Welcome – by DON TASSONE

Welcome

 

 

The snow whipped at his eyes, nearly blinding him.  Frostbitten and exhausted, he could go no farther.

 

He’d been walking for two days.  That’s when the blizzard hit and he got separated and lost.

 

Now, in the distance, he saw a light.  Summoning all his remaining strength, he headed toward it.

 

The light came from the window of a stone hut.  He trudged to the door and fell against it.  Someone pulled it open.

 

“Heb-bar kaa-su-shu,” said a man in a maroon robe, helping the stranger inside.

 

The stranger did not know Tibetan.  Even so, he understood “Welcome.”

***

dontassone

 Don Tassone’s stories and essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines.  His debut short story collection, Get Back, was published by Golden Antelope Press in March 2017.  His debut novel, Drive, will be published in September 2017.
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Mrs. Underwood – by DANIEL C. ROCHE

 

MRS. UNDERWOOD

By

Daniel C. Roche

 

 

 

Mrs. Underwood lifts a cup of coffee toward her lips.  Black.  No cream or sugar allowed.  A woman of her advanced age can no longer afford such luxuries.  Doctors’ orders.  Her frail hands tremble as she blows the steam away from her perspiring lips.  She sips at the hot liquid, and of course, it’s delicious.  Throughout all these years she still worships the taste of coffee, just as she had all those years ago when she first tasted it.  Apparently coffee never grows old.

Too bad she can’t say the same for herself.

Warm sunshine pours in through the windows.  Mrs. Underwood loves the feeling she gets when the soft rays tickle her skin, causing goose-bumps to rise like bubbles in a pot of boiling water.  For this reason she is always up before dawn, waiting for the sun to arrive and welcome her to the new day.

She looks down upon her outfit (a long well-worn nightgown) and sighs.  She takes another sip of coffee and allows her mind to wander.  Her mind wanders back to a time when she actually had a reason to wear lovely dresses once in a while.  Dresses that showed off her long legs.  She recalls how good it felt when a young man would ask her to dance, or when a gentleman would step aside to hold a door open for her. She would turn around to thank him and catch him stealing a glance at her back side as she stepped though the doorway.

Happened every time.

No sense tormenting herself by thinking about those long gone days, but it’s hard not to think about her youth.  Those care-free days when she actually had something to live for.

She puts her coffee down and stares at her feet.  Her slippers are tattered and worn.  Maybe later on in the evening she will gather her knitting kit and make a new pair.  Some comfortable new slippers would be nice.  Just having something to do would be nice.

Her attention is suddenly stolen away from her slippers when she notices two  small figures out in the meadow on the far side of her lawn.  Disgusted at what she sees,        she approaches her window to get a better look.

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” she says.  “Now why on earth do those boys feel they have to meddle with those flowers?”

Through her window, out in the meadow, the two young boys from the house next door busy themselves by plucking away at some of the wildflowers that occupy the landscape.  From where Mrs. Underwood stands, she cannot see any rhyme or reason as to why those boys would feel the need to rid the neighborhood of such lovely flowers.

Dont they have anything better to do?

Maybe after ‘The Price is Right’ she will scurry next door and inform the boys parents of their misdoings.  She makes her way back to her seat, and to no one in particular she says, “Oh what’s the point?”  She tells herself that maybe the boys are already in trouble for something and are trying to make amends by picking some flowers for their mother.

Mrs. Underwood retrieves her coffee mug and takes another sip, but a lump appears in her throat, making it difficult to swallow.  She finds herself sobbing.  Seeing those two boys out there in the meadow reminds her of her own children.

For about a year after her husband passed away, her two sons and daughter would pop in every now and again for a visit.  They always brought the grandchildren with them, which she always appreciated, but after a while the visits grew less frequent, until finally her children stopped visiting completely.  Now-a-days it seems they only call her on her birthday or drop by to give her a card on Christmas.  It’s a hell of a way to treat their mother.  After all, she thinks.  Im the one who brought them into this world.

