Don’t Go to Denver by Melissa Grunow

Fiction, Uncategorized
Mothwings

Mothwings by Stela Brix, 2018

In the dark, my hand was shadowed against the angel wings on his back. Some time ago ink-filled needles had ripped apart his body and taken on images and symbols with unexplained meanings, words without definitions. His skin, light and smooth, was an access point into the world within him. It was twisted, complicated, uninviting. I wanted all of it and nothing to do with it at the same time.

His tattoo crawled across my hand and danced with the shadows, consuming my palm.  His exposed neck waited, while he laid there facing away from me. I had attacked him while his soul was raw, his heart vulnerable. I had told him the truth about us, about him. And he didn’t like it.

“I’ll never completely trust you. You’ll never respect me in the way that I deserve. And we’ll always come back to that,” I had said just moments earlier.

Silence. “So what do we do?” he finally asked.

“I suppose we have two options.” I didn’t sound like myself. I was always asking the questions; he always had the solutions. He could see things that I couldn’t. But in the dark, something had shifted, and I was the one with the voice. “We can compromise, and that’s what makes us, well, us. Or this ends it.”

We hadn’t even defined it yet. Our worlds had collided together suddenly, physically, a sloppy attempt to fill gaps in ourselves left by others: his by a lover who left him because he could never be something he wasn’t, mine by an attacker who left me with a black eye and a persistent fear of parking lots. We found solace in how we mutually exist in the world. As the days passed, though, it became strikingly evident that how we react to and engage with others was so notably different. We didn’t know if we could survive it.

“This can’t last forever,” I had told him a week earlier during a late-night phone call. “This will change. We will change.”

We argued about love. He ran his hand over the Emily Dickinson quote tattooed on his chest, “That love is all there is, is all we know of Love,” and said, “Love is a promise that I will hurt you less than anyone else.” He turned over, looked through the dark and right through me.

I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe in love, either, but I did understand loyalty. What I did not understand was why he would still go to Denver in the morning. Why he would pursue love with another, even if just for the weekend? Especially when I had just come home, whatever “home” was, to be with him.

I’ll be a wreck, I had told him. You already are, he had said. We had spent the past two hours talking about it. Being reasonable, fair, giving each other the chance to complete our thoughts.

“Don’t go to Denver,” I pleaded. My suitcase was sitting, still packed, at the foot of the bed. His empty suitcase was waiting next to the closet. There was still time for him to change his mind.

It doesn’t have anything to do with you, he said. I can’t accept that, I said. I’m not asking you to, he said. You can’t just use me, I said. I’m doing this because I want to be used, he said.

Round and round and round we went until I bit into his shoulder, and the talking stopped. A train blew its whistle outside the open window; a gentle fall breeze crept into the room, settling over the bodies of two lovers causing just one to shiver.

 

About the Author:

Melissa Grunow is the author of I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018), finalist in the 2019 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Award and 2019 Best Indie Book from Shelf Unbound, and REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays notables 2016 and 2018. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. She is an assistant professor of English at Illinois Central College. Visit her website at http://www.melissagrunow.com for more information.

To Live as You Can by Edward Lee

Poetry
20181030_125624

A Bath by Kasia Grzelak, 2018

 

What business of mine is it

what you do with the coin

I give you, when guilt or largesse,

or some combination of both,

guides my almost clean hand

from my pocket

to your deteriorating cup?

 

So what if you buy alcohol

instead of food, cigarettes

instead of clothes, harder drugs

instead of a temporary roof?

Is my charity dependent upon

whatever you choose to do

to make it through

another day of an unstable world,

depending on the kindness

of the few who, below

the surface of their shining veneers,

understand how truly un-different they are

from you?

 

About the Author:

Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll.  His debut poetry collection “Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge” was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection.

He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.

His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com

A Tangible Beauty of Absence by Sue Pearson

Fiction, Uncategorized

 

CockelShell - A Tangable Beauty of Absence

A Tangible Beauty of Absence, India Hibbs, 2019

                                                     

She saw the shell, there, on the sand, on a still autumn day when the calm lapping sea melded into the sky at its horizon.

