For Sale

Bellman’s Pick
Marisa Marinelli


For Sale
Photo Credit: Lis Bokt

my heart keeps wandering into dark, empty bedrooms
filled with cobwebs and a weird, musty sort of smell
and by the time my head follows my heart
those rooms have no more space left for my love
because someone else has already hung up posters to hide the holes in the walls
but i only took so long to move in because i was getting the materials to fix the holes
instead of pretending they weren’t there
darling, i would’ve patched up your wounds
and kissed away the cobwebs
and even with that musty odor, i thought i could smell your cologne
i would’ve painted you yellow in hopes of cheering you up
and the sign on the door would’ve said “don’t forget to wipe your feet, but come right in”
the shelves would’ve been filled with books that smell like tea leaves
and there would’ve been dozens of sunflowers scattered around the room
babe, we’d open up all the windows and sing as loud as we could
and even though we wouldn’t hit a single correct note, we would feel beautiful

but you’ve rented yourself out to her
she arrived and unpacked her things but it felt more like something was leaving
your shelves are empty and dusty
a “do not disturb” sign has been hanging on your door for weeks
she didn’t bother to re-paint you or fix you
she didn’t even try to love you
and every wrong note you sing is lethal

pencil

Marisa Marinelli is currently a sophomore in high school. She hopes to attend college at the University of Buffalo and major in Psychology. marisamarinelli2[at]yahoo.com

When the Trees were Bare

Bellman’s Pick
Carol Lynn Grellas


I would have held a single leaf
between my own two fingers
outside her bedroom window
in the rain, until I could no longer
stand the cold and damp anymore,
if a single leaf, clinging desperately,
to what she thought a tree,
would have undone all the damage
the doctors did, the day they said
there was no cure
and took her hope away.

pencil

Carol Lynn Grellas is a two-time Pushcart nominee and the author of two chapbooks: Litany of Finger Prayers, from Pudding House Press and Object of Desire newly released from Finishing Line Press. She is widely published in magazines and online journals including most recently, The Smoking Poet, Oak Bend Review and Flutter, with work upcoming in decomP, Thick with Conviction, Poetry Midwest and Best of Boston Literary Magazine. She lives with her husband, five children and a blind dog named Ginger. E-mail: clgrellas[at]aol.com

Strike

Bellman’s Pick
Casey Hill


We should go bowling sometime
when it’s nice outside
and everyone’s happy
feeling the grass
sway like an April kite
in the wind between their toes.
I love how they love springtime
and only springtime days
when the sun shines down on them
alone to keep them company.
Let’s go bowling.
I want to watch you pick
shoes that best match your shirt
even though they don’t fit
as well as when you rise
an inch to your toes
and chin your way
into the L of my neck
and whisper something new
that no one else can hear
since they don’t care for bowling
on sunny spring afternoons.
I want to watch you roll
three gutter-balls in a row
then twirl on your toes
and spin your skirt
like children laughing
on a merry-go-round
too afraid to let go,
and watch you say it’s not fair
how the floor slants to the right
when it’s your turn to go
so I can say you’re right.
I’ll say it’s time to go
so you can wrap yourself
around my arm
and skip without skipping
on linoleum diamonds
that show us to the moon
light sliding through the doors,
lingering with your eyes
on a bouncy-ball machine,
hoping for pink.
pencil

“I am currently a senior English major as well as a wide receiver on the football team at Wake Forest University where I have witnessed my love for poetry increase tremendously over the past four years. I grew up in Memphis, TN, which is home to Elvis, soul music, and the best BBQ in the world.” E-mail: hilltc5[at]wfu.edu

Asis

Bellman’s Pick
H.H. Morris


Peter Winston studied three cartons of books. Each was marked four dollars for the contents, no individual sales made. The books at the top of one looked more tempting than those crowning the others.

“Before you select the middle box,” a female said, “I’ll tell you that the one on the left contains over a dozen Civil War books.”

He turned to look at the woman behind him. Around 35, she showed mileage on her face. Her aquiline nose and jet black, long hair made him think her Mediterranean, even though her complexion was like ivory. She was short, barely over five feet tall, and he thought she might be slightly dumpy. He couldn’t tell from the way she was dressed. Most of the women at the flea market wore jeans. She had on a shapeless sweater atop a dress that hung to the ground. She reminded him of a bag lady without her bag.

“How do you know?” he asked her.