Thinking of her children always depresses her, and her depression has been so severe lately that she even took the trouble of gathering all of the family pictures in the house and putting them into a shoebox.  That shoebox now collects dust in her bedroom closet.

The lump in her throat increases and she cannot finish her coffee.  She decides to dump it into the kitchen sink.

Bracing herself over the sink, she allows her anguish to consume her.  She has a terrible decision to make – a decision she has been putting it off for a while now, but this sudden outburst draws attention to the severe importance of her situation.  Fresh tears flow freely down her wrinkled cheeks because for many months now she has been formulating a plan.  One last act that will end the misery that has become her life, and last weekend she had put all of the necessary items into place.  All she had to do now was wait until the time felt right.

Staring down into the wash basin, Mrs. Underwood realizes there is no better time than right now.

Gathering up her courage, Mrs. Underwood heaves herself away from the sink and heads towards her bedroom.

In her room, she sits upon her neatly made bed and stares at the closet door.  Tears no longer stand in her eyes, her hands no longer tremble and her sadness is down to a dull aching.  She knows that beyond the closet door the end of all her troubles awaits.  For Mrs. Underwood, her closet door may as well be the gates of heaven.  She takes a deep breath, stands up, and closes her hand around the door handle.  The moment of truth has arrived.

She opens the closet door.

Glorious emptiness fills her mind as her eyes fall upon a small stool.  Four and a half feet above the stool is a noose, the end of which is tied to a rafter in the opening of the ceiling.  It was hell climbing through the small opening into the attic, but now as she gazes upon the fruits of her efforts, she knows her pains were well worth it. Mrs. Underwood stands on the stool, and just as she is putting the noose around her neck, there is a knocking at her front door.

“Who could that be?” she mumbles.  It certainly couldn’t be one of her children.

Of all the times…  “Ah the hell with ‘em.”  She continues with the noose, but then she thinks, what if it is one of the kids?  Is this how I want them to find me?  As she is thinking this, another knocking can be heard from the front door, followed by the impatient ringing of the doorbell.

Mrs. Underwood groans.  “Hold your horses, I’m coming.”

She climbs down from the stool and makes her way down the hall towards the living room.  Once again the doorbell rings.  Feeling no need to rush, she shuffles along.  At her age, she rushes for no one.

Half expecting to be greeted by a salesman of some kind, she opens the door, but instead of being greeted by a seedy salesman, the two young boys from next door stand before her.  Up close, the boys look sweet and innocent.  Mrs. Underwood feels immediate remorse for harboring such negative thoughts about them earlier. Smiling brightly, the boys are wide eyed, proudly holding before them colorful displays of flowers they had picked and arranged all by themselves.

“Good morning Mrs. Underwood,” says Anthony, the older of the two.

Looking anxious the younger boy mimics his brother.  “Yeah.  Good morning Mrs. Underwood.”

Anthony says, “We picked these for you,” and held the flowers out for her.

Quickly, the younger boy does the same.

Mrs. Underwood is stunned and it takes her a moment before she can come up with a response.  “Why thank you, boys.  These are lovely.”

It had been so long since anyone had done something nice for her that she almost forgot to reach out and accept the flowers.  When she finally did, she brought them close and inhaled the deep fragrance.

“This is so very nice of you.”

The younger boy weaves back and forth like a balloon on the edge of bursting.  “Hey Mrs. Underwood,” he says.  “Do you have any candy?”

His older brother elbows him in the ribs.  “Shut up, Danny.”

Mrs. Underwood chuckles.  “Candy?  Well let me see.”  She finds it funny that these children only brought her the flowers in hopes of receiving candy.  Still, no one has given her flowers in years.

The lump in her throat returns.  “Let me go put these in some water and I’ll see if I can find some candy for you nice young men.”

Their little faces light up, and they eagerly wait on the front door step as the old woman rummages around in her kitchen.