This was the first walk of autumn and it had taken some cajoling to persuade the teenagers to leave the cottage. They had grumbled and straggled behind until they breathed fresh sea air on turning the corner at the top of the hill. Then their long strides easily overtook her and suddenly she was alone. Forgotten in the moment, as they linked arms, engrossed in themselves and each other.

She bent down and picked it up. At first, it appeared sealed and she thought that the occupant may be dead within but she looked more closely. It was open a sliver and she saw and smelt that it was empty. Left home, gone fishing, just popped out. Such a clean salty exit.

The children were play wrestling ahead. The man-boy and his sister, almost as tall as each other. A tangle of limbs and wind-carried laughter.

Over years and seasons, over notches on the kitchen door jamb, they had taken this walk. At first within and then carried, later with uncertainty, holding her hand. For years, running on and back, on and back, zigzagging over the beach, hunting, scouring for treasure. Dog shark egg purses, feathers, jellyfish, crab shells, animal tracks, clean washed bones, sea glass and shells. So many shells; limpet, cowrie, cockle, whelk and top shell, lots of top shells because they twinkle silver in the sunlight. All excitedly gifted to her until her pockets could contain no more.

This one was a cockle and she popped it into her pocket. With her fingertips, she felt the sea smoothed ridges on either side, felt its coolness, the weight of its emptiness. Within her pocket, her fingers scooped it to fit the hollow of her palm. The creature’s lifetime artistry. This accumulation of such magnitude left behind.

A few grains of sand trickled from it and became lost in the dark seam of her pocket.

 

 

About the Author:

Sue Pearson began writing two years ago and had her eyes opened and brain massaged by the MA Creative Writing course in 2019.  She enjoys crafting short stories and creating poetry. She lives in Newcastle with her husband, two children, cat and dog, all of whom are muses. She stepped away from a career in law to feel the joys and frustrations of creativity and hopes that life will be different ever after. 

This story has been originally published in an online students’ literary magazine and then again reprinted in Bridges 2019, an anthology of works by creative writing and writing poetry students at Newcastle University. with the financial support of the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistics. The very same anthology is out tomorrow with Bandit Fiction. All money made from its sale goes towards the National Literacy Trust.

 

 

Causeway by Oz Hardwick

Poetry, Uncategorized

 

speakeasy

Speak Easy, India Hibbs, 2019

When the tide’s out you can walk to the island. There’s a name for this, but then there’s a name for everything, and knowing that name rarely makes much of a difference, so I decide I may as well make up my own. I decide to call it the by the name of my first pet, a black and white rabbit of which I was inexplicably frightened, just as I was inexplicably frightened of loud noises, mirrors, and the woman who sat on the side of my bed solicitously whispering that she knew everything about me. In truth, at that age there wasn’t much to know, but her voice, the darkness, and the shuffling of the rabbit in the chest of drawers, was enough to tell me that I should be wary of names and dangerous tides. The island isn’t far, and beyond that is a fragmenting Europe, then nothing but melting ice. There are rabbit tracks on the drying sand, the figure of a woman in the dying light. Names keep their power even as their referents recede, and although I keep my lips sealed the sea knows them all.

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Oz Hardwick’s work has been published and performed internationally in and on diverse media. His chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) was the winner in the poetry category of the 2019 Rubery International Book Awards, and his most recent collection – his eighth – is The Lithium Codex (Clevedon: Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019). Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the Creative Writing programmes. http://www.ozhardwick.co.uk

 

The Flavor of Change by Janette Shafer

Creative Non-fiction
20181105_143241

In the City by Kasia Grzelak, 2018

 

From my vantage point on the 43rd floor of One Oxford Center, a panorama of the city of Pittsburgh unfolds from my office window.  The Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela Rivers meet at “The Point,” an urban park with a fountain which designates where the three waters meet.  A train in the distance slowly ambles past Station Square and it seems to go on for miles.  Being the new person at work means I am in many ways back to the beginning of my long twenty-two-year career in retail banking.  Even a welcome career change comes with many stressors; I don’t know what I don’t know.  I’m dependent on unfamiliar colleagues to show me the way, and for the first time in many years, I wait for guidance on my next steps.

