The Puppeteer

Fiction
Judy Darley


London Storyfest 2012: Sock Puppet #3
Photo Credit: Isabelle

How long had it been now? Peter wasn’t certain. More than one year, less than two. God, how had so much time crept by? He’d thought he’d get them back before this many months. Once the numbness and confusion passed, he was certain he’d be able to win Nancy over, persuade her to bring Pippa home, but it had already been, what was it, eighteen months, twenty? Or more…

He’d only seen young Pippa the once since they left him, and that had been in the most humiliating of circumstances.

Things slid downhill after Nancy and six-year-old Pippa moved out. In an effort to reject all Nancy had accused him of, of caring more about his work and the puppets than about his wife and daughter, he’d turned his back on his creations. Then, in an act of rage, as though they were sentient enough to be culpable for the ruin of his marriage, he piled the whole lot up in the centre of the lawn, set them alight.

He tried not to feel their bewilderment, not to hear their shrieks of fear, as the flames sent acrid, choking smoke into the night sky and made a dark scorched circle on the grass. Tears streamed down his sooty face, and he told himself he was committing some kind of sacred act; a magician’s trick to bring his wife and Pippa home to him, prove how little hold the puppets had over him, compared to his love for the two of them

But of course, that was the business gone—his former clients found new talents, better puppet-masters, youngbloods with the power to give life to lurid scraps of fabric that Peter figured ought to lack the power of his own handstitched creations. He took a job in a phone shop, wearing a suit he was ill at ease in, trying to talk teenagers into signing contracts that would lock them in for years to come. He felt like Satan’s accomplice.

Each night for what felt like a decade or longer he went home to the dingy apartment and felt more alone than before he’d even met Pippa’s mother, because then, of course, he at least had the puppets.

It was laundry day that sucked him back in to it all. A stray, freshly-washed-and-dried sock falling from the basket to the floor. Peter picked it up and, telling himself it was just to keep it safe while he searched for its mate, stuck it onto one hand. Of course, his fingers in the worn grey cotton toe formed the nose. Naturally, his thumb in the heel formed the mouth. He shoulda seen it coming.

He found its mate, drew it on over his other hand, let the pair chat to one another and to him. Righty and Lefty, the first friends he’d made since his wife left. Peter felt the closest he’d come to happiness in a long time.

Then, one day while he was performing with these two at the buskers’ spot near the abbey, he saw her. Older than he’d thought possible—far more than almost two years must have slipped by without him noticing. She was with a gaggle of mates—it was one of them who noticed him with a ring of tourists around him, laughing and cheering the puppets’ antics on.

“Oi, Pippa, int that yer dad?”

She’d glanced up, met his gaze, then recoiled with a force that seemed to catch at something deep inside his chest and tear it a little.

She shook her head. “Nah, don’t be daft! My dad don’t even live round here.”

He watched her slope into the crowd, head down low like she was trying to hide herself from him. Yet she’d looked him in the eye, must have known he’d stared right back at her.

Weeks skidded by before he had the nerve to act, let the puppets badger him into picking up the phone, leave a message with Nancy. “Tell her that tomorrow I’ll be at the bar on the corner near where we used to live,” he said. “Just tell her that. I’ll wait all day if needs be. If she don’t turn up, that’s her choice. But I’ll be there, waiting.”

It took all his courage to leave the apartment, head across town, pass the house where the burnt circle still blackened the lawn. Only the two balled-up socks in his pockets gave him the guts to do it. He found a table in a far corner that he could watch the door from, nursed his drink, nursed another, watched the shadows track across the floor.

“I’m going to go home,” he muttered at last. “This is stupid.”

“Hang on a bit longer,” Righty urged.

“Yeah, you said you’d wait all day,” Lefty nodded. “Give her a chance.”

“Yeah,” said Rightly, then added sagely, “Give her a chance to give you a chance.”

So he sat, he waited, as the afternoon sun sneaked in and painted the wall behind him golden, and he half-closed his eyes against it, so that when he blinked them back open he wasn’t sure what he was seeing was true. Standing before him, biting her lip, half the six-year-old who’d left with her mum and half the sixteen-year-old she’d become.

“Pippa.” He dragged the puppets off his hands, shoving them into his jacket pockets. “Pippa, you’re here.”

pencilJudy Darley is a British fiction writer and journalist. She’s had short stories published by lit mags and anthologies including Germ Magazine, Litro, Riptide Journal, and The View From Here. Judy’s debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is out now. She blogs at SkyLightRain and tweets at @EssentialWriter. Email: judydarley[at]yahoo.co.uk

Horror Stories

Flash
Gretchen Tessmer


A Dying Art
Photo Credit: Julia Crawford

I got your letter yesterday. I found it in the mailbox on my way out, nestled between a bank statement and a grocery store flyer. Yesterday was Halloween. I had a party to go to at the college so I read it fast, folded it along the ready-made crease lines (writing on the go again, are you?) and slipped it into my pocket.

