In the Books

Flash
Anna Moriarty Lev


Book
Photo Credit: Lalena Jaramillo

We have forgotten more than we will remember. That’s how it is here. We make memories at the Factory of Remembering, but they get shipped off to faraway places. We don’t keep much remembering for ourselves. It’s a precious commodity and does better to make us a little money, or to trade for food and lumber.

There aren’t any trees because we cut them all down a long time ago for writing books. Our ancestors wanted to keep track of everything that happened, since everyone forgets easily, so they wrote it all down in volumes upon volumes of books. They’re beautiful: hand-sewn, titles pressed into the covers in what looks like gold. The pages are creamy and smell like the wind through clean hair. The books are kept in several libraries and anyone can check the books out and read them for free. Some people say they shouldn’t have cut down all those trees, that it would have been better to find some other way to keep track of the stories. But most people love the books and they are well taken care of.

There’s one old lady who lives in a cave. She remembers. Some say it’s the fumes from the factory getting into her system, some say she steals memories and keeps them for herself. She used to tell stories at night and all the children went to sit in her living room to drink tea. The stories were about forests and the people who got lost in them. Wild winds sweeping up houses. Lovers running away together. We’d sip our hot tea and listen, nodding, imagining these pictures in our heads.

Eventually we all forgot about the old woman and her stories. The memories left us and we forgot everything. We started watching television. It relaxes our minds, easing the stress we feel at trying to remember the names of people sitting next to us, or how we came to meet the other person in our bed.

We read because the books are all we have to tell us who we are. We feel the pages between our fingers and run our eyes back and forth over the words. We can sit in the library together, reading our own books, experiencing this magic in our own heads but also knowing you are right there just an arms reach away so I could touch your fingers and know you feel it too, even if I can’t remember your name.

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Anna Moriarty Lev’s short stories have been published in Bateau, Toasted Cheese, Every Day Fiction and DASH. Her self-published comic books are sold in shops around the country, and she posts some comics online at Lev Hardware. Anna also works at an art-house cinema in Massachusetts and makes very good popcorn. Email: annamolev[at]gmail.com

The Janitor

Flash
Julie Harthill Clayton


Janitorial
Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova

Franz was accustomed to foul smells. As the school’s janitor for more than thirty years, he’d mopped up vomit, feces, rotten banana peels, and the locker room stink of adolescent boys’ sweat. He’d swept discarded trash of all sorts. His own skin smelled permanently of ammonia and lemons. The young men at the small German boarding school loved the way he smelled. It reminded them of their homes far away.

Franz began to notice a new smell emitting from one of the first year boys. Loneliness. He noticed, too, an older boy who smelled of guilt. Franz knew then, without knowing just how, that this boy had been the one to vandalize the headmaster’s office. Just as he knew that the lonely boy was missing the brother who had hung himself two years before. The new smells were dizzying.

Franz put down his mop and bucket, and sat on a bench in the hallway. He tried to block out the smells, but the fetid scent of shame wafted in the air from the direction of the math classroom. Perhaps the rumors about Herr Hauptman were true after all, thought Franz. Most powerful of all, and coming from all directions, was the smell of deep secrets: carnal longings, abusive homes, alcoholic mothers, even the smell of a murder covered up. He never knew the smell of sorrow was so pungent.

Faintly, through the fog of dark smells, his nose was tickled by the smell of contentment. Caramel apples with cinnamon, a hint of fresh-cut grass, a tease of chicken noodle soup simmering on the stove.

Franz sensed that with his new knowledge came a great responsibility. Just as it had always been his job to ensure the cleanest school in the district, it was his job, now, to keep the school awash in the aroma of happiness.

He began rising early—before the cock’s crow. Tending to the school’s happiness required extra time. He poured his daily cup of coffee, attended to his grooming needs, and then left his pleasant room on the school grounds to begin his new chores. He left a note for Herr Hauptman—“I know what you’ve done”—thereafter the algebra teacher resigned; he never was able to find another job. Franz invited the lonely boy to help him clean the auditorium. The boy began to smell of ripened peaches. The vandal, Alfred, confessed after Franz gave him a certain look. Alfred began to smell of roasted chestnuts.

The dark smells never entirely went away. Life at a boarding school always had its share of sadness and homesickness. But gradually joy replaced sorrow. More families sent their boys to the school. When they visited, parents just felt right about the little school. Cozy, they said to themselves as they left.