The view of the outside world from the high-rise offers a stunning cityscape, but the interior office is bland, with white painted walls, ultra-modern stainless-steel desks, and black padded office chairs.  The decor is sterile; no artwork or photographs on the walls, only mounted dry erase boards with black markers and erasers and the fake smiles of a model family on a corporate poster.

My new colleague Craig has invited me to lunch.  He is fit, attractive, and young enough to be my son.  His green eyes are warm and earnest. His smile offers an innocent sweetness.   I’m grateful for the friendly gesture.  He says to meet him in front of his office where he’ll take me to “this great place across the street, someplace kind of different.”  The elevator, sleek and steel, whisks me down at lightning speed.  It reminds of the scene from Stanley Kubrik’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” when Dr. Heywood Ford takes a stylish transporter with a lounge interior to the space station on the moon.  Outside, the natural light is welcome after a morning of the overly bright glare of fluorescent bulbs punctuated by their perpetual hum.  I follow Craig into a Venezuelan diner called Arepittas.  The bright yellow sign with paintings of corn cobs still half cocooned in their husks promises “Venezuelan Street Food.”

Craig doesn’t know me and has no idea what this has done for my day and for my spirit.  Arepittas is a Venezuelan diner specializing in arepas, my favorite food from what once was home:  Venezuela.

The country of my birth is on the brink of collapse.  My cousin Evangelina posts videos on social media almost daily of protests outside her window, reposts news stories that cry out to the rest of the world, ayuadame!  In one of her recent updates, it is nighttime, and even in the dark resolution I can make out the thousands of people thronged in the streets with their signs.  I tell Craig that I’m from Venezuela and he couldn’t have picked a better place.

I order an arepa with chicken, avocado, cilantro, and guasacaca sauce (a green tomato and garlic salsa.) An arepa is a dense cornbread made from masa flour, served split and stuffed with savory or sweet fillings.  It is my favorite food, and a taste of home.  I don’t expect that this will be as good as the ones my mother and grandmother make, but it is everything I want it to be.  The arepa is golden brown with a crunchy crust.  The shredded chicken is tangy and garlicky, fragrant like the familiar perfume of a loved one.  The avocado is bursting green, as colorful as a vase of nosegays.  The satisfying crackle as the food gives way to my teeth fills my mouth with heritage, tradition, culture, and Latina pride.  An ache springs tears to my eyes as I think of my homeland teetering on the edge of utter devastation.

“Oh wow,” I say.  “This is so delicious it’s making me homesick.  Thanks for inviting me.  How did you find this place?”

“An app.  Or maybe Facebook?”  He shrugs and laughs.  “I never had Venezuelan food before this place and now I’m totally hooked.”

I post a picture of my lunch on Facebook with a note saying, “My new office is across the street from a Venezuelan food stand!  I’m having arepas!”  Many of my friends know what this means to me and more than 60 “likes” pop up in the next hour.  One of my friends, April, asks me in the comments, “What’s an arepa?”  My usual answer to this question is that an arepa is a dense, fried cornbread made from ground maize and that the usual stuffing is some kind of spicy meat with avocado or cheese.  Sometimes I joke that it’s like a Venezuelan taco to help give context.

An arepa is the longing for something familiar in my new corporate landscape.  An arepa is my small prayer against the political corruption that is destroying my country and threatening my loved ones left behind.  An arepa is my small act of defiance against the tyranny of Nicolas Maduro as his greed threatens to upturn our homeland.  An arepa is a twinge of guilt as I start to settle into my new work environment while everything in Venezuela shifts in turmoil and unrest.  An arepa is a memory of Abuelita in her vibrant flowered dress slapping the dough between her hands before lowering it into a skillet of olive oil.  An arepa is a phone call with my Mom when I tell her I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all this change but that I’ll figure it out.  An arepa is a balm for my wounds.  An arepa is a step towards home.