“It’s my job.”

“Your job is to know that I’m a Civil War nut?”

“That, too. I meant that it was my job to know what’s being sold in my name.”

“Your name?”

“Asis,” she said.

Her Giaconda smile made her seem even more mysterious. Was da Vinci’s model an Italian bag lady?

“As is,” he said, splitting it into two words.

“None other. The goddess Asis, who presides over yard sales, flea markets, auction galleries, and used car lots has decided that today you, Peter Winston, receive an opportunity to bless my name.” She jammed the two words back together.

The woman joked. She was a former student or a friend of his ex-wife, one who’d heard the lady complain about being married to a bibliophile who was a Civil War nut. Peter had never realized how much his ex hated battlefields until he discovered that the only item of clothing she’d left behind was a souvenir T-shirt that identified her as a Civil War nut’s wife.

“Marriage is a flea market,” Asis said. “If the ancients had been wise, they’d have assigned me the nuptial couch.”

He picked up the box she recommended, put down four singles, and took it to his car. He drove eight miles to his home, a handyman’s delight he’d purchased as is with his half of the sale of the conjugal abode, and lugged his purchase into the kitchen. He turned the coffeemaker on, waited impatiently while it slowly warmed to slightly above room temperature, and sat at the table, his chair turned to one side, the box at his feet.

The books on the top were historical novels from the middle of the twentieth century, a few with tawdry dust jackets showing bosoms about to spill out of gowns. Then, as he dug into the contents, he discovered an apparently unread, boxed set of Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War. There were also four books from the Time-Life series, three of which he didn’t own. In addition, there was a copy of Mary Boykin Chestnut’s Diary from Dixie. He also found an old fantasy paperback entitled The Incompleat Enchanter and a pair of early Asimov novels. He wondered if he should go back and buy the other two boxes.

“No,” said Asis.

He hadn’t felt a breeze caused by either door opening. In his handyman’s delight, an open door brought a Force 2 gale. She stood on the other side of the box.

“Should I pour you a libation?” he asked.

“This floor won’t register another libation.”

His ex had nagged about his slovenly housekeeping. Housework had become his specialty because he had the low-paying teaching job while she was an executive on the fast track.

“Too fast for kids,” Asis said. “I don’t nag. I point out the obvious. If you feel like a host, pour me a cup of that under-heated coffee. There’s a yard sale two blocks from here where you can get a coffeemaker—same model, but not about to expire—for seven dollars. Don’t go there now. You’ll pay three times as much. Wait until around four. Evening will be near enough that panic will set in. Offer seven, neither more nor less.”

“Yes, goddess.”

“Call me Asis. I’ve never stood much on ceremony. That’s why so many people defile my name with shoddy deals. I wanted you to stick it to that seller today. He’s cheated people for years. If you go to the Read and Gulp Used Books and Coffee Emporium with those novels, the owner will give you a quarter apiece, the same price he pays the public library when it cleans its shelves. Since there are 23 you don’t want to read, your profit from two transactions will be $1.75 and the value of the books you keep. Next, go to the left shop wall and to the last set of shelves before you reach the back. On the fourth shelf up, you’ll find four historical novels from the same era as those you’re selling. Don’t worry about titles or authors. You’ll recognize them because they have flood damage. There are no dust jackets. The covers and pages are warped and show mud stains. They cost 50 cents apiece. Buy them. Then wait in your car for me. I’ll go to a thrift shop down the street from the Read and Gulp to buy clothing for our dinner date tonight.”

“Our dinner date?”

“Make a good meal my libation, Peter. If I look like an Italian bag lady, we’ll get thrown out of the fancy restaurant you’ll be ready to take me to by sunset.”

She again gave him her Giaconda smile.

*

Asis carried two bulging shopping bags.

“I bought everything as is,” she said, laughing softly. “Did you examine your books?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Peter said, “I don’t know what to look for. With you around, though, I’m on a roll.”

“Not much faith, but then I’m not much of a goddess. You can fix us a couple of sandwiches while I change into jeans so I’ll look properly suburban at the yard sale.”

There was an explanation for what occurred. Peter had no idea what it was, but he believed that all phenomena could, with sufficient knowledge, be thoroughly analyzed.

“Try random occurrence,” Asis said. “Am I a free agent, or are the gods and goddesses themselves subject to Fortune’s whims? Take your pick.”