Having poured some tap water into a vase, she arranges the flowers and displays them at the center of her kitchen table.  On her way back to the front door she stops in the den.  On the coffee table sits a small bowl filled with an assortment of hard candies.  There’s a bag of Hershey’s Kisses next to it.  She grabs two handfuls of each and returns to the front door.

Eagerly waiting for their prize, the boys smile wide and cup their hands in front of them.

“Here you go,” she says.

The children jump up and down, their eyes never leaving the candy.  “Thank you,”

they scream.  They then run across the yard.

“See you later, Mrs. Underwood,” calls Danny.

The old woman shuts the door and heads back into the kitchen.  Alone with her thoughts she stares out the window.  She looks to the meadow where the boys had gathered the flowers.  A strong yearning erupts in her chest and the lump in her throat swells.

“Oh,” she chokes.  “What is this?”  Her hand rises instinctively to her mouth and the tips of her fingers gently rub her lips.  She can’t remember the last time she smiled.  She didn’t even know she had it in her anymore.  She hurries into the bathroom and stares before the mirror.  Mrs. Underwood can’t believe her eyes.  Within the wrinkles of that drooping face she catches a glimpse of the blushing young woman she once was.  There’s no denying it.  She looks ten years younger.

She leaves the bathroom and re-enters the kitchen.  “Maybe I’ll make another cup of coffee,” she says.  “And I think I’ll take cream and sugar today.”  But before she begins boiling the water she bends over the kitchen table and smells the fresh wildflowers.  “And I think later on I might head out and buy some more candy.”

***

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Several of Daniel’s short stories have appeared in print through Tough Lit Magazine and Idea Gems Magazine.  Over 30 of his other stories, poems, articles and memoirs have been published in several online magazines, Including Ariel Chart (a signatory of Poets and Writers.)  If you like what you’ve read here, please browse his website: danielcraigroche.wordpress.com

Love’s Wrong Turn / Winter Made the Trees Suffer – by PEGGY TURNBULL

Love’s Wrong Turn

 

She seeks portals

places prone to wormholes

where time travelers shift between planes.

She seeks answers in objects

touched by geniuses.

She trudges across airports

to end up gazing

at Hemingway’s  desk.

or at an animal skull

on O’Keeffe’s hearth.

She longs for a molecule

from the other worlds

that great artists visit

and she’s learned

how to feel her way

towards that particular magic.

There are clues in place names:

Manitou, Sleeping Giant, Spirit Lake.

She took Dan to a park the locals said was haunted.

They wandered side trails.  Dan saw his first blue bird.

He wanted to turn back but she persisted

until she saw it at trail’s end:

a gray weather-beaten structure

shaped like a tepee.

She paused

stunned by the strength

of its protective force field

while Dan foraged for litter

one of many reason why

she loved him.

When the particles dropped their charge

she moved respectfully forward.

Dan was gone.

There was no sign.

And now she wanders

alone

seeking  that place

that portal

that will bring them together

again.


 

Winter Made the Trees Suffer

 

Ice encased them,

then the weight

of a foot or more

of dense wet snow

drifted

onto dry branches.

 

The trees grieve

as any would

who lost their beauty

on a day of slow torture.

Burdens were exacted

until limbs ripped off.

 

Amputees now

they wave phantom boughs

into the wind

expecting to feel it.

 

Had it been?

Had they once been graceful

their needles

shimmering

in the sunlight

moving

to the breath of the earth?

 

Like betrayed lovers

searching for kindred souls

the trees noticed me.

 

And that was our first meeting.


***

peggy-portrait

Peggy Turnbull is a Wisconsin poet and librarian.  Her work has been published in I Am Not a Silent Poet and Rat’s Ass Review: Love & Ensuing Madness Collection.

Kaleidoscope – by PHILLIP WENTURINE

Kaleidoscope

By: Phillip Wenturine

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”  – Abraham Lincoln

 

Envision blackness.