When Franz died in his sleep, on a cold winter morning, it was said that he had a serene smile on his face, and folks swore there was a trace of tangerine drifting through the air.
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Julie Harthill Clayton writes book reviews for Lambda Literary Foundation, Clarion Press, and ForeWord Magazine. She will soon launch her fiction review site, SmartnSassy Fiction. Ms. Clayton has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, Urge Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, and other small publications. She is currently working on her first novel, Intrusions of Beauty. Email: nowritersblock[at]gmail.com

Dead Letters

Poetry
Diane Webster


write a letter to you
Photo Credit: annilove

I received a letter telling me
Tonya had died four months
and two letters ago—
letters to a dead friend
who never got to read them;
so I wrote other friends
and emailed a couple more the news,
and all I got was silence.
Until one confessed she lost my letter
like Tonya didn’t matter,
had died alone again,
had died without reading my letters
like the friends who never replied
not wanting death too near,
not wanting to write to the friend
who wrote letters to dead friends.

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Diane Webster’s goal is to remain open to poetry ideas in everyday life or nature or an overheard phrase and to write from her perspective at the moment. Many nights she falls asleep juggling images to fit into a poem. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia Poets, Illya’s Honey, River Poets Journal and other literary magazines. Email: diaweb[at]hotmail.com

The Star Ferry

Poetry
Tim Suermondt


The sun and the ferry
Photo Credit: Diego Laje

The sky finally opened the drapes
of fog and splinters of light came down
and tap-danced on the harbor water—
“Look at those suckers go” I saw
my dead brother say, standing oh so
dapper in his beloved leather jacket.
I imagine I had something important to do,
today or yesterday but fortunately I forgot
what it was: freed up now I might just
loiter over the city tonight like the moon.

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Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections: Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and Just Beautiful from New York Quarterly Books, 2010. He has published poems in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review and Stand Magazine (U.K.) and has poems forthcoming in Gargoyle, Lunch Ticket and Zymbol, among others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong. Email: allampoet[at]earthlink.net

My Ex-Girlfriend Wouldn’t Let Me Celebrate Halloween

Poetry
Ron Riekki


Bored
Photo Credit: Jason Carlin

Our love was apocryphal, apocalyptic, a pox upon thee,
epic, a pick of the week, optic, opulent, obvious,
inoperative, obfuscated, ophthalmological. I just
wanted to go see Dracula at the community college,
but she was battling Satan for our souls. I just
wanted sleep, but she was convinced there were
palindromes in the Qur’an. They all float each
in an orbit. And magnify your Master.
She read
the Onion and thought it was non-fiction. “Ten Years
Later, Cheney Haunted By People He Didn’t Manage
To Kill in Iraq War.”

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Ron Riekki has been published in Toasted Cheese, PANK, BluePrintReview, New Ohio Review, and several other journals. His next book is The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works. “Beautifully edited, The Way North is more than a collection. It is a collaboration of writers, each whom understands in his and her own way what is sacred about that utterly unique, fresh water peninsula known as the U.P.” —Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago. Email: ronriekki[at]hotmail.com

Waiting on Grandfather

Poetry
Jeff Bernstein


vintage: grandmother, 1940s
Photo Credit: David Flam

For a few weeks, Grandma had a hotline to my house,
convinced she was being held prisoner
at the Hebrew Rehab Center, those
blank concrete towers hulking over JP
like a giant camped outside a medieval village.

But every now and then, she’d be back
in pre-war Baltimore and three bars
would come up on the slot machine.
Then she’d call to say
I’m waiting for Bill at the bus stop
at the corner of Light and Pratt
.
By the second or third call,
I could almost see my pretty young grandmother
standing there as the streetlights winked on,
dark wool dress, a week or two after
Thanksgiving, scanning the crowd as shoppers
hustled past, heads down. (He’d been gone
a quarter century or so when she told me this).

What should I have said? Was I supposed to
bring her back to the present?
Why not let her stay in a happier time?
He’ll be along pretty soon I think.
Just be patient.
(It beat the jumbled
present as she neared her own
private century mark.)
I wonder if he ever arrived.

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A lifelong New Englander, Jeff Bernstein divides his time between Boston and Central Vermont. Except on summer days when his beloved (now bedraggled) Red Sox are at Fenway, he finds back roads preferable to the city. Poetry is his favorite and earliest art form (he can’t draw a whit or hold a tune). Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ballard Street Poetry Journal, Birchsong—A Poetry Anthology (Blueline Press), Best Indie Lit New England, Loch Raven Review, Main Street Rag, Muddy River Poetry Review, riverbabble, San Pedro River Review and Tipton Poetry Review. His chapbook, Interior Music was published in 2010 by Foothills Publishing. Jeff’s writer’s blog is Hurricane Lodge. Email: jbernstein[at]hurricanelodge.com