She went into the bathroom while he made sandwiches. When she came out, she wore jeans and a tight sweater. She hadn’t wasted time hunting for a bra.

“Take me as is or don’t take me at all,” she reminded him. “There are modern garments and customs I find ridiculous. I refuse to conform.”

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s your business.”

“Do you have a razor knife?”

“Yes.”

“Get it when we’ve finished the sandwiches.”

He’d never figure her out. If he did, she’d change in order to outfox him. As a goddess, she saw into his mind. She’d told him what they’d buy at the yard sale, but he’d been required to take her on faith—or, if he were honest, on a gamble.

“You’ll know what as is means when I get through with you,” the goddess said.

Peter got the knife. She picked up the first book and opened the front cover. When she pointed it out, he saw where the inner paper had been cut and then glued back down. He carefully traced the faint line with the sharp blade. He peeled the stained paper back and saw green paper. There were two bills—$100 and $50. Four front covers, four back. Eight times $150 is $1200. The bills were old and slightly worn, but legal tender. He didn’t need to declare these on his next 1040.

“Of course not,” Asis said. “Who sold you this handyman’s delight?”

“A realtor named Edgar Frankel. He’s the only person in the area who handles homes in the price range I could afford.”

“You also take divorce as is. Now that you’re temporarily under my protection, I’ll make Mr. Frankel regret selling this slum in my name. Do you ever play the lottery?”

“No,” he said. “I did for a while. It’s blind luck.”

“Don’t call my colleague blind. She has a vision problem, but can see dimly.”

“Sorry.”

“Luck dislikes all lotteries except the really big ones. Then she tells one of her favorites which numbers to pick and fixes the drawing. The instant games drive Luck crazy. You buy the tickets as is.”

Peter caught it. Asis again smiled.

She said, “We have some time to kill before four. I noticed a convenience store and a liquor store near here. Do you patronize either?”

“The convenience store occasionally. Once at the liquor store. I know a place where I can get beer and bourbon cheaper.”

“Good. No need for you to get reported to the tax snoops.” The convenience store featured eight different instant games. Asis scowled at the rolls of tickets, then told him to buy five of the third from the right. He did as she commanded and used a dime to scratch off the film that covered the numbers. The second one was a two dollar winner, the fourth a $50 winner. He collected his money and they went to his car.

“If you know which ticket…” he began.

“Always buy at least one more than you need to. That makes the suckers think it was Luck instead of Asis beside you.”

The liquor store had nine different games. Asis again squinted and scowled and finally told him to buy one from the roll in the middle of the group. It was worth $500, also paid in cash.

“I hope you hang around,” he told her. “There’s an expensive restaurant about 20 miles north. You don’t need reservations of an evening. In fact, you can’t make them.”

“Remember, I can’t drive. A drunken crash won’t hurt me, but it can kill you.”

“I’ll celebrate within the limits of sobriety as defined by the state,” he assured her.

“Good. I’ll get silly drunk. A new man always makes me overindulge in praise of Bacchus. Now let’s go get that coffeemaker as is—seven dollars, neither more nor less.”

*

The maitre d’ frowned to show that the establishment’s dignity had been seriously wounded. A giggling, wobbly Asis clung to Peter’s arm on the way out. Their bar bill had almost matched the food tab. Peter had drunk three glasses of wine. The waitress had told them to be sure and come back, Peter’s hefty cash tip more than compensating for his raucous date. The dress Asis had selected at the thrift shop was the woman’s equivalent of a dark suit—a black number designed to fall almost to the wearer’s knees and fit tightly across the torso. She’d chosen one at least two sizes too small, however. Couple that with her dislike of lingerie of any kind, hose included, and her unwillingness to let a razor touch her legs and a scandalous sight ensued. Actually, only the female patrons were scandalized. The men enjoyed Asis’s two trips to the ladies’ room.

Peter suspected the only way the maitre d’ liked pretty females was embalmed.

He got Asis into the car and didn’t tell her to buckle up. She was a goddess. Accept her as is. After all, she appeared to accept him. She wasn’t as dumpy as he’d thought. She was short and heavier than fashion gurus thought a woman of her height should be. But she was feminine and appealing.

“I like your thoughts, Peter,” she said. “As is for Asis.”

About halfway to his house they passed a sign for a discount liquor store.

“Do you shop here, Peter?” she asked.

“No.”

“Pull in. Lottery time again.”