Stagnant, trapped, immobile.

Imagine clawing your way out of your body.

A spirit cemented inside a physical habitat—helpless to the mercy of bodily transportation.

Escape yourself.

Channel your natural energies. Crawl all the way out. Don’t lose focus on yourself, your earthly skeleton. Mind over body.

Now, you’re free. From yourself.

Imagine backing away from your being. A stereotypical figure. Picture yourself from afar, from above, watching your spirit. A shiny mist, floating over you, like an exhale.

You are watching you watching yourself, with your eyes closed. Imaging all of this.

        Imagine a camera.

Now, be the camera. See yourself from the lens from high and away. You are still watching yourself, squinting through the fisheye glass. Tunnel vision.

Fixate on something specific. The recess of your earlobe. The skin, made up of a million particles smaller than the smallest particle known to man.

Zoom out.

Zoom further out. Further. You’re distancing from your body and receding upward, and away.

You see your roof, the weathered shingles covered in grit.

You see the city, the Xeroxed neighborhoods with the matching yard plans, the model citizens, the stepford children.

Continents pan into focus: One, two…seven.

The Galapagos and the Strait of Gibraltar; the Black sea, impenetrable to skin; the country shaped like a boot; the Garden of Eden.

You defy gravity. Soar backwards, higher.

        A chill ripples through you as you traverse the ozone. Transparent. Like you.

        You spot the tip of Orion’s belt.

        Continue zooming out. Past Saturn’s rings. Micrometers of rocks, of ice. Perfectly balanced disks orbiting the sun, floating on the absence of anything. More.

You see blackness. Rather, you are blackness.

You see nothing.      

Can nothing be seen?

For a moment, time stands still.

Far, in the back of your head. A memory—or, a dream? It’s hard to get to. Like trudging against thick molasses. But you find it.

And then, your spirit exhales, and a droplet of moisture plummets.

Through the gap of Saturn’s rings, it passes Orion, and parachutes downward. Through the ozone, toward the oceans. Life’s layers reflect; her light shimmers. It shines back upward, like a kaleidoscope. And plop, on the weathered roof.

Right above yourself.

And everything that goes up, must come down.

Darkness fades to technicolor as you descend.

Throw away the camera.

        Imagine a golden, plastic cylinder. Inside, filled with tiny shards of neon glass that point inside your mind. Go through it. Cock your head. Adjust the focus. The colors are everywhere, and there’s no sense to them, and it doesn’t matter. Zoom in. The lens, a guide.

        Twist the narrow tube. Shift perspectives. Subject the subjective.

You see a surface like the moon. Craters. A floor of compressed, solidified lava stone.  The speed of light refracts on fragments of mirrored glass. Zoom in. Past the absence of gravity. Back the way you came.

You recede though the ozone, transparent no more. The cotton candy of the sky, the sunrise’s decadent decorations.

Striations, swirls, swivels.  

You pass between Mother Nature’s ice crystals. Cirrus, cumulus, then stratus.

        You see the aqueous areas covering three-fourths of the Earth. The glossy turquoise; the briny solution. A dark spot—a sea turtle taking a break.

        Inhale, life

        Exhale…

Spy what’s beneath. The low rumbled song of Beluga birthing. A new starfish limb’s pointed rise with the tiny beat of suckers on a painted desert of coral. The yearning trumpet of a bottlenose searching the deep for its lover.

Zoom out. Pan left.

A boy in Namibia dying from AIDS. His parents, skin and bones, sit idly by watching him deteriorate. Helpless.

Pan left. Zoom in.

A reflection in the water. Your face, but not yourself.

Pan left once more. Zoom in. Further.

A patch of green. A scarlet critter caresses the top of the blade—good luck.  

Zoom out.

A flock of birds frolics around you.

Violet tufts splotch their underbellies; their tails elongated. Sunflower seeds pop and crack under their beaks.

