working on “An Introduction to Honeybee Botany in Trinidad and Tobago”.

She is a forthcoming author of the ‘Sun Goddess’, her first poetry collection.

A Poetry Collection from – THOMAS ZIMMERMAN

“If Your Life Is Burning Well, Poetry Is Just the Ash”

                                                                        after Leonard Cohen

The largess of the doomed

is sitting on our hands:

our tongues are banging tra la-la

to fill the lines, our bellies, and our lives.

But evil is banal, we know.

When I see leaves sun-shot in breeze, I feel

as if what Emily

so militantly wrote

about the head’s explosion

is the truth.

We call it poetry, but beauty—

in Montana, in the laundromat, in class—

it lifts us like I once was lifted

by young Anne Sofia Mutter

playing Pärt’s Tabula Rasa

in electric blue.

Night holds off—

why? Our faces, deft hands shine

with torchlight that we pass

like cups of wine.


 

Wings Nailed On

 

The night drapes velvet, wet: our bellies rub

against an ocean oiled by our molt,

the stars fly by, linguini in a pot

of brine that boils as hard as Whitman’s brain

OD’d on Emerson. These dreams we slub

and scuff to grunge up/down, a day-glo bolt

of cloth that tweaks our nakedness, too hot

to bleed with post-post-irony, to stain

my kisses on your breasts. Your free hand’s tight

around my cock. Let’s take a thousand you’s,

and multiply by I’s, then add a pinch

of weirdness we’ve cultivated: right

amount of spice. Let’s love these delta blues.

Let’s find the empyrean inch by inch.


 

The Water Rising

 

The water rising over reason, neighbors                                        

dressed like animals, dog barfing on                    

their sidewalk: better taste than I. We must                    

be patient. Something’s coming closer, ghostly.            

Let it. Be. Each syllable a cry,                                   

a curse, an incantation. Long-haired boy                                           

who keeps a cat inside his jumper: do                                

you love him, sister? Gargoyles perched on eaves,      

our selves on shelves. The way you play                                           

that violin sometimes, dear Jascha, makes                       

me want to cry. A man who choked up only                    

when he spoke of beauty. That’s                          an epitaph.                    

My business is on Earth, with vibrant colors,                    

mostly grays. Jeweled window: raining still.     


                

Spam Poetics

 

A second scotch bears wingbeats and the clop

of hooves: Parisian sewers, nimbus clean

as brother Theo’s brushes. Wheels and chop-

shop dreams, soft cogs and machinations, sheen

of sealed interiors that oxygen

will eat. You lie, a pharaoh disinterred:

your love, a doppelgänger Saracen,

transcribes a Bach sonata. Rise! Be heard!

Your banshee grips a bare, forked figurine:

And I am not the man I am / I am

an aim, an anima, an iamb! Keen

as knives, the syllables keep slicing spam

poetics, spiced and canned art brut that lasts

past Armageddon, starves iconoclasts.


 

One Eye a Button, One Eye a Stone

 

The button eye undresses you,

it rolls its wheel too fast around your breasts,

then slows a little in the grass.

The stone eye’s in

a lone crow’s mouth.

Hot, clamped and wet, it flies in darkness.

I use it for the other sex act, art.

 

No vile gel in either eye,

just passing clouds.

There is no evil except cruelty.

 

The cats we loved are dead,

the orange one, the white-and-black.

They’re like the colors of my eyes

that you can’t see:

the fire, the ice, the shattered night

at the imagined,

and sometimes unbearably delayed,

end.


***

TZimmerman (2)

Thomas Zimmerman teaches English, directs the Writing Center, and edits two literary magazines at Washtenaw Community College, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His chapbook In Stereo: Thirteen Sonnets and Some Fire Music appeared from The Camel Saloon Books on Blog in 2012. Tom’s website: http://thomaszimmerman.wordpress.com/

A Poetry Collection – by MICHAEL LEE JOHNSON

Iranian Poetry Lady (V2)

 

The first time I saw your face, cosmetic images, dust, dirt, determination

fell across your exiled face.  Coal smoke lifted with your simple words and short poems.

Your meaning drawn across a black board of past, rainbows, future

fragment, still in the shadows.

Muhammad, Jesus twins, only one forms a halo alone.

One screams love, drips candle wax, lights life, shakes, love.

I encrust your history in the Ginkgo tree, deliverance.

I wrap in the branches the whispers in your ears a new beginning.

I am the landscape of your future walk soft peddle on green grass.

I will take you there.  I am your poet, your lead, freedom clouds move over then on.

I review no spelling, grammar errors; I lick your envelope, finish, stamp place on.

Down with age I may go, but I offer this set of angel wings I purchased at a thrift store.

I release you in south wind, storms, and warm in spring, monarch butterflies.

Your name scribbles in gold script.

Night, mysteries, follow handle, your own.


Harvest Time (V8)

 

A Métis lady, drunk

hands folded, blanketed as in prayer

over a large brown fruit basket

naked of fruit, no vine, no vineyard

insideapproaches the Edmonton,

Alberta adoption agency.

There are only spirit gods

inside her empty purse.

 

Inside the basket, an infant,

restrained from life,

with a fruity winesap apple

wedged like a teaspoon

of autumn sun

inside its mouth.

A shallow pool of tears mounts

in his native baby blue eyes.

Snuffling, the mother offers

a slim smile, turns away.

She slithers voyeuristically

through near slum streets

and alleyways,

looking for drinking buddies

to share a hefty pint

of applejack wine.


 

Cheaters (V3)

 

I am tired of cheaters

online, weary eyed crossword

players complicated chest moves

drift dancers, lies, laid soft peddle,

shared pillow, dark closet dreamers.

Campaign gossip whispers,

infidelity, sex objects shoved up orifices

in open or private places.

Sex shops open late, consummation

nightclubs, cities dark corners.

Two doctrines of selfishness

you should know about

penises and affairs most are short.

Flesh and fights, scabs, cheaters in the night.


One-Legged Goose

 

You see me in the parking lot hobbling, avoiding cars.

I am that one-legged Canadian goose guest of the wild.

You toss me a handful of mixed birdfeed.

I am your morning wing flapper picking up leftovers

by sparrows brown wing doves, yet grateful for charity.

I learn to survive dipped in red resister North then South

traveler, lifelong, mute to borders, I cross the line.

I thank you poet, bouquet, crossword flowers

gusty winds mix carnations.

Cheap, reasonable costs in depth, death, within religions,

tones of god Zeus, one space to Mary wept.

Those cheap carnations at the foot of the cross.

One-legged goose singled out.


Flight of the Eagle

 

From the dawn, dusty skies

comes the time when

the eagle flies-

without thought,

without aid of wind,

like a kite detached without string,

the eagle in flight leaves no traces,

no trails, no roadways-

never a feather drops

out of the sky.


***

MLJGood

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, Illinois.  Mr. Johnson published in more than 915 small press magazines online and in print.  His poems have appeared in twenty-seven countries as of this date, he edits, publishes ten different poetry sites.  He also has 99 poetry videos on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/user/poetrymanusa/videos.  Michael Lee Johnson, Itasca, IL. nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards for poetry 2015 & Best of the Net 2016.