 About the Author:

Janette Schafer is a freelance writer, nature photographer, full-time banker and part-time rock singer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Her writing and photographs have appeared in numerous publications.  A collection of her poetry titled “Something Here Will Grow” will be published by Main Street Rag in 2020.  She is the Artistic Director and Founder of Beautiful Cadaver Project Pittsburgh.

The Gecko’s Tale by Abigail Ottley

Fiction, Uncategorized
20181105_143405 (1)

Children by Kasia Grzela, 2018

 

‘Jesus Christ,’ says Jerry, ‘the little bastard bit me.’

Eli doesn’t look up straight away but keeps his eyes on the workbench.  His neck is hunched into his narrow shoulders and his complexion is more than usually grey.  ‘I’d watch my mouth if I were you.  The boss don’t care for that kind of language. Outed someone two days ago. Heard it down the canteen.’

Jerry is using his long, bony thumb to squeeze the fleshy pad of his finger.  His angular features convey a mixture of indignation and pain.

‘Look,’ he says, ‘it’s bleeding.  It didn’t oughta be allowed.’ He inserts his finger into his mouth and sucks on the wound.

‘We oughtta have gloves,’ he says.  ‘They should issue us with gloves.  Anyways, why are we doing this? What’s the point of it all? Forty-eight hours and they’ll all be dead and stinking to high heaven.’

It occurs to Eli that Jerry might well have a point. Eli has worked at the depot for a much longer time than Jerry and, in the course of his experience, he has had to deal with some very strange job sheets. Once it was two truckloads of turtle doves, another time three thousand white mice.  There had been trouble over that one, a lot of bad feelings.  Three thousand mice, whatever their colour, don’t amount to no rose garden.  Some of the guys got all worked up and took it into their heads to complain.

‘I ever tell you about the walk-out?’ says Eli, ‘There was this really big guy. Name of Luke.’

Jerry looks blank and shakes his head so Eli goes ahead and tells him.  He tells how the boss is under pressure that day and in no mood to listen and how, eventually, voices are raised and then all guys walk out.  For a while, it feels good, like back in the old days, before they changed the regulations.  But then next morning the boss comes around wearing this big, sticky smile. The boss takes Big Luke and a couple of others upstairs to the office and when they come back they’re all buddy-buddy and grinning fit to bust. Then the boss says he’s glad they’ve cleared the air and how he’s sorry for the misunderstanding. He raises the daily rate and everybody smiles.

‘So?’ says Jerry. ‘What’s your point?  What’s this got to do with me?’

Eli sucks in his cheeks and purses his lips.‘Well,’ he says, ‘when the boss has gone, the guys make a fuss of Big Luke.  They slap him on the back and make thumbs up and pump away at his hand.  And, when Luke says it ain’t nothing at all, they say he is just being modest.  Luke makes like he don’t want to hear it but, all the same, he’s pretty damned pleased.’

Eli narrows his eyes and fixes them on Jerry.  He wants to be completely sure that his audience is paying attention.

‘Thing is,’ says Eli, ‘about eight months later Big Luke goes missing from the depot. Word goes round that he’s put in for a transfer and maybe he did. Fact is, though, no one knows for sure. No one knows nothing.  There ain’t no one I know of, not man or woman, ever saw Big Luke again.’

Eli sees that the point of his story has not been lost on Jerry who returns to the conveyor belt but no longer has his mind on his work.  For two or three minutes, he sifts through the lizards, sorting them for size and colour.  Some of them are dead already, others are plainly too big. Finally, he turns to face Eli with the air of a man who wants answers. A thirteen inch gecko hangs limply from his fingers.  He holds it by the tip of its tail.

‘So you are saying’ he says, ‘that I shouldn’t complain.’ He makes the gecko swing about a little and seems to be studying it real close. ‘In short, you’re telling me to hush my mouth lessin’ I get what’s coming and end up like this little fella with no bark or bite.’