The party was not great. I was supposed to be a sixties go-go dancer but I didn’t have white boots. I thought black ones would work just as well. But they were suede, buckled and sexy as hell. I looked like a street walker, no question. But Anna Louisa (my constant wing girl—you remember her, right?) approved and I went with it.

Left Anna Louisa at the bar sometime around midnight. She gave me her phone for safekeeping but forgot to give me her keys (but, if you remember, breaking and entering is kinda my thing). Taking the phone was a mistake. Her ex-boyfriend was in a chatty, call-every-other-minute mood. I switched the ringer off after the fifty-second call.

Wandered downtown. The first line of your letter reverberated in my head with every heel click on the sidewalk: “I’ve been thinking…” And then something about timing. Tick, tock. Clip, clop.

I ran into a boy from a million years ago on the street outside Maxfield’s. He was drunk off his face and impressed by the outfit. “Always so straight-laced, honey, well this is a new look. Knew you couldn’t have a body like that and not…” That sort of thing. He wanted to buy me a White Russian and get a hotel room.

I laughed and made excuses. I waved off an invitation from a few frat boys headed down to the pizza parlor. “But, c’mon, baby, it’s pizza time…” That sort of thing. I was across the (empty) street and blamed the (non-existent) traffic for taking a rain check. I walked back to Anna Louisa’s under a starry, starry night. I fell onto the cot in her bedroom and slept without dreaming. Anna Louisa and her ex-boyfriend wandered in around 4:30 using stage whispers.

I woke up early the next morning and crept down to the laundry room. It was warm down there and smelled like detergent and rat poison. I sat on a sturdy little stepladder, took your letter out of my pocket and read it again. And again.

I don’t like this throwback romanticism that you’ve adopted recently, this handwritten letter style of rejection. I would have preferred a text, I think. A simple: “I need 2 grow up & catch u later” would have sufficed. At least with a line like that, I could pretend you didn’t know any better.

pencilGretchen Tessmer lives and writes in New England. Her poetry and prose has appeared in literary journals in both the US and the UK, including North American Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Poetry Quarterly and Fantasy Short Stories. Email: vinnieandromeda[at]gmail.com

Together

Flash
Tim Love


New bike assembly
Photo Credit: juicyrai

Her father used to work on battleships, said how they had more than a million parts. She showed him her iPhone, saying that it had over a million parts too.

During a punting party her mobile sinks into the river. Friends take turns to feel for it with the metal end of the pole. When they tap something hard a boy dives in, follows the pole down through the murky water and retrieves it. She shakes it out, opens it, leaves the pieces in the sun to dry. An hour later it’s fine—“it needed a clean,” she said. There’s a new message for her—from the boy, asking her out.

Later they share a flat. While he’s off at another conference, she takes his precious bicycle apart, down to the last little bolt, puts everything into a cardboard box, adds some bits from his spares to confuse him, then gift-wraps it.

Some people—and he was one of them—see metaphors everywhere. He liked the idea of probing the depths for a way to communicate with the person beside you, of reconstructing the present. He promises not to spend so much time studying alone or cycling on Sundays with his club. She feels guilty. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she’d not got over her father’s death.

And yet she doesn’t help him with the bicycle. It takes him a whole afternoon. He’s drunk by the time she returns from shopping. She doesn’t like to see him like that—nowadays he only does it to stop himself getting bored or angry.

“What do you think?” he asks. “It would have been easier with a manual but it’s good as new now. You ok?”

She unpacks the groceries.

“The club’s cycling to Broxton tomorrow. Maybe you could meet us there in the car?”

She’d cleaned each little part of his bicycle with a toothbrush.

“Follow the A14 until you see the Broxton sign,” he says. “You can’t miss it.”

Even with a map she misses it by miles; he phones, failing to get her.

pencilTim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Oxford Poetry, Journal of Microliterature, Short Fiction, etc. He blogs at Litrefs. Email: tl136[at]cam.ac.uk

Not Roses

Poetry
Katia Raina


Massive line at JFK immigration. They should charge a visitor tax and eliminate lines. Oh, wait...
Photo Credit: Daragh Ward

“Immigration is
Not Roses,”
warned the sour-faced
Russian guy
at the JFK airport
as he directed us,
new arrivals,
to crowd
into our own
Russian-language
corridor.

Not roses.
I didn’t want to
believe him.
But—not roses—
we stood too close
to him,
listening to instructions,
and his breath smelled
like anything but.

Not roses,
not exactly
a super-chipper American
greeting, but he was right,
Immigration is anything but.

Immigration is
so much brighter
than anything found
in a rose garden,
Immigration is
neon signs,
multi-shaded faces,
oranges in the spring,
cherries in the winter.