Their ululations and whistles move through you, while you watch yourself with your eyes closed. Imagining all of this.

The sun gleams on the back of your neck.

***  

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Phillip Wenturine is a middle school English teacher, where his job description is to change the world, but the reality is fighting the endless struggle to end comma splices. He has published other essays in Aurora magazine, The Talon Review, Intrinsick Magazine, and Potluck Magazine. He completed his MFA from Eastern Kentucky University where he attended residencies in Lisbon, Portugal, and he just received a Fulbright Scholarship to go back and teach. Phillip enjoys traveling to foreign countries, consuming a large goblet of sangria on the weekends, and the color orange makes him smile. Read more on PhillipWrites.com.

The Basket – by SOPHIE VAN LLEWYN

The Basket

A loose straw pinches the tender flesh between my nail and the tip of my middle finger. I hesitate, unsure if I should withdraw my hand or if I should let the pain linger for a bit longer. I am unloading the basket my husband had received from the bone marrow society as a compensation for the holes he got in his ilium. That’s just a fancy word for the pelvic bone, one I learned when the doctor explained to us what they were going to do to him so he can help a very sick stranger. I remembered it because it sounded just like the name of one of those characters in World of Warcraft. I would lose my husband to it on a regular basis. I’ve lost him now, too, but it’s a bit more permanent. I won’t be able to wrench him back by turning off his computer.

One after the other, I discard the contents: homemade raspberry jam, pickled beets, a fancy tomato sauce, tiny chocolates in a golden package. The kind of jars which make you think of somebody else’s very rich grandmother. Though I’m sure no rich grandmother bothers to make her own jams.

I feel like desecrating a tomb, though by now they have all long expired, just like gratitude. The only thing that I can rescue is a bottle of red wine.

His bone marrow went to a seventeen-year-old in France. At least, that’s what it said in a letter from the bone marrow society.

Try to Google ‘donating bone marrow’ and let your cursor hover for a moment, like suspending your foot in mid-air. Look at the suggestions. ‘Donating bone marrow risk’. ‘Donating bone marrow pay’. ‘Donating bone marrow pain’. In this order. I can tell you the pain is excruciating. After the teeth grinding at night, for weeks after the extraction, the days spent with his eyes on his watch, calculating time left until his next dose of painkiller, my husband could never bring himself to open the basket. It was a somewhat of a rowdy reminder, resting on a cupboard, that he was actually a good man. He would pass by it every time he would go to his room to play some WOW.

Nobody asked about the pain. They all wanted to know how much he got paid. As if doing something noble is another privilege reserved for the rich. A concept foreign to a construction worker. Nobody believed him that his reward had been a goodie basket. And knowing that a teenager would be able to eat as many croissants and foie gras as she wants to, for years and years to come. His pay had been giving the gift of life.

I look at the bottle in my hand and barely don’t smash it against the floors. I barely don’t press its severed neck against my wrists. He had donated so that she can have fresh, healthy blood. Old blood in a young body.

Half a year after the first letter, they sent us another one saying that the young girl didn’t make it.

The disease had returned to her blood.

Without the bottle, all that would be left of my husband would be an empty basket and an inactive character in a game. Empty carcasses.

I carefully put the bottle down, willing it to break. But it doesn’t. Some things are meant to endure, even against their will. I press the flesh under my fingernails against the loose straw in the basket. I’d like to keep the splinter buried there for a few days, just to remind myself that no pain lasts forever.  

***

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Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. She is an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. Her flash fiction has been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Sick Lit Magazine, 101 Words and is forthcoming in Flash Frontier.

Muesli – by KATE JONES

Muesli

After you leave, I sit and stare out of my rain-dotted window, that used to be our window.  I stare out at the red-brick buildings.  I watch the raindrops drip from the telephone wires like the tears of jilted lovers.