Eli shrugs his shoulders and turns back to the belt.‘I ain’t telling you nothing,’ he says. ‘Plain truth is, I ain’t rightly talking at all.  What I is doing is minding my business and working my way through this job sheet. Maybe it’s about time you was doing the same.’

Jerry looks at Eli quizzical like and then they turn back to the belt. Lizards of all species, all colours and all sizes, are still trundling by. On the platform that stands to Eli’s left, there is a growing pile of corpses.  Funny thing is, it just so happens nearly all of them are geckos.

***
About two hours later the lizards are done.  Eli is finishing the paper work and Jerry is sluicing down the belt.  It has been a hard day but Eli is happy that the job didn’t drag on till morning.  He likes it best when he can come in early knowing they are up to date.

‘When you’ve finished that,’ Eli says to Jerry, ‘don’t forget to spray.  That stink will be ten times worse once the place has been shut up for the night.’

‘Ok, ok, I know,’ says Jerry and you can tell he’s kind of touchy but he goes off to get the spray and his boots make muddy marks on the floor. Anyway, Jerry comes back and you can see he isn’t happy. He has the freshener spray in one hand and his mop in the other.  He is fairly stomping along.

‘Shoot,’ he says as he is retracing his steps, ‘wouldn’t you damn well know it?  Hey, you know,  I just bumped into one the guys from upstairs.  You ain’t gonna believe what he told me.’

Jerry is in the act of pitching the air freshener canister to Eli when the double doors open and in walks the boss. He has on this very sorrowful look like he has just heard someone’s died and Jerry watches with horror as the canister strikes the floor.  Everybody else kind of freezes on the spot but the boss just raises his eyebrows and makes with this great big cheesy smile as if to say that everything’s ok.  Then the smile is kind of wiped away and the sorrowful look clicks back into place. The effect, Jerry thinks, is as if one clown mask is being worn over another.

‘Eli,’ says the boss, ‘I am glad I have caught you. I’ve been mulling things over. I think we may be wrong about the lizards.  It’s too much like the frogs. Fact is, I’m pulling the plug on this one. We need to start afresh.’

Eli is taken aback.  His mouth sags a little.  On the other hand, he is a wily old fox and too long in the tooth to let on.

‘Yes, Sir’ he says, ‘I’ll pick up the job sheet first thing in the morning.’

‘No,’ says the boss, ‘you misunderstand me. I need this attended to now.’

Eli and Jerry exchange looks but the boss doesn’t see this.  He is too busy checking on the figures that he keeps in his little leather book.  He doesn’t see Eli raise his hand in warning or Jerry’s eyes narrow.  He doesn’t feel the tension between one man and the next that tightens like a net across the room.

The boss closes his notebook and puts it in his breast pocket. He pats the pocket as if to satisfy himself that everything is in order. ‘Two thousand ought to be enough,’ he says.  ‘Shall we say not later than seven?’

He doesn’t wait for an answer but is already half way out the door.  But then he pauses and stands in the doorway, his head cocked to one side.  He looks like a man who has just forgotten the very thing he came there to say.

’By the way, Jerry, it almost slipped my mind. I wonder if you can give me a minute. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you — in the office upstairs.’

Jerry looks at Eli and Eli looks at the boss.  Then he shrugs his shoulders, a movement so small you can hardly see it at all.  As the door closes behind Jerry, Eli is starting up the conveyor belt.

‘Mice,’ he says. ‘Friggin’ mice.’

                                                         © Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

 

 

About the Author:

 

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley writes poetry and short fiction from Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009 her work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. These include ‘The Lake’, ‘The Blue Nib’, ‘Atrium’, ‘The Atlanta Journal’ and ‘Ink, Sweat & Tears’. Abigail was featured in ‘Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall’ edited by Dr. Alan M. Kent and was among the winners for ‘Poems on the Move’ at last year’s Guernsey Literary Festival.