Immigration is
not about
flowers,
it’s more about
pillows
and new washbasins,
a perfectly matching set of chairs
someone had left on the curb,
just for us.

Not roses but Mandee’s,
denim jackets, low necklines,
bursts of music from strangers’
Walkmans—
Madonna competing
with Nirvana.

Immigration is
suddenly underage
all over again,
no wine allowed,
though there are ways,
can’t have wine,
can’t hold hands with Mama,
either,
but there are hands,
other hands.

Immigration is
the clatter of the subway,
the announcer screaming out
station names
in bewildering bursts,
pure sound,
the garbled syllables
softened up all strange
in strangers’ mouths,
and the louder they speak,
the wilder their words,
how can that be English?

Immigration isn’t roses,
it isn’t dainty,
it tastes
like fries and gum
coating the tongue of a stranger,
under the lonely
endless
sky.

of my dreams.

pencilAn immigrant from the former Soviet Union, Katia Raina was an award-winning newspaper journalist, with fiction and non-fiction published in Faces, Calliope, Skipping Stones and other magazines. An intern at a literary agency, with plans of continuing her publishing career on “the other side of the desk” as well, she is now finishing her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts this coming semester. She writes novels and short stories for young adults, and verse for audiences of all ages. Email: katiawrites[at]gmail.com

Summer

Poetry
Karen Powell


Brancaster
Photo Credit: James Thorpe

Between grey clouds
and Norfolk sand
bare legs disregard the breeze
playing with escaped
strands of ponytail hair.

She examines each plastic scoop
for shells, stones smoothed
by North Sea waves,
and worthy of collecting
in a blue bucket.

pencilKaren Powell has an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. Her poems have appeared in Hearing Voices, Swamp, The Prose Poem Project, Kumquat Poetry, Message in a Bottle and The Lake. Website. Email: k.e.powell[at]hotmail.co.uk

Peaches

Poetry
Dovile Mark


peaches
Photo Credit: Kabsik Park

On the day of her diagnosis
Willow came home
Hung up her work clothes in the tiny crammed closet
Invited friends for a cookout

When asked about the reason for the gathering
Willow watched tiny yellow finches chase each other at the bird feeder
Somewhere a lawn mover was started

If the answer came
She later could not recall

She did remember though
Removing her shoes
Resting her feet on the old wood of the deck
Tracing cracks with her toes
The feeling of old peeling paint baked in the summer sun

Listening to the voices of friends
Willow imagined she heard music notes

And when peach juice ran down her arms
Willow did not bother wiping it
Instead she licked the side of her arm
It tasted sweet

pencilDovile Mark was born in Lithuania and now spends time between Maryland and Hawaii. She enjoys working as a writer, filmmaker, actor, puppeteer and stunt performer. Her poetry and stories have been featured in several magazines including Poet’s Ink and Main Channel Voices. She has performed live at many venues in Europe and US including theaters, literary festivals, jail facilities, hospitals and Stoop Storytelling Series at Center Stage in Baltimore. Email: RelaxationPlace[at]aol.com

Origami

Poetry
Mariel Alonzo


Paper crane
Photo Credit: Eva the Weaver

Back when I was young, I learned how
to fold paper in a thousand halves, a neat trick
that had my classmates gawk with every
disappearing paper act, I realized that a
paper gone didn’t do against the class rabbit
when he came, so I would lock myself in
a closet and try to fold it to everything then

I learned how to fold mothers, so that her arms were always
stretched in a hug, and I would place myself within
and fold it, closing me in. She would smell of
vanilla, all things ancient, her eyes I ripped from an astronomy
book, so that at night they would glow and reek of stars.

I learned how to fold birds. Tiny at first, like flies that
flittered about constantly, but I grew better at it
and soon I was soaring in heights with a dragon
that took me a week to make, wings from the
Sunday opinion column on politics and corruption.

I learned how to fold furniture, appliances,
just enough to get me by when my diploma
I too fold into a rose for my mother who lay
in her favorite white dress, a best friend through
decomposition.

Just recently, I managed to perfect her breasts.
My wife whose lips taste like the grasslands of
Yanqing and the glaciers of Skaftafell, I twisted
her mouth to only speak when spoken to, crippled
her legs that she may only ever be with me,
clipped her ears that my voice would be the only
vantage point of her existence.

She was perfect, inevitably.

But one day, she had crawled beyond
the veranda and drowned in the slight rain,
I found her melting, foxing, a smile on her lips
pointing at the sky where a plane, unmade
of paper, flies.

pencilMariel Alonzo is currently an undergraduate of the University of the Philippines. She was recently a finalist to Laura Thomas Communications International Junior Poetry Contest, and some of her work can be found in online literary journal Softblow. You can reach her through her blog. Email: blue.stained[at]gmail.com