I stare into the windows of the apartments opposite, at the contemporary kitchenware and wine racks.  Things I thought we might own one day.  Grown-up stuff.  Earthenware dishes.   A juicer.

The couple opposite, the ones we used to make fun of together, sit at a granite-topped breakfast bar, eating something grainy.  Muesli.  She still wears workout gear; Lycra pink leggings tighter than a snake’s skin, and a black hoodie.  No inch of her arse hangs over the sides of the black and chrome stool she perches on, like a delicate bird ready for flight.  She brings her loaded silver spoon to pink lips.

As I sit on the floor eating leftover pizza, I try to imagine transmuting myself into her skin and wonder whether you would have stayed if I’d worn skin-tight Lycra and eaten muesli from a spoon.

If my arse had fitted neatly onto a stool.

The man gets up now.  He’s wearing a brown wool suit and ironic tie.  He puts on his jacket.  It’s one of those suits that make him look slightly creative – definitely not a banker’s suit – and I remember how we used to make up jobs and names for them.

He leans across and kisses her on the forehead.  She smiles up at him showing perfect white teeth.  Her blonde ponytail bobs lightly.  (How does it stay so perfect when she’s been exercising?)

He picks up a soft, brown leather briefcase from the floor and leaves the room.  She sits on, reading the newspaper and sipping her orange juice.  I watch her wait there for a few minutes, until she’s sure he’s gone.  Then, she pulls a pink mobile from her pocket and taps a message into it.

I watch for a few more minutes, biting my nails, a habit you hate, until I see her jump from the stool.  She’s running out of the door, which I know leads to the hallway where the outside door is.  I know this because it’s the same set-out as my apartment – the one that used to be ours.

I can’t see her now.  But still I know what she’s doing.

I know that she’s kissing you and tasting that unique taste you have, of mint and a hint of garlic, even when you haven’t eaten it.

I know that you’ll be tasting muesli on her tongue.

And I know that you’ll be wrapping your thick arms around her slim waist, as I let my tears splash onto the glass, mirroring the raindrops on the other side.

 ***

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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

 

Double Trouble – by VOIMA OY

Double Trouble

Doubles were supposed to make things easier, weren’t they? The truth is complicated. Jack and Jeri were the perfect couple, but that’s not so surprising. They were compatible even on a molecular level. What is surprising is that they were not happy.

They wanted more time together. Jack’s job as a data miner kept him busy for days on end. Jeri, a dream developer, was equally career-minded. It was so hard to get together because of conflicting schedules.

Doubles were the answer. That’s where I came in. You see, I am Jeri’s double, jeri. I have her memories but different abilities. I am Jeri, but I am also me.

Jack has his double, too, of course. His name is jack. The four of us spent lots of time together, at first. We played bridge and tennis. It was fun to get to know each other, like dancing in a house of mirrors.

Then, Jack and Jeri would go to work, leaving jack and me to keep each other company. Oh, the fun we had together! Unlike Jack and Jeri, we don’t need to eat or sleep. But jack has a surprising talent for cooking, and my talents are more, well, athletic. I do things Jeri would never dream of.

Now, jack makes dinner for Jeri and Jack, and I help them relax after all those long hours of coding. But what about jack and me, don’t we have needs and feelings? Sometimes I look at him, and I know he is thinking the same thing. We are perfectly compatible. There is no need for words.

We plan to run away, jack and me. We’ll hop a ship somewhere. He could work as a cook. I could dance and teach yoga. This was our dream, anyway.

But lately, I see Jeri has been spending more time with jack, devouring his tasty offerings. He knows just what she likes. And Jack has been doing stretches with me. Last night, he said, “Let’s dance.”

It is so confusing! Why is Jack kissing me now? I’m not so sure I like it.

***

voimaoy

Voimaoy lives on the western rim of  Chicago, near the expressway and the Blue Line trains. Her writing can be found online at Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse, 101 Fiction and Unbroken Journal.  Follow her on Twitter, too— @voimaoy