Drunk, she wasn’t careful. Besides, they were in a strange county. They won some and lost little as she worked her way back and forth in the ten rolls of tickets on display. When they finally quit, Peter had invested $400 and come out $1700 ahead. Asis immediately spent almost $300 on booze.

As he drove home, she said, “I’m a cheap date, Peter.”

“No, Asis, you’re a profitable one.”

“You may adore me. Don’t fall in love with me.”

“I’ll do my best to avoid it,” he promised. “It wasn’t long ago that I swore I’ll never fall in love again.”

“The best way to avoid Love’s arrows is to stay away from the District of Columbia and its suburbs. Eros is working a joint gig with Eris there this month. Love and Discord—they wreck two senators a week and people think it’s Washington business as usual.”

He lugged the liquor inside. Asis watched him store it, grabbing the bourbon to mix him a hefty highball.

“You earned this, Peter,” she said. “I’ll get drunker and show you how Aphrodite’s priestesses danced in praise of the goddess while arousing male worshipers. I’m not much of a dancer, though.” “I’ll take your dancing as is, Asis.”

*

Peter taught his classes at the community college—five mornings per week, two early afternoons, Wednesday nights. The rest of his energies went into forays into liquor stores and convenience stores with Asis and weekend trips to yard sales, flea markets, and auctions. The weather warmed. Asis switched to shorts, her hairy legs drawing stares that Peter could literally feel in the air. Her powers were such that if those disapproving offended her they’d wind up making bad deals.

Don’t fall in love with me, she’d warned. He barely obeyed. Each time they embraced, every morning he awakened with her warmth beside him, he was grateful for one more day with Asis. He had encountered the relevant myths as a graduate student—Eos and her lover Tithonus, the eternal grasshopper; Petronius’s Sybil of Cumae, who begged to die because Apollo had given her eternal life without youth. Aphrodite looked out for Anchises only because of Aeneas. Nothing good except pleasure came of a goddess loving a man.

She said, “Take your pleasure as is—and take me to the beach.” The vacation weekend provided a new spectrum of lottery outlets. He booked a room in a luxury hotel. Their bar tab and restaurant costs were enormous. When Asis requested, he took her to the trendiest boutique in the area and bought her a bikini. Then he proudly put her on his arm as they paraded up and down the beach. Her appearance generated frowns and giggles. He didn’t care. Each day Asis grew more beautiful. The female body is far less important than the female who inhabits the body.

Two days after they returned, he came home to an empty house and a note on the table. “I didn’t take my own advice, Peter. I started feeling Eros’s arrows in my big rear. You’re right—a goddess and a mortal never come to a happy ending. We’ll write our own finis. Remember, a woman who won’t take you as is isn’t worth having, but you also have to take her as is.” For the rest of the week he moped around the house. It contained almost $100,000 in tax-free lottery winnings. Asis’s parting advice had been good. Whether he could act on it was another matter.

On Saturday morning, he returned to the flea market where he’d met Asis. The same seller was there. Today there were four boxes of books—take an entire carton as is, five bucks, no browsing. One featured historical novels atop the books stacked inside. Remembering his experience with the Civil War books, he started to reach for it. Then he stopped. His eyes moved left. Atop this carton was a book on how to make $10,000 a year as a freelance writer. It dated back to when $10,000 a year was a fabulous sum. Another book explained DOS. There was absolutely no reason to buy that box, save that he felt that somewhere within it was a treasure.

“You take it as is,” the man said.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Peter told him. On his way out of the market area he encountered a short, golden-haired woman in extremely thick glasses. She peered intently at three boxes of junk jewelry. As she did so, she almost backed into him. They excused themselves simultaneously.

“Can you tell me which of these boxes has the most yellow in it?” she asked.

“Not with ease,” he told her. “They appear equal in that respect. Let me try some counting and some elementary math, if you have the time.”

“I have eons.”

Ten minutes later he suggested she buy the box on the right. She did so.

“Thank you, Peter. Asis told me you’d come here. Those who know me call me Luck. Did you know the lottery drawing tonight is worth seven million dollars?”

“No,” he said.

“I’m a very expensive date.”

“I’m sure,” he said. “But I’ll take you as is.”

pencil

“I’m a bum. I used to teach college speech and English, but then I retired. If I were selling more fiction, I’d be a writer, but this year I’ve been mostly a bum. I currently have one up at alienskin.” E-mail: hhmorris[at]iximd.com.